This is the year that Scotland hosts COP26, when world leaders will gather in Glasgow in November aiming to make progress on tackling climate change. Our summer Nature Adventure Days programme for 11-18 year-olds wove this theme through explorations of our countryside and coastline, thinking about ways in which we influence our natural environment locally and globally and about how we can amplify the voices of our young people and their opinions on climate change.
Thanks to continued funding from Baillie Gifford, this year the ranger service was able to offer 5 days of activities working in partnership with Headland Explorations. On the 7th July, 8 young people enjoyed a day on Staffa, travelling with Staffa Trips and experiencing a close encounter with a minke whale! A low tide gave the oppportuntity to explore the coastline below the puffin burrows with the whirr of puffin wings going back and fowards above our heads. We had lunch at the puffin colony and then took part in a storm petrel survey, playing a recorded call and listening for the response to find nest sites hidden amongst fallen boulders and old walls.
We thought about how the landscape and its wildlife has changed due to human actions, and might change in the future. On Staffa this ranges from the impacts of sea level rise (already being felt in the loss of other islands around the world) and increasing storms, facilities built for visitors (the hotel proposals that never came to be; a tourist shelter in use 200 years ago is now wildlife habitat again; whereas current visitor levels require improvements to paths and stairways to help with erosion and overcrowding), to the changing population numbers of seabirds and grazing animals.
The 21st of July saw another group of 8 young people voyage aboard the beautiful B.Marie with Alternative Boat Hire Iona. On a warm day with not enough wind for sailing, they decided on a trip around the south coast of the Ross of Mull to Traigh Gheal beach where they cleared up rubbish swept in from the sea, and enjoyed some impromptu raft-building and dinghy training! Lunchtime conversation centred around where all this marine plastic comes from, and how we can reduce it at source by choosing less packaging in the products we buy. Some clothing is even made out of recycled plastics collected from the oceans! We also talked about the areas where we don’t have direct control over our own choices, and part of the answer is to campaign and make our views known to decision-makers who can do something about the bigger issues.
The following week saw 4 intrepid adventurers climb up into the cloud on the Ardmeanach hills above Tiroran, to be rewarded with opportunities for rock-scrambling, an exciting find of a golden eagle wing feather, and an epic game of hide-and-seek in the woods on the way back down. Carpets of colourful flowers prompted discussions on biodiversity, and our lunchtime chat focused on pollinating insects, their importance in producing much of the food we eat, and what we can do to help them flourish. We looked down over Tiroran Community forest which we are also trying to make a better place for nature.
On 4th August we were rock climbing near Knockvologan with 11 young people. On the nearby beach of Traigh a’Mhill Knockvologan Studies artists helped us find ways to work as a team and produce giant artworks, inspired by the geoglyphs that ancient peoples used to mark their landscapes. Today’s lunchtime conversation was about how feeling a connection to our local environment (such as through rock climbing, outdoor art or growing our own food) can help us care for it – and that we can make choices such as purchasing local food or Fairtrade products to help others improve their own local environments while producing crops that we can’t grow here in our climate.
The final Nature Adventure Day this year found a group of 6 young people kayaking with Bendoran Watersports. After a great time on the water they thought about messages they would like to pass on to those in power politically or commercially, see if you can spot any of them here. If you would also like to make your views known ahead of COP26, please add your voice to the Climate Scotland campaign and show our leaders you care.
Our ranger service is under threat due to lack of funding. If you value the work that we do, please consider donating here. NatureScot will match fund every contribution up to a total of £6000 so every little helps!
National Meadow Day
The first day of July saw events around the country in support of our British flower meadows. We’ve lost 97% of our hay meadow habitat across the UK and so National Meadow Day highlights their importance. Meadows are vitally important for many species, including the flowers and grasses, plus those species which rely upon them. So, with the help and enthusiasm of Carolyne and Somerset of Treshnish, a wildlife friendly farm, we hosted a National Meadow Day event on Mull – where we have our own local Coronation Meadow. For the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation, a meadow was created in every county, aiming to halt the rapid decline, and too stimulate a new mood toward protecting our meadows.
