Monday, 28 December 2009

What a Christmas!

This unusually prolonged cold spell has brought with it long hours of beautiful bright sunlight on icy cold crisp days but at a price!! Extra duties have included monitoring our water supplies, gritting the track, bagging up logs, watching that the animals outside had enough grazing where the snow still lay on the ground, and making sure everything kept ticking over as it should. In the cattle shed, where the water has frozen, hauling water in buckets is the order of the day to ensure the stock indoors have enough.

Luckily, having had a load of road dust delivered before the cold started meant we could use that to keep the road open as far as possible for the Christmas guests. The main road from Calgary to Ulva Ferry is ungritted and totally lethal. But thankfully every one who needed to get away after Christmas got away safely - the last of them today.

Some of the New Year guests wisely postponed their holidays here at Treshnish, deciding not to risk that stretch of road with its dramatic drops to the sea on many turns in this subzero ungritted state. A spirit of adventure for those who decided they would come - they came in on foot from Calgary, leaving their cars safely at the beach.

Our neighbour says there has not been a winter like this on Mull since 1978 - and despite the incredible beauty of this weather, I think I have to say thankfully.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Winter jobs

We are enjoying some winter weather - nothing like the chaos everywhere else, but enough for the last day of school to be cancelled (didn't hear any complaints about that) and the postponement of the Christmas play.

Our Christmas guests came from as far afield as Plymouth - but all arrived safely to warm and cosy cottages. We took extra bags of logs down to Haunn this morning so that everyone can keep their stoves going in the cold weather.

Now that the hoggs are well trained 'to the bag', and the cows are enjoying their hill cobs, the winter feeding routine is well established. And the dogs are always keen to check for missed food as the troughs are turned over when the feeding is finished. Alice, the ex pet lamb, is a bit of a ringleader so the gates into the cattle shed have to be kept shut at all times otherwise she is in there like a shot looking for a bit of extra feed or hay, and bringing her mates with her.

The Farmer has been putting up a new fence on the Point, which will give him another field to lamb in. He came back at dusk earlier in the week, disappointed that he had not had a camera with him as he had a very close sighting of the Sea Eagle, which flew very low over him and the dogs while he was working out on the Point. A pair of Golden Eagles seem to hang around near the Treshnish Old Schoolhouse. It is amazing how often we come past and they are up floating above the wood on the thermals.

There hasn't been enough snow to think about bringing the cows in yet. They have been grazing from the herb rich Black Park into the Haunn field and there is still plenty of roughage for them even with the light snow lying on the ground today. Without calves to protect, they barely notice us as we walk past them on the way down to Haunn.

We have had some amazing skies - and some breathtaking sunsets. Here are two taken about a week ago - one taken from the Calgary direction of the sunset over Treshnish Point and the other taken near Duill looking towards the track disappearing into the field where the Haunn Cottages are.


Sunday, 13 December 2009

Winter sun on wetland habitat

In the foreground of the above photograph is the wetland area bordering the Haunn field where the remote holiday cottages are. In the hazy late afternoon light the island of Rum seemed almost etheric.

The Cheviot and Blackface (ewe) hoggs are all now trained to the food. Their stint in the cattle shed over, both flocks are now grazing together in the Park - coming each morning to a long line of troughs for their food. You only have to linger a moment when walking through at other times of day, on the track to Haunn, before they start gathering themselves around you expectantly - waiting for a little more. Below is a photograph taken of some of them, late afternoon yesterday (hence the camera shake).

Some farmers on the island choose to 'winter' their hoggs 'away' instead of doing what we do here. Away wintering involves taking the hoggs off the island to a farm on the mainland - perhaps in Aberdeenshire or Perthshire. They might leave in November and return before lambing. This traditional arrangement helps both farmers - the island farms rest their ground with less mouths to feed over the leaner months, and the host farms may have grown turnips for this purpose or may have surplus grass to use up before the spring. Our overall flock size seems to fit our ground - there is enough forage for them all and the grassland benefits from the hoggs and the cast ewes living on the in bye in the winter.

Animals and humans alike benefiting from a cold spell. Dry and clear weather, and frosty ground in the mornings. Approaching the shortest day, the bright sunlight gives valued extra daylight.

