Local environment received a boost from rangers Anna and Emma

Iain Stephen Morrison

Anna Leschinski and Emma Edwards worked over the summer to deliver numerous initiatives across the islands, with the most prominent activities being a series of beach cleans, which benefitted from strong local support, carried out with support from Clean Coast Outer Hebrides.

NatureScot funded the two ranger posts after a successful joint bid from North Uist Development Company, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, RSPB Scotland and Stòras Uibhist.

“Anna and Emma have helped with the building of waymarker cairns at Balranald Nature Reserve, an assortment of maintenance jobs at Loch Druidibeg, bee counts and invasive rhododendron monitoring,” said RSPB Scotland warden Claire Bird.

“It has also meant that we have got to meet others from North Uist Development Company, Stòras Uibhist and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, forging great working relationships together that we will continue to gain from in the future.”

“In the short time the rangers have achieved a lot, from path surveys to beach cleans and bridge repairs carried out in clouds of midges! We would like to thank them for all their efforts and for highlighting how useful rangers can be to both the community and environment of the islands,” added Peter Coldwell, environment officer with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Emma and Anna also organised volunteer days and contributed to the exhibition set to feature in the new environment centre being developed within the former Lochmaddy School. North Uist Development Company is working on an innovative new facility that will showcase the unique natural environment of the islands, provide visitor information and act as an educational engagement point demonstrating the importance of conservation practices for future generations. It is anticipated the centre will open in November to coincide with COP26.

“Anna and Emma, have been a huge help over the short period of time they were here this summer, making such a difference, including bringing the community together to clear the beaches of all sorts of rubbish and their valuable help with the environment centre in Lochmaddy. We wish there was funding available for them to stay all year round as there is so much to do,” said Ameena Camps from North Uist Development Company.

Darren Taylor, chief executive of Stòras Uibhist, added: “This is a great example of how working in partnership with other organisations can bring a wide range of benefits and we look forward to future collaboration and strengthening these relationships.”

Scientists and artists collaboration invites audience to Think Plastic

Taigh Chearsabhagh is to host a show centred around environmental questions this summer, the first in a series of activities about the climate crisis planned in the lead up to COP26, the United Nations climate change conference due to be held later this year in Glasgow.

Think Plastic, a touring exhibition from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, will open at the North Uist arts centre on 12th June 2021 and remain there until 28th August 2021.

Think Plastic combines art and science to provoke thought about plastic consumerism, an all the more pressing concern with the increase in single use plastic consumption during the time of COVID-19. Taigh Chearsabhagh will run a public engagement programme alongside the exhibition, which will encourage people to consider their own choices to minimise the impact on the environment and climate, an issue of particular significance in the Outer Hebrides.

Scottish ceramists Lorna Fraser and Carol Sinclair decided two years ago to look at the environmental impact of porcelain usage and question if alternative, less environmentally damaging alternatives were available. Soon they started to engage other specialists in an exciting new project that would become Think Plastic.

Lorna and Carol collaborated with fellow artists Fiona Hutchison, Fiona Pilgrim and Carla Edwards, along with scientists including Dr Peter Wilkie, tropical taxonomist at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, to create the exhibition which, through works of art and jewellery, presents plastic as a valuable and often misunderstood product.

Professor Mike Shaver of the University of Edinburgh Green Materials Laboratory also worked with the group along with his students Hatti Chisnall and Emily MacDonald.

Dr Peter Wilkie explained: “I got involved with the exhibition through my research on tropical tree family Sapotaceae and in particular Palaquium gutta, which produces a brilliant white latex, gutta percha, widely recognised as one of the first natural plastics and a precursor to synthetic alternatives.

“With financial help from the ‘Friends of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’ some new and sustainably produced gutta blocks were purchased from the Tjipetir Plantation in Indonesia and they have been used by Lorna and Carol to form part of the exhibition. Their work encourages us to think about the production, degradation and sustainable use of plastic and how our choices can impact on the climate emergency and biodiversity crises we face today,’’ continued Dr Peter Wilkie.

Amy Porteous from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh said it is important as many people as possible see Think Plastic: “It felt necessary at the time of its inception, but that urgency has multiplied tenfold. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on how we value plastic.

Governments around the world have delayed or backtracked on policies to reduce plastic consumption and single-use plastic, in the form of personal protective equipment and packaging, has skyrocketed,” commented Ms Porteous.

Taigh Chearsabhagh is to run a ‘Message in a Bottle’ project as part of the engagement programme associated with Think Plastic. Individuals on the islands and further afield will be invited to salvage a plastic drinks bottle from the shore, write a message about the climate crisis addressed to politicians and polluters to go in the bottle, film themselves doing so and send the video to Taigh Chearsabhagh for inclusion in a multimedia installation at COP26.

Taigh Chearsabhagh is now open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm. Further information about exhibitions, events and activities is available on the website ( or on Facebook.

Red listed shark spotted in cove at Iochdar.

Abigail Taylor

Twitter user Katie (@StationeryWoman) could hardly believe her eyes when she spotted a tope shark in the shallows in Iochdar on 28th May 2021. 

The young male shark had become stranded in low tide and was spotted by Katie on her lunch break in the afternoon.

Tope sharks are extremely rare, can live more than 50 years, grow to a length of more than 6 feet and weigh up to 48kg. Tagging studies have shown that tope sharks can travel huge distances and some individuals tagged in the UK have later been found as far away as the Canary Islands.

Katie posted pictures on Twitter of the surprising marine sighting (pictured above) to see if anyone could help identify the shark. 