On the eve of Meadow Day, we set up three moth traps around the farm, hoping to catch an array of moths to showcase the local biodiversity. Typically, only one of the traps worked throughout the night, but thankfully the few moths we caught were eye-catching and colourful. So, for the first section of the day we crowded into the barn, sheltering from the rain to admire the moths. We also chatted about how to get involved with moth trapping, where to send records and investigated some of the traps available. Three of the stunning moths we enjoyed were the White Ermine, Magpie Moth and a Poplar Hawk Moth.
Following this, we braved the dreich weather and walked together to the Coronation Meadow itself. Even before we arrived we’d spotted countless wildflower species – the track edges teeming with life. We stopped to admire a Greater Butterfly Orchid, a species thought to be pollinated by moths nocturnally. Also along the tracks we recorded Meadowsweet, Heath Bedstraw, Tormentil, Lady’s Bedstraw, Slender St John’s-wort and Selfheal among many others. Upon reaching the meadow itself, the ground underfoot became a luscious carpet of flowers. Yellow Rattle, Red Bartsia, Red Clover and Eyebright were bountiful, the colours rich. Dotted amongst the dominant species, were others including Northern Marsh Orchid, Tufted Vetch and Meadow Vetchling. Along the edges of ditches we also saw Marsh Lousewort and on the meadows edge two rare species were inspected; Wood Bitter Vetch and Moonwort.
Just as the weather began to clear, we trooped back into the barn to be welcomed by Jeanette, from Ballygown Restaurant. She’d prepared delicious picnic lunches, all in fully compostable trays, alongside compostable cutlery – no plastic waste (my kind of picnic!). Not only did Jeanette provide lunch, we were also treated to homemade desert and Elderflower cordial – yummy!
Safe to say, that despite the ever-unreliable weather we all had a super day at Treshnish and I’m sure we all left with no doubt to the great biodiversity a well-managed flower meadow can support. We’d love to say an enormous thanks to both Carolyne and Somerset Charrington for holding the event and for farming their land so wonderfully. Plus thanks to Meryl, the RSPB Mull Eagle Watch Ranger for joining us, as well as a very scrumptious thanks to Jeanette for her mouth-watering food and consideration to the planet. I’m sure the event will return in future years!
Calaich Point Headland Walk
The Ranger Service teamed up with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust for a Headland Walk on the 28th June. We explored Caliach Point, jutting out on the North West of Mull, giving views out toward Coll and Tiree as well as the Small Isles; Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna.
We unknowingly timed the event perfectly, and had super weather, with flat calm conditions – perfect for spotting marine life. We started off with a Harbour Seal and local breeding Lapwings calling overhead. On route we checked the fertilised mounds along the coast, which are frequented by gulls, corvids, eagles and otters alike so they’re ideal to check for pellets and spraints.
Just as the local pair of Ravens appeared overhead with their fledglings Pippa from HWDT and one the guests spotted a Minke Whale surface close by! We managed to gain a little height on the point and managed to get a few more surfaces even though the animal seemed to be travelling and moving through the area quickly. Other sightings included Fulmar, Gannet, Shag, Great Black-Backed Gull and Black Guillemot.
We had a lovely afternoon in a peaceful part of the island.
Watch out for more of our Ranger Service events which are continuing throughout the summer, along with our Wildlife Hide drop in sessions.
Get in touch to book, or leave us some of your sightings over on our Facebook page.
Thanks for reading,
Rachel (Mull Eagle Watch Ranger)
Eagles & Electricity
Almost two months into my seasonal position here at the Ranger Service already, and it’s been a busy start with some wonderful weather. Most of my time is given to providing daily guided tours at Mull Eagle Watch – I’m based primarily at West Ardhu, in the North West Mull Community Woodland. This is so handy and environmentally friendly as this area is my home patch, and I’m lucky to be driving a fully electric van (thanks to the Mull & Iona Community Trust/Sustainable Mull & Iona). The van, running completely on electricity is so enjoyable to drive, whilst being better for the planet. So far at the eagle viewing hide we’ve had a great start and our adult eagles Hope and Star are very busy raising two eaglets/chicks in their nest.
