Wednesday 5 December 2018

UK Government rejects proposals to reintroduce lynx in England. .......It should be done properly....... in Scotland.

I can't remember ever agreeing with anything that the Michael Gove ( UK Environment Minister ) has said or done in this job or in his previous incarnations in government. But this time I have to agree with his grounds for rejecting plans to reintroduce European lynx into Kielder Forest. The application appears to have been both incompetent and shambolic, reversing roles. Normally it's the government who are shambolic, read this link.

The precautionary principle, Brexit and right swivel eyed economic illiterates

If you want to re-introduce an extinct species you have to follow a well known set of IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) guidelines.  Among other things this protects the population that the re introductions come from and ensures that they will survive and thrive in their new home.

Read the Secretary of State's letter and the Natural England report here

The project submission appears to have been cobbled together by a bunch of rank amateurs. Overall feasibility of the project is questioned. There's an apparent lack of clarity about funding, a lack of collaboration with local organisations particularly the Forestry Commission who's woodland it is. The impact of the proposals on local people and the lynx themselves have not been adequately addressed and the proposals for monitoring impact are inadequate.

Only once have I seen these beautiful big cats in the wild, I was walking up a trail on a Canadian river bank fifty years ago and came across a pair of lynx kittens sunbathing on a flat rock. I didn't have a camera with me which was good........I just watched them, then left quietly.

I am all in favour of reintroducing lynx to the British Isles but in the right place, with adequate funding, management by a competent body  and impact assessments on people, lynx and the environment. We could have a pilot project here on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula for example.

Tuesday 4 December 2018

Coquetdale red squirrels again........ thank you for your votes.

Thanks to your support the Coquetdale Squirrel Group are through to the final of the Aviva Community Fund project funding. Now we have to provide additional information for the judges to supplement the project submission. they want to know more about the need for our project, how the money will be spent, how many people will be impacted both directly and indirectly and finally how long will the impact of the project be felt.

Thank you for your votes
The need is urgent, our surviving native red squirrels are in imminent danger of extinction here in the valley, we need to remove 60% of the adult eastern grey squirrels each year for at least the next five years. We have proposed much more intensive trapping to achieve this.

A  full-time skilled trapper is needed to train volunteers in order to increase their effectiveness and to do more trapping in problem areas so most of the money will be spent on wages and associated costs such as insurance and administration.

How many people will be impacted and be beneficiaries of the project...... well red squirrels are probably Britain's most iconic wildlife species you could call them " charismatic mini fauna" everyone loves them to watch them and know that they are here. The presence of our native reds has a positive effect on the quality of life of everyone in the valley, visitors to the Northumberland National Park and future generations.  How long will the impact last?  If we prevent extinction, eternally! ............. or am I over egging the pudding?

Wednesday 7 November 2018

A curry night and whisky tasting at Peanmeanach bothy

On Monday, feeling the need for an adventure, exercise and a night out  " Kilchoan Old Guys Expedition Group", (average age 67.5 years) walked in to Peanmeanach bothy on the Ardnish Peninsula for a curry and whisky tasting (lat / long 56.9/5.8). It's not far, about 4 miles on a rugged, stalkers path that's rather wet in places, slightly wetter where you cross the river in spate below Lochan an Phearaim Dubh. First casualty!

Chris slipped and fell on the river bank put his hand out as he fell and dislocated the middle finger of his left hand. This can be painful but he's old, doesn't complain, pulls the finger straight to reset it himself and carries on. Half an hour later it was my turn. Descending the path through the birch wood above the shore I slipped and fell, my right arm landed on a fallen birch with the full weight of my pack driving it. My forearm was bruised and sore but didn't appear to have broken anything. Now it's Wednesday morning I'm typing one handed and waiting for a lift the nurse has told me to go to Ft. William for an X-ray.

Back to the bothy...... the curry was excellent; cooked by Steve's wife Maggie and carried in frozen. there was some dispute over the brand of Trevor's whisky..... was it Lagavullin or Laphroaig?  We'd carried in enough logs for two nights so the fire blazed and the craik was good. On going outside for a pee about 8.00 pm I became aware of thirty of so pairs of eyes watching me as I swung the head torch round. They belonged to the red deer that normally graze above the shoreline.

Postscript 9th November
It was pointed out to me yesterday that of the six vastly experienced outdoors people who set off on this short walk on Monday two became casualties. Despite the fact that I was in and out of the accident unit within an hour and nothing was broken this raises the question, " should we be allowed out on our own at our age". You might like to comment.

