From bog-sceptic to bog-enthusiast: the power of volunteering

To celebrate Volunteers’ Week, we asked David McCulloch, a volunteer at our Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve (NNR), to give us an insight into his volunteering experiences with NatureScot.

I started volunteering for NatureScot in 2015, after taking early retirement. I’d only visited Flanders Moss NNR a few times and, to be honest, I wasn’t particularly interested in bogs. However, I like being outdoors and had time on my hands so I thought I’d give it a go.

Seven years on, I spend a lot of my free time at Flanders Moss, which has become my “happy place”. I love the wildness of the bog, the wide open spaces that are far from the madding crowd. The tranquility heightens my senses, enabling me to listen to the birdsong and keep an eye out for tiny insects. I also enjoy photographing the wildlife that I find, and I carry out dragonfly surveys in association with the British Dragonfly Society.

A common hawker dragonfly, by David McCulloch

What happened that changed me from being a bog-sceptic into a bog-enthusiast? One word…volunteering!

By volunteering at Flanders Moss, I’ve learned so much about the importance of raised bogs for wildlife. The waterlogged, nutrient-poor, acidic conditions support a wide variety of plants and insects that wouldn’t thrive anywhere else. Bogs are important in the context of climate change too. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), “Peatlands are the largest natural terrestrial carbon store. They store more carbon than all other vegetation types in the world combined. Damaged peatlands are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Peatland restoration can reduce emissions significantly”. By holding onto water, bogs also help prevent our communities from flooding after heavy rain.

However, in the 18th and 19th centuries, people thought bogs had no value. Ditches were dug to drain water off the bog, and much of the peat was removed to expose the clay that lies beneath to make fertile farmland. Thankfully, further commercial exploitation was stopped in its tracks and the bog was saved for the nation by NatureScot’s predecessor in 1980.

Cotton grass (or bog cotton) on Flanders Moss, by David McCulloch.
A common lizard basking on the boardwalk, by David McCulloch.

As peat accumulates at a rate of only 1mm per year, I’ve come to understand that we must protect what is left of a precious and increasingly rare habitat. By volunteering, I feel I’m doing my bit to restore the bog to its near-natural state. I’ve spent time removing invasive trees that would otherwise suck much-needed water out of the bog, damaging the ability of peat to act as an effective carbon store. I’ve carried out surveys for hen harriers, rare moths and dragonflies, and built ‘hibernacula’ for adders (where they can hibernate in winter). I’ve dug and deepened ponds to improve the habitat for dragonflies, and hammered plastic piling to dam ditches and slow the flow of water off the bog. I’ve coppiced trees, helped manage the wildflower meadow, and even repaired potholes on the access road. 

Volunteers deepening the pond, by David McCulloch.
Rannoch brindled beauty moth. The female is flightless, and attracts males by emitting pheromones whilst perched on a fence post or tree trunk. David McCulloch.
Northern emerald dragonfly. Flanders Moss is the only place in the UK where they’re known to breed outside the Scottish Highlands. David McCulloch.

You’d think that spending all this time volunteering on the bog would mean I’d want to spend my free time elsewhere, but you’d be wrong. The more I’ve learned about raised bogs, the more I’ve come to appreciate what an amazing place Flanders Moss is. I want to deepen my understanding, and really get under the skin of the place. I also feel a sense of ownership now, for the dams I’ve helped build, for example.

Installing a dam to reduce the flow of water off the bog. David McCulloch.

Therefore, I’ve found that volunteering is a virtuous circle: the more I volunteer, the more I love the place and want to go back in my own time and immerse myself in it, sometimes literally! It’s a cliché, but it’s true – you get more out of volunteering than you put in.

That’s me in the brimmed hat telling Chris Packham about my volunteering experiences when he visited Flanders Moss in 2018. David McCulloch

In large part, my positive experience of volunteering has been due to the amazing NatureScot staff. Steve, Amee, Ellie and others have helped, encouraged and inspired me in my volunteering journey. Then there are my fellow volunteers. Some of the tasks can be arduous (well, it is a bog!), but the time passes quickly when you’re in the company of like-minded people. The world can be a scary place at times but, when you’re getting stuck into a task, sharing encounters with wildlife and enjoying the craic, time passes quickly and the stresses of everyday life seem less intense.

Huge thanks to David and all those who volunteer their time to help protect and restore Scotland’s nature. We are truly grateful. If you’d like to learn more about volunteering opportunities near you visit https://www.nature.scot/about-naturescot/working-and-volunteering-us/volunteer-outdoors.

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Monitoring the not-so-common Common Crane in North East Scotland

Today, we welcome back guest blogger and ace photographer Ron Macdonald, who takes us on an amazing visual and auditory journey following common cranes in North East Scotland, as he volunteers for RSPB to help monitor and understand this recovering species.

Common cranes.© Ron Macdonald

In Scotland, the Eurasian Common crane was once a widespread and common species. As in most of western Europe, it became extinct by the 16th century.  However, since the 1950s, the population has recovered and recolonised areas of the UK. The first recorded breeding of cranes in Scotland was in 2012, in North Aberdeenshire, where today the population is thought to be around a minimum of five to six breeding pairs and up to 20 non-breeding adults. It’s hopefully on the cusp of a significant expansion in range and numbers.  

So this is where I come in as a volunteer for the RSPB, monitoring crane numbers, distribution and behaviour in the NE of Scotland. I am part of a small team of half a dozen volunteers led by Hywel and Amanda. From early March through to the end of September/early October, we take it in turns to be on the look-out for cranes in the areas we know they use as breeding and feeding sites, using vantage points in the landscape to scour the fields. For such a large bird, you’d be surprised how difficult they can be to locate! For me, a crane-watching day usually lasts a morning or afternoon, using a pre-defined car route.

If you stay in your vehicle, cranes are approachable, but they’re easily spooked if you approach on foot.  It gives me the excuse, if I need any, to use my camera and long lens to capture as much of their daily lives as I can.  So this blog is really a pot pourri of my observations on crane biology and behaviour, supplemented by images, sounds and videos undertaken during the 2021 breeding season.

Breeding pairs are the first to appear back in their breeding grounds in early March with the non-breeding birds arriving much later in spring or indeed summer. They favour recently sown or tilled fields where presumably the availability of invertebrates is high.

I’m struck how large the birds are, particularly the males, who when standing upright as they sometimes do as part of their display, are over four feet in height. There’s something primeval in their appearance – maybe they’re vaguely Pterodactyl in their flight silhouette or it’s the intensity of their stare from their ruby red or amber eyes.

Common crane flying against a perfect blue sky. © Ron Macdonald

I spent a lot of time with one pair, P2,  as they are known by our monitoring group, studying their behaviour before the female laid her eggs and started incubating . The female lost her previous mate in 2016 and for the remainder of the breeding season she could be heard calling, trying to attract a new mate. 

Listen to the female crane calling to attract a new mate.

She paired up with her current mate the following year. There are subtle differences in their appearance: she has ruby red eyes, is smaller and her grey plumage is slightly darker. Not surprisingly, I called her Ruby. The male has amber eyes which are striking when you see him close-up.  He’s appreciably taller than Ruby and yes, I called him Amber.

Amber on the left and Ruby on the right. Below, the strikingly amber eyes of Amber. © Ron Macdonald

      

  Ruby having a scratch about. © Ron Macdonald

The pair spent a lot of time in a field that I think was in stubble and then harrowed and spread with manure in readiness for a new cereal crop. The birds fed mostly on earthworms, with occasional short flights to the nest site within an adjacent conifer plantation. This is the same site they used in previous years which contains a small flooded area. This period is termed the pre-settlement stage and usually lasts through March into early April before the breeding birds settle to lay eggs and the female begins to incubate.