For my first main event of the season I led a guided walk on the stunning Isle of Ulva. I was joined by the knowledgeable, retired Wildlife Ranger Steve Irvine and twelve guests for a lovely woodland walk on the peaceful, car free island.
Annoyingly, after having glorious sunshine for days before the walk we were provided only with thick cloud but never the less we still had a great time and spotted plenty of wildlife. Sadly, the numerous butterfly species the island has to offer weren’t active. A few days before the walk I’d visited to check my route and enjoyed lovely views of the tiny, but beautiful green hairstreak butterfly.
The woodland on Ulva is brilliant and much work has been done by the owners to improve the habitat by deer fencing and management, and the higher slopes have recently been replanted with native tree species. We marveled at the variety and the dense undergrowth among the trees – something missing from many overgrazed woodlands.
Flower species we spotted included;
Yellow pimpernel, bugle, ramsons (wild garlic), lousewort, water avens, wood anemone, lesser celandine, birds-foot trefoil, dog violets, bitter vetch and of course bluebells.
The bluebells were out in full force throughout the walk and were a real treat. Did you know that bluebells were used back in the bronze age to fletch arrows and that they’re poisonous? On Ulva there are standings stones dating back to the bronze age – so they could well have used the island’s bluebells for many things!
Other wildlife we noticed included a family of grey wagtails with recently fledged chicks, heron, greylag geese, tree pipit, wren and willow warbler.
We all finished off with either a delicious lunch or a tea and cake at The Boathouse.
Plastic Beach Workshop – become a “plastic-free person”
You can join me on Wednesday May 24th for my next event! I’m running a ‘Plastic Beach Workshop’ on the shore of Loch Buie. We’ll have a pleasant walk to reach our picnic site, whilst enjoying the local wildlife and chatting about the global impact of plastic on the our planet.
We’ll munch on our picnics – can you bring along a plastic free lunch? I’ll then talk you through easy, cost effective ways to reduce your reliance on plastic at home, with some of my alternatives on hand for you to look at.
Plastic is one the biggest global threats facing our planet, it’s wildlife and us.
Petrifying Plastic Facts:
* Did you know that 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans every year?
* By 2025, 10x more plastic will end up in oceans each year.
* Plus 70% of that plastic sinks, so we’re seeing only the tip of the iceberg!
* Each day we throw away 100 million plastic bottles across the world – every day!
* 80% of the plastic in the oceans leaks from land based sources like landfill sites
We should all be doing the simple things to reduce our reliance on plastic – especially, the one-use “disposable” items like plastic bottles, straws and cutlery. Plastic lasts forever, yet we use it to make things we use once!
Join me on our Plastic Beach Workshop – call 07540792650 for more information.
I’m looking forward to next few months with lots of exciting summer events and great wildlife to spot around the island!
Thanks for reading – back soon!
Good morning from the Ross of Mull! We’re enjoying a day in the office for the first time in a while after a busy week last week.
We kicked things off on Sunday with our Thistle Camp Volunteers who were staying at Burg for the week. In the morning we carried out some habitat management, clearing overgrown bracken which was hiding many of the old farm dwellings from view.
After lunch, we moved onto beach cleaning and removed over 10 black bin bags full of ropes, plastics and other interesting items including several shotgun cartridges from Burg’s shoreline. For the remainder of the week, the Thistle Campers carried out various other tasks such as moth surveys, path and road repairs and gorse removal. Their effort throughout the week was greatly appreciated and we can’t thank them enough for their help!
On both Tuesday and Friday, Emily and myself carried out seabird surveys of the many islets around the coast of Iona with the help of the Mull Bird Club and aboard the ‘Birthe Marie’.
