A Gaelic View of ‘Wild’

The Gaelic equivalent of the English word ‘rewilding’ is ‘ath-fhiadhachadh’. Roddy Maclean argues that the word, and the concept, sit comfortably within a Gaelic world-view.

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

I have been working for the last couple of years with a conservation charity – Trees for Life – who own a ten-thousand acre estate at Dundreggan in Glenmoriston and who are currently developing the world’s first Rewilding Centre there. The centre will explain and celebrate rewilding, and will explain how Glenmoriston – and the broader Highlands – will benefit from the development. It will also celebrate the Gaelic language and heritage and, in particular, the strong links between the language and our native environment. In their support for Gaelic, Trees for Life are making a powerful statement about the role and status of the language and its heritage in relation to conservation, and I hope their advocacy will influence others.

Following consultation with the local community, it was the conservation charity itself that made the decision to incorporate Gaelic into the exhibition in the Rewilding Centre. There was no dragging, kicking, screaming or special pleading from Bòrd na Gàidhlig (although the Bòrd has provided financial support). What is pivotal to their approach is that Gaelic will not be an afterthought, provided as a translation of English text created from an anglophone perspective, but is being creatively interwoven into the exhibition from the start. In particular, the Gaelic understanding, and celebration of nature, land and heritage will be exhibited in both languages, both as written interpretation and as audio.

Scots Pines in Glen Affric, where rewilding began in the 1960s.
Photo © Grant Willoughby 

In the late summer of 1993, I was privileged to make a short Gaelic radio programme for the BBC, in which I interviewed the late Finlay MacRae, a forest conservation pioneer in Glen Affric. We spent a hot sunny day together in the regenerating woods around Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhain, and Finlay told me all about the rewards and challenges of working in such a beautiful place. A native of the Isle of Skye, Finlay was a great piper and aficionado of shinty, but his greatest fame rests in his work as a District Officer in the Forestry Commission, where he started the process of saving and regenerating the wonderful native pine forests of Affric. To Finlay, walking in the Caledonian forest among mature trees was a ‘spiritual’ experience. And for me, to be in the company of a native Gael who celebrated the magnificence of our forests through his work, advocacy and music was inspirational.

This original conservation work, dating back to the early 1960s, was promoted by arms of government, but Trees for Life, a charity founded by Alan Watson Featherstone, took up the cudgels on behalf of the forest, and began to plant vast numbers of trees, protected from grazing by deer fencing. Most of their work was in Glen Affric and nearby Glen Cannich, Glen Urquhart and Glenmoriston, all now the centre of a vision known as Afraig Mhòr/Affric Highlands, which will in the future see a large, conjoined area of native forest across much of these glens and beyond.

Carbon-accredited trees planted at Allt Ruadh, Dundreggan, Glenmoriston.
Photo © Stephen Couling

In the early days, people would talk about ‘conservation’ and ‘regeneration’ of native woodland but, by 1990, a new term – ‘rewilding’ – had appeared in print, coined (if we accept Wikipedia’s say-so) by members of Earth First!, a radical environmental advocacy group in the United States. The term has been refined and developed since then, and it is fair to say that it means subtly different things to different people. It is most broadly about creating an environment where natural ecosystems and natural processes are protected and promoted and where biodiversity is encouraged.

Planting trees is only part of a much bigger picture and, indeed, the removal of plantation forest and the blocking of drains in the Flow Country, so as to re-establish the integrity of that globally significant bogland, can be viewed as an example of rewilding. Neither in the case of Glenmoriston is it simply about trees. As the forest ecosystems are protected, particularly from overgrazing, so we see a considerable increase in biodiversity, including shrubs, herbs, epiphytes, fungi and both vertebrate and invertebrate animals of all sorts. Nature reasserts itself. To the human, the experience of being in such a forest is powerful and sometimes overwhelming. Humans can be rewilded too!

A visualisation of Dundreggan Rewilding Centre, currently being constructed.
© Threesixty Architecture

Some in the Highlands have questioned whether a rewilding process fits comfortably within a Gaelic world-view and whether returning parts of our country to a natural state is somehow a denial of the work of previous generations in developing the rural economy that supported a population. I would submit that it fits comfortably with the Gaelic love of nature and that it can be linked positively to a thriving local economy. It can also be put forward as a celebration of our cultural heritage, as at Dundreggan – if we assert our place as the keepers of a unique language and culture and work closely with the conservation movement. It’s going to happen anyway, and it is better that the Gaels are part of it.

In terms of the terminology we use, some have questioned the use of the ‘new’ word ath-fhiadhachadh (ah EE-ugh-uch-ugh’) for ‘rewilding’ but I would submit that it as natural as the English word. Fiadh (FEE-ugh’) refers to both ‘deer’ and the ‘wild’ – the deer being the archetypal wild beast in a Scottish context. Another animal of the ‘wild’ is the hare or geàrr-fhiadh (literally ‘short deer’ or ‘short wild one’), usually shortened to geàrr. Both the deer and the hare, rather uniquely among terrestrial mammals, are known to shape-change from animal to human form in Gaelic tradition. We are ourselves of the wild!

A fiadh-bheinn is a wild mountain and fiadh-bheatha is the Gaelic for ‘wildlife’ but fiadh is also well known adjectivally as fiadhaich ‘wild, savage’; like the English word ‘wild’ it can refer both to things and places where civilisation does not dominate and to animals and people whose demeanour is combative or angry. Cat-fiadhaich is the Gaelic for ‘wildcat’ and the species qualifies on both grounds! Fiadhain is another similar word, often used for ‘wild’ or non-cultivated plants. Ubhal-fiadhain is a ‘crab apple’.

The old Gaels would say of land that had previously been developed for agriculture, but that had become wild once more, gun robh e air a dhol am fiadh ‘that it had gone to the wild’, and while fiadhachadh is in the dictionaries meaning ‘deer hunting’, it is no great semantic step for us to also use it to mean ‘making wild’. With the addition of the prefix ath (‘re-’) we have ath-fhiadhachadh ‘rewilding’. As I said to somebody the other day, ann an ath-fhiadhachadh, tha ath-ùrachadh ‘in rewilding, there is renewal’. It’s a natural enough use of language.

The linking of Gaelic to the notion of environmental renewal has particular resonance in Trees for Life’s estate at Dundreggan where the Gaelic heritage is incredibly strong. Virtually all of Glenmoriston’s place names are Gaelic and the glen abounds with hundreds of Gaelic songs, poetry and stories – the last of both historical figures and of supernatural creatures like sìthichean (‘fairies’), cailleachan (‘hags’) and the infamous làir bhàn ‘white mare’ of Coire Dhò. Some of these examples of local culture will find their way into the interpretation at the Rewilding Centre. The poems in particular are pertinent to Trees for Life’s core message, for they demonstrate the historical love of Gaels for their native environment, a recognition of which can help to inform our commitment to the values of rewilding today.

A detail from the book ‘Còinneach ʼus Coille’ (‘moss and forest’) by Alexander MacDonald of Glenmoriston. In the poem ‘Gleannamoireasdain’, he extols the abundant virtues of nature in his native glen, including the vegetation. MacDonald was a prolific writer and collector. He and others have left us a magnificent legacy of hundreds of Gaelic songs which were composed or sung in Glenmoriston.

In his parting comments to me back in 1993, Finlay MacRae compared the situation of Gaelic to the Caledonian forest. ‘Nach e an aon rud a th’ ann? Aren’t they the same?’ he said. Once dominant, both had shrunk to a historical low and many people now lived their lives, even in the Highlands, without hearing Gaelic or seeing a native pine wood. But neither had become extinct and human intervention could return both to a situation of prominence once more, where both language and forest would inspire us, inform our daily lives and make us happy.

For me as a human, ath-fhiadhachadh ‘rewilding’, means that – a process that provides inspiration and happiness for the people of Scotland and the wider world. We can talk about mitigating against climate change, about sequestering carbon within biomass, about combatting species extinction and loss of biodiversity – and all of those are important aspects of rewilding. But, ultimately to experience a greater love and respect for our language and our environment, where Gaelic is at the heart of a holistic conservation ethic in the Scottish Highlands, is something I have dreamed of for a very long time. In Àrainn Ath-fhiadhachaidh Dhul Dreagain ‘The Dundreggan Rewilding Centre’, due to be completed in 2023, I hope that we shall do justice to that vision.

This blog was written by Inverness-based writer, broadcaster and storyteller Roddy (Ruairidh) Maclean, whose work highlights the connections between the Gaelic language and Scotland’s environment.

The Dundreggan Rewilding Centre received £714,000 in funding from the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund, which itself is funded through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) with an almost £9 million investment in the Highlands and Islands. The Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund invests in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland to: provide more and better quality opportunities for visitors to enjoy natural and cultural heritage assets; encourage people to visit some of the more remote and rural areas; and create and sustain jobs, businesses and services in local communities. The purpose of the fund is to promote and develop the outstanding natural and cultural heritage of the Highlands and Islands in a way that conserves and protects them.

