Nature’s Bounty in a Brùchd

Piles of seaweed thrown up by winter storms can add new elements to the forager’s basket

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig / Read in Gaelic

If you’re not a Gaelic-speaker, you might never have heard the word brùchd. If so, I want to teach it to you, because our shorelines during the winter can provide brùchdan (the plural form) which are potential treasure troves for the forager and keen gardener. In general terms, the word (pronounced ‘BROOCHK’ with a long ‘oo’) refers to a sudden rushing forth or bursting out, and the results of that process. It can mean ‘belching’ with reference to humans. In an environmental context, it is commonly used for the piles of seaweed that are thrown up on the shore, sometimes in vast quantities, usually during the season of storms in autumn and winter.

A brùchd consisting mainly of wracks, as above, is ideal for use as a fertiliser and soil conditioner, but has little or no edible content. It is a brùchd thrown up by a major storm, and which contains sub-littoral kelp species, that it is of most interest to the forager. Photo ©R Maclean

On our coasts, and particularly in the machair-fringed areas of the Western Isles, the brùchd was, and still is, eagerly awaited by those who use seaweed to fertilise their land. With a brùchd, there is no need to cut the seaware – it arrives ready for collection and spreading. Sometimes the weed needs to be collected immediately in case the next tide removes a lot of what has just accumulated. But where a big storm and high tide throw it up to the highest part of the beach, beyond the next tide, it is known as a tiùrr-brùchd or brùchd tiùrra (tiùrr being the Gaelic for ‘tideline’). If it is allowed to rot there for a while, it turns dark and becomes a brùchd-dubh ‘black brùchd’. The brùchd was so valued by the people that there is even a place named for it – Geodha na Brùchd ‘the inlet of the brùchd’ on the east coast of the Isle of Lewis at NB369085 (in an area where nobody lives today).

Geodha na Brùchd on the east coast of Lewis near the mouth of Loch Shell (Loch Sealg). In an area devoid of population today, the place name indicates past usage of maritime resources by local people. This detail is from the OS 6-inch map, second edition. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

I want to discuss how the forager might make use of a brùchd. For a start, it is important not to allow it to reach the status of a brùchd-dubh! Indeed, the forager should go down to the beach shortly after a storm to inspect what has been deposited. Quite often, the seaweeds found there will be those readily available on a shoreline down to the low tide line, notably glasag ‘sea lettuce’, glasag chaolanach ‘gutweed’, propach ‘bladder wrack’, feamainn bhuilgeanach ‘knotted wrack’ and stamh ‘oarweed’.

As foragers, we need not concern ourselves too much with those species. The delicious sea lettuce and gutweed, for example, can be more profitably and carefully collected as living specimens at low tide. However, I would like to make mention of two ‘treasures’ – large brown algae – that can come ashore with a brùchd and which might otherwise only be available to the wader, swimmer or diver who is prepared to brave the waters below the low tide mark.

The first is mircean, also known in Gaelic as meilcean, gruaigean and muirinean. In English it is badderlocks, dabberlocks or winged kelp. Well known as an edible species, it has a long history of use in Scotland, Ireland, Iceland and Greenland. The fronds are long and fine, almost feathery in texture, with a distinct cnàimh or midrib. The Gaels would traditionally chew on the fresh midrib, and it was considered a delicacy by children. Imagine that!

Mircean (badderlocks) found washed up in a brùchd. The midrib is clearly visible. The duilleach at the bottom is a particularly favoured food. At very low spring tides, the forager can reach this species, growing in its natural habitat, if they are prepared to get their feet wet. If you are accessing seaweeds such as mircean from a brùchd, do so only on material newly washed up on the last tide. Don’t collect algae that have been sitting on the beach over a series of tides – unless you are looking for fertiliser, in which case they are ideal. Photo ©R Maclean

Smoked fronds are reckoned very tasty, and the sweetness of the plant to the palate increases as the plant ages. Mircean was, and no doubt is, most loved among the Gaels for its sporophylls – short spore-bearing sprouts near the base of the plant, close to the holdfast that anchors it to rocks. These appear rather like small, leathery leaves and are known in Gaelic collectively as duilleach ‘foliage’ or individually as earball-sàile ‘saltwater tail’. Their flavour, when fried in butter, is a delicious blend of nuttiness and saltiness. To top it all, this seaweed, which has been the subject of experiments to test its suitability for being raised commercially, is high in vitamins A, B, C and K.

If mircean is a pearl within a winter brùchd, then langadal is a diamond. Langadal is a kelp whose long, unribbed, slightly crinkled fronds, called leathagan in Gaelic, grow to a prodigious size. It is a deep-water species, only normally available for harvesting by divers down to depths of 30 metres – but it is often washed up in storms. The species has several Gaelic names including ròc and mìlsean-mara ‘sea sweets’. The latter has its equivalent in English names for the species – sweet kelp, sugar kelp and sweet sea-tangle – the flavour being enhanced by the presence of mannitol, a sugar alcohol. Langadal was once sold as crisps by street vendors in Edinburgh. As with mircean, langadal gets sweeter with age. As well as being tasty as crisps, it is a good addition to a stir fry, with a lovely texture and flavour, and can be cleaned, sliced and frozen for culinary use later in the season. So, when a brùchd appears on your local beach, check it out for large fronds of langadal and just cut off what you need. But a warning – the older fronds sometimes become peppered with small sgreigeagan ‘acorn barnacles’ which are not favourable to the palate – so check them out carefully in good light. And, of course, only seaweed that has been freshly washed up with the most recent tide should grace the food hamper.

The author (centre) introducing a group of students to a large frond of langadal (sugar kelp) washed up in a summer storm onto the beach at Staffin, Isle of Skye. Photo ©R Maclean

If you gather too much langadal from a brùchd, don’t worry – they make a good fertilizer in the garden. They are also handy weather predictors when dried and left hanging, say, in a porch. They absorb moisture from the atmosphere, and a change in their appearance can indicate that rain is on the way.

Just to show that the entrepreneurial spirit and our native seaweeds make good bedfellows, a gin made in the Western Isles claims a unique flavour thanks to its being ‘infused with sugar kelp’. And off the coast of the island of Scalpay (southern Skye), a collaboration between commercial interests and academics is investigating the potential of growing this species adjacent to a salmon farm in order to make use of nutrient overspill. This research is aimed at the market for sweet kelp as food, but the species also has potential for being grown for biomass purposes, such as production of fuel alcohol.

The winter is often claimed to be a poor time for the food forager – when they rely on stocks they have built up during more productive seasons. But this is not true for those who have access to the seashore – and more about molluscs in another blog! It is certainly not true for those with an eye for what has been washed onto land in the latest brùchd. Nature’s bounty, indeed!

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 autumn, beach, beaches, biodiversity, coastal, Folklore, foraging, Gaelic, History, Marine, NatureScot, sea life, Uncategorized, winter | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mathas na Mara à Brùchdan

Faodaidh brùchdan a’ gheamhraidh air a’ chladach feamainn bhlasta a chur ri daithead an rùrachair

Leugh ann am Beurla / Read in English

Tha na Gàidheil eòlach gu leòr air an fhacal brùchd. Tha e a’ ciallachadh ‘maoim’ no ‘briseadh obann’ no ‘am fuaim a nithear le bhith a’ leigeil gasaichean às a’ bheul’ – am fear mu dheireadh ann an dòigh a dh’fhaodas a bhith mì-mhodhail. Ge-tà, chan eil mì-mhodh sam bith co-cheangailte ri brùchd air a’ chladach. Gu dearbh, bidh feadhainn a tha an sàs ann an rùrachd a’ faighinn biadh o bhrùchd feamainn a nochdas air a’ chladach an dèidh stoirm as t-fhoghar no sa gheamhradh.

