Nature Adventure Days

As lockdown started to ease, the ranger service teamed up with Camas Outdoor Centre, Bendoran Water Activities Club, Headland Explorations and South West Mull and Iona Development’s new community garden to provide 3 weeks of outdoor activities for the second half of the school summer holidays.  As all the usual summer island events were cancelled, we wanted to provide some fun primarily for local families who might not manage a break away this year after being cooped up homeschooling for weeks

Despite limited places available due to rules about the number of households able to meet together, we soon had happy kayakers in Camas bay and rock climbers tackling routes at Knockvologan and Camas Quarry.

Volunteer Abbie Cato helped plan and run some nature events for younger children.  We went to Fionnphort beach and found lots of interesting rockpool creatures including shore crabs, blennies, two types of anemones and bright orange breadcrumb sponge:

Then played some games about food chains (who eats who in the rockpool), limpets (did you know they move around underwater eating algae, then as the tide goes out they go back to their ‘home scar’ where their shell grows to match the rock exactly and stop them drying out), dolphin echolocation (we’ve all noticed more marine mammals around during lockdown, with reduced boat traffic), and seabird migration – designing obstacle courses around which we had to throw stones representing birds on their journey.

The following week we had a real-life mystery quest at Camas – to figure out why there was an abandoned oystercatcher nest on the beach.  We discussed how rangers might find out – looking for tracks and signs, watching from a hide, using trail cameras etc.  Participants had great fun with magnifying glasses looking for wildlife clues down the track, such as footprints in the mud.  We had a shortlist of 3 predators – mink, otter and raven and learned about where each of them lived, and practised moving like our chosen creature.  Each child then had a pizza box with a lump of clay to make into a pizza and a list of toppings (the diet of their chosen animal) they had to collect things to represent these eg. crab shell, rabbit skull, grass seed to represent grain, make seaweed into a picture of a spider etc.) which we took up to Camas’ outdoor pizza oven and pretended to cook.  Next we built a wildlife viewing hide in the woods from branches – and managed to stay still for 5 minutes while a few small birds came past.  The group decided that the raven was the likely culprit and were rewarded with the sight and sound of one flying past overhead.

We also held an activity day at our emerging community garden in the grounds of the Ross of Mull Historical Centre, looing at invertebrates found in the stream and on bushes and trees.  After hunting for them, drawing them and making cardboard models, it was time to help with garden clearance and we had a go at sawing rhododendron branches and trimming willow twigs.  Everything will be reused for garden structures or wildife habitat piles.

After weeks of back-garden citizen science earlier this summer, I’ve also been having my own nature adventure days on several recent trips to Burg, checking on our species-rich grassland, clearing bracken and monitoring some rare species including the slender scotch burnet moth and the tiny Iceland purslane plant.  Huge thanks to all the volunteers for their help!   Had some lovely sightings of golden eagles and peregrines around the cliffs while there.  Also on a pre-season trip to Staffa our boat was surrounded in all directions by dozens of common dolphins leaping into the air!

It’s great to be out and about again isn’t it?  Whether local resident or visitor we can all play our part in leaving no trace, take your rubbish home or hold onto it until you find a bin.  Please don’t throw it out of your car window.  We picked up 30 bags of roadside rubbish during lockdown and sadly it’s starting to reappear on the verges 😦

Thanks for reading and please make sure to take care of our environment on your travels.   Emily

Photos by Philip Yielder, Peter Upton, Abbie Cato and Emily Wilkins

 

Autumn in the air

Bright rowan berries, bracken changing colour…although mixed with a lovely splash of purple from scabious, knapweed and heather flowers, it definitely feels like autumn is approaching, especially with the wild weather we’ve been experiencing lately.  Our recent guided walk to Shiaba discovered the burn (usually easily fordable) to be a raging torrent so we had to be content with viewing most of the buildings in the distance!  Luckily as we stopped for lunch the clouds started to clear allowing views of Carsaig Arches and Colonsay too.

Here on Iona and Staffa we’ve just hosted the National Trust for Scotland’s footpath repair team, and also a hardy group of Thistle Camp workparty volunteers, who’ve been out in all weathers making improvements to our well-used paths.  With tens of thousands of visitors a year our footpaths need constant maintenance to counteract the impact of all those feet.  So enjoy our new stepping stones and a slightly less muddy experience next time you are walking to Columba’s Bay, the Hermit’s Cell or Staffa’s puffin colony!  Thistle Campers also worked on repairs to drystone walls and collected rubbish from a number of Iona’s beaches.  The footpath team will be back next spring when they will also be carrying out repair work to the landslide-affected path at Burg.

In my last blog post I told you about our first Nature Adventure Day along with Headland Explorations, well the programme continued with a group exploring St Martin’s Caves on Iona, foraging for seaweed and cooking it on a beach fire lit using flint and steel and natural tinder (dried bog cotton and grasses).  We had seaweed soup, seaweed-flavoured popcorn, fried seaweed and a carragheen pudding!  Thanks to Miek Zwamborn for sharing her expertise.

