‘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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Yellow plant of Beltane

The marsh marigold is a vivid reminder of the close links between Gaelic culture and the Scottish seasons, as Ruairidh MacIlleathain explains.

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig

Marsh marigolds. ©Lorne Gill/SNH
The yellow Beltane plant. To Scotland’s Gaels, the marsh marigold in bloom is a traditional symbol of the start of summer.. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The day that starts the summer, now the first of May, is still known in Gaelic as latha buidhe Bealltainn – the ‘yellow day of Beltane’. Buidhe, however, doesn’t just mean ‘yellow’. It also has suggestions of good fortune. This plant, which bears yellow flowers at the time of Beltane (the English word came from Gaelic), is lucky – its blooms would often be tied above doorways or to the tails of horses or cattle to bring good fortune. The Gaelic name for the species is lus buidhe Bealltainn (sounds like ‘looss boo-yuh BYOWL-tin’) or the ‘yellow plant of Beltane’.

Whimbrel. ©David Whitaker
Whimbrel. ©David Whitaker

Another species named for this season is the whimbrel – eun Bealltainn (‘eeun BYOWL-tin’), actually meaning ‘bird of Beltane’. And Tullybelton in Perthshire would have experienced the fires through which cattle and other goods were passed as part of the purification rites of this pre-Christian festival. Its name comes from the Gaelic Tulach Bealltainn or ‘Beltane hill’. The two greatest festivals in the old Gaelic calendar were Bealltainn and, six months later, Samhain – the start of winter. The first day of Samhain is still widely celebrated in Gaelic Scotland, as it is in the English-speaking world, where it’s called ‘Halloween’.

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Lus buidhe Bealltainn

Tha na Gàidheil fhathast a’ comharrachadh na Bealltainn, co-dhiù le bhith ag ainmeachadh a’ chiad latha dhen Chèitean mar ‘Latha Buidhe Bealltainn’. Tha ‘buidhe’ an dà chuid na chomharra de dhath agus de dheagh fhortan (canaidh sinn ‘nach buidhe dhut’ gu cumanta fhathast). Bha Bealltainn bhò thùs na fèill phàganach a bha na inntrigeadh don t-samhradh. Bha e aig ceann eile na bliadhna bho ‘Shamhain’, fèill phàganach eile a bha a’ comharrachadh toiseach a’ gheamhraidh. Chanadh na seann daoine ‘bho Shamhain gu Bealltainn’ nuair a bha iad a’ ciallachadh an leth fuar dhen bhliadhna.

Read in English

Marsh marigolds. ©Lorne Gill/SNH
Buidhe aig a’ Bhealltainn.  Bha, and tha, lus buidhe Bealltainn a’ comharrachadh toiseach an t-samhraidh ann an inntinn nan Gàidheal. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Tha Bealltainn air a comharrachadh ann an lus dùthchasach air an nochd dìtheannan buidhe mun àm sin dhen bhliadhna. ’S e sin Caltha palustris, lus ris an canar marsh marigold ann am Beurla. Ann an Gàidhlig, ’s e ‘lus buidhe Bealltainn’ an t-ainm a th’ air. Bhiodh daoine a’ cur dìtheannan an luis seo os cionn an dorsan airson droch gheasan a sheachnadh; uaireannan bhite gan ceangal ri earbaill cruidh air an dearbh adhbhar. Is cinnteach gu bheil dath an luis co-cheangailte ris mar a bha daoine ga thomhas mar fhortanach.

Whimbrel. ©David Whitaker
Eun Bealltainn ©David Whitaker

Tha e mar as trice blàth gu leòr aig a’ Bhealltainn ach corra uair cuirear an sneachd mu dheireadh dhen gheamhradh aig an àm sin. Thathar a’ gabhail ‘sneachd mu bheul na Bealltainn’ air a leithid. Agus bhiodh na balaich ag èisteachd airson na cuthaig air latha na Bealltainn. Nan cluinneadh iad i, dh’èigheadh iad “‘Gug-ùg!’ ars a’ chuthag Latha Buidhe Bealltainn”. Agus mhothaich na seann daoine gum biodh an t-eun beag ris an canar a whimbrel ann am Beurla a’ nochdadh aig an àm sin a h-uile bliadhna (coltach ris a’ chuthaig, bidh e a’ cur seachad a’ gheamhraidh ann an Afraga). Mar sin thug iad ‘eun Bealltainn’ air mar ainm.

Marsh marigolds growing in a coastal flush, Skaw, Unst, Shetland. ©Lorne Gill/SNH
©Lorne Gill/SNH

B’ e an seann chleachdadh a bhith a’ togail dà theine air Latha na Bealltainn tron chùirte sprèidh is iomadh rud eile airson an ùrachadh is dìon an aghaidh droch bhuidseachd. Thathar a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil Tullybelton/Tulach Bealltainn ann an Siorrachd Pheairt am measg nan àiteachan anns an tachradh a leithid. Ged nach eil an t-seann fhèill Cheilteach seo air a comharrachadh gu mòr ann an Alba an-diugh, tha i air beatha ùr fhaighinn anns na bliadhnaichean a chaidh air an oidhche mu dheireadh dhen Ghiblean air Cnoc na Calltainn ann an Dùn Èideann. Ged a tha dreach rudeigin ùr-nòsach oirre, tha teine aig meadhan a’ ghnothaich fhathast.