Duill Cottage is having tiles laid in the kitchen and bathroom - nearly finished thankfully as the Christmas guests arrive soon.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Carbon footprint and Status changes afoot.

In September we attended a Climate Change and Farming seminar hosted by Soil Association Scotland near Fort William. We came away with the thought that whilst we might have successfully reduced the size of our holiday cottages carbon footprint, with the recent installation of a wood-chip boiler and an ongoing installation of a wind turbine, it was time to look at the carbon footprint on the farm. We intend to address this over the course of the next few months. Watch this space to see how we get on.

This week on the farm we have altered direction a bit. We have - very sadly - given up our organic status. We spent a long time thinking this through (over the last couple of years) as organic status was a good way of reassuring people that we followed a recognisable standard. And now we don't have that, how can we impart the message that although we are not organic any more, we will still farm in an environmentally friendly way, with as much concern for the land and the welfare of our animals as before.

One of the main struggles of working within an organic system here at Treshnish was our inability to keep up with the spread of bracken. The Farmer has spent weeks, over the years, in spring and summer mechanically crushing and cutting bracken, wherever he could get his tractor, quad or Allen Scythe. Hours and hours of back breaking work rewarded in the areas he was able to reach, but beaten in areas where he was not. There are places that you cannot cut because you will destroy the wild flowers growing underneath, such as the small white orchids growing on the banks outside Toechtamhor cottage. For me these are a marker of how far the bracken has encroached. When we first discovered the small white orchid growing here 12 years ago, there was no bracken anywhere near it but now the bracken is threatening this species as well as the many fragrant and butterfly orchids growing in the same area.

In the long term, in order to help preserve the diversity of flora in these delicate areas of the farm we need to be free to adopt non organic methods, if necessary, as part of a bracken eradication strategy. There were other reasons too, such as finances (dripping tap springs to mind) but we wont go into those now and please take my word for it, it was not a decision we made lightly.

We have joined 'LEAF', which has a self auditing process, quite a lengthy one, which I aim to work through this winter, in order, hopefully, to be ready for an on farm inspection next spring. LEAF ('Linking Environment and Farming') is an organisation with an approach to the environment which is practical and rigorously monitored, encouraging farmers to improve their environmental impact and provides help in looking at the carbon footprint of your farming practice and this is something we feel strongly about.

So good and responsible farming practice will continue here - looking after our animals and the diverse habitats on the farm. We will continue with the 'Scottish Quality Beef and Lamb' membership which monitors livestock farming issues, such as animal welfare and traceability, whilst we work on becoming a LEAF farm.

I will report on how the audit is getting on over the winter!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The tups are out, and so is the sun

Today, the tups went out. The ewes were gathered earlier in the week, during a break in the weather, and they are now in the fields near the Haunn Cottages, looking over towards the Treshnish Isles. They will eat off the surplus grass the cattle wont touch, and clean up the pasture for next years flowers.

Before the tups go out, they are put through the fank and painted with waxy paint we call raddle, so that they are easy to spot in at a distance.

Heavy rain showers followed by extraordinary sunlight which coloured the white paint on our house a full yellow in the dying light of the afternoon.

A short while later, holiday cottage guests arrived by taxi from Tobermory as they have not brought a car. Having dropped their belongings at the cottage, they immediately went for a walk, dusk fell, and they came back in the moonlight. Last week we had one night without any guests, the first night since March, without anyone else here! All the out of season visitors seem to have got alot out of the quietness of the island at this time of year and enjoyed the longer evenings cosy in their cottages.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Calves sold, hoggs learn to feed

This was the view from our window this morning. And the soft changing light, reminiscent of Jon Schueller skyscapes on and off throughout the day. Later on today, we watched a pair of golden eagles over Shian and Duill, two of our holiday cottages, as the sun was beginning to set, which was quite a magical sight. To say the least.

We had 8 organic Aberdeen Angus calves to sell this autumn and yesterday they were sold. The remaining 4 heifers are going to be replacement breeding stock when they are old enough. We are at a disadvantage only having a few to sell as 8 is not a full lorry load but this year we arranged with another organic farmer near Oban to sell to the same farm so we could share the lorry and this seemed to work well for everyone.

