Troup Head – Scotland’s only mainland gannet colony: a pungent aroma of guano fills the air as I walk closer to life on the edges and ledges amid the gentle songs of skylarks. If eulogies are a celebration tribute, then there is no better bird to sing them. Rising higher and higher into a racing sky of bruised clouds, a duet carries over dancing barley fields. Salt-crisped flowers and feathery grasses sway to the music. Skylark song is joyous yet mournful, and like the gannet at the opposite end of the avian spectrum, this tiny bird is vulnerable. And in decline.Continue reading “Solan Goose Summer”
There’s a single oak high on the flank of Ben Hiant, overlooking the Sound of Mull. I have known this resilient tree since my early childhood. It’s in a place I love very much. Massaged by the warmth of the Gulf Stream, battered by the wrath of the Atlantic and silhouetted by a thousand sunsets over the islands of Mull, Coll and Tiree, it is horizontal, its trunk fissured and colonised by tiny ferns. An oak sustains more life forms than any other native tree. Generally, we think of oaks as mighty: trees for building houses, boats or bastions; trees of grandiose parklands, their massive weighty boughs stretching to the heavens. The oaks of Scotland’s rainforest on the western sea board are different: diminutive, windsculpted. Many do not stay the course while others, like mine, grow strong and beautiful as they find succour between a rock and a hard place. Raven, hooded crow, buzzard and tawny owl frequently visit this tree. Sometimes it will be the little stonechat with his dapper black bonnet. And, from time to time, it is me, for its trunk, having withstood so much abuse, offers me support too, the horizontal oak, high on a hillside west of the sun.Continue reading “The Horizontal Oak”
When my close friend Mervyn Knox Browne of South Loch Tayside was nearing the end of his long life, on a visit, I asked him how he was doing. Incapacitated by the vagaries of old age, he replied, ‘I am useless, just deadwood.’ It upset me to hear this from a man who had left his mark inspiring dozens of people, young and old, and whose 95 years had made a successful difference. He was a revered community member as well as a good deal further afield, and he had achieved so much more than he realised.Continue reading “Dead Wood”
The death of Lawrence MacEwen of the tiny Hebridean island of Muck leaves a void as gaping as a crevasse. Muck has been in the MacEwen family since 1896. For the past 40 years, Lawrence and his wife Jenny and their family have kept this fertile island with its thriving livestock farm and ethos of self-sufficiency, afloat. As a result, Muck is held aloft as an example of a functioning remote rural community – progressive and innovative. ‘I believe in evolution, not revolution,’ Lawrence stated. His unique brand of benevolent paternalism was proof of its success.Continue reading “Lawrence MacEwen Obituary”
For the launch of my latest book, A Scurry of Squirrels, we decided to do an interview featuring one of the squirrel kits in my care. Who better to interview me than my good friend Mark Stephen of Radio Scotland’s popular Out of Doors programme – also a fellow fan of the red squirrel. However, with a squirrel you never know what might happen next!
Red deer love to wallow, so we decided to make a wallowing place for our red deer calf Cloudy in our field but we didn’t expect such a wonderful instant reaction. As we dug and the wallow got bigger, her sheer delight and antics gave us the best antidote to #lockdown angst imaginable! If anyone doubts that animals experience joy – then watch this, it’s guaranteed to cheer you up! Polly’s Antidote to Gloom!
This article first appeared in Scotland: the Big Picture. Read the full article (with more images) here.
It’s January, the season when a fox’s hormones fuel the urge to breed. At night I lie in bed and hear their eerie yattering as they wander on their nocturnal forays, their soundtrack accompanied by tawny owls – they too are preparing for breeding. The wood is also thick with the aroma of red deer. My son Freddy and I are following a lattice of worn tracks made as the deer trek up and down in the gloaming, to the richer pickings in the fields below. Now that the bracken has died away, and before the new growth, it’s perfect for exploration. Continue reading “The Child in Nature – an Endangered Species”
I’ve contributed to this story about the resurgence of Pine Martens at Scotland Big Picture, along with photography by Peter Cairns, Mark Hamblin and James Shooter.
‘Despite centuries of persecution and habitat loss, pine martens have proven themselves to be survivors, and as they expand their range, they’re revealing some surprising secrets.’
Polly Pullar is also an experienced wildlife rehabilitator. When she was handed three young red squirrels just days old, she thought their chances of survival were slim.
This is the story of the emotional rollercoaster that followed.