Archive for the ‘Rangers Blog’ Category

New Ranger in position

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Hello everybody, Just a quick note to introduce myself.

Wow I’ve got a lot of work to do to provide as good a Ranger service as my predecessor Matt did!

My name is Daryll and I have been a resident of Harris since June 2015. I feel incredibly lucky to live and work on such a beautiful island that is rich in wildlife, geology and cultural history.

Over the next weeks and months I will be leading a comprehensive series of guided walks highlighting many of North Harris’s most spectacular sights from the Machair at Hushinish to the peak of the mighty Clisham. On these walks I will be (hopefully) spotting and identifying wildlife and plants, explaining the landscape around you, providing an incite into life on Harris in days gone past and telling some pretty dodgy jokes!

Along with these walks, working in partnership with the RSPB there will be a weekly eagle walk every Wednesday from 27th April to 7th of September.  As Harris holds one of the highest densities of Golden Eagles in Europe we can boast a 95% success sighting rate!

These walks are open to everyone and apart from the eagle walks are free! For more information see the ‘what’s on’ section on the website or contact myself at or 01859 502222.

The increasingly popular mountain festival kicks off on September 3 with an amazing line up of events! The final programme line up will announced soon, keep an eye on the website for more details. It’s going to be pretty special!

I will try to write something weekly to keep you updated with things happening here and any interesting wildlife sightings.

In the mean time if you want to pop in or email and have a chat then feel free. I would love to hear from more stories of times gone by on Harris.

Until next time, cheers,


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The 2013 Isle of Harris Mountain Festival – What a week!

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The 2013 Isle of Harris Mountain Festival – what a week! This year’s celebration of the mountains of Harris turned out to be the best one yet, despite some unsettled weather.

The festival began with great weather for the two competitive events. The Raft Race returned for a second year – 7 teams entered the competition which was held in East Loch Tarbert. A crowd of around 100 spectators gathered on the in-fill, kept fed from a barbeque provided by the Harris Inn. After three heats, the final was won by the team “Cash & Carry On.” Alongside this was the Rhenigidale Hill Race, now a regular fixture; eleven keen runners took part in the race along the Postman’s Path from Urgha to Rhenigidale and back.

Cameron McNeish gave the first evening presentation of the week with an inspiring talk on legendary naturalist John Muir, which culminated in a rousing call for a “champion” of wild land in Scotland. As well as providing a day’s photography masterclass, festival regular Laurie Campbell gave a fascinating evening presentation of some of his recent work. The third guest speaker, Chris Townsend, was a new addition to the festival – he retold the story of his latest long distance trek along the Scottish Watershed, accompanied by some stunning landscape photography.

We had two film nights – screenings of Brave and Touching the Void in the Harris Hotel; only a modest turn-out for these, despite the lure of popcorn provided by the hotel! The two sea-kayaking taster sessions in West Loch Tarbert were well attended, but the Mountain Biking session not so. The activities provided by SurfLewis were very popular; Stand-Up Paddle Boarding in the shelter of the Bays around Miavaig, and two packed surfing sessions at Sielebost including a few hardy souls out after the Ceilidh the night before!

A personal highlight for me were the powerboat tours of Loch Seaforth, provided by the Scaladale Centre. Unfortunately the first day of these trips was postponed and later cancelled due to unfavourable conditions, but we still managed to fit in four trips during the week. We were treated to superb sightings of Sea Eagles, Golden Eagles, Common Seals and Dolphins, whilst getting to view the North Harris hills from a different perspective. This event will definitely be making a return next year!

