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