Brùchd feamainn far a bheil an fheamainn bhuilgneach anns a’ mhòr-chuid, agus a tha feumail airson talamh àitich fheamnadh. ʼS iad brùchdan mòra a’ gheamhraidh, a nochdas an dèidh stoirm mhòr, as motha a tharraingeas an rùrachair, oir uaireannan bidh ceilpean ann, leithid langadal agus mircean. Dealbh ©R MacIlleathain

Air cladaichean na h-Alba, agus gu sònraichte anns na sgìrean machaireach anns na h-Eileanan an Iar, bha, agus bidh, gu leòr de dhaoine a’ feitheamh ri brùchd gus am faigh iad stuth airson fearann-àitich fheamnadh. Le brùchd, bidh an fheamainn geàrrte agus deiseil airson togail agus sgaoileadh. Uaireannan bidh daoine ga cruinneachadh anns a’ mhionaid, eagal ʼs gum bi an ath làn ga sguabadh air falbh. Ach, far am bi stoirm mhòr ga cur air an tiùrr aig ceann shuas a’ chladaich (canaidh sinn tiùrr-brùchd no brùchd tiùrra rithe), agus ma thèid a fàgail ann greis, bidh i a’ dol dubh. ʼS e brùchd-dubh a chanas sinn ri a leithid (gu h-iongantach!). Bha uiread de dh’fhèill air a’ bhrùchd san t-seann aimsir ʼs gu bheil àite ann an Leòdhas air a bheil Geodha na Brùchd (Geodha nam Brùchd? oir tha brùchd fireanta). Tha sin aig NB369085 faisg air beul Loch Sealg far nach eil sluagh a’ fuireach an-diugh.

Geodha na Brùchd air costa sear Leòdhais faisg air beul Loch Sealg. Chan eil sluagh ann an-diugh ach tha an t-ainm-àite a’ sealltainn dhuinn gun robh daoine ann uaireigin a bha a’ cur feum air toradh na mara. Tha seo bho mhapa 6-òirlich na Suirbhidh Òrdanais, dàrna eagran. Chan fhaicear an t-ainm air mapaichean an latha an-diugh.
Dealbh le cead Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba

Tha mi ag iarraidh fios a thoirt seachad air mar a dh’fhaodas rùrachair feum a dhèanamh de bhrùchd. Anns a’ chiad dol a-mach tha e cudromach nach tèid e cho fada ʼs gum bi e na bhrùchd-dubh! Gu dearbh, ʼs fhiach a dhol a-bhàn don chladach goirid an dèidh stoirm airson faicinn dè thàinig gu tìr. Gu math tric, bidh na feamainn dìreach mar a lorgar a’ fàs air a’ chladach aig àm àbhaisteach, leithid a’ ghlasag, a’ ghlasag chaolanach, propach, an fheamainn bhuilgeanach agus stamh.

Mar luchd-rùrachd, cha leig sinn a leas dragh a ghabhail mu na gnèithean sin. Tha e a cheart cho math glasag agus glasag chaolanach a chruinneachadh o na h-àiteachan far am bi iad a’ fàs air a’ chladach. Ach bu mhath leam iomradh a dhèanamh air dà alga dhonn a tha nan ‘neamhnaidean’ a thig gu tìr an cois brùchd. Mura b’ e sin, bhiodh againn ri snàmh no dàibheadh air an son.

Anns a’ chiad dol a-mach tha mircean, a tha aithnichte cuideachd mar meilcean, gruaigean agus muirinean. Ann am Beurla, canaidh daoine badderlocks, dabberlocks no winged kelp ris. Tha e gu math aithnichte mar ghnè a ghabhas ithe, le eachdraidh fhada de bhith air a chur gu feum ann an Alba, Èirinn, Innis Tìle agus Graonlann. Tha na frondaichean fada is mìn, cha mhòr iteach ann an coltas, le cnàimh a’ ruith suas am meadhan. Gu traidiseanta, bhiodh na Gàidheil a’ cagnadh air a’ chnàimh amh, agus bha clann gu math measail air. Smaoinichibh!

Mircean a thàinig gu tìr ann an stoirm. Chithear an cnàimh agus, aig a’ bhonn, an duilleach – air am biodh na seann Ghàidheil gu sònraichte measail mar bhiadh. Gheibhear grèim air an fheamainn seo aig àm an reothairt ma tha sibh deònach ur casan fhliuchadh. Mas ann à brùchd a gheibhear mircean airson ithe, dèanaibh cinnteach gun deach a sguabadh air a’ chladach leis an làn mu dheireadh. Chan eil math dhuibh a bhith ag ithe feamainn sam bith a th’ air a bhith marbh air a’ chladach fad greis. Gabhaidh i cleachdadh mar thodhar! Dealbh ©R MacIlleathain

Thathar a’ meas nam frondaichean smocte gu math blasta, agus thathar a’ dèanamh dheth cuideachd gum bi an lus a’ fàs nas mìlse le aois. Bhiodh na Gàidheil gu sònraichte dèidheil air duilleach a’ mhircein – duilleagan spòrach a nochdas ann am bagaidean faisg air bonn a’ frond, os cionn a’ ghreimeachain. Tha iad coltach ri duilleagan beaga leatharach, agus canaidh daoine earball-sàile ri gach tè dhiubh. Tha am blas, nuair a tha iad air am fraidhigeadh ann an ìm, na mheasgachadh air leth de bhlas chnothan agus salainn. Agus, a bharrachd air sin, tha an fheamainn seo làn bheothaman A, B, C agus K.

Mas e neamhnaid a th’ ann am mircean, mar a nochdas e ann am brùchd geamhraidh, tha langadal na dhaoimean. ʼS e ceilp mhòr a th’ ann, le frondaichean fada neo-chnàimheach air a bheil oirean liorcach. Canaidh na Gàidheil leathag ri frond na feamainn seo. Bidh langadal ri lorg aig doimhneachd suas ri 30 meatair far nach fhaigh ach dàibhear cothrom a chruinneachadh – ach a-mhàin nuair a nochdas e ann am brùchd. Tha grunn ainmean Gàidhlig air, leithid ròc (agus roc), smeartan, milearach agus mìlsean-mara. Tha an t-ainm mu dheireadh car coltach ri ainmean Beurla airson na feamainn seo – sweet kelp, sugar kelp agus sweet sea-tangle. Tha am mìlsead a’ tighinn bho alcol siùcarach ris an canar mannitol. Bha langadal uaireigin air a reic mar chriospaichean le ceannaichean-sràide ann an Dùn Èideann.

Mar a tha le mircean, bidh langadal a’ fàs nas mìlse le aois. A bharrachd air a bhith math mar chriospaichean, cuiridh e gu mòr ri stir-fry, leis na frondaichean cagainneach agus blasta. Faodar an glanadh, sliseagadh agus reothadh airson cleachdadh a-rithist tron gheamhradh. Mar sin, nuair a nochdas brùchd air an tràigh as fhaisge oirbh, thoiribh sùil airson leathagan de langadal agus geàrraibh dheth na bhios a dhìth oirbh. Ach seo rabhadh – uaireannan bidh sgreigeagan beaga bìodach gan acrachadh fhèin ann am pailteas air na frondaichean as sine, agus feumar sùil a thoirt air an son fo sholas soilleir. Agus dèanaibh cinnteach gu bheil feamainn a bhios sibh a’ cleachdadh mar biadh ùr-nodha air a’ chladach, air a sguabadh ann leis an tìde-mhara mu dheireadh.