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Bird photography – do I need a licence?

In our latest blog, we take a look at bird photography and the issues that people need to consider to ensure they stay within the law and don’t disturb wildlife.

Wildlife Photographer ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

The explosion in digital photography and associated technology in the last couple of decades, while great for encouraging people to take more interest in nature, has raised concerns about increased disturbance of birds, especially of our rarer and more sensitive breeding species. Often pictures seen online are subject to complaints, but current technology makes it very difficult to know whether the photographer caused any adverse issues.

So what do you need to consider?

Firstly, the law. Generally, it is not illegal to photograph birds. However, any bird can be sensitive to disturbance while nesting or roosting so best practice should be followed to minimise this.

While all birds are legally protected, many of our rarer and more sensitive species are specially protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act. During the breeding season, which can vary between species, these birds are protected at or near their nests right from nest building through to having recently fledged dependent young.

Schedule 1 species can be photographed away from nests and outwith the breeding season without a licence but when nesting, a NatureScot licence for photography will usually be required. The licence actually covers the photographer for disturbance to the birds in the course of the photography, rather than the photography in itself.

Black Throated Diver ©Laurie Campbell/NatureScot

What is an offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act?

The Act covers both reckless and deliberate disturbance. A reckless offence occurs when it can be foreseen or there is a likelihood that continuing a course of action will result in an offence, for example if a person set out to take photos of a nesting bird (Schedule 1 or not) knowing they were likely to cause disturbance in the process. Reckless offences can potentially be mitigated by recognising the potential for disturbance, and retreating from the nest as quickly and safely as possible and not revisiting.

Deliberate offences are where someone has set out with the intention to commit an offence, such as purposefully scaring a bird from a nest to obtain a photograph while the bird is in flight. Playing recording of calls to get Schedule 1 birds into the open to view and photograph is also a disturbance offence without a licence.

In the worst cases such disturbance can cause breeding attempts to fail, however it is the disturbance, not the consequences of it, which is the offence.

There are a number of ‘grey areas’ in relation to breeding Schedule 1 bird photography. Some rare breeding bird sites are well known and viewable from public roads, tracks etc. or on nature reserves and easily viewed from reserve hides. In such cases it comes down to risks of disturbance to the bird. If they are behaving normally, not alarmed or concerned, then it likely safe to take photos. In these situations there is a level of habituation by the birds to human activity they consider non-threatening. However, leaving a hide, vehicle, road or path to get closer may cause the birds to be disturbed. Bird behaviour in habituated situations cannot be assumed to apply elsewhere.

Golden Eagle ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

How to know if birds are disturbed

Different species behave differently, but many of the signs are obvious. Most birds will alarm call, usually insistent, repetitive and loud calls. Some combine this with mobbing behaviour, flying around calling. Others will run off, leading an intruder away from a nest or young. This can include the bird behaving as if it’s injured, dragging its wings. Others will fly off, abandoning the area and not returning until they think it’s safe, which can be several hours later. There are also some more subtle signs – birds may take up alert or ‘threat postures’ fluffing up or sleeking down feathers, preening their feathers with their bill in an agitated way.  If you start to see these types of behaviours it’s time to back off – they usually mean there’s a nest or young nearby which may not be visible.

Other factors can affect the impact of disturbance. If the adults leave eggs or chicks unattended they are vulnerable to the weather; cold, wet and windy weather leads to chilling whereas really warm weather can lead to overheating. Approaching a nest and leaving a trail to it, or removing vegetation near the nest to get a good picture, can leave it more exposed to a risk of predation by other mammals and birds.

It’s also important to remember that even where birds are nesting close to walk routes, roads and tracks and appear unconcerned, the cumulative risks of many people stopping may become an issue. The welfare of the birds comes first in all cases whether specially protected or not.

Capercaillie ©Colin Leslie/NatureScot

Related to this is the fact that many breeding locations of rare and more sensitive species are not widely known and it is best practice not to publicise them, please do not post pictures online with their locations unless it is an already publicly known site, like a nature reserve.

Outwith the breeding season, best practice should still be followed. A regular concern is disturbance to communally roosting waders and waterbirds. Disturbing birds whilst they are resting can seriously affect them, how do you function when you’ve had no or disrupted sleep?  Roosting flocks will often raise their heads becoming obviously alert if they are approached and birds will often start to shuffle away from the approach before eventually taking flight. Again, if you see these behaviours back off.

Ultimately, it is your responsibility to minimise disturbance and if in doubt don’t take the risk. Please enjoy birds and your photography responsibly. Below are links to more helpful guidance and information.

Royal Photographic Society best practice

David Tipling Guidance

Disturbance distances of selected sensitive species

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