Would you like to work with us on the lovely island of Staffa for a few months this year? Find job description and application form here.
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!
They say that all good things must come to an end, and my summer volunteering with the Ranger Service is no exception. I can hardly believe it’s already been two months since I arrived on this beautiful island and I’ll soon be heading back to the mainland and home to Yorkshire.
My final week on Mull started at the Tiroran Community Woodland outreach day, where visitors ate delicious cakes while watching eagles and crossbills (so I’m told….) soaring over the trees. We held our own event, planned by yours truly, later in the week. Armed with jumbo pavement chalk, we invited anyone and everyone to come and decorate the newly completed Loch Pottie Path, which joins the villages of Fionnphort and Creich. It was great to see visiting children playing hopscotch just metres away from local poets who had written special pieces for the event.
We did a lot of survey work this week, too. Since June I’ve regularly been out to monitor a shag colony nesting on the cliffs of Iona and my final visit on Tuesday revealed two chicks I hadn’t seen previously. Good news for a colony that was completely washed away last year!
Towards the end of the week, Emily (Ranger for South Mull, Iona, Burg and Staffa) and I were fortunate enough to spend a morning with the exceptional botanist Lynne Farrell, who has scoured Mull (and various other islands) on a mission to record the plants that live there. What I lack in botanical skill I make up for in powers of observation: we found a total of 110 different species in the small area we surveyed, more than when Lynne surveyed the same plot over twenty years ago.
This week is a good representation of my time here; I don’t think many people will have had a summer as varied as mine. Assisting Emily, I’ve been everything from facepainter to wildlife tour guide to researcher to photographer to teaching assistant.
I’ve listened for corncrakes under a midnight sun, wild camped with the feral goats of Burg, stood top-deck on a tour boat looking for cliff-side nests and watched a sheepdog herd ducks at my first ever agricultural show.
I’ve surveyed more species than I can count, (including the endemic slender scotch burnet moth and the extremely rare Iceland purslane), and my plant ID repertoire has expanded from daisy or dandelion to include such things as selfheal, butterwort and northern marsh orchid. I’ve watched dolphins playing in the sound of Iona, photographed puffins crash landing on Staffa and laughed at my own naivety for thinking a buzzard could possibly be a sea eagle.
Outside of work I’ve explored the white sandy beaches of Ardalanish, Uisken and Kilvickeon, climbed Ben More, Mull’s only Munro, and eaten a life-changingly delicious cheesecake at Dervaig Artisan Bakery (not in the same day, though that would have been the perfect reward). I’ve also seen one or two absolutely stunning sunsets and views to islands I can barely point out on a map.
I’m sure I’ll be back, but for now I’ll bid a fond farewell to the island and its people. I’m particularly grateful to Emily for her patience, guidance and conversation, which has helped make this summer an unforgettable experience.
Snowdrops, daffodils and singing song thrushes, it must be true! Time to think about the season ahead. We’re recruiting for 2 more summer posts, one paid and one voluntary, see below for details.
One day at the end of January, we woke up to proper snow, unusual for here.
It doesn’t hang around for long though, here’s the same view later in the day.
There was even snow on the beach!
Can you spot who’s been out and about here?
A few days later it had mostly disappeared, and we had a perfect sunny day for a little gathering to say thank you to a few of the lovely volunteers who’ve helped us out over the last year.
If you think you might like to join them, we are recruiting for a full-time Volunteer Assistant Ranger for 3 months this summer.
This is a great opportunity to develop skills and experience in nature conservation and rangering. The role is based in Bunessan and involves assisting with varied tasks over a number of island sites including Iona and Staffa. Tasks will include wildlife survey work, delivery of education projects and public events programme, providing information to visitors, practical maintenance. Accommodation and some travel costs will be covered.
You must show enthusiasm for wildlife and the great outdoors. Some knowledge/ experience in the relevant field would be useful but more important is flexibility, good communication skills, an ability to work under your own initiative, and a desire to learn. You will need to be willing and able to work inside or outside in all weathers, including some lone working in rugged coastal terrain. Some weekend/evening hours will be required.