Posted in Gaelic, Rewilding, Uncategorized, woodlands | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Ath-fhiadhachadh’ tro Shùilean nan Gàidheal

Tha Ruairidh MacIlleathain a’ cumail a-mach gu bheil ‘ath-fhiadhachadh’ nàdarrach gu leòr mar bheachd-smuain agus mar fhacal

Read in English

Tha mi air a bhith ag obair, thairis air an dà bhliadhna a dh’fhalbh, le buidheann-charthannais a tha an sàs ann an glèidhteachas – Trees for Life, no Craobhan gu Deò ann an Gàidhlig – leis a bheil oighreachd de dheich mìle acaire ann an Dul Dreagain ann an Gleann Moireasdain, agus a tha a’ leasachadh a’ chiad Àrainn (no Ionad) Ath-fhiadhachaidh anns an t-saoghal ann. Anns an ionad, bithear a’ mìneachadh ath-fhiadhachadh agus mar a dh’fhaodadh Gleann Moireasdain – agus a’ Ghàidhealtachd san fharsaingeachd – buannachadh fhaighinn às. Bithear cuideachd a’ taisbeanadh beartas cànan is cultar na Gàidhealtachd agus, gu h-àraidh, na ceanglaichean làidir eadar a’ Ghàidhlig agus ar n-àrainneachd dhùthchasach. Le bhith taiceil don Ghàidhlig, tha Craobhan gu Deò a’ seasamh ri guaillibh nan Gàidheal agus tha mi an dòchas gum bi feadhainn eile a’ faicinn gu bheil buannachd an sin do ghlèidhteachas.

An dèidh conaltradh leis a’ choimhearsnachd ionadail, ʼs e a’ bhuidheann charthannais fhèin a rinn an co-dhùnadh Gàidhlig a bhith anns an taisbeanadh anns an Àrainn Ath-fhiadhachaidh. Cha robh daoine a’ toirt orra an rathad sin a ghabhail an aghaidh an toil, agus fhuair iad taic-airgid bho Bhòrd na Gàidhlig airson an leasachaidh. Cha bhi teacsa Gàidhlig air a stobadh a-steach ann mar iar-smuain, stèidhichte air eadar-theangachadh de theacsa Beurla, ach bidh e air fhilleadh a-steach don taisbeanadh bhon toiseach. Bidh sealladh nan Gàidheal air nàdar, dùthaich agus dualchas air a shealltainn anns an dà chànan, an dà chuid ann an dreach sgrìobhte agus mar fhaidhlichean claisneachd.

Craobhan-giuthais ann an Gleann Afraig. Tha ath-fhiadhachadh air a bhith a’ tachairt an seo bho na 1960an.
Dealbh © Grant Willoughby 

As t-samhradh 1993, bha cothrom agam prògram rèidio a dhèanamh do BhBC Radio nan Gàidheal anns an do rinn mi agallamh le Fionnlagh M MacRath nach maireann, tùsaire glèidhteachais, ann an Gleann Afraig. Chuir sinn seachad latha teth, grianach còmhla anns a’ choille ùir timcheall Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhain, agus dh’inns Fionnlagh dhomh mun obair iongantaich a rinn e an sin anns a h-uile ràith dhen bhliadhna. ʼS ann don Eilean Sgitheanach a bhuineadh e. Bha e aithnichte mar phìobaire air leth agus na eòlaiche air iomain, ach tha an obair as ainmeile aige co-cheangailte ri aiseirigh na giùthsaich ann an sgìre Afraig, gnothach a chuir e fhèin air chois mar choilltear. Thuirt Fionnlagh rium gur e gnothach ‘spioradail’ a bh’ ann dha fhèin a bhith a’ coiseachd anns a’ leithid de choille. Agus dhomh fhìn, bha e brosnachail a bhith ann an cuideachd Gàidheil dhan robh fàs nan coilltean dùthchasach cho cudromach.

Bha an obair ghlèidhidh thùsail, a tha a’ dol air ais gu tràth anns na 1960an, air a cur air dòigh le buidhnean riaghaltais, ach chaidh a’ bhuidheann-charthannais, Trees for Life/Craobhan gu Deò, a chaidh a steidheachadh le Alan Watson Featherstone, na lùib. Thòisich iad air tòrr chraobhan a chur, agus iad air an dìon bho ionaltradh le feansaichean àrda. Bha a’ chuid a bu mhotha dhen obair aca ann an Gleann Afraig agus na glinn faisg air làimh – Gleann Canaich, Gleann Urchardan agus Gleann Moireasdain – a tha uile a-nise mar phàirt de phròiseact ris an canar Afraig Mhòr/Affric Highlands anns am bi coille mhòr dhùthchasach stèidhichte thairis air iomadh gleann anns an ùine romhainn.

Craobhan dùthchasach òga ùra aig an Allt Ruadh, Dul Dreagain, Gleann Moireasdain. An ceann ùine, bidh coille bhrèagha an seo. Dealbh © Stephen Couling

Anns na tràth-làithean, bhiodh daoine a’ bruidhinn mu ‘glèidhteachas’ agus ‘ath-bheothachadh’ nan coilltean ach, timcheall air 1990, nochd facal ùr – ‘ath-fhiadhachadh’ no ‘rewilding’ – ann an clò, air a chruthachadh, a rèir Wikipedia, le buill aig Earth First!, buidheann radaigeach àrainneachd anns na Stàitean Aonaichte. Chaidh an teirm a lìomhadh agus a leasachadh bhon uair sin, agus tha e fìor ri ràdh nach eil a h-uile duine ga thuigsinn anns an aon dòigh. Aig a bhunait, tha ath-fhiadhachadh mu dheidhinn àrainneachd a chruthachadh far a bheil eag-shiostaman agus pròiseasan nàdarrach air an dìon agus air am brosnachadh, agus far a bheilear ag amas air iomadachd nàdair a mheudachadh.

Tha barrachd ann an ath-fhiadhachadh seach dìreach cur-chraobhan, agus faodar leagail nan coilltean neo-dhùthchasach agus casgadh nan drèanaichean ann an Dùthaich nam Boglaichean ann an Gallaibh is Cataibh a bhith air an aithneachadh mar ath-fhiadhachadh. Eadhon ann an Gleann Moireasdain, chan ann a-mhàin air craobhan a tha aire dhaoine. Nuair a tha eag-shiostaman air an dìon, gu h-àraidh bho chus ionaltraidh, bidh bith-iomadachd a’ dol am meud, a’ gabhail a-steach phreasan, luibhean, cairt-lusan, fungasan agus creutairean druim-altach agus neo-dhruim-altach. Bidh nàdar a’ tighinn am-bàrr. Do dhaoine, faodaidh coilltean mar sin a bhith cho drùidhteach ri càil air uachdar na talmhainn.

Tha cuid air a’ Ghàidhealtachd air teagamh fhoillseachadh mun àite aig ath-fhiadhachadh ann an saoghal nan Gàidheal agus co-dhiù tha a bhith a’ cur pàirtean de ar dùthaich am fiadh a’ dol an aghaidh na rinn ar sinnsirean ann a bhith a’ cruthachadh eaconamaidh dhùthchail a chum sluagh anns na glinn. Chanainn fhìn gum bu chòir dhuinn a bhith cofhurtail leis mar Ghàidheil aig a bheil gràdh do nàdar, agus gum faodar eaconamaidh ionadail neartmhor a chruthachadh ann an co-cheangal ris. Faodar cuideachd a leithid de leasachadh a chur air adhart le Gàidhlig aig a bhunait, mar a tha ann an Dul Dreagain – fhad ʼs a sheasas sinn fhèin mar luchd-glèidhidh cànain is cultair a tha sònraichte agus fhad ʼs a tha sinn deònach a bhith a’ co-obrachadh le buidhnean glèidhteachais. Tha e a’ dol a thachairt co-dhiù, agus ʼs fheàirrde sinn a bhith mar phàirt dheth.

An coltas a tha dùil a bhios air Àrainn Ath-fhiadhachaidh Dhul Dreagain, a thathar a’ togail an-dràsta
Dealbh © Threesixty Architecture

Nuair a nochd am facal Gàidhlig ‘ath-fhiadhachadh’ an toiseach, bha cuid a’ dèanamh dì-meas air mar bhriathar mì-nàdarrach, ach chanainn fhìn gu bheil e a cheart cho nàdarrach ris an fhacal Bheurla. Tha ‘fiadh’ a’ buntainn ris a’ bheathach cheithir-chasach air a bheil sinn uile eòlach ach cuideachd ri gnothaichean a tha an dà chuid iomallach agus/no borb no feargach. Tha am facal geàrr a’ tighinn bho ‘geàrr-fhiadh’ agus tha e inntinneach mar as iad am fiadh agus an geàrr-fhiadh a dh’fhaodas cruth-atharrachadh a dhèanamh eadar a bhith nam beathaichean agus nan daoine. ʼS e fiadh-chreutairean a th’ annainn fhèin!

