Saturday, 6 May 2017

Mull Eagle Watch .... sea eagles on the nest

It is  40 years since white tailed eagles (Sea eagles) were re-introduced to Scotland with an importation of 80 bird from Norway. Noe we have over 100 breeding pa1rs with one of the highest populations on the Isle of Mull. I can see a nest from my garden here on the peninsula, with a telescope of course. Every year hundreds of visitors to Mull see them too.
Mull eagle watch

Mull Eagle Watch does Ranger led visits to viewing points and hides where these great birds, they have a ten foot wing span, nest. You need binoculars or better still a telescope; the nest we watched on this week near Dervaig is 300 yards from the viewing point to avoid disturbance.

We watched the female on the nest, then got up stretched her wings and flew into an adjacent tree to sunbathe while her mate took over the nest. for a while. One watcher I met had travelled from Liverpool that day just for this experience.

Each visitor contributes  ten pounds for the visit, so five months of say 30 visitors a day might generate up to 30,000 stg in a season for local good causes. Then there is the income to the island from food, fuel, accommodation etc. On the down side farmers do lose lambs to the eagles but there is a compensation scheme.

It is an example of how the re-introduction of top predators could benefit the local economy and wildlife diversity in our remote rural areas. However when we leave the EU and there are no more farm subsidies sheep numbers will inevitably decline resulting in less carrion and perhaps fewer eagles. An unintended side effect of Brexit?

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Dawn chorus in the Glenborrowdale, "Atlantic rain forest" and world wide.

Next Sunday, 7th May,  is "International Dawn Chorus Day" so where ever you are you can take part just Google IDCD and you will find an event near you.

This morning I was out in the wood (Glenborrowdale RSPB Reserve) by 4.30 am; the birds start up at least an hour before sunrise.

Sunrise, Glenborrowdale
On a bright, windless morning like this birdsong has been estimated to carry 20 times as far at dawn as at mid-day. It was our resident breeding species that kicked off first, the wrens, robins, great tits, blackbirds and a greater spotted woodpecker drumming.

Then the migrant warblers usually start up, the chiffchaffs, wood and willow warblers. But this morning there were no warblers. Perhaps it's been the cold arctic winds in the last week that has slowed them down getting here.

The chorus has male birds proclaiming their territories and females selecting the fittest males, the strongest singers, for mating. You don't even need a wood just step outside at dawn with a coffee to enjoy a free natural concert. In urban areas the chorus tends to start earlier to avoid the background noise of traffic and aircraft. This is a good example of evolution in real time!

Monday, 17 April 2017

I am part of the problem......Burning wood to heat my home isn't as green as I thought

For almost ten years I have been heating my house plus hot water and cooking with wood. I thought that I was doing the right thing and that all that work chainsawing, splitting  logs and stacking gave me a  carbon neutral fuel.

Wrong!... it has gradually dawned on me ( I'm a slow thinker) that I am part of the climate change problem. For a given heat output, burning coal would emit fewer particulates and less carbon dioxide.

Fuel miles!
Wood fuel returns carbon to the atmosphere that was absorbed when the trees were growing but the carbon released by the trees that I am burning today will not be totally reabsorbed for fifty to a hundred years so the atmosphere is taking a big hit now. It wouldn't be so bad if I was planting more trees to capture that carbon when the trees grow.

Then there are the fuel miles used to deliver the wood probably a 300 km round trip with a huge truck burning 100 litres of diesel to bring it's 25 tonne load. Then there's the chainsaw fuel at about 1.5 litres per tonne and the log splitter at 0.5 litres / tonne fuel miles add up quickly.

The greenest way to burn wood would require me to have about 4 ha (10 acres) of my own sustainably managed woodland. If I plant it now there may be thinnings to harvest in 30 - 40 years. I don't have a mature sustainably managed woodland. So what is the green alternative?

I have to make a choice between an oil or LPG fueled boiler or air source heat pump plus  a dual fuel (LPG and Electric) range cooker, with a wood burning stove as back up for power cuts.

Monday, 3 April 2017

New lambs an old shepherd and the last lambing.

Shepherding is hard manual work, the ewes weigh 70 kg., the lambs are fast of their feet and the Shepherd at 74 is decrepit; lame, shortsighted and increasingly deaf, he isn't strong enough or fast enough. This is the last lambing. He doesn't cope too well with the sleep deprivation either. After inspection of the lambing ewes in the small hours it's difficult to get back to sleep.