Closing date: 9am Monday 8th April Interview date: week of 29th April
For more details and an application form, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org (no CVs please)
We are also recruiting for a (paid) Visitor Services Assistant for the island of Staffa, again feel free to contact me if you’d like more details. Application form and job description can now be downloaded directly from the NTS Vacancies page here: https://www.nts.org.uk/charity/Vacancies/ Closing date is 22nd March.
Finally, check out our Facebook page to see some of the creatures being sent to us for Tiroran Woollen Woods! There’s still plenty of time to join in as deadline for receiving your creations is the end of April.
Thanks for reading!
With all the wet and windy weather it’s about time you had a tour of our lovely new building on Iona which opened earlier this year, so…
Welcome to Shelter!
Let’s take a look around…
This new building sits on the footprint of an older shed which has played a key part in island life over the last 100 years – a venue for dances, a cargo store, boatshed, and even the firestation – until it fell into disrepair.
It’s now revitalised, with a similar look to the original building outside (in keeping with the village’s status as a building conservation area). If you are here on a quick daytrip we hope it will inspire you to visit again and spend more time exploring. If you need a dry place to wait for the ferry, be our guest, and maybe learn something interesting while you’re waiting – there’s a handy vending machine for snacks too! If you are unable to walk far, our audio-visual film, large-scale map and colourful banners will bring the sights and sounds of the island to you. If you’re ready to explore off the beaten track you’ll find the map and leaflets useful – don’t forget to come back and record your wildlife sightings afterwards and find out how the conservation work of the National Trust for Scotland provides ‘shelter’ for the island’s wildlife and landscapes too.
Of course this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our generous donors, many thanks to all who contributed and to those who help to keep the building clean and open for business.
10th June saw our official opening ceremony at which young people from Oban High School who’d been involved in our Changing Landscapes project entertained us with their music and poetry. A short documentary film about this project features in the Shelter’s audio-visual display and can be viewed online here: www.nts.org.uk/Site/Iona-changing-landscapes/Changing-Landscapes
The wildlife film created by Simon Goodall can also be viewed online here: www.nts.org.uk/Nature-Channel/View/Iona-Time-And-Tide
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 from the Ross of Mull! You haven’t heard much news from me lately, as I’ve been out and about away from the office making the most of the good weather which has arrived at last after a cold, wet windy spring (including some unseasonable snow and hail!). This is my busiest time of year so here’s a glimpse into some recent activities.
May and early June were busy with nature clubs at both Bunessan and Iona primary schools – finding out about bumblebees and other insects, insectivorous plants, herons and foraging. Also this morning I took Bunessan early years class on an exploration of their school grounds to investigate how living things depend on other things for survival – with the help of some friendly animal puppets who showed us their favourite places to find food and shelter.
Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear about more of one of our favourite conservation tasks – beachcleaning! In late May I led a free guided walk to see the mysterious rock carvings at Scoor Cave, along with Catriona Joss from the Ross of Mull Historical Centre, in return for participants helping to clear the beach while there. A great effort resulted in a human chain bringing up two pick-up loads full of rubbish, luckily I could deposit this in the skip at Bunessan primary school, hired for their own fantastic beachcleaning efforts a few days later, by the end of the weekend it was full to overflowing! Then more recently the lovely NTS Conservation Volunteers (Glasgow group) arrived for a weekend visit, they cheerily collected rubbish in the rain, and next day in very welcome sunshine, make short work of adding the final coat of paint to our handrail stanchions on Staffa. Thanks guys! Thanks also to the hardy Thistle Campers staying on Iona earlier in May who started the job, alongside ditch clearing, cutting back vegetation at Tireragan nature reserve, and you guessed it, yet more beachcleans! For information on outdoor volunteering with the NTS, have a look here: http://www.nts.org.uk/Volunteering/Outdoor and of course at Mull and Iona Ranger Service we always welcome local as well as visiting volunteers 🙂
So environmental education, leading guided walks and practical conservation tasks keep us busy at this time of year, but there’s always a few more unusual things happening just to add to the mix! Rachel mentioned the NTS cruise in her previous post, well I was lucky enough to get invited to work on the ship as an onboard ranger for a week, spotting wildlife, giving commentaries as we passed seabird colonies and leading a tour to Iona, quite strange to take part in the daytrip that brings so many visitors our way! Wildlife surveys are in full swing, and for me that could mean wandering Iona with a clipboard at midnight mapping corncrake territories (thanks to the night owls who help with that task and let me sleep on their floors afterwards!), or chasing brightly coloured moths around the hillside at Burg! I also hosted a visit from Simon Goodall (NTS Wildlife Filming Editor), with the Google Trekker, although it looks like an alien hitching a lift it’s actually the same camera from the Google Car, but mounted on a backpack, so by the end of the year you should be able to take a ‘streetview’ style virtual walk to the fossil tree at Burg, around Staffa or on a circular route around Iona!