Thursday 25 October 2018

Coquetdale red squirrels need your help........ without it they'll be extinct in 10 years.

I am sitting at Janet's kitchen table in Holystone in the Coquet Valley, North Northumberland. We are working on a project submission to the Aviva Community Fund.  The red squirrels in the forest here need funding to prevent their  imminent extinction. You can help to save them!

We submitted this story as stage 1 of an application for funding and now we are through to the second stage where you the public have to vote for us.

Fifty years ago people in the valley saw red squirrels on a daily basis. Today red squirrels are rarely seen because of the incursion of Eastern grey squirrels which were imported from the USA in the 19th century. The greys ( an invasive alien species) out compete the reds for food resources and introduce a lethal disease; squirrel pox, the greys are immune to this. Reds have been replaced by greys throughout Britain. We now have only an estimated 140,000 native red squirrels in in the UK with only 12,000 in England, sixty percent of these are in Northumberland.

The Coquetdale Red Squirrel Group have been trapping squirrels for ten years and eliminating the greys, "with extreme prejudice" as the CIA might say.  The work required to do this successfully is now too much for a small band of volunteers. We need a full or part-time Ranger to trap squirrels, train and motivate volunteers , monitor populations etc... If we won project funding (£10,000) it would enable us to do this for 6 months and evaluate the benefits and unforeseen costs. If successful could  then seek further finance by "crowd funding".

Our aim is to reduce the adult, fertile grey squirrel population by 60% each year.  Population modelling has shown that this is necessary to prevent the replacement of native red squirrels by greys. ( Rushton 2006 )

Selection of the winning projects depends on the number of online votes that each submission receives, first you must register on line,then cast your ten votes for a selection or only one of 59 projects in the "Environment" section. You must be a UK resident in order to vote.  So... please....... vote for our project, "Saving Coquetdale Red Squirrels"

Register, log in and place your 10 votes via this link

Voting is open to UK residents until 20th November 2018

Rushton et al (2006) . Disease threats posed by alien species; the role of pox virus in the decline of native red squirrels in Britain - Epidemiology and infection. Journal of Applied  Ecology, 37, 521 - 533

Friday 12 October 2018

A "pop up " restaurant in the old byre ....... Cafe L'Atelier...... a brief rant about Trumpism

On Thursday evenings  a small group of elderly men  meet in the bar of the, " Kilchoan Hotel" for gossip, discussion of the latest outrage from Trump ....the undoing of enlightenment values, rejection of truth, rationality and science;  beer and sometimes a meal. We also try to organise a small expedition, suitable for elderly and infirm male crumblies each summer.

Cafe L'Atelier
In 2017 we had a few days on the Knoydart Peninsula one of Scotland';s remotest places and communities. A highlight of that trip was an evening at a "pop-up restaurant" for the best fish and chips in the UK. Since then Big Al has been itching to do this  ourselves on our own peninsula in my old byre ( now  the workshop).

A couple of weeks ago he got his wish. I cooked.... Al provided the ambience with lighting, candles and French stuff. It was after all the " Cafe L'Atelier ".

 Menu  du jour..... salade verte ......Cassoulet.... Creme caramel.... Fromages regionaux. And of course a selection of malt whiskies. The Chef was awarded 3 Michelin Tyres.

Suggestions for a theme for the next pop-up dining experience are welcome. If your idea is selected you get an invitation. So far we have had, The Roadkill Cafe and  The Post Brexit Apocalypse Dinner which would comprise three courses, porridge, followed by porridge then more porridge we wont be able to afford anything else!

For the best analysis yet of Trumpism and Borisism have a look at this piece by a psychologist in today's Guardian. What Freud can teach us about Trumpism

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Our last barn owl leaves the nest's early October

Owlet's first night flight

Last week as he was driving home past the barn "Raptor" saw a young owl on the road in his car headlights it was the third owlet to be hatched.

Barn owls are usually 12 - 13 weeks old when they leave the nest so this one ( the last of the three) must have been hatched around the end of June. Incubation takes 31 - 32 days and the female sits on the eggs until three weeks after the first egg hatches, she must have spent about nine weeks in the nesting box being fed by the male. The first egg was probably laid in late May or early June.

It's not surprising that I found the male dead three weeks ago, after four months of feeding the female, the young and himself then three weeks of wind and rain he was probably starved and exhausted.

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Hybrid Scottish wildcat meets a pine marten

Press & Journal  22nd August 2018
While I was away in France a photograph taken by a holiday maker appeared in the Press & Journal of a pine marten and a "wildcat" together. The pine marten appears to be retreating and we ( my neighbours and I) are pretty sure that the photograph was taken in the garden of a nearby house, "Ardvaig" part of Mimi's territory.

