And suddenly before I know it the very first volunteers arrived for the season. We spent some pretty chilly days at our new tree nursery site keeping warm by making a start at digging over the ploughed ground picking out stones, twigs and roots and creating raised beds ready for the first seed to be planted! Off we went for a change of scenery and to fix up the busy path down to the Singing Sands as the little bridges needed some planks and wire replacing and repairs was needed on the stile.
We managed to squeeze in the Whale and Dolphin Conservation training to carry out Shorewatches keeping track of any cetacean activities, boats and weather conditions. When the weather has allowed we have seen plenty of seals lounging on sunny rocks and a few porpoises! Porpoises and Bottlenose Dolphins can be seen in Scottish waters all year round.
Onto the next week and back to finish of digging over ground at the tree nursery site, attacked many brambles in various locations with many more to go, weeded and tidied the herb garden…..
And then took control of another very overgrown escalonia hedge in the Lodge gardens, heres a before and after….
and some shots in-beween with some very happy faces to be finished!
No rest for the wicked as we were back planting in the very first tree seeds in our freshly dug beds, the tree nursery has officially begun! Exciting to get past the planning stage and actually making it happen….
Fencing around the area is the next important job to keep our seeds safer from a lively dog, child, adult or rabbit!
To finish off the month nicely we went and for more digging but in a new location. We dug some trial drainage ditches on the Sgurr path. Before we dig any more we’ll wait for the next big downpour (surprisingly when you want it to rain it doesn’t drip a drop!) and see if it is making any difference to the path which has been eroding quite seriously over the last few years, this project is definitely going to be continued…. hopefully with not such boisterous boys – a health and safety nightmare with this three around!!
All things have been quiet on here since the end of the volunteer season. I went into hibernation for a month to recover from a busy season and then have been focused on working towards setting up our new tree nursery!! We have been awarded funds from Awards for All, The Pebble Trust, Nature Save Trust and The Gordon and Ena Baxter Foundation! An enormous thank you to our funders to allow this project to go ahead. We are hoping to grow all our own trees to restock the productive conifers being harvested as part of our newly revived Woodfuel business and also to grow and create areas with more native species. As you can read from the last post the end of the season was spent wondering around identifying, picking and stratifying native tree seeds from all over the island to store them over the winter so we had something to plant in this spring!
As with all projects they all end up running a bit behind schedule, especially here on Eigg as I have been busy ordering polytunnels, tools and equipment but items are out of stock, delivery all the way to Eigg has its complications and then you have to wait until there is enough space on the boat especially for large bulky orders like ours….
In light of this we have had to prepare an area of ground separate from the polytunnel site to get the seeds into the ground as they had all started germinating in the last week. I looked at everything the previous week and there was not any sign of movement and then this week everything has burst out of their seeds and sprouting sprouts everywhere. I fear we may have lost some seeds like the Rowan as we have tried to transplant them but they were to small and delicate unfortunately and have shrivelled up! All a steep learning curve and I certainly won’t let that happen again next year as I spent hours upon hours separating the Rowan seed from the berry, won’t repeat that mistake again but will no doubt make plenty more next year! We have got plenty other seed that looks more successful from Elder, Hazel, Beech, White Beam, Oak, Horse Chestnut, Field Maple and still to plant the Birch and Alder.
The first of the ground prep….
As our season has drawn to a close I would like to thank our 2017 volunteer team for what must be one of the most productive volunteer seasons to date! Each and every volunteer gave their utmost enthusiasm and energy to every day even when faced with more brambles and bracken! We wouldn’t manage half of the tasks without volunteer input and are forever indebted to the time folk give. 2018 volunteers will have a lot to live up to…. Another huge thanks is due to Scottish Natural Heritage for funding the Volunteer Manager post for the last three years. This has allowed the volunteer programme to grow over the years and be far more of an effective programme that will hopefully continue to flourish in the coming years.
Our main concentration for September has been collecting tree seeds. To work alongside out long term forget plans, we hope to have a polytunnel by Spring 2018 for the start of creating a tree nursery. As most seeds are ready for collection from September onwards to have any seed to plant in spring it is necessary to work a season ahead of ourselves. So far we have collected Birch, Rowan, Hawthorn, Beech, Horse Chestnut, White Beam and Hazel. We found only a couple of acorns so don’t hold out much hope to collect any amount of them on Eigg. The next problem I have had is being able to identify the differences between conifers! No easy feat for a learner…. but I will continue the quest and brush up on these skills before sending somebody up the tree to collect the cones!!
The first seed to be collected was Birch. The small strobiles once brown will crumble when you touch them so it is a balancing act of a bag and nipping the strobile off and not having to much wind or all the seed you collect will happily blow away very easily! We will store the Birch seed in the fridge over the winter.
