Caerlaverock litter-clearing

Our NatureScot student placement scheme provides great opportunities for recent graduates to get invaluable work experience that puts their new skills into practice.

In his second post about the work of a National Nature Reserve assistant, Countryside Management graduate Fraser Wilson reports on what is, very sadly, an increasingly necessary task on our reserves – clearing litter…

As much as Caerlaverock is a beautiful National Nature Reserve, a downside to being a coastal reserve is that some of the larger tides from the Solway Firth can wash up all sorts of rubbish on to the merse. A job that is always on the to-do list is to regularly keep on top of this rubbish and get it off the reserve.

As we recently had a skip dropped off at our nearby workshop we got to work, walking miles up and down the reserve finding and collecting bundles of rubbish before getting it all to one area to load on to the trailer and off the reserve. Unfortunately with the sensitivity of the reserve, and with breeding birds due to nest any day now, we couldn’t make use of any machinery which would disturb the site and so all of what we found would have to be removed manually.

The photos show just a very small sample of what we’ve collected over the last few weeks. The most common items seem to be large plastic drums and plastic tubs.

As much as it is time consuming, and sometimes difficult to get out to some areas of the reserve to access this rubbish, it is one of those jobs I like to do as it has an immediate impact, helping remove items which look unsightly and which serve no positive purpose by being there.

All of the items have been sent off for recycling and hopefully don’t find their way back to the reserve. Going forward, we plan to keep doing litter picks of smaller items as much as we can, and then will remove larger items as and when they appear.

Posted in beaches, coastal, graduate placement, marine pollution, National Nature Reserves, Uncategorized, Young people | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We’ve signed the power of youth charter

Young people have had a rough year. Disproportionately affected by the impacts of the pandemic, young people have seen disruptions in their learning and studying, a drop in volunteering and job opportunities, as well as the cancellation of most social plans.

NatureScot has pledged to do what it can to support young people and we are proud to be one of the founding signatories to the #IWill campaign’s Power of Youth Charter.

Young people are one of our key stakeholders in achieving a nature-rich future. They are not just the leaders of the future, but the leaders of today. A strong youth voice is critical to improve biodiversity loss and deliver the nature-based solutions we need to address the climate emergency. We are committed to ensuring all young people are empowered to take action, make a difference, and influence change.

As part of our commitment to young people, we pledge to take action on the following areas detailed in the charter:

  • Prioritise empowering young people to volunteer and take social action
  • Open up our decision-making structures
  • Work in partnership
  • Evidence the benefits of youth social action
  • Recognise and celebrate young people

Youth engagement can seem like a daunting task. But done properly, it can prove a meaningful and valuable experience for all involved. Not only do young people benefit from the experience and skills in developing projects and participating in governance, but those delivering them can gain valuable insight from a young person’s perspective and be sure in the fact that implementation is likely to be more successful.

The NatureScot board recently approved the new NatureScot Youth Engagement Action Plan, detailing the ambitious and wide ranging actions that put young people at the heart of what we do.

Based on recommendations from young people, through Scotland’s Youth Biodiversity Panel – ReRoute – and our own Young Employee Panel, the plan outlines how we will equip and empower young people from all backgrounds to take social action through;

  • integrating young people better into our decision-making;
  • better engaging young people in how Scotland creates, maintains and accesses nature and green and blue spaces; and
  • creating more opportunities for volunteering, training and employment.

Driven by our work with young people, the plan takes an intersectional approach, proposing stronger engagement, empowerment, and integration of co-design across the organisation with relevance to all under-represented stakeholder groups. We can’t however do this alone. We work closely with brilliant partners across Scotland such as Young Scot, TCV, John Muir Trust, Scottish Countryside Rangers’ Association, Backbone CIC and many more. We invite you to join us and other organisations in supporting young people, through signing your organisation up to the Power of Youth Charter.

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Traille nam Banarach

Tha iasg a bhuineas don aiginn a’ nochdadh – gu h-annasach – ann an seann chrònan bleoghainn.