The pair usually fed amongst a mixed flock of rooks and jackdaws, but it’s easy to see who was boss around here with the cranes frequently scaring off the crows if they approached too close or appeared to have found a good feeding area.

Above and below: cranes chasing rooks and jackdaws. © Ron Macdonald

Amber and Ruby soon became accustomed to the presence of my car and I was able to watch them within 20-25 metres, as shown in the photo below, when they drank from the water-filled trenches created by the farmer’s tractor.

Amber and Rudy having a drink. © Ron Macdonald

During the pre-settlement phase, displaying and dancing took place several times during the day. In the photo below, the male is adopting a tall stance, raising his head and neck and walking slowly and rigidly pointing to the sky. I’ve seen this also occur when another ‘unknown’ crane approaches a pair, almost as if it is a threat display. 

The unknown crane approaches! © Ron Macdonald

The dancing varied from static wing flapping and co-ordinated jumping up and down to one bird, usually the male, running around the field – which seemed to impress the female no end! In the video below, it’s the female who decides to pick up the remnant of a tuber and to peck it and throw it in the air, with the clearly impressed male looking on!

Cranes in a mating display. © Ron Macdonald

Come late spring, the P2 female disappeared to lay and incubate her clutch and I only ever saw the male feeding not far from the nest. It was not until late May that I came across young cranes, this time further north close to the nest site of another pair. This is the time when the young, and sometimes also the adults, are vulnerable to predation from the likes of foxes who have been recorded taking young cranes.

A pair of cranes with one small young. © Ron Macdonald

It was not until early mid-July that I once again came across the P2 pair that I had watched in March. I was surprised that they had two free-flying young feeding in a cut silage field. This was the most successful the pair had been in the four seasons they were together.

P2 with two well-grown and fledged young. © Ron Macdonald

However, delight soon turned to concern when just a couple of weeks later, only the male and the two fledged young were observed. Something had happened to Ruby- maybe she had succumbed to predation? In previous years, Hywel had seen adults defending their young from foxes, so perhaps she had succumbed.

So fast forward to this March and around the middle of the month three cranes, two adults and an immature crane, were reported within the breeding territory of P2. Was it possible that Ruby had returned? In late March, I finally managed to catch up with the threesome and to photograph them. I think that’s Amber on the left with his lighter plumage and of course his bright amber eyes? But who is the other adult bird? It also has amber eyes so it can’t be Ruby. It’s probably a new mate for Amber, plus one of his young from 2021. 

Once the pair settle down to nest, they will no longer tolerate the young bird and it will likely join the wandering non-breeding flock of 15 -20 birds.

The threesome photographed on 24 March 2022. © Ron Macdonald

As I write, for the crane monitoring team, it’s the start of another busy season trying to track the birds.  We have two new volunteers on board who will concentrate searches of raised bog sites where either cranes have been seen on or have suitable habitat. Increasingly, the focus of conservation effort is restoring the degraded raised bogs in the area.  If we get the habitat right and continue to have the support of the farming community, which is fully behind efforts to conserve the cranes, there’s every chance that the crane population will increase and expand its range to other parts of Scotland.

My thanks to members of the Crane Monitoring team, particularly Amanda and Hywel for your support and allowing me the opportunity to contribute to the work of the project. Also, thanks to Howorth Hodgkinson for allowing me to use his recording of trumpeting cranes in the blog, and last but not least, to the Aberdeenshire farmers who allow us to monitor the cranes on their land.

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The ‘Goose’ that Calls the Rain

In Gaelic tradition, the red-throated diver not only predicts rain but actually ‘calls it in’.

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about birds whose behaviour – according to Gaelic tradition – might be used to predict rain or bad weather. The learga-ruadh [pron. ler-ek-uh ROO-ugh] ‘red-throated diver’ (ruadh means ‘red-brown’) is understood to take the situation a step further. Its mournful song is said to be the bird ag èigheachd air an uisge ‘calling in the rain’. This has given the species one of its several alternative names – the learga-uisge [pron. ler-ek-uh OOSH-kuh] ‘water diver’. At first sight, the appellation seems anomalous, for are not all divers denizens of water bodies, great and small? The answer lies in the fact that we also use uisge to mean ‘rain’. It is the ‘rain-diver’ and, because of its physical resemblance to a goose, it is commonly referred to in English as a ‘rain-goose’. Others know it as a ‘loon’.

Red-throated diver ©Bob Furness/NatureScot

When its song is heard among the lonely lochans of the Isle of Lewis, it is said that it is an learg a’ lorg a’ bhùirn ‘the diver looking for rain’. The Western Isles are one of their strongholds in these islands, boasting a number of lochs and lochans named for the species, such as Loch na Learga ‘the loch of the diver’ on Scarp, Taransay and mainland Harris. While there is no specific confirming that these names refer to the red-throated diver rather than its close relative the learga-dhubh ‘black-throated diver’, the Ordnance Survey confirm that they do indeed reference the ‘rain-goose’. Another example is Loch nan Learg near Cairinish on North Uist. Other lochs and lochans named for the species are to be found on Skye (for example Loch nan Learg near Portree) and on the West Highland mainland.

Loch na Learga on the southern slopes of Ben Raah (Beinn Ràtha) on the Island of Taransay (Harris), above, and Loch na Learga on the mainland of North Harris, below, both refer to the red-throated diver, according to the Ordnance Survey Name Books. There is yet another loch of the same name on the island of Scarp, and there is also an example in northern Skye. In Lewis, there are water-bodies called Loch nan Learga (with the bird in the plural) in Ness and Uig (which boasts two), and a further two lochans called Lochanan nan Learga near the head of Little Loch Roag. And, on the mainland, Lochan nan Learg is near Tarbet Bay between Lochs Morar and Nevis. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

If you are looking for learga place-names in the landscape, note that the bird is also called a learg, but that an identical word can mean a ‘hill slope’; a better known form of the latter is leargaidh, the basis for the place-name ‘Largs’ in Ayrshire. The element learg with reference to the bird probably refers to the sea (lear being an archaic Gaelic word for ‘sea’) as in learg-mhadadh ‘dogfish’ – and this is not unreasonable as the bird gathers in groups in coastal areas during the winter months, when it loses its distinctive red throat and looks substantially like other species of diver, if a little smaller. The connection with inland and upland lochs and lochans (always small and never far distant from the coast) is because that is where the species breeds and where it is to be heard ‘wailing’ for the rain. The tradition in Shetland is that if the rain-goose flees inland, there will be good weather, but if she goes to the sea, bad weather is in prospect. Perhaps there is a degree of seasonality in that observation.

Other Gaelic names for the red-throated diver include learga-chaol ‘slender diver’, learga-dhearg ‘red diver’ and gob-ghèadh or bior-ghèadh ‘(sharp) billed goose’ – it has a distinctively sharp bill, slightly upturned at the end. It is also known as the eun-ruadh ‘red (russet) bird’ in the Strathnairn area, south of Loch Ness, where there is Lochan an Eòin Ruadha ‘the lochan of the red-throated diver(s)’, a somewhat remote water body close to Loch Duntelchaig where the species is still to be seen, paddling on the waters and diving for fish. There is potential confusion in the nomenclature here with the use of eun-ruadh in the north-eastern Highlands for the red grouse (more commonly cearc-fhraoich in Gaelic). In addition, the Ordnance Survey version of the loch’s name is ungrammatical; it should be Loch nan Eun Ruadha or dialectally Loch nan Eòin Ruadha. I discuss this toponym in more detail in my book on Place Names of Inverness and Surrounding Area, published by NatureScot in 2021.