Rowan and Hawthorn berries, unlike the conifers – no climbing required! If you only take seeds and berries from the lower branches and arms length then this still leaves plenty for the birds. Once collected, the same process is taken for Rowan, Hawthorn and White Beam to mash them in a bucket and after many many hours of patience and gallons of water, pouring and sieving to separate the skin and pith from the sought after seeds. The Rowan and White beam having tiny seeds compared to the Hawthorn that only has one large seed per berry making it slightly easier to extract.
Here is the squishing, sieving and extracted seed. The centre picture is the extracted Rowan seed so you can appreciate how small they are and extracted Hawthorn on the right. I now know the future requirements will need careful consideration over the size of holes and mesh on colanders and sieve’s after going through my entire collection in the house to find the most useful. All trial and error, especially when you have misjudged the size of holes and see a batch of seed disappear down the plug hole!
Prickly Beech pods fall to the ground and when dry, the casings open and extract the seed. Currently ours are drying in my loft but I tested the first 10 seeds in the sink/float water test and only 1 seed sank so I don’t expect to have a great yield from this collection. Not sure if it is the same as the Hazel and you should avoid the first ones to fall as they are usually rotten or not fully grown and more float than sink making it not worth planting the floaters. I will see if there is more to collect in a week or so. The second picture is the collected seed processed and in their winter storage in a sand/compost mix until spring with all important mesh over the top to keep them safe from rats and mice! In the absence of volunteers I will continue to collect seeds that become ready over the winter and keep my fingers crossed that all will come together and we will have a lovely new polytunnel to plant them all in spring!
As with this job you end up in parts of the woods you wouldn’t normally go, or just the fact we are out exploring different parts of the island all the time you come across some exciting and interesting things…..
Rare Butterfly Orchids, stunning egg shell, munched hazel nuts, delicate Herb Robert, cool lichen to feathers on a branch to unbeatable sunsets…
Drying work gloves, Shield bug mama and babies all squeezed onto a Birch leaf(!) a wasps nest with a bramble going right through the middle and an impaled Rowan berry!
July has been a fine mixture of bridge making, path maintenance, stone work, helping some kids achieve their next steps within the Junior Award Scheme for Schools (JASS), Shorewatch training, initial site surveys for further peatland restoration project, training on tree seed collection, butterfly transect, bird survey’s, Sycamore removals, helping Gillian with the bugs and butterfly event, path clearance, helping out at Earth Connections Centre, clearing bracken in the community orchard, recycling rubbish after the Howlin Fling Festival and helping out on a farm! Who says volunteering on Eigg wouldn’t be full of diversity and variability….
Beach Bridge! Saves having to do the long jump when doing the beach circuit or accessing the beach from the Laig Farm side. It was reported on more than one occasion this year that the jump was getting to big for some and a few found themselves having an impromptu dip in the stream!!
Assistance from two Grandsons of an Eigg family achieving some of their JASS targets. They helped us plant some Magnolia trees, very kindly gifted to the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust from the Booth’s.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) training days.
Sorting an incredibly muddy section to the path we call the ‘Old Cart Road’ running through the woodland behind the community hall. We re-used some rubble from the remains of the very old volunteer house. A fine bit of recycling! We also had to fight off a LOT of midges the day before when digging was necessary in the bog on a still day, really we were asking for a midge attack in hindsight!! Day two was far more pleasant with sunshine, a breeze and could even stand still to pose for a photo without getting eaten alive!
Next up was helping Wes build a structure to display the Geopark interpretation panel. Pretty impressive all in a days work! It was getting very ‘experimental art’ when we had an old chair, a fence post and a metal ring as part of our guide to work to and did attract some very dubious looks from the passers by… but it all worked out in the end even though none of us really knew what was being built until it was finished. We had believed that Wes knew what he was doing but even he admitted at the end that he was making it up as we went along. Pretty good result for experimental stone art I’d say!!
A very hungry bunch of volunteers after a very wet morning of bracken bashing around the fruit trees in the community orchard! A bit of a change in weather from tropical climates of the day before!!
Wow, can’t believe two months has gone by since the last update..sorry about that! Since the last update we have been very busy with preparations for the 20th Buyout Anniversary celebrations that included many days painting inside and out of our community hall, cleaning and grafting away on the surrounding area to make it ready to host a week of events from the 12th of June. We had an exhibition of 20yrs of projects, slide shows, newspaper collections following the buyout story along with incredibly inspiring people power talks from Alastair McIntosh and Maggie Fyffe covering the trials, tribulations and personal memories of the buyout story. A very special time years ago and a chance to remember and acknowledge the worldwide support that were received throughout that time. It is also very important time to reflect and recognise the ethos behind the community buyout and ensure the future continues not wavering to far from the track! All serious things should be completed with a good ceilidh, which of course we did on the 17th in style!