My cat arrived here from the Cat's Protection League in Acharacle in December 2014. She was neutered and we thought she was just another tabby cat. Then I had a call from one of a team of vets neutering cats on the peninsula as part of the Scottish Wildcat conservation programme. He told me that they had just neutered her siblings and that they were wildcat hybrids and he asked if she had been neutered.

You can distinguish a domestic tabby from a hybrid and a true Scottish wildcat by examining their coat markings. DNA testing is the definitive, objective method  but perhaps the next best is pelage scoring. You can find out about this on the Scottish Wildcat Action website.Wildcat pelage scoring We did this and Mimi was indeed a hybrid.

You can see images of Mimi being wild; climbing trees mainly, soon after she arrived here on the blog at

Sunday 23 September 2018

Barn owl in the freezer

I found a dead, male barn owl this morning, under the beam in the barn where they normally perch and roost. It was so light weight almost as it were only feathers. When I weighed it on my kitchen scales it was a mere 216g a healthy adult male should weigh 360g.

All white breast without any spots of black indicates a male

The past three weeks have been cold, wet and windy, perhaps the tail end of "Storm Ali" that we got this week was the last straw after nearly three months of feeding three owlets. Hamza is away in Spain filming so it's now in the kitchen freezer. He wants to take it to a taxidermist!

Friday 21 September 2018

Sparrowhawk attack

House sparrows
 There has been a steady decline in the population of UK house sparrows during the last 100 years, probably since the motorcar replaced horses on our streets. Changes in farming practice have had an effect too, particularly the lack of winter stubble after a swing to autumn sown cereals and oil seed rape. But house sparrows aren't endangered here on the peninsula, my old buildings provide plenty of nest sites and the sparrows feast on food that's meant for the hens.

When I came back from holiday there must have been 50 house sparrows around the buildings and the poultry feeders, Alisdair thinks that they were eating as much as the hens.  But this morning there were only five or six on the fence by the barn.. I now know why.

This afternoon I went into the old byre to check on the water supply and as I was standing there a sparrowhawk shot in through the door, flew past me at waist height and dived to the floor. It picked up a sparrow in it's talons and swerved out of the door. It was all over in about two seconds.

Wednesday 19 September 2018

A summer in the Pyrenees

Fifty years ago I read a short account of a two person expedition into a remote and then inaccessible region of the Pyrenees, " the Enchanted Mountains" by Robin Fedden", then " The Pyrenees" by Hillaire Belloc and " Backpacking and Camping in the Pyrenees" my imagination was captured.

When I discovered that there was a long distance footpath through the mountains from Hendaye on the Atlantic coast to Banyuls sur Mer on the Mediterranean, the GR 10  I wanted to do it but work always intervened. Fifty five daily stages plus rest days meant I needed ten weeks to complete the route in one trip. This year 2018 I retired and I had the time but could an old man of 75 with dodgy knees, spindly legs and a heavy pack walk 1,000 km while climbing and descending  53,000 m.

The old casino Hendaye the start
This was also the year when I passed from, "wrinkly"  to "crumbly" a state of decrepitude that includes aching joints, painful legs, a fallen arch and increasing deafness. On 26th June, my 75th birthday, I met up with Rob Bolton (only 65 years) at Hendaye, we set off full of optimism from the old Casino above the beach and headed East; a relatively easy day for the GR10, 21 km but only 700 m of ascent.

After a week, at St. Jean Pied de Port Rob left for home and work. I carried on, on my own, through the Basque country followed by at least three species of vulture attracted by my slow pace, stumbling gait and white hair. It wasn't until I reached the High Pyrenees that they gave up. After ten 20 km days with 1200 - 1500 m of ascent and descent over high cols and a fall due to exhaustion I needed a Plan B.

Refuge de Marailles
Plan B would have to consist of shorter days, 10 to 12 km and avoid the most brutally hard descents. Walking uphill is fine but descending long, steep  eroded footpaths tough on the knees and rather slow. I took a day off to study the trail guide and the bus and train timetables also bearing in mind that hitch hiking in the mountain regions of France is easy.

Pyrenean valleys run from south to north so it's possible to avoid some of the harder stages of the GR!0 by travelling north, then east and back south again to re-start the route. There are also more mountain refuges and gites d'etapes as you get further east with the exception of the Ariege, this enables shorter daily walks.