Two small lochs named for birds on the south side of Loch Ness: at left is the small, shallow Lochan na Curra ‘the lochan of the heron’; at right is Lochan an Eòin Ruadha (properly Loch nan Eun Ruadha) ‘the loch of the russet birds’ i.e. the red-throated divers. ©R Maclean
Lochan an Eòin Ruadha is in the middle of a country of lochs and hills, and not too distant from the sea, an ideal environment for the red-throated diver. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

If you go looking for this special bird, particularly during the summer breeding season, be careful not to disturb its nests which are built on the ground near the loch shore or on small islands. Scotland is an important refuge for the species, boasting around a third of the European breeding population. It’s best to view the red-throated diver at a distance through binoculars. Sit quietly and listen. Brief, short exclamations might indicate good weather (a parallel tradition) but the bird’s most arresting song is the long drawn-out plaintive call that puts a shiver down the listener’s spine and calls on the heavens to send down rain. Hearing that song beside a remote lochan in the hills is an unforgettable experience.

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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‘Gèadh’ Ruadh an Uisge

Bidh an learga-ruadh ‘ag èigheachd air an uisge’, co-dhiù a rèir beul-aithris.

Read in English

Beagan mhìosan air ais, sgrìobh mi blog mu eòin a bhios ag innse dhuinn mun aimsir romhainn, co-dhiù ann am beul-aithris nan Gàidheal. Bidh an learga-ruadh a’ toirt ghnothaichean ceum nas fhaide. Thathar a’ cumail a-mach gum bi an t-òran tiamhaidh aige ‘ag èigheachd air an uisge’, a’ ciallachadh gun toir e air na speuran uisge a chur. Tha sin air ainm eile a thoirt dhuinn airson an eòin seo – an learga-uisge. Air a’ chiad shealladh, tha an t-ainm a’ coimhead annasach oir tha na leargan uile measail air uisge ann an lochan agus anns a’ mhuir. Ach tha e a’ buntainn ris a’ cheangal eadar an gnè seo agus uisge às na speuran. Ann am Beurla ann an Alba, bidh feadhainn a’ gabhail ‘rain-goose’ air, air an dearbh adhbhar, oir tha e car coltach ri gèadh ann an cumadh.

Learga-ruadh ©Bob Furness/NatureScot

Nuair a chluinnear an t-òran aige am measg nan lochan mòintich ann an Leòdhas, bithear ag ràdh gur e sin an learg a’ lorg a’ bhùirn. Tha na h-Eileanan Siar cudromach mar àrainn airson nan leargan-ruadha, agus tha grunnan lochan air an ainmeachadh air an son, leithid Loch na Learga anns an Sgarp, Tarasaigh agus tìr-mòr na Hearadh. Ged nach eil buadhair anns an ainm, ag innse dhuinn le cinnt gur e an learga-ruadh, seach an learga-dhubh, a thathar a’ ciallachadh, tha an t-Suirbhidh Òrdanais a’ dearbhadh gur ann air an fhear ruadh a tha iad a-mach.  The Loch nan Learg faisg air Càirinis ann an Uibhist a Tuath, agus tha lochan is lochain ainmichte airson an eòin seo anns an Eilean Sgitheanach (leithid Loch nan Learg faisg air Port Rìgh) agus air tìr-mòr air taobh an iar na Gàidhealtachd.

Tha Loch na Learga air leathad a deas Beinn Ràtha air Eilean Tharasaigh (Na Hearadh), gu h-àrd, agus Loch na Learga air tìr-mòr ceann a tuath Na Hearadh, gu h-ìosal, a’ dèanamh iomradh air an learga-ruaidh, a rèir Leabhraichean Ainmeachaidh na Suirbhidh Òrdanais. Tha loch eile dhen aon ainm anns an Sgarp, agus fear eile ann an Diùranais san Eilean Sgithanach. Ann an Leòdhas tha grunn lochan air a bheil Loch nan Learga ann an Nis agus Sgìre Ùige, le dà lochan air a bheil Lochanan nan Learga faisg air ceann Loch Ròg Beag. Agus, air tìr-mòr, tha Lochan nan Learg faisg air an Tairbeart eadar Loch Mòrar agus Loch Nibheis. Le cead bho Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba.

Ma tha sibh a’ coimhead airson ainmean-àite le learga annta, cuimhnichibh gur e dìreach learg a th’ air an eun uaireannan. Tha learg cuideachd a’ ciallachadh ‘leathad-cnuic’, ge-tà. Mar sin, feumar a bhith faiceallach leis na h-ainmean seo (ʼs e dreach càirdeach, leargaidh, a gheibhear anns a’ Leargaidh Ghallta no Largs ann an Siorrachd Àir). Tha mi an dùil gu bheil an eileamaid learg a’ ciallachadh ‘a bhuineas don mhuir’ mar a chithear ann an learg-mhadadh ‘dogfish’ (Faclair Dwelly) – agus tha seo reusanta gu leòr oir bidh na h-eòin seo a’ cruinneachadh aig muir, faisg air na cladaichean sa gheamhradh. Aig an àm sin, bidh iad a’ call an dath ruaidh air an amhaichean, agus bidh iad car coltach ris na leargan eile, ged as e an tè ruadh an tè as lugha. As t-samhradh, chithear an t-eun seo am measg nan lochan mòintich, ach faisg gu leòr air a’ chladach, far am bi e a’ neadachadh agus far an cluinnear e, agus e ag ‘èigheachd air an uisge’. Ann an Sealtainn, bithear ag ràdh, ma thèid an ‘gèadh-uisge’ a-steach don tìr, gum bi aimsir mhath ann. Ach ma thèid i gu muir, tha droch shìde air an rathad.

Am measg nan ainmean Gàidhlig eile airson na learga-ruaidh, tha learga-chaol learga-dhearg, agus gob-ghèadh no bior-ghèadh oir, ged a tha a bodhaig car gèadhach, tha a gob biorach, eucoltach ri gèadh. Thathar eòlach air mar ‘an t-eun-ruadh ‘ann an Srath Narann, deas air Loch Nis far a bheil Lochan an Eòin Ruadha faisg air Loch Dùn Teilcheag. Chithear an learg-ruadh air an loch seo fhathast, agus e a’ snàmh agus a’ dàibheadh. Tha an t-ainm-àite seo air a bhith na chùis dragh do chuid oir bithear a’ cleachdadh eun-ruadh ann an ear-thuath na Gàidhealtachd airson na circe-fraoich. A bharrachd air sin, chan eil an t-ainm air na mapaichean a’ leantainn riaghailtean gràmair dòigheil. Chanainn gur e Loch nan Eun Ruadha no math dh’fhaodte Loch nan Eòin Ruadha a bu chòir a bhith air mar ainm. Tha mi a’ dèanamh iomradh air an deasbad mun ainm anns an leabhar agam mu ainmean-àite sgìre Inbhir Nis a chaidh fhoillseachadh le NàdarAlba ann an 2021.

