An Calltainn – Craobh ar n-Annsachd

Tha àite sònraichte aig a’ chraoibh-challtainn ann an saoghal traidiseanta nan Gàidheal.

Read in English

Tha an calltainn (Corylus avellana) na craoibh shònraichte do na Gàidheil mar a tha e do shlòigh air feadh na Roinn Eòrpa agus taobh an iar Àisia. ʼS e a th’ ann ach tè de na craobhan dùthchasach a tha a’ comharrachadh ‘Coilltean Calltainn an Taobh an Iar’ air a bheil mòran a’ gabhail ‘Coill’-uisge Cheilteach’ an-diugh – agus tha daoine air gràdh a ghabhail orra agus air an cur gu feum fad linntean. ʼS e coille dhen t-seòrsa sin àite fìor àlainn far a bheil na craobhan air an còmhdachadh le meanbh-lusan, crotail agus fungasan. Agus anns an Dàmhair gheibhear cnothan innte!

©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Tha a’ chraobh-challtainn air ainmeachadh ann an rann beag mu chraobhan dùthchasach agus na h-àrainnean as fheàrr leotha:

Seileach nan allt is calltainn nan creag,
Feàrna an lòin is beithe nan eas,
Uinnseann an dubhair is darach na grèine,
Leamhan a’ bhruthaich is iubhar an lèana.

Tha an calltainn a’ nochdadh ann an ainmean-àite ann an grunn cheàrnaidhean, leithid Camas a’ Challtainn air cladach a deas Loch Seile agus Àirigh a’ Challtainn ann an Gleann Stratha. Ach bidh fios acasan a tha measail air ‘aibidil chraobhach’ nan Gàidheal gun robh an litir ‘C’ o shean air a riochdachadh le seann ainm a’ challtainn – coll no call. Gheibhear lorg air an riochd sin ann an àiteachan mar Bad Call, ainm a nochdas co-dhiù trì tursan ann an iar-thuath na Gàidhealtachd (ged a dh’fheumar a ràdh nach e a th’ air cùl nan ainmean Coll ann an Eilean Cholla no sgìre tuath air Steòrnabhagh ann an Leòdhas.

Camas a’ Challtainn [leis an t-seann litreachadh] air cladach Loch Seile. Tha a’ choille aig ceann a deas a’ chamais.
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Tha riochd teàrnaichte de callcallaidh – ri lorg ann an Cùil Challaidh anns an Eilean Dubh (air a lughdachadh gu Kilcoy ann am Beurla), agus rinn an t-eòlaiche ainmeil, Uilleam MacBhàtair, iomradh air Bealach Collaidh siar air Beinn Uais (ged nach eil e air na mapaichean). Far a bheil Albais air atharrachadh a thoirt air seann ainm Gàidhlig, bidh coll a’ nochdadh mar cow, leithid ann an Duncow faisg air Dùn Phris (à Dùn Collaidh ‘daingneach a’ challtainn’). 

Air a’ Ghalltachd, tha eisimpleirean gu leòr ann de dh’ainmean-àite le Cowie agus Cowden, agus feadhainn dhiubh air tighinn bho thùs Gàidhlig a bha ag ainmeachadh chraobhan-calltainn. Dhearbh MacBhàtair seo ann an Cowden faisg air Cuimrigh ann an Siorrachd Pheairt, a nochd mar Coldon ann an seann làmh-sgrìobhainnean. Bha daoine anns an sgìre aig an robh Gàidhlig fhathast ga ainmeachadh mar A’ Challtainn, a’ ciallachadh ‘coille-challtainn’. Tha Cowdenknowes faisg air Mealros, a chaidh a dhèanamh ainmeil anns an òran thraidiseanta ‘Broom of the Cowdenknowes’, a’ toirt dhuinn fianais mu sgaoileadh na Gàidhlig do Chrìochan na h-Alba agus mun chraoibh-challtainn anns an àrainneachd. Agus tha sgoilearan air tùs Gàidhlig a thoirt dhuinn airson Cowcaddens ann an Glaschu, le seann riochd Kowcaldenis a’ sealltainn gur dòcha gun do thòisich e mar Coille Challtainn.

