Kings and Queens in the Gaelic Landscape

Roddy Maclean looks at Gaelic ‘royal’ names in Scotland’s landscape

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

Kings and queens have been with us for a long time in most parts of Europe, so it is hardly surprising that they have found their way into the terminology connected to nature and landscape. The same, of course, is true in English, where we have queen bees and monarch butterflies, as well as places such as Queensferry and Queen’s View at Loch Tummel. Incidentally, the last named has been the subject of a myth – that it was named for Queen Victoria who delighted in the view when she visited the site in 1866. Forestry and Land Scotland, who run the visitor centre there, insist that it was named for Isabella, the first wife of Robert the Bruce and, certainly, the name appears on the first Ordnance Survey 6-inch map which was surveyed in 1861-2. We should beware of royal myths in our landscape!

Royal references also occur in the Gaelic landscape, although they appear to be considerably less frequent than are found where the English language has been toponymically active. The Gaelic for ‘king’ is rìgh (pronounced ‘REE’) but the similarity to the important landscape term ruigh(e) ‘slope, flat ground at the base of a hill, shieling’ might have invoked some Gaelic myth-making (and the Ordnance Survey routinely, but unhelpfully, avoid accenting the ‘i’ in rìgh). The classic case is the ‘capital’ of the Isle of Skye – Portree – which is said to derive from Port Rìgh ‘king’s harbour’, the nomenclature being based on a visit by King James V in 1540. However, this blogger has heard natives of the island pronounce the name ‘Port Ruighe(adh)’ ‘harbour of [the] slope’ and many people feel that the modern name, officially Port Rìgh, is a ‘royalist reinterpretation’!

Set against that are two other places in Scotland called Port Rìgh where the king is identified. One is no longer on maps, as it is the ancient name for Portpatrick in Dumfries and Galloway; it has been connected to the Irish king Lugaid mac Con who was banished from Ireland, but in around 250AD gathered a fleet, along with the Scots and Britons, at Port Rìgh. The other is at Carradale in Kintyre, and is still present on maps. It is said to be where Robert the Bruce landed in Kintyre after his journey from Bute.

Nearly opposite the latter, on the Isle of Arran, is Uamh an Rìgh, given as King’s Cave on maps and connected locally with the Bruce; two nearby hills are Tòrr Rìgh Mòr and Tòrr Rìgh Beag. However, the cave was anciently Uamh Fhinn ‘Fionn’s cave’, named for the pan-Gaelic hero Fionn mac Cumhail; the Bruce connection appears to be relatively modern.

Port Rìgh ‘king’s harbour’ on Kilbrannan Sound at Carradale (Kintyre) reputedly commemorates the landing there of Robert the Bruce. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Between Dingwall and Strathpeffer, there is Coille an Rìgh ‘the king’s wood’ but the doyen of Scottish place-name scholars, William J. Watson, tells us this is ‘really Coille Ruighe “wood of the slope”.’ Another similar example is a collection of ‘ree’ names near Corran Ferry, south of Fort William. Gleann Righ and Abhainn Righ appear to represent ‘king’s glen’ and ‘king’s river’, along with the anglicised Inchree ‘king’s pasture land’. However, despite the royal connection (perhaps back to Robert the Bruce himself) being promoted by Lochaber bard and Gaelic activist, Mary Mackellar, in the 19th century, the earliest forms of this name – Inisruy – suggest Innis Ruighe ‘pasture of the slope’, pronounced locally as Innis Righe. True royal names in the Gaelic landscape are perhaps a little more elusive than at first sight!

One name that surely references a king rather than a slope, however, is Allt Mhic an Rìgh ‘the burn of the son of the king’ in the wild country south-east of Dalwhinnie in Badenoch. The king here is unnamed, but this blogger suspects the toponym might date back to the time of Alexander Stewart, son of King Robert II, who became infamous in English as ‘The Wolf of Badenoch’, but whose Gaelic moniker was Alasdair Mòr Mac an Rìgh ‘big Alexander, son of the king’. He would have known this country well, and the burn lies close to an old route between the northern and southern Highlands.

Allt Mhic an Rìgh ‘the burn of the king’s son’ in the Gaick Forest, Badenoch. The oddly named Vinegar Hill (in the midst of a pure Gaelic landscape) is a corruption of the Gaelic A’ Mhin-choiseachd ‘the easy walking’.
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

However, there are other toponyms where the identity of the king who is referenced must remain elusive in the absence of further research. Examples are Beinn an Rìgh ‘the king’s mountain’ in Trotternish, Skye, and two maritime promontories called Rubha an Rìgh ‘the point of the king’ – one on the coast of Knapdale and the other on Calve Island near Tobermory on Mull.

There are several hills known as Càrn an Rìgh (interpreted today as ‘the king’s hill’, whether or not that is their true origin). One is north-east of Killicrankie in Highland Perthshire and has been notionally linked to kings as diverse as Malcolm Canmore and James VI, both of whom hunted deer in the area, but centuries apart. An early map reference to Càrn an Rìgh west of Loch Eriboll in northern Sutherland suggests that the second element might actually be frìth ‘deer forest’ (treated as a masculine noun rather than its usual feminine). A few miles away, near Sandwood Bay, is yet another Càrn an Rìgh, where the royal reference remains unexplained.

Further to the east, in Strathnaver, folklore explains Clach an Rìgh ‘the king’s stone’, which is actually the remains of an ancient stone circle that commemorates a battle. It is near Dalharrold ‘field of Harald’ and close to two river pools on the Naver known as Poll Harraild Mòr and Poll Harraild Beag, the large and small pools of Harald, reputedly named for Harald Maddadson, the 12th century Norse Earl of Orkney and Mormaer of Caithness who led a Norse army to defeat here against a Scottish force in the late 1190s. The nearby Blàr na Fola ‘the field or plain of the blood’ also recalls the event. Another reference to a ‘Scandinavian’ King Harald is the rocky hill Creag Rìgh Tharailt near Kincraig in Badenoch. Local tradition says that he died on this hill during a battle.

The Ordnance Survey Name Book links Eilean an Rìgh ‘the king’s island’ on Loch Laggan to the Scottish monarch ‘King Fergus’; the ruins on the island are said to have been his hunting lodge, and he is reputed to have kennelled his dogs on the nearby Eilean nan Con ‘the island of the dogs’. Further south in Argyll, the royal personages named in Eilean Rìgh in Loch Craignish and the tiny Eilean an Rìgh off the coast of Ulva remain unidentified.

The Gaelic for ‘queen’ is banrigh, but the word is much less in evidence in the landscape than its masculine equivalent. The best-known example is Sròn na Banrigh ‘the queen’s hill [literally ‘nose’]’ at the head of Glenfeshie in Badenoch (the Gaelic scholar and Glenfeshie native, Alexander Macbain, tells it was locally pronounced ‘Sròn na Bàruinn’). Macbain takes up the tale: ‘the tradition … has it that the wicked Queen Mary set fire to the old Badenoch forest. She felt offended at her husband’s pride in the great forest – he had asked once on his home return how his forests were before he asked about her. So she came north, took her station on the top of [Sròn na Banrigh] and there gave orders to set the woods on fire.’ Historians pick many holes in this unlikely tale, including the identification of the eponymous queen as Mary Queen of Scots.

