A Summer on Mull

 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.

IMG_20190814_144050522

A classic game, easier to play when you’re a child (trust me)

IMG_20190814_135028630

Translation: what a light and a great view. I’m told it rhymes in Dutch!

IMG_20190814_142653751

A contribution from one of our local poets

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.

 

Lynne Farrell Survey.jpg

Lynne and I putting our binoculars to good use to zoom in on the plants over the stream

 

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.

IMG_20190731_124637939

‘Going Wild’ at Fionnphort beach

Burg survey

Taking a well-earned break while surveying the plants on Burg

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.

Bunessan Show 2019

From left: Lizzy, Emily and me at Bunessan Show

DSC_0080

Wild camping on Burg – before the rain came

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.

Compressed 4

Can’t visit Staffa without photographing a puffin

Dolphin

Bottlenose dolphins are regular visitors to the Sound of Iona

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.

Kilvickeon

Kilvickeon beach, one of my favourites

Sunset

An incredible sunset seen from Bunessan

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.

Emilie

Advertisements

Woodland Wonders

Wild woods

Woodlands are places that catch your imagination. Woodlands are the home of fairytales and folklore, they inspire. Free play in a woodland encourages children to explore and develop. Trees enrich our senses – whatever the season. But springtime is surely one of the most enchanting times to visit a wood; your senses will be overwrought with sounds, smells and sights. Luckily for me I lead guided walks and can share the experience with others.

Bluebell magic

Bluebell magic

Aros Park

Last Friday the National Trust for Scotland cruise ship, the Saga Pearl 2 made a last minute change of plan and arrived in Tobermory rather than Oban. I ran two short walks in Aros Park for some of the passengers. We started out on the coastal path from Ledaig car park and strolled along the track looking for woodland wildlife. This is a great walk and offers a very different perspective on Tobermory Bay and Aros Park itself, as we so often drive in to the main car park. The park is owned by Forestry Commission Scotland and is a great asset right by Tobermory.

Flower power

Wildflowers are only just starting to come to life, everything seems to be clinging to winter, emerging later than normal this season – probably due to the colder temperatures, it feels more like January than May! Along the coastal pathway in Aros we relished the smell of wild garlic, also known as ramsons, an edible woodland treat. Bluebells were looking brilliant too, here in the UK we have 50% of the worlds bluebell population. We also spotted yellow archangel – a species of dead nettle, opposite leafed golden saxifrage and water avens. Another plant we see a lot of in Aros is called Tutsan which is thought to mean “all-healthy”, linking in with healing properties. We also spotted some dor beetles on the move; we looked at these guys through a hand lens and were amazed by the small details and metallic colours.

Water avens (Geum rivale)

Water avens (Geum rivale)

Dor beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius)

Dor beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius)

Ancient woodland walk 

This week I ran another woodland guided walk which was open to the public. We began the walk at the Loch Buie/Croggan turn off from the main road, south of Craignure and enjoyed some of the protected woodland nearby. Ardura and Auchnacraig are both listed as a SSSI (site of special scientific interest) primarily for the large area of ancient oak woodlands, geological interests and a small section of salt marsh. The largest area of ancient atlantic oak woods in the Hebrides remains here, most of the woodland across the islands is lone gone.

Osprey encounter 

There is a footpath through some of the woodland which emerges onto the shoreline of Loch Spelve. We were lucky enough to catch a great view of an osprey, a species which doesn’t breed here on Mull. This individual bird has been hanging around for a few weeks now though and will maybe return to breed in the future. Due to the leg ring we know this male bird was ringed in 2012 at Loch Lomond. We also saw plenty of greylag and canada geese, oystercatchers and common sandpipers.

Invasive non-natives 

Within the woodland itself we spotted some worrying non-native invasive species, very concerning when walking in such an important site. Japanese knotweed and rhododendron were both present. The third was skunk cabbage, an American bog plant that is readily available in garden centres in the UK. Also known as the swamp lantern this species is spreading from gardens to interfere with our native wildlife.

Native wildflowers 

Plenty of lovely native wildflowers and plants to be seen too though. The main tree species in this area are silver birch and oak, with holly, rowan and hazel making up the threadbare understory. We were pleased to see some successful saplings but overgrazing in some sections of woodland was apparent. Wildflowers included:

Opposite-leaved golden-saxifrage

Primrose

Lesser celandine

Tormentil

Marsh marigold

Yellow pimpernel

Wood anemone

Wood sorrel

Greater stitchwort

Selfheal

Bluebell

Heath milkwort

Lousewort

Cuckoo flower

Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa)

Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa)

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some and this doesn’t even consider all the lichen and moss species, out woodlands are teeming with life. Well worth an hours exploration, take the time to get lost in a wood and encounter some new wildlife.

Thanks for reading as usual! Check our events page for upcoming dates to join us soon. Rachel 🙂