Tha an t-ùghdar (meadhan) a’ sealltainn leathag mhòr de langadal do dh’oileanaich aige air a’ chladach ann an Stafainn san Eilean Sgitheanach. Thàinig i gu tìr air stoirm samhraidh. Dealbh ©R MacIlleathain

Ma chruinnicheas sibh cus langadail à brùchd, na gabhaibh dragh – bidh e a’ dèanamh todhar math sa ghàrradh. Tha e math cuideachd airson innse cuin a tha an t-uisge gu bhith ann, agus bhiodh iasgairean gan crochadh a-muigh airson sin. Gabhaidh na frondaichean tiormaichte deathach a-steach bhon èadhar agus chithear bhon cumadh gu bheil an t-uisge air an t-slighe.

Dìreach mar dhearbhadh gum bi daoine adhartach a’ dèanamh feum às ùr de ar feamainn dhùthchasach, thathar a’ cumail a-mach gu bheil blas air leth air sine a th’ air a dhèanamh anns na h-Eileanan an Iar, le langadal mar phàirt dhen reasabaidh. Agus far cladach Sgalpaigh ri taobh ceann a deas an Eilein Sgitheanaich, thathar a’ coimhead air mar a dh’fhàsas langadal ri taobh tuathanas-bhradan far am bi mèinnearan a bharrachd anns an uisge. Tha an rannsachadh seo ag amas air langadal a ghabhas reic mar bhiadh, ach math dh’fhaodte gum bi cothroman a bharrachd an cois na feamainn seo, agus i air a cleachdadh airson alcol connaidh a chruthachadh.

Bidh feadhainn a’ cumail a-mach gur e an geamhradh àm truagh airson rùrachd, agus daoine dìreach a’ cur gu feum na chruinnich iad tro na ràithean blàtha. Ach chan eil sin fìor ma tha cothrom agaibh dhol gu cladach (agus bheir sinn sùil air maoraich ann am blog eile!). Gu sònraichte, chan eil e fìor ma bhios cothrom agaibh feamainn a chruinneachadh a thàinig às a’ mhuir ann am brùchdan a’ gheamhraidh – mathas mòr na mara!

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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The Business of Scotland’s Natural Larder

Respecting, protecting, and enhancing our natural environment is critical, not just for Scotland’s future generations, businesses, and tourists, but for the wellbeing of our current population and economy. Ceri Ritchie, Head of Food and Enterprise at SAC Consulting, was one of the organisers of Foraging Fortnight, in September. In today’s guest blog, Ceri reflects back on the business-related workshops that were held to explore and advise on the sustainable use of natural produce in the food sector.

Mark Williams from Galloway Wild Foods foraging at Taynish National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Choosing the right food as consumers, the right ingredients as food businesses, or creating the right experiences at tourist destinations all have an impact on our natural environment and its larder, either directly or indirectly. Through wise choices, we can make sure these are positive impacts. This year’s Foraging Fortnight festival hosted business events with that crucial balance in mind, looking at storytelling around foraged plants, back garden edibles to supply commercial kitchens, product and menu development using foraged ingredients and visitor experiences built around foraging and our natural environment.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made consumers reassess what is important in their lives and will have a lasting impact on consumer behaviour. It has encouraged a greater interest in local food, culinary culture, and heritage, and in sustainability. However, many are experiencing a squeeze on household disposable income, and this has also increased interest in cost-saving meal ideas – economy gastronomy – often nostalgic recipes from previous ‘hard times’. UK consumers are buying slightly less than before due to the impact of inflation, and there has been a rise in home grown vegetables.

Planting out lettuce at Whitmuir Organic farm near Peebles. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

This ‘disruption’ is driving change and innovation in many areas including product, packaging, promotion, range development and experience creation. Some key grocery retailers already have a strong Scottish range at accessible prices, others are investing heavily in value ranges, in an effort to price-match. Retailers are also exploring eco-scoring on food products.

Since the pandemic, 85% of UK consumers have adopted at least one lifestyle change (Deloitte, April 2021) and 48% of consumers believe that sustainability has become more important (Kantar 2021). Consumers are making choices that reflect an increased engagement with ‘sustainability’ and this is reflected in a number of ways: taking advantage of refill opportunities, buying local, resurrecting family recipes, taking part in #Veganuary or #Regenuary and for tourists, realising that the great outdoors is now perhaps more appealing than a crowded city.

Beekeeping producing one of nature’s best ingredients in Perthshire. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Plant-based food choices have increased in popularity, driven by beliefs that is it better for consumer health and the planet. There is also an increased interest in ‘functional wellness’ – with consumers selecting foods that make a positive contribution to wellbeing and recognising the benefits of a balanced diet.

Wild and sustainably foraged foods can add a bit of natural interest and goodness to a diet and connect the consumer with nature. Getting out into the countryside is a natural tonic; it supports wellbeing and provides opportunities for people to build their knowledge of the plants around them, many of which have traditional functional wellness characteristics.

Scotland’s dramatic landscape underpins all of our natural capital and ecosystems and, together with our heritage and culture, is a mainstay of the Scottish tourism industry. Many businesses have recognised this opportunity and have created products that are based on traditional recipes or include wild plants in their flavours. Many of these plants are often steeped in folklore and cultural storytelling which in turn can enhance a brand’s story. Some businesses have added value to their visitor experience by highlighting links to the plants and landscapes around them. 

Hospitality students from SRUC serving prepped food tastings at the Royal Highland Show, Ingliston, ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Whether event catering, a farm shop, a café or as part of an experience-based diversified rural enterprise – addressing key consumer interests, creating story and theatre around products and services, and making those all-important links to nature adds real value. This is still a largely untapped opportunity for businesses across Scotland, and often choosing the story is the most challenging aspect. Our workshops during Foraging Fortnight this year included business case-studies and group discussion exploring these themes and we also offered one-to-one advice with micro-businesses and start-ups to link these entrepreneurs with key market information and opportunities.

The pandemic narrowed our horizons, drew us outdoors and also encouraged renewed interest in growing our own food. Gardening and indeed foraging are rewarding and meditative pastimes, allowing people to get close to nature, at their own pace. Creating an edible garden at whatever scale you choose can be part of a tranquil space to escape the everyday.

For businesses, Scotland’s natural larder provides an opportunity to create an immersive food experience, foraging and cooking wild foods. What are the skills needed?  Is there an opportunity to support the delivery of new food and drink, rural or heritage skills? Could you maximise the food tourism opportunity, boost a destination’s brand equity, essentially create a destination where people travel for a taste of place, in order to get a sense of place? The bare minimum is no longer acceptable. Consumers, businesses and stakeholders in Scotland can help to ensure there is a future where everyone can continue to enjoy our natural heritage.

As part of Scotland’s Rural College, SAC Consulting provides independent, research-driven, industry-leading expertise, advice, and solutions for agricultural, food, and land-based businesses.

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Protecting Orkney’s voles

Today, we have a fascinating guest post from Ann Cockerton, who until recently was the Orkney Native Wildlife Project communications manager.

Our annual wildlife monitoring surveys concluded last month with the completion of the Orkney vole surveys. The Orkney vole is a genetically distinct sub-species of vole found only in Orkney. It is notably larger than its mainland counterpart, weighing in around a chunky 90g, and is thought to be descended from voles found in Belgium.