Sròn na Banrigh at the head of Glenfeshie in Badenoch. Oral tradition claims this as the site of a royally-ordered destruction by fire of one of the finest pieces of Caledonian pine forest in the kingdom. The tale is likely to be apocryphal, although tales abound of the burning of Highland forests. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

If the given or regnal name of the king or queen in a place-name is largely missing from the Gaelic landscape, there is one place in the Gàidhealtachd that carries an English name that is unequivocal. It is Victoria Falls near Slattadale on the shores of Loch Maree, named for Queen Victoria following her visit there in 1877. The queen herself is said to have been rather unimpressed by the stature of the falls and one suspects that she might have been comparing them to the magnificent waterfall of the same name on the Zambezi River in Africa!

And while the castle at Both Mhoireil (Balmoral) is in the midst of a Gaelic landscape, the royal additions, in the shape of cairns commemorating various persons, are all named in English. If the late queen is to be commemorated there with a memorial, might this particular citizen suggest it be in the form of a Highland cairn and known as Càrn Ealasaid?

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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Rìghrean is Banrighrean air Aghaidh na Tìre

Tha Ruairidh MacIlleathain a’ toirt sùil air faclan ‘rìoghail’ a tha co-cheangailte ri ainmean-àite Gàidhlig

Read in English

Tha rìghrean agus banrighrean air a bhith againn fad ùine mhòir thairis air an Roinn-Eòrpa; mar sin, chan eil e na iongnadh gum bi iad a’ nochdadh gu tric ann an co-cheangal ri nàdar is ainmean-àite. Tha a leithid a cheart cho fìor ann am Beurla, oir bithear a’ bruidhinn mu bhanrigh nan seillean, agus àiteachan mar Queensferry air Uisge Foirthe agus Queen’s View làimh ri Loch Teimhil. Chan eil e fìor gur ann airson na Banrigh Bhictoria a chaidh an sealladh mu dheireadh sin ainmeachadh, ged a ghabh i tlachd às nuair a chaidh i ann ann an 1866. Tha Coilltearachd agus Fearann Alba, a tha a’ ruith an ionaid-dualchais an sin, ag innse dhuinn gun robh e ainmichte airson Iseabail, a’ chiad bhean aig Raibeart am Brusach, agus tha e ri fhaicinn air a’ chiad eagran de mhapa sia-òirlich na Suirbhidh Òrdanais a chaidh a tharraing ri chèile ann an 1861-2. Bu chòir dhuinn a bhith faiceallach mu fhionnsgeulan rìoghail co-cheangailte ri tìr na h-Alba!

Tha ainmean-àite ‘rìoghail’ aig na Gàidheil cuideachd, ged nach eil iad cho pailt ʼs a tha iad far a bheil a’ Bheurla làidir. Agus feumar a bhith faiceallach leotha oir uaireannan chan e ‘rìgh’ a chanadh na seann daoine ach ‘ruigh(e)’, a’ ciallachadh leathad, fearann còmhnard aig bonn beinne no àirigh (agus chan eil an t-Suirbhidh Òrdanais a’ cuideachadh oir, mar as trice, sgrìobhaidh iad ‘rìgh’ mar ‘righ’). ʼS e an eisimpleir as fhollaisiche Port Rìgh anns an Eilean Sgitheanach, a tha ainmichte airson turas aig Seumas V ann an 1540 – mas fhìor. Chuala am blogair seo seann Sgitheanaich a’ bruidhinn mu ‘Port Ruighe(adh)’ agus tha gu leòr dhen bheachd nach eil an t-ainm a’ buntainn ri Rìgh na h-Alba idir.

Tha dà àite eile ann an Alba air a bheil, no air an robh, Port Rìgh mar ainm, far a bheilear ag aithneachadh an rìgh fhèin. B’ e fear dhiubh fìor sheann ainm Phort Phàdraig ann an Gall-Ghàidhealaibh; chaidh a cheangal ris an rìgh Èireannach Lugaid mac Con, a chaidh a sgiùrsadh à Èirinn ach a chuir cabhlach-mara ri chèile, ann an co-bhuinn ri Albannaich agus Breatannaich, ann am Port Rìgh timcheall na bliadhna 250AC. Tha am fear eile aig Càradal ann an Cinn Tìre, agus tha e fhathast air na mapaichean. Thathar ag ràdh gur ann an sin a thàinig Raibeart am Brusach gu tìr, air dhà seòladh ann à Eilean Bhòid.

Cha mhòr mu choinneimh a’ phuirt rìoghail sin, ann an Eilean Arainn, tha Uamh an Rìgh no ‘King’s Cave’ mar a th’ air na mapaichean. Tha dà chnoc làimh rithe air a bheil Tòrr Rìgh Mòr agus Tòrr Rìgh Beag, agus a rèir beul-aithris, ʼs e Raibeart am Brusach a th’ air ainmeachadh annta uile. Ge-tà, anns an t-seann aimsir, chanadh daoine Uamh Fhinn ris an uaimh, agus i ceangailte ri Fionn mac Cumhail. Buinidh an ceangal ris a’ Bhrusach do na nua-linntean.

Port Rìgh air a’ Chaolas Bhrandanach aig Càradal. Thathar a’ cumail a-mach gun tàinig am Brusach, Rìgh na h-Alba, gu tìr an seo. Dealbh le cead Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba

Eadar Inbhir Pheofharain agus Srath Pheofhair, tha Coille an Rìgh, ach tha an sàr-sgoilear Uilleam MacBhàtair, ag innse dhuinn gur e Coille Ruighe a th’ ann ann an da-rìridh. Tha eisimpleir car coltach faisg air Aiseag a’ Chorrain (deas air a’ Ghearasdan) far a bheil Gleann Righ, Abhainn Righ agus Inchree (le dreach na Beurla air). Bha a’ bhana-bhàrd Abrach, Màiri NicEalair, gu mòr dhen bheachd gun robh na h-ainmean sin co-cheangailte ri seann rìgh, ach tha an dreach as sine – Inisruy – a’ sealltainn dhuinn gu bheil Innis Ruighe nas coltaiche, ged a chanadh muinntir an àite ‘Innis Righe’. Uaireannan, chan eil ainmean-àite ‘rìoghail’ buileach cho rìoghail ʼs a tha iad air a’ chiad shealladh!

Tha rìgh le cinnt co-cheangailte ri Allt Mhic an Rìgh ann an Gadhaig ann am Bàideanach. Chan eil an rìgh fhèin ainmichte, ach tha amharas aig a’ bhlogair seo gu bheil an t-ainm a’ dol air ais gu fear de mhic Raibeirt II – fear air an robh cliù gun robh e brùideil agus a bha ainmichte mar ‘The Wolf of Badenoch’ ann am Beurla. Bha na Gàidheil eòlach air mar ‘Alasdair Mòr mac an Rìgh’. Bha e mion-eòlach air an sgìre seo agus tha an t-allt faisg air seann slighe a bha a’ ceangal ceann a deas na Gàidhealtachd ris a’ cheann a tuath.

Allt Mhic an Rìgh ann an Gàdhaig, Bàideanach. Tha an t-ainm Vinegar Hill annasach ann an tìr a tha cho Gàidhealach. Tha e a’ tighinn bhon Ghàidhlig A’ Mhin-choiseachd ‘àite a tha furasta airson coiseachd ann’.
Dealbh le cead Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba

Ge-tà, tha ainmean-àite eile ann far a bheil an rìgh a tha ainmichte ann gun aithneachadh. Tha eisimpleir ann am Beinn an Rìgh ann an Rubha Thròndairnis ann an ceann a tuath an Eilein Sgitheanaich, agus dà rubha ann an Earra-Ghàidheal air a bheil Rubha an Rìgh – fear dhiubh ann an Cnapadal agus am fear eile ann an Eilean Chalbha, làimh ri Tobar Mhoire ann am Muile.