Read in English

Tha e fìor ri ràdh nach eil an traille – iasg-mara a bhuineas do theaghlach nan langannan agus ris an canar tusk no cusk ann am Beurla – a’ nochdadh gu tric ann litreachas no òrain nan Gàidheal. Ge-tà, tha an t-iasg seo – a tha ri lorg ann an uisge domhainn pìos a-mach bhon chladach – air ainmeachadh ann an crònan bleoghainn a chaidh a chlàradh le Alasdair MacIlleMhìcheil anns a’ chruinneachadh iongantach aige, Carmina Gadelica. Tha e a’ nochdadh ri taobh nan naomh as cudromaiche ann an Crìosdachd nan Gàidheal.

’S e an traille iasg-mara a bhios a’ fuireach air a’ ghrunnd far a bheil e clachach aig doimhneachd eadar ceud agus mìle meatair. Photo: MAREANO / Institute of Marine Research

Tha abairt againn– ʼs ann às a ceann a bhleoghnar bò – a tha a-mach air mar a gheibhear barrachd bainne bho bhò a tha toilichte seach bho thè nach eil. Agus bha e aithnichte aig na seann Ghàidheil gur e an dòigh as fheàrr airson bò a thoileachadh a bhith a’ seinn gu binn dhi! Seo mar a mhìnicheas MacIlleMhìcheil a’ chùis: ‘Bidh na bà a’ fàs cleachdte ris na tàlaidhean seo agus cha toir iad bainne seachad às an aonais, no uaireannan, gun na fuinn as fheàrr leotha a bhith air an seinn dhaibh. Tha cho measail ’s a tha crodh Gàidhealach air ceòl a tha a’ toirt air tuathanaich aig a bheil treudan mòra a bhith a’ fastadh bhanarach aig a bheil deagh guth-seinn …’

‘Banarach Albannach’ – cairt-phuist ann an Taigh-tasgaidh Clach-guail na h-Alba.
(C)The Scottish Shale Museum.

Tha MacIlleMhìcheil an uair sin a’ mìneachadh cumhachd a’ chàirdeis eadar obair nam banarach agus àrainneachd na Gàidhealtachd an Iar, co-dhiù mar a chunnaic e fhèin an gnothach. ’S dòcha gu bheil sin ag innse dhuinn mar a gheibh an traille a-steach do dh’òran mu rudeigin a thachradh air talamh tioram: ‘Tha e inntinneach agus beothachail a bhith a’ faicinn triùir no ceathrar de chloinn-nighean dreachmhor am measg treud de sheasgad, ochdad no ceud bò Ghàidhealach air cluain no cliathaich beinne. Cànran is ataireachd na fairge pìos air falbh, sluaisreadh nan tonn air a’ chladach, ceileireadh na h-uiseig san adhar, òran neo-chrìochnaichte na smeòraich air a’ chreig … geumnaich a’ chruidh … freagairtean nan laogh anns a’ bhuaile, seinn nam banarach ann an co-sheirm le gluasad an làmhan, agus fuaim a’ bhainne shneachdaich a’ tuiteam dhan chuinneig, òrachadh nan cnoc is nan dailthean, deàrrsadh a’ chuain nas fhaide a-mach agus a’ ghrian a’ dol fodha ann am muir òr-bhuidhe, tha iad uile a’ cruthachadh dealbh nach treigeadh cuimhne an neach-coimhead gu bràth.’ Saoil an robh na banaraich fhèin a’ tuigsinn glòir an cuid obrach?!

Seo, ma-thà, an crònan bleoghain a chlàir MacIlleMhìcheil air dd 258-9 de Leabhar 1, le eadar-theangachadh Beurla fodha:

Thig, a Bhriannain, on chuan,
Thig, a Thorrainn, buadh nam fear,
Thig, a Mhìcheil mhìl’ a-nuas
’S dìlinn dhòmhsa bò mo ghean.