Despite the unsettled weather during the week, all but one of the guided walks went ahead. Unfortunately it was the Clisham Horseshoe walk that had to be called off, to save anyone from being blown away from the top of the ridge! We still managed a couple of hill walks later in the week, up Bleabhal in West Harris, and Giolabhal Glas just North of Tarbert, as well as a record-breaking golden eagle walk with an incredible turnout of 43 walkers (who were all treated with good eagle sightings). “Barefoot Shepherdess” Alison O’Neill led two guided walks this year over the Machair at Northton and Hushinish, and got everyone to go barefoot for both walks! A new addition was a “Night Time Rutting Walk” – it turned out to be a bit early in the season to hear the stags roaring, but participants were treated to a great walk by moonlight. The walks programme culminated in an eleven mile hike through the heart of the North Harris Hills, following the track from Meavaig through to Bogha Glas. This was a really enjoyable end to the festival, with great company, and spirits that weren’t dampened by the rain coming in through the afternoon.

The festival dance was held this year in the Tarbert Community Centre. Harris band Catch 22 provided excellent music for the evening, along with Corina MacInnes and Sandy Maciver playing for the dances.

Chatting to people through the week, we found a least 25 people who had come to Harris specifically to attend the Festival (as well as many other visitors who had happily chanced upon it) – this is exactly why we chose to hold the festival at this time of year; to boost tourism in the area at the end of the season. Overall, we had around 570 people attend all events, well up from last year’s figure of 450.

We’d like say a massive thank-you to everyone who attended the festival, as well as all the individuals & organisations who gave their time to support the festival and make it the success it was. In particular, we’d like to thank the Scaladale Centre, Harris Hotel, SurfLewis, the Tarbert Community Centre, Sir E Scott School, MacLennan Coaches, Catch 22, the West Harris Trust, Wee Studio and the Tarbert & Stornoway Tourist Information Offices. Also thanks to Scottish Natural Heritage, the John Muir Trust and the Carnegie UK Trust for part funding the festival.

We’re already planning next year’s festival, and are always on the lookout for ways to improve and expand the festival for future years– so if you have any ideas please get in touch by emailing Keep an eye on Facebook, and for updates. Hope to see you all next year!



North Harris Ranger

Guided walk program announced

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The 2013 Guided Walk brochure is in the process of being proofed and then printed.

We have however agreed an even busier schedule than last year. In addition to the Golden Eagle walks that will now take place every week, there will be a further two walks a week through June, July and August.

The North Harris events have now been loaded to the online calendar and are visible HERE

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Ranger Blog – Who said the winter months were quiet?

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Guided Walks Programme

I’ve just finished writing the Ranger Service Guided Walks programme for 2013, and have sent off the content to get the brochure produced.  A new edition this year will be a weekly golden eagle walk at Bogha Glas, provided in partnership with the RSPB. This has been one of the most popular walks of the programme, and with a 100% success rate of seeing eagles on the walk last year, it is a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of this stunning species. We hope to have the printed programme ready by Easter, and in the meantime I’ll be uploading the details on to the NHT website’s calendar. The first eagle walk will be on the 3rd of April. On the subject of eagles, this time of year is a great time to see them – they’re very active, especially on bright, breezy days, as they will be engaged in nest building activities and courtship displays.



Over the next few weeks, keep a look out at the start points of the footpaths at Meavaig, Bogha Glas, Maraig, Rhenigidale and Urgha – soon to be appearing is a set of high quality, A1 interpretation panels, giving details about each route, and some info on wildlife watching, cultural history and land management in each area. They also feature a selection of Laurie Campbell’s fantastic North Harris images. The panels are being funded by SRDP and Comunn na Gàidhlig.


Eco Group

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been attending & supporting the weekly sessions of the Eco Group at Sir E Scott School. A couple of weeks back we spent a practical session planting willow cuttings on the school grounds, using seaweed gathered from West Loch Tarbert as mulch. We temporarily “recruited” about 15 other pupils to help out for the session! Willow is an amazingly tough tree – even if you take a cutting and stick it in the ground upside-down, it may well still grow!


Crofting Connections

We’ve tried to get the Crofting Connections programme going much earlier this year – so that we’ll be able to harvest some veg before end of the school term. We had the first session with the School pupils earlier this week – getting the polytunnel prepared for early planting. I’d welcome any assistance from local volunteers through the season, to help tend the site – email me at or call in to the office if you’re interested!


