Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The best time to plant trees was 20 years ago....... the next best time is now.

On Friday my Charolais cross bred ewes will be sold at Torlundy mart near Fort William. They are going for two reasons one economic and one personal.

This year it cost approximately £50 to breed and rear a lamb for sale. It then cost £2 to take each animal to the mart and the auctioneer charged another £3 to sell each one. The sale price was down 14 %  to £43 per head. I made a loss of £12 on each lamb.

Unprofitable and too heavy
The "Single Farm Payment" and the "Less Favoured Area Payment" subsidies that we get from Europe add up to just under £600 for this croft. This leaves a surplus of roughly £400 for a year's work. The subsidy comes from the  European Union. In 2019 when we have left the EU it is unlikely to be paid by the UK government despite it being a vital social subsidy for rural Scotland. This is the economic reason for selling the breeding ewes.

Each year these ewes seem to be heavier, stronger and less cooperative or could it be me getting older?

Keeping poultry is easier at my age and it is one of the two farming enterprises in Scotland that produced a profit before the SFP  last year the other was pigs.

As Crofters we have a sort of quasi legal obligation to carry on an agricultural or business activity on the croft. If this isn't a farming enterprise it can be equestrian, a camp site, a golf course, nature conservation or forestry. I intend to plant trees....... as shelter belts, as a source of native tree seed for re-wilding, as a landscape feature and for timber in 50 to 100 years.

Shelter from the prevailing wind will also increase the productivity of the remaining grassland and hens do like to rake about among the trees, it's close to their native jungle habitat in India.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Pine marten on the roof......................... a musical wildlife video


This is our first attempt at a full length ( 1 minute) wildlife film with a musical backing.

A condensed version of a day in the life of Peanut the one eyed pine marten in the Campbell's roof space. She works the night shift then comes home at about 6.30 am,  squeezes between the roof tiles and the rain gutter to get in  above the sitting room where  it's warm, dry and safe.

She stays indoors until 8.30 pm when she leaves for work. this  involves hunting small furry creatures, small feathered creatures in season and killing my hens if she gets a chance.

We think she has lost an eye as only one is reflecting light.

This is what we do on wet afternoons in the W. Highlands.


video


Sunday, 10 September 2017

A conservation success story........Europe now has twice as many wolves as the 50 contiguous United States

In Britain we exterminated our large predators long before other Europeans. The wolverine is estimated to have gone 8,000 years ago, bears 1000 years ago and lynx in 400 AD. The last wolf is reputed to have been shot in Scotland in 1680.

European brown bear
In continental Europe large predators survived and in recent years have begun to recover in even the most densely human populated landscapes. Europe (4.3m km2) has  more wolves, about 12,000, than the 50 contiguous United States ( 8m km sq.) with 5,500 individuals.The recovery of European brown bear, wolf, lynx and wolverine populations in Europe is a little known and unappreciated story.Recovery of large carnivores in Europe

Conserving populations of large predators is complex not least because they live at low densities and need large land areas often crossing national boundaries.  In N.America black bears and mountain lions still live among low density human populations but brown bears and wolves have largely been confined within protected areas, people and predators are kept apart, the "separation" model.

Wolverine
Here in Europe in the last seventy years changing values, culture and legislation to protect large predatory species have resulted in a successful "co-existence" model.  Co-existence has led to increased and stable populations of bears, wolves lynx and wolverine. Twenty two countries have brown bears, 23 lynx, 28 wolves and 3 wolverine. The wolverine is limited to Scandinavia by climate and habitat requirements. Wolves have been seen and videoed in the Netherlands, the most densely populated country in Europe.Wolf in Netherlands video

Lynx habitat
Here in the UK our only large predators are eagles but there is a proposal to re-introduce lynx to the W. Highlands where this relatively small large predator could help to control deer numbers which are currently out of control. There is opposition of course from the usual suspects but at least one large estate owner is keen on the idea.Lynx Trust UK


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Tracking pine martens in north Northumberland

A couple of weeks ago I had a phone call from a friend in Northumberland, he'd just seen a pine marten at the side of the road as he was driving home. That happens all the time here in Ardnamurchan but Bob lives in England in the Coquet valley about fifteen miles south of the border. Pine martens were wiped out in England in the 19 th century.