An Orkney vole. Copyright Orkney Native Wildlife Project

How they arrived in Orkney isn’t known, but there are plenty of theories and they possibly arrived with Neolithic travellers migrating between Europe and Orkney 3,000 BC either accidentally carried in the livestock bedding or deliberately. There is speculation that voles were brought as food, like the Romans using edible dormice on sea journeys. This is supported by analysis of Orkney vole remains from Skara Brae, which indicates they were used as a food source in Neolithic Orkney.

Professor Mark Edmonds in his book Orcadia: Land, Sea and Stone in Neolithic Orkney suggests that voles were arriving around the same time as people gathered among the monuments of the Brodgar 5,000 years ago. Among the animal remains found at Skara Brae over the years are hundreds of bones from the Orkney vole.

During those millennia that the Orkney vole naturalised here, it became an important food source for native wildlife, especially short-eared owls and hen harriers during the breeding season. Unfortunately, the non-native stoat also has a taste for the Orkney vole and as an easy food source for stoats, the resulting reduction in vole numbers would also have a knock-on effect on our bird population.  

An Orkney vole spotted during a survey. Copyright Orkney Native Wildlife Project

The Mammal Society added the Orkney vole to their first red list of endangered animals at risk from extinction in 2020. Orkney vole’s arrival 5,000 years ago has earned it the classification as a native to Orkney.

Twice a year – in April, and again in September at the end of their breeding season – we survey Orkney voles to estimate their population size as part of the project’s research. Voles can have multiple litters and anywhere from two to 12 pups in a litter. The young are fully weaned within just three weeks. To better understand the vole population in Orkney, our surveyors record signs of voles along one kilometre transects over several sites. These vole signs are grass clippings and droppings found in tunnels across the range of Orkney habitats, including grass and moorland. These, and whether the droppings are old or fresh, give an idea as to whether voles have been in an area recently and are all recorded.

We couldn’t check on the state of Orkney wildlife without our dedicated volunteers monitoring our native wildlife. This year alone our vole detectives donated 152 hours to survey the elusive mammal for which we are hugely grateful! 

Thanks to vole volunteer Leah Hunter and the many other project volunteers! Copyright Orkney Native Wildlife Project

We are always looking for more volunteers. No previous survey experience is required – just plenty of enthusiasm for native wildlife. Contact us at: or fill out the volunteering form on our website

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Beavers on the move

Beavers bring many benefits for nature, but their activities can occasionally cause problems for farmers and other landowners. When measures to minimise issues such as flooding have not been successful, beavers can sometimes be trapped and moved under licence from NatureScot, working with specialist staff from the Beaver Trust. In today’s blog we hear about the experience of one farm where beavers were successfully caught and relocated.

A close-up of one of the beavers moved from the farm ©Beaver Trust

When beavers first arrived near Gillian Spalding’s farm they were a welcome sight. With a strong ethos of farming for nature, Gillian was delighted with her new neighbours, but it wasn’t long before some beaver activity began to impact on the farm.

Beavers can create incredibly diverse and rich wetland habitats which are great for biodiversity, but this ability to significantly change the environment they live in can also cause issues, particularly near farmland. Beavers can build dams, fell trees and dig burrows and canals.

Gillian said: “Initially, I was delighted at the beavers being there as it really went with our conservation and farming for wildlife ethos. But as time went on the beaver family grew and so did the number of dams! After two years the extent of the flooding damage became too much and that is when I needed some help with mitigating the beavers.”

NatureScot’s beaver team worked with Beaver Trust specialist Roisin Campbell-Palmer to look at what measures might work on the site. As part of NatureScot’s Beaver Mitigation Scheme it was agreed that a flow device would be installed in the now large dam on the farm to help reduce water levels and tree protection works were carried out. Unfortunately further damming by the beavers meant these measures were not going to be sufficient to allow the beaver presence to be tolerated.

Gillian explained: “Roisin and her team are really efficient at their jobs and provide so much help and advice. Roisin was really sympathetic to our needs and worries about the extent of the damage and provided swift solutions. Sadly, not all mitigations were going to be viable so therefore a trapping licence was needed.”

Where it’s necessary to remove beavers, NatureScot wants to see trapping under licence used wherever possible, rather than the last resort of lethal control.  Working with the Beaver Trust, our staff can arrange trapping at no costs to the land manager where a licence has been approved. Trapping is proving to be successful, and while some patience might be required, normally takes a few weeks.

One of the beavers in the holding facility at Five Sister Zoo ©Beaver Trust

Gillian added: “Within a few weeks of the licence being approved, all the beavers were caught and relocated. The whole process was much easier than expected and I feel has been a really positive experience.”

Beavers can be moved to licenced projects in England and Scottish Government policy now supports expansion of the population in Scotland, which allows for much more potential for trapping and moving beavers here.

The family of beavers moved from Gillian’s farm were taken to holding facilities at Five Sisters Zoo where they were health screened by staff from Five Sisters Zoo, Beaver Trust and an independent specialist wildlife veterinarian for a range of pathogens of concern, before finding a new home at the Argaty Red Kite centre near Doune in February.

One of the beavers is released ©Beaver Trust

Trapping requires specialist skills and careful regard is given to safeguarding beaver welfare.

Roisin said: “Translocations can be an incredibly positive and rewarding mitigation tool.

“Beaver Trust is committed to working with both landowners experiencing challenges with beavers and those seeking to welcome them back.

“We are dedicated to animal welfare, working alongside our project partners Five Sister Zoo and specialist wildlife vets, ensuring high standards of captive care and health screening so that animals are fit for release.”

The beavers are now thriving at their new home. Tom Bowser, the owner of Argaty Red Kites, said: “It’s great to have beavers back at Argaty.

“Already we have seen amazing changes to biodiversity here with dragonflies, spiders, amphibians and mustelids flocking to the growing wetlands.

“We are so grateful to Gillian for engaging in translocation and to Beaver Trust for their amazing work to get them here.”

If you are experiencing problems with beavers on or near your land, you can find out more about NatureScot’s Beaver Mitigation scheme and how to contact the team for help and advice on our website.

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The Surly Animal of the Yellow Moon

Roddy Maclean reveals aspects of the badger’s appearance in folklore and literature, and on Scotland’s Gaelic landscape

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig / Read in Gaelic

The badger or broc ‘BROCHK’ has long had a place in the folklore, and one could say affection, of the Gaels – although the latter point might be contested, given the proverbs and sayings in which it appears. Despite its living in a warren with its fellows and being an arguably social animal, it is generally reckoned to be a bit unsociable, even crabbit, hence the simile cho gnù ri broc ‘as surly as a badger’. Another simile is cho leisg ris a’ bhroc ‘as lazy as the badger’ and yet another is cho cruaidh ris a’ bhroc ‘as hard as the badger’ which is said of niggardly people. There’s not much there in the way of praise!

To compound the negative view of the species, we have the saying chan iarr am broc na shloc ach e fhèin ‘the badger prefers to have his sett to himself’ (sloc – which rhymes nicely with broc – is the commonest word for a badger’s sett or den, although broc-lann and broclach are terms which are specific to this animal). In Carmina Gadelica (Volume IV), folklorist Alexander Carmichael gives us the rather strange expression: tha e a’ cur bhroc às a ladhran ‘he is casting badgers from his feet’, which is used of a ‘man stamping his feet in anger’.

The etymology of broc is unclear but the word is very old and has cognates in all the Celtic languages. It is likely to have been borrowed into Scots and English from a Celtic language at a fairly early stage, giving brocc, brock and brok, which live on today as dialectal variants. As in Gaelic, the English word was often used disparagingly, sometimes accompanied by the adjective ‘stinking’. Other Gaelic names for the badger are also recorded. Stiallair(e) ‘striped one’ and stiall-chù ‘stripe-dog’ refer to its most obvious unique feature – the large black stripes on the head, as does the name strianach ‘stripey one’. Tùidean is another name for the species, based on tùd ‘stink, stench’ and referring to ‘any smelly animal (especially the badger)’. It appears that the poor badger is in need of a champion who can improve its public profile!

