The days are getting longer, the birds have started singing again and rangers are thinking about their year ahead! In today’s guest blog Emily Wilkins shares highlights from a year in her life as a ranger for the islands of Iona and the southwest of Mull, part of Mull and Iona Ranger Service and working in partnership with Mull and Iona Community Trust (MICT) and the National Trust for Scotland (NTS).
Spring is on its way and we are planning our events programme. Rangers play a key role in increasing participation in enjoying the outdoors, and raising awareness of our natural heritage. Here on Mull and Iona we try to run a wide selection of weekly events across spring, summer and autumn to cater for a range of interests and abilities, for both visitors and local residents.
Last year these included gentle village walks to listen out for birdsong; coastal rambles spotting wildflowers, marine mammals and fossils in the rocks; a garden bioblitz identifying plants, birds and insects; moorland hikes to investigate the cultural heritage of abandoned townships; and encouraging people to contribute knitted, felted and crocheted creatures and then visit them in situ in our Woollen Woods display at Tiroran Community Forest.
We also link up with community groups where we can, running stalls at local events and supporting landowners working on new footpath projects, encouraging people to be active in the outdoors and providing information on our local wildlife. During the summer holidays I try to provide extra events for children and young people, often with the help of a summer volunteer ranger. Offering this volunteer placement provides a good opportunity for an introduction to rangering for someone considering it as a career option, so I try to make sure they get involved in the whole variety of tasks that we cover.
As spring turns into summer we welcome thousands of visitors to our islands – Staffa National Nature Reserve attracts around 100,000 people each year, so this year I will have 2 Visitor Services Assistants to help engage with people, promote responsible access and provide information to make their visit even better!
All those visiting feet do take their toll on the landscape and so another part of ranger work is to maintain paths and countryside infrastructure, and encourage participation in taking positive action for the environment. I get lots of help from willing volunteers from the local area, and the NTS Thistle Camp working holidays. Beach cleans are one of our regular tasks linking to the current awareness of marine plastics. The NTS also employs a professional footpath repair team who contribute some of their time and expertise here each year.
Both Staffa and Burg are part of designated sites, important nationally or internationally for the species and habitats living there, so I spend a lot of time during the summer on wildlife monitoring and surveying, again with a lot of volunteer help. This could be anything from counting seabird colonies from boats and clifftops, crawling on hands and knees across gravelly hilltops looking for tiny arctic alpine plants or walking down lanes at midnight listening for calling corncrakes!
Approaching autumn is a good time to connect with our local schools, and we could be found running afterschool nature club sessions or working with teachers on outdoor learning projects. Recent highlights have involved being part of the Lost Words campaign, aiding nature connection by keeping nature vocabulary in use; and being out in all weathers to research and design a new nature trail at Tiroran Community Forest.
Winter tasks can include regular checks of path routes, updating guidebooks, leaflets and signage, responding to storm damage, report writing, and monitoring of migrating species such as geese.
The Mull and Iona Community Ranger Service is supported by Mull and Iona Community Trust, SNH, National Trust for Scotland and Forestry and Land Scotland. SNH is currently consulting on the future of rangering in Scotland and you can have your say here: https://www.nature.scot/connecting-people-and-places-policy-statement-rangering-scotland