Dà loch bheag, deas air Loch Nis, a tha ainmichte airson eòin: aig clì tha Lochan na Curra ‘lochan na corra-grithich’; aig deas tha Lochan an Eòin Ruadha (ʼs e Loch nan Eun Ruadha a bu chòir a bhith air). © R MacIlleathain
Tha Lochan an Eòin Ruadha ann am meadhan dùthaich a tha làn lochan agus mòinteach, gun a bhith tuilleadh is fada bhon mhuir – àrainneachd fhreagarrach don learga-ruaidh. Le cead bho Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba

Ma thèid sibh a lorg an eòin sònraichte seo, gu h-àraidh as t-samhradh nuair a bhios e a’ neadachadh, dèanaibh cinnteach nach tèid sibh faisg air na neadan a bhios air an togail faisg air a’ chladach no air eileanan beaga. Tha Alba cudromach airson na gnè seo, agus mun treas cuid de na h-eòin Eòrpach a’ fuireach an seo. ʼS e as fheàrr a bhith a’ coimhead air aig astar tro phrosbaig. Suidhibh gu sàmhach agus èistibh. ʼS dòcha gun cluinn sibh gairmean beaga a tha ag innse dhuinn gum bi deagh aimsir ann. Ach ʼs e an gairm as iongantaiche an t-òran tiamhaidh fad-shìnte a chuireas gaoir ann am feòil an neach-èisteachd agus a bhios ag ‘èigheachd air an uisge’. Ma chluinneas sibh an t-òran sin, cha dìochuimhnich sibh gu bràth e!

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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Case studies in rewilding and large-scale nature restoration

Many of us have heard about ‘rewilding’. There are some excellent examples of exciting rewilding projects in Scotland, such as on our Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve. Rewilding is about working with natural processes, guided by people at least in the early stages, to restore functioning ecosystems. Often celebrated for restoring nature-rich landscapes, rewilding can be perceived by some as potentially detrimental to their local communities and ways of life. NatureScot Land-use Policy Officer, Cecile Smith, tells us more about this important work…

Scots pinewood natural regeneration at Glenfeshie Estate, Cairngorms National Park. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot.

In NatureScot, we decided to have a closer look at some of the projects which aim to restore nature at scale and see what’s really happening. We did not limit our choice of projects to those that identify themselves as rewilding. We decided to include projects at various points along a spectrum, to include both projects focused on wilding most of the land and those including a higher proportion of land managed for agriculture or commercial forestry. This is why we sometimes talk about large-scale nature restoration in addition to rewilding, to encompass various types of projects.

We commissioned Land Use Consultants (in collaboration with ABPmer, Matt Rayment and Accelar) to develop case studies, identify barriers and opportunities to large-scale nature restoration / rewilding and lessons to be learned. This included a detailed review of ten nature restoration stories in the UK and Norway*, in rural and coastal contexts, with staff interviews. Some excellent initiatives were not included due to the limits on the projects that could be considered within the budget.

Vibrant rural communities in a regenerated landscape in SW Norway © Kate Holl

Common to all projects, there was an understanding that people had to be front and centre in planning the project and in its implementation. Engagement with local communities, land managers, and other stakeholders is critical and never ceases; it is essential in the early stages and ensures that resources are set aside to deliver successful communication and engagement long-term. It is all the more important as restoring functioning ecosystems means there is not a set of clear end objectives at the outset.

There is evidence of local socio-economic benefits including the creation of new jobs to do with nature restoration, though previous jobs (e.g. in agriculture) can also be lost. Large-scale nature restoration created new opportunities for engagement with nature, volunteering, and citizen science, including through opportunities for school visits, research collaborations, and the provision of study and field centres for visitors. However, there was no systematic monitoring of the socio-economic impacts, which creates a gap in terms of understanding the implications for local communities and the public at large (e.g. including visitors).

The South West Norway case study was different from those in the UK, as this was not a project. Instead, nature restoration through woodland regeneration took place over time thanks to changes in the socio-economic context. Having many similarities with the north of Scotland in terms of climate and landscape, Norway makes a useful reference area. The region now is more nature-rich and supports vibrant rural communities, with higher population density than in Scotland. Key factors that shaped this outcome include owner-occupation, diverse farm (and non-farm) incomes, more equitable distribution of land and local communities who have agency over the land.

Traditional conservation and regenerative farming alongside rewilding at Wild Ken Hill, © Dominic Buscall.

Towards the end of the project, we felt it would be interesting to compare the findings with the 10 rewilding principles suggested by Steve Carver et al. These in effect provide criteria to assess where a project is on the rewilding spectrum. None of the projects aligned with the 10 principles. While some aspects such as landscape-scale planning or engagement with communities certainly featured in the projects reviewed, others were missing. For example, in none of the projects was there a trajectory toward restoring trophic interactions towards a self-sustaining ecosystem. Though the current move towards nature restoration to bring back functioning ecosystems shows an evolution in values, there isn’t as yet a paradigm shift in how we envisage co-existence with the natural world towards more harmony.

Eddleston Water remeandering © Colin Maclean

In Scotland, deer management to maintain low deer density and reduced grazing pressure will be essential to the expansion of native woodlands. Direct human intervention will be necessary for the foreseeable future in Scotland due to missing trophic interactions and the absence of some keystone species.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is to rewild ourselves: to see ourselves as a part of nature. For centuries, we have seen ourselves apart from nature, which ultimately is a fallacy. This way of thinking has been a major contribution to the nature-climate crisis. Reviving nature, at pace and wholescale, and connecting with it meaningfully is critical to our future.

*The case studies are South West Norway, Cairngorms Connect, Forsinard Flows, Tweed Forum, Holnicote, Wild Ennerdale, Wallasea Island, Wild Ken hill, Northern Upland Chain, Pumlumon.

The Key Findings and Full Report are available on the NatureScot website.

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Outdoor learning: helping to heal our young people

It has long been recognised that outdoor learning can be beneficial for health and wellbeing. NatureScot recently published the evaluation of a large collaborative outdoor learning project – the Learning in Local Greenspace project – which ran between 2015 and 2021. During Green Health Week, we thought it would be timely to explore what impact the project had on the health and wellbeing of those that took part, writes Sue Munro.

Schoolchildren walking on the nature trail at Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

The project worked to support and embed outdoor learning in local greenspaces amongst the project schools, in collaboration with local and national partners. We worked with over 115 schools and at least 500 teachers across 12 local authorities to remove or reduce the barriers to outdoor learning. This gave over 6000 learners access to their local greenspace for learning and play.

Outdoor learning can be beneficial for health and wellbeing. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

The final year of the project was severely affected by the global pandemic which we know negatively impacted many people’s health and wellbeing. It was also during the midst of the pandemic that the schools’ evaluation of the project was conducted. It was therefore heartening to discover that, despite these unprecedented circumstances, the number of teachers that believed their pupils’ emotional wellbeing was average to excellent had risen from 76.8% pre-project to 84.2% post-project.

This was backed up by many quotes and anecdotes from teachers and pupils during the course of the project.

“My class goes out at least once a week, but we vary the curriculum area … It has helped to raise attainment in my class and pupil’s health and wellbeing.” (Primary School Teacher, West Lothian)

“I don’t feel as stressed when I am out but when I am in class I get stressed.” (Primary pupil, West Dunbartonshire)

Teachers observed that learning outdoors can positively impact behaviour and social interactions which can enhance emotional wellbeing:

“The social element is also very important for our pupils as many of our children have social, emotional and behavioural issues and outdoor learning has had a very positive impact on these pupils, who have demonstrated more self-confidence, less anger and aggression. There have been less absences from some of our more vulnerable children as they know they are joining with our outdoor learning programme.” (Teacher, North Lanarkshire)

The study saw an increase in the number of teachers who believe outdoor learning has positive effects on pupils.

The impacts of the project on physical health were less clear and again were likely to have been negatively impacted by Covid-19. The number of teachers that believed their pupils’ physical health was average to excellent fell over the course of the project (72.6% pre-project and 65.8% post-project). However, there was anecdotal evidence that teachers believe outdoor learning had been good for pupils’ physical health.