Matt Watts 11.03.2013

Woodland Creation!

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Image courtesy of Caroline Briggs

The last guided walk of the season was held at the start of the month – and what a great walk to finish on! It was the third of the “Roaring and Rutting” walks, this time out to Glen Langadale from Boglass. The glen was full of stags and groups of hinds, and we got to see a bit of action from younger stags challenging the “master” stag for control of his harem. The group also had some decent sightings of golden eagles, and a fantastic look at a mountain hare, almost fully moulted for the winter. Over the coming weeks I will be writing the programme for next year, so if anyone has any suggestions of walks you’d like to see included, feel free to get in touch – email me at

I’ve also started getting involved in the Eco-Group at Sir E Scott School – a small group of students who meet weekly to discuss everything “green” – from recycling and renewables to tree planting and vegetable growing – and then finding ways to spread their messages to the rest of the school. This week we had an interesting debate on food ethics.

Since the last walk, there has been a fair bit more office-based work going on, which is sometimes no bad thing considering the weather! I have been working on writing proposals for SRDP grant funding for two new native woodland planting projects in Glen Meavaig and Glen Scaladale. If successful , these two projects will create over 20ha (50 acres) of new woodland on Harris. We’ll be mimicking the very successful planting model used at the Ardvourlie woodland, which is now over 10 years old – using the topography to provide shelter from the wind – so all the trees will be nestled in behind hillocks and in dips and gulleys. Go back in time about 5000 years and large areas on Lewis and Harris will have looked similar to this.

On the subject of woodland, we have begun offering informal advice and assistance to crofters looking to plant trees on their land – advice including site selection, species choice, protection, management and grant funding, and assistance in mapping. We’re very supportive of anybody and everybody planting trees – so if you’re at all interested, please pop in for a chat.

Matt Watts, North Harris Ranger, 22 November 2012

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Roaring, rutting, hares and seed collecting!

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Yesterday was the first of this year’s “Roaring and Rutting” walks. Mark (NHT Land Manager) and I took a group of six walkers out to Glen Cravadale to see the rut; we were relieved to find the glen full of roaring stags as we came over the bealach at the top of Glen Liosaid. I have two more rutting walks to come; one to Glen Ulladail and the other to Glen Langadale.

The rut is where the males compete amongst themselves for ownership of groups of females, and defend established harems against rival males, for breeding with the oestrus females. The roaring that can be heard in the glens is the stags sizing each other up. This can lead to direct confrontations between two stags. This behavior is triggered primarily by the shortening day length, and will often last right through October.

Also this week I have been gathering in the markers we put out for the “Five Peaks Challenge” over the Mountain Festival. Yesterday I left Mark to take the walking group back down the glen, and set off up Tiorga Mor to collect the marker on the summit. On the top I caught a glimpse of a Mountain Hare – the Hare are currently moulting; this one was almost entirely white/grey. Whilst this change of coat may be beneficial on the hills of the mainland, out on Harris the limited snowfall means that they are incredibly easy to spot through most of the winter – something I’m sure the Golden Eagles are very happy about!

Last week I was out for a couple of afternoons collecting Downy Birch seed and Rowan berries. These I plan to propagate over the winter as the first stock for the planned NHT tree nursery. This involved clambering around in gulleys and on crags – the only places you find remnant native woodland on Harris are areas inaccessible to grazing. The presence of Aspen in most of these sites indicates that woodland has been there for thousands of years (as far back as the last ice-age);  due to the climate in this country, Aspen can no longer reproduce by seed, instead it perpetuates itself by regenerating from root suckers. Whenever you see an Aspen, you’re actually looking at an organism that could be up to 12,000 years old!

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A busy few months!

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This is my first contribution to the Ranger Blog since taking over the post from Robin in the summer – it’s been a busy first few months!

