How do adders hibernate?

Our blog today is written by Bethia, one of this year’s NatureScot student placements who will be spending a year based across the Stirling NNRs: Flanders Moss, Blawhorn Moss and Loch Lomond. Growing up on the doorstep of the Abernethy Forest NNR, she has always held a love for nature, following this passion to university where she graduated with a degree in zoology. Throughout this placement, Bethia hopes to increase her employability within the sector, with a focus on gaining practical conservation skills, developing an understanding of how nature reserves operate, and furthering her general knowledge of Scottish ecology and conservation.

We saw the first of our adders appearing on the Flanders Moss in March. But how do these cold-blooded creatures survive winter in the first place? Unlike hibernating mammals, reptiles can’t regulate their own body temperature – so how do they not freezing during, well, freezing temperatures?

The answer is mostly physics, with a pinch of mystery! Adders are a relatively understudied species given their abundance – they have the largest global distribution, as well as the most northerly range, of any snake species – they have even been found within the Arctic Circle! Yet due to their secretive nature and sensitivity to disturbance, they are rather difficult to research.

What we do know is that adders like to hibernate in sheltered spaces known as ‘hibernaculum’- such as within fallen trees or abandoned burrows – and that they will often share these spaces with each other, sometimes dozens at a time! After all, a small space filled with lots of bodies is much easier to keep warm and insulated. Snow, surprisingly, acts as a pretty good insulator, and many hibernating animals are known to take advantage of this. Not bad for semi-frozen water! However, semi-frozen is the key. Hibernaculums must remain frost-free, without being accessible to predators or at risk from flooding. This is likely why adders usually hibernate underground, rather than within above-ground structures.

By early spring – or, as we have already seen, late winter! – temperatures will start to rise and the first adders will begin to emerge. They need to bathe in direct sunlight to warm up enough to first be able to mate, and in later months hunt for food. To provide the best chance of rapid warming, most hibernacula sites will also be south facing – providing the best access to sun throughout the day.

Sound specific? Well, it kind of is! And it’s likely why we find that individual adders will often return to the same hibernation sites each year. If they’ve found the perfect spot to survive the winter, why risk trying somewhere new? This is also why we must take great care to not disturb or destroy known and potential hibernaculum sites – adder numbers are on the decline, and just one incident could cause a significant hit to local populations if several snakes are sheltering together.

A group of male adders
Photo taken by Ray Hamilton of the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) free adder photo library.

So, when you’re out and about at this time of year and find yourself out on a mild, sunny day (yes – even in Scotland!), if you are lucky enough to spot an adder, keep an appropriate distance and enjoy the experience without scaring our scaly friends.

Adders rarely bite humans. They are shy animals whose first line of defence is to simply get away. However, if they are disturbed suddenly, or trodden on, they can bite. Being Britain’s only native venomous snake arguably earns them a degree of notoriety. Although adder bites can be painful and have unpleasant side effects, they are rarely life-threatening. Nevertheless all snake bites require prompt medical attention.

Posted in biodiversity, Flanders Moss NNR, Reptiles, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Gulls: a balancing act

It may not seem like it when gulls are swooping down trying to steal your chips, but the number of many species of gulls has plummeted. In fact, herring gulls and kittiwakes are on the red list of conservation concern in the UK, with many other species of gull on the amber list.

Herring gull chicks, Isle of May National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

So why does it seem as if there are more gulls than ever? It’s likely because their food sources have dried up in some areas and – opportunistic and clever birds that they are – they have found our cities and towns to be full of food along with great nesting spots on roofs.

They are a regular source of complaint in many towns and cities because of noise, their tendency to get into rubbish containers, as well as aggressive behaviour during nesting and while rearing chicks (from about April to August).

Due to the large numbers of nesting gulls in urban areas, they can come into conflict with people and cause public health or safety issues. These issues range from gull aggression to significant noise disturbance. Problems with gulls can also be experienced in agricultural settings – for example, great black-backed gulls may cause serious damage to livestock, primarily lambs.

Lesser black-backed gull and chick, Isle of May National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

All breeding birds are protected by law, but that doesn’t mean that there is nothing you can do when problems arise. Gulls in towns generally use roofs for nesting and tend to return year after year. Where gulls are causing or anticipated to cause an issue, it is important to be proactive by acting quickly to minimise the risk posed and to reduce the likelihood of it becoming a long-term problem. 

We recommend that people look for ways to prevent gulls from nesting in certain places to avoid problems in future years. This can be achieved by a variety of methods, such as preventing gull access to a location by proofing (e.g., bird spikes or netting), deterring gulls using scaring techniques, and removing food waste which can attract gulls.

You can find more information about gull management in NatureScot’s gull management guidance. All gull species in Scotland are protected by law, making it an offence to destroy nests which are in use or being built, take or destroy eggs, or take or kill adults and chicks. If you need to use these methods of gull management as a last resort, you will require a licence to do so.

A kittiwake on its nest. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Since 1 April 2020, all gull species have been removed from NatureScot’s General Licences due to conservation concerns. People must now apply for a gull licence for specific locations experiencing issues with gulls, with the NatureScot Licensing team assessing applications. Find gull licensing information on public health or safety on our bird public health and safety licensing web page; find information about preventing serious damage to livestock or food for livestock on our bird serious damage licensing web page

We strongly advise that, for locations where you believe problems with gulls will occur this year and licensed action is likely to be necessary, you apply for a licence as soon as possible.

But if they’re not causing a problem, take some time to appreciate these wonderful, often underappreciated, birds. They’re amazingly agile fliers which mate for life, with male and female bird splitting all caring duties. They’re also clever, dropping mussels onto rocks or roads to break them open, and stamping their feet to imitate rainfall and trick earthworms into coming to the surface!

Posted in biodiversity, Birds, gulls | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Robin ‘Redbreast’ – but which ‘red’?

Which Gaelic word for ‘red’ is more appropriate when naming the robin?

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

What sort of ‘red’ colours the breast of one of our favourite birds – the European robin (Erithacus rubecula)? Perhaps the question is redundant in English as ‘red’ in this language covers a multitude of shades from russet to scarlet and crimson. Gaelic has a slightly more nuanced approach, however, with two common ‘red’ adjectives in daily use – dearg (‘JER-ek’) for scarlet through crimson towards purple, and ruadh (‘ROO-ugh’) for the browner reds of rust and russet but taking in such shades as the pink of granitic rock – as in the Monadh Ruadh (the Gaelic for ‘The Cairngorms’). At first sight, dearg would seem to have won the argument for the bird species, as the modern dictionaries will tell you that the standard Gaelic term for the robin is brù-dhearg (‘broo YER-ek’), literally ‘red breast’; dialectally it also appears as brù-dearg

(C)NatureScot

However, that is not the full picture. If one were to take the colour of a robin’s breast in isolation from the bird it describes, many Gaelic speakers might see it as ruadh – it is arguably right on the border between the two colour descriptors. And, indeed, Dwelly’s dictionary gives alternative names for the species – ruadhag, ruadhan (both meaning ‘small red one’) and rob-ruadh, the last very close to the name of a famous ‘red-haired’ Highlander of old – whose name is anglicised Rob Roy.

An old bit of verse picks the dearg option, allowing for a rhyme with fearg ‘anger’ and highlighting how the robin’s behaviour in winter might foretell a storm in the Central Highlands. 

A Rabairt leis a’ broilleach dhearg, 

Cha tàinig thus’ an-diugh le fearg, 

Ach dh’innseadh gu bheil doinnean 

Le fuil nan Toiseach air an t-sneachd. 

Robert with the red breast, you did not come today in anger, 
but to tell us of a storm, with the blood of Mackintoshes on the snow.

Even in summer, the bird was said to be able to foretell the weather. In his 1905 publication ‘Gaelic Names of Beasts etc’, Alexander Forbes tells us that, if a robin were heard singing cheerfully on a summer evening, that it was ‘a sure sign of fine weather; it may be quite unsettled looking and even raining when heard [but] it is sure to clear up in the night and be fine next day. On the other hand, when it is going to be wet weather, robin will be found in a hedge or bush chirping in a melancholy way, or possibly not chirping at all, but looking miserable, and that even though the weather is not yet wet or perhaps threatening.’