Hó m’ aghan, hó m’ agh gaoil,
Hó m’ aghan, hó m’ agh gaoil.
M’ aghan gràdhach, bò gach àirigh,
Sgàth an Àrd Rìgh gabh ri d’ laogh.

Thig, a Chaluim chaoimh, on chrò,
Thig, a Bhrìde mhòr nam buar,
Thig, a Mhoire mhìn, on neòil,
’S dilinn dhòmhsa bò mo luaidh.
Hó m’ aghan, hó m’ agh gaoil.

Thig am fèaran on a’ choill,’
Thig an traill’ à druim nan stuagh,
Thig an sionn’, chan ann am foill,
A chur aoibh air bò nam buadh.
Hó m’ aghan, hó m’ agh gaoil.

* * * *

Come, Brendan, from the ocean,
Come, Ternan, most potent of men,
Come, valiant Michael, down
Forever make my best cow mine.
Ho, my wee heifer, ho my beloved heifer,
Ho my wee heifer, ho my beloved heifer.
My beloved wee heifer, cow of every shieling,
For the sake of the High King accept your calf.

Come, beloved Calum of the fold,
Come, great Bride of the cattle herds,
Come, gentle Mary from the clouds,
Forever make my best cow mine.
Ho, my wee heifer, ho my beloved heifer.

The woodpigeon will come from the wood,
The tusk will come from the open sea,
The fox will come but not deceitfully,
To welcome the virtuous cow.
Ho, my wee heifer, ho my beloved heifer.
Bidh traillean aig ìre inbheach a’ tighinn beò aig doimhneachd mhòr, ach ’s fheàrr leis an fheadhainn òga uisge nas eu-doimhne. Photo: MAREANO / Institute of Marine Research

Chan urrainn a bhith cinnteach le obair MhicIlleMhìcheil nach do ‘sgioblaich’ e na chuala e anns a’ chrò. Ach, eadhon le sin, tha e a’ fàgail dhuinn duan a bheir còmhla gàirdeachas ann an nàdar agus na naoimh as cudromaiche ann an eachdraidh nan Gàidheal Crìosdail – agus iad uile air an seinn gu snog leis an amas bainne gu leòr fhaighinn on bhon. Ach carson a thagh a’ bhanarach an traille, seach iasg eile a bhiodh na b’ aithnichte do dhaoine, leithid trosg, sgadan no saoidhean? Don bhlogair seo, tha sin dìomhair fhathast!

* * * *

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 Tusk of the Milking Maids

A deep-water fish appears – rather strangely and inexplicably –  in an old Gaelic milking song

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

It is fair to say that the deep-water marine fish known in English as tusk or cusk – traille in Gaelic – does not often appear in Gaelic song or literature, but it is, perhaps rather inexplicably, mentioned in a milking song recorded by Alexander Carmichael in the first edition of Carmina Gadelica, his unique collection of Gaelic songs, prayers and other heritage. The fish shares its place with some of the great saints of the Gaels.

Tusk, or cusk (Brosme brosme), is a bottom dweller that prefers stony bottoms on the continental shelf and slope at depths between 100 and 1000 meters.. Photo: MAREANO / Institute of Marine Research

There is a saying in Gaelic – ʼs ann às a ceann a bhleoghnar bò ‘it’s from her head that a cow is milked’. This refers, not to some remarkable anatomical feature in Highland cattle, but to the ‘fact’ that a happy cow produces more milk. And cows are happy when they are sung to! Carmichael explains the situation thus: ‘The cows become accustomed to these lilts and will not give their milk without them, nor, occasionally, without their favourite airs being sung to them. This fondness of Highland cows for music induces owners of large herds to secure milkmaids possessed of good voices …’

“A Scotch Milkmaid” – A Scottish Shale Museum postcard, (C)Scottish Shale Museum.