Tuigidh sibh cuideachd gu bheil faclan ceangailte ri ‘fiadh’, leithid fiadh-bheinn, fiadh-bheatha, fiadhaich agus fiadhain a’ dèanamh tuairisgeul air rudan a tha fiadhaich nan nàdar, le dà chiall an fhacail. Tha ‘cat-fiadhaich’ na dheagh eisimpleir!

Ged a tha fiadhachadh anns na faclairean, a’ ciallachadh ‘sealg nam fiadh’, tha e furasta gu leòr dhuinn cuideachd gabhail ris mar ‘a’ dèanamh fiadhaich’ no ‘a’ cur am fiadh’. Le bhith a’ cur ‘ath’ ris, tha ‘ath-fhiadhachadh’ againn. Thuirt mi ri cuideigin an latha eile ann an ath-fhiadhachadh, tha ath-ùrachadh’. Ma tha ath-ùrachachadh (no ath-bheòthachadh) againn nar briathrachas làitheil, chan eil e doirbh gabhail ri ath-fhiadhachadh.

Agus tha e cianail fhèin furasta a bhith a’ ceangal na Gàidhlig ri ath-ùrachadh nàdair ann an àite mar Dhul Dreagain far a bheil an dualchas cho làidir. Cha mhòr nach buin a h-uile ainm-àite sa ghleann don Ghàidhlig agus buinidh na ceudan de dh’òrain, dàin agus sgeulachdan don sgìre. Anns na sgeulachdan, tha figearan eachdraidheil mar an Naomh Meircheard agus Ailean Dubh, ach tha feadhainn ann sa bheil creutairean os-nàdarrach mar na sìthichean, cailleachan agus Làir Bhàn Coire Dhò. Bidh eisimpleirean dhen chultar dhùthchasach a’ nochdadh anns an taisbeanach san Àrainn Ath-fhiadhachaidh. Tha a’ bhàrdachd gu sònraichte a’ buntainn ri teachdaireachd Chraobhan gu Deò oir tha i a’ dearbhadh mar a bha gràdh-dùthcha agus gràdh-nàdair gu math làidir ann an dualchas traidiseanta nan Gàidheal. Faodaidh sinn a leithid a chur gu feum mar bhrosnachadh airson ath-fhiadhachadh a chur an sàs an-diugh.

Dàn bhon leabhar ‘Còinneach ʼus Coille’ le Alasdair MacDhòmhnuill à Gleann Moireasdain. Thaisbean e na chuid bàrdachd, mar a rinn bàird ionadail eile, a ghràdh do nàdar anns a’ ghleann dham buineadh e. B’ e sgrìobhaiche agus cruinniche air a leth a bh’ ann an Alasdair. Tha e fhèin is feadhainn eile air dìleab iongantach fhàgail againn, anns a bheil na ceudan de dh’òrain a chaidh a sgrìobhadh no a sheinn ann an Gleann Moireasdain.

Nuair a bha mi a’ leigeil soraidh le Fionnlagh MacRath, rinn e coimeas eadar suidheachadh na Gàidhlig agus nan coilltean-giuthais. ‘Nach e an aon rud a th’ ann?’  thuirt e. Bha iad le chèile uaireigin fìor làidir agus air an lorg air feadh na rìoghachd, ach a-nise bha gu leòr de dhaoine a’ tighinn beò, eadhon air a’ Ghàidhealtachd, gun a bhith a’ cluinntinn na Gàidhlig no a’ faicinn giùthsach. Ach cha robh tè seach tè dhiubh marbh, agus dh’fhaodadh an cinne-daonna an dà chuid a neartachadh a-rithist agus cothrom a thoirt dhaibh tuigse is toileachas a thoirt dhuinn an-diugh agus anns an ùine a tha romhainn.

Dhòmhsa mar bhall dhen chinne-daonna, tha ath-fhiadhachadh a’ ciallachadh sin – pròiseas a tha a’ bunaiteachadh ar beatha agus a’ toirt toileachas dhuinn ann an Alba agus nas fhaide air falbh. Faodaidh sinn beachdachadh air mar a bhios ath-fhiadhachadh a’ seasamh an aghaidh atharrachadh na gnàth-shìde no a’ cur carbon an tasg taobh a-staigh fiodh nan craobh – no mar a dh’fhaodas e seasamh an aghaidh call ghnèithean is iomadachd-nàdair. Tha iad seo uile cudromach ach, aig a’ cheann thall, ʼs e m’ aisling gum faigh sinn uile sìth agus sonas le bhith a’ faicinn mar a tha daoine a’ dearbhadh gràdh mòr do ar cànan agus do dh’àrainneachd na Gàidhealtachd còmhla. Ann an Àrainn Ath-fhiadhachaidh Dhul Dreagain, a dh’fhosglas ann an 2023, tha mi an dùil ʼs an dòchas gun tig m’ aisling beò.

Bha am blog seo air a sgrìobhadh le Ruairidh MacIlleathain, a tha na sgrìobhadair, craoladair, eòlaiche-nàdair is sgeulaiche, stèidhichte ann an Inbhir Nis.

Fhuair Àrainn Ath-fhiadhachaidh Dhul Dreagain maoineachadh luach £714,000 bho Mhaoin Dualchais Nàdarra is Chultarail (NCHF), a tha ga mhaoineachadh tron Mhaoin Leasachaidh Eòrpach (ERDF) is a tha a’ cur faisg air £9 millean an seilbh air a’ Ghàidhealtachd is na h-Eileanan. Tha Maoin Dualchais Nàdarra is Chultarail a’ cur airgead an seilbh air a’ Ghàidhealtachd is na h-Eileanan airson: cothroman nas fheàrr a thoirt do luchd-tadhail airson dualchas nàdarra is cultarail a mhealtainn; daoine a bhrosnachadh a dhol a thadhal air àiteachan iomallach, dùthchail; agus cosnaidhean, gnìomhachasan is seirbheisean seasmhach a chruthachadh. ’S e adhbhar na maoine sàr dhualchas nàdarra is cultarail na Gàidhealtachd is nan Eilean a bhrosnachadh is a leasachadh ann an dòigh a bhios gan glèidheadh is gan dìon.

Posted in Gaelic, Rewilding, Uncategorized, woodlands | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Remote community partnership achieves big wins for wildlife, heritage and people

Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape is one of the largest community-led partnerships in Scotland, with 10 of its 14 partners drawn from local communities. Despite a population of just 1400, these tiny communities have pulled together to bring significant positive change for the nature, heritage and economic prospects of this remote area.

Work on the Quinag path near Loch Assynt, Copyright Chris Puddephat

The seeds of Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape were sown in 2010, when five local community, charity and private landowners, with Scottish Wildlife Trust, came together to develop a long-term vision for the area.

The partners made a successful bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for a five-year programme, Coigach & Assynt Landscape Partnership (CALLP) Scheme, from 2016 to 2021. The scheme also enjoyed the support of NatureScot, which not only helped financially but gave practical advice and guidance.

With 14 partners signed up, over 30 individual projects, and nearly £5m of funding, CALLP has focused not just on the area’s ecology and wildlife, but also on supporting rural industries, creating employment opportunities, recording the historical role of the community in the landscape, and attracting people to both visit and live in the area.

A beautiful ancient hazel tree. Copyright Andy Summers.

The scheme came to an end at the end of March 2022, but those involved can reflect on a range of achievements that speak of nature recovery, economic opportunity, broadened horizons and cultural identity: native woodlands have been planted or brought back to active management; local people have been trained in deer management, farming techniques and other rural skills; iconic paths on mountain, woodland and coast have been created or upgraded; and children from every local school have enjoyed countless hours of engagement with nature.

Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape has a 40-year vision to see thriving, working communities within a healthy landscape, who work together to celebrate and protect their unique natural, historic and cultural heritage now and for the future. The partnership scheme’s outcomes are helping to achieve that the vision.

The project area is blessed with some of the most dramatic and recognisable landscapes in the UK, and within these some of the most endangered habitats and species. The Partnership comprises community, charity and private landowners, community interest groups, and charitable membership organisations. This eclectic group of organisations represents and reflects a unique heritage and structure of land ownership and management in Scotland. This combination of landscape and culture has created a rare opportunity to demonstrate the power of a partnership of these organisations working together to achieve much more than the sum of their parts. 

CALLP volunteers at work – Copyright Murray Anderson

The core aims of the scheme were to conserve and restore features of the natural and built environment; increase community involvement and empowerment in heritage management; provide opportunities for increased access and learning to, and from, the landscape; and to deliver meaningful, and sustained, socio-economic benefits for the local population.

The 30+ projects that made up the scheme were delivered by the partners, which include Assynt Field Club; Assynt Foundation; Coigach Community Development Company; Coigach Salmon Fisheries Limited; Culag Community Woodland Trust; Eisg Brachaidh Estate; Historic Assynt; Isle Martin Trust; John Muir Trust; Kylesku Estate; North West Highlands Geopark; Scottish Wildlife Trust; Tanera Mor and the Woodland Trust. Partners were supported by a staff team hosted by Scottish Wildlife Trust and Woodland Trust, who helped with tenders, reporting, legal issues etc – allowing small community organisations to deliver large-scale projects that could prove challenging or impossible to achieve on their own. “Without such support, our large, complex project just would not have been possible,” reflects Gordon Sleight, who led Historic Assynt’s Clachtoll Broch Project.