Early on day 12 after 200 km and 6,000 m I walked out on to the road and stuck out my thumb. In two lifts and less than two hours I was at the railway station at Oloron Ste. Marie and the free bus service to Pau. ( When industrial action disrupts train services in France a free bus service replaces the cancelled train)

Cirque de Gavarnie 
This was the start of Plan B, wandering in and out of the valleys then east over high passes to encounter shepherds and walkers, wildlife and  forests, spectacular mountainscapes, good food, wine and hospitality.

The end

 It was a summer of relaxed wandering rather then hard trekking through the mountains. So, rather than write a blow by blow account of travelling from west to east with the wind behind me and a schedule to keep , I have had enough memorable encounters to write posts about my summer as a vagabond free wheeling through the mountains with no hard and fast plan.

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Owls in the barn...... owls in the nestbox........ a barn full of owls

Owlets 3 - 4 weeks old 

Adult delivering food
Tonight it will be dusk at around 8.30 pm. if you wait quietly outside my barn you will see two adult owls swooping in with food for their young that hatched about six weks ago. Three owlets hatched from a clutch of five eggs.

We have had a nestbox up in the roof of the barn for over 18 months and this was a surprise and a rather late nesting. At six weeks of age now a size where they can be handled and ringed by Hamza an experienced bird ringer. Today he took a look inside with his mobile phone.

Although there are three young birds you can only see two in the video and there's a unhatched egg in the foreground.

Wednesday 13 June 2018

Barrisdale bothy under new management

Over the years the Barrisdale bothy had a bad press.....

" The worst bothy I've experienced....infested with mice....garbage..... unclean.... blocked up fireplace".

On our walk in to Knoydart last week we took a look inside.

For £3.00 a night it seems to be good value there's an honesty box for payments. New owners took over a couple of years ago and things have changed. There's a well furnished ( by bothy standards) kitchen with table and chairs, it's clean, there are sleeping platforms, a flushing loo and no rubbish lying about. I've stayed in worse.

As for the lack of fireplace;  bothies have burned down in the past due to drunken behaviour, vandalism and sheer stupidity so you can hardly blame the estate for blocking it up.

We walked in from Barrisdale because the reports of the bothy were so bad otherwise we would have walked from Kinlochourn and stayed overnight.

 Peter Fletcher ( the Arnisdale boatman) picked us up at Kinlochourn for the half hour trip to Barrisdale. To book this excellent ferry service phone Peter on 01599 235007. Barrisdale ferry

Mam Barrisdale descent to Knoydart


Friday 27 April 2018

Not many people know this Part 2.........bees are safer but our drinking water may be next

A little safer now
Today, Friday 27th April 2018 the European Union banned the outdoor use of three neonicotinoid insecticicides. But this still leaves some of them in widespread use including acetamiprid the active ingredient in Gazelle which is used widely in our forests to contol large bark beetle.

It's not just used in fields and forests, if you have a dog or cat you probably use it regularly to control fleas, you can also buy it in supermarkets and garden centres to control greenhouse insect pests. It's everywhere. Acetamiprid is also used to control bed bugs but people who reasd this blog don't have bed bugs.

Acetamiprid has been found "moderately toxic" to bees, so that's OK!  but it's still toxic and has been licenced by the EU until 2033. Moderate toxicity doesn't justify reigning in it's very widespread use and affecting corporate profits, supermarket income to protect water quality because even when used indoors it gets into the drains and water supply..

This could be our next concern
On the posiitve side, politicians seem to be listening to the scientists and responding to widespread public concern. But acetamiprid is highly toxic to birds, kills non-target species, is soluble in water ( think drinking supplies ) and toxic to humans , have a look at the safety notes on your systemic cat flea killer. EU ban on neonics

Friday 13 April 2018

Not many people know this..............Neonicotinoids in Scotland's woodlands Part 1

Forest industries in Scotland make a huge annual contribution to our economy through; timber growing, timber processing, employment in forestry, recreation and tourism. The forest industries support 26,000 FTE (Full-time equivalent) jobs and create an estimated Gross Value Added (GVA) in our economy of £1bn each year. It's important and it's big business but like all industrial activity it has the potential for vast environmental damage.Economics of forest industries in Scotland

Our national forest estate looks pristine, natural and healthy but there is something unseen and potentially damaging going on...... the deployment of neonicotinoid pesticides to control the large pine weevil (Hylobius abietis).

This beetle eats the bark of all tree species but is particularly damaging in commercial industrial forestry. Sitka spruce the most numerous and widespread commercial tree species are especially vulnerable to beetle attack and are being treated with a neonicotinoid, (Gazelle) in forest nurseries and commercial woodlands.