Carmichael goes on to elucidate the inspirational consonance between the work of the milking maids and the environment of the West Highlands, at least in his experience. Perhaps this explains why the oceanic tusk finds its way into a song about an essentially land-based activity: ‘It is interesting and animating to see three or four comely girls among a fold of sixty, eighty, or a hundred picturesque Highland cows on meadow or mountain slope. The moaning and heaving of the sea afar, the swish of the wave on the shore, the caroling of the lark in the sky, the unbroken song of the mavis on the rock … the lowing of the kine … the response of the calves within the fold, the singing of the milkmaids in unison with the movement of their hands, and of the soft sound of the snowy milk falling into the pail, the gilding of hill and dale, the glowing of the distant ocean beyond, as the sun sinks into the sea of golden glory, constitute a scene which the observer would not, if he could, forget.’ One wonders if the milking maids themselves appreciated the glory of their work!

Here, then, is the milking song recorded by Carmichael on pp 258-9 of Volume 1, with a fairly literal (and unpoetic) translation given below:

Thig, a Bhriannain, on chuan,
Thig, a Thorrainn, buadh nam fear,
Thig, a Mhìcheil mhìl’ a-nuas
’S dìlinn dhòmhsa bò mo ghean.

Hó m’ aghan, hó m’ agh gaoil,
Hó m’ aghan, hó m’ agh gaoil.
M’ aghan gràdhach, bò gach àirigh,
Sgàth an Àrd Rìgh gabh ri d’ laogh.

Thig, a Chaluim chaoimh, on chrò,
Thig, a Bhrìde mhòr nam buar,
Thig, a Mhoire mhìn, on neòil,
’S dilinn dhòmhsa bò mo luaidh.
Hó m’ aghan, hó m’ agh gaoil.

Thig am fèaran on a’ choill,’
Thig an traill’ à druim nan stuagh,
Thig an sionn’, chan ann am foill,
A chur aoibh air bò nam buadh.
Hó m’ aghan, hó m’ agh gaoil.

* * * *

Come, Brendan, from the ocean,
Come, Ternan, most potent of men,
Come, valiant Michael, down
Forever make my best cow mine.
Ho, my wee heifer, ho my beloved heifer,
Ho my wee heifer, ho my beloved heifer.
My beloved wee heifer, cow of every shieling,
For the sake of the High King accept your calf.

Come, beloved Calum of the fold,
Come, great Bride of the cattle herds,
Come, gentle Mary from the clouds,
Forever make my best cow mine.
Ho, my wee heifer, ho my beloved heifer.

The woodpigeon will come from the wood,
The tusk will come from the open sea,
The fox will come but not deceitfully,
To welcome the virtuous cow.
Ho, my wee heifer, ho my beloved heifer.
Adult tusk live in relatively deep water, while the juveniles prefer shallow water. Photo: MAREANO / Institute of Marine Research

One can never be sure with Carmichael’s work that he has not ‘tidied up’ the originals he heard, but even so, the result is an interesting blend of appreciation of some of the joys of nature and an invocation of the protection and assistance of the greatest of the Christian saints associated with Gaelic civilisation – all sung to a lilting melody and for the purpose of increasing the yield of life-sustaining cow’s milk. But why the milkmaid chose the tusk over other more familiar species of marine fish, such as cod, herring or saithe, remains, at least to this blogger, a mystery!

* * * *

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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Dingwall Bay Spartina control

Over the past few years, RSPB, with funding from NatureScot, has been successfully controlling the invasive Spartina cord-grass from the Dingwall Bay area, helping to improve the condition of the sensitive coastal habitats, and in turn improve opportunities for the wintering waterbirds of the Cromarty Firth.

Redshank, (C)RSPB Images (Andy Hay).

First thought to have been introduced to Dingwall Bay in 1932, Spartina anglica is an invasive species found in coastal habitats and is classified as a ‘high risk’ species on the UK TAG Alien Species Group list. Its presence has contributed to the unfavourable condition of the Cromarty Firth Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), designated for its wintering birds and coastal habitats, and its spread is thought to have had a detrimental impact on the ability of the intertidal areas to support the bird interests of the Cromarty Firth Special Protection Area (SPA). The Cromarty Firth is internationally important for wintering waterbirds, with an average of 30,000 birds present over the winter months.

