Saturday, 13 April 2013

What's in a word?

To wake up to a hard frost like this in December or January would be quite unusual for Treshnish, but to wake up to this in April is unheard of - until now.  

Farmer had an errand to do down at Gribun, someone to visit, and so it seemed like a great opportunity for the family to go too.  It had been ages since we had been along that beautiful dramatic road together, and we might as well make the most of the weather.

Armed with a camping gas stove, plenty of water, pasta, cheese and pesto - as well as the teabags for the obligatory cuppa, brewed up on the beach, we set off.  

We never usually have time to stop at the old fank just beyond Dhiseig. The walls of the cave at the back of the fank were bone dry.  It is beautifully built and you can almost hear the sheep bleating and see them race from one side of a pen to another to try and avoid going through a gate or down a race.

Farmer obliged and drove us to the top of the hill to look at the view.  He made his visit and completed his first errand. The second errand was to cook up our dinner on the beach.  Daughter said it was the best pasta pesto she had ever eaten - the fresh air factor.

Gribun beach is close to the road, under those dramatic cliffs, grey sand and lots of shells.  It looks out over Inch Kenneth.  It is a fair drive from Treshnish so we don't go there very often, but it is great for shells and sunsets.  And we had it all to ourselves!

This is the farm at Gribun where Tig was born.  It is a year to the day since she died.

The next day we had a visitor from Skye. Alistair and his wife Helen run Edinbane Self Catering Cottages, on a croft which they look after in a sensitive and lovely way.  

We walked down to look at the 2 roundels Guy had fenced for us.  This solitary tree has a chance now of spreading its seed and forming part of the wildlife corridor across the fields. It was great to chat and catch up on things! 

On Monday Farmer attended a meeting organised by the NFUS (National Farmers Union of Scotland) with Paul Wheelhouse MSP, the Minister for the Environment at Knock Farm, to discuss some of the issues surrounding sheep farming with sea eagles.  

We have never been sure at Treshnish to what extent our lamb loss might be attributed to sea eagle predation. We have had one or two guests tell of having seen a sea eagle take a lamb here, but neither of us have seen it and as there are other predatory birds here too (hooded crows, black backed gulls) we don't like to lay blame at the feet (or talons) of any one particular predator.  I think we are more likely to lose lambs to the occasional walker whose dog is not kept under close control than to a sea eagle but that is another story for a later date.

What's in a word? (quite a lot if you ask me). It has always upset me, on Farmer's behalf, when lambs taken by sea eagles were referred to as 'unviable'.   It was reassuring today to read about the Mull farmers meeting with the Minister in the Scottish Farmer, and to note they are now using the term 'vulnerable' instead.  I feel this is a far more responsible word to use and far less contentious.  Every newborn lamb is vulnerable, whether it is born in a shed out of sight of a predator or out on the open hill like our island lambs, until it has got on its feet and had a feed, and some take longer to do this than others.   It is the same with calves - though obviously they are not going to be picked off by a predator - unless we find that wolves are re-introduced to Mull next. (I jest...)

It was brought to the Minister's notice during the meeting that there can be between 40 and 60 lamb carcasses found at any one nest site, which amounts to a considerable number of lambs across the island given the number of nesting pairs.  If you farm and have a nest within hunting distance of your lambing grounds, you will suffer financially from the loss of lambs.  This is undeniable.  

Any loss we might incur from sea eagle predation can be offset by the benefits we experience from tourism and the number of valued guests we have who come to Mull to see the eagles.  So for us, there is more than a balance - but for those farmers who have no tourism diversification, they have to rely on a pitifully small pot of compensation money which is distributed to those in the sea eagle scheme.  We have not joined this scheme. 

Despite the issues, Farmer and I are both still in awe of the sea eagle when we see them.  They are impressive, huge and majestic birds. I enjoy seeing them as much as the next bird watcher!  And having won the RSPB Nature of Farming Award in 2011, we like to think we have a good relationship with the RSPB - particularly those who work on the island and do a great job.

There is a nesting pair of sea eagles far closer to Treshnish now than before, so it will be interesting to see if they hunt over here more than in previous years.  Watch this space!

Whilst the meeting was on, Daughter and I went off to catch the ferry to Oban.  We took the scenic route via Ulva Ferry, and were alarmed to see clouds of smoke from a wildfire, which had been accidentally started in Glenforsa and was quickly making its way towards the forestry near Salen.  The Fire Service and a lot of volunteers worked incredibly hard and the fire was eventually put out, without causing damage or harm to humans or houses. I wondered if, that night, someone was lying in bed asking themselves if it was their cigarette which had started the fire?  We were in to 43 days without rain by then.

Over in Angus the weather was lovely at times. I drove to Edinburgh to see our accountant. I got lost a few times. Ended up following a lorry into a lay-by rather than exiting the Edinburgh by-pass. Ended up in Milnathort because I got in the wrong lane.  And ended my journey that day down memory lane drawn into the familiar sights of hedgerow trees and snow covered hills in the distance. 

The shopping was glamorous and exciting.  (new bolts for the aerovator)

Farmer got on with plenty of chores whilst we were away and a few early lambs arrived too.  More ewes are coming to the food on the Sitheans now.  A load of hay was delivered yesterday and it is a relief to have extra feed in hand, for we may well still need it. 

Before we knew it we were back on Mull and there had finally been a little bit of rain. The parts had arrived for the blue van so we took them to Duncan at Croig.  For such a large amount of money I had expected the box of new parts to be enormous, it was surprisingly small. Saw this lovely fungus along the way. 

And on the way back from Calgary to the Treshnish turning Farmer noticed this beautiful old wall running along the steep edges of the raised beach below the road.  Lived here over 18 years and never noticed it before!

Eventually the hens have got into the right egg laying routine and are producing enough eggs for us to give away.  I picked daffodils from our garden for the cottages too. 

Soft sunset over Calgary this evening.

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