Sea bird colonies around Scotland have been in decline for a number of years and therefore, it is important that we monitor our populations on an annual basis. During our two days surveying, we recorded numbers of shags, fulmars, gulls, kittiwakes, oyster catchers and puffins and Emily is currently in the process of writing up the results and I’m sure they will be published shortly.
On Wednesday, we teamed up with tour operator ‘Turus Mara’ and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust to organise an evening trip to Staffa. Although the weather wasn’t as pleasant as the previous week, our guests had an extremely enjoyable evening. Staffa’s puffins were in great spirits and were often seen feeding mouthfuls of sand eels to their pufflings!
Whilst our guests were on Staffa, I carried out a count of the fulmar population on Staffa with the help of Izzy from the HWDT. We counted 94 pairs of fulmars on the island – a slight decrease in comparison to 2015.
On our way back, ‘Turus Mara’ skipper Colin spotted a Minke whale and we had the pleasure of watching it surface for around 10 minutes before it finally disappeared from view heading south towards the Ross of Mull. If that wasn’t enough, we also had the pleasure of enjoying another fantastic sunset!
On Thursday, we carried out our annual goat survey on Burg. The goats here are feral and are believed to descend from those left behind during the Highland Clearances. We monitor the goat population so that the grazing on Burg can be managed appropriately. In total, we counted 115 goats, whilst we also had the pleasure of encountering two golden eagles and several red deer!
Overall, it was an extremely enjoyable and productive week and we thank the Thistle Camp volunteers, Mull Bird Club , Turus Mara, HWDT and Mark Jardine of Alternative Boat Hire for their assistance throughout the week.
Next up, we have our Moth and Wildflower walk on Wednesday at Burg. We will be meeting at the NTS Car Park at 10am. Booking is essential and can be made via email (email@example.com) or by phone (07717581405 or 01681700659).
I look forward to meeting you in the near future.
Hello folks! My name is Daniel and I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself as the new Volunteer Seasonal Ranger for South Mull, Iona, Burg and Staffa, where I will be assisting Emily for the next 10 weeks. I’m originally from Musselburgh, East Lothian, and have recently completed a degree in Environmental Protection BSc (Hons) at SRUC and the University of Edinburgh.
For the past year or so I have volunteered regularly with the NTS’ Lothian Area Ranger Service and I thoroughly enjoyed assisting in the provision of environmental education and various wildlife surveying and practical countryside management tasks. When the opportunity of a full time placement came up I jumped at the chance and here I am three days into my 10 week stint!
I have long had a passion for the outdoors, often spending my spare time fishing and hill walking (I’m at the summit of Meall nan Tarmachan in the photo above), and this has allowed me to develop an active interest in environmental management and conservation. During my time here on Mull, I look forward to carrying out wildlife surveys, including on sea bird colonies and corncrakes, as well as working with Thistle Camp volunteers and various school groups.
After a hard 4th year at University, which concluded a little over a week ago, I can’t find the words to describe how excited I am to get started. Already, I’ve been involved with building stepping stone paths across areas of bog on Iona, allowing easier access for visitors to the area. I’ve settled in well and spent last night fishing for mackerel from Bunessan Pier. I never caught any, its still a bit early, but it was a cracking night to sit and watch the sun set over the Dutchman’s Cap (Bac Mór).
Coming up shortly, we have an evening’s sail to Staffa on the 8th June where we’ll be looking out for various cetaceans along the way before spending time with the Island’s puffin colony. Tickets are priced at only £30 and it’s certainly not an evening to be missed! However, we do have several other events planned for those who don’t have their sea legs! If you’re staying in the North of the Island, my colleague Jan is running a day trip to Ulva where she will provide a small guided tour on the 1st June.
Details of all further events can be found on the ‘Events’ section of this website or for the most up to date information please check our Facebook page.
I look forward to meeting you over the summer.