A badger ©Adobe stock image.

Despite the supposed ‘laziness’ of the badger, people recognised that the species would work hard in the autumn to ensure that the sett was prepared for the winter. In Gaelic, the impressive October full moon which can presage a period of good weather, is known as Gealach a’ Bhruic ‘the badger’s moon’ or Gealach Bhuidhe nam Broc ‘the yellow moon of the badgers’. This refers to the animal’s habit of using the light of this moon to furnish its home with large amounts of dry grass. Under moonlight, they can be seen turning and drying the grass which is referred to as am broc a’ caoineachadh a bhoitein ‘the badger turning its bundle of hay in order to dry it’. The verb caoinich/caoineachadh is also used of crofters turning their hay to expose it to the drying effect of sun and wind. This year’s gealach a’ bhruic fell on the 9th of October – did you come across any busy badgers at that time?!

An extensive old badger sett on a wooded hill near Ardersier. Some setts can have multiple entrances and cover large areas of ground. This particular example was originally a ‘fairy’ hill, as evidenced by its Gaelic name and traditions; the badgers appear to have become part of the scene in more recent times.
Photo ©Roddy Maclean

Badgers do not figure highly in Gaelic literature, but they do appear now and again. A medieval poem Gleann Measach Iasgach Linneach ‘fruitful glen with pools and fishes’, is attributed to the legendary pan-Gaelic heroine, Deirdre, although it is more likely that an anonymous bard placed the words in her mouth. The heroine speaks of her love for her glen in Scotland which fate will prevent her from ever seeing again. It is a place of cuckoos, thrushes, blackbirds, roe deer, sleek flat-nosed otters, goats, swans, salmon – and badgers:

Gleann na gcaorthann go gcnuas corcra,

go meas molta do gach ealta;

parrthas suain do na brocaibh

i n-uamhchaibh socra ’s a gcuain aca.

Glen of rowans with scarlet berries,

fruit praised by every bird flock,

a tranquil paradise to the badgers

in peaceful holts with their litters.

Deirdre appears to have been partial to badger fat, as is evidenced in another ballad attributed to her (which presumably reflects an aspect of the medieval diet of the Gaels). In Ionmhain Tír an Tír-Úd Thoir ‘beloved land in the east’, she looks back longingly to Scotland from Ireland to which she has unhappily returned with her lover Naois (whose fate is a tragic and violent death in Ireland):

Gleann Laoigh!

Do chollainn fán mboirinn chaoimh;

Iasg is sidheang is saill bhruic,

Fá hí mo chuid i nGleann Laoigh.

Glen Lui!

I would sleep below the fair rock;

Fish and venison and badger fat

That was my fare in Glen Lui.

Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair (Alexander MacDonald) was a Moidart-born poet of stature who composed a deal of nature poetry in the years 1725-45. Arguably, his finest composition of this type is Allt an t-Siùcair ‘the sugar burn’, written of a stream adjacent to his smallholding when he was a teacher in Ardnamurchan. Here he uses the adjective brocach ‘abounding in, or connected to, badgers’:

An coire brocach, taobh-ghorm, torcach, faoilidh, blàth;

An coire lonach, naosgach, cearcach, craobhach, gràidh …

The green-sided corrie has badgers and boars and is hospitable and warm. The marshy corrie has snipes, hens, trees and benevolence…

The badger appears not infrequently in the Gaelic landscape, sometimes in its definite genitive plural form nam Broc (‘num BROCHK’), meaning ‘of the badgers’. Examples of such toponyms are Tom nam Broc ‘the knoll of the badgers’ near Loch Lomond, Tòrr nam Broc ‘the hill of the badgers’, south of Loch Sunart (and another of the same name near Loch Ness), and Cnoc nam Broc ‘the hill of the badgers’ near Kishorn in Wester Ross. Broc-bheinn near Sligachan on Skye, a place noted in island folklore, has been interpreted as ‘badger-mountain’. Alexander Forbes in his ‘Place-Names of Skye’ (1923) tells us that this feature is also referred to as Broclach Bheinn ‘badger’s-den hill’ and Na Broclaich ‘the badger’s dens’. The indefinite plural form bhroc ‘of badgers’ is found in Tuim Bhroc, probably originally Tom Bhroc ‘knoll of badgers’, just outside Callander in the Trossachs.

Tom nam Broc ‘the knoll of the badgers’ lies just north-east of Balmaha on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Broclach also appears dialectally as braclach, and is found in that guise in the landscape, such as in Beinn na Braclaich ‘the mountain of the badger’s sett’ near Dunvegan on Skye and Fèith na Braclaich ‘the bog-stream of the badger’s sett’, south of Newtonmore in Badenoch. However, braclach can also occasionally refer to a fox’s den (the more common word is saobhaidh). It is likely that some Gaelic place-names, anglicised to Brackla, Brachla, Brackloch or Brachlach, originally referred to a badger’s den, although an origin in breac ‘speckled’ cannot be ruled out for one or two of them. Brackla in Garioch (Aberdeenshire) appears to be a badger name as it is adjacent to a feature known as Broclach Hill; the settlement itself is given as Broclach on some older maps. Early forms of the name Brackland or Bracklinn (as in the famous Bracklinn Falls), just outside Callander, suggest a possible origin as broc-thulach ‘badger hill’.

Broc also appears in many toponyms in its genitive singular form a’ Bhruic (‘uh VROO-ichk’) meaning ‘of the badger’. For example, Creag a’ Bhruic ‘the rocky hill of the badger’ is in Glen Strathfarrar and Lag a’ Bhruic ‘the hollow of the badger’ lies adjacent to the road between Tomintoul and the Lecht Ski Centre. Leaba a’ Bhruic ‘the bed or lair of the badger’ is in Easter Ross and Lochan a’ Bhruic, west of Loch Awe in Argyll, was interpreted by the Ordnance Survey Name Book informants as ‘badger’s loch’. Coire Bhruic ‘badger’s corrie’ is in Glenfeshie in Badenoch.

Fèith Tòrr a’ Bhruic ‘the bog-stream of the hill of the badger’ is in the Langwell Forest of Caithness
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

A derivative of broc is brocair, originally a ‘badger-hunter’, but whose meaning came to include ‘fox-hunter’ (because the same person often did both jobs); in recent historical times, given the increase in sheep-raising in Gaelic Scotland – and the abundance of vulnerable lambs – fox-hunting has been a much more common pursuit than badger-hunting, so that the primary meaning of brocair is now a person who hunts and kills foxes. Thus, the peninsula known as Rubha a’ Bhrocaire on the coast of Coigach in Wester Ross means, according to the Ordnance Survey Name Book, ‘foxhunter’s point’.

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

The medieval poetry and translations in this blog come from the excellent publication ‘Duanaire na Sracaire/Songbook of the Pillagers’, an anthology of medieval poetry edited by Wilson McLeod and Meg Bateman (Birlinn 2007).