So the calves gone, it is time to get this years hoggs (female lambs) onto food. It came as a surprise to me when we first started farming sheep, that tucking in was not an automatic response when a trough of nice sweet smelling 'nuts' is placed in front of them. Far from it! It can be an up hill struggle! But after years of learning through our own mistakes the Farmer put out yards and yards of troughs into half of the cattle shed and a couple of bales of hay. It is the blackface hoggs' turn to go first. One or two get the hang of it fairly quickly, and then it is a question of copy cat until they have all learned that they can actually eat that stuff, not just stand on it - or worse. They all seemed very contented yesterday but they are a little skittish when the lights go out after Farmer checks them last thing at night.

And later on, one of this years new young cockerels enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Bonfire Night

A still, clear night with a strong yellow moon lighting a shining path towards us across Calgary Bay as we drove to Dervaig for the village Bonfire. Puffs of misty cloud hang above the calm sea loch as dancing flames reach skyward. Silhouettes stand black against the flare and light - dark faceless figures dressed up for the cold. Fireworks reflecting their neon rainbow over the water. Sparklers. Soup and sausage rolls. I forgot to take my camera.

So instead of photographs of the sparklers writing poems in the dark, some sunshine taken late this afternoon instead.

Matt Baker's sculpture 'Seabone' at Treshnish, with Calgary headland and Rum in the background.

It was a truly beautiful afternoon with intense sun setting light. Lovely for the guests staying in the self catering cottages - out walking in this bright sunlight.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Blue sky and fair wind, Calves weaned

The last few days have given us brilliant sunshine again, with clear blue skies.

This years calves have been weaned and they are now in the cow shed enjoying West Moss Side Farm organic hay and organic 'nuts'. Having spent a few days loitering around the cow shed calling for their calves, their mothers eventually drifted into the Black Park where they have been ever since.

The Black Park is one of our Herb Rich habitats, and we are not allowed to graze it until September 1st each year in order to allow the wild flowers to set seed. As it is not a field that we can mow for silage or hay, it means there is alot of autumn grass for the cattle and we need them to graze it intensely to take it down to a height whereby the sheep will want to graze it after them. It is great to see the cows spread out in the field grazing and cudding, and knowing that they are making an impact on the way the herb rich areas will flower next year.

This is part of the Black Park with Rum in the background, photographed June 2009. This photograph was taken close to the farm access track to the holiday cottages at Haunn.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Lanark Tup Sales, sun shines on the turbine

Lanark Mart: RING 1 in full swing.

An important part of the farming calendar is making sure you have the right number of tups (rams) and that they are fit and healthy for the tupping season (which starts in November).

Inevitably you may need to replace some of the older ones and it is always good to introduce some new blood to the flock, perhaps some improved breed characteristics too. So, to this end, this week we went to buy some new tups at the Blackface tup sales held annually at Lanark Market.

This is an all day event. Before the sale starts, everyone wanders around the Penning Areas - looking at what is on offer. Alot of time and effort goes into ensuring the stock look their best for the sale. Every animal has been shampooed, preened, brushed and shined, made to look its best. Dyed wools, neatly clipped, oiled horns, clean feet and legs, horns branded with their unique number, any blemishes carefully concealed. These guys have never looked so good.

Each pen of tups has the name of the farm on it - with all the mystique of a vineyard. Names well known in the Blackface Sheep Breeders world - Allanfauld, Dyke, Troloss, Midlock to name but a few. Reputations formed over years and generations.

To the uninitiated like me I am ashamed to say - a tup is a tup is a tup. I am not sure I can tell a prize winner from a loser but those in the know, will know - and can hazard a guess at who might sell a tup for the highest price.

There are 2 sale rings. To sell your tups through ring 1, you have to have reached a certain average price in ring 2 at previous sales. This is enough of a hint for us to know that we will stick in ring 2 for our selection.

Early on in the day there were not so many buyers around, but during the course of the day the market filled up, like a huge party slow to get going. By mid afternoon the whole place was buzzing - both rings busy, and great chatter in the bars and restaurant - deals being done, acquaintances being renewed, hands shaken, laughter shared and a great kindred atmosphere. Buyers come from all over Scotland and northern England - we weren't the only folk from the Isle of Mull there, and I heard the auctioneer calling out names from the Isle of Skye too.

