Out and about this autumn

As autumn turns to winter, time for a look back at what the ranger service has been up to.  While Jan has been busy on Tobermory lighthouse path and at Calgary bay, and Mull Eagle Watch won another award, here’s what’s been happening in the south of the island:

Specialist path workers have stabilised the slope below the ladder at Burg, reducing erosion and improving access to the beach.  Unfortunately the day after they left heavy rain caused a spectacular landslide further back along the coast which completely buried the path (at grid reference NM 411 263), so if you’re planning to go the fossil tree any time soon you will need to be prepared to scramble around the bouldery beach below it, and judge for yourself the risk of falling rocks from above.

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Upper figure shows where the path used to cross the slope!

Depending on weather conditions it may be better to turn back at this point, but it’s still a lovely walk giving a taste of our dramatic coastal scenery and wildlife.  On my visit this week we were bathed in lovely winter light and enjoyed watching an otter fishing just offshore.

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November sunlight at Burg showing the iron age site of Dun Bhuirg

I’ve been helping out with beach school sessions with the younger children from Iona primary school and nursery.  Investigating rockpool life, trying out seaweed recipes and playing wildlife-related games on the sand doesn’t have to be a summer-only activity!

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How many tracks can you spot in the sand?

At Bunessan primary, afterschool nature clubs have been investigating seed dispersal and making hedgehog hibernation homes for our gardens.  Argyll and Bute council also featured our Lost Words project as a good example of raising educational attainment.

Back at the end of August, a group of Thistle Camp working holiday volunteers on Iona not only did a great job painting bridges and noticeboards, digging ditches, making stepping stones, pulling bracken and beachcleaning, but also inadvertently caused a bomb scare with this mystery object, which turned out to be the propellant canister used to launch a missile from a WWII US Navy ship!  Never a dull moment!

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Photo by Graham Arnold

I’m very grateful for everyone who gives their time and skills to volunteer throughout the year, in particular some of our younger volunteers during this Year of Young People.

Finally, here’s a sneak peek at a new project for next year.  We are going to be hosting Woollen Woods at Tiroran Community Forest.  We’ll be asking everyone to get involved by creating woolly woodland creatures (animals, plants or fungi and knitted, felted, crocheted, pom-poms, any technique you like!) to go on display at the forest next year.  Look out for more information coming soon, or if you can’t wait to get started, you can post any contributions to: Mull and Iona Ranger Service, c/o Tigh na Rois, Millbrae Cottage, Bunessan, Isle of Mull, PA67 6DA.  We won’t be able to return any of your creatures but we can promise them a starring role in our outdoor exhibition next summer!  Some mice have already got in on the act!

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These two mice have been busy nibbling hazelnuts from their stash

Emily

 

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After the storms…

Hello from the snow-free Ross of Mull!  While much of the mainland was buried under snow drifts, here we saw hardly a snowflake apart from on the hills, although it was very cold and dry in that harsh east wind.  Spray from Burg’s waterfalls froze solid on the cliffs, and in Bunessan even the beach was frozen at low tide!

We haven’t escaped winter storm damage though.  Unfortunately part of the walkway into Fingal’s Cave on Staffa has been washed away.  Wave erosion formed the island’s famous caves and is an ongoing process, as water pressure acts on the cracks between the basalt columns.  This means that there is currently no access to Fingal’s cave on foot, although it can still be viewed from a boat.  We have a team of specialist engineers working on a solution, and meanwhile the rest of the island including the puffin colony remains accessible.

 

Other winter tasks include regular checks on our visitor counters and infrastructure such as the ladder at Burg.  It means carrying a laptop to some out-of-the-way places, but a good reason for a walk on a bright winter day.  Thanks to Terry Ward for the photos.

Now that birdsong and catkins are giving hints of spring, afterschool nature clubs have restarted.  This term involves activities related to forests, investigating trees and the wildlife that lives amongst them.  Last week we made some woolly flowers for an installation at Tiroran Community Forest later this month.  (It was also World Book Day which explains the costumes and face paint!)  Well done to Monica Haddock for organising this.  If it goes well we may consider a full Woollen Woods experience for gala fortnight, asking folk to make all sorts of woodland plants and creatures for display.  Meanwhile, come along and picnic amongst the woollen meadow on Saturday 24th March!

There’s still time to apply for our summer volunteer assistant ranger position, as the closing date is Wednesday 14th March at 9am.  See previous blog post for details.

Emily

Bringing you up to date

Hello!  Thought it was time for an update of news from my patch over the last couple of months.

Our summer events programme finished earlier than usual as I was off to Edinburgh to begin a part-time postgraduate course in Outdoor Environmental and Sustainability Education.  I enjoyed the company of some great people from all over the world, and perhaps I’ll share some of my learning with you as the course progresses over the next few years, as we are very much encouraged to reflect on our own practice.  Of course it was also good to come home to one of my favourite Mull views!

Anyway, before I went there was plenty of time to fit in some great outdoor days with both visitors and locals, including another lovely walk to the tidal island of Erraid, always a popular event in our guided walks programme.  It was hard to drag everyone away from the beautiful beach at Balfour’s Bay!

Kate and I led another successful visit to Tiroran Community Forest with Bunessan Primary class 1, learning all about our sea eagles with Meryl at the hide, and finding out about dinosaurs and fossils.  We made plaster casts of footprints, played games about camouflage and designed dinosaurs which might survive in a forest habitat, out of natural materials.