Posted in autumn, badger, Folklore, Gaelic, History, NatureScot, poetry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ainmhidh Gnù na Gealaich Bhuidhe

Tha Ruairidh MacIlleathain a’ toirt sùil air a’ bhroc ann am beul-aithris, litreachas agus eòlas-tìre nan Gàidheal

Leugh ann am Beurla / Read in English

Tha àite air a bhith aig a’ bhroc fad linntean ann am beul-aithris nan Gàidheal, ged nach urrainn a ràdh gun robhar a’ dearbhadh urram don ainmhidh seo. Ged a tha e a’ fuireach ann am broclaichean agus, mar sin, gur e beathach sòisealta a th’ ann, bha na Gàidheil riamh ga thomhas mar chreutair car greannach. Chì sinn sin anns an t-samhladh cho gnù ri broc. ʼS iad samhlaidhean eile cho leisg ris a’ bhroc agus cho cruaidh ris a’ bhroc; bithear ag amas na h-abairt mu dheireadh air daoine a tha car mosach. Chan eil moladh mòr an cois gin dhiubh sin! A’ cur ris an droch bheachd, tha an seanfhacal chan iarr am broc na shloc ach e fhèin. Ann an Carmina Gadelica, tha Alasdair MacIlleMhìcheil a’ toirt na h-abairt seo dhuinn: tha e a’ cur bhroc às a ladhran; bhite ag ràdh sin mu dheidhinn duine a bha a’ stampadh a chasan le fearg.

Chan eil tùs an fhacail broc soilleir ach tha e gu math sean, agus tha faclan càirdeach anns a h-uile cànan Ceilteach. Thathar a’ smaoineachadh gun deach a thoirt a-null don Bheurla agus Albais bho chànan Ceilteach aig tràth-ìre, a’ toirt dhaibh brocc, brock agus brok a chluinnear fhathast ann an dualchainntean na Beurla. Mar anns a’ Ghàidhlig, bhite a’ cleachdadh an fhacail ann am Beurla uaireannan airson dì-meas a dhearbhadh, leis a’ bhuadhair ‘stinking’ leis. ʼS iad ainmean eile airson a’ bhruic a chaidh a chlàradh – stiallair(e) ‘fear le stiallan’, stiall-chù agus strianach, agus iad uile a-mach air na stiallan dubha air ceann an ainmhidh. Tha am facal tùidean ann cuideachd, stèidhichte air an fhreumh tùd ‘boladh, droch fhàileadh’, ged a dh’fhaodas sin a bhith ag ainmeachadh beathach sam bith air a bheil samh. Chanainn gu bheil gaisgeach a dhìth air a’ bhroc bhochd airson ìomhaigh phoblach a thoirt am feabhas!

Broc ©Adobe stock image.

Ged a bhios daoine a’ bruidhinn mu ‘leisg’ a’ bhruic, bhathar ag aithneachadh gum biodh e ri saothair chruaidh as t-fhoghar airson dèanamh cinnteach gun robh an sloc aige deiseil airson a’ gheamhraidh. Canaidh sinn Gealach a’ Bhruic no Gealach Bhuidhe nam Broc ris a’ ghealaich mhòir làin anns an Dàmhair – a dh’innseas dhuinn, ma tha i soilleir, gu bheil aimsir mhath romhainn. ʼS e as coireach ris an ainm gum bi am broc a-muigh air an oidhche, a’ cleachdadh solas na gealaich sin airson boitean (cnap de dh’fheur tioram) a thiormachadh le bhith ga thionndadh – no, mar a chanas sinn, a chaoineachadh. Bithear ag ràdh gum bi am broc a’ caoineachadh a bhoitein mar a bhios croitear a’ caoineachadh feur air a’ chroit le bhith ga thionndadh gus an tiormaich e fo bhuaidh na grèine agus na gaoithe. Am-bliadhna, bha Gealach a’ Bhruic air an 9mh latha dhen Dàmhair – am faca sibh fhèin bruic a-muigh air an oidhche sin?!

Broclach mhòr air tom feurach faisg air Àird nan Saor. Bidh cuid de bhroclaich gu math mòr, le iomadh inntrigeadh annta. B’ e ‘sìthean’ a bh’ anns a’ chnoc seo (ris an canar Tom Eanruig) o shean, agus sìthichean a’ fuireach ann, a rèir beul-aithris. Nuair a dh’fhalbh na sìthichean, feumaidh gun tàinig na bruic a dh’fhuireach ann!
Dealbh ©Ruairidh MacIlleathain

Chan eil bruic a’ nochdadh gu tric ann an litreachas na Gàidhlig, ach bidh iad ann an siud ʼs an seo. Thathar a’ cumail a-mach gu do chruthaich a’ bhana-ghaisgeach ainmeil Deirdre an dàn meadhan-aoiseach Gleann Measach Iasgach Linneach, ged a tha e nas coltaiche gur e bàrd gun urra a ‘chuir’ na faclan na beul. Tha Deirdre a’ taisbeanadh a mòr-ghaoil don ghleann aice ann an Alba nach fhaic i gu bràth tuilleadh. ʼS e àite a th’ ann far a bheil a’ chuthag, an smeòrach, an lon-dubh, an earba agus an dobhran, a bharrachd air gobhair, ealachan, bradain – agus bruic. Tha mi a’ toirt eadar-theangachadh Beurla a chionn ʼs gu bheil a’ Ghàidhlig cho sean agus doirbh a thuigsinn:

Gleann na gcaorthann go gcnuas corcra,

go meas molta do gach ealta;

parrthas suain do na brocaibh

i n-uamhchaibh socra ’s a gcuain aca.

Glen of rowans with scarlet berries,

fruit praised by every bird flock,

a tranquil paradise to the badgers

in peaceful holts with their litters.

Math dh’fhaodte gum bi e na iongnadh dhuibh gu robh Deirdre measail air saill bruic mar bhiadh (agus dùil ann gun robh sin cumanta am measg nan Gàidheal anns na meadhan-aoisean). Ann an Ionmhain Tír an Tír-Úd Thoir ‘tìr mo ghràidh anns an àird an ear’, tha i a’ coimhead air ais a dh’Alba à Èirinn far an deach i an aghaidh a toil cuide ri a leannan, Naois (a gheibh bàs ann an Èirinn).

Gleann Laoigh!

Do chollainn fán mboirinn chaoimh;

Iasg is sidheang is saill bhruic,

Fá hí mo chuid i nGleann Laoigh.

Glen Lui!

I would sleep below the fair rock;

Fish and venison and badger fat

That was my fare in Glen Lui.

Bha an sàr-bhàrd ainmeil, Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, ri bàrdachd-nàdair, gu sònraichte anns na bliadhnaichean ro Bhliadhna Theàrlaich. Tha cuid a’ moladh gu mòr an dàn aige Allt an t-Siùcair, a sgrìobh e mun àite-fuirich aige nuair a bha e na fhear-teagaisg ann an Àird nam Murchan. An seo, tha e a’ cleachdadh a’ bhuadhair brocach ‘far a bheil bruic pailt’.

An coire brocach, taobh-ghorm, torcach, faoilidh, blàth;

An coire lonach, naosgach, cearcach, craobhach, gràidh …

The green-sided corrie has badgers and boars and is hospitable and warm. The marshy corrie has snipes, hens, trees and benevolence…

Bidh am broc a’ nochdadh meadhanach tric air mapaichean na Gàidhealtachd, gu sònraichte anns an tuiseal ghinideach iolra leis an alt. Tha Tom nam Broc sear air Loch Laomainn agus tha Tòrr nam Broc deas air Loch Suaineart (le cnoc dhen aon ainm faisg air Loch Nis). Tha Cnoc nam Broc faisg air Ciseorn ann an Ros an Iar. Tha a’ Bhroc-bheinn – a nochdas ann am beul-aithris – tuath air Sligeachan anns an Eilean Sgitheanach. Tha Alasdair Foirbeis ag innse dhuinn ann am ‘Place-Names of Skye’ (1923) gum bi cuid a’ gabhail Broclach Bheinn ‘badger’s-den hill’ agus Na Broclaich ‘the badger’s dens’ air a’ bheinn ud. Gheibhear lorg air dreach ginideach iolra dhen fhacal (gun alt) anns an ainm-àite Tuim Bhroc, aig an robh tùs mar Tom Bhroc, feumaidh; tha sin gu siar air Calasraid anns na Tròisichean.