Tha grunn bheanntan air a bheil Càrn an Rìgh mar ainm. Tha fear dhiubh air Gàidhealtachd Siorrachd Pheairt; chaidh a cheangal ri caochladh rìghrean, eadar Calum a’ Chinn Mhòir agus Seumas VI a bha le chèile an sàs ann an sealg nam fiadh ann, ged a bha na ceudan bhliadhnaichean eatarra. Air seann mhapa, tha Càrn an Rìgh siar air Loch Euraboll ann an Dùthaich MhicAoidh air a riochdachadh mar Càrn na Frìthe, a’ togail ceist mu thùs an ainm, agus tha beinn eile dhen aon ainm faisg air Bàgh Shanndabhait ann an Eadar Dhà Chaolas – nach eil air a’ mhìneachadh.

Fada gu sear, ann an Srath Nabhair, tha aithrisean à beul-aithris a mhìnicheas tùs seann chearcall de chlachan air a bheil ‘Clach an Rìgh’. Tha e faisg air Dail Harailt agus air dà pholl san abhainn air a bheil Poll Harraild Mòr agus Poll Harraild Beag, a chaidh ainmeachadh airson Harald Maddadson, Iarla Arcaibh agus Mormaer Ghallaibh anns an 12mh linn. Chaill armailt aige ann an còmhrag an aghaidh feachd Albannach an sin anns an dàrna leth de na 1190an. Tha Blàr na Fola (Fala) faisg air làimh cuideachadh a’ cuimhneachadh an tachartais. Ann am Bàideanach, faisg air Ceann na Creige, tha Creag Rìgh Tharailt agus tha beul-aithris na sgìre ag innse dhuinn gum b’ esan seann cheannard Lochlannach a chaill a bheatha ann an còmhstri an sin.

Tha Leabhar nan Ainmean aig an t-Suirbhidh Òrdanais ag ràdh gu bheil Eilean an Rìgh air Loch Lagain a’ toirt iomradh air an rìgh Albannach, ‘Fearghas’, aig an robh loids-seilge ann; thathar ag ràdh gun cumadh e a choin-seilge ann an Eilean nan Con, nach eil fada bhon chiad eilean. Gu deas air sin, ann an Earra-Ghàidheal, tha dà eilean eile air a bheil Eilean an Rìgh mar ainm – fear dhiubh ann an Loch Creiginis agus am fear eile deas air Ulbha. Chan eil e soilleir cò iad na rìghrean a tha ceangailte riutha.

Chan eil am facal ‘banrigh’ idir cho pailt ann an ainmean-àite ʼs a tha ‘rìgh’. ʼS e an eisimpleir as ainmeile Sròn na Banrigh aig ceann shuas Ghleann Feithisidh ann am Bàideanach. Tha an sgoilear Gàidhlig, Alasdair MacBheathain, a bhuineadh do Ghleann Feithisidh, ag innse dhuinn gur e ‘Sròn na Bàruinn’ a chanadh muinntir an àite ris. Tha e a’ mìneachadh a’ ghnothaich anns an leabhar aige ‘Place Names, Highland and Islands of Scotland’: chuir a’ Bhanrigh Màiri teine ri seann choille Bhàideanach. Bha i a’ gabhail gu h-olc e gun do thill an duine aice dhachaigh turas agus gun do dh’fhaighnich e dhith gu dè staid anns an robh a’ choille mus do dh’fhaighnich e mu a cor fhèin. Thàinig i gu tuath, sheas i air mullach Sròn na Banrigh agus thug i òrdugh seachad na coilltean a losgadh gu làr. Bidh luchd-eachdraidh a’ cur teagamh mòr anns an sgeul neo-choltach seo, agus gu sònraichte gur i an tè a bu choireach Màiri Banrigh nan Albannach.

Sròn na Banrigh aig ceann shuas Ghleann Feithisidh ann am Bàideanach, far a bheil beul-aithris ag innse dhuinn gun tug a’ bhanrigh seachad òrdugh na coilltean a chitheadh i on mhullach a sgrios le teine.
Dealbh le cead Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba

Mar as trice, tha ainm pearsanta aig rìgh no banrigh a dhìth ann an ainmean-àite Gàidhlig, ach tha aon àite air Gàidhealtachd an Iar, far a bheil ainm Beurla a tha gu math soilleir. ʼS e sin Victoria Falls, faisg air Slèiteadal air cladach Loch Ma-ruibhe. Chaidh an t-ainm a chur air an eas, an dèidh don t-seann bhanrigh tadhal air ann an 1877. Thathar ag innse nach do shaoil a’ bhanrigh fhèin cus dhen eas; math dh’fhaodte gun robh i a’ dèanamh coimeas eadar e fhèin agus am mòr-eas drùidhteach dhen aon ainm air Abhainn Zambezi ann an Afraga!

Agus, ged a tha an caisteal aig Both Mhoireil (no Baile Mhoireil, ma tha sinn gu bhith spaideil) air tìr agus ann an àrainneachd a tha gu math Gàidhealach, tha na cùirn rìoghail a chaidh a chur suas air an oighreachd mar chuimhneachain air buill dhen teaghlach rìoghail uile air an ainmeachadh ann am Beurla. Ma tha a’ bhanrigh mu dheireadh nach maireann gu bhith air a cuimhneachadh an sin le carragh air choreigin, am faod an Gàidheal seo smuain a chur air ur beulaibh gum bu chòir dha a bhith ann an cruth cùirn Ghàidhealaich, le Càrn Ealasaid mar ainm air?

Bha am bloga 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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Safe and Sustainable Mushroom Foraging

Following late summer rains our woodlands often come alive with fungi – mushrooms and toadstools.  Perhaps one of the most obvious is the poisonous fly agaric – the red toadstool with white spots of fairy tales – but there are others that are wholesome and tasty and offer a welcome addition to a seasonal diet.

Through autumn many people take the opportunity to connect with nature and forage responsibly for Scotland’s fungi species. As well as being beautiful in their varied colours and shapes, some fungi such as field mushroom, chanterelle, hedgehog and penny bun or cep are also very tasty.  A mindful forage for food from nature while on a walk is an absorbing, meditative process, with tasty rewards but make sure that you have done a bit of homework first!

Picking Chanterelle mushrooms
Picking Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) mushrooms.

Mushrooms are the fruit bodies of fungi – the majority of the fungus is underground and lives as thread-like hyphae. This means that picking the mushrooms doesn’t harm the fungus any more than picking blackberries from a bramble world, but it can still have effects to the fungus’ reproduction and potentially damage its structures underground.

There are therefore some guidelines I would recommend to safe-guard these wonderful organisms. These sustainable foraging guidelines are adapted from the Scottish Wild Mushroom Code. The code is a good source of information, and contains a bit of extra advice for scientific forays.