Bark weevil reproduces rapidly in the stumps of recently felled trees and it is necessary for then to die out before replanting or the new  plants will be ring barked and killed.
Neonicotinoids have been found to directly affect honey bees and indirectly song bird species in the UK and throughout Europe. Is widespread use of neonics in forestry going to have disastrous unintended consequences on wild life and the environment as they have in industrialized agriculture? , not least by killing non-harmful and beneficial insects. Insect pests of trees in Scotland

There are people who work in forestry who think that neonics are potentially damaging to human and ecosystem  health and that non-chemical physical barriers to the beetle, nets and wax treatment should be standard practice as in Scandinavia.

Last week I was working with Rachel Watt planting trees on my croft. Rachel is a forestry contractor with 35 years experience, she told me about this problem, it was the first that I knew of it. Most of what goes on in the Forest Industries is completely unknown to the majority of us so I have asked Rachel to write an insider's story of neonics in our woodlands. See the next post.

Tuesday 3 April 2018

A long walk in the Pyrenees

Back in the depths of winter ( 13th January) I perhaps rashly, posted a blog proposing that I walk from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean through the Pyrenees along the route of the GR 10, Le Sentier de Pyrenees. From Hendaye-Plage to Banyuls-sur-Mer it's a journey of 995 km in 55 daily stages and 53,000 m of climbing. I can see what you're thinking..... "He now knows what it involves and wants to back out".Do you remember an inn Miranda, January 2018

No, I still want to do it, but more slowly than in 55 days; perhaps 60 or 65 days in June, July and August. I do have," form " as a GRdiste, the Tour of the Glaciers of Vanoise, the Route Stevenson through the Cevennes, hut to hut in the Alpes Maritimes and the toughest, the GR 20 across the mountains of Corsica. But the last was twelve years ago. So I do need your help; and perhaps Mac Hoskins would like to join me for one of the stages?

At my age there is no way that I want to carry a tent and all of the gear for that distance over so many mountain passes. The solution is to use Mountain huts, gites d'etapes, hotels and where necessary cabanes ( bothies).  According to the guide there are only two nights when a cabane is necessary. However; since the last trip when mountain huts in Corsica cost slightly less than £20 a night, huts and gites in the Pyrenees cost £40 a night, add travel, insurance and a modest per diem allowance of  £10 a day and you have a total expedition cost of £3,500. Too much for a Crofter on a pension alone.


Is there anyone out there who wants to spend a month or two months of the coming summer renting and living in my house and being a Crofter? This would help to finance the expedition, you could take over the blog for two months, look after the hens, do shepherding, fishing, walk the hills and take care of Miss Mimi my hybrid wild cat. Craigard Croft on Google Earth

From the kitchen window

When Hamsa gets back I'll ask him to make a short video of the croft, inside and out and then I'll post a link so that you can have a close look at it. In the meantime, Jacqui Chapple who runs Steading Holidays is going to look after inquiries and handle any  Steading Holidays

Friday 23 March 2018

Where to find and see red squirrels in Scotland..... "squirrel hot spots".

If you have been paying attention to some of the recent posts on this site you will be well informed about squirrels and might now want to see some

It's the school Easter holidays soon and if you are in Scotland you can visit a number of Forestry Commission sites where you can see them close up. Scotland is home to 75% of the UK's surviving red squirrels and our forests are being managed to help them flourish. It's in these red squirrel, "strong hold forests" that you can see them close up.

For an interactive map of Scottish red squirrel distribution have a look at this site; it will help you find them. Where to see red squirrels in Scotland

I visited one of these sites at Inchree just south of the Corran Ferry, off the A82 earlier this week. As usual I didn't have high expectations but I was wrong. At one point there were five squirrels only a few metres away from the wooden screen with viewing holes in the Forestry Commission car park.

The best time is probably around mid-day when it's warmer. And!...... if you have a dog please don't let it loose, if you do you certainly will not see squirrels.

I only had my phone camera with me so You have to look very carefully at the feeder in the second tree, there is a squirrel peering out from behind it. How to find the Inchree squirrels

View from the screen

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Silent Spring 21st March 2018............ neonicotinoids again.

I first read Rachel Carson's classic, "Silent Spring" nearly 60 years ago in 1963. It's an account of the indiscriminate use of pesticides in the USA and their devastating effect on wildlife, pets and  people. Today is the first day of Spring 2018 and according to French researchers, Spring in France will be much quieter than 25 years ago. Birds are disappearing from the French countryside at a phenomenal rate.