A better looking more stylish old shepherd, he must be French
In the autumn the breeding ewes, the tup and the lambs will be sold.

It will be a sad day when they all go but here's an upside; more time to sit and think, more time to just sit perhaps and more blogging indoors on wet days at the table in my overheated kitchen.

You may have noticed a not very subtle change in the content of these pages, there has been less crofting and more ranting about politics and environment. Having a rant is one of the few nice things about being old. You don't have to give a damn about what anyone thinks of you (except your partner) and you are sure that you have useful stuff to pass on;  all backed up by facts of course.

It's the job of the media, particularly the Press to hold politicians to account but with the internet and blogs we can all have a go . I don't "tweet".  You can't say anything sensible with 140 keyboard characters it's for celebrity seekers, self-publicists and professional charlatans, you know who I mean.. Even teenagers have moved on from "Facebook" it's just not cool in 2017.

The aim of our work with the sheep this week and next is to deliver them into the world alive with minimum human interference and then to keep them alive because the first two minutes of their life are the most precarious. So are the last two as you know.

President Trump has a plan - "Make China Great Again"

The American journalist H.L. Mencken had an apt one liner for any given situation, my favourite  - "there's a simple solution to every human problem; it's neat, plausible and wrong!

No simple solutions...... no denying it
Luckily the US judiciary and even Republican politicians know this and the administration's ill thought through proposals so far have been stalled or rejected.

Trump has reversed the Obama  "Climate Protection Plan" which he denounced as "bullshit" taking US climate change policy back to industrial revolution levels....  when there wasn't any of course.

At their root our environmental problems are unintended side effects of new technology. I challenge you to come up with one that isn't!

Trump's new environmental policy ( or lack of it ) could have the ironic unintended consequence of, " making China great again."

China is the biggest global CO2 emitter, the USA is second. While the USA is trying to revive  an uneconomic coal industry with coal  in free fall. China  is forging ahead with emission control , low carbon renewable technologies and policies. China could dominate the global clean energy market.

The US by rejecting renewables in favour of dirty fuel could find it's exports penalised by border carbon taxes and lagging way behind the rest of the world in the development of low carbon tech.

Climate change denial is a childish temper tantrum, rage at the inconvenience of  truth and reality.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Brexit - Political folly, economic catastrophe and bleak prospects for large predator re-introduction to Britain

Three days ago I posted a blog about the re-introduction of white tailed sea eagles to Scotland, since then there have been over 100 views ( it's not exactly gone viral! but does show a  level of interest).

Across Europe rare and endangered species are being successfully re-introduced and revived. Only Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and Britain have no breeding population of at least one large carnivore species. (Chapron ).

These rising populations of bear, wolf and lynx in W. Europe are due largely to the EU Habitats Directive which compels member states to protect and revive rare species. When the UK leaves the EU we will lose this compulsion and the possibility of more re-introductions.

On average throughout Europe wolves live on land with a population density of 37 people per km sq., lynx 21 per km sq and bears 19 per km. sq. Population density in the Scottish Highlands is 9 people per km. sq. So you don't need a landscape without people to have recovery of large carnivores in the modern European, human dominated landscape.

The future for re-introduction looks bleak. Last year  a public consultation meeting about the re-introduction of lynx to Kielder Forest in the Scottish Borders resulted in an angry slanging match between those for and those against. The local Tory MP claimed that 90% of locals did not want it, the Lynx Trust claimed that 90% did want it. (Hexhan Courant Mar 2016). Without EU support and with a right wing Tory government which panders to farmers wildest unscientific claims  lynx re-introduction is a long way off.

In June 2016 I voted to remain in the EU, leaving, I believed it would be political folly and bring economic catastrophe, I can now add weaker environmental protection and species conservation.

Chapron Recovery of large carnivores in Europe's modern human dominated landscapes, Science,346, pp.1517-1519, 2014.

Monday, 27 March 2017

White tailed eagle eating a roadkill badger carcass : trail camera image

By 1918 landowners and gamekeepers in Scotland had exterminated this magnificent bird that feeds mainly on carrion, In your bird guide you will find that they are listed with the European vultures not the eagles. Forty years ago a project began to re-introduce the white tailed eagle to Scotland by importing young birds from Norway where they are relatively common.