The lambs were sold last week, the weather forecast for Northumberland was good and my neighbour was happy to look after the livestock. So a short scatological expedition to Northumberland looked good. Scatological because if I was looking for pine martens the only evidence I'd be likely to find would be pine marten scat.

Rowan berries
Rowan trees are heavy with berries in September and pine martens love them, their scat is full of undigested skins and easily identifiable. Starting where Bob saw his pine marten I have been walking the logging roads and footpaths of the nearby woods for the past two days.

Wild mammals tend to take the line of least resistance to get from A to B, footpaths and forest roads or well used game trails. I'd be unlikely to see one in daylight and despite the rain the ground isn't soft enough for distinct tracks scat would be the only possibility.

Line of least resistance
There's plenty of evidence of foxes and deer but none of martens. I'll just have to keep trying if I find a trail they they are using I'll then setup the trail camera for a night or two. For more on tracking pine martens by someone more experienced than me have a look at the Vincent Wildlife Trust blog.Tracking pine martens

As I have been often told by archaeologists, " absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!".

Update on Monday 11th September

I just found a Northumberland Wildlife Trust press release date 1st July 2010,"Found at last! Pine marten rediscovered in Northumberland." They have unequivocal evidence based on DNA analysis of scat found at Kidland. Pine marten in Northumberland  Not a very effective press release if I only found it seven years later. Or perhaps I'm just not a very effective researcher!

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Pine martens like central heating , insulated lofts and permanent residence.


Pine martens are still an endangered and protected species in the UK. Here in Kilchoan they are more common than domesticated cats. Most residents have experienced living with a pine marten. You may be sitting reading one evening then you hear something like a body being dragged across your ceiling........it's a pine marten.

They don't actually live in pine trees they prefer old buildings and centrally heated houses for the winter. Access is easy most houses over 30 years old provide entrances to the roof space.

Pine marten in the roof space

If you want to remove your visitor you must remember that it has the highest category of protection, higher than the Queen. There must be some bureaucratic process that will enable you to trap and then release it somewhere suitable. If there is I've never heard of it. So what ever you do you mustn't set a wire cage trap baited with jam or peanut butter on toast then release your captive in the woods.

You will just have to live with it like everyone else. As for the smell..... the pine martens don't seem to mind.



Foraging, finding, cooking and eating chanterelles... it's that time of year

I've been complaining daily about the wet summer. But there is a plus side, heavy rain encourages the growth of chanterelle mushrooms.Yesterday I was shown, by someone who knows about these things..... where to find them.Within about five minutes I had filled a large brown paper bag with perhaps one kilo.A slight depression in the woodland floor was lit up with their golden trumpets.... as golden as the yolks of free range eggs.

Beware! there are some highly toxic lookalikes. As well as knowing where to find them you need to be able to identify them. Again you need someone who knows and a guide to edible mushrooms to supplement this. I am not going to help you there it's your  responsibility.



You can store them fresh in a paper bag in the fridge for about 10 days, otherwise dry them in the oven, slowly at 150 C.There are lots of recipes online.


La cuisinere



The simplest recipe is to saute them with onions. I gave mine to Mrs.Campbell who turned out a magnificent quiche with hedgehog mushrooms and chants. I was invited to help eat it of course.

The eating is the best bit...... it would be ill mannered to take photographs. Bon appetit!

If you do go foraging and find them please don't trample on them, please leave some and don't tell anyone where you found them.





Monday, 28 August 2017

Barn owl feeding station

It's pretty obvious why they are called barn owls, they nest and roost in barns, first documented by Ray 1678 (The ornithology of Francis Willugby). Pennant 1768 ( Pennant, T, 1768, British Zoology ii.) calls it the, "white owl" but barn owl is the common usage and barn owl was officially adopted by the BOU (British Ornithologists Union) in 1883.

This is why we have just put up a feeding station in the sheep barn. We know that a barn owl comes in here to roost especially in wet and windy weather and Hamsa wants eventually to set up a hide in the barn.

The offerings on the feeding table are dead mice (humanely killed in a trap in his caravan).

When Hamsa lived in a barn himself at Swordle he used this technique to get some excellent images of the owls who also lived there.

There is also the possibility that owls will find and use the nesting box that's up in rafters.