Back to work we went after all the fun and frolics, it was unanimous with the full volunteer team how wonderful it was to be working away from the community hall… as we moved onto catching up on path clearance as our eye was off the ball and looking at other things everywhere seemed to grow metres high and of course the bracken starts to take over! We spent the rest of the month concentrating on clearing paths, with the route around the Community Orchard and then skirting the edges of the manse woods. We also cleared the main forestry path.
And for a bit of a change of scenery from bracken and brambles we worked away at removing sycamore that is trying to smother out Hazel trees in various areas of the Manse Woods with help from the SWT warden Gillian and her volunteers.
We moved on to bashing Rhody’s next, not that fun a job but highly satisfying! We pulled small new shoots and did our best to dig the roots of the larger regrowth.
The volunteers then spent the rest of the week resting the weary muscles after severe Rhody bashing and spent a couple of days with Gillian the SWT Ranger doing a butterfly transect, the Wednesday Wildlife Walk and then looking for a curlew’s nest (inconclusive!). They then went on to help out at Earth Connections Centre in the house and out in the garden with a final day for the week spent on a croft.
The following week we worked away on the forestry path and track clearing back brambles, general overgrowth on the path and pulling stray naturally regenerated conifers. we also had a half day clearing brambles from one of the newly planted tree sites. Very pleasant weather and even more enjoyable as pre midge season!
Creation of a new path was up next… with the help of Dean we took a route from just before going into Galmisdale field with a path that leads you from open woods, to a mossy fairyland, to bluebell paradise! The first part of the path was simple and straight forward, however the steepness of the bank (pictures below) myself and Dean had remembered quite differently when we planned it out last year! Everyone took the challenge and started digging a zigzag path to begin with, adding in steps here and there… sometimes you can’t forward plan you just have to start and then decide the next stage when you get there!
We took some time out of the path after some intense planning, digging and logistics for a more peaceful time on the hillside on our Shorewatch site. Eigg is part of the 32 sites around Scotland that is a recognised site by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) that volunteers keep data from regular watches for Whales, Dolphins and porpoises. Not many people know that Scotland is one of the best places for land-based whale and dolphin watching in Europe! It was training day for some new, on and off island volunteers, what a perfect day to sit out on the hill. Unfortunately we didn’t see anything this day. But then the more you watch….you may just see……
The volunteer season has swung into action at extraordinary speeds… it felt only a few days ago the family were gathering around the table for Christmas dinner!
Anyhow, April saw the first enthusiastic volunteers arrive and the amount of tasks that have been achieved since then has been, perhaps record breaking! The first week we, ‘attacked’, (is the only word you can use to describe the work) as we started cutting back and taking charge of one of many Escalonia hedges that have been left to go out of control in the Lodge gardens. They have been good for the birds to hide and nest, along with the kids have had much fun running through the tunnels on each side or jumping on the top as a giant trampoline (I have received an official complaint from the kids about cutting the hedge!). It does look rather severe but it does grow back and will look much healthier for it, it just might not be that good as tunnels or a trampoline for many years though…. well done to these three ladies that took on the challenge as it was by far an easy task and all by hand, no chainsaws to be seen!
Day one and we didn’t know our own strength! Even with the rain it didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm.
Day two was as if we were working in slow motion and none of us believed how much we managed to do on day one. I don’t think I took any pictures from day two as the progress seemed so slow! But day three we were cracking on again, although by the end it did look I had maybe killed off a couple of volunteers as they weren’t looking to enthusiastic after a break! But then we were perked up by a visit from out wee Robin pal…until it had a wee poo on Stef’s leg!
Just as we were loosing the will to hedge any longer, we got done at last! The tidy up takes as long as anything. At this point we could then really appreciate the amount of work we had done and how much of the field on either side of the hedge we have gained. For a final day before two of the girls departed we had a gentle days tidying the roadside from the hall towards the pier clearing brambles and anything else that required to come out. This is when we found the wee fern coils uncurling, a very vibrant colour. If we hadn’t been sprachling around we would have missed this moment of natures beauty!
We then moved on to making a new flower bed, weeding the Herb Garden, we even managed to draft in the assistance of our new Scottish Wildlife Trust Ranger, Gillian for part of the day! Off we then went to finish off the roadside clearing down to the pier. Then we were treated to an very impromptu bit of craic on a lunch break! Imagine, small pipes, cello and spoons with a variety of tunes and styles being played and Charlie taxi finally got a rendition of the Game of Thrones theme tune! The most unexpected things happen on a lunch break some days!!