“At the start of the project, some children found the short walk to the local greenspace very tiring, as they were not used to the physical exertion.  There were lots of trips and falls in the greenspace… This was a lot to do with building resilience and getting used to being in a woodland, which improved over the weeks.”  (Falkirk partner) 

For all the positive impacts of outdoor learning on pupils’ emotional and physical health, it would seem likely that teachers would also reap some similar benefits from being out in nature and being more physically active through the school day. Certainly the project positively impacted on teacher confidence in teaching outdoors (up from 54% to 85%), and this, combined with seeing their pupils more engaged in learning outdoors (up from 56% to 79%), would surely give greater on-the-job satisfaction?

Teacher awareness and confidence in outdoor learning grew over the course of the project.

In addition to the health and wellbeing benefits to pupils and teachers, it would seem there was a ripple effect going on through the project, with anecdotal evidence that pupils’ families and communities would reap positive impacts from the outdoor learning experience. Pupils were frequently reported to be taking family members and friends to ‘their’ greenspace at weekends and after school and these spaces were being rediscovered as a community asset to be enjoyed and to take pride in.

“Many families visited the woods during this stressful and worrying times [Covid-19 lockdowns]. Many families sent us photos, or shared what they had been doing in the woods, and I’m positive that it helped to ‘save and support’ during those uncertain months.” (Head teacher, South Lanarkshire)

“We are working clearing up all the rubbish, giving back to the community” (Pupil, Fife)

Much has been written about the impact of the global pandemic on the health and emotional wellbeing of the nation. As we re-emerge from the pandemic, outdoor learning deserves to be recognised as a possible solution to helping our young people not only to heal from the impacts of the pandemic, but also to thrive and engage in their learning.

For more information about learning in local greenspace, see our website.

Sue Munro is a Greenspace Officer with NatureScot.

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The five ingredients to a happier and healthier life revealed!

Green Health Week – the annual Scottish mental health and wellbeing campaign offers the perfect opportunity to reflect on the therapeutic effects of being in nature, writes Claire Williams.

For me, volunteering with NatureScot at Loch Leven National Nature Reserve has helped unearth a happier and healthier version of myself.

As a mature student pursuing a qualification to support a career change, coursework can be intense. Factor in work commitments and juggling family responsibilities, and weekly volunteering might have seemed a step too far. How wrong I was! Mental health research has identified five key ingredients which are supported by my belief that volunteering in nature can promote our health and wellbeing.

Ingredient 1: Connecting with others

Making time to connect with people around us improves our health. Building supportive social connections can be fun and enriching, and they’re essential for making us feel good.

Spending time with members of the volunteer group is always a tonic. We share similar ecological and conservation values, and a sense of community spirit and fun. I have had the pleasure of working alongside incredibly kind, compassionate, and determined volunteers from various walks of life. I have made new friends.

Claire burning gorse scrub. Image credit: Maria Eugenia

Ingredient 2. Be active

As well as helping to shift a few extra pounds, regular physical activity can help increase your sense of wellbeing and protect against depression, anxiety, and age-related cognitive decline. My wonderful interactions with fellow volunteers and the NatureScot staff – not to mention the stunning scenery and wildlife – lifts my mood for days.

Tasks like cutting a meadow and baling the grass are very physical activities but also require concentration, teamwork, and focused effort. Slowly my concerns melt away and I realise that I’m making a bale of hay for the first time! What a sense of achievement.  It has certainly built my confidence, replacing negative thoughts (“I’m no good at doing anything practical”) with positive ones (“I have gained some good practical skills”).

Claire raking meadow grass. Image credit Maria Eugenia

Ingredient 3. Take notice… Be curious.

Slowing down the busy pace of the mind and focusing on self-awareness by ‘taking notice’ of your surroundings can have a positive impact on mental wellbeing. 

The late economist and green revolutionist David Fleming spoke on the notion of an ‘encounter’ with nature. An encounter is what happens when you take the time to deeply observe and connect with your surroundings. It requires a respectful acknowledgement of the complexity of a life system without judgement, or a need to tame, control or understand it through logic. Last summer I had a meaningful encounter with a Common Hawker Dragonfly – the reserve’s gossamer jewels of the sky. The beautiful creature landed on a leaf stem in front of me.  As I paused in awe to observe its beauty and elegance the world seemed to fall still. I was not alone in this reflective space, as the dragonfly began observing me back and for some seconds we were engaged in a silent conversation. Savouring moments like these can help you rediscover and strengthen your core values and a sense of appreciation of what matters most in your life.

A Common Hawker Dragonfly. Image credit Lorne Gill / NatureScot

Ingredient 4. Keep Learning.

Trying something new like volunteering for a cause close to your heart may help improve your confidence, give you something fun to look forward to, and keep you active. Research shows that continued learning throughout our lifetime can improve wellbeing and support our resilience. For me, volunteering re-invigorated my love of the outdoors and wild foraging and baking. Inspired by nature, I tried new recipes like hawthorn berry ketchup, wild garlic and parmesan scones, and rowan berry fruit rolls. Learning how to combine unique ingredients to create tasty treats is both challenging and fun. However, sometimes keeping things more traditional is often what’s needed too, such as a toffee apple cake for our Autumn BBQ get-together, which went down well!

Claire’s foraged wild garlic and parmesan scones. Image credit Claire Williams.
Claire’s toffee apple cake. Image credit Claire Williams.

Ingredient 5. Give to others.

The adage giving is good for you is not wrong. Even small acts of kindness may do wonders for your mental health and others. It is incredibly rewarding when we begin to see the impact of our efforts in the wider community.  One such example is the Phoenix Hide at Loch Leven NNR, a stunning structure that has been “resurrected from the ashes” after fire damage. This has been the result of huge efforts from the volunteers, NatureScot staff, and others. To see the collective efforts culminate in a wonderful free space for all members of the community to enjoy really is inspiring and uplifting.

The Phoenix Hide. Image credit Lorne Gill / Nature Scot

Green Health Week summed up.

Rather than add to the burden of life’s pressured timetable, volunteering rewards me with time to pause, breathe, and re-set my sometimes-neglected mental health – our local green places can be viewed as Our Natural Health Service, good for body and soul. Volunteering with NatureScot has provided me with the five ingredients to wellbeing, and each week I am able to attend I reap the benefits. And so can you!

Claire Williams is a volunteer at Loch Leven National Nature Reserve.

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Enhanced Shepherding: Working together to find solutions to a complex issue

Lambing season on Scotland’s hills can be a challenging time for farmers and crofters.  In this guest blog we hear from Freya King from Skye who has been delivering enhanced shepherding supported by the Sea Eagle Management Scheme, a measure aimed at mitigating and better understanding sea eagle predation of lambs on more extensive areas.

Growing up in the beautiful Highlands, I’ve always had a keen eye for agriculture and the environment.  The influence of neighbours and friends working the land and managing livestock has ultimately led me into following a career path in a similar direction.

For two years now I have been helping my local sheep stock club, North Talisker, with lambing.  In the second year I took up a role supported by the Sea Eagle Management Scheme, working to deliver enhanced shepherding.  This partnership between NatureScot and North Talisker has given me an opportunity to develop in so many ways. 

Enhanced shepherding involves working closely with NatureScot staff and call off contractors © C. McIntyre

The purpose of enhanced shepherding is to support farmers and crofters experiencing issues with sea eagle predation during lambing on more extensive areas, such as North Talisker common grazing.  The measure aims to gather more information on a range of variables including sea eagle interactions with the flock, as well as attempting to provide a scaring element through the provision of additional presence on the hill.

Participating in the scheme has promoted greater awareness of sea eagle movements within the local area and provided an opportunity to advance hill shepherding skills and knowledge of sea eagles.  This experience has all helped with my lambing work and education.