©Fergus Gill

Robins are territorial and not without some boldness despite their diminutive proportions, and this is reflected in a Gaelic rhyme that mimics their song:

Big, big, bigean,

Cò chreach mo neadan?

Mas e duine beag e,

Cuiridh mi le creag e,

Mas e duine mòr e,

Bogaidh mi san lòn e,

Mas e duine beag gun chiall, gun nàir’ e,

Gun gleidheadh Dia dha mhàthair fhèin e.

cheep, cheep, little bird, who destroyed my nest? 

if he is a wee man, I’ll push him over the cliff. 

if he is a big man, I’ll plunge him into the pond. 

if he is a wee senseless, shameless man, 

may God preserve him to his mother.

In another version, the final two lines are perhaps more reminiscent of the actual trilling of an enthusiastic robin:

Mas e duine beag bìodach, bìodach, gun chiall, gun nàir’ e,

Gun gleidheadh Dia mhath dha athair is dha mhàthair fhèin e.

©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

The patron saint of Glasgow, St Mungo, is said to have restored the life of a robin killed accidentally by one of his disciples, which is the reason that the bird appears (on top of a hazel tree) in the city’s coat of arms. Traditionally, the Gaels considered the bird sacred and considered it a peacadh mòr ‘heinous sin’ to kill one. Its healing influence was even said to extend to the bark of a rose bush in which the robin nested, a decoction of which was used as a cure for some ailments.

In his classic poem of environmental praise – Coire Cheathaich – the 18th century bard, Duncan Ban MacIntyre, calls the bird a brù-dhearg:

An druid ’s am brù-dhearg le mòran ùinich,

Ri ceileir sunndach bu shiùbhlach rann.

the starling and robin with much bustle, sing happily and fluently.

However, his contemporary, Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair (Alexander MacDonald) – who was widely read in several languages – makes it clear that the English name for the species was understood in the Gàidhealtachd; in at least two poems he refers to it as both ‘Robin’ and ‘Richard’. In Òran an t-Samhraidh ‘the song of summer’ he first compares the species to the wren:

Bidh an dreadhan gu balcant’,

Foirmeil, talcorra, bagant’,

Sìor chur fàilt’ air a’ mhadainn,

Le ribheid mhaisicht’ bhuig, bhinn,

Agus Robin dha bheusadh

Air a’ ghèig os a chinn.

the wren will be muscular, lively, dogged, plump,

always welcoming the morning, with a beautiful sweet, small reed

and a robin joining him with base notes on the branch above.

Then he makes a more general comment about the robin’s song:

Gur glan gall-fheadan Richard,

A’ seinn nan cuisleannan grinn,

Am bàrr nam bilichean blàthmhor,

’S an dos nan lom-dharag àrda …

how grand is Richard’s flageolet, playing the neat flutes,

on top of the flowery leaves, and in the thicket of the bare high oaks… 

In another of his nature poems, Allt an t-Siùcair ‘the sugar brook’, the bard writes:

Bha Richard ’s Robin brù-dhearg ri seinn ’s fear dhiubh na bheus …

Richard and Robin redbreast were singing, one of them in bass …

(C)NatureScot

It is perhaps, then, not a surprise that the word roban (observing the Gaelic spelling rule) is included as a Gaelic name for the species in old dictionaries. The common term in Perthshire was roban-roid which appears to be mean ‘bog-myrtle robin’ although this seems slightly unlikely from a habitat perspective. Perthshire native Robert Armstrong’s 1825 dictionary, however, gives ‘road, path, track’ for rod, whose genitive (possessive) form is roid.

Interestingly, when Gaelic made its way to Nova Scotia – where it is still spoken – the language was adapted to label the native birds of North America which are substantially different from those in Europe. There, the American Robin, which has a red breast, is a larger bird more reminiscent in size and appearance to the European thrush, and belonging to the same genus, Turdus. Thus, the Gaelic name for this species is smeòrach, which in Scotland is used for the song thrush.

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.

Posted in Birds, Gaelic, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dè an dath – agus ainm ceart – a th’ air a’ Bhrù-dhearg?

An ann dearg no ruadh a tha broilleach a’ bhrù-dheirg (no an ruadhain mar a chanadh cuid!)?

Read in English

Dè an dath a th’ air broilleach – no brù – a’ bhrù-dheirg? Tha an fhreagairt follaiseach, nach eil – tha e ann an ainm an eòin! Ge-tà, ged as e dearg a th’ anns an ainm, tha feadhainn eòlach air an eun dùthchasach seo mar ruadhag, ruadhan no rob-ruadh. Agus ma tha sinn onarach, tha an dath car air a’ chrìch eadar dearg is ruadh!

A bharrachd air an dath, tha ainm an eòin na chùis-deasbaid cuideachd, oir ged as e facal boireanta a th’ ann am brù, bidh cuid a’ gabhail brù-dearg air an eun fhèin. ‘Siud brù-dearg agus tha brù dhearg oirre – no air!’ No an e brù ruadh?! A bharrachd air sin, ged as e brù-dhearg a th’ air an eun, bidh gu leòr ag ràdh ‘am brù-dhearg’ seach ‘a’ bhrù-dhearg’. Agus bidh cuid a’ gabhail na bronn-deirge orra anns an tuiseal ghinideach. O, nach fillte ceistean gràmair na Gàidhlig!

(C)NatureScot

Ann an seann rann, ʼs ann dearg a tha a bhroilleach – agus nach math gu bheil comhardadh ann le fearg (bha an rann a-mach air mar a bhiodh brù-dhearg a’ dèanamh ro-innse air droch aimsir ann am meadhan na Gàidhealtachd):

A Rabairt leis a’ broilleach dhearg, 

Cha tàinig thus’ an-diugh le fearg, 

Ach dh’innseadh gu bheil doinnean 

Le fuil nan Toiseach air an t-sneachd. 

Eadhon as t-samhradh, bhathar ag ràdh gum biodh am brù-dhearg ag aithris air an aimsir a bhiodh ro na daoine. Anns an leabhar aige ‘Gaelic Names of Beasts etc’, tha Alasdair Foirbeis ag innse dhuinn, nam biodh brù-dhearg a’ ceilearadh gu sunndach air feasgar samhraidh, gur e ‘comharra de dheagh shìde a bhiodh ann; eadhon ged a bhiodh droch choltas air an aimsir no gun robh an t-uisge ann, bhiodh i le cinnt a’ fàs nas fheàrr tron oidhche agus bhiodh i brèagha an ath latha. Air an làimh eile, nuair a tha an t-uisge gu bhith ann, bithear a’ lorg a’ bhrù-dheirg ann an callaid no preas, a’ bìgeil ann an dòigh bhrònach no gun a bhith a’ seinn idir, agus coltas mì-shunndach oirre, eadhon ged nach eil an aimsir fliuch no fiù ʼs bagrach fhathast.’

Tha brùthan-dearga aithnichte mar mheanbh-chreutairean dàna agus cluinnear sin ann an rann a tha a’ dèanamh nàdar de dh’atharrais air an t-seinn aca:

Big, big, bigean,

Cò chreach mo neadan?

Mas e duine beag e,

Cuiridh mi le creag e,

Mas e duine mòr e,

Bogaidh mi san lòn e,

Mas e duine beag gun chiall, gun nàir’ e,

Gun gleidheadh Dia dha mhàthair fhèin e.

Ann an dreach eile, tha an dà loidhne mu dheireadh ʼs dòcha nas coltaiche ri fuaim ceilearadh an eòin fhèin:

Mas e duine beag bìodach, bìodach, gun chiall, gun nàir’ e,

Gun gleidheadh Dia mhath dha athair is dha mhàthair fhèin e.