So we spent most of the day in ring 2, except for recreational visits to ring 1 to see if any exciting prices were being reached (£17,000 was one we heard!). By mid afternoon we had bid considerably less for 6 average but healthy looking tups -including one from Chirmorrie - no. 533, whose 'pedigree' you can see here.

At the end of the day, the tups were loaded into a lorry bound for Mull and we made our own separate way home.

We got home to brilliant sunshine and clear skies - wonderful October holidays weather.

One or two neighbours have been over to look at the turbine already. We do enjoy showing people round the turbine, the woodchip boiler and where the conversations lead; and we are happy to show our holiday cottage guests round if they are interested. Here she is, looking towards Calgary beach.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Our turbine is turning

On Monday afternoon the long anticipated Proven 6kW turbine finally arrived! And it looked huge lying there in bits on the back of a heavily laden pickup. The pickup drove gingerly into the field, up a non existent track to the site above the cattle shed.

The installers, 2 from Turbine Services and 1 from On Site Generation, worked away from 8.30 this morning, with Farmer and tractor on hand to lift and move the heavy components as and when required.

The tractor lifted. The pole sections were fitted into its 15m length. Internal workings were assembled. The generator was attached. More components were added. It was winched up using a Turfer. We watch with interest - we will be doing this the next time when it needs a service. By midday it was vertical!

It was bolted down.

By 4pm it was spinning. Electrics were installed. Controls were adjusted. It was ready to generate.

By 6pm we were using our own electricity and exporting to the grid.

So there it is - one Proven WT6000 wind turbine, on a 15m pole, standing elegantly above the farm steading poised to help reduce our carbon footprint. Using our own Renewable Energy will make the office and laundry for the Treshnish and Haunn Cottages more eco friendly, it will provide electricity for the Studio holiday cottage and the rest of the steading building. We had wanted to supply the woodchip boiler (pictured above with the turbine) as well, but it wasn't possible to wire everything into the same supply so its requirement is provided by the national grid.

It is going to take a while for all this to sink in, but finally we have turned the wind resource here into something positive and empowering!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Ferries, cows and sunshine. And the ducks.

And after yesterdays storm.... Calm skies. Full warm glorious October sunshine. Fresh clean air.

The cows wait to move fields, near the Treshnish Cottages, and the Calmac ferry out to Coll has a flat calm crossing.

Call ducks sunbathe on the doorstep.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Alice, the sea eagle and the storm

This is Alice.

This years favourite pet lamb, Alice, grew up yesterday.

We had found her on Treshnish Point, at lambing time, abandoned by her mother and very chilled, nearly dead. After a spell in front of the Aga and bottled colostrum she revived, and once she had recovered sufficiently she left the kitchen and joined the other orphan lambs for a diet of bottled milk and special attention from everyone around. What will we use instead now we have got rid of the oil fired Aga we used for lamb warming before?!

Over the summer she enjoyed her elite status as family pet - her ears would prick up at the sound of her name and (latterly) if she could be bothered she would come over to say hello.

This is one of Alice's "I cant be bothered to come over to say hello' moments.

Yesterday however, it was deemed time for her to join the other hoggs, so she was given her ear tag, identifying her as one of the 2009 lambs from this farm holding, and sent off to the Haunn field, where the others are grazing, in front of the Haunn Cottages. A Sea Eagle flew overhead as Farmer returned home.

Possibly one of the poorest photographs of a sea eagle ever taken - yesterday afternoon, as the storm (see below) began to build up at sea.

As I write there is a Severe Storm Force 10 wind blowing. Not surprisingly, we did not have the usual Saturday morning sighting of the Tiree ferry heading west across our view this morning, as it and many others have been disrupted today.

The storm is very dramatic, very exciting! Somehow you expect a storm to be dark and threatening but the light is bright today and clouds scud across the sky - every now and then giving us a blast of brilliant sunshine and sharp blue sky! The sea is a deep deep turquoise. Molten metallic turquoise with whiter than white waves cutting across the rolling tops of the swell. This will take the last of the leaves from the brave bendy sycamore trees around the farmhouse. The four lots of guests who arrived yesterday will be able to watch the storm from the cosy warmth and shelter of the Treshnish Cottages, as the centralised woodchip boiler belts out the heat despite the wind and sends it effortlessly underground to the holiday cottages and the farmhouse.