Observing sea eagles during an enhanced shepherding refresher session © C. McIntyre

I am currently studying a degree in conservation biology and my involvement with the scheme has certainly expanded my experience of fieldwork data collection skills.  I am aware that the environmental sector can be a competitive field and I’m hopeful this experience will help in securing future employment in the sector.

The enhanced shepherding has also offered seasonal employment opportunities for other people within the local community, which has been essential during the pandemic and is beneficial to those who have an interest in, or are wishing to pursue a career in agriculture or environmental studies.

Collaborative working is a key aspect of the enhanced shepherding measure as seen here at a refresher session © C. McIntyre

The ongoing partnership between North Talisker and NatureScot has highlighted the benefits of working together to try and find solutions to complex issues such as sea eagle predation, where both parties can learn from each other.  The importance of data collection and the value to both NatureScot and North Talisker in this shared data has been another positive.

Heading out on the hills to try and deter sea eagle interaction with the flock has had mixed success and I found this to be fairly effective in more commonly covered areas.  In areas or seasons when the measure has not been as effective, benefits can still be drawn. 

Vantage point observations are a component of enhanced shepherding as seen above on North Talisker common grazing © C. McIntyre

The data collection has allowed impacts to be recorded and can help our shared understanding of sea eagle movements and behaviour during the season.  The data is analysed and discussed, with a shared report produced at the end of each season; which helps both North Talisker and NatureScot. 

With a number of farms and crofts now participating across the sea eagle range, the data collected will help NatureScot and farming and crofting groups assess the effectiveness of enhanced shepherding and hopefully help inform their joint work to address the issue of lamb predation where it occurs.

Data collection is a key part of enhanced shepherding with data collected helping both farmers and crofters and NatureScot © NatureScot/Lorne Gill

NatureScot runs the Sea Eagle Management Scheme on behalf of the National Sea Eagle Stakeholder Panel.  The Sea Eagle Management Scheme extends support for livestock farmers and crofters who suffer impacts across the sea eagle breeding range. More information on the Scheme can be found here.

North Talisker Sheep Stock Club was established in 1924 and manages almost 2000 ha of land, with over 1000 cheviot sheep and around 50 cows. More information on the work of North Talisker Sheep Stock Club can be found here

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Flora Gadelica

Lightfoot’s Flora Scotica (1777) makes considerable reference to the uses of native trees by the Gaels.

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

The Reverend John Lightfoot (1735-88) is rightly lauded for his seminal work Flora Scotica, published in 1777, which contributed to his considerable reputation as a naturalist, and which in turn saw him elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1785. While, in some respects, the text is a standard botanical cyclopaedia of its day concerning native Scottish flora, it also contains a significant number of cultural references and is therefore a particularly valuable document to this blogger.

A native of Gloucestershire, Lightfoot was educated at Oxford University and was a close friend of Joseph Banks, the leading English botanist of his day. His journey to Scotland with the Welsh author Thomas Pennant in 1772 led to two major volumes of work – Pennant’s ‘A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides’ which remains in print today and Lightfoot’s self-published Flora Scotica in two volumes which can be accessed on the internet.

For the many accurate references within each author’s work to the Gaels and the Gaelic language, we can be grateful that they chose as their travelling companion the Rev. John Stuart of Killin in Perthshire (later of Luss, Loch Lomond), one of the foremost Gaelic scholars of his day and the chief translator of the Old Testament into that language. He made crucial contributions to the published accounts of each of his companions, giving them authority and understanding which would have otherwise eluded them.

In this blog, I would like to delve into the cultural references in Flora Scotica with regard to some of our native trees, largely restricting myself to Lightfoot’s commentary on particular uses by the Gaels, although he also makes considerable reference to the natives of Lapland and other parts of Scandinavia. I have employed modern orthography where it differs from that used by Lightfoot and Stuart.

The first is the beithe ‘birch’ with which ‘the Highland woods abound’, according to Lightfoot, and which was widely used by the people. The bark was used to tan leather and to make ropes, and the outer part of it, called meilleag (a word still in use today in Gaelic Scotland and Canada), was sometimes burned in place of candles. Lightfoot adds that the wood was ‘formerly used by the Highlanders to make their arrows, but is now converted to better purposes, being used by the wheelwright for ploughs, carts and most of the rustic implements; by the turner for trenchers, bowls, ladles etc, the knotty excrescences affording a beautiful, veined wood, and by the cooper for hoops. To which may be added that it affords excellent fuel, and makes the best of charcoal and the soot is a good lamp-black for making printer’s ink.’

Birch ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

The leaves of the birch were used as fodder for sheep and goats and yielded a yellow dye. Its small branches ‘serve the highlanders for hurdles, and side-fences to their houses [and] the pliant twigs are well known to answer the purposes of cleanliness and correction.’ The last seems somewhat cryptic until one recognises that domestic practices with regard to toileting have changed significantly over the last two and a half centuries.

Lightfoot is by now well into his cultural stride and spends the next page and more describing in detail how to tap into birch trees at the beginning of March and extract sap using hollow sticks of elder in order to make a ‘generous and agreeable liquor’ i.e. birch-sap wine. The English parson pointedly recommends it to his ‘Highland friends’ and declares it to be ‘a happy substitute in the room of the poisonous whisky!’

The second major tree in Flora Scotica is the feàrna ‘alder’, the timber of which ‘endures moisture well and is therefore esteemed for making water-pipes, or any other use where the situation of it must be wet or damp, in which state it turns black like ebony. It is used also by the wheelwright and turner for making wheels of carts, bowls, spoons, rakes, heels for women’s shoes, clogs, pattens [overshoes] etc. The highlanders often make chairs of the wood, which are very handsome and of the colour of mahogany.’ And, just in case you thought the good reverend had exhausted the uses of alder, he adds that the ‘knots furnish a beautiful, veined wood for cabinets and the branches make good charcoal’. In the Highlands, a black dye was made by boiling yarn with a mixture of alder bark and copperas, and Lightfoot notes the occasional use of the leaves for tanning leather.

The darach ‘oak’ is noted as being ‘frequent’ in the Lowlands but ‘dwarfish’ in the Highlands. In addition to its being employed in ‘navigation and architecture’, as well as tanning, Lightfoot notes that the ‘highlanders use the bark to dye their yarn of a brown colour or, mixed with copperas, of a black colour. They call the oak “The king of all the trees in the forest” [it is still referred to as Rìgh na Coille in Gaelic], and the herdsman would think himself and his flock unfortunate if he had not a staff of it.’ Of the calltainn ‘hazel’, Lightfoot claims that some Gaels looked upon the tree as unlucky, but that they considered two conjoined nuts, known as a cnò-chòmhlaich, to be a good omen which would be carried on the person as an ‘efficacious charm against witchcraft’.

The giuthas ‘Scots Pine’ (called ‘The Wild Pine or Scotch Firr’ by Lightfoot) is reckoned by the English parson among the most useful of all our trees, with the tallest and straightest ‘formed by nature for masts to our navy’. He notes the use of bog pine in many parts of the Highlands, with the resinous roots being dug out and splintered, to manufacture candles. At Loch Broom (Ross-shire) he notes that fishermen made ropes of the inner bark, a material often used because of ‘hard necessity’ as a food in Scandinavia. He also makes the following entertaining comment, although not in particular reference to Scotland: ‘The farina, or yellow powder, of the male flowers is sometimes in the Spring carried away by the winds in such quantities where the trees abound, as to alarm the ignorant with the notion of its raining brimstone!’