One third decline in 25 years
Research by the, Centre national de recherches scientifiques(CNRS)  shows a catastrophic decline of at least one third in song birds due to agricultural intensification, particularly the use of neonicotinoids on wheat mono cultures. Bees and other insects in general have declined by 75 - 80 per cent. As a result there are one third fewer partridge, thrush, chaffinch and turtle doves compared with 25 years ago.

Although the adults of the species above eat grains the young nestlings all need insect  protein to grow and survive. We have known this about the grey partridge in the UK for fifty years. The researchers say that the partridge in France is virtually extinct.

These results are based two methods; a long term study over 25 years on 10 ha sites throughout France and citizen science using amateur ornithologists to carry out surveys together with the professionals.

Virtually extinct in France
In order to bring you this piece of bad news I had to translate from the CNRS ( Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques ) press release with my big Hachette dictionary, any mistakes are mine.  My own observations on declining insect numbers are anecdotal and  based on car windscreens. Fifty years ago when cars were slower  we had to stop regularly in summer to clean the windscreen of , "fly squash". Now we don't! ......there are far fewer insects about.

A final thought.........loss of biodiversity on this scale is as catastrophic as climate change, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, global freshwater use, interference with the nitrogen and phosphorous cycles and changes in land use. ......... we are standing by watching while our house burns down.

Click here for original press release

Tuesday 20 March 2018

An alien invasive species.......... the grey squirrel's days are numbered.

National treasue
Red squirrels are a national treasure, we are brought up on stories of Squirrel Nutkin, in the wild they are pretty,charismatic individuals, we love them and we want them to thrive but their future is threatened by the alien, invasive grey squirrel.

Greys cost the UK forest industries round £14m a year by damaging timber. They strip bark exposing the phloem cells causing damage that isn't often apparent until the trees are felled.

I spent yesterday at a conference where the latest research on interactions between.  pine martens, grey squirrels and red squirrels was presented and discussed. The message was; where European pine marten populations have recovered from near extinction grey squirrel numbers decline dramatically towards extinction, while the native red squirrel population in the same areas increases.Pine marten recovery reverses decline of red squirrel

National enemy
The grey squirrel was introduced to Britain in the nineteenth century and it carries squirrel pox virus, this doesn't harm the grey but it's lethal to the reds when the two populations meet and mix. A whole range of grey squirrel control methods have been used with varying success; shooting and trapping are the commonest. Birth control is on  the brink of widespread use.

A specially designed protein that causes infertility is incorporated in a bait for the greys. The baited traps can only be sprung by the greys because they are heavier than the reds. The active ingredient in the bait works once ingested and is then broken down quickly in the body of the grey squirrel, this should avoid, "unintended consequences" such as passing on the birth control effect to other species such as scavenging mammals and birds.

Even choice of tree species by foresters can help to control  the greys, in areas likely to be colonised by greys, not planting large seeded broad leaved tree species,such as hazel and oak, removes the grey's food supply but can favour the red.

National hero
In the Sottish Highlands the recovered pine marten population is likely to stop the invasion of greys. In the Borders, Wales and Northern England it may take 30 - 40 years for pine marten numbers to recover sufficiently to  provide effective grey squirrel control. In the meantime birth control looks as if it might be quick and effective.

The red squirrel and the pine marten co-evolved over millions of years. Reds tend to know how to avoid martens most of the time. The greys evolved in N. America and are not really acquainted ( co-evolved) with the pine marten and are less aware. this seems to account for the martens killing many more greys than reds.

Meanwhile, today we have the first video recording of a pine marten in Northumberland.

Tuesday 13 March 2018

Tripylos (1,407m) and a wild mountain sheep

Valey of the cedars from Tripylos
The Valley of the Cedars has two species endemic to Cyprus, the Cyprus cedar ( Cedrus brevifolia ) and the Cyprus mouflon (Ovis gmelini ophion). On a  walk up to the fire lookout on Tripylos summit I would certainly see the cedars in their complex ecosystem  and there would also be the chance, however remote, to see  mouflon.

Cyprus cedars have high ecological and economic value but by 1879 it had been recognised that it was in danger of extinction after fires, grazing and over felling. Since then it has been protected by the Forestry Department in a nature reserve between 900 - 1,400 m.

Mouflon lookout
The very fact that large, rare,wild mammals live in woodland add a great deal to any woodland walking experience even if I don't' see  them it's important to know and feel that they are there. So I set off with little hope of seeing wild mountain sheep but packed my binoculars anyway.

What better place could there be than fire lookout for a 360 degree view of the surrounding forested ridges.  Here the woodland is quite open with glades and scree slopes where mouflon might travel or graze. It is lambing time so the herds tend to be split up with the males travelling and living alone.