From small beginnings on the Isle of Rhum National Nature Reserve the birds now hold an estimated 65 territories on the east and west coasts. On a warm windless day like yesterday visitors to Ardnamurchan can be almost guaranteed to see whitetails soaring over the coast on their three metre wings. Mull is one of their strongholds but they do seem to like a day out here on the peninsula.

March is a tough time for hill sheep and red deer, they are at their weakest after the winter, quality food is scarce and the weather can be horrendous so there is lots of carrion. Hamsa captured the white tail in the picture  feeding on a badger carcass with a trail camera one day last week.

These birds are smart as well as strong. During the stalking season from September until February they turn up in response to a rifle shot because they have learned that there will soon be fresh "gralloch" to eat.  (Gralloch is the deer's internal organs that are left behind on the hill by the stalkers. )

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The,"Caledonian Sleeper" - slow train to the Highlands.

Pinewoods and snow from my bunk
Every night except Saturday a long sleeper train leaves London Euston station for the North. In the middle of the night the train is quietly reconfigured at Edinburgh; one section leaves for Inverness, one for Aberdeen and mine for Fort William.

This morning  I had my breakfast, porridge with honey, as the sun rose over Loch Lomond and the train snaked through pine woods below snow covered mountains to Crianlarich.

Then coffee on Rannoch Moor where the winter landscape compares with the "Trans-Siberian" where it pulls out of the Urals into the west Siberian steppe in the early morning. At Corrour it only needed  Babushkas selling piroshki and beer to make it Siberian.

For comfort, convenience and affordability this is the best route to Scotland. It beats flying as ,"walk on cargo", it saves the cost of an hotel, saves a day and you get a romantic adventure, what's not to like about it? For climbers and  winter hill walkers it gives access to some of Scotland's most isolated high mountains, bothies and the wildlife.

Just before ten o clock we slid beneath the north face of Ben Nevis into Fort William station; on time, well fed and refreshed.

If you have a smart phone (I only have a dumb one)  Scottish Natural Heritage have produced an app for you; see "The View From The Train" to accompany your West Highland train journey, at - train/

Monday, 6 March 2017

Navigating very roughly by the moon.

When we were walking through the forest to the black cock lekking site
Hamza asked me where East was so that he could site his hide appropriately for the dawn light.

I don't have a smart phone with GPS and the compass was in my back pack.  so where was East?

It was three days after the new moon, so a crescent moon was visible. It's a little blurred in the photograph because the camera was hand held.

You can use the moon to find South and if you can do that you can fnd East very roughly but well enough for the direction of sunrise.

After the new moon the sun and moon are not together and the moon must be East or West of the sun. In Northern latitudes,if you draw an imaginary line between the two horns of the moon and extend it to the horizon, the point where your line meets the horizon is South of your position.

Give it a try some night and check it with your compass, it might save your life if you are lost in the bush. Of course you have to be able to see the moon, it won't work with an overcast sky or in a woodland of tall trees. Always carry a compass!

If you disagree with my reasoning add a comment.

Black grouse country..... a mini expedition

Black grouse country

Black grouse are widespread in Europe from the Alpes Maritime to N. Russia. Here in Scotland they are reasonably common throughout the highlands on the edges of woodland where the trees meet the moorland. In Spring they have a spectacular mating ritual, the "lek".

Hamza in his hide , 4.00 am at - 5 C.
Before dawn the male birds fly in to lekking sites where they strut around and have mock flights to try to impress females (grey hens) , they watch from the sidelines. Like human females the grey hens like a man who can dance!

Because they are widely dispersed in the landscape they need to meet up like this to select mates and to mate, think of it as "speed dating" out doors.

The birds are very loyal to their lek sites and the one we visited last week for Hamza to get some video images I have known for the last 15 years, every year they come back to the same close cropped upland lawn on the forest edge in the early morning.

Black grouse,the only one we saw
This year both we and the birds were too early for filming, they arrived in the dark and departed in the dark. It was too early in the season.

Next month when it's light at 5.00 am Hamza should be more successful and in case you are wondering he does have a licence to film schedule 1 protected species.

Happy hens..... outside for the first time in three months.

After an outbreak of the H5N8 strain of avian flu in England in November the hens have been indoors until the end of February. Last week they were let out but we have to take a whole range of bio-security measures.

