From The Bird’s Mouth

Giving Gaelic names to some of Scotland’s newly arrived nature is at the heart of a unique partnership project, supported by NatureScot and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

The project, Bho Bheul an Eòin (From The Bird’s Mouth), is creating names for the new species. Over recent decades, new plant and animal species have arrived in Scotland due to our changing climate. Many of these are so new, they don’t have Gaelic names – until now.

Spanish Bluebell – (C)Derek Robertson

Through a process of research and consultation, with advice from scientists, researchers and Gaelic writers, 40 new arrivals have been identified – including plants, birds, butterflies, marine life, slugs and even snow-bed algae.  These species have been given new Gaelic names, and acclaimed wildlife artist Derek Robertson has produced bespoke watercolour portraits of them all.

This artwork is accompanied by poetry and prose, and a selection of the work is being showcased during the Royal National Mòd  at XOKO Bakehouse on Bridge Street, Inverness. From there, the exhibition will move to the Mitchell Library in Glasgow from 30 October until early Decemeber.

White-letter hairstreak butterfly, (C)Derek Robertson

Amongst the newly-coined names is lach-dhubh tuinne, literally meaning “black duck of the wave”, for the surf scoter. These birds are a common sight along the coasts of Gaelic-speaking Nova Scotia and a small number now winter in Scottish waters including the Moray Firth.

Bròg na Cuthaig Spàinnteach is the name chosen for the Spanish bluebell – an invader from the Iberian peninsular – which is so vigorous it has started to successfully compete with our similar native bluebell.  The Gaelic name for bluebell is bròg na cuthaig meaning “cuckoo’s shoe”, but an alternate name is fuath-mhuc which translates as “repellent to pigs” – referring to the era when pigs were regularly herded in woodlands.

Surf scooter, (C)Derek Robertson

The Gaelic for butterfly is dealan-dè which translates as “God’s lightning/fire”. Appropriately, then, the white-letter hairstreak butterfly has a distinctive, white “W” traced on the underside of its wings like a bolt of electricity. Like many butterflies, its spread northward into Scotland has been helped by our warming climate, along with a return of some disease-resistant elm trees that provide good habitat for the white-letter hairstreak to become firmly established here. The project proposes ròin-stiallach geal as a Gaelic title for this species, drawing on ròin (a single hair) and stiallach (striped). The addition of geal (white) distinguishes it from the other hairstreak butterflies.

View all the artwork and text at  A high-quality art book will follow early next year, and – when restrictions ease, a touring exhibition will take place.

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