We have flown into 2017 with extreme speed that I didn’t even manage to get time to post the final days of our season of fantastic volunteers! Thank you to everyone that helped out in 2016, every year we are so lucky to get a great bunch of folk. Always an absolute pleasure to work alongside and at the same time we get to spend the days in the fresh, sometimes wild outdoors and get many tasks completed to boot!
We spent much of our last days working on paths, opening up old paths that were heavily overgrown, like the one above from the forestry Hydro Dam down to Laig. This one kept us busy for quite a few days as we fought through bushes, brambles and pulled heather to make the path open and clear to follow once again.
Alberto entertaining the ladies while we shelter from a shower of rain!
A before and after moment while the other two pose for page 3 of the volunteer news!
Off we want again for the final day working on this path which involved heading to the top of the hill on the first of these pictures to build a stile over the fence, but first a welcome rest and moment to enjoy the spectacular views before we got started!
Preparation of the ground to fit a stile seemed to be a challenge after the long slog up the hill shortly followed by a whole load of hilarity, levitating roots caught on the first picture, singing and sawing!
Lunch time! The team seemed to feel the need to show off the muscles(!) before the final way marker being placed, a bit more hilarity and on to posing with the beautiful new stile with style!
Our final days were a bit on the damp side but nothing seemed to dampen the sprits of this lot, hilarity continued through the rain. The Old Laig Shortcut that was started earlier in the season was completed, cobweb watch was on as the weather was perfect fore showing of our many spiders hard work. Young trees were cleared from bracken and other encroaching weeds and rhododendron shoots were pulled. We joined Historic Scotland on guided walks to sites of interest of hut circles, Stuidh and Five Pennies. Unloaded a delivery of wood ready for a new path planned that we didn’t have time to do in 2016 but will be first on the list for spring 2017… and finished off with giving outside the community hall a sprucing to fit in with the newly fitted windows along with being blessed with a welcome ray or two of sunshine! What a busy 2016 it was!!
The team of volunteers has fluctuated throughout the month. We started the month with two, briefly up to three for a week and then down to one but we have ended the month a full team of three. So all is well in the land of volunteering and it looks like we might even get all our projected projects finished for the year… well almost!
We were back thinking about the bird hide briefly and removed bark from the trees. After our amazingly skilled ways and new talent for our CV’s of bark removers, the trees will be planked for use on the main structure of the hide any day now hopefully!!
We then moved on to the major task of one of the branch off’s from the main forestry path that leads past Eigg Electric’s hydro dam leading down to the hydro at Laig farm. The first few days while still on the main track wasn’t so hard going just a lot of brambles taking over another area of Eigg!
We ducked out of bramble duties for a day to join our SWT warden, Dean Jones on his very last guided walk for the season. We were blessed with sunshine, damselflies, dragonflies, butterflies (some all the way from France) and a wealth of knowledge on the herbal uses of the abundant wildflowers and plants. Some flowers and plants I usually class as a weed have incredibly vital and beneficial herbal uses for the most common of complaints to more preventative potions! We never saw one bird, I think they were all in hiding seeing as Dean got sunshine for the walk as it has rained 9 out of 10 walks. You can’t have it all!
And then we were down to one! Ellis, had signed up to volunteer for 6wks then found herself the only volunteer standing for a week! We started on the original Laig shortcut path focusing on the heavily overgrown first section down to the bridge. This track hasn’t been used for many years which became quickly obvious when we began…. I started to wonder if I had bitten off more than we could chop! We had to cut our way through the fearsomely spikey blackthorn shrubs which was, well prickly! This shortcut was the route a local used to walk to school every day back in the days before the school bus! Once we got down to the bridge I was completely stumped as to where the path used to go so we have had to call a pause on works until verification is made! Laig shortcut – To be continued….
I then managed to set Ellis up for the following days volunteering on the Isle of Rum through the Ranger. This seemed to work well and the trickiest part was finding the days the ferry connects directly with each island which seems mad when we are so close. By the time Ellis returned we had a full team of three to round the month off nicely. With our larger team the antics seemed to heighten also with all sorts of hilarity and shenanigans being carried out!
With our larger numbers we were able to continue with the forestry path making it down past the hydro dam and through a lot of heather, brambles and shrubbery. Enough to set folk a tad murderous! Don’t worry nobody was hurt in the process of the path clearance! I never added this kind of thing to my risk assessments….! Here is some pretty pictures from the path to finish up with this month.