Our moth morning event went well. Thankfully the weather the night before was suitable for moths, high winds or heavy rain aren’t the best for trapping – either for the moths or the trap itself! But we had a cloudy night with fairly low winds, ideal for catching lots of moths. Great to have some children join us for the event too, as moth trapping is a great interest and can be a hobby for life. Thanks to the huge number of species you’ll always be learning, plus as the climate changes the range of moth species will change, so this will present new challenges! It made a nice change to sort through moths with interested people rather than alone!
All of our records will be given to the county recorder and contribute to country wide data and help target conservation. We’ll also send our records to the National Moth Week team.
Tobermory Moth Trap
Purple Bar x1
Buff tip x1
Beautiful golden Y x6
White ermine x7
Broom moth x1
Antler moth x2
Purple clay x5
Smoky wave x1
Gold spangle x1
Lesser swallow prominent x2
Ingrailed clay x3
Clouded-bordered brindle x5
Bright-line brown-eye x1
Dotted clay x2
Green arches x1
Knot grass x1
Six-striped rustic x2
Light emerald x1
Smoky wainscot x7
Flame shoulder x1
Another child, Henry, had brought along his emperor moth caterpillars to show everyone. They were feeding on heather and will become large, spectacular moths!
Bunessan moth trap
Dark arches x1
White ermine x3
Purple clay x2
Clouded-bordered brindle x1
Common rustic x1
True lover’s knot x1
Magpie moth x1
Clouded border x2
Green carpet x1
Common marbled carpet x1
Flame shoulder x2
We’ve highlighted the moth species found in both traps, but you can see quite a variation with species, one main reason will be the variety of habitats at the two trap locations. Different bulbs were also used which may be one reason the Tobermory trap had higher numbers.
We hope we’ve inspired you to try moth trapping, it can be great fun and a really great hobby to have. Look up your nearest butterfly conservation group, they often run events or can lend out moth traps.
Thanks – Rachel & Emily 🙂
Night Time Nature
National Moth Week begins on 18th July, a global citizen science project focusing on the fascinating world of moths. This week long event celebrates the insects belonging to the same group as butterflies, but because many emerge at night we often overlook them. Moths are most known to us for their clothes munching larvae, and most people think they’re all brown and boring, and they’re wrong! Only a handful of moth larvae actually eat clothes and these are often the tiny micro moths, not the macro moths that most moth-ers focus on. In the UK we have around 60 species of butterfly and for those of us that live in the North of the country many of these species are out of reach, much preferring the warmer climate down South. Moths on the other hand are in abundance with around 2500 moth species found in the UK, in Scotland we probably have around 500 species of large, macro moths – plenty to keep us interested! You can join in with National Moth Week if you have your own trap but if not look out for events being held around the country, this is a great way to get an introduction to the underestimated world of moths. You can join myself and Emily on Wednesday 22nd July for a morning of moths.
Moth trapping is a growing nature based hobby in the UK and I started moth trapping this year after first trying whilst volunteering for two weeks on an RSPB reserve. My trap is homemade and was much more affordable than some traps you can buy online, so don’t be put off by the price if you’re thinking of starting out. My trap cost around £60, you just need someone who is handy with a hammer and nails! Because of work commitments I only trap on weekends at the moment, and even then we’re very dependent on weather conditions, but beware, it can become addictive. The trap works by using a light bulb to attract moths which are then caught in the bottom of the trap (harmless and they’re released), and so the following morning you can investigate what you’ve caught. This can be daunting when you first set out because of so many species, but having a good book will help enormously. Plus, there are many facebook groups and twitter users to ask for help and your county recorder will always be happy to assist, just take photos of any you aren’t sure on.
I’ve been using my trap whenever weather and time allows, so to get you excited for moth week I thought I’d share some of the moths I’ve caught. At the beginning of July I caught around 35 different species in one night, this was my largest catch so far and took me a while to sort, but it was brilliant all the same. Here are some images I’ve taken whilst I’ve been trapping throughout the season so far:
I’ve been trapping in my garden in Bunessan this week too. It’s amazing the beautiful colours and details out there to be discovered, of which we’re often unaware unless they come to our windows at night, like this Riband Wave did.