This approach also allows individuals to get involved. When local residents Nigel and Meryl Carr wanted to extend a wildlife corridor from existing woodland on their own property to an adjacent area of rented land, CALL’s Woodland Expansion Project Officer provided the specialist expertise and guidance needed: “It has taken four years, but with significant help from contractors, we have planted almost 11,000 native trees,” explains Nigel. “We simply would not have been able to achieve this without the guidance and enthusiasm from the CALL partnership.”

Local resident Nigel and his dog Bessie.

The unique make-up of the partnership has allowed it to deliver an unusually broad range of projects, taking advantage of the multiple skills and interests of its members. Here’s a flavour of what’s been achieved so far.

Through the woodland expansion project over eight square kilometres of native woodlands have been planted or brought back into active management, many on land owned or managed by partners. Many of the trees planted have been grown from local seed at the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Little Assynt Tree Nursery, which also supplies stock to a number of other estates in the area.

Almost 11,000 trees have been planted as part of the project. Copyright Chris Puddephat

It needed helicopter operations to transport the huge quantity of stone required, and many, many hours of gruelling work from the path builders, to install new sections of path on the iconic mountains of Suilven and Quinag, protecting them from erosion while allowing better access for walkers and climbers. On a smaller scale, community groups have created paths around nature trails, heritage trails along the coast, and better access and education areas for schoolchildren in local woodlands. In all, around 13 kilometres of new paths have been created, established paths upgraded, and path networks maintained.

CALLP’s deer management project combines the needs for increased management of red deer to protect woodland habitats with creating more local employment and income generation. Stalkers have been trained, a new community deer larder built, and the benefits of local venison promoted. This has been complemented by an innovative programme for high schools called ‘Hill to Grill’, which takes older pupils on the journey from deer stalking on the hill through butchering, cooking, and finally eating the produce.

The Outdoor and Woodland Learning project (OWL) worked with every school in the area, providing weekly outdoor sessions for every child in primary school there – over 4000 engagements in all. The education team also worked closely with teachers and have created a detailed education guide to the many woodlands, hills, coastal sites and beaches in the area to allow them to continue to take children out for engagements with nature now the scheme has come to an end.

CALLP Volunteers receive lichen training. Copyright Andy Summers

Reflecting on the impact of CALLP Laura Hamlet, North West Highland Geopark Coordinator, said ‘The CALL partnership’s work has allowed the North West Highlands to retain UNESCO Global Geopark Status through impressing re-validators from the UNESCO revalidation team.’

Because of its make-up, CALLP’s legacy will be deeply embedded in the community itself. The scheme has helped Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape move towards its 40-year vision for the area, with investments in community assets, skills and education ensuring that the next steps on road to thriving communities in a healthy landscape will be made on a solid foundation.

CALLP would like to thank all our funders for their support in making this possible, including National Lottery Heritage Fund; NatureScot; Scottish Wildlife Trust; Garfield Weston Foundation; Lund; EB Scotland; Coigach Salmon Fisheries Ltd; Ernest Cook Trust; Esmee Fairbairn Foundation; European Outdoor Conservation Association; Gannochy Trust; Highland Council; Historic Environment Scotland; John Muir Trust; KMF Maxwell Stuart Charitable Trust; Pilgrim Trust; Ramblers Scotland;Robert Kiln Charitable Trust; Scottish Mountaineering Trust; Scottish Rural Development Programme; SSE; The Radcliffe Trust; University of Stirling; Wren; and Creative Scotland. 

For more information about Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape visit the website at www.coigach-assynt.org

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Fairy Mountains of the Gàidhealtachd

The word sìth for ‘fairy mountain’ is less frequent than its diminutive form sìthean, but it is to be found in the names of some significant and beautiful hills.

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

Many readers will be aware that the Gaelic word sìthean is often interpreted as ‘fairy knoll’ (and more of those in a future blog) but perhaps non-Gaelic speakers will be less aware that the word is a diminutive, formed by adding a terminal -an to the word sìth in the same way that a lochan is a small loch. So, if a sìthean is a fairy knoll, is a sìth a fairy mountain? Well, yes, actually …

At least, that is the consensus regarding the most famous example – the iconic mountain in Perthshire called Schiehallion in English – an anglicisation of Sìth Chailleann [pron. shee CHAL-yun with CH as in ‘loch’], interpreted by place name expert Professor W.J. Watson as ‘fairy hill of the Caledonians’. With regard to both elements, Sìth Chailleann is a pretty special place name. Cailleann is a direct descendant of an earlier Caledon from which the tribal name Caledones arose, hence Latin Caledonia. It is also found in Dùn Chailleann ‘fort of the Caledonians’ and the nearby Rath Chailleann ‘(ancient) fort of the Caledonians’, anglicised Dunkeld and Rohallion respectively.

© R Maclean.
Schiehallion, viewed from the northern shore of Loch Rannoch, Perthshire, has the classic shape of a sìth. At an altitude of 1083 metres, the mountain, beloved of hillwalkers, is a Munro and lies close to the geographical centre of Scotland. It is also situated in country famous for its folklore, particularly for tales of sìthichean ‘fairies’ and other creatures which are often characterised as products of the Gaelic cultural imagination.

Watson’s contemporary, Alexander Macbain, also made the fairy connection (the creatures are called sìthichean in modern Gaelic), but he pointed out that the word sìth (spelt sìdh in his day) also represents a hill that is conical in shape. And anybody who has viewed Schiehallion end-on across Loch Rannoch is left in no doubt about that. It is hardly surprising that this bold, symmetrical mountain, with a clear summit ridge and somewhat isolated from its neighbours, was chosen for a unique experiment in 1774, funded by the Royal Society, in which the Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne, set out to determine the mean density of the mountain, and thus of the Earth. No interference by fairies was reported by the scientists, as far as I am aware, but just so that there is no doubt over their historical presence, there is a traditional tale of three old men in Breadalbane who went to visit the fairies of Schiehallion. Two of them showed too little respect to the little people and ended up being severely punished.

So, are there other examples of the non-diminutive sìth in the Gaelic landscape? Yes, although none are as physically impressive as Schiehallion. Much further north, in Strathdearn, are the adjacent and compared hills of Sìth Mòr and Sìth Beag, the former reaching an altitude of 650m. The settlement of Coignashie, one of the famous còigean ‘fifths’ of Strathdearn, is named for these hills. Other local derivatives, Fèith an t-Sìthe ‘the bogstream of the fairy hill’ and Glac an t-Sìthe ‘the hollow of the fairy hill’ prove the masculine gender of sìth, making it likely that Coignashie represents a very old Còig nan Sìth ‘the fifth of the fairy hills’, demonstrating an archaic genitive plural inflexion.

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.
Sìth Mòr ‘large fairy hill’ and Sìth Beag ‘small fairy hill’ adjacent to the Findhorn River in Strathdearn. The settlement of Coignashie – one of the famous five ‘coigs’ of Strathdearn – takes its name from these hills.

West of Inverbeg on Loch Lomond lies another hill known as Sìth Mòr, although it is hardly bigger than a sìthean, but most of Scotland’s remaining sìth place names appear on the map in an anglicised form. On the south side of Loch Tay, and likely readily seen from high on Schiehallion, is a long hill-ridge at around 660m altitude, known as Shee of Ardtalnaig (Sìth Àird Talanaig). Viewed end-on, from the north, it possesses the classic conical mountain shape of a sìth and was known to local Gaelic-speakers as simply An Sìth.

In the other likely sìth examples, the word is combined with another Gaelic generic. Ben Hee (873m), a large multi-summited mountain in mid-Sutherland, is interpreted as Beinn Shìthe ‘fairy hill mountain’. The ‘sh’ letter combination is silent or pronounced like an ‘h’ in front of a vowel, giving us the anglicised form Hee. Near its summit, the maps encourage us in this interpretation by naming a part of the mountain Sìthean Liath nam Peithirean ‘the light-grey fairy hill of the foresters or gamekeepers’. Another example is the 516-metre-high Ben Shee in the Ochil Hills near Stirling, anglicised from Beinn Sìthe ‘fairy mountain’, the ‘S’ in this cased being unlenited. This hill also has the classic shape of an isolated sìth.

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.
Ben Shee in the Ochil Hills, central Scotland. This is interpreted as ‘fairy mountain’ by Angus Watson in his volume ‘The Ochils: Placenames, History and Tradition’ (Perth and Kinross District Libraries, 1995).

Far to the north-east, Cairnshee Wood is to be found on an isolated and somewhat conical hill, south-east of Banchory in Aberdeenshire. Earlier maps show the hill as Cairnshee or – in the case of Roy’s military map of the 1750s – as Karnshee. This strongly suggests a Gaelic original of Càrn Sìthe ‘fairy hill’ with the generic càrn taking the place of beinn, an unsurprising situation in the Gaelic toponymy of north-eastern Scotland.

© R Maclean. Ben Tee, Glengarry, viewed from the north. In shape it has all the hallmarks of a sìth.

Finally, Ben Tee, to the south of Loch Garry in Glengarry (south-west of Loch Ness) has been the source of debate, with some early cartographers giving it as Ben Tigh ‘house mountain’. But Edward C. Ellice in ‘Place Names of Glengarry and Glenquoich’ (first published 1898) prefers the ‘fairy’ explanation, and he is supported by the local Gaelic scholar, Father Henry Cyril Dieckhoff who gives Beinn an t-Sìth in his ‘Pronouncing Dictionary of Scottish Gaelic’ (Gairm 1992). Dieckhoff collected material from Gaelic-speakers native to the locality, and his conclusion should be given considerable weight. Ellice tells us the summit was long known as ‘Glengarry’s Bowling Green’, and it is given this strange appellation on Roy’s map. Ellice goes on to write, ‘There is scarcely a square yard of green of any sort, and the steep and rocky sides would not conduce much to a game of bowls, but by some it is supposed that the fairies who haunt the Ben were wont to join in the game, hoisting the balls over the rough rocks, and racing down the hillside after those that had gone astray.’ It doesn’t sound much like the sport of lawn bowls as this author knows it! Perhaps there was a touch of irony in the Bowling Green reference…?

This blog was written by Inverness-based writer, broadcaster and storyteller Roddy (Ruairidh) Maclean, whose work highlights the connections between the Gaelic language and Scotland’s environment.

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Sìthean na Gàidhealtachd

Chan eil am facal sìth cho bitheanta ri a mheanbh-riochd, sìthean, ach tha e ri fhaicinn ann an ainmean grunn bheanntan brèagha.

Read in English

Bidh leughadairean gu leòr eòlach air an fhacal sìthean agus mar a bhios daoine a’ dèanamh ceangal eadar sin agus na sìthichean, a thathar a’ cumail a-mach a tha a’ fuireach annta. Gu h-iongantach, math dh’fhaodte, tha meanbh-riochd an fhacail, sìthean, fada nas cumanta air aghaidh na tìre na sìth fhèin. ʼS dòcha gum faca daoine na sìthichean na bu trice faisg air tolmain bheaga seach air beanntan àrda …

ʼS e an sìth as ainmeile ann an Alba a’ bheinn drùidhteach ann an Siorrachd Pheairt ris an canar Schiehallion ann am Beurla – dreach de Sìth Chailleann a dh’eadar-theangaich an t-Àrd-oll. MacBhàtair mar ‘fairy hill of the Caledonians’. Tha an dà eileamaid anns an ainm sònraichte. Tha Cailleann a’ tighinn bhon t-seann riochd Caledon às an tàinig an t-ainm treubhach Caledones agus an Laideann Caledonia. Tha e ri fhaighinn cuideachd ann an Dùn Chailleann agus Rath Chailleann a bhios muinntir na Beurla ag aithneachadh mar Dunkeld agus Rohallion.

© R MacIlleathain.
Tha cumadh sìthe gun teagamh air Sìth Chailleann, mar a chithear e tarsainn Loch Raineach, Siorrachd Pheairt. Aig àirde 1083 meatairean, tha a’ bheinn seo, air a bheil luchd-coiseachd nam beann air leth measail, faisg air meadhan tìr na h-Alba. Tha i cuideachd suidhichte ann an dùthaich a tha làn beul-aithris mu shìthichean is iomadach creutair ‘macmeanmnach’ eile.

Bha seann sgoilear eile, Alasdair MacBheathain, cuideachd a’ ceangal na beinne ris na sìthichean ach thuirt e gun robh am facal sìth cuideachd a’ buntainn ri beinn air a bheil cumadh biorraideach no cònach. Agus tha e furasta sin fhaicinn ann an co-cheangal ri Sìth Chailleann nuair a chithear a’ bheinn tarsainn Loch Raineach. Is beag an t-iongnadh, ma-thà, gur e Sìth Chailleann – a tha fa leth bho a nàbaidhean agus le druim mullaich os cionn leathadan casa – a chaidh a thaghadh airson deuchainn saidheansail ann an 1774 airson dùmhlachd na beinne a thomhas – agus le sin airson dùmhlachd na cruinne a thomhas. B’ e an Reul-eòlaiche Rìoghail, Nevil Maskelyne, a bha os cionn a’ phròiseict, a bh’ air a mhaoineachadh leis a’ Chomann Rìoghail. Cha chualas aithris gun do ghabh na sìthichean gnothach ris an luchd-saidheans ach, dìreach airson a bhith soilleir gun robh iad uaireigin ann, tha sgeulachd ionadail ann de thriùir bhodach a chaidh a thadhal air sìthichean Sìth Chailleann. Cha robh spèis gu leòr aig dithis dhiubh do na sìthichean, agus fhuair iad le chèile trod agus peanas.

A bheil eisimpleirean eile ann dhen fhacal sìth air mapaichean na Gàidhealtachd? Tha, ged nach eil gin de na beanntan sin cho drùidhteach ri Sìth Chailleann. Fada gu tuath ann an Srath Èireann, deas air Inbhir Nis, tha dà bheinn bheag air a bheil An Sìth Mòr agus An Sìth Beag, agus a’ chiad fhear a’ ruigsinn àird de 650m. Tha baile-fearann làimh riutha aig a bheil Coignashie – fear de na còigean ainmeil ann an Srath Èireann. Tha ainmean-àite eile an sin – Fèith an t-Sìthe agus Glac an t-Sìthe a’ dearbhadh dhuinn gu bheil am facal sìth fireanta. Tha mi an dùil, mar sin, gu bheil Coignashie a’ riochdachadh Còig nan Sìth le dreach gineadach a bhuineas do mhodail àrsaidh.

Dealbh le cead Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba.
(An) Sìth Mòr agus (An) Sìth Beag ri taobh Uisge Èireann ann an Srath Èireann.  Tha am baile-fearainn Coignashie – fear de ‘còig còigibh Srath Èireann’ à seann rann ainmeil – a’ faighinn ainm bhon dà shìth.

Siar air an Inbhir Bheag air Loch Laomainn, tha cnoc eile air a bheil An Sìth Mòr, ged nach eil e mòran nas motha na sìthean, ach tha a’ chuid as motha de dh’ainmean-àite le sìth annta a’ nochdadh air a’ mhapa le riochd na Beurla orra. Deas air Loch Tatha, agus ri fhaicinn, chanainn, o gu h-àrd air Sìth Chailleann, tha druim fada aig àirde mu 660m, air a bheil Shee of Ardtalnaig air na mapaichean. ʼS e sin Sìth Àird Talanaig, ach gu h-eachdraidheil bhiodh na Gàidheil a bhuineadh don àite dìreach a’ gabhail An Sìth air. Nuair a chithear an ceann caol dheth bhon àird a tuath, tha cumadh sìthe air.

Anns na h-eisimpleirean eile de bheanntan le sìth anns an ainm, tha an eileamaid seo air a chur ri eileamaid Ghàidhlig eile. Thathar a’ dèanamh dheth gur e Ben Hee (873m), beinn mhòr le grunn mhullaichean ann an Dìthreabh Chat, Beinn Shìthe. Faisg air a’ mhullach as àirde dhith, tha Sìthean Liath nam Peithirean, le peithir a’ ciallachadh forsair no geamair – mar sin tha e a’ coimhead coltach gu bheil an t-eadar-theangachadh air Ben Hee mar ‘the fairy hill mountain’ ceart. Tha eisimpleir eile ann an Ben Shee (516m) ann am Monadh Ochil faisg air Sruighlea. Tha dùil gur e sin Beinn Sìthe, agus an ‘S’ neo-shèimhichte an turas seo. Tha cumadh sìthe air a’ bheinn seo cuideachd, agus i na seasamh leatha fhèin.

Dealbh le cead Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba.
Ben Shee ann am Monadh Ochil, meadhan na h-Alba. Tha seo air eadar-theangachadh mar ‘fairy mountain’ [Beinn Sìthe] le Aonghas MacBhàtair anns an leabhar aige ‘The Ochils: Placenames, History and Tradition’ (Perth and Kinross District Libraries, 1995).

Fada don ear-thuath, faisg air Beannachar ann an Siorrachd Obar Dheathain, tha Cairnshee Wood air cnoc a sheasas leis fhèin agus a tha rudeigin biorraideach. Sheall seann mhapaichean an cnoc mar Cairnshee no – mar air mapa-airm Roy a chaidh a dhèanamh anns na 1750an – mar Karnshee. Thathar an dùil bhuaithe seo gum b’ e Càrn Sìthe an t-ainm tùsail ann an Gàidhlig, le càrn a’ seasamh airson beinn, rud a tha cumanta gu leòr ann an ainmean-àite an ear-thuath

© R MacIlleathain.
Ben Tee (Beinn an t-Sìth), Gleanna Garadh, bhon àird a tuath. Tha cumadh sìthe oirre gun teagamh.

Mu dheireadh, tha deasbad air a bhith ann mun ainm Ben Tee, beinn a sheasas gu drùidhteach deas air Loch Garadh ann an Gleanna Garadh. Bha cuid de luchd-dèanaimh nam mapaichean ga h-ainmeachadh an toiseach mar Ben Tigh, ach b’ fheàrr le Eideard C. Ellice ann an Place Names of Glengarry and Glenquoich (1898) mìneachadh a ghabhas a-steach na sìthichean, agus tha e a’ faighinn taic bhon sgoilear Ghàidhlig ionadail Mgr. Henry Cyril Dieckhoff a thug Beinn an t-Sìth oirre anns an fhaclair aige Pronouncing Dictionary of Scottish Gaelic (Gairm 1992). Chruinnich Dieckhoff ainmean-àite bho luchd na Gàidhlig a bhuineadh don àite agus saoilidh mi gu bheil a chuid bheachdan earbsach. Tha Ellice ag innse dhuinn gun robh daoine eòlach air mullach na beinne mar ‘Glengarry’s Bowling Green’, agus ʼs ann mar sin a nochdas e air cairt-tìre Roy. Tha Ellice ag ràdh, ‘Cha mhòr gu bheil slat cheàrnagach ghorm de sheòrsa sam bith ann, agus cha bhiodh na cliathaichean agus creagan casa fàbharach airson geama bobhlaidh ach a rèir cuid, bhiodh na sìthichean a tha a’ fuireach air a’ bheinn a’ gabhail pàirt sa gheama, a’ tilgeil nam ball thairis air na creagan garbha agus a’ ruith leis a’ bhruthach an dèidh na feadhainn a bh’ air a dhol a dhìth.’ Cha chreid mi gum biodh an geama sin coltach ris a’ bhobhladh air a bheil mise (rud beag) eòlach! Ma dh’fhaodte gun robh beagan ìoranais anns na sgrìobh an t-ùghdar …?  

Bha am blog seo air a sgrìobhadh le Ruairidh MacIlleathain, a tha na sgrìobhadair, craoladair, eòlaiche-nàdair is sgeulaiche, stèidhichte ann an Inbhir Nis.

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LGBTQ+ Representation – Why Does it Matter?

Bethia Pearson, Practical Placement at Loch Leven National Nature Reserve and member of NatureScot’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network, shares her thoughts on why representation is important in conservation and on our nature reserves.

Why does it matter? I don’t care what your gender or sexuality is, I just don’t see why it’s relevant. What does being queer have to do with the outdoors? What does your sexuality or gender identity have to do with this? What’s the point?

This attitude usually comes from a well-meaning place. It’s basically saying “you do you because it makes no difference to me.” But in the same breath, it’s dismissive. We should be so lucky to live in a world where everyone can live and let live in this manner. But simply, we don’t. Homophobia, bi-phobia and transphobia are all far more prevalent than they should be, even in a country as relatively progressive as Scotland. It might happen in obvious and overt ways, or more systemic and subtle ways. You might not see it happening, you might not know it when you see it, or you might look the other way. The point is, it is still happening to too many people. So it matters.

It matters at an organisational level. It matters that we clearly acknowledge our historical shortcomings, our current strive towards inclusivity, and the steps we are taking to get there. It matters that we encourage greater understanding among colleagues, and provide safe spaces for discussion for all who want or need it. It matters that we relate the many benefits of nature specifically to those who may feel isolated from it. Nature is full of diversity, it benefits our physical and mental health, and we need people to care about it. There is no tackling the twin crises without public support, and we know that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience mental health issues due to negative experiences surrounding their identity. But try being told you’re “not natural” or having your natural state of being questioned and queried over and over. Try having science used against you, or facing discrimination based on pseudoscientific misconceptions. Wouldn’t you feel disconnected too?

Pride flag on Noss National Nature Reserve

It matters on a local and national level that our NNRs do all we can to be inclusive and welcoming. It matters because a queer person who doesn’t have any LGBTQ+ representation, or trusted friends or family, might see our NNR flag and feel a bit better about themselves. It matters because a family taking part in a ‘Rainbow Treasure Hunt’ might be inspired to start a conversation with their children about how love is love, no matter who it is. It matters because something as simple as a gender-neutral bathroom stall can make the world of difference to somebody. It matters because if we feel able to be open and honest about who we are, we shift from a theoretical discussion of ‘the community’ to active engagement and allyship with our friends and colleagues. It matters because without active representation and support, the outdoors feels less accessible to so many people who want to enjoy it. Being told you are ‘unnatural’, struggling to find gender inclusive outdoor gear, worrying about harassment from less accepting individuals in an isolated setting. There are so many issues that many don’t realise or acknowledge exist, simply because they have never experienced it.

It matters on a global level. It matters because people visiting from other places will see our flags flying proud across Scotland and they will know that everyone is welcome here. It matters because 71 countries still actively criminalise same sex relationships. It matters because 11 of these are known to impose the death penalty. It matters because if I hadn’t been so lucky to be born at this particular time, in this particular place, surrounded by these particular people, who knows what might have been.

To say it doesn’t matter, to say that it isn’t relevant, is to dismiss everything that has been fought for, and for all the LGBTQ+ rights that we – the community and allies – must continue to fight for. Until we see a day where it truly doesn’t matter who you are or who you love, wherever you are in the world?

Until then, it will always matter.

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Scotland’s Landscape Monitoring Programme

Publication of three new indicators: Urban Greenspace, Local Landscape Areas and Urban Vacant & Derelict Land


Our landscapes can make a significant contribution to the way we live and our overall wellbeing. Importantly they contribute to biodiversity and climate change mitigation and adaptation. They can help improve physical and mental health and quality of place. Often our local landscapes have distinctive character that provide a sense of place we can identify with. Therefore, our landscapes provide many benefits for people and nature.

Our landscapes are constantly changing. Our responses to the climate emergency and the biodiversity and health crises will increase the scope and speed of that change. The Landscape Monitoring Programme (LaMP) will help us understand how landscapes are changing and how people are responding to those changes.

We are pleased, therefore, to announce the publication of three new indicators to add to the Monitoring Programme on Urban Greenspace, Local Landscape Areas and Urban Vacant & Derelict Land.

Balemartine, Isle of Tiree. Copyright P&A Macdonald

The National Programme

The LaMP monitors aspects of Scotland’s landscapes as part of the European Landscape Convention (ELC) requirement to note landscape change. It also contributes to each of the Scotland’s Environment Strategy outcomes and provides useful context for several National Performance indicators.

It comprises a set of indicators across a range of four themes: landscape qualities, public perception, land cover and built development. Each indicator provides commentary, including analysis and evaluation, on the landscape change being measured.

The Programme takes a pragmatic approach by making use of existing national data-sets. Datasets were chosen to be relevant, objective, robust and practical. They also needed to be reasonable in terms of data collection costs and the likelihood and frequency of updates. Most indicators will be reviewed and updated on a rolling five-yearly basis.

The first phase of seven indicators was published in 2017. The aim is to have trend information in place for each of the indicators by 2024/25 after which NatureScot intends to publish a first State of Scotland’s Landscape Report.

Table of current and planned LaMP indicators:

The New Indicators

The Urban Greenspace indicator monitors the extent of urban greenspace as a percentage of urban land area. Greenspaces, such as public parks and sports areas, includes consideration of blue spaces as well, such as ponds, rivers and canals. Urban greenspaces make a significant contribution to urban biodiversity and landscapes, climate change mitigation and adaptation, our quality of life and quality of place. They contribute to improving physical and mental health and wellbeing, as well as helping to attract investment and creating places where people want to live and work. Greenspaces help communities connect and engage with nature which has been shown to have a positive impact on pro-environmental and pro-conservation behaviours. The planning and management of greenspace also provides opportunities for communities to engage in local decision making and action, helping to build community cohesion, resilience and empowerment.

This indicator will help us understand changes in the extent, distribution and types of greenspace, which is essential for the strategic planning and management of Scotland’s greenspace assets to enable them to deliver better quality local landscapes.

The proportion of greenspace in urban land as of 2017 was 54% making urban Scotland more green than grey. 

Father and daughter pond dipping at the Forth & Clyde Canal, Kilpatrick. Copyright George Logan

The Local Landscape Areas (LLAs) indicator assesses the extent of land covered by local landscape designations.  LLAs are designated to safeguard and enhance the character and quality of a landscape which is valued locally or regionally.  They can be used to promote understanding and awareness of the distinctive character and special qualities of local landscapes, or to safeguard and promote important local settings for outdoor recreation and tourism.  It is the responsibility of local authorities to designate them where they are used; most but not all local authorities have LLAs.

LLAs complement the suite of national landscape designations, such as National Scenic Areas and National Parks, and act as an important tool for protecting and restoring Scotland’s rich diversity of landscapes.

In 2017, there were 502 LLAs that covered 27% (2,109,707.5ha) of the land area of Scotland.