The sunshine and the storm, looking towards Calgary.

October is a great month to visit the isle of Mull. The island is beginning to quieten down, and prepare for winter. The weather can be stormy, like today, but it can be fantastic too! It will probably be calm and still and bright tomorrow!

The hills are changing colour as the bracken turns to reds and oranges, and the Red Deer stags are roaring. Out walking on the hill at Treshnish, you may well encounter a group of deer - and if the wind is in the right direction you can come across them at closer range. (During the stalking season it is good to check in the Access on Mull leaflet before you go walking as to where stalking might be taking place to avoid conflict of interest! We have a copy for our guests in the Phone Room.) We have been hearing the powerful primal roar of the stags over on Ensay for a while now, it is an exciting reminder of the wild - right on our doorstep.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

A new flock of sheep

After the bird and flower friendly summer grazing regime (Holding back some fields for ground nesting birds, allowing flowers to set seed before cutting silage) the in-bye fields can be in need of some harder grazing to clean up the pasture which creates a better habitat for the huge diversity of wild flowers to flower again abundantly next year.

For this reason, a few years ago, we began keeping a small flock of 'cast ewes' over the winter on the fields. 'Cast ewes' are the older sheep who need a bit more comfort than they would get out on the hill. Usually they are sold off Isle of Mull hill farms onto 'softer' mainland farms where they graze turnips and raise their lambs in more sheltered fields. But some island farms keep them back and lamb them on their better ground as we have been doing.

Traditionally the winter grazing of sheep on arable and dairy field rotations is called 'the golden hoof' principle - they fertilise neatly as they go! But our gold hooved 'cast ewes' can be alot of work to look after as they are not so used to the fields and perhaps need more shelter than we can give them. So for their sake and for ours, we decided to start a new flock - so we will sell the older ewes through Oban Market and we have bought 40 Cheviot Hoggs from a neighbouring Farm and a Croft in Dervaig.

As we are still organic we had to get a Derogation from SOPA to enable us to buy non-organic breeding stock. (You have to have a good reason. In our case, we had looked for organic Cheviot Hoggs and couldn't find any, not even in a small number such as this.) And it has to be better buying local.

If you decide to come and stay in one of the cosy Treshnish and Haunn Cottages over the winter you may well encounter our new flock of sheep when out walking below the Treshnish holiday cottages, perhaps when looking for the resident otter along the rocky shoreline near the ruin of the 'old boathouse'.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The base is done...

Our next Renewable Energy project is to put up a 6 kW Proven turbine to harness the wind. This has finally moved off the back burner onto the hot plate - and here we go... We have been lucky to get SRDP funding and everything is in place now to get started.

Our site is above the Treshnish Farm Steading, in an elevated windy site, and indications are that we will generate a respectable amount of energy from this small scale project. We are lucky to be able to something positive that we personally believe in, through our business.

The base plate hole and the anchor hole were dug last week. Now they needed to be set with a special cement mix to secure the base plate and the anchor plate.

And today dawned dry if not too bright, and everyone was primed to be on hand to help. The turbine suppliers (jointly 'On Site Generation' from Edinburgh and 'Turbine Services' from Carlisle) were here to help the local team of Farmer and several experienced Helpers from Dervaig.

The first tracked dumper being unloaded - brought in from Dervaig.

The 2 ready mix lorries could only drive as far as the cattle shed. 2 local dumpers were going to carry the sloppy mix up to the site. This saved the human effort a back breaking amount of extra work.

The first dumper full of 'C35' concrete drives up from the cattle shed. The Isle of Coll in the distance.

The first lorry left and we waited for the second. From the turbine site we could see the road - and watched as the two lorries met on the corner towards Calgary and stopping for a chat. It was a lovely day and the view from the site is pretty amazing! We were watched at a distance by a pair of golden eagles at one point in the day.

The base plate suspended in the hole - recycled baler twine coming in useful again holding the grid mesh in place while the concrete was being poured in.

The seriously crucial thing is that the base plate stays level and in line with the anchor whilst the concrete is poured. It was a relief to us to have two guys here who has done this before! Some of the concrete was poured straight in, the rest was moved with our old digger bucket.