A close cousin, the Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep

After 30 minutes or so at the limit of my eyesight and binoculars I found the rounded golden brown form of a reclining mouflon ram in the sun on the opposite ridge about a kilometre away.

Monday 12 March 2018

Winter hill walking for crumblies............

A "Crumbly" is over seventy years of age, if you are 60 - 69 you are a "Wrinkly". I have noticed that the little green international footpath direction sign features two Crumblies with walking sticks, bad posture and dodgy knees. See below.

For Crumbly hill walkers in Scotland  winter isn't really over until June and by then the last warm, dry day you can remember was nine months ago. So I have been researching an escape for Crumblies with and without dodgy knees. I think I have found it; don't do it in Scotland do it in  the Troodos mountains of Cyprus. It's like California; aquamarine skies, brilliant silvery light and draughts of warm fragrant air welling up from the valleys.

It must have been Napoleon who said, "time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted" it's the second rule of warfare. The first rule is, " don't invade Russia", that was General Montgomery in 1945, but I digress. I have spent a week doing some reconnaissance  for you.

The best time to go is now, perhaps a little later if you want migratory birds or May for flowers, the weather is perfect, shirt sleeves all day,  no heavy waterproofs needed, just a light windproof jacket at the bottom of your pack with factor 50 sunscreen to hand, it's the one your grandchildren use.

The roads are amazing, almost traffic free and no potholes so hire a small car. Even remote villages have excellent roads slightly wider than our single track roads in the highlands this is necessary as Cypriot drivers don't take prisoners when cornering. Drive on the left.

Troodos is probably the best base for a few days, two hours from Paphos airport and a hub for walks. When Cyprus was part of the British Empire the entire colonial administration moved up here in summer to avoid the heat down in Nicosia. The Jubilee Hotel is one of the last remnants of British rule and residence.

The trails are well engineered, they tend to contour around the mountains, are well surfaced so trainers will do and they are well way marked with a combination of sunshine and shade as they weave in and out of the pinewoods

Thursday 8 March 2018

A short walk around Mt Olympus and some serpentinophilus grassland.

Serpentinophilus grassland
It's still winter on the shores of the N. Atlantic but here in Cyprus  there's sun, almond blossom and blue skies. On Mt. Olympus the ski lifts are abandoned, the last of the snow is rotting on the forest trails and the woods are slowly filling with flowers,  birdsong and  walkers.

The Cyprus Forestry Department has laid out a series of, "natural trails" on old forest tracks and newly engineered paths that are attracting walkers from all over Europe. In the car park at the start of the "Artemis trail" this morning nine out of ten vehicles were hire cars ( they have red number plates) the walkers were French, German, Italian and British.

600 year old black pine
I am a week or two early for birds, next month the bird watchers will be here along with millions of birds on passage to Europe. Swallows, wheatears and hoopoes should be here already.

As for serpentinophilus grassland, it's not grassland full of snakes; it's an endangered habitat type that grows on serpentine rocks and soils derived from them in the Troodos. I didn't see any grass in it only; rocks, spiky, thorny shrubs and some celandine perhaps the grass comes later with the summer.

Sunday 4 March 2018

UK government policy for Bovine TB control or, "Bullshit baffles brains"

Since 2014 it has been UK government policy to control bovine TB by killing badgers in the areas of highest TB incidence. Here is what happened

                                    Badgers shot                          Cases of Bovine TB in dairy cows 

            2014                          615                                                      27,474

           2017                     19,272                                                        42,010

The policy has been an unmitigated failure despite the killing of tens of thousands of badgers, against the advice of scientists who know about these things...... bullshit baffles brains! as our politicians know only too well.

Read the UK Government review of badger culling here

In 2014 the Northern Ireland  Department of Agriculture, Environment,  and Rural Affairs published a review paper entitled, A review of the potential role of cattle slurry in the spread of bovine TB

Read the review here and draw your own conclusions Cattle slurry and Bovine TB

Transmission of Bovine TB can be either direct, cows touching each other, or indirect by exposure to viable bacteria in the environment, the air, pasture, silage and buildings. The pathogen could enter the respiratory system of cows after the airborne spreading of contaminated cow slurry.  So........

The UK has about 2 million dairy cows that each produce 7,500 litres of milk a year. For every litre of milk a cow produces it also generates a litre of slurry, a toxic mix of shit, piss and dirty water. This is then spread on fields usually before and after the silage crop has been taken.