This is the rather lovely Burnished Brass, and my photographic skills don’t do justice to its green iridescence…let’s hope we catch another one to show you on Wednesday!
The pictures below show the unmistakable Garden Tiger, which displays its surprisingly bright orange underwings if disturbed.
Bright colours in nature are often a warning, for example ‘Don’t eat me I’m poisonous’! Day-flying burnet moths can produce their own cyanide from the plants they eat as caterpillars. Here’s a newly hatched 6-spot burnet I found during a walk at Burg last week, which has just emerged from its pupal case and cocoon, and is letting its new wings dry before flying off.
As Rachel mentioned there are lots of ways to get help with identification, another useful website is iSpot where you can upload photos and descriptions of any wildlife you find and experts will give you their opinions on what it might be! Give it a try here: http://www.ispotnature.org/communities/uk-and-ireland
I’m now extremely jealous of the amazing weather everyone else in the UK is enjoying; Wimbledon looks more like America than London! We’ve still been busy with plenty of events going on and I’m now busy most days at Mull Eagle Watch (read about our eaglet here). It’s a great time of year to appreciate the smaller wildlife, including butterflies and wildflowers. Jan and I led a guided walk for a group of American visitors on the Isle of Ulva on Sunday 21st June and it actually turned out to be a nice day!
Ulva is a great place for wildlife, with lots of deciduous woodland remnants and areas of land managed particularly for rare butterfly species. The marsh fritillary butterfly is one of Europe’s rarest butterflies and relies upon devils-bit scabious as the food plant for its caterpillars. Grazing and cutting of fields at the wrong time can be catastrophic for these butterflies and so support and good management are important. The island is also known as wolf island, giving another indication of the part fauna here, it is thought that this name comes from the Viking/Norse people who took Ulva as their home for a time. Obviously we’ve lost our large mammalian predators like the wolf and the lynx but thankfully we do at least have the white-tailed and golden eagles.
We enjoyed lots of wildflowers and trees in bloom – particularly the hawthorn. We spotted lousewort, foxgloves, birds-foot trefoil, bluebells, flag iris, tormentil, bugle, water avens, common bistort and more. We also enjoyed the amazing diversity of lichens covering the trees and walls including dogtooth lichen and beard lichen; this gives us an indication of ancient woodland and demonstrates the cleanliness of our air.
Loch Torr guided walk
On Wednesday 1st I ran a guided walk in the Quinish Forest surrounding Loch Torr. We had a brilliant afternoon in the warm weather with a huge array of wildlife to be seen. We were also joined by Ewan Miles of Inspire Wild, great to have him and his wealth of knowledge for the afternoon. Ewan spotted some great species for us including some common lizards, one of reptile species that were enjoying the heat of the day.
Much of the area is commercial plantation with Sitka spruce and larch trees making up the bulk but despite this the area is brilliant for insect life. The rides along the forest tracks are wide and sunny, with large open areas full of heather and cotton grass. We enjoyed a multitude of butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies throughout the afternoon making for a very slow walking pace! We recorded species like dark-green fritillary, small heath, speckled wood and green-veined white butterflies. Dragonflies are on the wing now and we watched golden-ringed and four spotted chasers hawking along the waterways. Damselflies were in abundance; we spotted large red damselflies and the stunning beautiful demoiselle. Day flying moths were also visible, speckled yellow was the most notable. I also noted a very odd looking parasitic wasp species, which I think is called the black slip wasp, very mean looking black and red individual!
I’m already getting lots of bookings for the butterfly/wildflower morning at Treshnish (Wed 15th July), so if you’re interested it would be great if you could let me know on 07540792650. Straight after lunch on the same day you join myself and Dr Conor Ryan from HWDT to do some sea watching to look for marine mammals and seabirds, so you could spend the whole day with the ranger service!