To prove that summer has arrived at last, I’ll leave you with these sunny photos of Iona, taken on my way back from monitoring a seabird colony down at Pigeon Cave yesterday afternoon. Hope this inspires you to get outdoors and explore your own patch! You could try the ‘30 days wild‘ challenge as featured on BBC Springwatch, or have a look at our events page on this blog for some walks and activities you could come along to.
Completing start-of-season checks and the first bird count of the year on Staffa over Easter weekend, the light was stunning in the early morning as the mist rolled back. Here’s some photos and a wee guest blog from one of our ranger service volunteers:
One thing is for sure. There is a big difference between going on a trip to Staffa with a boat and having one hour ashore before immediately traveling back again, or waving goodbye to the boat that would take you back and spend 24 hours on the island to yourself. For one, you get Fingals cave all to yourself as the light is starting to fade and there is no one else in sight that could look at you in a strange way when you decide to test the cave acoustics by shouting out a medieval chant from that children’s program you watched on telly twenty years ago when you were a kid in Sweden (any likeness to real people in the previous sentence is purely accidental). Just in case you were wondering.
Of course, I wasn’t alone.
The whole reason I was there was because it was somewhere decided that spending 24 hours alone on a tiny island in the Atlantic isn’t something you can require from your employee. So I tagged along. And so did round about 122 Black Guillemots as it turns out when we did the bird count at dawn the following morning which was one of the main reasons for the trip.
I promised Emily I would include a Haiku in this blogpost.
Eight or twelve or ten?
Maybe there was seventeen?
I’ve lost my count again…
(And proud owner of a get-into-nts-things-for-free-card)
A little film to remind you of summer days, using some of the video footage and sound recordings from our Iona: Changing Landscapes project in June 2014. Look out for more in September 2015!
If you like this, more videos, music, poetry and pictures can be found on the project website here: http://www.nts.org.uk/Site/Iona-changing-landscapes/Changing-Landscapes/
Time to feature a guest blog from Janna Greenhalgh, editor of ‘Round and About – Mull and Iona’ magazine: http://www.roundandaboutmull.co.uk/ Look out for R&A in local shops every month, with loads of useful information and events, including ranger news.
“The audience in Iona Abbey on Monday 23rd June was delighted by the performance of ‘Changing Landscapes’ by Oban High School pupils – a carefully blended mix of traditional music, song and poetry. This was the result of a project instigated by the National Trust for Scotland, which has education as part of its remit.
The youngsters came over to Iona for two days and learned something of its history and experienced present day Iona, concentrating on the changing landscape and the conservation of wildlife, with the aim of expressing their thoughts and feelings about this in their music and writing. ‘The whole project has been a wonderful experience’ said Emily Wilkins, National Trust Ranger for the Ross of Mull, Iona, Burg and Staffa: ‘especially as most of the pupils had never been to Iona before’
Members of the High School’s Traditional School of Music worked with Donald Shaw of Capercaillie, and Advanced Higher English pupils worked with local poet Jan Sutch Pickard. Both mentors took part in the performance along with the pupils, and the level of expertise and professionalism was astonishing after such a short preparation time. Credit must also go to Sileas Sinclair and MorvenMcKerrell, who work on a regular basis with the pupils of the Traditional School of Music.
The music was played with feeling as well as accuracy, and the songs and poems at times very moving.
Donald Shaw summed it up ‘Being creative with these young artists in such a magical environment on the edge of the world re-affirmed my belief that we are in a great moment for our culture’. ” JCG
Have a look at the Changing Landscapes Flickr page for lots more photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/80087340@N06/sets/72157645160034325/