Days seven, eight and nine of #CycleForNature saw me journey from Mallaig, through Skye to North Uist, down to South Uist, back North and then through Harris and Lewis, and finally the ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool. The most notable element of this journey (other than the amazing weather!) has been the constantly changing landscape. Rocky outcrops in Skye, the flatlands in Uist and the more mountainous Harris and Lewis.
All of which lead to changing biodiversity and it was fascinating to learn about the special qualities of these islands from SNH colleagues. From the fragile and vitally important machair, to habitats where sea eagles are thriving, this is a special place and SNH has a key role in ensuring it remains so. So far, I have been lucky enough to see three sea eagles and a golden eagle. Quite a highlight!
Of course, people need to live on the islands too. Crofting is a way of life for many. I spoke to crofters on Uist who stressed their important role in maintaining the biodiversity of the machair and told me how SNH helps them do so. Crofters also want to play a positive role in bringing visitors to the islands – many of whom come for the unique nature – and to support economic development. But there are challenges too: geese is a hot topic and SNH occupies the crucial and difficult space of balancing a range of interests on this subject.
In Lewis I saw a different side of Connecting People and Nature. Fish ‘n’ Trips is one of a growing number of wildlife tourism businesses in the Western Isles. The highly knowledgeable skipper, Lewis Mackenzie, took colleagues and me on a sea tour from Keose where he described the changing ecology of the sea loch. We saw one sea eagle (the other two I saw were in North Uist) and one golden eagle. Lewis also opened my eyes to all the potential economic value in the sea (seaweed harvested here finds its way to the finest restaurants in London) and Lewis is determined to ensure that his business does not damage this extraordinary environment.
I have followed the Hebridean Way for much of my route. This 185 mile long distance cycle route has been supported by SNH and is proving to be a magnet for cyclists. I will need to come back and finish the job!