©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Tha an samhladh againn cho fallain ris a’ chnò agus tha dùil gur ann air a’ chnò-challtainn a tha e a-mach. Gu dearbh, nach bi sinn uaireannan ag ràdh ‘coille-chnò nuair a tha sinn a’ ciallachadh ‘coille-challtainn’? Tha fianais airceòlach ag innse dhuinn gun robh mac an duine ag ithe chnothan-calltainn ann an Alba cho fada air ais ri Linn Meadhanach na Cloiche, agus tha iad air a bhith mar bhiadh do fheòragan, luchan is cuid de dh’eòin bho linn Oisein agus roimhe.

Tha àite sònraichte aig a’ chnò-challtainn ann an beul-aithris Ghàidhlig, an dà chuid ann an Alba is Èirinn, le seòrsa àraidh dhith aithnichte mar ‘cnò an eòlais’. ʼS ann le bhith ag ithe feòil aig bradain a bh’ air cuid de na cnothan seo ithe, a fhuair Fionn mac Cumhail a chuid eòlais shònraichte. Ann an fionn-sgeul ainmeil bhon Eilean Sgitheanach, tha a’ bhanrigh ghaisgeil Sgàthach agus a h-oileanach Cù Chulainn a’ sabaid ri chèile gu garg, gun an dàrna duine làmh-an-uachdair fhaighinn air an duine eile. Mu dheireadh, tha iad le chèile a’ gabhail diathad de chnothan-calltainn ròsta agus bhuapa tha iad a’ faighinn na tuigse gu feum iad a’ chòmhrag a thoirt gu crìch le aonta agus sìth! Eadhon nas fhaisg air na làithean againn fhèin, bhiodh na Gàidheil a’ creidsinn gum biodh an dà-shealladh aig clann a rugadh as t-fhoghar agus a gheibheadh sùgh bainneach chnothan-calltainn mar a’ chiad bhiadh aca.

©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Cha robh na cnothan ainmeil a-mhàin mar bhiadh no a thaobh eòlas. Bha cnò dhùbailte – ris an canar cnò chòmhlach – mar sheun an aghaidh buidseachd agus bhiodh daoine a’ cur dà chnò còmhla ann an teine, agus gach tè a’ riochdachadh ball de chàraid a bh’ ann an càirdeas gaolach. Nam biodh na cnothan a’ losgadh gu sìtheil is sàmhach, bhiodh pòsadh fada, sona ann. Ge-tà, nam biodh a’ leum air falbh o chèile agus a’ briseadh, cha mhaireadh am pòsadh fada!

Agus chan e a-mhàin na cnothan air an robh fèill aig na Gàidheil. Tha slatan-calltainn dìreach – ach so-lùbach nuair a tha iad òg – agus bhite gan cleachdadh airson clèibh a dhèanamh airson iasgach agus bathar a ghiùlan, agus airson cearcallan baraille. Bha iad feumail cuideachd airson bachallan aig cìobairean, bataichean-coiseachd, làmhan acfhainneach agus frèamaichean nan teantaichean aig an luchd-siubhail. Bhiodh cìobairean a’ cur shlatan-calltainn gu feum cuideachd airson coin-chaorach a thrèanadh – agus tha abairt ann mu chù nach eil cho comasach ʼs a bu mhiann – tha e feumach air buille a’ challtainn

Mar a bha fìor ann an ceàrnaidhean eile de na h-eileanan seo, bhiodh na Gàidheil a’ dèanamh chraobhan-calltainn nam preasarlach, gnothach ris an canar ‘coppicing’ ann am Beurla. Tha craobhan-calltainn gu nàdarrach ioma-stocach agus faodaidh na gasan a bhith air an gearradh air siostam cuairteachaidh gun a bhith a’ dèanamh cron air a’ chraoibh no air a’ choille. Bha siostam mar seo feumail far an robh daoine a’ dèanamh gual-fiodha mar ghnìomhachas. Ann an cuid de dh’àiteachan, ʼs dòcha gu bheil am facal ‘gual’ ann an ainm-àite a’ dèanamh iomradh air gnìomhachas guail-fhiodha stèidhichte air craobhan-calltainn. Ma dh’fhaodte gur e eisimpleir dhiubh Rubha Guail ann an Slèite san Eilean Sgitheanach às an robh muinntir Leitir Fura a’ cur a-mach gual-fiodha. Tha craobhan-calltainn gu leòr fhathast a’ fàs anns an sgìre sin.