Scots pine in Glen Affric ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Lightfoot makes considerable comment on the taxonomically challenging willows, whose Gaelic names are poorly recorded, and admits that specimens gathered for him by the Rev. John Stuart had proved impossible to classify ‘in so difficult and vague a genus’. He does, however, record the Gaelic generic seileach and notes that the ‘inhabitants of the Highlands and Hebrides frequently use the bark of these to tan their leather.’ The smooth soft, flexible wood was used to make tool handles and to ‘furnish shoemakers with cutting-boards and whetting-boards, to smooth the edges of their knives upon.’

Of other tree species which are notable in Gaelic tradition, Lightfoot notes that the iubhar ‘yew’ is ‘found here and there in the Highlands, in a truly wild state’ (a matter of some contention in the modern era) and he notes that his ‘ingenious friend, Mr Pennant’ had noted the remarkable ‘decayed’ specimen in Fortingall churchyard, a tree still celebrated today for its longevity. He makes general comments about the aiteann ‘juniper’ and its use in the manufacture of gin, and he gives an account of an ancient tradition concerning the uinnseann ‘ash’, thus: ‘In many parts of the highlands, at the birth of a child, the nurse or midwife, from what motive I know not, puts one end of a green stick of this tree into the fire and, while it is burning, receives into a spoon the sap or juice which oozes out at the other end, and administers this as the first spoonful of liquor to the new-born babe.’

Perhaps it’s appropriate to conclude with the account in Flora Scotica of one of the iconic trees of the Gàidhealtachd, the craobh-chaorainn ‘rowan tree’ (given as Quicken-Tree or Mountain Ash for an English readership, with the Scots form written ‘roan’, representing a common English pronunciation of ‘rowan’). Lightfoot notes that on Jura the juice of the berries was used ‘as an acid for punch’ and that ‘the highlanders often eat them when thoroughly ripe and, in some places, distil a very good spirit from them.’

Rowan berries. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Lightfoot also comments on the special place of this species in the hearts and minds of the Gaels: ‘It is probable that this tree was in high esteem with the Druids, for it may to this day be observed to grow more frequently than any other in the neighbourhood of those Druidical circles of stones, so often seen in North-Britain, and the superstitious still continue to retain a great veneration for it, which was undoubtedly handed down to them, from early antiquity. They believe that any small part of this tree carried about them, will prove a sovereign charm against all the dire effects of enchantment or witchcraft. Their cattle also, as well as themselves, are supposed to be preserved by it from evil; for the dairymaid will not forget to drive them to the shealings or summer pastures with a rod of the Roan tree, which she carefully lays up over the door of the sheal boothy [sic], or summer-house, and drives them home again with the same. In Strathspey they make, for the same purpose, on the first day of May, a hoop of the wood of this tree, and in the evening and morning cause all the sheep and lambs to pass through it.’ I don’t imagine that Lightfoot would be altogether surprised that there are many ‘superstitious’ folk alive in Scotland today who yet ‘retain a veneration’ for the rowan tree.

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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Flora Gadelica

Tha cunntasan gu leòr mu bheul-aithris nan Gàidheal co-cheangailte ri craobhan ann am Flora Scotica le Iain Lightfoot (1777)

Read in English

Bithear a’ moladh an Urramaich Iain Lightfoot (1735-88) airson a shàr-obrach Flora Scotica, a chaidh fhoillseachadh ann an 1777, a chuir ri a chliù mar eòlaiche-nàdair agus a dh’fhàg gun deach ballrachd a’ Chomainn Rìoghail a bhuileachadh air ann an 1785. Ann an dòigh, ʼs e a th’ ann am Flora Scotica ach leabhar àbhaisteach dhen t-seòrsa a bha cumanta aig an àm, le lusan dùthchasach na h-Alba mar chuspair. Ach, a bharrachd air sin, tha fiosrachadh gu leòr na chois a tha a’ buntainn ri dualchas nan Gàidheal agus tha e mar sin prìseil dha-rìridh don bhlogair seo.

Rugadh Lightfoot ann an Siorrachd Ghloucester agus fhuair e foghlam ann an Oilthigh Oxford. Bha e cuideachd na dhlùth-charaid aig Ioseph Banks, an luibh-eòlaiche a bu chliùitiche ann an Sasainn aig an àm sin. Ghabh e turas a dh’Alba ann an 1772 cuide ris an ùghdar Chuimreach, Tòmas Pennant, agus thàinig dà phròiseact mhòr fhoillseachaidh gu buil ri linn sin – an leabhar ‘A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides’ le Pennant, a tha fhathast ann an clò, agus Flora Scotica, dà leabhar a dh’fhoillsich Lightfoot e fhèin agus a ghabhas leughadh air an eadar-lìon an-diugh.

Faodar a bhith taingeil gun tug iad leotha an t-Urramach Iain Stiùbhart à Cill Fhinn ann an Siorrachd Pheairt (a bhiodh na mhinistear ann an Lus, Loch Laomainn, an dèidh sin) oir bha esan am measg nan sgoilearan Gàidhlig a b’ fheàrr ri a linn. Bha e os cionn a’ phròiseict airson an Seann Tiomnadh eadar-theangachadh gu Gàidhlig. Is cinnteach gun tug esan tòrr fiosrachaidh gu Pennant agus Lightfoot a tha a’ toirt ùghdarras do na cunntasan aca mu na Gàidheil.

Anns a’ bhlog seo, bu mhath leam sùil a thoirt air na nochdas ann am Flora Scotica a thaobh ar craobhan dùthchasach, gu ìre mhòr mu dheidhinn na sgrìobh Lightfoot mu chleachdaidhean nan Gàidheal, ged a tha e cuideachd ag aithris air cultar is cleachdaidhean nan Sami agus muinntir Lochlainn anns an fharsaingeachd. Tha mi air gnàthasan litreachaidh an latha an-diugh a chur an sàs far a bheil iad diofraichte bho na sgrìobh Lightfoot agus an Stiùbhartach.

ʼS e a’ chiad chraobh a’ bheithe a ‘bh’ ann am pailteas ann an coilltean na Gàidhealtachd’, a rèir Lightfoot, agus a bh’ air a cur gu feum gu mòr leis an t-sluagh. Bha an rùsg no cairt air a cleachdadh airson leathar a chartadh agus airson ròpan a dhèanamh. Chlàir an t-ùghdar am facal meilleag airson rùsg air an taobh a-muigh (facal a chluinnear fhathast aig na Gàidheil ann an Alba agus Canada) agus sgrìobh e gum bite ga cur gu feum an àite choinnlean. Tha Lightfoot ag ràdh gun robh a fiodh ‘uaireigin air a chleachdadh leis na Gàidheil airson saigheadan a dhèanamh ach a-nise gu bheil e air a chur gu feum ann an dòighean nas fheàrr, leis an rothadair airson crainn-threabhaidh, cairtean agus a’ chuid as motha de dh’acfhainn an tuathanaich; leis an tuairnear airson truinnsearan, bobhlaichean, ladair is m.s.a.a, na faobain a’ toirt fiodh bòidheach cuisleach, agus leis a’ chùbair airson chearcallan-baraille. Agus ris a sin, dh’fhaodamaid cur gun dèan e connadh air leth agus sàr-ghual-fiodha, agus gu bheil an sùith sònraichte mar dhubhach-cobhain airson inc a’ chlò-bhualadair.’

Bhathar a’ cleachdadh duilleach na beithe mar fodar do chaoraich is gobhair agus airson dath buidhe a dhèanamh. Bha a geugan beaga math airson chliathan agus bha na meanbh-gheugan, a rèir choltais, feumail anns an taigh-bheag. Sin ma thuig mi dòigheil na briathran car dìomhair aig Lightfoot air a’ chuspair!