(C)NatureScot

Thathar ag ràdh mu phàtran-naomh Ghlaschu, Naomh Mungan, gun do chuir e deò air ais ann am bodhaig brù-dhearg a chaidh a mharbhadh gu tubaisteach le fear dhen luchd-leantainn aige. ʼS e sin as coireach gu bheil brù-dhearg air mullach craoibh-challtainn ann an suaicheantas a’ bhaile. Bha na seann Ghàidheil dhen bheachd gun robh an t-eun car naomh agus gur e ‘peacadh mòr’ a bh’ ann fear a mharbhadh. Bhathar a’ cumail a-mach eadhon gum biodh a buadhan rin lorg ann an rùsg aig preas nam mucag anns an robh brù-dhearg a’ neadachadh – bhathar a’ cur an rùisg gu feum ann an slànachadh. 

Anns an dàn ainmeil aige, Coire Cheathaich, tha Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir a’ gabhail ‘am brù-dhearg’ air an eun:

An druid ’s am brù-dhearg le mòran ùinich,

Ri ceileir sunndach bu shiùbhlach rann.

©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Ge-tà, bha bàrd ainmeil eile a bha beò mun aon àm – Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair – a’ sgrìobhadh mu ‘Richard’ is ‘Robin’ anns a’ bhàrdachd aige fhèin. Bha Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair na sgoilear le comas ann an diofar chànanan ach, eadhon le sin, bha fios aige gun tuigeadh a luchd-leughaidh gun robh e a-mach air a’ bhrù-dhearg. Ann an Òran an t-Samhraidh, tha e a’ dèanamh coimeas eadar am brù-dhearg agus an dreathan-donn:

Bidh an dreadhan gu balcant’,

Foirmeil, talcorra, bagant’,

Sìor chur fàilt’ air a’ mhadainn,

Le ribheid mhaisicht’ bhuig, bhinn,

Agus Robin dha bheusadh

Air a’ ghèig os a chinn.

An uair sin, tha e a’ beachdachadh air òran a’ bhrù-dheirg:

Gur glan gall-fheadan Richard,

A’ seinn nan cuisleannan grinn,

Am bàrr nam bilichean blàthmhor,

’S an dos nan lom-dharag àrda …

Ann an dàn eile – Allt an t-Siùcair – sgrìobh am bàrd:

Bha Richard ’s Robin brù-dhearg

Ri seinn ’s fear dhiubh na bheus …

ʼS dòcha nach bi e na iongnadh, ma-thà, gu bheil am facal roban ri lorg ann an seann fhaclairean. Ann an Siorrachd Pheairt, ʼs e roban-roid a chanadh daoine. Air a’ chiad shealladh, shaoileadh duine gun robh na Gàidheil Pheairteach a’ dèanamh a-mach gum bi an t-eun beò far am bi roid a’ fàs. Ge-tà, anns an fhaclair aige a chaidh fhoillseachadh ann an 1825, tha Raibeart Armstrong – a bhuineadh do Shiorrachd Pheairt – ag innse dhuinn gun robh rod (leis an dreach ghinideach roid) a’ ciallachadh ‘rathad, ceum, frith-rathad’. Eun an rathaid?

Fergus Gill

Nuair a thug a’ Ghàidhlig a casan leatha gu ruige Alba Nuadh, chaidh a h-atharrachadh beagan airson fiadh-bheatha ùr ainmeachadh. An sin, tha eun air a bheil ‘American Robin’ ann am Beurla – fear aig a bheil broilleach dearg ach tha gu math nas motha na brù-dhearg na Roinn Eòrpa. Tha e nas coltaiche ris an smeòraich againn fhèin ann am meud is cumadh, agus buinidh e don aon genus rithe – Turdus. Agus ʼs e smeòrach a ghabhas Gàidheil na h-Albann Nuaidh air an eun sin.

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

Posted in Birds, Gaelic, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How many lakes are there in Scotland?

A trick question perhaps?! On World Water Day, our freshwater advisory officer Ewan Lawrie takes a closer look at the answer.

Dubh lochans on the blanket bog at Forsinard Flows National Nature Reserve ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Similar to “how long is a piece of string?”, how you measure and define a body of water can give quite different results. There are a large number of smaller waterbodies in Scotland, particularly peaty pools, which could affect the outcome significantly. A quick poll of people interested in the subject often came up with the answer “lots!”

The view over Inchcailloch and Loch Lomond from Duncryne Hill ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

But if we dive deeper, over the centuries there have been a number of large scale studies of lochs in Scotland, including the many volumes of The Statistical Account of Scotland (1791) by ministers of all the Scottish parishes. The Bathymetrical Survey by Murray and Pullar (1910) described 562 lochs, a truly epic feat that included most of our larger bodies of water.

Lochan a Choire, Coire Ardair, Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Also available online is the Standing Waters Database which gives 27,285 records if you filter on Scotland. This does include multiple survey records for some larger lochs, as well as results from around 3,000 sites from the Scottish Loch Survey Project carried out by Scottish Natural Heritage (Now NatureScot) and its predecessor the Nature Conservancy Council between 1983 and 1997. All standing waters on OS maps at a scale of 1:50,000 were identified and lochs were selected for survey based on size, altitude and geology within an area of search. Sites of known conservation value for their freshwater plants were prioritised.

Aerial view of the many lochans around Suilven in Assynt ©P and A Macdonald/NatureScot

If we turn to Wikipedia, we learn that “It has been estimated that there are at least 31,460 freshwater lochs (including lochans) In Scotland and more than 7,500 in the Western Isles alone.” So there we go, job done. It is certainly quoted in lots of places and the source cited is NatureScot – surely that is reliable enough for anyone! But, how or from where did we come up with this figure?

View north west across the peatland lochs and machair of South Uist and Benbecula ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

It almost certainly comes from a chapter by Smith and Lyle in “The Freshwaters of Scotland” based on work for the Institute for Terrestrial Ecology, now, the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) published in 1979. On the 1:250,000 Scale OS Maps they counted 3,788 lochs. At this scale the lower size limit is about 4ha. From sample counts on larger scale 1:63,360 maps they estimated there are an additional 27,672 lochs giving a total of 31,460.

Peatland lochan, Rannoch Moor ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

UK CEH also hosts the UK Lakes Portal, available online. It was originally developed by CEH and University College London in 2004. There are 7,982 lochs under 1ha and 17,637 over 1ha, making a total of 25,619 records in Scotland.

And for all those silently screaming “one, the answer is one!” the Lake of Menteith is not the only lake in Scotland. There are at least six other “lakes” listed on the Standing Waters Database, including Lake Superior in southern Scotland.

No matter how many there are or what they are called, Scotland’s lochs, lakes, lochans and pools are a valuable resource we should celebrate on World Water Day and safeguard for future generations. Find out more: https://www.nature.scot/landscapes-and-habitats/habitat-types/lochs-rivers-and-wetlands/freshwater-lochs

Lake of Menteith ©NatureScot

Posted in freshwater | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Weaving a tapes-tree – The Loch Lomond Woodlands Project

To celebrate the International Day of Forests, our graduate placement Heather Reilly is highlighting some of our most important wooded areas, and the data mapping project which aims to better understand and illustrate them, in today’s blog.

On the bonny banks of eastern Loch Lomond sits a network of incredibly unique, longstanding native trees which form our Atlantic oak woodlands.

As well as providing a home to some of our well known, national icons like the red squirrel and pine marten, these woodlands also support a very important community of epiphytes, organisms which cling to trees and act like sponges, soaking up nutrients and moisture from the air. The rich carpet of bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts) and lichen assemblages which cover these woodlands are considered incredibly rare in both the diversity of species present and the abundance in which they are found.

Western oak woodlands covered in a thick blanket of moss. © Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Not to toot our own ac-horn, but here in Scotland we house the largest stronghold left in Europe for such diverse oak woodlands. These unique habitats are also of great global significance, as the perfect climate conditions (read: rain, and lots of it) required to facilitate them are only present across less than 1% of the planet.