Agus seo agaibh tòimhseachan dhen t-seòrsa a bhiodh na seann Gàidheil a’ cur air cach a chèile anns an taigh-chèilidh. Càite am faighte casan eòin air làr coille-chnò? ʼS e am fuasgladh – air stoc ùr-gheàrrte aig craobh-challtainn. Canar casan-eunain ris na gasan ùra a bhios a’ fàs gu bhith nan slatan-calltainn tro thìde.

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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 Beloved Hazel

Gaelic tradition affords the craobh-challtainn – the hazel tree – a special place in people’s affections.

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

The hazel tree (Corylus avellana) is a special plant to the Gaels, as it is to many of the peoples of Europe and western Asia. It is one of the characteristic trees of the ‘Atlantic Hazelwoods’ that have been increasingly recognised as ‘Celtic Rainforest’ in recent years, and it has a long history of being used and loved by the people of Scotland. Nobody who has walked in an ancient Atlantic Hazelwood, where the trees are adorned magnificently with epiphytic mosses, liverworts, lichens and fungi, can fail to have been moved by the experience. And the hazelnut remains one of our favourite foraged foods.

©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

The modern Gaelic name for the species is calltainn – mentioned in a short Gaelic rhyme about native trees and their favoured locations:

Seileach nan allt is calltainn nan creag,
Feàrna an lòin is beithe nan eas,
Uinnseann an dubhair is darach na grèine,
Leamhan a’ bhruthaich is iubhar an lèana.

The willow of the streams and the hazel of the rocks, the alder of the damp meadow and the birch of the waterfalls, the ash of the shade and the oak of the sun, the lime of the hill and the yew of the plain.

In the form calltainn, the hazel is found named in several locations on the landscape e.g. Camas a’ Challtainn ‘the bay of the hazel’ on Loch Shiel and Àirigh a’ Challtainn ‘the shieling of the hazel’ in Glen Strae. However, students of the ‘arboreal alphabet’ of the Gaels will know that the letter ‘C’ in ancient times was represented by an older name for the hazel – coll or call. This is also present in old place-names such as Badcall i.e. Bad Call ‘hazel copse’, found in at least three locations in the North West Highlands (although the species does not give us the name for the island of Coll or the village of Coll in Lewis). 

Camas a’ Challtainn ‘the bay of the hazel’ [with the old spelling ‘calltuinn’] on Loch Shiel, Lochaber. The wood is at the southern end of the bay.
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

An inflected (adjectival) form of callcallaidh – is found in Cùil Challaidh ‘hazel nook’ on the Black Isle (reduced to Kilcoy in English), and a similar form is found in Bealach Collaidh ‘hazel pass’, reported by the great toponymist, W J Watson, as being ‘to the west of [Ben] Wyvis’ (although it is not on the maps). Where the Scots language has modified an earlier Gaelic name, we see coll becoming ‘cow’ as in Duncow near Dumfries (from Dùn Collaidh ‘hazel fort’). In Lowland Scotland there are numerous examples of Cowie and Cowden names, many of which are likely to have originated in a Gaelic reference to hazels. Watson was able to prove this in the case of Cowden near Comrie in Perthshire, which was Coldon in old documents and which Gaelic speakers in his day still referred to as A’ Challtainn ‘the hazel wood’. Cowdenknowes near Melrose, made famous in the traditional song ‘Broom of the Cowdenknowes’, provides evidence for the historical spread of Gaelic into the Scottish Borders, as well as for the presence of the hazel in the environment. And Cowcaddens in Glasgow, with an early form Kowcaldenis, has been derived by scholars from Coille Challtainn ‘hazel wood’.

©NatureScot

There is a Gaelic simile cho fallain ris a’ chnò ‘as healthy as the nut’which almost certainly refers to the hazelnut. Indeed, an alternative name for a hazel wood is coille-chnò ‘nut wood’. Archaeological evidence informs us that hazelnuts were consumed by humans in Scotland as far back as the Mesolithic, and they have long provided a food source for squirrels, mice and some birds.

Hazelnuts also have a special place in Gaelic folklore in both Scotland and Ireland, with a particular form being known as cnò an eòlais ‘the nut of knowledge’. It was by eating the flesh of a salmon that had itself consumed some of these special nuts, that Fionn mac Cumhail, the great legendary leader of the Fianna, achieved his superior knowledge. In one of the great legends of Skye, the warrior queen Sgàthach and her student Cù Chulainn fought some stupendous battles with neither coming out on top – until each of them, by taking a meal of roasted hazelnuts, acquired the wisdom to discontinue the conflict! The belief did not die with these ancient legendary figures – it was also said in more recent times that children born in autumn who were given the milky fluid from unripe hazelnuts as their first meal would develop prophetic powers.