Large and small scale maps of the treatment area.

Spartina causes problems for the coastal features of Dingwall Bay, saltmarshes and mudflats, in two ways; it occupies ecological space that would otherwise be available to native saltmarsh and mudflat plants, and the tall nature of the grass means that wintering waterbirds are unable to use the areas occupied by the Spartina for roosting or feeding. Waterbirds cannot stand on it and it also reduces visibility, meaning that birds cannot be vigilant for predators.

Spartina can be controlled through spraying with herbicide, which takes place in July or August while the plant is actively growing but before seed heads are formed. Ideally, the herbicide is applied three separate times during this period and then over a number of consecutive years in order to fully kill the plant.

Mature Spartina stand (L) and Spartina amongst sea plantain (R) – (C)David Tompkins RSPB

NatureScot has been funding RSPB to carry out control of Spartina at two problem locations in Dingwall Bay, with support from Network Rail and under licence by SEPA, for five years. RSPB already carries out control of Spartina at their own reserves at Udale Bay and Nigg Bay in the Cromarty Firth, but the existence of another Spartina seed source at Dingwall Bay will always present a potential threat to the good work being carried out elsewhere should it not also be controlled.

During 2019, RSPB was successful in being awarded funding from the EU LIFE programme for the ‘100% for Nature’ project, which includes various actions to achieve favourable condition across a range of sites. One of these actions is to continue to the Spartina spraying programme at Dingwall Bay, in addition to continued control at RSPB Nigg and Udale Bay reserves, all within the wider Cromarty Firth SPA for the term of the project. As part of this, RSPB have employed a project officer based with the Central Highland Reserves team, who will lead on this work for the next few years.

Spartina seedling (L) and seedhead (R), (C)David Tompkins RSPB.

The project officer started their post in March 2020 and progress has already been made in producing a leaflet and poster to highlight the threat of Spartina. Although spraying in 2020 was delayed and restricted by Covid-19, the site team have successfully sprayed all of the treatment areas three times this summer. The aim is to annually treat approximately 100ha of habitat with Spartina until 2024, or sooner if eradication is achieved earlier. Repeat interventions will be carried out to keep any treated areas under control, and ensure that they stay Spartina free.


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Endangered Species Day – freshwater pearl mussels

Each year Endangered Species Day shines a light on some of our most threatened species. Here Orla Hilton from NatureScot’s South Highland team takes a look at the critically endangered freshwater pearl mussel and what can be done to help this struggling species.

Freshwater pearl mussels ©Sue Scott/NatureScot

The freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera L. is a long-lived mollusc (some live for over a century) that is under great pressure from river pollution and modification as well as illegal exploitation from pearl fishers. Scotland holds a significant global population of the species and hence our important role in conserving our populations.

Freshwater pearl mussels are also vulnerable to changing climate and drought.  This can be alleviated by riparian (riverside) planting. Initiatives such as the Pearls in Peril project have carried out extensive riparian planting and other management. In one population in the Hebrides this led to a pearl mussel population resuming breeding again for the first time in decades. As well as providing valuable shade from the sun, trees create more diverse water courses with more varied habitats for mussels and their host salmonids.

Woodland near Dunkeld. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Currently fine sediment in rivers has been highlighted as a key pressure on pearl mussels. It can affect their filter feeding and smother the spaces in the gravel where young pearl mussels tend to live.  Together with the Scottish Government, we are using a technique called ‘sediment fingerprinting’ to identify the sources of fine sediment in key catchments, allowing us to tackle any problematic areas.  In upland areas some of this sediment can come from degrading peat bogs so one way of safeguarding our pearl mussel is to restore our peat bogs by blocking dams, reprofiling exposed peat hags and scrub removal.

It is also important when any forestry works are going ahead to ensure proper measures are in place to prevent any sediment from machinery or felling works from smothering pearl mussels in the adjacent burns. This can be achieved by increasing the buffer between streams and plantation trees and by damming any pre-existing ditches. There are several examples where this kind of work has helped improve conditions – particularly a successful scheme in Sutherland by Forestry & Land Scotland.