These oak woodlands take their name from the hyper-oceanic zone they fall within, the distinct Atlantic climate system responsible for the West coast of Scotland’s relatively mild and consistent temperatures: all-too-often grey overcast skies and notoriously high levels of rainfall.

No black and white filter here: Loch Lomond and its surrounding woodlands really can be this grey and rainy – to no surprise to anyone who has visited without first consulting the weather forecast. © Heather Reilly

As I watch the rain fly horizontally past my window, it certainly feels hard to really appreciate such conditions. I am, however, very grateful for the incredibly rich and biodiverse woodland our wet weather brews. These characteristics, after all, lead to these woodlands being recognised as internationally important rainforest.

The definition of “driech”: the damp edges of Loch Lomond Woods on the eastern shore. © Heather Reilly

While the picture above is unlike that of the sprawling bright green canopies of the tropics (and arguably more pleasant images) which first come to mind, the rainforest we have here in Scotland is in fact far rarer, temperate rainforest.

With bragging rights, however, comes a great responsibility to look after such exceptionally biodiverse habitat. The importance and high value of this temperate rainforest within the National Park is currently recognised, and as a result, Loch Lomond Woods was classified as a protected area and finds refuge within a designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC) site.

But this last standing rainforest safe haven does not exist in a perfect bubble, free from external influence. Fragments of these precious Atlantic oak woodlands occupy Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, alongside a variety of mixed broadleaf and commercial conifer neighbours. A diverse mosaic comprised of different woodland habitat types exists across the National Park’s eastern landscape.

The very same eastern shore of Loch Lomond on a rare sunny day. Loch Lomond Woods SAC can be seen in the forefront, with neighbouring commercial forestry and mixed habitats behind. A variety of land uses can be seen, with sheep farming in close proximity. © Lorne Gill/NatureScot.

And, regardless of type, these woodlands are all currently exposed to over-grazing and browsing by herbivores, threatened by non-native invasive plant species including rhododendron and vulnerable to quickening changes to the climatic systems. It is clear that urgent and targeted action is required to better protect them. It is imperative, however, that we first increase our understanding of woodland condition and the extent of the pressures faced in the context of the larger landscape, one as diverse as the woodlands themselves.

Our Loch Lomond Woodlands Project aims to achieve this by gathering and visualising the large quantity of existing woodland habitat data currently scattered across a variety of landowners within the eastern region of the national park. We hope that, in doing so, we will encourage communication and collaboration amongst organisations and more transparency in future data sharing. The project will also recognise the many benefits, beyond their inherent biodiversity value, that these woodlands give us.

We will collate and assess the information, gaining insights to help us develop broader, landscape-scale management plans, to achieve conservation goals across the larger mosaic of habitats and land uses. The more informed, and tailored as a result, land management strategies are, the more likely they are to be successful in achieving their goals.

Working with our partner organisations, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority, Forestry and Land Scotland and Scottish Forestry, the Loch Lomond Woodlands project will undertake spatial mapping of habitat data and paint a clear picture which tells the story of the Loch Lomond woodlands.

Posted in biodiversity, conservation, Ecology, Land management, mapping, trees, Uncategorized, woodlands | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mussels left high and dry in drought?

A new report published by NatureScot has found evidence that a drought in 2018 had a detrimental impact on freshwater pearl mussel populations in several Scottish rivers. In today’s blog, river restoration graduate placement Orla Hilton takes a closer look at the impact of drought on this critically endangered species, and what action can be taken to help.

Freshwater Pearl Mussels in very low flows in 2018 ©Iain Sime

Picture this: it’s summer and you’re sunbathing in the garden, drink in hand, enjoying some rare Scottish sun on your browning grass. In your state of bliss, however, spare a thought for the endangered freshwater pearl mussel.

As today’s report shows, in addition to threats from illegal pearl fishers, intensive land use, nutrient pollution and a general reluctance to spawn, these poor creatures are being left high and dry in periods of drought. They are, sadly, the canaries in the coalmines of our rivers – giving us early warning of the threat some watercourses are under.

Unfortunately their hopes for nice wet summers are looking increasingly slim. We’ve all become used to the warmer wetter winters, hotter drier summers mantra and Scotland unfortunately is not exempt. Recent research by NatureScot has shown that we are likely to face an increase in the risk of extreme droughts over the next two decades as a result of climate change.

Freshwater Pearl Mussels suffering in filamentous algae ©Iain Sime

Cast your mind back to summer 2018, when entire mountains in Torridon were in flames and farmers in Speyside were forced to sell cattle they could no longer feed. That year a mortality rate of around 50% was found in part of one river known to be home to pearl mussels. With the species a high priority, globally and in Scotland, we need to take action to avoid this sort of wipe-out.

So let’s dive a little deeper (“if only” the pearl mussels cry!) into what exactly makes these conditions so dangerous for the mussels.

In general, drought periods dry the land out, creating extra quick run-off times when rainfall events happen. These high spate conditions tend to be destructive to the riverbed habitats that mussels and juvenile fish rely on. In drought the river levels drop, leaving some mussels beached and vulnerable to dehydrating or being eaten by opportunistic birds. This also makes potable water scarcer and could result in higher demand for rivers that contain mussels to be managed as water sources. These shallow waters are more vulnerable to unusual and harmful high temperatures – which prove lethal to many riverine species. Finally, the mussels aren’t just more vulnerable to animal predators but also illegal pearl fishers.

Two dead pearl mussel shells following drop in water levels during drought ©Iain Sime

Quite a troubling situation it seems, but the game is not up!

A key solution is riparian planting. With more trees on the banks of our rivers we can protect mussels and fish by offering some shade in summer months. More vegetation in river catchments also slows the flow of water to rivers significantly in high rainfall events, making for more natural and less destructive flow. We can also create more natural hydrology by restoring peatlands and blocking drainage ditches to slow water flow to rivers. The latter also reduces sedimentation in high water events. As today’s report highlights, in certain circumstances local communities can also play an important role in moving mussels in emergency events.

At NatureScot we’re taking action to conserve freshwater pearl mussels, including through the Biodiversity Challenge Fund. We have recently supported two projects in the north of Scotland to plant around 20,000 trees to create riparian woodland. This action has created kilometres of shade and is improving instream habitat allowing biodiversity to recover. Across both of projects barriers to fish movement are being removed to allow the pearl mussel’s important host fish species access to more of their natural habitat.

So as we look towards summer, let’s not forget about this fantastic bivalve and what we can all do to stop them being left high and dry.

Posted in fresh water pearl mussel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A blizzard of butterflies – “an incredible day” counting northern brown argus

The northern brown argus, at this time of year, is in its twilight months as a hungry caterpillar. The larvae will begin to pupate in May and emerge as butterflies to brighten up small patches of the Scottish countryside through the summer months. Our blog today comes from a mystery volunteer with Butterfly Conservation, who shares with us one of the best days of their own butterfly life…

I have been surveying the transect at Kincraig Point, a rocky outcrop on the north side of the Firth of Forth, since 2013. It follows the Fife Coastal Path from the wooden steps at the beach, on up the steep hill to the top of the cliff and along to the abandoned concrete hut beyond the wireless mast.

Amongst the many varieties of wildflowers found here, there is extensive rock-rose, the larval plant of the northern brown argus butterfly. There were two dreadful fires, in 2013 and 2014, which at the time I thought threatened the very existence of the butterfly in this specialised habitat, but happily, it has survived and gone from strength to strength.

Rock-rose. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

We live a couple of miles inland and, once travel restrictions were eased at the end of May, the site became the main focus of my butterfly summer of 2020. On my first post-lockdown visit (29 May), the day I went to put up the butterfly information signs, I counted 31 small heath butterflies along the transect. Despite the indifferent weather, I visited Kincraig as often as possible during the peak flight period, which lasted from 20 June to 20 August. I recorded 284 northern brown argus along the transect route during that time.

My abiding memory of the season comes from two amazing days, one being ‘Super Saturday’ the 20th of June, when in a glory of renewal I saw northern brown argus in five out of six of the transect sections, all freshly emerged and flying with the beauty of new life. Right at the start of the walk, I saw two northern brown argus settled about a metre apart, then one (the male) flew up and fluttered over the female and within seconds they had paired up, flown across the path and mated.

northern brown argus mating pair, 20 June 2020.