Feed and water have to be in the hen houses or protected or wire cages tom prevent access by wild birds.

We also have to minimise visitors from other poultry keeping premises, control vermin and provide facilities for boot washing and dipping and disinfectant.

Although they were very happy to get out they were a bit disorientated and tried to nget back inside to the nest boxes they have been using. Hens have a very powerful drive to get to their chosen nesting places and will navigate complex mazes to do so.

I am keeping them in their field houses until mid morning, that way they are forced to use the laying boxes provided for them and will soon get used to the change.

There is a down side, the eggs are dirty because the hens now have dirty feet so eggs need to be washed.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Otter family at breakfast time on the trail camera


There was a new moon last night and a four metre high tide this morning at ten minutes to seven. High water would have driven the otters out of the sea some time before. They appeared on the trail camera at ten to eight running along the bank of a small freshwater pond on Trevor's campsite (Ardnamurchan Campsite).

You know yourself what happens when you've been in the sea, you need a freshwater shower to get rid of the salt, it's the same for otters and they use this pond regularly even though it's only ten metres from the nearest tent site.

I've been trying to get a video clip of them for over a month, All I have had has been grass blowing in the wind or stray sheep, until this morning, when I had 18 clips of grass blowing followed by one of the otter family.

You have to be patient and persistent even with a trail cam. If you are here on holiday and want to see otters here are a few tips:-

  • Get out before dawn or dusk
  • Move slowly scanning the shore in front of you
  • Spend more time sitting still than moving
  • Otters will be out of the water at low tide and high tide
  • Look for footprints in wet sand and spraint on green topped rocks or mounds above the high tide mark
  • You are most likely to see otters swimming when the sea when the water is flat calm the bow wave gives them away.
Good luck!

The barn owl is back with impressionist photography

Is this a new genre in wildlife photography? ...... impressionist?.......modernist?.........surreal? or..... too much partying?  You can just make out the gates, the car headlights and the owl, it's  in the top right corner as it's leaving. It won't be in the next BBC Countryfile calendar.

Hamza was returning home  at 3.00 am and again saw the white owl in the sheep house, he stopped, reversed  and took this photograph. It was another wet and stormy night so the owl is obviously sheltering up on the rafters.

Judging by the white streaks on the rafters it's been there a few times recently and there is a good chance that it will decide to use our hi-tech nest box.

Watch this space!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Sheep stells in the Upper Coquet Valley

Sheep stell  
The Scottish Borders are not quite, "arctic - alpine" in their climate and vegetation but winters can be severe with deep drifts and freezing temperatures, often for days on end.

A hill ewe's reaction to cold wind and snow is to seek shelter in  the lee of a wall, a rock or tree. snow then drifts over her.  Because they are sheep they do things together and many can be lost after a few days of burial.

For hundreds of years shepherds have driven their ewes into drystone walled "stells" for shelter.

The stell like this one at Windyhaugh  in the upper Coquet Valley can be up to 20 m in diameter and are capable of holding several hundred sheep safely until the storm is over. Stells are usually located at low level and near a burn (stream) and emergency food supplies.. The walls are about 1.5 m high and provide shelter all around the whole inner circumference.

At lambing time some ewes may need attention at
 the birth of the lambs or for a lamb adoption  the stell is then a useful holding pen.
Windyhaugh Farm with snow on the way
* Haugh is a Northumbrian word for the flood plain of a stream or river.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Trap door for swallows

Spring and summer
It will be two months before our swallows return from Africa to nest in the rafters of the sheep barn which has year round open access to birds.

Last week I saw a novel way to provide access to less open buildings for nesting swallows.

It's a small hinged door about 6" by 4" in the top corner of Bob Burston's hemmel (stable in Northumberland) door,  left open from Spring through to Autumn then closed after the swallows leave.

I haven't actually seen this but Bob assures me that the birds fly in and out through the opening at top speed.
Autumn and winter

Tomorrow there'll be one in the top of the door of the old byre.

Controlling invasive american aliens in UK and Europe

North Northumberland -big skies and big landscpes
In north Northumberland last week I went looking for red squirrels. I spent an afternoon sitting in a woodland glade didn't get any photographs . However there were signs of their presence; warnings to motorists to slow down for them and spruce cones stripped of seeds. I didn't see any greys either, hopefully because of the control measures.