Our two million cows are therefore giving rise to 15 billion litres of toxic and potentially TB contaminated slurry countrywide. Could this be a more likely transmission route than via badgers?  and where would the 15 billion litres be dumped otherwise? a difficult question for politicians and farmers.

Definition of bullshit................ "A lie knowingly told without remorse"

Friday 2 March 2018

A kittiwake's story ...... plastic, climate change and industrial over fishing

They usually nest on cliffs.
I got home this week to find that Hamza (Wildlife photographer and cameraman) had rescued an exhausted black-legged kittiwake. It was living in his bathroom eating fish, projectile dumping and swimming in the bath.   For more detail on kittiwakes see:-  Kittiwakes - Scottish Seabird Centre

An oceanic species kittiwakes were once the most numerous gull species in the world but are now on the list of breeding British birds facing extinction for three main reasons; plastic pollution, climate change and industrial over fishing.

Plastic waste has been found in large quantities at nest sites and as micro-plastic in the gut; all of these kill chicks.

Warming seas as a result of climate change have resulted in fluctuating sand eel populations ( the bird's main source of dietary energy) during the breeding season. Warmer seas in Spring mean earlier planton growth which results in earlier peak sand eel populations when the kittiwake's food demand is greatest. Peak sand eel numbers no longer seem to be synchronised with peak kittiwake demand.

Then there is the farmed salmon  and bacon in your diet. Industrial fishing of sand eels for animal feed ( they are high in protein and energy) has lead to starvation and breeding failure in seabird colonies around Scotland.

For a detailed and thoroughly scientific summary of kittiwake population change see:

"Storm" -  Hamza's kittiwake 

Alisdair Maclachlan a Kilchoan creel fisherman picked up an exhausted immature kittiwake on the deck of his boat and passed it to Hamza for resuscitation and recovery. The bird was emaciated and unable to flap it's wings when it was picked up.

 However, after two weeks in the bathroom with copious supplies of fish, warmth and a bath to swim in it recovered and has been subsequently released.

It is just possible that this bird could have wintered on the Eastern seaboard of the United States where populations of British bred immature kittiwakes have been observed. The three thousand mile journey in February back to Scotland would have been exhausting.

The video: Hamza has put together a 2 minute video covering the two week recovery period you can see it on his Facebook pages at:-

Thursday 1 March 2018

Kilchoan Bakery.... fresh bread with natural ingredients

We've been making bread for thousand's of years from some simple ingredients; flour, yeast,water, salt a small amount of sugar to help te yeast get going and oil or butter for a better crumb; nothing else.

The Dutch bread oven bakes 100 loaves
Shop bought bread on the other hand does contain all of the above ingredients plus a cocktail of chemicals to speed up fermentation, preserve shelf life and affect the colour. Even the flour is different, it's super refined.

Dough conditioners are added to speed up fermentation, there's one called azodicarbonamide that is also used to make yoga mats apparently. Chemical preservatives prolong shelf life and keep your loaf fresh while some of the colourings start life as petro-chemical products.,

Hand crafted bread

Now we don't have to eat the shop bought, steam proved, tasteless stuff, we can place a weekly order with Kilchoan Bakery for a range of hand baked breads containing only natural ingredients.

Kirstie's  back yard bakery is taking orders for wholemeal, white, sourdough and focaccio loaves baked freshly every Thursday throughout the year.

Saturday 17 February 2018

The precautionary principle...... Brexit........ and swivel eyed free trade economic illiterates in the UK government. .....I feel a rant coming on...

Back in the 1950s the near extinction of many raptor species was due to the widespread and indiscriminate use of DDT in farming. It worked it's way up the food chain from earthworms through song birds to peregrine falcons. no one had thought through the ecological implications of DDT use, it hadn't been adequately tested;  poisoning of peregrines was an unforeseen side effect of the introduction of DDT.

The precautionary principle
I have said it and written it before and I am unapologetic about saying it again, you cannot show me an environmental problem that isn't an unforeseen side effect of new technology. The link between new tech and environmental damage has long been recognised by the European Union and the , " precautionary principle" underpins environmental legislation just as it does for the testing of new drugs for human health.

Today it has been revealed how ultra right wing free trade think tanks here in the UK together with their US counterparts are lobbying for the end to the precautionary principle when the UK leaves the EU so that the lower food quality standards in the USA will be part of any new bi-lateral trade agreements. Campaign to water down food quality and environmental protection

Brexit isn't just an act of idiotic economic self-harm it is potentially a direct  danger to human health and environmental protection. Then of course there is poultry meat washed in chlorine because the processing plants are so unclean and beef packed with growth hormones. .........