The digger bucket dropping concrete into the hole while the dumper pours as well.

There was a huge amount of human effort as well as the machinery but the job went well and much relief - a good job done! Now we must wait for the concrete to go off but Step one is finished. (SO exciting)

Thursday, 10 September 2009

This years lambs go.

It has been a beautiful day, fresh and warm, with wonderful blue skies at times and gentle soft autumn light softened by light spitty clouds. The fields around the steadings are full of sheep. Each field with a different group. Alot of bleating as the newly weaned ewe lambs are calling for their mothers and some mothers call back. Those with the strongest bonds walk each side of the fence. Most of them, though, concentrate on fresh grass and learning the new flock order.

At certain times of the sheep year, strange things happen (!) - sheep change name and become something other than what they were.

When the main draw of lambs are sold, for example, as ours were this week, the ewe lambs we keep back for breeding stop being lambs and become Hoggs as soon as those lambs are sold.

When these Hoggs are first shorn at just over a year old they become Gimmers.

The Gimmers then become Ewes after they have had their first lambs.

It gets more complex with the Tups (males), and half the time I m not sure who is who is what. (A Tup is what the English call a Ram) And they can be Wedders, Shearlings, a 1 Shear, 2 Shear and so on.

Tonight, with our lambs sold, the field of ewe lambs is now a field of Hoggs. And very noisy some of them.

During the first 5 months of their lives the Hoggs have instinctively learnt the lie of the land from their mothers out on the hill. This means that they are 'hefted' to Treshnish.

Hefting is the knowledge and sense of the place where the animals are born. They learn from their mothers where to find water, shelter, shade, the sweetest grazings. And when they return to the hill next spring they will make use of that knowledge and a year on will pass on the same knowledge to their own lambs. (You could not easily introduce 'foreign' sheep to an open hill like this - with 4 miles of dramatic unfenced coastline and lots of cliff edges, unhefted sheep would not know how to get around, and gathering would be a nightmare).

But for now the Hoggs will stay together for the rest of the year until the spring. They will be taught how to 'feed'. Eating delicious supplementary food (such as 'sheep nuts' or hay) does not come naturally to sheep and so it is necessary to teach them so that in later life if you bring them in for lambing you can supplement their diet accordingly.

The ewes go back to the hill now and will recover their body condition before the winter now that their lambs are not taking milk from them any more.

The next time the ewes will come through the fank is when they come into the in-bye fields to meet the Tups.

It is now dark outside - the evening is quiet. Lights shining warmly from the Treshnish holiday cottage windows, scent of woodsmoke in the air. Bleating and baa-ing from the fields beginning to quieten down. Mixed feelings seeing the lambs go but excitement too as a new season begins.

Monday, 7 September 2009

A late brood and a late night.

Montbretia flowering against the wall providing shelter and pecking ground for the hens.

Another surprise this morning as one of the Leghorns appeared with 11 fluffy little chicks.

The rest of the hens came up to check them out and the mother clucked on protectively if anyone came too close.

So out came the broody coop and run again and the coffee grinder to grind food for the chicks. They are now safely in the coop and run, and at least are safe from any scavenging Mink or Sparrowhawk and any autumn gales we may get.

I've lost count of how many broods have hatched this year. It is a bit late in the year for chicks to hatch but hopefully we can help the hen to look after them and they will be okay!

This last week since the English school holidays have ended, the self catering holiday cottages here on Treshnish Farm have had younger families staying and several times I have looked out to see young children enjoying feeding the hens and admiring Ruben and Apricot the two remaining Call drakes.

Seafood Night, Dervaig Village Hall.

Here is a very bad photo of a very good Seafood Platter!

It was the annual Dervaig Seafood Night last Saturday organised by Dervaig Village Hall. This event started 10 years ago - to celebrate fantastic local shellfish and has become a great annual happening - this year a few other events have been set up as part of a small but very popular Mull and Iona Food Festival.

About 80 people ( both locals and visitors) sat down to a seafood fest with live music and lots of good craic. It was a fundraiser for the village hall and RNLI. A late night by the time the washing up was all done. If you are sorry you missed this, check out for listings of other island events - such as Producers Markets, Wild Isles Week.
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