About 150 years ago grey squirrels were imported into the UK from America as a fashion item to grace the estates of the landed gentry.
They have been very successful and now we have an estimated 2.5 million of these "tree rats" The native red squirrels with an estimated UK population of 10 - 15000 can't compete.

The greys store four times as much fat reserve for winter because they evolved to survive much tougher winters in the Eastern USA, they are more prolific and are adapted to living at hgher densities than the reds.So greys have displaced  reds throughout much of England and Wales and in recent years have moved north into Northumberland and the Scottish borders..

Bigger, stronger faster breeding greys also carry "squirrel pox" or  Parapoxvirus to which they are immune but it is fatal to reds.

The "European Squirrel Initiative" began in 2002 to remove the american aliens from the whole of Europe to protect biodiversity and prevent economic damage to woodland. "Northern Red Squirrels" grew out of this, it coordinates population mapping of both species and control of the greys.

There used to be a bounty on the greys in the 1950s because they strip the bark from trees sometimes killing the tree directly or indirectly by opening up the tree to fungal infections. I think the bounty was 2/- ( two shillings in old money) per tail, an attractive payment for boys with air rifles. Now they are caught in baited cage traps and humanely disposed of.

More recently as pine martens have moved south into grey squirrel country it seems that they may be effective and selective predators on greys which feed more on the ground than reds. The reds can move fast high up in the tree canopy on flimsy branches where the pine martens can't follow.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Scots Pine - Scotland's national tree and black grouse.

Me on the left Trevor (Polar explorer on the right) we're a bit over qualified for this expedition but that's what happens when you become a "wrinkly",
In 2013 we had a national vote to decide on a national tree for Scotland, 52% of respondents voted for the Scots Pine. It's not exclusive to Scotland, I've seen the species from Spain to eastern Siberia. Until about 6,000 years ago it was predominant in the Caledonian Forest on drier mineral soils but clearance started by the neolithic farmers and continued up to WW2. Climate change also had a hand in it.

We still have remnants of the pine forest from Argyll to Wester Ross and the Cairngorms. It wasn't a closed canopy forest of tall straight trees there was a range of age classes other tree species and open spaces of high biodiversity. Yesterday we had a walk through one of the remnants, in the Cairngorms, to find a black cock leking site that I last visited ten years ago.

They spend the day around the forest edge grazing on blaeberry ( blueberries) and perching up in the pines. The " lek" is a spectacular mating display that starts before dawn and carries on into the morning. First, the males birds fly in do there macho displaying then the females arrive (the grey hens) to watch, participate and eventually mate with the best dancers Hamsa wants some video  of this display.

He has a licence to film  protected species and will be back towards the end of the month, to set up his hide and then freeze through the night until the birds arrive. No footage or pics yet as I can't find mine they are somewhere in the loft on a memory stick. I'll add them when I find it. In the mean time you can find black grouse in your field guide, between the falcons and the partridges.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

How to make a pine marten proof Barn Owl nest box

Well we think it's pine marten proof. To get into the nest the pine marten would have to walk upside down below the ridge then drop on to the owl's landing pad so we think any owls will be safe.

First find a 45 gallon ( 100 litre ) blue plastic drum. cut out an entrance approximately 6" x 6" (150 mm x 150 mm). Make a landing pad about 6" square then attache to the front of the nest with two roofing bolts. Finally drill a series of drainage holes along and through the lowest point at the bottom.

Attache the nest below the ridge with loading straps strained tightly the nest box must be rock steady.

You may now have to wait several months or years until an owl takes up residence but just to see if last night's owl is interested I have set up the trail cam.

More tomorrow perhaps.

If you do get a breeding pair in this box you can use the white plastic plugs in the end to insert a small nest cam.

Barn owl moves in with the sheep

Photo: Hamza Yassin (Cameraman and photographer)
Hamsa, our resident wildlife photographer was on his way home last night about 10.30 and glimpsed something white up in the rafters of the sheep house, he has a genius for spotting wildlife while driving. This can be disconcerting for passengers.

He reversed his car and shone the lights inside to take this photograph with his mobile phone. He normally uses an extremely expensive long lens.

I suspected that an owl was using the building because of the white streaks of excrement on the rafters and here is the proof. It was was probably in there to shelter from the gale that blew in from the SE and has carried on throughout today.

