Tuesday 25 July 2017

Can a Scottish wildcat hybrid go missing? or is she just a "free spirit"?

My cat, Mimi , went missing at the weekend. She habitually turns up every morning, as I am shaving, to demand food, proprietary cat food, none of that wild stuff. Then..... on Sunday she didn't arrive for breakfast. Had she met up with a fox ? a speeding car? or was she caught in a fox trapper's snare?

She is trained to come to the sound of a goat bell. She didn't come.

Mimi at home in the woods
You might think that a wildcat hybrid could look after herself out there in the fields and woods, she has ferocity genes after all. But cats learn survival skills from their mothers in the first two to three months of life. If that period was spent in a domestic environment they wouldn't necessarily get a skill set suited to life in the wild.

Then there is traffic on this narrow single track road where the national speed limit 60 mph applies and some drivers lack basic common sense, There are cat thieves, fox traps, foxes, eagles and weird people with guns who shoot anything that moves.

Cat owners also have a vivid imagination and often imagine the worst case.

At home in the kitchen
Last night at about ten o clock, after I rang the goat bell and she sauntered up to the house to demand food.

We have had two hot sunny days with a cooling north wind, blue sky and blue placid sea. It's been perfect summer weather. So my guess is that she went on holiday. She spent the time sleeping in the sun having found a nest of field mice.

Cats and particularly wild cats are free spirits., This free spirit is recognised in UK law and hybrid scottish wildcats are not included in the "Dangerous wild animals act". They and their owners cannot be held liable for any damage that they might do to your dog for example..

Friday 21 July 2017

Small farms, small food businesses and sustainable food and nutrition security (SALSA)

This week I was interviewed by Carole  Doyle a researcher from the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen.James Hutton Institute find out more Carole was interviewing Crofters as part of a large EU / UN project assessing the role of small farms  in food production and sustainability in Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. Here she was looking at the role crofting has in local food production and consumption of locally produced food. find out more about SALSA

Kitchen table interview
With global population estimated to become 9.7 billion by 2050 this is important. It's clear that we need a shift to a sustainable system that produces more food of higher nutritional value while maintaining ecosystem functions.

We small farmers are important. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2014 estimated that about 1% of farms were of 50 hectares or more and they occupy 67% of the farmland. The majority of farmers (72%) have less than 1 hectare and occupy only 19% of the land. they have a vital role in household and local food supply. In the EU there are 5.8 million semi-subsistence farms.

During the last 40 years in the UK agricultural economists have advised government not to concern themselves about food security. Houses, roads, and factories could be built on grade 1 land because we could import food from Europe and elsewhere.  As for farm subsidies to support food production we only have those in the UK because of the political clout of EU farmers. After we leave the EU subsidies will be toast!

61% of Romanian farms are semi-subsistence
It has often been said that we are, "only nine meals away from food riots and revolution". Politicians would do well to heed this. Small farms producing food for local consumption will have a vital role when the post- Brexit economy collapses and there are food shortages. We will be as poor as Greece but without the sunshine.

UPDATE 05/08/2017

UK could face food shortages after Brexit

Wednesday 12 July 2017

"Fly strike" and "dagging" ........ it's the peak of the season for blow flies in sheep

John Alec cleaning up the ewes
Here in the W. Highlands heat and humidity peak in mid July, some sheep have dirty wool contaminated by dung and urine. Conditions are perfect for fly strike. Blow flies lay their eggs in dirty humid wool, soon the maggots emerge and burrow into the sheep's flesh. It's a painful and distressing condition for the sheep.Fly strike in Scotland

"Pour on" systemic insecticides are a routine preventative treatment but despite this in July there always seem to be one or two cases of infection that have to be identified quickly. This week we had one.

Each day when out on the hill "looking" the ewes and lambs this i one of the things that the shepherd is looking for. Infected sheep tend to wag their tails continuously, rub up against the fence or even bite at their wool.

Yesterday we had to bring in six ewes with dirty backsides for "dagging" to remove the wool around the rear end as this attracts the flies. There was only one infected sheep with just a small patch of maggots that was quickly dealt with and treated. Soon the ewes will be clipped and the threat will be over for them. The lambs however still have their wool and are at risk up until November.
Mid-July warm and humid....... the blowfly season

Monday 10 July 2017

A keystone species in the Arkaig Community Forest - Wild Boar are back

I thought that after days of rain we might see a hunting osprey yesterday, we didn't. But we did see evidence that a long lost ( since medieval times) keystone species is back. We saw real, fresh evidence of wild boar in the woodland. they had been digging, snuffling rootling and tootling in the grass surrounding the fishing lodge at the west end of the oak wood.

There is corroborating evidence from Glen Loy, an adjacent glen where trail camera video verified their presence. Wild boar in Glen Loy

Keystone species stirring things up
In the UK wild boar come under the "Dangerous Wild Animal Act and if you want to keep them you are required to pen them behind chain link and electrified fences. However, these are highly intelligent and great escapers. Wild populations were established in the south of England  during the great storm of 1987 crashing trees brought down the fences. It's thought that these Scottish boar were originally escapees from the Glen Dessary estate to the north and west of Loch Arkaig.

It was estimated in 2010 that England has 1,300 wild boar in captivity and many thriving populations of boar living free in woods outside of the fences. In Scotland there were thought to be three wild populations. Distribution of wild boar in Scotland 2010

A delicate footprint at 11 o clock from the key
This is great news, a large mammal extinct in Scotland for over 600 years is back and doing its job of literally stirring up the place where it lives, playing a critical role in the ecological community. This is what a "keystone species" is. Like the keystone in a brick arch it holds everything together, remove it and the arch collapses.