I almost gave up the transect at that point, thinking, ‘that’s enough for me’, but I decided to carry on and everywhere I looked I saw the butterfly in all its glory. The day count of 45 included another mating pair at the side of the coastal path, down towards the foot of the cliff.

Could this ever be bettered?! Yes! The following Wednesday 24 June, after three days of cloud and rain, I visited Kincraig again and witnessed a mass emergence! I had never imagined that the phrase a ‘blizzard of moths’ could have been applied to this wariest and most evasive of butterflies, but there they were flying in such unimaginable abundance. It was hot and still, with hardly a breath of wind, low tide and only a few other walkers about. It was the most incredible day, probably one of the best of my entire butterfly life. I counted 103 adults along the transect, plus another 15 in the square beyond the end of section 6 (NT 465997).

Freshly emerged northern brown argus.

Later in the year on 24 July, I watched a female northern brown argus quietly and unobtrusively laying an egg on rock-rose. One of the egg-hunting challenges at Kincraig is that there is so much rock-rose, but I eventually found eggs in Sections 1, 2 and 4.

I also looked more closely at potential sites close to the coastal path. On windy days I found the butterfly sheltering along the field edges on the landward side of where the coastal path runs along the top of the cliff. The ‘square’ beyond the end of the transect heading towards Shell Bay (NT 465997) is, I now realise, the core of the ‘west colony’. I recorded 59 northern brown argus there between 20 June and 24 July.

During my first visits, the Elie Holiday Park at Shell Bay was still closed to visitors. It was an eerie sensation and brought home the full effects of the lockdown, but it opened again in July. The coastal path itself was relatively quiet in late May and June, and throughout the season it was mainly day visitors and walkers, with a few coasteering groups seen in July and August. The discussions I had with Fife Coast and Countryside in late 2019 resulted in a local agreement to reduce path-side strimming in the areas where rock-rose grows, and this proved successful this year. Optimistically, this will increase the areas available for the butterfly to lay its eggs. The final flourish was on 20 August when I saw (and photographed) a northern brown argus, which obligingly flew past at head height and then settled in front of me; ten minutes later I saw the first wall butterfly I have recorded at Kincraig.

Northern brown argus (L) and wall butterfly (R) at Kincraig, 20 August, 2020.

WeekDateSection 1Section 2Section 3Section 4Section 5Section 6Total
         
1220 June151673445
1324 June212736136103
142 July613143137
159 July815162243
1621 July2115220
1724 July474318
181 August11 2
196 August3231110
2012 August 235
2120 August 1 1
         
Total 6095882714284
Weekly Transect Count at Kincraig, Fife 2020.
YearSection 1Section 2Section 3Section 4Section 5Section 6Total
20131136365217107
20141313181458
20152411017
2016695101141
20171315
20186122315359
201926274493109
20206095882714284
Year totals for Transect at Kincraig, Fife.

Although the colony of northern brown argus at Kincraig is the largest known in Fife, there are historical records from other locations. Some of these were visited in 2019 and the presence of the butterfly in Kinghorn, Pettycur and Burntisland was confirmed, after many years without records.

In 2020 the butterfly was found at Monks Cave, near Aberdour, the first record for this location. The historical records have been mapped out, together with records of former known sites of rock-rose, and local members are invited to explore these areas further to see whether the butterfly and/or rock-rose are still there. For further details contact: Fifebutterflies@outlook.com.

For more on Scotland’s butterflies and moths visit www.nature.scot

Posted in citizen science, coastal, Insects, Moths and butterflies, survey, Uncategorized, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bearing Down on Ursid Toponyms

Wild bears have long gone from Scotland’s landscape but echoes of them remain in our place-names …

Read in Gaelic

It’s far from clear when European brown bears became extinct in Scotland, but it wasn’t yesterday, and it is therefore fascinating that there are several Scottish place-names that might recall in some way or other a human familiarity with those iconic mammals. Ecologist Dr David Hetherington, an expert on extinct species once native to these shores, says that we know ‘from a scattering of bones left behind in caves and peat bogs, from Dumfriesshire in the south to Caithness in the north, that Scotland once had brown bears. The youngest Scottish bear bone so far carbon-dated, a femur found in the bone caves near Inchnadamph in the North West Highlands, is around 2700 years old.’ A fascinating corollary to this narrative is that one of the possible ‘bear’ place-names in Scotland is very close to the Inchnadamph caves.

European brown bear and cubs in Finland, ©Danny Green Photography.

Of course, these remains recall an ursid presence in our environment that pre-dates our place-names by some distance, but we do know that bears occurred here into historic times. Caledonian bears were taken by the Romans to appear in public entertainments in the Colosseum, and the animal appears on Pictish stone carvings from around the 8th and 9th centuries AD. David Hetherington speculates that the species survived here until the 15th or 16th centuries. In Carmina Gadelica Vol II, the folklore-collector Alexander Carmichael claims that ‘the bear was common in Scotland down to 1545, probably later’ although he offers no evidence to back this up. He recorded incantations and fragments of Gaelic poetry which mention the bear.

Coire a’ Mhath-ghamhna ‘the corrie of the bear’, north-west of Loch Lyon, as shown on the 1st edition 6 inch OS map, published 1867-74. Was this a place where bears once sheltered among the rocks and moraines?

The old Gaelic term for ‘bear’, also recorded in Irish, is math-ghamhainn. This is found in the saying chuireadh e an òrrais air math-ghamhainn ‘it would sicken a bear’ (i.e. it’s extremely bad). Gamhainn means a ‘stirk’ (a yearling bullock or heifer), but the first element math is a matter of disagreement among etymologists. Some authorities claim it to be derived from mad/mat ‘dog, mastiff’ which we still see in modern madadh ‘wild dog’ e.g. madadh-ruadh ‘fox’. Thus ‘dog-stirk’ – a reflection, perhaps, of the bear’s broadly bovine form combined with a doglike head-shape and dentition. Carmichael, on the other hand, considered the element to be màg ‘hand, paw’ i.e. màg-ghamhainn ‘paw-stirk’, also a name that would make descriptive sense, particularly given the bear’s inclination towards occasional bipedalism. In this contention, he was supported by Alexander Forbes, the author of ‘Gaelic Names of Beasts etc’ (1905).

The word math-ghamhainn appears in its genitive (possessive) form math-ghamhna in at least three places in the Highland landscape. The first is in Coire a’ Mhath-ghamhna ‘the corrie of the bear’ adjacent to Beinn a’ Chreachain and north-west of Loch Lyon in Perthshire. No other toponyms in the vicinity give a hint as to why the bear is named here, although there are two other mammalian place-names nearby – Coire na Saobhaidhe ‘the corrie of the [fox] den’ and Sgòr nam Broc ‘the rocky projection of the badgers’, suggesting suitable local habitat for mammalian lairs. The word sid for ‘a lair, as of a bear’, recorded by Perthshire man Robert Armstrong in his 1825 Gaelic dictionary, appears – sadly – not to be present in the landscape in Perthshire or elsewhere, at least on printed maps.

Eilean Math-ghamhna ‘bear island’, Loch Fyne, Argyll. Detail from the 2nd edition 6 inch OS map, 1900.

Another math-ghamhainn example is to be found in a remote location in Morar, in the hills between Lochs Morar and Beoraid. Lochan Fèith a’ Mhath-ghamhna ‘the lochan of the bog of the bear’, given on the first OS 6-inch map – published in 1876 – and reinforced as a ‘bear’ name in the OS Name Book, is now labelled Lochan Tàin MhicDhùghaill ‘the lochan of the plundering of MacDugald’, recalling a tale from oral tradition of a local man who was torn asunder by a pack of greyhounds. There is an addendum to the discovery of the older name – the nearest significant peak to the east of the lochan is Sgùrr an Ursainn (817m) which has been translated (without explanation) as ‘the peak of the doorpost’. However, as ursainn is a feminine noun, Sgùrr na h-Ursainn would be expected. To the current author, the toponym looks suspiciously like Sgùrr an Ursain ‘the peak of the (male) bear’, with the masculine gender of ursan satisfying the grammar.