The next step is to make a nest box to see if we can encourage it to take up permanent residence. The main danger to any birds nesting around here is the pine martens so we will have to make one from a 45 gallon ( 100 L)  plastic drum fixed with load straps to the roof..  The pine marten will not be able to get any purchase on the plastic surface and the drum will be held securely. Owls don't like nest boxes that feel insecure.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Mid January - The sheep and shepherds are indoors again

Yesterday the ewes followed me down off the hill and trooped into the sheep house , they seemed to know they would be more comfortable. It also means that elderly shepherds are out of the weather and don't have to carry food to them.

They are inside now for at least ten weeks, until they lamb in April. We can manage them more closely and keep the lambs inside until they are at least 48 hrs old and able to withstand the weather. Hypothermia kills more neonatal lambs than disease, poor nutrition and foxes,

The older ewes are  five to six years old and seem to know what to expect. They settle down quickly with a minimum of  stress. After all shepherds have been housing their flocks since the sheep were first domesticated for protection from predators at night so they have probably developed a tolerance for it. Their social hierarchy is well established too so their is a minimum of aggressive interaction in this new environment.

The blue mark on the shoulder is my flock mark, there is a small nick in the rear edge of the nearside ear that is also my mark but it's difficult to see. The red marks get fainter as the mating season progresses, they show that the ewe has been mated.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Phil......... this is why I think that the American people will get it right eventually.

My friend Phil doesn't post comments on the blog, he is computer literate ( he can switch it on and off) but hasn't worked this out yet. He emailed,

 "What evidence is there that Americans do the right thing eventually?".

They abolished slavery, sorted out two world wars for Europe (a bit reluctantly perhaps) they elected Obama. and invented rock and roll.  I realise that's not a slam dunk answer so how about this?

A quick scan of today's newspapers; The Guardian (UK), Le Monde (France) and the New York Times gives me some cause for optimism. It's evidence based stuff..... remember that?

President Trump lost the popular vote. Today, his first day in office, he has the lowest approval rating on record. Lower than Nixon's on the day he resigned. It can't get much lower.

Today hundreds of thousands marched to protest President Trump's agenda, the biggest protest was in Washington DC. For disapproval alone to bring change it will take a full term and eviction at the next election in 2020.  But, people with values similar to Bernie Sanders are numerous and organised they probably realise that they need to become a populist movement of the left in order to win and they can do it.

US workers have seen no real increase in wages for 30 years and President Trump is putting the people who screwed them over into high office across government, his cabal of billionaires. Many of those who voted for him will soon realise this.

For change to come sooner there is always impeachment. President Trump's links with Russia are already being investigated and he is still carrying on business with foreign countries contrary to the Constitution of the United States.

Then there is outright failure to deliver. Today President Trump signed an executive order to remove "Obamacare", potentially leaving millions without healthcare. The Republican Party is deeply divided over this his action could fail

Hope that answers the question Phil. I have tried to be polite, it's difficult.  No more political posts, I need to get out more.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Don't despair.... Americans can be relied on to do the right thing......... eventually!

Read this.... make America great again.
Back in the 1980s we took our family holidays in the USA children flew at half price and we had a 20 kg baggage allowance each. This  meant we could take our own camping equipment, hire a car and take off into the boondocks.

We camped, walked and paddled canoes in National Parks and State Parks from Yosemite to the White Mountains and the Boundary Waters. The United States was a world leader in nature conservation, environmental ethics and protection........ and the provision of excellent campsites.

In 1985 I travelled from Maryland across the country to California to study the development of sustainable agriculture paid for with a Winston Churchill Fellowship. Then the USA seemed to be leading the world in the science and practice of sustainability. From Chesapeake Bay through the "flyover states" to Davis. It was  based on sound science and practised by non-corporate farmers.

Today the United States has inaugurated a new President who rejects science, environmental protection, many basic human rights and what I used to think was the innate politeness of Americans.

Coal has had it's day;  that was true when my father, a coal miner, retired fifty years ago. Oil is rapidly being replaced by renewable technologies and the future lies with those who develop, sell and implement them.

2016 was the third year in a row when global temperatures exceeded all previous highs. The global average temperature was 1 C higher than in 1916. It may not sound much but we are close to the irreversible tipping point of 2 C.