Tha Tom nam Broc faisg air Bealach mo Cha air taobh an ear Loch Laomainn.
Dealbh le cead Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba.

Bidh broclach a’ nochdadh cuideachd mar braclach, agus ʼs e sin an dreach a th’ oirre gu tric air aghaidh na tìre, mar eisimpleir ann am Beinn na Braclaich ‘the mountain of the badger’s sett’ faisg air Dùn Bheagan anns an Eilean Sgitheanach agus Fèith na Braclaich deas air Bail’ Ùr an t-Slèibh ann am Baideanach. Ge-tà, bidh braclach cuideachd a’ ciallachadh saobhaidh aig madadh-ruadh. Tha dùil gun robh cuid de dh’ainmean-àite Gàidhlig a nochdas le dreach Beurla orra mar Brackla, Brachla, Brackloch no Brachlach, ag ainmeachadh sloc aig bruic o shean, ged a dh’fhaodadh am buadhair ‘breac’ a bhith co-cheangailte ri feadhainn aca. Feumaidh gu bheil Brackla ann an Siorrachd Obar Dheathain co-cheangailte ris a’ bhroc oir tha Broclach Hill ri a thaobh; tha am baile-fearainn fhèin a’ nochdadh mar Broclach air cuid de sheann mhapaichean. Tha tràth-riochdan dhen ainm-àite Brackland no Bracklinn (mar anns an eas ainmeil ris an canar Bracklinn Falls), taobh a-muigh Chalasraid, a’ sealltainn dhuinn gur dòcha gur e broc-thulach ‘badger hill’ a bh’ ann aig an toiseach.

Bidh broc cuideachd a’ nochdadh ann an ainmean-àite anns an tuiseal ghinideach shingilte mar a’ Bhruic. Mar eisimpleir, tha Creag a’ Bhruic ann an Gleann Srath Fharair agus tha Lag a’ Bhruic ri taobh an rathaid eadar Tom an t-Sabhail agus Ionad-sgithidh na Lice. Tha Leaba a’ Bhruic ann an Taobh Sear Rois. Tha Lochan a’ Bhruic faisg air Loch Obha ann an Earra-Ghàidheal agus gheibhear Coire Bhruic air taobh an iar Ghleann Feithisidh ann am Bàideanach.

Fèith Tòrr a’ Bhruic ann am Frìth Langail ann an Gallaibh
Dealbh le cead Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba.

Tha broc a’ toirt dhuinn brocair, a bha a’ ciallachadh o shean ‘fear a bhiodh a’ sealg nam broc’. Ge-tà, bha e cuideachd a’ ciallachadh ‘fear a bhiodh a’ sealg nan sionnach’ oir bhiodh an aon duine (fear anns na làithean ud) a’ sealg na dhà. Nas fhaisge air an latha an-diugh, agus caoraich is uain air fàs pailt air a’ Ghàidhealtachd, tha sealg nan sionnach fada nas bitheanta na sealg nam broc; leis a sin, ʼs e brocair a-nise neach a bhios a’ sealg agus a’ marbhadh nam madaidhean-ruadha. Tha rubha air a bheil Rubha a’ Bhrocaire air cladach na Còigich ann an Ros an Iar. A rèir na Suirbhidh Òrdanais, tha an t-ainm a’ ciallachadh ‘foxhunter’s point’.

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

Tha a’ bhàrdachd mheadhan-aoiseach agus eadar-theangachaidhean a’ tighinn bhon leabhar iongantach ‘Duanaire na Sracaire/Songbook of the Pillagers’, air a dheasachadh le Wilson McLeod agus Meg Bateman (Birlinn 2007).

Posted in autumn, badger, Folklore, Gaelic, NatureScot, poetry, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Extreme Weather Requires a Restoration Period

Cast your mind back to the summer full of alerts for extreme heat, water scarcity and wildfire risk we all experienced this year. As the climate warms, we are seeing an increase in wildfires not just in Scotland but across Europe. Recent research from NatureScot has shown that Scotland is expected to face an increase in the risk of extreme, longer-lasting droughts over the next two decades because of climate change.

Two dead pearl mussel shells exposed following the drop in water levels during a drought in the River Kerry, Wester Ross.
© Iain Sime

The research shows that the number of extreme drought events across the country could increase from an average of one every 20 years to one every three years. As well as becoming more common, droughts could potentially last two-to-three months longer than in the past.

Our Geographic Systems and Data Coordination Officer, Fairlie Kirkpatrick Baird, recently gave an online talk, hosted by the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s North of Scotland Local Group, about how an increase in drought is impacting our habitats, and what we can do about it.

The good news is that healthy peatlands can help us cope with these effects.

A healthy peatland is wet with lots of soft and squishy sphagnum mosses that swell and hold onto water, such as this peatland lochan at The Flows NNR, Forsinard, in Caithness. ©Lorne Gill/SNH/2020VISION

However, Scotland’s peatlands are in such poor condition that they have lost their natural capacity to adapt to reduced rainfall[1] and resulting drought. Also, in their degraded state, they are emitting carbon rather than holding on to it: in good condition, peat is the largest and most efficient land-based store of carbon, storing on average 10 times more carbon per hectare than any other terrestrial ecosystem.

Degraded peatlands can be restored to near-natural conditions. The main objective of peatland restoration is to create conditions that reduce the loss of organic and atmospheric carbon, and to encourage the growth of active, peat-forming, water-absorbing plant species. Sphagnum moss, the main peat-building plant, can hold up to 30 times its own weight in water[2].

A healthy peatland is wet with lots of soft and squishy sphagnum mosses that swell and hold onto water. Its water table is near ground level, keeping the surface vegetation wet. This helps to reduce the impact of drought and reduces the risk of wildfires. If a wildfire does occur, a wet and healthy peatland will act as a firebreak and slow its spread. A good example of this was a wildfire event at Golticlay Forest in Caithness in 2019 where peatland restoration helped prevent the fire spreading. The fire spread quickly across the unrestored site, but it had little impact on the neighbouring restored peatland.

Restoration will ensure that Scotland’s peatland landscape is more climate-ready – better able to cope with the anticipated effects of climate change – and to continue to provide essential ecosystem services. This includes alleviating the challenges associated with drought and wildfires.

Peatland ACTION, with funding from Scottish Government, are actively seeking to support landowners to get involved in peatland restoration and its sustainable management.We offer funding for suitable projects across Scotland; there are no geographical restrictions or target areas. If you are interested in developing a peatland restoration project, contact us today at


[2] Yoshikawa, K., Overduin, P.P. and Harden, J.W. 2004. Moisture content measurements of moss (Sphagnum spp.) using commercial sensors. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes.15. 309-318.

By Sarah Eaton and Jeanette Holl. Research by Fairlie Kirkpatrick Baird.

Posted in climate change, Flooding, fresh water pearl mussel, Natural Capital, NatureScot, peatland restoration, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Month of the stags

The roar of rutting red deer across a Highland glen or hillside is one of the most evocative sounds of autumn as stags battle for dominance of territory and hinds. For many people it represents the quintessential Scottish wildlife experience. But the evolving story of this iconic species in Scotland is a complex one, as we explore in our latest blog.