Only pick what you will use – as well being important for the future of the fungus species, there are many animals that rely on autumn fungi as a food source, including red squirrels and a range of insects and slugs.
Know what you are picking – it is important that you are confident in identifying what you are picking.  As well as avoiding poisonous species, this will help you avoid Scotland’s rare and special species, whether you are collecting for the pot or for scientific research.
Spread your gathering – taking from a wider area makes it less likely you are harvesting all the fruit bodies from an individual fungus, as well as helping you connect with nature as you share in its larder.
Tread carefully – mushrooms are only fruiting bodies; the majority of the fungus is underground and so excessive trampling and disturbance will damage them, reducing mushroom crops in future years.
Only pick the best – young unopened mushrooms haven’t had the chance to spread their spores yet, and older mushrooms can still spread spores despite not being the tastiest, so stick to picking the middle-aged mushrooms .
Nature reserves – please seek advice from the land manager if you want to pick from nature reserves.
Commercial foraging – some people supplement their living by gathering food from nature and supplying restaurants, and food retailers with  seasonal foraged produce.  To forage for commercial purposes one must have the landowner’s permission.  Foraging small quantities, for personal use is allowed as part of our access rights.

Chanterelle fungi in wicker basket.
Chanterelle fungi in wicker basket.

Many ‘mushroomers’ will also have advice for sustainable fungi foraging: most use knives to cut the stalk of the fungi, and these knives often have a soft brush attached so they can be brushed over on site, returning any spores to the ground.  They often use wicker baskets to allow the spores from the mushrooms they have picked to fall out of the gaps, thus aiding the mushroom’s final purpose before they are consumed. Personally, I am also of the hope that some of the small flies may fall out of my colander of chanterelles…

Of these tips, identifying the mushroom correctly so you don’t poison yourself is one of the most important ones. Species such chanterelle, puffballs and wood hedgehogs can be good starting points for beginners.

Only harvest what you know.  One of the best ways to learn, is to learn from others; take an outing with a forager – a list of proficient foragers can be found in the directory of the Association of Foragers.  Many of them offer foraging outings and share their knowledge through excellent on line resources – Mark Williams at Galloway Wild Foods offers one of the most comprehensive resources on his website

Display of examples for foraging at Taynish National Nature Reserve
Examples of foraging at Taynish National Nature Reserve.

Some edible mushrooms can also be cultivated at home, but many of the mushrooms found wild in Scotland cannot yet be cultivated for commercial use. This is because species such as chanterelles and morels are mycorrhizal, forming symbiotic associations with particular tree species in a union that has been referred to as the ‘wood wide web’ – accordingly, these species are tied to particular conditions and cannot be found outside of their habitat.

Overall, foraging can be a fantastic way to connect with nature, increase your knowledge and add some healthy ingredients to your diet. If you are keen to learn more before you venture outdoors, check out NatureScot’s online resources, which include our colourful guide to Foraging for Wild Plants in Scotland and our Food from Nature workbook for children in both English and in Gaelic.

NatureScot also organises Foraging Fortnight in partnership with Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), which takes place in September each year and which co-ordinates and promotes a range of events including foraging excursions – check the website for a range of resources and for details of Foraging Fortnight 2023, when they are released.

By: Kat O’Brien

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Working together for nature and climate

It’s Scotland’s Climate Week and we’re encouraging everyone to talk about nature loss and climate change together, because without nature there is no climate.  To get your conversation started, David O’Brien shares his love of monitoring wildlife and explores the effects climate change is having on our species and their habitats.

I’ve loved nature for as long as I can remember. As a young lad, I would go out catching frogs and newts. I still do. Back then, I wrote up my observations in an old jotter; now I use a computer app, but it’s essentially the same process.  Like many of us, I’ve noticed changes in the wildlife around me with some species becoming commoner and others less abundant. Of course these may be just one-offs. To really understand what is going on, we need to look at records of species across Scotland over as many years as we can. That’s my day job.

David surveying for amphibians at night and taking DNA swabs from a toad © David O’Brien

Our team gathers the evidence about what is happening to biodiversity (the variety of living things) in Scotland. Globally, there are five main pressures and all of them are having an impact here. These are: Changing use of sea and land, direct exploitation, pollution, invasive non-native species and of course climate change. Behind these pressures are two very important underlying causes: many people have become disconnected from nature and as a result they don’t recognise the value of nature. If people do not feel connected to nature, they won’t care for nature and see its importance. On the other hand, many of us care passionately and the evidence shows we can make a difference.

Looking at the animals for which we have the best data, we have seen a decline in abundance of just over 30% since 1994. We know that there has been a severe drop in the numbers of many species prior to 1994, although our data are not as detailed. This means the actual decrease over the last century or so is likely far higher. We also know that many plants and fungi have also declined heavily over the period, but precise data are not available.

Loss of habitat is causing a decline in moths. Antler moth © Caroline Anderson / NatureScot

If we focus on a single group, we can get a clearer picture of what is going on. Taking moths as an example, we’re seeing a marked decline. Many of us overlook moths, they’re less glamourous than butterflies, but they are important pollinators and they also act as food for many of our familiar birds and other animals. We looked at nearly 300 types of moth, and the most common cause of decline appears to be loss or damage to their habitats.

One of our key pressures is, of course, climate change. We have already seen declines in some of our internationally important seabirds as their prey species are lost due to warming waters, in some cases exacerbated by historic overfishing. Our models suggest that drought will become increasingly important, especially for freshwater species and we are already seeing some impacts on more sensitive plants.

Warming waters are affecting Scotland’s internationally important seabirds. Northern gannets © Lorne Gill / NatureScot

On the positive side we also have examples of improvement. When I was young, most of our lowland rivers were highly polluted. The air in our towns and cities was toxic to lichens and mosses and this was mirrored in human health. Pollution controls introduced in the 1990s have benefitted many species through improvements to freshwater and air. Mosses and liverworts are good indicators and we have seen an upturn in sensitive species. Similarly freshwater invertebrates like mayflies have seen very large increases in their distribution.

Improvements to air and water quality means we are now seeing more mosses and liverworts © Laurie Campbell / NatureScot

The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are daunting. The evidence shows they are affecting wildlife here in Scotland. But the evidence also shows that working together, we have tackled environmental problems in the past. I believe that we will again.

David O’Brien is Biodiversity Evidence and Reporting Manager at NatureScot.

Scotland’s Climate Week runs from 26 September to 2 October. Learn more and get involved at https://www.netzeronation.scot/whats-happening/scotlands-climate-week.

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Terrific Tern Rafts

Thanks to a grant from the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund, managed by NatureScot, two tern rafts have been created at RSPB Scotland’s Loch of Spiggie nature reserve in Shetland. Today’s guest blog explains how these floating platforms are helping the threatened seabirds.

Arctic tern by Paul Turner RSPB Images

With their long tail streamers, pointed wings and yearly mammoth migration, Arctic terns are often nicknamed the ‘sea swallow’. However, Arctic terns have a migration much longer than that of a swallow – spending summer as far north as the Arctic before travelling south during our winter for the Antarctic summer, which is a round trip of up to 22,000 miles each year. Some don’t make it as far as the Arctic though, and will instead spend the summer feeding and nesting in Scotland, including in Shetland.

Arctic terns RSPB Images


Though they can be spotted inland during migration, they are mostly seen feeding on small fish like sandeels in shallow coastal waters and nesting on shingle beaches and coastal headlands. The terns reach their breeding grounds by May or early June, where each female lays one to three eggs in a shallow scrape on the ground. Unfortunately, Arctic terns are badly affected when sandeel populations decline. In 2004, large numbers of sandeels disappeared from many UK waters and scientists believe this was due to climate change. Arctic terns completely failed to breed in some areas that year, including Shetland, and their struggles have continued since.