If the USA does not take responsibility, as the world's 2nd largest polluter and shoulder that responsibility for it's global as well as domestic good then others will.

The Chinese people are choking to death and China is the biggest polluter but they understand and accept the science. They seem to be prepared to do something about it. They accept the need to control their pollution and to  invest in new technologies.

Don't despair, the American people have a history of doing the right thing........ eventually.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

"Love of Country- A Hebridean Journey" a short book review

Coming home this afternoon on the Calmac ferry, "Raasay" the boat rumbled and stuttered across the cold black water of the Sound the shore obscured fore and aft by fog. the perfect atmosphere for finishing my Christmas book the narrative of a pilgrimage from Arran down north to the Butt of Lewis and St. Kilda.

"Down north" because that was how the Gaels saw the geography of the Hebridean archipelago. Unlike Mercator's projection with North at the top their map was rotated clockwise through ninety degrees with the isles of the west strung out from Eire on the left to Lewis on the right. Mainland Scotland was a mere outline at the bottom. Not many people know that, I certainly did not.

Six years of exploration went into this book, the result - a sensitive and perceptive treatment of  other writers from Dr. Johnson, to George Orwell, the tragedy of the clearances which in the 21st century might be called ethnic cleansing and the meaning of home.

It's the ideal companion and guidebook to the history, culture and rugged landscapes at the Atlantic edge .  A "Lonely Planet or Rough Guide" it isn't.  Don't travel here without it.

Love of Country - A Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting, GRANTA, 2016

Monday, 9 January 2017

Snow on the way - time to save some lambs

The first two minutes of life (and the last two) are the most precarious, a lot of lambs are lost around birth.

Probably as many are lost now, in the second month of pregnancy when nutritional stress leads to re-absorption of foetuses in the womb.

The heavy snow and deep cold in Northern Europe is moving our way this week so we have started to feed silage to save those foetal lambs.

We will bring them into the sheep house later in the month for the second half of pregnancy, they will stay inside until they lamb in April. they can be much more closely
supervised and manged indoors and kept in for at least two days if the weather is wet and cold.

It's the wet cold weather that kills, with hypothermia. If the lmb are dry and have enough milk they can survive below zero temperatures.

Hopefully they will be turned out into the sun with lots of milk.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Avian flu restrictions extended

Bored and frustrated
You might think that my hens would like being in a well ventilated, dry and windproof building at this time of year but they don't. Every time I open the door to give them fresh food ans water they try to get out. They are now banged up until 28th February.

Outbreaks of the H5N8 virus have been confirmed in England and Wales and if they are outside my birds are mixing with everything from seagulls to wild geese and sparrows.

It's more of a problem for small scale backyard poultry keepers who have only a few birds and a a very small coop. Indoors they need dry litter, good ventilation and at least 1 sq metre of floor space each.

On the plus side their feet are clean so the eggs are clean and easy to collect as they only have the nest box to lay in. Normally I have to search for eggs in straw stacks, the barn and even under hedges.

Because the hybrid egg laying machines ( the brown ones) are mixed up with the La Bresse

(white ones) and I don't have enough pens indoors to separate them I can't produce hatching eggs at the moment and these eggs are worth $3 each.

Friday, 6 January 2017

The Snitterfield Oak - 700 years and still going strong

Old when
Shakespeare was a boy just three miles away
The Snitterfield oak was  probably an acorn in the early 13 th century. Robert Bruce was King of Scotland and Edward 1 was on the English throne.

I photographed it this week and it looked pretty healthy for an ancient tree. How do I know its age? I tracked it down on the Woodland Trust data base.

When the tree was last measured at girth height (1.5m above ground level) in 2007 it was 8.03m around, which according to the WT makes it over 700 years old. It was probably planted to mark the boundary of the village's medieval open field system.

At the time even the aristocracy did not own the land, the King gave them a right to it and in turn they rented strips to the village serfs or peasants. There were rarely fences or hedges to mark the boundary. Fences came with the Enclosure Acts in the early 18th century when land became a tradeable commodity and the peasants were evicted.

Enclosure probably gave the feudal clan chieftains here in the Highlands the idea of the clearances as they became increasingly anglicised and greedy. They needed money to pursue their pleasures and define their status in London. But I digress, it's a remarkable tree and beautiful in the early morning light.