The guided walks have been very popular again this year. The season is slowing down now, with just three walks left before the winter. These final three are the “roaring and rutting” walks, where we’ll go out over the next few weeks to some of the best glens for seeing the spectacular red deer rut.

We had another John Muir Trust work party with us at the start of September. The volunteers were carrying out maintenance on the Hushinish to Cravadale path, and doing a spot of beach cleaning, despite almost getting blown away in a gale whilst they were camping at Hushinish.

The following week was the Harris Mountain Festival. Overall it was a huge success – all of the events were very well attended, and the weather was kind to us for the whole week. The Golden Eagle Walk attracted a record 30 people – fortunately the eagles came out to have a look as well! Aside from the walks, highlights for me were Laurie Campbell’s presentation of his photographs of North Harris, and the Ceilidh on Friday night.

Since the festival, I’ve had to spend a lot more time in the office (getting ready for the winter) – we’re currently developing plans for two new native woodland planting schemes, and I’ve also been working on grant applications to Scottish Natural Heritage and the Esmee Fairburn Foundation for the next three years of funding for the Ranger Service. Funding from these two organisations has paid the bulk of the costs of the Ranger Service for the last three years.

Next week I hope to get out to collect Downy Birch and Rowan seed for propagation over the winter, in preparation for the tree nursery the Trust hopes to set up in the near future. Watch this space!

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It all happens at once!

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Last week the Harris heatwave attracted record numbers of people out on a guided walk along the shore of Loch Trollenaraig near Rhenigidale. Early on in the walk, the  24 walkers were faced with the rare dilemma of having to chose between watching a pair of golden eagles or an otter that were both in view at the same time.

Although we see golden eagles on most guided walks, otters can be particularly illusive. They have a particularly good sense of smell and are rarely seen when out with a large group. However it was fantastic for everyone in the group to get good views of the otter diving and coming up with crabs and small fish.

Later on during the walk we watched two pairs of golden eagle, one on either side of loch Trolemaraig. The two pairs were in display flight, displaying at each other, staking out their territories. At the head of the loch there was a welcome opportunity to cool of by paddling off the beach which attracted an inquisitive common seal.

Our midge eating plants; butterworts and sundews, were in abundance and other moorland plants such as tormentil, lousewort and milkwort were also in flower.

Although the dry sunny weather is typical for this time of year on Harris, few of the vistors had expected to leave Harris with a sun tan!

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An Unusual Vistor to Harris

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Dotterel, Photographed by Ailsa Curnow

A trip of Dotterel were recently spotted on Gilaval Glas, a peak just to the North of Tarbert. These colourful birds are unusual visitors to Harris, that breed on the tops of the highest peaks of the Cairngorms and Scandinavia. They are unusual among birds in that the females are more colourful than the males. The females engage in more courtship display than males and although they lay the eggs, the males undertake most of the incubation of the eggs and parenting duties. This is a role reversal in comparison to most other bird species in which the female carries out a greater share of the parenting duties and as a result has a more camouflaged plumage.

The Dotterel seen on Harris were almost certainly on their way through to their breeding grounds but a recent record of breeding dotterel on Skye confirms that passing migrants do occasionally stop in unusual places to breed.

During May a number of rare passage species heading for the arctic are seen on the Outer Hebrides on their way up the West coast. These include several waders, such as Whimbrel and Skuas including Pomerine and Long-tailed Skuas.

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Paperwork and more paperwork

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What does a Ranger do over the winter months? Well, lots of time stuck in-doors doing paperwork. As well as finalising the interpretation panels for the Eagle Observatory, work is underway on the guided walks programme for the season.

Like last year, we are working with Harris Development Limited to create a joint publication. This year there will be more South Harris walks to compliment the full range of North Harris Ranger walks.  Into the North Harris schedule go more “Bag-a-Beinn” walks, taking in some of the more remote peaks. Out goes the Otter Walk. Despite seeing plenty of evidence of Otters, we never actually saw a live one during a walk.

The walks booklet should be available early in April.

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