The last day involved an adventurous sail on Mark Jardine’s B.Marie, high winds causing us to abandon our original plans to travel around the south coast of the Ross of Mull for climbing and beach cleaning, in favour of heading around the north of Iona to sheltered Port Ban.  Everyone enjoyed having a go at climbing and investigating the plant life of the bay with a game of wildflower name pictionary.  Many thanks to the Dutch family from Erraid who kindly used their own boats to collect the beach rubbish from Traigh Gheal a few days later.

Other successful summer days included Woodland Tribe at Tiroran Community Forest where children and young people got to create their own adventure playground which should last up to 5 years.  Feel free to use it next time you’re there, and if you haven’t already seen the Woollen Woods, most of it is still in place too.  I’m now busy helping Bunessan Class 1 with their nature trail topic, along with Philip Yielder (Community Forester at Tiroran) so look out for a new trail to follow in the forest this autumn!

I also really enjoyed the opening celebrations for the Loch Pottie path, standing in the rain 10 minutes before the agreed time I was wondering whether anyone would turn up, but a last-minute rush saw over 100 people led by the pipe band and children on bikes all walking the path together to declare it open.  It’s since been great to see it well-used and appreciated by everyone from visitors on an evening stroll, to locals walking their dogs and children cycling to the shop.  Look out for new interpretation signage in due course.

The last of our wildlife surveys for the year saw me joined by some volunteers with a head for heights as we checked up on the spread of bracken at Burg and counted our population of the rare Iceland Purslane plant.  Work also continues on the bothy renovations at Burg, and on the Fingal’s Cave walkway on Staffa which is nearing completion.

As some of you will be aware through our displays at the agricultural shows we were covering endangered species, one of which may well be YOUR ranger service. The Ranger Service is a partnership made of National Trust for Scotland (NTS), Forest and Land Scotland (FLS)and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and we are managed by Mull and Iona Community Trust. Unfortunately, FLS cease to fund us totally at the beginning of April next year and SNH have cut their support by 50% so our ranger team may well be under threat unless we find alternative funding. If you have time to drop us a supportive email (to mfinch@mict.co.uk) about an event you have enjoyed, what your children thought about one of the school trips we have organised, the benefits of volunteering or the difference made by our co-ordination of community access projects, beach cleans or any other aspect of our work we’d be glad to hear from you as we can use any positive comments as evidence for potential funders! We will keep you up to date as things develop but any support for our service would be much appreciated.

thanks for reading,

Emily

 

My favourite time of year

With the long hours of daylight, many sunny days and plenty of wildlife action, May and June have to be my favourite time of year, so lots of highlights to tell you about this time.

Our Woollen Woods launched at the end of May and is still on display so do pop in and visit next time you are passing Tiroran Community Forest: https://www.facebook.com/pg/mullionarangerservice/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1941534295893873

It provided the perfect backdrop for Bunessan nursery’s visit with their topic of Fairytales (particularly the giant mushrooms and the knitted Gruffalo).  The other classes from Bunessan primary also visited the forest that week to help with tree planting, investigate the ruined buildings, think about plans for a visitor centre and learn about the parts of a plant.

forest school trip may 2019

Meanwhile on Iona we enjoyed Outdoor Classroom Day on the beach, and a series of afterschool nature club sessions where the children set us a challenge by choosing the themes they would like to cover – culminating in a finale of studying grasshoppers combined with making a fire for hot chocolate and marshmallows!

Another hardworking Thistle Camp got to grips with some drainage work and beachcleaning, among other tasks, during a hot sunny week on Iona, and were rewarded for their efforts by taking part in several days of kayaking.  Meanwhile Emilie and I completed the 3rd and final midnight corncrake count of the season, witnessing a spectacular red sunset and a lovely display of noctilucent (night-shining) clouds.

We’re all looking forward to adventure playground building with Woodland Tribe on the 7th, 8th and 9th July (no need to book, just turn up at Tiroran Community Forest between 11am and 6pm, or contact pyielder@swmid.co.uk for community transport information) and in advance of that Emilie led a beachcombing session for items to add to the construction.

Now that the school holidays have started, we are running several Nature Adventure Days with our local teenagers, and the first day saw us taking an old path through the Mull hills from Teanga Bridge over to Knock via Loch Ba, stopping to admire views, take hundreds of photos, climb trees and cool our feet in the clear streams.  Next up it’s exploring St Martin’s caves and seaweed cooking on the beaches of Iona!

Today we had our first Magnificent Meadows event, thanks to those who kindly let us visit to admire their beautiful flowery fields, provided refreshments or drove the community bus – a dull day weather wise but thoroughly enjoyable nevertheless!

Lots more exciting events coming up so hope to see you soon!

Emily