Arctic tern with sandeel by Paul Turner RSPB Images


In addition to food shortages, nesting terns face a number of other threats which reduce their breeding success. This includes disturbance by humans, predation by invasive species such as rats, and loss of habitat due to coastal erosion from increasingly unstable weather systems – another impact of climate change. Furthermore, the current strain of HPAI (Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza) is having a devastating impact on seabird populations across Scotland. Great skuas and gannets have been particularly hard hit, but it is having an impact on terns too, which means it’s more important than ever to reduce external pressures on these birds where we can.

Arctic tern by Chris Gomersall RSPB Images


The decline in tern numbers over recent years is of real concern to RSPB Scotland, who, along with UK and international partners, is at the forefront of tern conservation efforts. Large-scale, long-term solutions are needed to address this issue in full, but there are things that can be done at a local level to help the birds in the meantime. In particular, floating platforms known as ‘tern rafts’ are a great way to provide a safe place for breeding terns to lay their eggs without the risk of predation or disturbance.

Loch Spiggie term rafts close-up by Kevin Kelly

Thanks to a grant from the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund, managed by NatureScot, two tern rafts have been installed at RSPB Scotland’s Loch of Spiggie nature reserve in Shetland. The rafts were specially designed to create new nesting habitat for terns and are lined with shingle, shells and small shelters to imitate a natural nesting site. The addition of perspex sides prevents ground predators getting to the nest and by anchoring the platform in place the nests remain as static as possible, even in high winds. Though only recently installed, they have already been used by terns, with courtship and displaying behaviour witnessed. The birds using the rafts this year are likely sexually immature birds so won’t breed this summer, but the signs are good for future years.


The rafts are in a fantastic position for visitor viewing, where their importance as a measure to help nesting terns can be well communicated to a range of audiences, including school groups. RSPB Scotland also has a hide nearby. Here people can view the rafts in action along with new informative signage about Arctic terns which was also provided by the grant.

Loch Spiggie tern rafts by Kevin Kelly


If the rafts become well used by terns RSPB Scotland may consider ringing the chicks and gathering information around survival rates from the rafts. It is hoped that the promising signs of tern activity increase in the coming years, with birds hopefully occupying the nesting rafts and providing a great “platform” for tern education.

Ruth Carruthers is Fundraising Manager at RSPB Scotland.

For more information:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/at-home-and-abroad/scotland/

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Two Basking Fish of the West Highland summer

Roddy Maclean shares his enthusiasm for two amazing summer visitors to our waters

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

In the west of Ireland, there are two remarkable marine fish that bask under the name of ‘sunfish’ or their equivalents in Irish Gaelic – iasc gréine or similar, the name involving grian ‘sun’ in its genitive form gréine. I have used the term ‘bask’ advisedly, as both species, while completely unrelated except insofar as they are both fish, are to be encountered swimming slowly and deliberately at the surface of the sea, as if they are basking in the sunshine. For this particular blogger and Scottish west-coast sailor, a close encounter with one, or preferably both, makes for a wonderful and complete maritime summer!

Scottish mariners are familiar with the very same species in our own waters during the summer months, but in Gaelic Scotland it is generally only one of them that is referred to (with subtly different spelling from the Irish) as iasg-grèine – the sunfish (Mola mola), one of the world’s largest bony fish which shares its name, in translated form, with that used by English-speakers. The other species is a cartilaginous shark – the second biggest fish in the world – sometimes known here as a ‘sailfish’ because of its large dorsal fin which is reminiscent of a dark sail slowly making its way across the water.

A basking shark feeding – as seen from a boat, with the Isle of Coll in the distant background. This specimen was over 5 metres long. Photo © Roddy Maclean

As well as iasc gréine, the basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is quite commonly referred to as a liabhán gréine ‘leviathan of the sun’ in Irish Gaelic. In Scotland it is usually a cearban (or the variants carban and cairbhean), a word whose etymology is unclear. One Scottish dictionary gives the basking shark the name cearban-grèine, maintaining the solar connection to the species in our own terminology.

The basking shark is one of only three plankton-eating shark species, and defers only to the whale shark in size, generally reaching up to 8m in length (the largest ever recorded was a whopping 12m). A gentle leviathan, it is found in all the temperate oceans of the world and is migratory, visiting Scottish waters in the summer months. During the winter it dives to depths of as much as 900m.

It is truly a monster, but of mild disposition and poses no danger to humans, unless it happens to upset a small boat or kayak with a flick of its tail. The cearban can often be seen swimming langorously at the surface of the sea, particularly in sheltered locations, with its maw wide open, filtering its food. It appears to be basking in the sun, hence its name in both linguistic traditions. The species has an enormous mouth and highly developed gill rakers for catching its food and, for this particular sailor, the appearance of its dark form and giveaway dorsal fin (with a tail fin some considerable distance behind), as it feeds in a Hebridean location, is something that makes the heart instantly beat faster!

A basking shark feeding. This is from Wikimedia Commons

My own most memorable encounter with basking sharks was on a yacht trip on the west coast when we called into a group of small uninhabited islands, one of which bears a lighthouse, in the Cuan Barrach ‘the great sea of Barra’, referred to in English as the Sea of the Hebrides. In a channel between two of the islands, there was a group of half a dozen basking sharks slowly swimming and feeding, reaching the end of the channel and turning to make another circuit. Two of the crew went out in a rubber dinghy to quietly drift in the channel in close proximity to the docile monsters, who studiously ignored them.

Of course, such slow-moving and giant beasts are easy prey for the greatest predator of all – humans – and in the years following the Second World War a basking shark fishery was established on the west coast, with well-kent figures like Gavin Maxwell and Tex Geddes, and their colleagues, harpooning and processing the fish, with particular emphasis on their enormous and valuable livers. The ruins of Maxwell’s factory on the Isle of Soay, in a spectacular setting close to the Cuillin of Skye, can still be seen today. While stimulating a series of adventures in the best traditions of derring-do, the industry is blamed even today by some west-coasters for a dramatic fall in the number of basking sharks seen around our coasts. Today, the species is heavily protected throughout UK and EU waters. They are gentle animals – please treat them gently.

The ruins of the basking shark processing facility on the Isle of Soay. Photo © Roddy Maclean

This blogger’s first close Scottish encounter with an iasg-grèine or sunfish came last summer off the coast of Fladaigh, the isle of Fladday, adjacent to the north-west coast of Raasay. It was the dorsal fin that we first noticed, and the inclination was to call ‘cearban!’, but the floppiness of the fin and its lateral bending, combined with the general motion of its carrier, which was languid, to say the least, made us realise that here was something different – and most unusual. As we got close, we realised that we had happened upon one of the most amazing fish in the world’s oceans.

Looking like a head joined to a wavy tail, without an intervening body, shaped, in a faintly comical manner, like a great round disc, the sunfish appears to have been designed by a group of primary school children who delighted in form, regardless of how unlikely that might be to a biologist, and were little concerned with the engineering details of how to propel a considerable bulk through water in a forward direction. The species is surely one of the great biological conundrums – and, one has to admit, given its longevity and wide distribution – successes of the processes of organic evolution.

Sometimes called the Ocean Sunfish to distinguish it from the related Southern Sunfish (Mola alexandrini), the species that moves north with the North Atlantic Drift to visit our waters in summer is to be found in tropical and temperate waters around the world. While they may drift with ocean currents, sunfish can actively swim – generally at a little over a knot, but on occasions putting on a burst of speed to escape a predator (orcas, or killer whales, are known to be among the species that predate adult sunfish). Like the basking shark, the sunfish is of a docile disposition and will not attack divers, but it has been known to leap onto boats. And, as with the basking shark, European Union law protects the species, although this is not the case elsewhere, with its flesh being considered a delicacy in the Far East, particularly Japan and Taiwan.

An Ocean Sunfish in an aquarium. Photo © Per-Ola Norman (released into public domain)

The name ‘sunfish’ comes from the animal’s behaviour when it lies on its side – basking – just under the surface of the water, absorbing warmth from the sun. Unlike the basking shark, swimming at the surface is not a feeding behaviour. Instead, it allows the fish to warm itself, increasing metabolic activity, following a dive to feed in deeper, colder water. The Welsh name, pysgodyn haul, corresponds to the Gaelic and English names, but not all cultures interpret the species in the same way. To some it is a ‘moonfish’ (because of its shape), to others a ‘head alone’ and, in the Scandinavian countries, a ‘lump fish’. The scientific name mola is derived from the Latin for ‘millstone’, the shape of which a sunfish broadly resembles.

It is a generalist feeder, with its prey consisting largely of small fish, squid, crustaceans and jellyfish. Researchers have found that it even consumes eelgrass, demonstrating that it will frequent the seafloor on occasions. The specimen that I encountered off Fladday was light grey in colour, although they can also be brown or white. It was slightly under the average adult size (which is 1.8m long and 2.5m vertically from the tip of its dorsal fin to the tip of its anal fin). But the species can achieve considerable size, reaching 3.3 m in length, with a mass of well over two thousand kilograms! It is also a prolific breeder, with the female known to carry as many as three hundred million eggs, more than any other vertebrate.

If you happen to be off the Scottish coast in a boat, before autumn sets in, keep your eye open for a fin breaking the surface of the sea. It might be one of our two ‘basking sun-fish’ species – fish that remind us of the magnificence, wonder and diversity of the natural world and of the remarkable process of evolution that brought them into being.

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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Dà Iasg Bhlianaidh an t-Samhraidh

Tha Ruairidh MacIlleathain ag innse dhuinn mu dhà iasg-siubhail iongantach a thig a dh’uisgeachan na h-Alba as t-samhradh

Read in English

Air taobh an iar na h-Èireann, chithear dà iasg mhara iongantach a tha ainmichte airson na grèine, an dà chuid ann am Beurla agus Gaeilge. Tha Gàidheil na h-Èireann eòlach orra mar iasc gréine. Chan eil an dà ghnè càirdeach do chèile ach a-mhàin gur e èisg a th’ annta a chuireas seachad ùine air uachdar na mara, mar gu bheil iad a’ blianadh ann an solas na grèine. Don t-seòladair Ghàidhealach Albannach seo, tha sealladh de aonan dhiubh, no math dh’fhaodte na dhà, a’ dèanamh samhradh air taobh an iar na Gàidhealtachd iomlan!

Tha maraichean Albannach an ìre mhath cho eòlach air na h-èisg seo as t-samhradh ʼs a tha muinntir na h-Èireann ach, ann an Alba nan Gàidheal, ʼs e dìreach aonan dhiubh air a bheil, mar as trice, ‘iasg-grèine’ – am fear air a bheil ‘sunfish’ ann am Beurla agus a tha am measg nan iasg cnàimheach as motha san t-saoghal. Tha luchd-saidheans eòlach air mar Mola mola. ʼS e an t-iasg eile fon phrosbaig againn siorc a tha na dhàrna iasg as motha san t-saoghal agus a tha aithnichte do chuid ann an Alba mar ‘sailfish’ oir tha ite-dhroma mòr air a tha car coltach ri seòl dorch a’ gluasad thar na mara.

Cearban air uachdar na mara mar a chithear e bho bhàta. Tha Eilean Cholla ann an cùl an deilbh. Bha còrr is 5 meatairean de dh’fhaid anns an fhear seo. Dealbh © Ruairidh MacIlleathain

A bharrachd air iasc gréine, bidh na h-Èireannaich a’ gabhail liabhán gréine (creutair mòr na grèine) air an iasg eile, ris an canar ‘basking shark’ ann am Beurla (Cetorhinus maximus do luchd-saidheans). Ann an Alba, ʼs e cearban (no carban no cairbhean) a chanas sinn ri a leithid mar as trice. Chan eil tùs an fhacail sin soilleir; tha aon fhaclair Albannach a’ toirt dhuinn cearban-grèine mar ainm airson basking shark, a’ gleidheadh ceangal eadar an t-iasg agus a’ ghrian.

ʼS e an cearban fear de thrì siorcan a dh’itheas plancton, agus chan eil iasg sam bith nas motha na e, ach a-mhàin am mial-chearban (‘whale shark’). Ruigidh an cearban-grèine ochd meatairean ann am fad (bha am fear a b’ fhaide a bh’ ann riamh air a thomhas aig 12m) agus lorgar e air feadh nan cuantan a tha eadar-mheadhanach ann an teas. Bidh e a’ tadhal air Alba ann am mìosan an t-samhraidh nuair a chithear e air uachdar, ach anns a’ gheamhradh bidh e a’ falbh don aiginn, gu doimhneachd cho mòr ri 900m.

ʼS e mial-mhòr a th’ anns a’ chearban, ach tha e solt na nàdar agus chan eil e na chunnart do dhaoine, ach a-mhàin ma tha iad ann an geòla beag no curach agus an siorc a’ cur earball gu feum. Gu tric, chithear e a’ snàmh gu socair le a chraos air a’ chlab, agus e a’ sìolachadh a bhìdh às an t-sàl. Tha e mar gu bheil e a’ blianadh sa ghrèin. Nuair a chì mise ite droma aig fear, agus ite earbaill pìos mòr air cùl sin, bidh mo chridhe a’ plosgartaich!

Cearban a’ gabhail plancton a-steach air a chraos mhòr. Tùs: Wikimedia Commons

Bidh cuimhne agam gu sìorraidh nuair a chaidh mi am measg buidheann dhiubh far cròileagan de dh’eileanan anns a’ Chuan Bharrach, far a bheil lighe eadar dà eilean, agus taigh-solais air fear dhiubh. Bha mu leth-dhusan de na creutairean mòra a’ siubhal tron lighe gu socair le ʼm beòil làn-fhosgailte. Nuair a ruigeadh iad an ceann thall, bha iad a’ tionndadh airson biadh a bharrachd a ghabhail – agus mar sin air adhart. Chaidh dithis de chriutha na gheat air an robh mi a-muigh nam measg ann an ràth rubair, agus sheòl iad gu sàmhach leis an t-sruth. Cha robh coltas dragh air gin de na cearbain.

Leis gu bheil iad cho faisg air an uachdar as t-samhradh, agus slaodach leis, chan eil e na iongnadh gun do shaoil cuid de dhaoine gun robh cothrom coimeirsealta an cois an èisg seo. Anns na bliadhnaichean an dèidh an Dàrna Cogaidh, chaidh cuid, leithid Gavin Maxwell agus Tex Geddes, an sàs ann an gnìomhachas stèidhichte air a’ chearban, agus na h-èisg air an glacadh le harpùnaichean. Anns an t-seagh sin, bha e na bu choltaiche ri sealg nam mucan-mara seach iasgach.

Chithear fhathast tobhtaichean na factaraidh aig Maxwell ann an Sothaigh aig beul Loch Sgàbhaig ann an ceann a deas an Eilein Sgitheanaich. Bha na tursan-iasgaich gu tric nan dàna-thursan cunnartach – a bha math dh’fhaodte freagarrach do chuid de sheann saighdearan a’ chogaidh, ach tha gu leòr air taobh an iar na Gàidhealtachd eadhon an-diugh a’ coireachadh a’ ghnìomhachais seo airson crìonadh ann an àireamh nan cearban timcheall cladaichean na h-Alba. Tha an cearban a-nise air a dhìon gu làidir air feadh uisgeachan na Rìoghachd Aonaichte agus an Aonadh Eòrpaich. ʼS e creutairean solt a th’ annta – nach bi sibh coibhneil orra.

Tobhtaichean a bhuineadh do ghnìomhachas a’ chearbain, Eilean Sòthaigh. Dealbh © Ruairidh MacIlleathain

A’ chiad turas a thàinig am blogair seo faisg air iasg-grèine ‘sunfish’ far cladach na h-Alba, ʼs ann an-uiridh a bha e – faisg air Eilean Fhladaigh a tha ri taobh ceann an iar-thuath Ratharsair. B’ e ite-dhroma a mhothaich sinn an toiseach agus bha mi an impidh ‘cearban’ èigheachd … ach cha robh an ite cho dìreach no rag ri tè aig cearban, agus bha an t-iasg a’ gluasad ann an dòigh eadar-dhealaichte. Nuair a dhlùthaich sin ris a’ bhèist, thuig sinn gun robh, ri ar taobh, fear de na h-èisg as annasaiche ann an cuantan an domhain.

Tha an t-iasg-grèine a’ coimhead coltach ri ceann a tha ceangailte ri earball stuadhach, gun bhodhaig eatarra. Ann an cruth, tha e cruinn, car coltach ri clach-bhrà. Tha e mar gu bheil buidheann de chloinn bun-sgoile air iasg a chruthachadh mar dhibhearsan, gun a bhith a’ gabhail dragh mu a chomasan bith-beò a dhèanamh air druim a’ chuain. Ged a tha e a’ coimhead mì-choltach, tha e ann, air a lorg fad is farsaing, agus gu math soirbheachail, a’ dearbhadh cho iongantach ʼs a tha mean-fhàs mar phròiseas nàdarrach.

Uaireannan, bidh daoine a’ gabhail ‘iasg-grèine a’ chuain’ air a’ ghnè a nochdas nar n-uisgeachan airson a sgaradh bho ‘iasg-grèine a’ chinn a deas’ (Mola alexandrini). Bidh am fear againn a’ nochdadh ann an cuantan tropaigeach agus meadhanach blàth air feadh an t-saoghail. Bidh iad a’ falbh le sruthan nan cuantan ach faodaidh iad snàmh cuideachd – mar as trice aig astar beagan nas luaithe na mìle-mara san uair. Ma tha iad ann an cunnart bho shealgair (leithid madadh-cuain), faodaidh iad teicheadh gu luath, agus tha aithrisean ann dhen iasg seo a’ leum a-mach às an uisge agus a’ tighinn sìos air deic bàta! Cleas a’ chearbain, tha e solt agus cha bhi e a’ toirt ionnsaigh air dàibhearan. Tha e air a dhìon fo laghan Eòrpach ach ann an dùthchannan Àisianach mar Iapan agus Taiwan tha fèill mhòr air fhathast mar bhiadh.

Iasg-grèine ann an iasg-lann. Dealbh © Per-Ola Norman (ri faotainn gu poblach)

Bidh an t-iasg-grèine aig amannan a’ gabhail na grèine, le bhith na laighe air a thaobh air an uachdar. Eucoltach ris a’ chearban, cha bhi e a’ gabhail biadh an sin. Bidh e a’ gabhail blàths a-steach, an dèidh dha biadh a ghlacadh ann an uisge nas doimhne agus nas fhuaire. Tha ainm Cuimreach – pysgodyn haul – a’ ciallachach an aon rud ris na h-ainmean ann an Gàidhlig is Beurla, ach chan eil a h-uile cultar ag aithneachadh na gnè anns an aon dòigh. Do chuid, ʼs e ‘iasg na gealaich’ a th’ ann (ainmichte air a chruth), do chuid eile ‘ceann a-mhàin’ agus, anns na dùthchannan Lochlannach ‘iasg-cnapach’. Tha an t-ainm saidheansail mola a’ ciallachadh ‘clach-bhrà’ – ag aithneachadh a chumaidh, mar a dh’ainmich mi na bu tràithe.

Bidh an t-iasg-grèine ag ithe èisg bheag, gibearnaich, cruaidh-shlignich agus muir-tiachdan. Fhuair luchd-rannsachaidh a-mach cuideachd gum bi e ag ithe mìlearach, a’ dearbhadh gum bi e beò air grunnd na mara aig amannan. Bha dath liath air an fhear a chunnaic mise far Eilean Fhladaigh, ged a bhios iad uaireannan eadar donn agus bàn. Bha e rud beag na bu lugha na ʼm meud àbhaisteach (1.8m ann am fad agus 2.5m ann an àirde, eadar ceann a-mach na h-ite-droma agus ceann a-mach na h-ite-tòin). Ach faodaidh e fad 3.3m a ruigsinn, agus cuideam de chòrr is dà mhìle cileagram (sin dà thonna!). Bidh e a’ gineadh gu h-èifeachdach cuideachd, agus thathar a’ dèanamh dheth gum bi an t-iasg boireann a’ giùlan suas ri trì cheud millean ugh, barrachd na ainmhidh druim-altach sam bith eile.

Ma bhios tu ann an eathar far costa na h-Alba, cùm do shùilean fosgailte airson ite a’ briseadh uachdar na mara. Math dh’fhaodte gur e fear de na h-‘èisg-ghrèine’ againn – èisg a bhios a’ cur nar cuimhne cho mìorbhaileach agus eugsamhail ʼs a tha nàdar agus am pròiseas de mhean-fhàs a thug a h-uile nì gu bith.

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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Sole Sisters

As part of our Youth Engagement Action Plan we asked individuals from underrepresented communities to write about nature projects they’re passionate about. Today we hear from Halima Hussein, the founder of Sole Sisters, an outdoor adventure group that allows a space for Scottish Muslim girls and women to get out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves in the outdoors.

From a young age, I enjoyed lowland walks with my family but I started getting into hiking when I joined a youth group called Yusuf Youth Initiative (YYI). This helped me gain experience and confidence in being in the outdoors.

As I grew older, I started going out further with friends and family. People would ask me about where I went hiking and how I discovered different walking spots. There were many great places to explore nearby that people simply weren’t aware of. There are many tools that can help you access the outdoors. I recommended Walkhighlands, a great website to find walks in your local area and further afield. The routes also include information about different difficulty grades and public reviews. When doing the navigation course with Mountaineering Scotland, we learnt of many useful weather forecast and navigation apps that are essential when planning walks. Also having basic map reading skills is important when going out.

If you haven’t had much experience exploring Scotland’s nature it can be daunting to explore new places and get out of your comfort zone. This is the main reason why I set up Sole Sisters – to create a safe space for likeminded girls to get together. Being from the same faith allows us to connect to the outdoors on a different wavelength where we are able to accommodate our walks around prayer times and connect with nature, not just physically, but also in a spiritual sense.