She said: “I went down to take a look and see if the shark was coping in the area where it was confined. I contacted the SSPCA to make them aware and see whether the shark needed immediate assistance to get back to sea.”

Scottish SPCA auxiliary inspector, Amanda MacDonald, said: “We were called out to what we believe was a young, male tope shark on 28th May 2021 after reports the animal was trapped in a cove.

“We monitored the shark along with a local RSPB volunteer and our hope was that it would go back out to sea with the high tide as it had no visible injuries.

“Unfortunately this did not happen and the shark stranded itself and sadly passed away. This is a phenomenon that can sometimes happen with this species and other types of marine creatures, often for no clear reason.

“We’d like to remind people that if they come across any injured or distressed wildlife they should keep their distance to prevent any further stress to the animal. Our animal helpline can be contacted on 03000999999 for advice and assistance seven days a week from 7.30am until 9pm.”

Tope sharks are listed as vulnerable by the ‘IUCN Red List’ and is a priority species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

A new fund has been launched to help communities and local groups get involved in monitoring Scotland’s seabed and coastlines.

Abigail Taylor

The Community Marine Monitoring Equipment Fund is offering support to up to ten groups to buy equipment to record and monitor their local marine life.

The aim of the project is to enable communities and local groups to gain the skills, experience and knowledge to participate in biodiversity surveys in Scotland, helping to improve our knowledge of marine species and habitats.

Individual grants of up to £1,500 will be offered for entry level equipment such as ID guides, quadrats and GoPros.

Larger grants up to £3,000 are available for joint applications between two or more groups.

Applications should have an emphasis on enabling community and/or youth engagement in marine monitoring.

The fund supported the publication last year of the Community-led Marine Biodiversity Monitoring Handbook – Scotland’s first “how to” guide including comprehensive information and resources for planning and carrying out marine surveys and monitoring.

NatureScot project officer Madlaina Michelotti said: “Communities around our coasts tell us they want to get more involved with their local shores and waters, but we know that access to the right equipment and resources can sometimes be a barrier.

“This new fund, launching in Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, is an exciting opportunity for communities and local groups to survey their local marine and coastal habitats in a fun and collaborative way.”

The project is a partnership between NatureScot, Fauna & Flora International (FFI), communities, local groups and individuals, with funding support from the William Grant Foundation.

Fauna & Flora International’s Marine Project Officer Rebecca Plant said: “Coastal communities across Scotland are well-placed to harness solutions to ensure healthy, well-managed seas, and many communities are looking to play a greater role in decisions around local and national marine management.

“The collection of marine data through surveying and monitoring is a key process underpinning decision-making, however there are barriers to community involvement.

“We hope that the collaborative Community Marine Biodiversity Monitoring Project will build participation in community-led marine data collection via the Equipment Fund and the Monitoring Handbook, empowering communities to play their part in the management of their local waters.”

Nick Addington, Chief Executive of the William Grant Foundation, said: “We’ve seen evidence of how effective modern survey technology is in the hands of community volunteers. We’re pleased to be supporting this fund to give more communities the chance to contribute to knowledge about their local coasts and waters.”

More information about the fund is available here:

NatureScot is promoting a more environmentally friendly alternative to muirburning after a spate of wildfires in February

Abigail Taylor

Muirburn, permitted between October and April under certain conditions set out in the ‘Muirburn Code’, is the practice of burning heather to encourage fresh growth for game and livestock.

Last month, over two days, fire crews were called to uncontrolled blazes on moorland on the east side of Benbecula, with fires also taking hold around Eaval on North Uist and across a section of Iochdar common grazing on South Uist. While the fires are not all known to have started as muirburn, their occurence has sparked discussion on the practice.

Johanne Ferguson, Operations Manager for NatureScot, explained some of the detrimental effects associated with muirburn: “The fires release huge amounts of carbon dioxide. We’re all extremely concerned about climate change at the minute and as for Uist, it’s experiencing firsthand the effects of climate change.”

Carbon is stored in peat and moss on the hills where the fires take hold. Once burnt, the land can take at least 15 years to regrow to where it needs to be to store carbon released in the air.

“Uncontrolled fires take over and end up burning the blanket bog areas,” continued Johanne. “These areas form the necessary moss to produce peat, so when these areas are cleared by the fires, there is no peat being formed to store the carbon that’s in the air.”

Cutting is being recommended by NatureScot as a way to protect the environment and the wildlife that may be living in the heather and growth that is being burnt. NatureScot staff are in discussion with Stòras Uibhist and common grazings committees and aim to identify areas crofters wish to manage with muirburn so as to promote the method of cutting.

“By cutting instead of burning, we can preserve the moss and peat in the ground, keeping the stored carbon where it should be. If you cut instead of burning, there is material to use again, for example, in composting,” continued Johanne.

Working together with the community, NatureScot staff hope to reduce the need for muirburn and protect the already pressured environment. Rare wildlife thrives in areas of heather, with eagles and other protected species known to nest in the habitat.

Johanne added that while some crofters will continue the practice of muirburn, she urges them to follow the guidance set out on the NatureScot website.

“If they have to burn then they must follow the rules. It is important to note that if people are burning close to nesting protected birds they are committing an offence as they will be disturbing a schedule one bird species.”

Scottish Fire and Rescue service also urged those who wished to continue to burn to follow the rules to prevent further fires getting out of control: “Strict parameters are set for landowners during muirburn period and these include considering factors such as the wind, any wildfire danger warnings that are issued, the nature of the material and having measures in place to prevent escalation. Failing to follow these can lead to rapid fire spread beyond the planned area.”