Blocked ditches and newly planted riparian trees along a pearl mussel watercourse in Sutherland (trees funded by the Biodiversity Challenge Fund). ©Kyle of Sutherland Fisheries Trust 2020.

In some rivers the cause of decline is much more mysterious. An unexplained and catastrophic decline in pearl mussels has been observed in two burns in Sutherland over the last two decades. Despite a lot of research the reason for the decline remains a frustrating mystery.  But just recently it has been suggested that a pathogen may be behind this mass mortality.  Unlike our battle with a very well-known pathogen (ahem, COVID-19, looking at you) the source of our mussels’ plight is yet unconfirmed. Marine Scotland Science have begun a study to test for possible pathogens, to try and better understand and address this worrying situation.

Until recently the ideal known habitat for this invertebrate has always been shallow fast flowing, well-oxygenated rivers. In exciting developments a recent study has found a significant population (containing juveniles!) dwelling in an Irish lough. In the future we hope to look into our own lochs in Scotland to have a clearer idea of the populations we have!

Could there be Freshwater Pearl Mussels in Loch Ness? ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

This is encouraging news for such an iconic species. Alongside our efforts to protect and improve the current known river populations the opportunities to loch-ate (!) more populations offers tantalising hope for future safeguarding of this key species.

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Improving the Flow for our visitors

Our NatureScot student placement scheme provides great opportunities for recent graduates to get invaluable work experience that puts their new skills into practice.

Fraser Wilson studied Countryside Management at Scotland’s Rural College and is now working with our NNR team, assisting reserve managers in looking after Caerlaverock, Cairnsmore and Kirkconnell Flow nature reserves. “I now spend my working life doing something that I love and that I am very passionate about”, says Fraser, “allowing me the opportunity to constantly learn new valuable skills every day, across a wide range of topics….

One job that the reserve team and I have been doing recently is some path work improvements at Kirkconnel Flow NR. We recently took delivery of 15 ton-bags of wood chippings, which seeing first thing in the morning knowing it all had to be emptied….by hand, was quite a daunting site!

Thankfully we have what we call an “Iron Horse”. A very handy piece of machinery which is basically a tracked platform with a small engine which can help lift heavy loads across wet and uneven terrain. Perfect for Kirkconnel Flow as it is typically quite a wet site thanks to the ongoing peatland works onsite.

The plan, which seemed to work the best, was to manhandle each bag separately onto the back of the iron horse, ratchet it down and then take it further into the site where we planned to spread it over previously identified problem areas of the path.

We had to be careful with how we utilised the material as there was nowhere near enough to do all parts of the paths, instead we focused on some of the worst areas, which were footfall hotspots, mostly around the main areas of the path loop and entrance to the bog itself. The longest piece of muddy path was around 60 metres and took six bags alone!

Before, and after.

Two days later and the worst of the paths were greatly improved. We deliberately filled in the centre of some of the longer parts of the path and left the edges bare, partly due to lack of material but mostly because we hoped that by making the centre of the paths more appealing to walk on then the edges will be less likely to be trampled on by visitors, hopefully helping them regenerate, in turn preventing the paths from increasingly wearing away wider and wider.

It was a very long and slow process to get each bag out to the intended area, one by one. The iron horse is far from quick but without it we would likely have had to wheelbarrow individual loads out across the reserve, something which would have literally added days onto the job time and would have been so much more labour intensive.

What was particularly nice about doing this job is that with the better weather coming in, the reserve has been getting busy and we were stopped by a few members of the public who wanted to say that the paths were looking great and that they have really seen a lot of improvements to the reserve, as a whole, over the course of the year. It’s lovely to get nice feedback like this and it really motivates you to get other tough jobs like this done.

Visit the NatureScot website for further information on our placement schemes.

Before and after.
Posted in graduate placement, Land management, National Nature Reserves, The Flow Country, Uncategorized, Young people | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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