Wednesday 15 November 2017

Fun at our AGM - Pot luck supper

When someone comments that this is probably the best AGM they have attended..ever!!!  It is encouraging to feel that whilst such formal meetings can usually be a boring affair that no one wants to attend we have managed to make the ordeal light and fun to come along and enjoy.

Our usual format of having a talk alongside was change to a 'Foraged' Pot Luck Supper, some foraged Tesco's and the Co-op! and some used natural wild foraged ingredients, what ever they felt best at.

A good spread and some light hearted fun by way of an Islay based wildlife quiz went down a treat, the questions, not that easy so well done everyone, birds, plants, mammals and bugs and beasties, I did not get time to put in the geology questions, sorry Dave! and we finished off with building a beetle and 'drawing in the dark', the latter undoubtedly the most fun.

Thanks to all who came along and made it so much fun.

Thursday 2 November 2017

Islay Natural History Trust AGM

AGM and Pot Luck/Foraged Supper Social

We are looking forward to our AGM, a more social occasion this year.  After the formal business, which will hopefully be brief, we will have food, games and raffle.  Soup for starters and pot luck accompaniments (and if you feel able from foraged ingredients) so bring a plate of food (if you feel inspired) and join us for a wildlife themed social occasion.

The Snowball Earth Weekend Experience


The author of this piece is not a geologist but is fascinated by the story of the Earth told by looking at its rocks. Geologists should read no further but should consult "A Guide to the Geology of Islay " (published by Ringwood Publishing) by David Webster, Roger Anderton and Alasdair Skelton, all skilled and experienced geologists with a special knowledge of Islay.

About 650 million years ago, the evidence of the rocks indicates that the whole or most of the Earth was encrusted with ice. Exposed rocks of that age in various parts of the world offer the evidence. One of those places is Islay the southernmost Scottish island facing the Atlantic Ocean.

If you go to Islay by boat you may arrive at the harbour of Port Askaig, directly opposite the southern end of the island of Jura. When you leave the boat, park your car for a while in the car park and look upwards at the cliff facing you. In that cliff is to be found evidence for “Snowball Earth”.

If you walk over to the cliff and look carefully at the rocks in it, you will find the evidence. These rocks are not volcanic. They are not lava or granitic. They have no structure. Rocks which have been laid down over a long period on the surface normally have done so in successive layers or beds. Often the beds can be readily seen. If the rocks have spent long periods buried under the surface of the Earth, they will have been exposed to heat and pressure which will have altered the minerals which compose them. Often the pressure, which may result from continental plate movement, will have resulted in the minerals arranging themselves in lines at right angles to the pressure. When these rocks ultimately return to being exposed on the surface, you can see these lines. Geologists call this phenomenon "cleavage".

The rocks on the Port Askaig cliff have no visible bedding or cleavage. Geologists can see that this is typical of the detritus left by the movement of glaciers which have melted leaving behind the detritus which they have accumulated. If the glacier has left the land to float on the sea surface, this detritus will be ultimately be deposited on the sea bed.

Geologists also discover the age of many ancient rocks by measuring the radioactivity in certain component minerals. The age of the Port Askaig rocks is about 650 million years.

Geologists can also learn the approximate position of rocks when they appeared on the surface of the earth. One way of doing this is by measuring the alignment of crystals in the rocks relative to the magnetism of the earth. Such studies have led geologists to conclude that about 650 million years ago Scotland was not far from the South Pole. By continental plate movement, Scotland has proceeded northwards to its present location over that unimaginably immense period of time. At that time England was located on another distant continent They were not to be united until more than 200 million years had passed.

If you examine the cliff carefully you will see that it contains red stones of different sizes. These stones are red granite. There is no red granite in or near Islay, so the stones have come from somewhere else. 650 million years ago, Scotland was physically nearer Scandinavia than it is now. Some believe that these red granite boulders and pebbles could have come from there.

This glacially deposited rock has come to be known as the Port Askaig Tillite. There are other exposures of it in Islay, mainly exposed at or near the seashore on the east coast. At a shoreline burn mouth about a mile south of Port Askaig,  the tillite has been eroded by the sea. Pebbles from it are lying on the stone beach and can be picked up and examined.

The rocks exposed on the surface in Islay include formations which preceded the glaciation and others which followed the glaciation. However unlikely this may sound, surface exposure of rock formations deposited millions of years apart is made possible by the lateral movement of continental plates tilting and folding rock formations.

The rock type which underlies central Islay is limestone which is older than the Port Askaig Tillite. It can easily be seen on the surface because of the lush vegetation which the calcareous soil produces. 

The neighbouring quartzite rock produces thin unfertile soil and vegetation. The sharp division between the rock types is readily seen by the contrast between the green grass of the limestone vegetation and the brown moor and heather of the quartzite vegetation.

This ancient limestone is exposed in the hills near Loch Lossit. As the exposed rock becomes younger, it alters gradually to tillite. The lower or earlier part of the tillite contains fragments of limestone likely to come from the local limestone bed rock. This can be compared with the red granite rocks in the older part of the tillite found at Port Askaig.

You can also see the rock formations which immediately followed the glaciation. Good exposures are found at the shoreline between the Caol Isla and Bunnahabhain distilleries. These formations also comprise limestone. After a long period of glaciation, water which has been trapped on land by the ice is released into the sea, causing sea levels to rise. In turn this causes deposits on the seabed of material which includes calcium carbonate, and becomes limestone over long periods of time.

