Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Spring is Coming

It really is! And there is nothing that lifts the soul than a spring day.

I do love all the seasons. I really really do. The heady days of summer, and the days of winter when it seems like the whole world has gone to sleep. Either that or you've accidentally stepped into the magical underworld, where the wee people still live. Winter is truly beautiful, it has a remoteness that the other seasons do not have - the world is transformed under some snow and the familiar features take on a new, exciting quality.

Autumn is another absolute favourite. A birch wood in autumn is just utterly stunning. The leaves are so small and light, and the beautiful soft autumn light enhances the bark so that it takes on a silvery turn. The leaves drift down in small air currents and look like snow, or confetti. It's the stillness of the season that I always remember as well. I say that knowing that the weather can be windy and stormy in autumn, but just sometimes there are days when even the earth seems to be holding her breath, and there's no sound, not even a bird chirping or a dog barking. Times like those you feel like you're the last person left on earth, and it's a good feeling.

So Autumn is definitely one of my favourite of favourite of seasons, it's the transformation of the world that I love most, and because of that Spring is definitely up there too, it's without a doubt a strong contender. It perhaps doesn't have the magic of autumn and winter, but it is more comparable to waking up. While the two earlier seasons are like entering fairie-world, spring is like returning to the world you know and love.

Suddenly the quiet, peacefulness of winter becomes an utter assault of the senses in sound, and bustling activity, and scent and suddenly LIFE returning to everywhere around us. It's truly astounding after we have been lulled by the silence, to wake up to bird song, and sunshine with warmth in it, and colour, colour all around us. It's no wonder that ancient greeks explained spring in the way they did - check out the Myth of Persephone - and all through history and through all different cultures spring has been explained in similar ways, it's all about a return of life to the world.

It's not happening yet, but it won't be long. The birds are singing like mad, and the world is awakening. This is the time that even us humans find ourselves kicking our heels when we leave the house, and jumping with sheer joy. And why not? For the world is wakening up and it's a truly wonderful sight.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


Last week I visited a friends smallholding to show her how to identify otter spraint as well as to see the place she stays in.

The smallholding itself consists of a small farm down the bottom of a long track. Difficult to navigate during wintery weather the place is a haven once it's reached. Right at the bottom of the glen the burn that runs past the farm is swift-flowing and vibrant. Full of stickleback, brown trout, eels and other animals associated with water, such as frogs and dippers, it is a really love burn.

We found lots of evidence of otters, especially at the meeting point of two burns, on the old beech tree that stands guard there was many different otter spraints of all sizes and ages. It shows that the burn is heavily used, and indeed my friend and her husband regularly sees otter footprints on the shifting sandbanks of the burn.

These habitats are so valuable for our wildlife. There is some disturbance but the land is not overworked, and there are no pollutants in the burn and it's a very natural area. Even for humans the place is a retreat, and so what would it be for the animals that use it?

It is my dream that one day I will be part of something like this smallholding. Coming from a sheep farming background I dream of having my own small flock. I like Shetland sheep particularly, especially as I hand spin wool and you could make the most luxurious garments with shetland wool. The small, neat sheep are very hardy, and wild, which is also something I like. I am drawn to ancient breeds such as the North Ronaldsay, the Hebridean and the Soay as well. Hardy and quite self-sufficient, with good quality spinning wool are all characteristics that appeal to me in a sheep! Maybe one day I'll have my own flock of which I can be proud....

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Spraint Analysis

What happened yesterday?

I taught a group of people how to identify fish bones from otter spraint.

What is the need for this knowledge?

It allows us to find out more about otter diets, but also about prey abundance. This relates to habitat carrying capacity for otters as poorer diets (birds, mammals, amphibians) can support fewer otters than higher energy diets (eels, salmonids).

Did they learn much?

Hopefully! They certainly could ID the commoner species by the end without the use of keys, and they enjoyed the microscope work. It is rather amazing, after all, these bones hold a strange beauty.

What are the future aims here?

Well, the people that I taught (environmental consultancy, The Wildlife Partnership) are aiming to use this on a casual basis to identify otter diets in different locations. More research is needed on this subject, however, and so it would be good if there was a long-term, funded project to carry on from my project for PTES (link to follow soon) that would give a lot of data about changing otter diets.

So it's handy to be able to identify prey remains from spraint?

Yes it is. I was carrying out a volunteer otter survey the other day at the Falls of Clyde during which I was able to identify what the otter had eaten in half of the spraints that were found. The others I removed and will ID the remains at home. This will let the rangers at the reserve understand what the otters are consuming, and so what might be lacking or particularly good about the reserve for otters.

I would like to add that I could teach anyone that would like to be taught how to do this. Please contact for more details.