Tha Lightfoot a’ cur seachad còrr is duilleag ann a bhith a’ mìneachadh don leughadair gu mionaideach mar a chruinnicheas e no i snodhach na beithe aig toiseach a’ Mhàirt le bhith a’ stobadh biorain dromain gun ghlaodan a-steach don stoc. An uair sin, tha am pears-eaglais Sasannach a’ mìneachadh mar a nithear fìon leis an t-sùgh. Tha e ga mholadh do a ‘charaidean Gàidhealach’ agus tha e ga chomharrachadh mar mòran nas fheàrr na ‘uisge-beatha na mollachd’!

ʼS e an dàrna craobh mhòr ann am Flora Scotica an fheàrna. Sgrìobh Lightfoot gun robh a cuid fiodha a’ seasamh gu mòr ri uisge agus gun robh e mar sin feumail airson pìoban-uisge a dhèanamh no airson a bhith ann an àite fliuch, far an tionndadh e dubh mar fiodh-eaboin. Bha e air a chur gu feum cuideachd leis an rothadair agus tuairnear airson cuibhlichean cartach a dhèanamh, cho math ri bobhlaichean, ràcan, sàilean bhrògan boireannaich, brògan-fiodha, paitein is mar sin air adhart. Bhiodh na Gàidheil gu tric a’ dèanamh sheithrichean leotha agus bha na geugan freagarrach airson gual-fiodha a dhèanamh. Air a’ Ghàidhealtachd, tha e ag ràdh, bha dath dubh air a dhèanamh le bhith a’ goil snàth ann am poit le rùsg na craoibh-fheàrna agus copar-dubhaidh.

Sgrìobh Lightfoot gun robh an darach ‘bitheanta’ air a’ Ghalltachd ach ‘meanbh’ air a’ Ghàidhealtachd. A bharrachd air a bhith air a chur gu feum ann an longan is togalaichean, agus ann an cartadh, tha an t-eòlaiche-nàdair ag innse dhuinn gun robh na Gàidheil a’ cleachdadh an rùsg airson an snàth a dhathadh donn no, le copar-dubhaidh ann, a dhathadh dubh. Sgrìobh e gun do ghabh na Gàidheil ‘rìgh nan craobhan gu lèir sa choille’ air an darach [bidh sinn fhathast a’ gabhail ‘rìgh na coille’ air] agus gum biodh am buachaille ga thomhas fhèin mì-fhortanach mura robh bata-daraich aige. Dhen challtainn, thuirt Lightfoot gun robh cuid de Ghàidheil a’ tomhas na craoibhe mar mhì-fhortanach ach gun robh dà chnò a bha ceangailte ri chèile mar cnò-chòmhlaich na deagh chomharra agus gum biodh daoine gan giùlan leotha mar sheun an aghaidh buidseachd.

Bha am pears-eaglais Sasannach dhen bheachd gum b’ e an giuthas tè de na craobhan a b’ fheumail’ a bh’ ann, leis an fheadhainn a b’ àirde agus a bu dhìriche air an cur gu feum mar chrainn-shoithich anns a’ chabhlach rìoghail. Sgrìobh e mu dheidhinn cleachdadh giuthais nam boglaichean, agus sliseagan dhiubh air an cleachdadh mar choinnlean. Aig Loch a’ Bhraoin (Ros an Iar) mhothaich e gum biodh iasgairean a’ dèanamh ròpan dhen rùsg a th’ air an taobh a-staigh agus sgrìobh e gum biodh feadhainn a’ dèanamh dheth gum biodh pronnasg a’ tuiteam mar uisge à nèamh nuair a bhiodh am poilean giuthais air a chur a-mach ann am pailteas.

Sgrìobh Lightfoot gu leòr air na seilich, nach eil air an aithneachadh dòigheil mar dhiofar ghnèithean leis na Gàidheil, agus dh’aidich e gun robh feadhainn a chaidh a chruinneachadh dha leis an Urr. Iain Stiùbhart air a bhith do-dhèanta aithneachadh is ainmeachadh. Ge-tà, chlàir e seileach mar ainm Gàidhlig anns an fharsaingeachd agus sgrìobh e gum biodh na Gàidheil a’ cleachdadh rùsg na craoibhe gu tric airson leathar a chartadh. Bha am fiodh bog air a chleachdadh airson làmhan innealan a dhèanamh agus mar bhùird cutaidh is lìomhaidh aig greusaichean.

Dè na gnèithean craoibhe eile a nochdas ann am beul-aithris nan Gàidheal, bha Lightfoot ag ràdh gun robh an t-iubhar ri lorg ann an staid fhiadhaich fhathast ann an cuid de dh’àiteachan air a’ Ghàidhealtachd (cuspair a tha rudeigin connspaideach fhathast), agus tha e a’ dèanamh iomradh air an t-seann chraoibh-iubhair ann am Fairtirchill – tè a tha beò fhathast. Sgrìobh e anns an fharsaingeachd mun aiteann agus mar a bhathar a’ dèanamh sine leis, agus tha e a’ toirt dhuinn cunntas iongantach air an uinnseann mar a leanas: ‘Ann am mòran phàirtean dhen Ghàidhealtachd, aig àm breith leanaibh, bidh a’ bhanaltram no bean-ghlùine, air adhbhar nach aithne dhomh, a’ cur aon cheann aig geug uaine dhen chraoibh seo a-steach dhan teine agus, fhad ʼs a tha e a’ losgadh, tha i a’ gabhail ann an spàin an sùgh a nochdas aig a’ cheann eile, agus bidh i a’ toirt seo mar a’ chiad làn-spàin lionna dhan leanabh ùr.’

ʼS dòcha gu bheil e iomchaidh an t-iomradh mu dheireadh a dhèanamh air a’ chraoibh-chaorainn. Sgrìobh Lightfoot gun robh na Diùraich a’ cleachdadh sùgh nan caorann mar ‘shearbhag airson puinnse’, gum biodh na Gàidheil ‘gu tric gan ithe nuair a bha iad làn abaich agus gum biodh iad a’ dèanamh deoch làidir blasta leotha.’

Caorain ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Thug Lightfoot beachd seachad cuideachd air a’ ghnè seo, aig a bheil àite sònraichte ann an cridhe nan Gàidheal: ‘Tha e buailteach gun robh na Draoidhean a’ tomhas na craoibhe seo mar naomh oir chun an latha an-diugh tha e a’ fàs nas trice faisg air na tùrsachan draoidheil seach ann an àite sam bith eile ann an ceann a tuath Bhreatainn; agus bidh na saobh-chràbhaich ga tomhas le mòr-urram, rud a ghabh iad mar oighreachd bho chian nan cian. Tha iad a’ creidsinn gun dìon pìos beag sam bith dhen chraoibh seo iad an aghaidh droch gheasan no buidseachd, nuair a tha iad ga ghiùlan leotha. Bidh an crodh cuideachd air an dìon bho olc, cho math riutha fhèin, oir cha dìochuimhnich a’ bhanarach an iomain don àirigh le slat caorainn a bhios i a’ cur os cionn doras a’ bhothain-àirigh, agus gan iomain dhachaigh leis an dearbh shlat. Ann an Srath Spè, bidh iad a’ dèanamh, air an dearbh adhbhar, air Latha Buidhe Bealltainn, cearcall de dh’fhiodh na craoibhe seo agus feasgar agus sa mhadainn a’ toirt air na caoraich is na h-uain a dhol troimhe.’ Cha chreid mi gum biodh Lightfoot a’ gabhail iongnadh mòr gum bi cuid de ‘shaobh-chràbhaich’ a tha beò an-diugh fhathast a’ toirt ‘mòr-urram’ don chraoibh-chaorainn.

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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