©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

The nuts were not just nutritious or connected to superior knowledge. A double nut, called a cnò chòmhlach, was used as a charm against witchcraft, and two hazelnuts were sometimes placed in a fire, each representing the member of a couple whose romantic suitability for the other was being tested. If the nuts burned quietly alongside one another, a happy marriage would ensue, but if they burst apart, the relationship would not endure.

It was not just the nuts that were valued by the Gaels. Hazel rods, being straight, yet flexible at a certain stage of their development, were prized for the construction of clèibh ‘creels’ for fishing and agricultural work, and for barrel hoops, as well as for shepherd’s crooks, walking sticks, tool handles and the frames for the bow tents of the travelling people. Their use for shepherds’ crooks which would be employed in the training of sheepdogs has given us the expression with regard to dogs that are in need of further instruction – tha e feumach air buille a’ challtainn ‘it needs the chastening of the hazel’. 

As in other parts of the British Isles, hazel trees were often managed in the Gàidhealtachd by turning them into a preasarlach, a process known in English as ‘coppicing’. This takes advantage of the natural inclination of the species to be multistemmed, and allows stems to be harvested, on a rotating basis, every few years. One of the reasons for such practice was to provide a sustainable supply of wood for the manufacture of gual-fiodha ‘charcoal’ – an important fuel in industrial processes. In some cases, place-names with gual ‘coal’ may refer to a charcoal industry based on the management of hazel woods. A possible example is Rubha Guail ‘coal point’ in Sleat, Skye, from which charcoal was likely exported by the people of the now-abandoned village of Leitir Fura (where hazel trees still grow).

And here’s a puzzle of the sort that the old Gaels would often pose in the taigh-cèilidh. Where would you find birds’ feet on the floor of a hazel wood? The answer is on a newly-cut stump of a hazel tree. The young shoots, which will develop in time into slatan-calltainn ‘hazel rods’, are known as casan-eunain ‘little bird’s feet’.

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

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Mapping the way forward for Scotland’s pollinators

Our blog today looks at one of the many projects NatureScot is working on to improve the future for our vital pollinating insects. Cameron, one of this year’s NatureScot graduate placements who is mapping Scotland’s pollinator-friendly habitats, tells us more .

A honeybee collecting nectar from a polyanthus in a herbaceous border. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

It’s no secret that pollinators have been experiencing significant hardships, with habitat loss and fragmentation among the most substantial drivers of decline. The contributions made by pollinators to the health of our countryside, agriculture and personal wellbeing are similarly well known. To keep and increase these benefits, especially in the light of climate change, will require a coordinated and dedicated effort at all levels of society.

Thankfully, these past few years have highlighted the enormous depth of compassion for Scotland’s pollinators. Citizen science programmes have been successfully enlisting the public to record pollinator sightings, and community-led initiatives to increase wildflower coverage in local communities have been remarkably successful. Simple actions, such as planting nectar-rich plants in a window box or garden, can have a disproportionately large positive impact on pollinator populations.

That’s because our pollinators live in an archipelago, moving between small fragments of viable habitat searching for food. The further apart these fragments are, the tougher it becomes to make that journey, and eventually it may become impossible. This has the potential to leave certain clusters of pollinators stranded in an area unable to support a stable population due to lack of food and/or nesting space.

If we know where the gaps are, then we are better equipped to start filling them in. My graduate placement is looking to create a map of all the pollinator-friendly habitat in Scotland, with the aim to help decrease habitat fragmentation. The hope is that individuals, businesses, local authorities, and more will be able to use this map (dubbed ‘PollMap’) to prioritise areas most in need of improvement. The overall aim of this effort is to facilitate the joining-up of habitat patches, providing an additional tool to support projects such as the Buglife B-Lines.

Flying hoverfly and a peacock butterfly feeding on a knapweed flower head. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

PollMap will be based on the Habitat Map of Scotland and satellite data, and will attempt to score every type of habitat across the country according to its theoretical ecological benefit to pollinators, as well as the capacity to provide pollination as an ecosystem service in the context of natural capital. The final output will be an interactive map available for anyone to view and, hopefully, consider consulting when planning habitat improvement for pollinators.

Find out more about our work to help Scotland’s pollinators.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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