Still smiling despite the weather

This is really important to me as in Scotland although there are amazing Muslim women out there hiking and sharing their adventures, there is still a lack of representation for young Muslim girls in the outdoors and a space where they can come together to go for an adventure.

Backbone Diversity CIC has been a great support in making sure I am safe and providing outdoor first aid and training courses to enhance my confidence when taking out groups.

Enjoying the view

Sole Sisters is still quite a new group and we are looking to build connections with different outdoor groups to help diversify Scotland’s outdoors. We want to help create representation of all faiths and cultures for a more inclusive natural space in Scotland. Collaborating with other outdoor groups will mean we can learn from each other and will allow people to be more open minded when being in the outdoors. The Scottish Government’s Scottish Biodiversity Strategy is now open for consultation and we encourage people from diverse backgrounds to respond to shape the future of Scotland’s biodiversity and access to its nature.

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Woodland Wheels Community Cycle Rides

As part of our Youth Engagement Action Plan we asked individuals from underrepresented communities to write about nature projects they’re passionate about. Today we hear from community cycle ride coordinators Zara Mohammed and Anna Canning, who tell us about Woodlands Wheels, an innovative project by Scottish Forestry’s Engagement Programme that uses cycling to encourage people, particularly women, people from black and Asian ethnic minorities and disadvantaged groups, to use woodland for health and wellbeing.

Woodland Wheels features an annual programme of rides setting off from community cycling organisations with facilitators introducing participants to a range of activities within woodland settings. Beginning in 2015 with just two newly-fledged ride leaders in Glasgow, the project has now expanded to cover Edinburgh and Glasgow, encouraging people from diverse ethnic and social backgrounds to discover and enjoy the benefits of local woodlands and green spaces.

Participants of the Woodland Wheels project enjoying a woodland cycle

We particularly want to include people who face barriers to doing this. We want to foster wellbeing, confidence and sustainable living, and hope our riders continue visiting woodlands and cycling beyond our Woodland Wheels events, choosing cycling for health, travel, and fun with family and friends!

Research highlights what stops people from using woodland for health and wellbeing – and what holds them back from cycling – so Woodland Wheels tries to address these factors.

  • We build confidence by helping riders discover local woods, greenspaces and cycleways, the facilities en route and how to use local cycle maps. We build a sense of safety and confidence by riding in a sociable group with experienced ride leaders and teach simple bike checks and roadside repairs.
  • We address lack of experience by familiarising riders with local woodlands and parks through a range of activities to ensure a lively, fun experience and encourage return visits. We are also mindful of new riders, with plenty of rest stops, keeping rides short but varied in terrain and distance (8-20 miles) to provide a sense of achievement.
  • We work to improve accessibility and participation by cyclists with a disability, dementia or mobility difficulties by checking route suitability and developing partnerships with all-ability cycling initiatives.
  • We address social barriers by making sure we convey a clear welcome message to people of diverse ethnic and social backgrounds, and to those who may face hidden social or health barriers such as members of the LGBTQ+ community, people accessing mental health services, or refugees and asylum seekers. Free bicycles and helmets are also provided.
Taking a well-deserved rest

Our participants tell us they particularly enjoy meeting people from other backgrounds and walks of life, learning about new cycle routes that are mainly off-road, and sharing conversation over a picnic lunch in the woods. Some of the riders’ favourite woodland activities include tree ID, woodland yoga and tai chi, making a ‘wild’ balm or midge cream, cooking nachos or chocolate bananas over a fire pit (even in the rain!), woodland folklore and crafts, sampling syrups and foods made with locally foraged ingredients, and seasonal poetry, stories and reflections.

Woodland crafts

We also mark special events celebrated by our participants. Diwali coincided with our November ride last year, and we celebrated by decorating the bikes with ribbons and lights. There is also potential for us to create partnerships with other community and cycling initiatives to enhance our reach and provide our riders with additional outlets for connecting with others across cultural barriers, experiencing local green spaces – and taking their cycling further.

Developing our work to understand and break down barriers, and improve the diversity and inclusivity of Woodland Wheels rides is important to us. We will continue to gather feedback and improve how we evaluate the longer-term impact of our rides: many of our riders say that they cycle and/or visit woodland more often after participating in a Woodland Wheels ride, but it would be great to be able to find out more about the detail – where they go, with whom, and whether they keep it up.

Most of all, we hope that our work with communities – through all these different activities – engenders a lively connection with nature, a sense of wonder and awe at the abundance of biodiversity, and its importance for our survival and that of our planet. 

The Scottish Government’s Scottish Biodiversity Strategy is now open for consultation and the Woodland Wheels team encourages readers from all communities to respond.

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Protecting Orkney’s special wildlife: The Orkney Native Wildlife Project

Today, we feature a guest blog from the Orkney Native Wildlife Project team. The project staff are working hard to safeguard the unique and internationally important native wildlife of Orkney by tackling the threat it faces from an invasive non-native predator: the stoat. Watch this wonderful video for the background of the project and then get a glimpse into the important research undertaken by assistants who join the team every year for four months.

We mark high summer with a change in the team. Every July, the temporary research assistants who join us for just four months to observe our birdlife depart for their next contract. It is a unique travelling life fuelled by a dedication to help nature. When they arrive in March, they are out in some vicious cold, looking for nests, while in the midsummer they are up before dawn to observe skylarks, meadow pipits and wheatears out at sunrise serenaded by beautiful birdsong.

Finding nests takes patience, dedication and some eagle-eyed observation skills as the ground-nesting birds hide themselves away in the vast grass seas of Orkney pasture, making them incredibly hard to find! Any nest found is recorded, and this season, 1,024 nest checks were made. The nests are then watched to follow the progress of the eggs and record whether the chicks successfully fledge the nest. The team revisit their sites, which stretch from the Burwick in the south up to Birsay in the north, to regularly to check on progress. Some site visits include a spell on Sanday and Eday, so records from these stoat-free islands can be compared with those on Mainland.

Actually, they could barely be called ‘nests’ as that is giving far too much credit to what is a collection of a few twigs arranged in one spot and are just where the waders have scratched an impression in the earth. Lapwing nests are called ‘scrapes’ as they are just that – scratches at the soil on which to lay eggs.

It is heart-warming when the kindness of farmers avoids these exposed bird nurseries. On one nest visit, fear turned to relief as a vulnerable oystercatcher nest had been spotted and the muck was carefully spread around it leaving the eggs untouched in the middle of the pasture like a castle surrounded by a vast moat of muck.

These meticulous surveys provide the conservation scientists with the necessary data to analyse and measure the status of Orkney’s native wildlife. This year’s records are incredibly important providing a realistic idea of how the eradication of stoats is helping our native birdlife. When the analysis is finished next year, and results compared with previous year’s conclusions, we should have a clearer idea of the benefits the project has brought to Orkney’s breeding birds.

There has been a lot of talk about climate change affecting temperatures, particularly with the south suffering record-breaking highs recently. Spare a thought for wildlife as they too must cope with changes in climate, avian flu and other threats, on top of the impact from non-native species – such as the stoat in Orkney. We are doing all we can with the eradication of a non-native invasive species to help redress this particular man-made problem.

You can read more on why the project was set up in the scientific report commissioned by Nature Scot.

You can also keep up with our progress project by signing up to our blog on our website or follow us on our Facebook page.

Posted in biodiversity, Birds, conservation, Ecology, invasive non-native species, NatureScot, Non-native species, Orkney | Tagged , , | Leave a comment