Red deer stag roaring ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Although we have four species of deer in Scotland – the native red and roe, as well as fallow and sika – it is the red deer that is firmly embedded in our culture. They are our largest native land mammal and have been in Scotland for at least the last 10,000 years – the end of the last ice age. Our reliance on the species also goes back a long, long way, even as far as the mesolithic period – as shown by the presence of red deer bones in middens from the west coast island of Oronsay, which may be as much as 6,000 years old.

This connection is reflected in the Gaelic language. The modern Gaelic name for October is An Dàmhair. It has been derived both from damh + dair meaning ‘stag copulation’ and damh + gàir, meaning ‘stag clamour’, the latter referring to the roaring of the animals during the rut. An Dàmhair probably originally occupied a period straddling the latter part of September and mid-October, but would have varied from year to year, depending on the activities of the stags. Indeed, recent research on the Isle of Rum has suggested that climate change may be driving the rutting season earlier each year.

Red deer herd in Kilmory, Isle of Rum National Nature Reserve ©Laurie Campbell/NatureScot

Over time, the preferred habitat of the species has been changed beyond all recognition as a result of the way humans have used the land. While they are now associated most frequently with hill and glen, red deer evolved as a herbivore of the woodland edge. The species probably became more dependent on open moorland as humans felled more and more of the native tree cover of Scotland.

However, it seems they never quite lost a penchant for their original habitats: from the 1970s, as commercial afforestation began to significantly build up Scotland’s woodland cover once again, browsing by all deer species began to cause increasingly serious damage to the new plantations. Large numbers of deer can also limit the expansion of new native woodlands in Scotland, and have a serious impact on other habitats such as peatlands. Deer have no natural predators left in Scotland, the last Scottish wolves being killed around 300 years ago. This means that deer numbers need to be managed to limit their potential impacts.

Red deer grazing in a commercial forestry plantation ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Today, as awareness of the climate change and biodiversity crises grows, so too does the recognition that a significant reduction in deer numbers will be needed to protect and restore nature through forest regeneration, woodland creation, peatland restoration and habitat improvement. NatureScot is leading work to achieve this, together with partners and, crucially, those who live and work on the land.

Deer are, of course, an important part of the rural economy – deer stalking in Scotland is thought to be worth more than £100 million annually, and venison is increasingly recognised as providing a source of high quality, healthy and sustainable meat. Most deer control in Scotland is carried out over the autumn and winter period – you can find out more about managing deer on our website.

Red deer against a snowy Liathach in Torridon © John MacPherson / NatureScot

Importantly, selective, humane culling also ensures healthy deer herds. When deer populations grow to high levels, competition for food increases. Climate change is increasingly causing winter precipitation to fall as rain, instead of snow and these harsh, wet conditions make it more difficult for deer to survive without shelter.  Already drained after the rut, animals can lose condition further and can die from starvation during these tough months.

So in the month of the stags, what do you think of when you hear that roar? A wilderness icon? An environmental menace? A tourism asset? An economic resource? Or perhaps it’s a combination of many of these things. Whatever your perspective, there can be few other species in Scotland that mean so many different things to different people.

Find out more about deer in Scotland:

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Seeing the Bog Through the Trees

Forest-to-bog peatland restoration sounds a little niche, so what made over 60 landowners, land managers and contractors, as well as peatland and forestry practitioners, come together to find out more about it?

Surveying the site.
Attendees were shown some of the the techniques used to survey peatland sites. © Kirstin McEwan

They all travelled to Dalchork Forest, near Lairg in Sutherland, in late September for a special event hosted by Forestry and Land Scotland, and supported by NatureScot’s Peatland ACTION team. The aim of the day was to highlight the important role of forest-to-bog restoration in tackling both the climate and biodiversity crises, explain the skills and techniques involved, and where Peatland ACTION can help support restoration projects. Essentially, at Peatland ACTION, we want to encourage and support landowners and managers to restore more peatlands.

Peatland ACTION is a national programme to drive forward peatland restoration across Scotland. On-the-ground work is funded by Scottish Government, supported by Peatland ACTION, who provide advice for landowners and managers, and training for contractors. With a commitment to restore 250,000 hectares of degraded peatland by 2030, this is an ambitious but important programme which will address both the climate and biodiversity emergencies. Healthy peatlands are the largest natural store of carbon on land, as well as a vital habitat for some of our most threatened wildlife.

Dalchork Forest is made up of approximately 10,000ha of open habitats and plantations, where an impressive 16 peatland restoration projects have been carried out – all funded by Peatland ACTION – from 2014 to 2019.

The group heads out onto the site.
The group of land owners, managers and contractors – alongside peatland practitioners – head out onto the site at Dalchork Forest in Sutherland. © Kirstin McEwan

Leading the day, Ian McKee, Peatland Technical Advisor at Forestry and Land Scotland, explained the unique draw of this site as a showcase of forest-to-bog peatland restoration.

Dalchork Forest provides an excellent place for learning about forest-to-bog which helps enhance people’s understanding of this type of peatland work. By running these types of events, we shared our experiences with a view to giving people an open space for discussions and to learn from one another.

As a vital contribution to the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan for net zero, and to address the biodiversity crisis, peatland restoration is a great example of a nature-based solution to climate change.  It was very encouraging to see so many interested parties attending an event focused on forest-to-bog peatland restoration.”

The day looked at the techniques needed to restore peatlands back to blanket bog that had previously been covered by forestry plantations, as well as how to monitor the sites over time and how different factors may affect progress. Throughout the day, our visitors stopped at a number of sites and heard about the tree harvesting and groundworks, such as ditch blocking and tree stump flipping, that had been carried out.  After being shown how to judge the relative speed that the habitat recovered, attendees compared each site, looking at which restoration method had been used and when, with opportunities for questions and discussion.

Healthy sphagnum moss – a great sign the restoration work is making a difference.
Healthy sphagnum moss is always a great sign that peatland restoration work is making a difference. © Kirstin McEwan

Attendees looked at aspects such as which vegetation species show that the bog is recovering well and which would show if it wasn’t.  Along with vegetation, water table depth and bare peat coverage are also used to judge how peatland restoration is going.

With a broad range of attendees the day also provided a great opportunity to share ideas and experiences.

Walking to the trig point for a great view of the site.
The group gather to share experiences as they walk to the trig point for a great view of the site. © Kirstin McEwan

Stephen Varwell, NatureScot’s Peatland Action Project Manager for Communications, commented:

Event days such as those at Forestry and Land Scotland’s site in Dalchork Forest represent a great example of sharing best practice, upskilling and building confidence in peatland restoration work. It also helps build relationships across the sector and encourages new parties to consider moving into peatland work.

‘We want to say thanks to Forestry and Land Scotland for sharing their expertise in forest-to-bog peatland restoration and in providing invaluable knowledge of the Dalchork site. The progress it has made on the road to recovery and the wealth of techniques applied to the site have created a fantastic learning resource.”

As the Dalchork event highlighted, Peatland ACTION also provides technical advice and training for machine operators and companies looking to move into peatland restoration. As well as in-person training, there is also a suite of technical restoration resources providing details of how to do ditch blocking, bunding, reprofiling, and surface smoothing.

With such high demand for these types of event, Peatland ACTION is aiming to provide similar opportunities in the future. Beyond these in-person events, there are plenty of opportunities to find out more about Peatland ACTION and the funding, advice and support available to anyone interested in restoring Scotland peatland at our dedicated online hub.

By Kirstin McEwan, Peatland ACTION Project Officer.

Posted in biodiversity, Land management, Natural Capital, NatureScot, peatland restoration, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment