Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The Pollinator Initiative Verges Project

The Project
            As the sky remains blue over Islay and the spring rolls on into summer, the fields are now speckled with vibrant colours and abuzz with insects.  The non-stop sunshine, lack of rain and light winds have provided the perfect conditions for pollinators to dine on the island’s banquet of flowers.  Both the plants and animals are in full swing, and so to is the INHT’s Verges and Pollinator Project, requiring the team to bring out the high-vis waistcoats and lather-up on the sun cream. 
            The initiative aims to gather data on Islay’s pollinator-plant community this summer.  Naturally, it consists of two parts: (1) identifying the butterflies, bees and flies which are present and on which plants they are feeding and (2) recording the number of plant species and the density of flowers along the 112km of road currently chosen for survey.  Knowledge of where certain plants are flowering can, through management, encourage more plants along the road verges.  Increasing the diversity and abundance of food resources available to pollinators can increase their chances of persistence.  This is particularly relevant since some pollinators are declining globally.
The Botanist
            The initiative requires a botanist (unfortunately, not the one brewed in Bruichladdich, but The Botanist Foundation are funding this project) to survey the road verges for flowering plants.  This is left to me, Rowan Hookham, a recent graduate from the University of Glasgow to search the island’s damp roadside ditches for illusive plants – a task which I oddly enjoy.  Although I graduated with an M.Sci. Zoology, I spent my final years of education researching plant-insect interactions, where I learnt floral identification.  The Islay Verges and Pollinator Project is a great way for me to spent the summer brushing up on these botany skills and to explore the island and its community a little better.
            As a child I explored much of the Hebrides with my family and I have always loved the exposed island wildernesses.  Islay especially has a mix of different habitats: dunes, heathland, salt marshes, grassland pastures and cliff edges making it the perfect place to study plants. 
            So until August I’ll be wandering the roadside gazing into the vegetation.  Many people already have been curious and have stopped to ask what I’m up to; this is one of the best parts of my the job as I get to discus with both locals and tourists as to what they have seen.  Some even believed, with the strange equipment I had, I must have been looking for oil or using it as a divining rod; however, I am not interested in the black or the blue, just the greenery.  So, if you see me on the road give me a wave or stop for a chat. 

Friday, 29 June 2018

Mini Wildlife Adventures!

Make sure to come along to our mini wildlife adventures that run from the beginning of July, to the end of August. It is free for all to take part and encourages our little ones to explore the natural environment of Islay, through various fun and exciting activities. The activities are a mix of seashore, pond dipping, dune and beach exploration, mini beast hunts and geology wonders, so there is a variety for all interests and needs. Our mini wildlife adventure finds are endless, so come along and join in for a fun-filled summer!

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Sanigmore: Coastal Dune Delight Success!

Sundays walk was not only successful with the sunny weather and a slice of cake at the Outback Arts gallery but with the wildlife and coastal flowers spotted along our nature rAmble!

The dunes were alive with coastal floral displays that included many colourful delights. These included Thrift, Red clover, White clover, Wild thyme, Yellow iris, Ladies bedstraw, Silverweed and many others! Our floral finds were in a bit of competition with the coastal bird spotting of which came up with great results also. Not only were Pied wagtail, Sanderling, Ringed plover, Oyster catcher, meadow pipits, rock pipits and starling spotted, but a pair of Choughs were also observed grazing and flying above the bay!

Islay is home to 90% of the Scottish population of red billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) and are best seen on the West coast. They can be easily confused with other Corvids such as Jackdaws, but are specialists that are easily distinguishable by their red bill, red legs, shiny feathers and their distinctive "chOW!" These birds will graze on short managed grassland for insects and so areas such as Sanigmore that are grazed by livestock, are ideal habitats. Keep your eyes pealed for these playful birds.

Flowers and coastal birds were not the only species spotted on the bay, but we also had a friendly seal pay a visit! For more dune delights, flora displays with the added bonus of orchids and butterflies, come along to our Killinallan nature rAmble on the 1st of July!

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Gartbreck: Super Seashore Bonanza Walk Success!

Although we were unfortunate with the rainy weather that turned in on us whilst on a seashore wander of Gartbreck, we powered through and had much success whilst scavenging the beach for seashore finds. The tides were at their lowest and many species were found including a variety of seaweeds from egg wrack, bladder wrack, Peppered dulse, Saw wrack, Gut-weed and Sugar kelp, which were spotted along the way. We carried out a beach-comb to uncover what was beneath and more was discovered including common shore crabs, hermit crabs, sea squirt, flat fish and painted top shells! There were many interesting discoveries from this Sunday's walk and although the weather was not on our side, the wildlife definitely was!

Make sure to come to this Sunday's nature rAmble on Sanigmore bay on the 24th June where we will be exploring the dunes for floral plant life, coastal birds and many other wildlife delights....there may also be a possibility of a stop for some cake at the Outback Art Gallery before setting off, so make sure to come along!

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Pollinator Walk Success!

It was a very successful walk led by Fiona MacGillivray last Sunday, when out searching for pollinators at the Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve! Many bees, from White-tails, Buff-tails, Carders and Garden bumblebees were observed within both the reserves woodland trail and moorland trail. The sunny weather was a bonus!

Some of our exciting finds of the walk included some interesting butterfly species from Small heath, Green veined, Small copper and Marsh fritillary, what a find! Marsh fritillary although widespread on Islay are threatened not only within the UK, but across Europe and so of conservation concern. It is the most brightly coloured of the fritillary species and can be found in damp grasslands, chalk grasslands and coastal grasslands, so keep your eyes pealed!

The current pollinator verge surveys and management are hoping to encourage habitat favorability for not only butterfly species, but all pollinator species on Islay.

Make sure to come to this Sunday's 'Super Seashore Bonanza' rAmble on the 17th June, where we will be at Gartbreck looking for seaweeds, seals, flowers, waders and seashells. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

June Islay Nature rAmble

Lets hope the good sunny weather stays for our Sunday nature walks coming up this month!

The features of this coming Sunday walk will surly be least impressed by the rain...Join us on a pollinator walk around RSPB Loch Gruinart where we will be searching for butterflies and bumblebees and to understand why these species are all the rage on the island this year. Meeting point is at 2 pm at the RSPB Loch Gruinart visitor centre.....Come along and bring your best pollinator enthusiasm!

We will also have a look at the seaweeds, seals, flowers, waders and seashells at Gartbreck for a 2 hour ramble and nearer the end of the month we will have a look into the abundant flower and coastal bird wildlife on Sanaigmore bays extensive dune system. Meet at the Outback Art Gallery for a 1.5 hour ramble. All ages are welcome!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Colonsay & Oransay Black Bee Reserve

We are very please to host this talk by Andrew Abrahams from Colonsay at the end of the month.  Put the date in your diary. 

Andrew has a vast wealth of knowledge and experience and has undertaken a fantastic level of work to maintain and establish special recognition for the management of pure Black bee strains of honeybees in a difficult location and recognised for its disease free status.

Everyone welcome.

Seaweed Foraging Weekend May 2018

A Seaweed Bounty on our Shoreline

Following on from our very successful weekend last year the Islay Natural History Trust have invited Duncan from Slate Island Seaweeds back for another seashore foraging weekend (25th-27th May).  We have added an extra evening in on the Friday with more emphasis on the cooking and end products and a more informal appreciation of the marine algae and what wonders it can produce.  For those with a more adventurous streak they can join our Saturday event and those who prefer a little less energetic forage and cooking in comfort we will have a session on the Sunday at the Nature Centre (children are welcome), using the resources gathered from the shore at Port Charlotte.

It is a fascinating subject, I learnt lots last year and hope to reinforce that knowledge this time round.  Laver crisps, kelp tagliatellie, egg-less pancakes, treat yourself to a seaweed moisturising bath without the five star spa prices!  

Its all on our doorstep, it is important to harvest the weed selectively and correctly by not ripping it from the rocks and ensure it is taken in a sustainable way so as not to damage growth for the future.
Places for the weekend foraging need to be booked it is open to everyone, you don't have to be a Trust member.  The Friday evening is open for anyone to come along (see details for all events in 'What's-on' and on posters).
Check out last years blog post to see photos of all we got up to:

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

New Signs for the Nature Centre and a new website too!.

Our smart new signs have arrived following our renaming as Islay Nature Centre. We are hopeful that they will tempt people to come in and see what we have on display and find out more about Islay's natural history. 

We also have a great new website to checkout at with lots of information about the centre and Islay's natural history. Hope to see you down here soon......

Monday, 9 April 2018

Learning English as a foreign language with Islay's Nature as the theme.

Would you be interested in teaching and hosting students who wish to learn English as a foreign language on Islay?  

Nicholas Waller will be visiting Islay this week with an idea and an opportunity for Islay to welcome students/individuals from different corners of the world to come and learn English on our island.  His idea is to use the natural environment that Islay can boast for learning opportunities, and the wonderful sense of community and friendly welcoming people as a basis for developing a potential network of host families willing to help foreign individuals come and learn English.  There would be some financial gain for the host families but more importantly a chance to exchange experiences and learning.  We have offered to facilitate a meeting for anyone who is interested or just curious to come and hear what Nicholas has in mind, find out if there is potential and/or local interest in the idea.

If interested or just curious come along to the INHT Nature Centre in Port Charlotte at 7pm this Thursday 12th April

An outline of Nicholas's plan/idea:

Nicholas Waller is visiting Islay this week in search of a place to launch a “Wild English” summer school, which will use the natural environment to teach English as a Foreign Language. Islay’s Natural History Centre makes it very attractive. Students will be mainly adults, from Europe, Russia and south-east Asia. They’ll spend a lot of time outdoors doing “citizen science” tasks set by wildlife and environment organisations like Scottish Natural Heritage.

As the summer school will bring in its own students, it won’t compete in any way with existing businesses, and students will be encouraged to arrive by public transport, not bring a car. The summer school, and it could go on all year round, will bring money into the community, especially for host families and local people interested in teaching or admin. (The basic EFL teaching qualification is the CELTA, which is quite quick and easy, plus at least 4 months intensive teaching practice in a language school, typically a big city summer school for foreign teenagers in Edinburgh, Oxbridge or along the south coast of England.)

English language lessons always have a theme. It’s usually either general English (pop culture, fashion, everyday life, relationships, “what I did on my holidays”) or business English (business meetings, negotiating, problems with suppliers). Simulated activities like these are getting less popular with students, and they’re not very motivating. At the same time “English Plus” courses are getting more popular, such as English plus yoga, English plus art appreciation, English plus golf, and now English plus the natural environment.

Nicholas isn’t here to represent any school or corporation, so please don’t expect to see massive investment, or dozens of students right away! He expects the school to start small and grow naturally. Students can be obtained via agencies, but Nicholas intends to build the school’s client base by producing a regular environmental blogspot with articles in “international English”, which is simplified English that’s graded for intermediate to advanced learners.

If you like the idea, please join in, or there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start your own similar venture; it’s not patented! In fact, the more Islay gets a reputation for high-quality English plus environment courses, whether from one school or half a dozen, the more everybody benefits.

Nicholas started his working life as a kayaking and mountain sports instructor. He was then a solicitor for 20 years before turning to EFL. He has other interests too, and his main motivation is doing high-quality work with happy, motivated students rather than getting rich quick. Host families should bear in mind that hosting a student pays less than running a B&B, but it’s more fun.

Nicholas has worked with adult students from Hitachi, Renault, HSBC, the German weather service, the French nuclear power organisation, and many others, but he’d rather work with eco-conscious students.

There’s more information on his website at

Many pieces of rubbish

A trailer load in 4 hours

Thank you to everyone who came and helped clear rubbish and plastic off the beach at Kilchoman on Sunday. There were in excess of 45 people some who came specifically to help and some who came to enjoy the beach and were still prepared to grab a bag and pick up debris, big and small.  So much help makes a big difference to the beautiful beaches we so enjoy but it doesn't have to be a big effort just a few times a year, if we all chip in during our beach visits by doing a little, we can achieve a lot.
Fiona MacGillivray

Three pieces of rubbish!

Make your beach plastic free,
Oh, what a sight that would be!

Plastic litter on the beach,
is a scourge to man and beast.

It floats on in, off the sea,
in a relentless tide of mans' debris.

Piled high, we throw our hands up high
'How can we just let this lie?!'

But with visitors and walkers each day,
we can reduce it day by day.

Pick up three pieces of rubbish each,
and your beach will be a peach.

There is always a bin that sits quite near,
pop it in and you can cheer.

Then your beach will just be,
sand and sea, and clutter free!

 © Fiona MacGillivray 

Friday, 30 March 2018

Visitor Centre Open Easter Monday

Islay Natural History Trust is Springing into Nature

We are very pleased to be able to open the Islay Natural History Trusts Visitor Centre in April this year, with the doors opening from Easter Monday with a new, simpler name - the Islay Nature Centre. It is true we have changed the name of the centre a few times over the years, with some still calling it the Field Centre, and from there it has merged into a few formats in an effort to summarise in a title what we offer, as so many are often put off by our little door which unbeknownst to them, leads into a vast area of wildlife exploration and information.  So come Easter Monday all will be go, with tanks and creatures, tadpoles and bugs, and a plethora of information boards and displays. Please come and visit over the Easter holidays and throughout the summer for information, excitement and activities for all ages.

We will need some help collecting creatures to fill the tanks, so if you fancy giving us a hand we will be down at Port Mor on Monday (2pm) rockpooling, with some of our catch making its way to the centre tanks - all welcome.  

I am always keen to pay the beaches back for what they provide and so on Sunday 8th April we will be undertaking a beach clean with the help of what was 'Rejig' on Kilchoman Beach (Machir Bay) at 2pm. Everyone is invited to come along and help out, for as long as you can manage or if you are just going for a walk come back with just 3 items of rubbish!  Every little helps and with so many of you enjoying a walk on a beach a few items removed each time makes a big difference.

Let us know what wildlife you are seeing around the island and we will put it up on our boards and record it in our sightings.  The skylarks are singing, the curlews are 'cerlewing' over the moor, and lapwings are combat dancing in the air and peewitting for a mate, scraping a nest in a damp corner of a field.  We await the first of the summer migrants and the departing of the winter visitors.  A few warmer days and the frogs are out on the roads heading for a pond, and the cold wet chill of winter will hopefully be a distant memory. We look forward to seeing you all at some point through the season, either in the centre or on the many activities over the summer.

Fiona MacG

Monday, 19 February 2018

Butterfly Conservation Scotland on Islay

The Bog Squad

This group of volunteers is dedicated to helping to restore peatland habitats, it is visiting Islay from the 25th Feb for a week to undertake some Rhododendron clearance on Duich Moss and provide training in surveying the Marsh Fritillary butterfly.  Anyone interested and wishing to help and volunteer in the practical work days are very welcome and they are providing a training session on Thursday 1st March for anyone interested in learning to survey Marsh Fritillary sites (booking required).  Please contact Sarah Edwards ACT CANN Site Co-ordinator for times, meeting points and booking  Tel: 01496 810462. 

As part of their week they are bringing a talk for us, come to the Islay Nature Centre in Port Charlotte on Thursday 1st March 7.30 for "The Bog Squad - Restoring Scotlands Peatlands" By Rebecca Crawford.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Summer employment opportunities with INHT

The Islay Natural History Trust
is recruiting for the summer season,
April to end of September 2018.

We are a small charity, primarily run by a volunteer committee we will provide active support and training and welcome a keen individuals to help run and manage our varied and exciting range of wildlife themed activities and surveys this summer.

Available job roles:

Islay's Nature Centre:

Visitor Centre Manager

April/May - End September.  Wage dependent on skills and experience.
4-5 days per week depending on availability, 6 hours per day.
The applicant will ideally have a friendly engaging manner, good organisational skills, competence with computers and a good knowledge of Islay.  Lone working required, therefore the ability to work under own initiative essential.  Knowledge of a variety of wildlife is desirable.  You will be required to promote the centre, manage visitor facilities, admissions, shop, displays, the aquatic tanks and organise nature walks and family activities.

Visitor Centre Assistant - Part time/flexible

Availability May - End September.  Wage dependent on skills and experience
This role will be to support the Centre Manager with visitor centre duties, covering days when they are not available and holiday cover.  Ideal for someone interested in Islay's natural history but with limited availability, or for a student during the summer (this position also has the potential to be combined with the Pollinator Ecologist role below).  Must have a friendly and engaging manner.  Some wildlife knowledge is desirable, but not essential. Lone working required therefore the ability to work under own initiative essential.

Islay Verges/Pollinator Initiative:
Islay Verges Project aims to record the floral and pollinator species interest in 112 km of the roadside verges of Islay.

Floral surveys:  Ecologist/Botanist with proven skills in vegetation survey techniques  
3-3.5 month post April - August.  £12.50/hour based on an 8hr day, c. 20 days per month.  Can be worked as self employed contract.  You will be expected to organise your own work plan to achieve the survey goals.
Would suit graduate with interest in pursuing an ecological career in botanical surveys.  Must have proven skills in plant identification and standard survey techniques; some training will be given where needed.  Excellent organisation skills and the ability to manage their own time effectively.  Lone working required so the ability to work under own initiative essential.  Must have an accurate approach to data gathering and recording.  Happy to work in variable weather conditions and preferably with their own transport, car or bicycle.

Pollinator Surveys:  Ecologist with skills in insect identification (Butterflies; Bees and other pollinators)

Requires availability for approx. 8 days per 6 week period mid April to Mid September £12.50/hour based on a 5 hour day covering routes four times through season.  You will be expected to organise your own work plan to achieve the survey goals.
Must have skills in Butterfly and Bee identification and the ability and interest to develop these skills.  Some training will be given where needed.  Some lone working required so the ability to work under own initiative essential.  Must have an accurate approach to data gathering and recording.  Flexibility in availability is essential in order to fit in with suitable survey weather conditions.  Preferably with their own transport car or bicycle.

Depending on the skills and interests of applicants it may be possible to combine some of the job responsibilities of the Verges project with the roles at the Islay Nature Centre and vice versa. 

For further details please e-mail: or call Fiona 01496850607.  Application by CV with references via email or post to INHT, Main Street, Port Charlotte, Isle of Islay PA48 7TX. 

Closing date: 28th February 2018

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Next Trust talk - Serengeti Safari 23rd January

Following a recent safari trip to Africa, Malcolm Ogilvie will be giving us a talk on his Serengeti Safari undertaken at the end of last year, we look forward to images of lions, leopards and much more.  Please join us on Tuesday 23rd Jan at 7.30pm at the Nature Centre in Port Charlotte. 

Everyone is welcome, small admission charge with tea and ginger cake to follow.

Sad loss of our former Chairperson and avid supporter Carl Reavey

We at the Trust were deeply saddened by the sudden loss this week, too early in life, of our former Chairperson Carl Reavey.  An inspirational and enthusiastic advocate of nature and history, he will be sorely missed by all who knew him.  

He joined the Trust management committee in 2002 going on to become Chairperson in 2010 (until 2014).  He had an entrepreneurial spirit and his business knowledge and expertise was so helpful in guiding the direction and projects the Trust developed.  

Keen to learn - looking at beetles in cow pats with Crystal Maw

His connections with Bruichladdich Distillery helped us to inform and enthuse the public on the wonderful natural history of Islay through welcome evenings hosted at the Distillery and funding to help the Trust through some difficult times, along with his support of the current project to increase our knowledge of Islay's roadside verges through active surveys and data recording, for which we are so grateful.

Photographing INHT activities
- Owl ringing at Octomore

He was an engaging speaker, providing entertaining talks and photos for our blogs and such enthusiasm and understanding of the natural world for which we will remember him with great fondness. He will be greatly missed by so many on Islay, and we would like to pass on our deepest sympathies to Jan, Alistair and all his family and friends. May the memories inspire and give comfort into the future.

Fiona MacGillivray