This is the only possible ursan toponym that the author has so far found in the Gaelic landscape. The word, while not particularly active within the modern Gaelic community, is recorded in dictionaries for ‘male bear’, as is its feminine counterpart ursag for ‘female bear’ and the generic ursa for both genders. These words are clearly cognate with the Latin for ursids – the European brown bear, Ursus arctos, derives its generic and specific namesfrom the Latin and Ancient Greek words for bear.

The third math-ghamhainn example in the landscape is the small tidal islet of Eilean Math-ghamhna ‘bear island’ at Newton Bay on the southern shore of Loch Fyne in Cowal, Argyll (often referred to today as Newton Island). The Ordnance Survey confirm the meaning but provide no explanation. It might refer to a perception of the island, or part of it, resembling a bear, but the presence of a prehistoric dun on the tiny outcrop suggests the possibility that the reference is to a human personal name – perhaps a warrior connected with the ancient fort.

Bear Craig, east of Moffat at NT192053, is named for the Bear Den, a subterranean passage reputedly once the home of bears. Detail from 2nd edn. OS 6 inch map (pub. 1900).

Certainly, ‘bear’ forenames were relatively common in the Celtic world. Math-ghamhainn and a reduced form – mathan – which is the everyday Gaelic word for bear today, were used as male given names in both Ireland and Scotland (as was Björn ‘bear’ in the realm of the Norse). It provides us with the surname Mac Mhathain ‘Mathan’s son’ – Matheson in its anglicised form. There is another familiar Gaelic name that means ‘bear’ – Art or Artair (anglicised Arthur). This is perhaps better known in a P-Celtic context, with the standard Welsh for ‘bear’ being arth. Place-names in arth/art/artair do not appear to occur in the Highland landscape.

However, there is an interesting adjunct to this bear-name on Loch Fyne-side. In the traditional tale ‘The Macleans of the White-Faced Horse’, collected by John Dewar in the 19th century, a wild beast and its offspring are killed at Stronardron at the upper end of Glendaruel, some 8km in a direct line from Eilean Math-ghamhna. The Gaelic word used for the creature is beithir, often translated as ‘serpent’ or even ‘dragon’ and usually taken as representing a mythological wild beast. However, Armstrong’s 1825 dictionary gives the primary meaning of beithir as ‘bear’ (there is a clear similarity between the two words). The storyteller recounts the tale as if it were a record of a real event which had occurred sixteen generations prior to 1863. If we take 25 years as a generation-span, that might place a family of living bears in Argyll in the mid-15th century; 30 years per generation would take us back to mid-14th century. Were bears still living in Cowal at that time? Was the island perhaps a place where a persecuted ursid made its last stand against human enemies? More research is needed!

Allt Mhathain, Assynt – an enigmatic name which appears to mean ‘bear burn’.

The element mathan appears in two locations in Assynt (north-west Sutherland). The first is Allt Mhathain (presumably for Allt a’ Mhathain ‘the burn of the bear’). This small stream meanders from Loch na Bà Brice ‘the loch of the speckled cow’ to meet Abhainn Gleann Leireag near the village of Nedd (An Nead). Intriguingly, it is not far distant from the famous Bone Caves at Creag nan Uamh ‘the crag of the caves’ in Inchnadamph, where significant discoveries were made of prehistoric bear bones. There does not appear to be a local tradition with regard to the name, and the Ordnance Survey do not proffer a suggestion in their Name Book, stating that the meaning of the toponym is ‘unknown’.

European brown bear, also known as Eurasian brown bear, in Norway, ©Kjartan Trana/Rovdata.

The second Assynt name is even more convincing. Cnoc Eilid Mhathain (altitude 470m) appears to mean ‘hill of the she-bear’ (eilid is normally reserved for the hind of the red deer but its use for other large mammals in the past is quite possible). Its location demands attention. It is a very short distance – a mere bear-ramble – from the bone caves at Creag nan Uamh. Not only that, but the mountain midway between Cnoc Eilid Mhathain and the caves is called Beinn nan Cnàimhseag (570m). This translates as ‘the mountain of the bearberries’ – a species known to be a favourite bear-food (it has the scientific name Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). The plant is relatively abundant in this part of the country; indeed, a short distance to the south-west there is Druim nan Cnàimhseag ‘the ridge of the bearberries’. This evidence – and the fact that it is the more ‘modern’ element mathan, rather than math-ghamhainn, that is found here, tempts one to suggest that Assynt might have been the place where Scottish bears made their final stand.

One other possible ‘bear’ toponym is in southern Scotland, to the east of Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway. Bear Craig (altitude 495 m) is in an area whose place-names are of Cumbric, Gaelic and Scots origin, and where the languages have interacted substantially in a landscape context. Bear Craig is likely to be Scots, although craig ‘rocky hill’ is probably a Gaelic loanword (from creag). It appears to have been a bear location, if we accept the validity of the oral tradition. The hill is above a feature named Bear Den which is described as follows in the Ordnance Survey Name Book: ‘A small subterranean passage about 20 feet long; its western entrance is about 3 feet square, its eastern entrance about 3 feet, and is about 6 feet square in the middle. It is supposed – by tradition – to have been the den of bears, when this country was infested with wild beasts.’

Two details from the 1st edition 6-inch OS map that show the proximity of three ‘bear’ locations in Assynt. Beinn nan Cnàimhseag ‘the mountain of the bearberries’ is halfway between Creag nan Uamh, where discoveries of ancient bear bones were made, and Cnoc Eilid Mhathain, probably meaning ‘hill of the she-bear’.

There is another identical Scots (or Scottish Standard English) place-name – Bear Craig – on the Isle of Bute, but in this case, the feature is a seashore rock, and it is not clear if there is truly a connection with bears. Toponymist Gilbert Márkus, in his comprehensive publication ‘The Place-Names of Bute’ (2012), admits to being unable to explain the name, but notes the following (p 305-6): ‘It may refer to the perceived similarity of the shape of the rock, or some part of it, to a bear. Another possibility is that it contains a reference to Sc bere ‘barley’ – though why a rocky coastal point such as this should be associated with barley would be a puzzle.’ Similarly, the place-name Bearsden – a town in East Dunbartonshire – remains unexplained but is unlikely to be connected to wild bears. And other ‘bear’ names in south-western Scotland, such as Bearburn and Bearmeal Knowe are most likely derived from bere, which was once commonly cultivated.

There are stellar constellations, visible in the night sky, which are often referred to, from a Latin perspective, as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (‘the greater and lesser bears’). In Gaelic, those are, respectively, An Crann-arain ‘the baker’s shovel’ and An Dreagbhod ‘the meteor constellation’. In the Gaelic view of the universe, there are no bears in the heavens. But there just might be a few clinging on to our cultural landscape on Earth.

Lochan Fèith a’ Mhath-ghamhna ‘the loch of the bog of the bear’ in Morar – a fascinating name (if obsolete on modern maps) which might have an echo close by in Sgùrr an Ursain(n).

N.B. If you have any additional information on Scottish ‘bear’ place-names, the author would be pleased to hear from you (rmac@uags.scot).

Maps: all maps reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

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.

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

Mac-talla a’ Mhathain air Tìr

ʼS fhada on a dh’fhalbh na mathain fhiadhaich mu dheireadh, ach tha na creutairean seo a’ nochdadh – an siud ʼs an seo – nar n-ainmean-àite fhathast

Read in English

Chan eil e soilleir cuin a bhàsaich am mathan donn Eòrpach mu dheireadh ann an Alba, ach cha b’ ann an-dè a bha e, agus tha e mar sin gu math inntinneach gu bheil ainmean-àite againn a tha a’ cuimhneachadh an ainmhidh sin. Tha an t-eag-eòlaiche, an t-Oll. Daibhidh Hetherington, a tha mion-eòlach air na seann ghnèithean a chaidh à bith ann an Alba, ag innse dhuinn gu bheil fios againn ‘bho ghrunn chnàmhan a chaidh fhàgail ann an uamhan is boglaichean, eadar Siorrachd Dhùn Phris anns a’ cheann a deas agus Gallaibh anns a’ cheann a tuath gun robh mathain donna uaireigin beò ann an Alba. Tha a’ chnàimh-mhathain as òige à Alba air an deach a h-aois a thomhas le carbon-14 – cnàimh choise a chaidh a lorg ann an uamhan faisg air Innis nan Damh ann an Iar-thuath na Gàidhealtachd – timcheall air 2700 bliadhna a dh’aois.’ Agus tha aon de na h-ainmean-àite a dh’fhaodadh a bhith co-cheangailte ri mathain anns an dearbh nàbachd far an robh a leithid de chreutair dearbhte beò anns an ùine a dh’fhalbh.

Mathan donn Eòrpach agus àl anns an Fhionnlainn, ©Danny Green Photography.

Ged a tha na cnàmhan a’ riochdachadh bheathaichean a bha beò fada mus deach ar n-ainmean-àite a chruthachadh, tha fios againn gun robh mathain beò ri linn ar n-eachdraidh sgrìobhte. Bha mathain Albannach air an toirt don Ròimh leis na Ròmanaich, agus tha a leithid a’ nochdadh air clachan Cruithneach snaighte bhon 8mh no 9mh linn AC. Tha Daibhidh Hetherington dhen bheachd gur dòcha gun robh feadhainn againn chun an 15mh no 16mh linn. Ann an Carmina Gadelica II, tha Alasdair MacIlle Mhìcheil a’ dèanamh dheth gun robh am mathan ‘cumanta ann an Alba gu 1545, ʼs dòcha nas fhaide’, ged nach eil e a’ toirt fianais sam bith dhuinn mar dhearbhadh air. Chlàir e orthachan agus criomagan de bhàrdachd Ghàidhlig anns a bheil iomradh air mathain.

Coire a’ Mhath-ghamhna ri taobh Beinn a’ Chreachain air a’ chrìch eadar Siorrachd Pheairt agus Earra-Ghàidheal. An robh mathain a’ dol am falach am measg nan clachan anns na morainean a chaidh a chruthachadh ann an Linn na Deighe?

ʼS e math-ghamhainn an seann fhacal Gàidhlig airson mathain agus tha e a’ nochdadh anns an abairt mu rudeigin sgreataidh: chuireadh e an òrrais air math-ghamhainn. Chan eil na h-eòlaichean freumh-fhaclachd uile air an aon ràmh a thaobh tùs na ciad eileamaid math. Tha cuid dhen bheachd gu bheil e a’ riochdachadh mad/mat mar a nochdas e ann am madadh agus bheil math-ghamhainn a’ ciallachadh ‘beathach mar ghamhainn aig a bheil ceann (agus fiaclan) mar cheann coin’. Tha feadhainn eile a’ dèanamh dheth gur ann bho màg ‘làmh, spòg’ a tha e, is gu bheil an t-ainm slàn a-mach air ‘beathach coltach ri gamhainn aig a bheil làmhan (seach ladhran)’. Dh’fhaodadh smuain seach smuain dhiubh sin a bhith ceart.

Tha am facal math-ghamhainn a’ nochdadh ann an co-dhiù trì ainmean-àite air a’ Ghàidhealtachd. Tha e ann an Coire a’ Mhath-ghamhna ri taobh Beinn a’ Chreachain agus don iar-thuath air Loch Lìomhann ann an Siorrachd Pheairt. Chan eil e follaiseach bho ainmean eile carson a bhiodh am mathan an sin, ged a tha Coire na Saobhaidhe agus Sgòr nam Broc làimh ris a’ choire, a’ sealltainn dhuinn gun robh mamailean gu leòr beò san nàbachd. ʼS dòcha, am measg an sprùillich chlachaich a bhuineas do Linn na Deighe, agus a tha pailt anns na beanntan sin, gun robh còsan ann far am biodh mathain is creutairean eile a’ dol am falach. Tha am facal sid airson ‘saobhaidh, mar a bhiodh aig mathan’ aig an fhaclairiche Pheairteach, Raibeart Armstrong, anns an fhaclair Ghàidhlig aige a chaidh fhoillseachadh ann an 1825. Ach cha do lorg an t-ùghdar am facal air tìr ann an Siorrachd Pheairt no àite sam bith eile, co-dhiù air mapaichean proifeiseanta.

Eilean Math-ghamhna, Loch Fìne, Earra-Ghàidheal. Chan eil e soilleir mar a dh’èirich an t-ainm ach tha beul-aithris a’ stèidheachadh mathain anns an sgìre sin timcheall meadhan a’ chòigeimh linn deug.

Tha eisimpleir eile anns a’ mhonadh eadar Loch Mòrar agus Loch Beòraid ann am Mòrar. Tha Lochan Fèith a’ Mhath-ghamhna air a’ chiad mhapa 6-òirlich aig an t-Suirbhidh Òrdanais, agus tha e air a dhearbhadh mar ainm mathanach ann an Leabhar nan Ainmean. A-nise, ʼs e Lochan Tàin MhicDhùghaill a thathar a’ gabhail air, stèidhichte air beul-aithris mu ‘Chù Glas Mheòbail’. Chan e sin a-mhàin, ach gu sear air an lochan tha Sgùrr an Ursainn (817m) a chaidh eadar-theangachadh, gun mhìneachadh, mar ‘the peak of the doorpost’. Ach tha ursainn boireanta agus, mar sin, ʼs e Sgùrr na h-Ursainn ris am biodh dùil. Don ùghdhar seo, tha an t-ainm-àite uabhasach coltach ri Sgùrr an Ursain, le ursan a’ ciallachadh mathan fireann, agus am facal fhèin fireanta.

ʼS e seo an t-aon ainm-àite le ursan a lorg an t-ùghdar thuige seo. Ged nach bi daoine a’ cleachdadh an fhacail gu bitheanta an-diugh, tha e anns na faclairean, mar a tha ursag ‘mathan boireann’ agus ursa ‘mathan’. Tha na faclan seo càirdeach don Laidinn airson mathan – gu dearbh ʼs e Ursus arctos a chanas luchd-saidheans ris a’ mhathan donn Eòrpach, agus an t-ainm a’ tighinn bhon Laidinn agus Seann Ghreugais airson mathan.

ʼS e an treas eisimpleir anns a bheil math-ghamhainn ann an ainm-àite – eilean beag air cladach a deas Loch Fìne ann an Comhghall air a bheil Eilean Math-ghamhna. Tha an t-Suirbhidh Òrdanais ag aontachadh gu bheil an t-ainm co-cheangailte ri mathain, ach chan eil iad a’ mìneachadh carson. ʼS dòcha gu bheil e a’ dèanamh iomradh air cumadh an eilein no air duine a bha uaireigin a’ fuireach anns an dùn air an eilean.

Tha beul-aithris a’ dèanamh ceangal eadar an dà ainm-àite seo agus mathain. A rèir nan seann daoine, bha mathain uaireigin a’ dèanamh an dachaigh anns a’ chòs ris an canar ‘Bear Den’.

Tha fios againn gun robh Math-ghamhainn agus foirm nas giorra – Mathan – air an cur gu feum mar chiad ainmean aig fir anns an t-seann Ghàidhealtachd, an dà chuid ann an Alba is Èirinn (tha an t-ainm Lochlannach Björn cuideachd a’ ciallachadh ‘mathan’). Tha an cinneadh Mac Mhathain, a tha cumanta gu leòr fhathast, a’ tighinn às a sin. Bidh gu leòr eòlach air ainm baistidh eile a tha a’ ciallachadh ‘mathan’ – Art no Artair. Tha na Cuimrich nas eòlaiche buileach air oir ʼs e arth am facal àbhaisteach aca airson mathan. Chan eil sgeul air ainmean-àite le arth/art/artair air a’ Ghàidhealtachd an-diugh, ge-tà.