Duddingston Loch, Edinburgh, Special Landscape Area. Copyright Glyn Satterley

The Urban Vacant and Derelict Land indicator monitors the extent of urban and vacant derelict land.  Vacant and derelict land, as registered by local authorities through the Scottish Vacant and Derelict Land Survey, is viewed as degraded but appropriate for some form of development and re-use.  Many of these sites are potentially hazardous, unattractive and detract from the quality of life of nearby communities.  However, some vacant and derelict land can be of value.  Prior to re-using vacant and derelict land consideration should be given to the nature that has colonised the sites, its landscape features which may be worth retaining and how people might have used these areas whilst they have lain undeveloped.

For many vacant and derelict sites, there are potential opportunities for long-term regeneration to improve health and wellbeing, help us tackle climate change, create more resilient communities and enable more sustainable place-making.  Using nature-based solutions to rehabilitate these sites would also help to optimise the multiple benefits delivered.

In 2017, the total area of urban vacant and derelict land in Scotland was 11,649 hectares.  The area of urban vacant and derelict land showed a net increase of 2% between 2011 and 2017.  In 2018, Scotland’s Vacant and Derelict Land Taskforce was established to realise the opportunities to transform vacant and derelict land back into productive use.

Dumbreck Marsh Local Nature Reserve previously a derelict site covered in coke and coal waste. Copyright George Logan

Next Steps

We continue to review the monitoring programme in the light of emerging needs and new technologies. Currently, we are working on a new indicator to monitor climate-related landscape change. A series of small projects is starting this year that aims to engage communities with landscape change, with several pilot project areas being developed across Scotland. Amongst other things, these projects aim to develop citizen-science local landscape change monitoring programmes to tie in with the national Landscape Monitoring Programme.

The intention is that the Programme will enable us to develop a strong strategic narrative on landscape change. This will support our approach to maximising the benefits for people, nature and climate we get from our landscapes.

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From bog-sceptic to bog-enthusiast: the power of volunteering

To celebrate Volunteers’ Week, we asked David McCulloch, a volunteer at our Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve (NNR), to give us an insight into his volunteering experiences with NatureScot.

I started volunteering for NatureScot in 2015, after taking early retirement. I’d only visited Flanders Moss NNR a few times and, to be honest, I wasn’t particularly interested in bogs. However, I like being outdoors and had time on my hands so I thought I’d give it a go.

Seven years on, I spend a lot of my free time at Flanders Moss, which has become my “happy place”. I love the wildness of the bog, the wide open spaces that are far from the madding crowd. The tranquility heightens my senses, enabling me to listen to the birdsong and keep an eye out for tiny insects. I also enjoy photographing the wildlife that I find, and I carry out dragonfly surveys in association with the British Dragonfly Society.

A common hawker dragonfly, by David McCulloch

What happened that changed me from being a bog-sceptic into a bog-enthusiast? One word…volunteering!

By volunteering at Flanders Moss, I’ve learned so much about the importance of raised bogs for wildlife. The waterlogged, nutrient-poor, acidic conditions support a wide variety of plants and insects that wouldn’t thrive anywhere else. Bogs are important in the context of climate change too. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), “Peatlands are the largest natural terrestrial carbon store. They store more carbon than all other vegetation types in the world combined. Damaged peatlands are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Peatland restoration can reduce emissions significantly”. By holding onto water, bogs also help prevent our communities from flooding after heavy rain.

However, in the 18th and 19th centuries, people thought bogs had no value. Ditches were dug to drain water off the bog, and much of the peat was removed to expose the clay that lies beneath to make fertile farmland. Thankfully, further commercial exploitation was stopped in its tracks and the bog was saved for the nation by NatureScot’s predecessor in 1980.

Cotton grass (or bog cotton) on Flanders Moss, by David McCulloch.
A common lizard basking on the boardwalk, by David McCulloch.

As peat accumulates at a rate of only 1mm per year, I’ve come to understand that we must protect what is left of a precious and increasingly rare habitat. By volunteering, I feel I’m doing my bit to restore the bog to its near-natural state. I’ve spent time removing invasive trees that would otherwise suck much-needed water out of the bog, damaging the ability of peat to act as an effective carbon store. I’ve carried out surveys for hen harriers, rare moths and dragonflies, and built ‘hibernacula’ for adders (where they can hibernate in winter). I’ve dug and deepened ponds to improve the habitat for dragonflies, and hammered plastic piling to dam ditches and slow the flow of water off the bog. I’ve coppiced trees, helped manage the wildflower meadow, and even repaired potholes on the access road. 

Volunteers deepening the pond, by David McCulloch.
Rannoch brindled beauty moth. The female is flightless, and attracts males by emitting pheromones whilst perched on a fence post or tree trunk. David McCulloch.
Northern emerald dragonfly. Flanders Moss is the only place in the UK where they’re known to breed outside the Scottish Highlands. David McCulloch.

You’d think that spending all this time volunteering on the bog would mean I’d want to spend my free time elsewhere, but you’d be wrong. The more I’ve learned about raised bogs, the more I’ve come to appreciate what an amazing place Flanders Moss is. I want to deepen my understanding, and really get under the skin of the place. I also feel a sense of ownership now, for the dams I’ve helped build, for example.

Installing a dam to reduce the flow of water off the bog. David McCulloch.

Therefore, I’ve found that volunteering is a virtuous circle: the more I volunteer, the more I love the place and want to go back in my own time and immerse myself in it, sometimes literally! It’s a cliché, but it’s true – you get more out of volunteering than you put in.

That’s me in the brimmed hat telling Chris Packham about my volunteering experiences when he visited Flanders Moss in 2018. David McCulloch

In large part, my positive experience of volunteering has been due to the amazing NatureScot staff. Steve, Amee, Ellie and others have helped, encouraged and inspired me in my volunteering journey. Then there are my fellow volunteers. Some of the tasks can be arduous (well, it is a bog!), but the time passes quickly when you’re in the company of like-minded people. The world can be a scary place at times but, when you’re getting stuck into a task, sharing encounters with wildlife and enjoying the craic, time passes quickly and the stresses of everyday life seem less intense.

Huge thanks to David and all those who volunteer their time to help protect and restore Scotland’s nature. We are truly grateful. If you’d like to learn more about volunteering opportunities near you visit https://www.nature.scot/about-naturescot/working-and-volunteering-us/volunteer-outdoors.

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Monitoring the not-so-common Common Crane in North East Scotland

Today, we welcome back guest blogger and ace photographer Ron Macdonald, who takes us on an amazing visual and auditory journey following common cranes in North East Scotland, as he volunteers for RSPB to help monitor and understand this recovering species.

Common cranes.© Ron Macdonald

In Scotland, the Eurasian Common crane was once a widespread and common species. As in most of western Europe, it became extinct by the 16th century.  However, since the 1950s, the population has recovered and recolonised areas of the UK. The first recorded breeding of cranes in Scotland was in 2012, in North Aberdeenshire, where today the population is thought to be around a minimum of five to six breeding pairs and up to 20 non-breeding adults. It’s hopefully on the cusp of a significant expansion in range and numbers.  

So this is where I come in as a volunteer for the RSPB, monitoring crane numbers, distribution and behaviour in the NE of Scotland. I am part of a small team of half a dozen volunteers led by Hywel and Amanda. From early March through to the end of September/early October, we take it in turns to be on the look-out for cranes in the areas we know they use as breeding and feeding sites, using vantage points in the landscape to scour the fields. For such a large bird, you’d be surprised how difficult they can be to locate! For me, a crane-watching day usually lasts a morning or afternoon, using a pre-defined car route.

If you stay in your vehicle, cranes are approachable, but they’re easily spooked if you approach on foot.  It gives me the excuse, if I need any, to use my camera and long lens to capture as much of their daily lives as I can.  So this blog is really a pot pourri of my observations on crane biology and behaviour, supplemented by images, sounds and videos undertaken during the 2021 breeding season.

Breeding pairs are the first to appear back in their breeding grounds in early March with the non-breeding birds arriving much later in spring or indeed summer. They favour recently sown or tilled fields where presumably the availability of invertebrates is high.

I’m struck how large the birds are, particularly the males, who when standing upright as they sometimes do as part of their display, are over four feet in height. There’s something primeval in their appearance – maybe they’re vaguely Pterodactyl in their flight silhouette or it’s the intensity of their stare from their ruby red or amber eyes.

Common crane flying against a perfect blue sky. © Ron Macdonald

I spent a lot of time with one pair, P2,  as they are known by our monitoring group, studying their behaviour before the female laid her eggs and started incubating . The female lost her previous mate in 2016 and for the remainder of the breeding season she could be heard calling, trying to attract a new mate. 

Listen to the female crane calling to attract a new mate.

She paired up with her current mate the following year. There are subtle differences in their appearance: she has ruby red eyes, is smaller and her grey plumage is slightly darker. Not surprisingly, I called her Ruby. The male has amber eyes which are striking when you see him close-up.  He’s appreciably taller than Ruby and yes, I called him Amber.