Our final NTS Thistle Camp of the year worked hard to improve access around Iona and Staffa with lots of very muddy pathwork including building stone steps, repairing stiles and bridges, and replacing a section of boardwalk.  They also cleared a huge bramble patch from an area behind Iona school, and had a go at scything.  This year the week  included 2 days on Mull where the group helped Highland Renewal replace a bridge at Tireragan nature reserve and teamed up with local volunteers on a large-scale beachclean.  Great effort everyone!

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While the Thistle Camp were working on Staffa we had the expert help of Nan Morris from our path repair team, and we also had a visit from the structural engineer.  This is required to help us monitor and plan for future repair or replacement work of all of our built infrastructure that helps people access the island, for example the pier, ladders and handrails.

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The following week I headed over to Mar Lodge estate in Aberdeenshire for some valuable catch-up time with colleagues and to see how various land management projects there are progressing.  Woodland restoration is coming on very well.  On the way I dropped off Kate for a couple of days experience of working in mountain habitats at NTS Ben Lawers where she was well looked after by the team there.  A long way to travel but our early start was rewarded with a spectacular sunrise.

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Kate’s last day was spent finishing off a plant survey on the Ross, along with local volunteer Peter Upton.  Wishing Kate all the best as she moves onto pastures new.

Our final survey of the season involved walking the coast of the Ardmeanach peninsula on our annual goat count which helps us work out grazing levels.  100 goats were happily spread around the beach boulders sunbathing!  What a hard life!

Last week I escorted a few cruise ship passengers around the coastal path at Burg on a perfectly clear sunny day and we spotted some pure white harebells.

Bunessan afterschool nature club has now restarted – our first event this autumn was a local walk finding plants which had animals in their names – how many can you think of?

Enjoy your autumn!

Emily

Sunny highlights

We’re enjoying weeks of almost unbroken warm sunshine here, time to give you a snapshot of what we’re up to in south Mull and Iona…

Thanks very much to the cheery NTS Thistle Camp volunteers, what a good-natured bunch of hard-working folk.  They are seen here checking out the results of all their efforts shifting boulders by giving the new stepping stones the ‘prancing test’!

 

Next a great group of students from George Watsons college in Edinburgh, on Mull for a John Muir Award week, who helped us out with a seaweed survey, Marine Conservation Society litter survey and beach clean up at Carsaig.

 

Iona and Bunessan primary schools teamed up for a visit to Tiroran Community Forest and Mull Eagle Watch, learning about our nesting sea eagles, measuring and identifying trees and minibeasts and having plenty of time to explore.

 

Not to be outdone, afterschool nature clubs at both schools have been collecting wool caught on fences and brambles, which was then washed and mordanted.  They also collected a selection of plants to produce their own dyes, and have carded the dyed wool reading for felting into pictures. Can you guess some of the plants we used from the photos?

 

Plenty of other things happening too – click on the events tab to see what’s next, then come and join us!

Emily

Spring holiday events

Hello again from the Ross!  It’s the middle of the school holidays at the moment and last week we were busy with several events.  First of all we had the lovely Aberdeen University Conservation Society helping out with tasks all around the island.  You can see what they got up to on our facebook page: beachcleaning at Aird Fada, path clearance and removing tree tubes in Aros Park, and outwith the ranger service, also helping out John Clare, Forest Officer, with improving wildlife habitats at Tiroran Community Forest.  Thanks for all your hard work!

Catriona Hood has been volunteering with me over the last few months and this week she stepped up her efforts to help plan two children’s holiday events.  For the first one on Wednesday 6th April we also had the help of the very capable Jane Gordon-Chauvet.  Although heavy rain and hail showers prevented us from being outside as much as we would have liked, judging by the time it took to clear up afterwards, a lot of fun was had by all!  The pictures show some of our Art in Nature efforts including games of ‘Nature’s Dominoes’ and ‘The Great Circle’ along with painting stones, making recycled paper and decorating suncatchers.  Thanks for coming along everyone!

Later in the week we tried out our first ranger service event in Tiroran Community Forest. Fifteen intrepid young folk took part in OrienTREEing during which they explored the forest in groups looking for clues attached to particular trees, with the help of a tree ID guide, a cartoon map drawn by Catriona and some pre-programmed GPSs.  They had to complete a number of challenges including discovering micro-worlds with the aid of magnifying glasses, choosing soundtracks or slogans to fit the views they could see, using all their senses to get to know the trees, smelling bog myrtle buds, finding wildlife from birds to tadpoles to a delicate moth chrysalis, exploring out what lives inside dead logs, investigating human impacts on the forest over time, collecting water and sticks to prepare their own hot chocolate.  We just managed to finish before the rain but most people had fun getting wet and muddy all the same!  Thanks to Maureen and Naomi for bringing their group from Oban and to Julie Ward for her help too, also to Celia Compton for driving the community bus.  Think we all know the forest a bit better now.  This was also a taster event for the John Muir Award and its themes of Discover, Explore, Conserve a Wild Place and Share the experience with others, so along the way we heard about John Muir himself and some of his crazy exploits.  If you know any 11-16 year olds who’d like to get involved in similar events during the summer holidays just get in touch with us!