Tha iar-theacsa ann don ainm-àite mhathanach taobh Loch Fìne. Anns an sgeulachd thraidiseanta ‘Clann Illeathain an Eich Bhlàir’, a chaidh a chruinneachadh le Iain Mac an Deòir anns an 19mh linn, tha ‘beithir’ agus a cuain air am marbhadh aig Sròn Àrdairean aig ceann shuas Ghleann Dà Ruadhail, mu 8km ann an loidhne dhìreach à Eilean Math-ghamhna. Chan urrainn dhuinn a bhith cinnteach dè bhathar a’ ciallachadh le ‘beithir’ – gu tric ʼs e creutair fiadhaich à beul-aithris a th’ ann – dreagan, uile-bheist no mòr-nathair. Ach ann am faclair Amstrong (1825) tha ‘mathan’ ann mar phrìomh chiall an fhacail. Dh’aithris an sgeulaiche an cunntas mar gur e fìor thachartas a bh’ ann, a ghabh àite 16 ginealaich ro 1863. Ma ghabhas sinn ri 25 bliadhna mar fhad ginealaich, bhiodh sin a’ ciallachadh gun robh teaghlach de mhathain beò ann an Comhghall ann am meadhan a’ chòigeimh linn deug – no meadhan a’ cheathraimh linn deug ma bhios ginealach ùr ann gach 30 bliadhna. An e an t-eilean àite far an do sheas mathain an aghaidh a naimhdean daonna? Tha tuilleadh rannsachaidh a dhìth!

Allt Mhathain ann an Asainte – ainm-àite a tha na dhubh-cheist.

Tha an eileamaid mathan a’ nochdadh ann an dà àite ann an Asainte. ʼS e a’ chiad dhiubh Allt Mhathain (a’ riochdachadh Allt a’ Mhathain, tha fhios). Tha an t-allt beag seo a’ lùbadh bho Loch na Bà Brice gu ruige Abhainn Gleann Leireag faisg air baile ris an canar An Nead. Gu h-iongantach, chan eil e cho uabhasach fada bho Uamhan nan Cnàmh ann an Innis nan Damh, far an do lorgadh fìor sheann chnàmhan mathain. Chan eil e a’ coimhead coltach gun d’ fhuair an t-Suirbhidh Òrdanais beachd air ciall an ainm bho mhuinntir an àite. Ma tha e dha-rìribh ceangailte ri mathain, feumaidh gun robh sin air a dhol à cuimhne an t-sluaigh ro mheadhan an naoidheamh linn deug.

Math donn Eòrpach (no mathan donn Àis-Eòrpach) ann an Nirribhidh, ©Kjartan Trana/Rovdata.

Tha an dàrna ainm-àite Asainteach nas iongantaiche buileach. Tha dùil gu bheil Cnoc Eilid Mhathain (àirde 470m) a’ ciallachadh ‘cnoc aig mathan boireann’. Tha e gu math faisg air Creag nan Uamh (Innis nan Damh), far an do lorgadh na cnàmhan mathain. Chan e sin a-mhàin, ach eadar Cnoc Eilid Mhathain agus Creag nan Uamh tha Beinn nan Cnàimhseag. Tha cnàimhseagan am measg nan dearcan as fheàrr le mathain; gu dearbh, ʼs e ‘bearberries’ a thathar a’ gabhail orra ann am Beurla. Tha Druim nan Cnàimhseag faisg air an àite cuideachd. A’ gabhail sin a-steach, agus gur e mathan seach an seann fhacal math-ghamhainn a th’ anns na h-ainmean an sin, dh’fhaodamaid a ràdh gur dòcha gur e Asainte an t-àite mu dheireadh far an robh mathain beò ann an Alba.

Tha ainm-àite eile co-cheangailte ri mathain ann an ceann a deas na h-Alba ann an Siorrachd Dhùn Phris is Gall-Ghàidhealaibh, sear air baile Mhofaid. ʼS e sin Bear Craig (àirde 495m) – creag a chaidh ainmeachadh, a rèir choltais, ann an Albais. Tha am mullach os cionn còs air a bheil Bear Den (a thug ainm don bheinn, feumaidh) agus a nochdas air na seann mhapaichean. Tha an OS a’ dèanamh tuairisgeul air an t-sid mar seo: ‘Còs beag fon talamh a tha mu 20 troigh ann am fad; tha fhosgladh aig a’ cheann an iar ceàrnach, leis na taobhan mu 3 troighean ann am fad, agus tha e mu 6 troighean air 6 troighean anns a’ mheadhan. Tha beul-aithris ag innse dhuinn gum b’ e seo saobhaidh aig mathain nuair a bha an dùthaich làn chreutairean fiadhaich.’

Anns an dà earrainn seo dhen chiad mhapa 6-òirlich aig an OS, chithear cho faisg ʼs a tha trì àiteachan a tha co-cheangailte ri mathain – Creag nan Uamh far an do lorgadh seann chnàmhan, Beinn nan Cnàimhseag (dearcan a chòrdas gu mòr ri mathain) agus Cnoc Eilid Mhathain a tha a’ bruidhinn air a shon fhèin.

Tha ainm-àite co-ionann – Bear Craig – ann an Eilean Bhòid ach ʼs e a th’ ann ach carraig air a’ chladach agus chan eil e soilleir a bheil buntanas sam bith aige ri mathain. Anns an leabhar aige ‘The Place-Names of Bute’ (2012), tha an t-eòlaiche Gilbert Márkus ag aideachadh nach urrainn dha an t-ainm a mhìneachadh, ged a tha e sgrìobhadh seo (d.305-6): ‘ʼS dòcha gu bheil e a’ dèanamh iomradh air cumadh na carraige, no pàirt air choreigin dhith, a tha coltach ri mathan. ʼS dòcha gu bheil e a’ toirt iomradh air bere ‘eòrna’ – ged nach eil e soilleir carson a bhiodh gob creagach cladaich mar seo co-cheangailte ri eòrna.’ Mar an ceudna, tha an t-ainm Bearsden – baile ann an Siorrachd Dhùn Breatann an Ear – às aonais mìneachadh, ged nach eil e coltach gu bheil e co-cheangailte ri mathain fhiadhaich. Agus tha e gu math coltach gu bheil ainmean ‘bear’ eile ann an ceann an iar-dheas na h-Alba, leithid Bearburn agus Bearmeal Knowe, ag èirigh à bere (facal Albais) a bhathar a’ fàs gu mòr aig aon àm.

Tha dà reul-bhad, a ghabhas faicinn gu furasta air an oidhche, a tha ainmichte mar Ursa Major agus Ursa Minor (‘mathan mòr’ agus ‘mathan beag’). Ann an Gàidhlig, canaidh sinn An Crann-arain (inneal anns am bite a’ cur aran don àmhainn) agus An Dreagbhod ‘reul-bhad nan dreagan’ riutha. Ann an sealladh nan Gàidheal air a’ chruinne-chè, chan eil mathan sam bith anns an iarmailt. Ach ma dh’fhaodte gu bheil fear no dhà a’ dèanamh sid dhaibh fhèin fhathast air mapaichean na h-Alba.

Lochan Fèith a’ Mhath-ghamhna ann am Mòrar – mar a nochd e air a’ chiad mhapa 6-òirlich aig an t-Suirbhidh Òrdanais. Tha an t-eilean anns an loch co-cheangailte ann am beul-aithris ri coin fhiadhaich ghlasa, seach mathain, ach ʼs iongantach mura h-eil an t-ainm mathanach gu math sean.

N.B. Ma tha fiosrachadh sam bith agaibh air ainmean-àite a bharrachd anns a bheil mathain air an ainmeachadh, bu toigh leis an ùghdar cluinntinn bhuaibh (rmac@uags.scot).

Mapaichean: tha na mapaichean uile a’ nochdadh le cead Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba

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

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