Amber on the left and Ruby on the right. Below, the strikingly amber eyes of Amber. © Ron Macdonald


  Ruby having a scratch about. © Ron Macdonald

The pair spent a lot of time in a field that I think was in stubble and then harrowed and spread with manure in readiness for a new cereal crop. The birds fed mostly on earthworms, with occasional short flights to the nest site within an adjacent conifer plantation. This is the same site they used in previous years which contains a small flooded area. This period is termed the pre-settlement stage and usually lasts through March into early April before the breeding birds settle to lay eggs and the female begins to incubate.

The pair usually fed amongst a mixed flock of rooks and jackdaws, but it’s easy to see who was boss around here with the cranes frequently scaring off the crows if they approached too close or appeared to have found a good feeding area.

Above and below: cranes chasing rooks and jackdaws. © Ron Macdonald

Amber and Ruby soon became accustomed to the presence of my car and I was able to watch them within 20-25 metres, as shown in the photo below, when they drank from the water-filled trenches created by the farmer’s tractor.

Amber and Rudy having a drink. © Ron Macdonald

During the pre-settlement phase, displaying and dancing took place several times during the day. In the photo below, the male is adopting a tall stance, raising his head and neck and walking slowly and rigidly pointing to the sky. I’ve seen this also occur when another ‘unknown’ crane approaches a pair, almost as if it is a threat display. 

The unknown crane approaches! © Ron Macdonald

The dancing varied from static wing flapping and co-ordinated jumping up and down to one bird, usually the male, running around the field – which seemed to impress the female no end! In the video below, it’s the female who decides to pick up the remnant of a tuber and to peck it and throw it in the air, with the clearly impressed male looking on!

Cranes in a mating display. © Ron Macdonald

Come late spring, the P2 female disappeared to lay and incubate her clutch and I only ever saw the male feeding not far from the nest. It was not until late May that I came across young cranes, this time further north close to the nest site of another pair. This is the time when the young, and sometimes also the adults, are vulnerable to predation from the likes of foxes who have been recorded taking young cranes.

A pair of cranes with one small young. © Ron Macdonald

It was not until early mid-July that I once again came across the P2 pair that I had watched in March. I was surprised that they had two free-flying young feeding in a cut silage field. This was the most successful the pair had been in the four seasons they were together.

P2 with two well-grown and fledged young. © Ron Macdonald

However, delight soon turned to concern when just a couple of weeks later, only the male and the two fledged young were observed. Something had happened to Ruby- maybe she had succumbed to predation? In previous years, Hywel had seen adults defending their young from foxes, so perhaps she had succumbed.

So fast forward to this March and around the middle of the month three cranes, two adults and an immature crane, were reported within the breeding territory of P2. Was it possible that Ruby had returned? In late March, I finally managed to catch up with the threesome and to photograph them. I think that’s Amber on the left with his lighter plumage and of course his bright amber eyes? But who is the other adult bird? It also has amber eyes so it can’t be Ruby. It’s probably a new mate for Amber, plus one of his young from 2021. 

Once the pair settle down to nest, they will no longer tolerate the young bird and it will likely join the wandering non-breeding flock of 15 -20 birds.

The threesome photographed on 24 March 2022. © Ron Macdonald

As I write, for the crane monitoring team, it’s the start of another busy season trying to track the birds.  We have two new volunteers on board who will concentrate searches of raised bog sites where either cranes have been seen on or have suitable habitat. Increasingly, the focus of conservation effort is restoring the degraded raised bogs in the area.  If we get the habitat right and continue to have the support of the farming community, which is fully behind efforts to conserve the cranes, there’s every chance that the crane population will increase and expand its range to other parts of Scotland.

My thanks to members of the Crane Monitoring team, particularly Amanda and Hywel for your support and allowing me the opportunity to contribute to the work of the project. Also, thanks to Howorth Hodgkinson for allowing me to use his recording of trumpeting cranes in the blog, and last but not least, to the Aberdeenshire farmers who allow us to monitor the cranes on their land.

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The ‘Goose’ that Calls the Rain

In Gaelic tradition, the red-throated diver not only predicts rain but actually ‘calls it in’.

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about birds whose behaviour – according to Gaelic tradition – might be used to predict rain or bad weather. The learga-ruadh [pron. ler-ek-uh ROO-ugh] ‘red-throated diver’ (ruadh means ‘red-brown’) is understood to take the situation a step further. Its mournful song is said to be the bird ag èigheachd air an uisge ‘calling in the rain’. This has given the species one of its several alternative names – the learga-uisge [pron. ler-ek-uh OOSH-kuh] ‘water diver’. At first sight, the appellation seems anomalous, for are not all divers denizens of water bodies, great and small? The answer lies in the fact that we also use uisge to mean ‘rain’. It is the ‘rain-diver’ and, because of its physical resemblance to a goose, it is commonly referred to in English as a ‘rain-goose’. Others know it as a ‘loon’.

Red-throated diver ©Bob Furness/NatureScot

When its song is heard among the lonely lochans of the Isle of Lewis, it is said that it is an learg a’ lorg a’ bhùirn ‘the diver looking for rain’. The Western Isles are one of their strongholds in these islands, boasting a number of lochs and lochans named for the species, such as Loch na Learga ‘the loch of the diver’ on Scarp, Taransay and mainland Harris. While there is no specific confirming that these names refer to the red-throated diver rather than its close relative the learga-dhubh ‘black-throated diver’, the Ordnance Survey confirm that they do indeed reference the ‘rain-goose’. Another example is Loch nan Learg near Cairinish on North Uist. Other lochs and lochans named for the species are to be found on Skye (for example Loch nan Learg near Portree) and on the West Highland mainland.

Loch na Learga on the southern slopes of Ben Raah (Beinn Ràtha) on the Island of Taransay (Harris), above, and Loch na Learga on the mainland of North Harris, below, both refer to the red-throated diver, according to the Ordnance Survey Name Books. There is yet another loch of the same name on the island of Scarp, and there is also an example in northern Skye. In Lewis, there are water-bodies called Loch nan Learga (with the bird in the plural) in Ness and Uig (which boasts two), and a further two lochans called Lochanan nan Learga near the head of Little Loch Roag. And, on the mainland, Lochan nan Learg is near Tarbet Bay between Lochs Morar and Nevis. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

If you are looking for learga place-names in the landscape, note that the bird is also called a learg, but that an identical word can mean a ‘hill slope’; a better known form of the latter is leargaidh, the basis for the place-name ‘Largs’ in Ayrshire. The element learg with reference to the bird probably refers to the sea (lear being an archaic Gaelic word for ‘sea’) as in learg-mhadadh ‘dogfish’ – and this is not unreasonable as the bird gathers in groups in coastal areas during the winter months, when it loses its distinctive red throat and looks substantially like other species of diver, if a little smaller. The connection with inland and upland lochs and lochans (always small and never far distant from the coast) is because that is where the species breeds and where it is to be heard ‘wailing’ for the rain. The tradition in Shetland is that if the rain-goose flees inland, there will be good weather, but if she goes to the sea, bad weather is in prospect. Perhaps there is a degree of seasonality in that observation.

Other Gaelic names for the red-throated diver include learga-chaol ‘slender diver’, learga-dhearg ‘red diver’ and gob-ghèadh or bior-ghèadh ‘(sharp) billed goose’ – it has a distinctively sharp bill, slightly upturned at the end. It is also known as the eun-ruadh ‘red (russet) bird’ in the Strathnairn area, south of Loch Ness, where there is Lochan an Eòin Ruadha ‘the lochan of the red-throated diver(s)’, a somewhat remote water body close to Loch Duntelchaig where the species is still to be seen, paddling on the waters and diving for fish. There is potential confusion in the nomenclature here with the use of eun-ruadh in the north-eastern Highlands for the red grouse (more commonly cearc-fhraoich in Gaelic). In addition, the Ordnance Survey version of the loch’s name is ungrammatical; it should be Loch nan Eun Ruadha or dialectally Loch nan Eòin Ruadha. I discuss this toponym in more detail in my book on Place Names of Inverness and Surrounding Area, published by NatureScot in 2021.

Two small lochs named for birds on the south side of Loch Ness: at left is the small, shallow Lochan na Curra ‘the lochan of the heron’; at right is Lochan an Eòin Ruadha (properly Loch nan Eun Ruadha) ‘the loch of the russet birds’ i.e. the red-throated divers. ©R Maclean
Lochan an Eòin Ruadha is in the middle of a country of lochs and hills, and not too distant from the sea, an ideal environment for the red-throated diver. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

If you go looking for this special bird, particularly during the summer breeding season, be careful not to disturb its nests which are built on the ground near the loch shore or on small islands. Scotland is an important refuge for the species, boasting around a third of the European breeding population. It’s best to view the red-throated diver at a distance through binoculars. Sit quietly and listen. Brief, short exclamations might indicate good weather (a parallel tradition) but the bird’s most arresting song is the long drawn-out plaintive call that puts a shiver down the listener’s spine and calls on the heavens to send down rain. Hearing that song beside a remote lochan in the hills is an unforgettable experience.

This blog was written by Inverness-based writer, broadcaster and storyteller Roddy (Ruairidh) Maclean, whose work highlights the connections between the Gaelic language and Scotland’s environment.

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