A feature of these rock formations is Stromatolite Fossils. Stromatolites are a primitive form of bacterial life which live on carbon dioxide, water and sunlight. They discharge oxygen as a waste product.  Their large numbers caused large scale discharge of oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere when it was oxygen poor, and allowed the development of more sophisticated forms of life which required oxygen, and ultimately to human beings. Stromatolite fossils are readily found in the shore rocks south of the Bunnahabhain distillery. They may have relevance to the current search for life elsewhere in the solar system.

Grateful thanks to David Webster for two days of fascinating onsite education in the lively autumn weather of Islay.

Walter Semple

26th October 2017.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Snowball Earth Geology Weekend on Islay 20-22nd October 2017

An exciting weekend to come with the Islay Natural History Trust's Snowball Earth Geology Weekend! 
Here are some more details of the geological events this weekend. You can come to as much or as little as you like. Events are free but donations to the Islay Natural History Trust are welcome!
If you don't fancy the walks then please come to talk on Friday night!  
Friday 20th: An illustrated talk on Snowball Earth and the evidence for it on Islay and the Garvellachs. We are fortunate to have good evidence here for a 650 million-year old climatic mega-disaster and how the Earth recovered from it. Come and hear about it and why it's important! Start 7:30pm at the Nature Centre in Port Charlotte. Followed by short discussion on finalised plans for those coming on the Saturday and/or Sunday walks. Tea and Coffee supplied. 
Provisional Excursion Plan for Saturday & Sunday: 
Saturday 21st: Excursions to Loch Lossit and Fionn Phort. Meet 10 am at the Nature Centre in Port Charlotte. Finish by 5 pm 
Sunday 22nd: Excursions to Port Askaig, Caol Isla and Bunnahabhain. Meet 10 am at the nature centre Port Charlotte. Finish by 5 pm. 

Final plans dependent on weather, estate activities etc. Alternative pick up points at bridgend and ballygrant can be arranged along with any car sharing. Bring packed lunches, flasks, full waterproofs and preferably wellies. The ground is rough in places and has the usual collection of Islay bogs. 
For more information please email David Webster at 

Sunday 15 October 2017

Pearly Underwing - new to Islay

For the second time this year, I have caught a moth which has not been recorded on Islay before, or on Jura or Colonsay (which together make up vice-county 102, the South Ebudes, the division used for a lot of biological recording). It is called the Pearly Underwing and is unusual in being a migrant from the near-continent which can turn up in pretty much any month of the year. Numbers arriving in Britain vary enormously from year to year, sometimes being abundant and reaching as far north as the Shetlands but in most years only coming to Scotland in very small numbers while, in other years, there may only be records from southern England. Anyway, a few nights ago, when it was rather cold and windy, I caught just three moths overnight, two common and this one completely new. It's certainly not a spectacular looking moth, but once you expose its underwing, it is obvious where it got its name.

Wednesday 4 October 2017

Illustrated Talk Friday 13th October

Above and below the oceans

Although the Islay Natural History Trust has now closed the Nature Centre for the season we are still actively busy and have events on through the month of October.

Join us for an exciting talk on oceanography, discovering lost ship wrecks, sea exploration and life on the ocean wave, as told by Leighton Rolley.

We have a really fascinating and exciting talk on Friday 13th (October) by an expert oceanographer.  Leighton Rolley will be presenting an illustrated talk entitled “Above and Below the Oceans”.  Leighton is the Chief Technician with Schmidt Ocean Systems, and having just completed his 100th oceanographic expedition, he will be giving a talk on oceanography, discovering lost ship wrecks in particular the early polar exploration vessels and sunken warships, like Scott's ship the Terra Nova and the USS Indianaplois and studying deep sea vents in the Indian Ocean and operating remotely operated submersibles off Hawaii.

His career has taken him from the tropics to the edge of the ice sheets visiting every ocean and every continent. Come learn about the world below the ocean and life on a modern research vessel, this will be a great insight into a fascinating topic, a rare treat in our talks schedule.

As always everyone is welcome.


Monday 25 September 2017

Autumn Close to the Season

As autumn begins and the dew laden's the cobwebs draped over the gorse, and our last week of centre activity commences, just a quick remind that the Nature Centre will be open for one final week until this Friday (29th), come and visit the sea creatures before we re-home them in more natural settings next week or come for some early Christmas shopping, lots of great small and cuddly kiddies toys for gifts and stocking fillers all at reasonable prices.

There are talks and walks in October so put them on your calendar: Friday 13th Oct - "Above and below the Oceans" by Leighton Rolley.

Also throughout the following weekend (21-22 October) as part of the Scottish Geo-heritage Festival David Webster will be running a programme of talks and walks on Islay's geology that provides the evidence for the 'Snowball Earth' theory.

More details for both events to follow.

Wednesday 6 September 2017

September Islay Nature rAmbles

We need you to pray or invoke good weather with an anti-rain dance or something, this year Sundays have mainly rained including last Sundays watch for birds on Loch Indaal! So for the last month lets hope Sundays are dry....please!

This coming Sunday we hope to draw upon some of the techniques and knowledge we gained back in April with our seaweed foraging workshops and see what the shores around Portnahaven have in the way of seaweed and forage opportunities.  We will be meeting at 2pm by the bus stop.  Everyone is welcome, bring your knowledge from April and see what we can find.

We also have Alistair our 'FunGi' to show the delights of the mushrooms and toadstools in Bridgend Woods and at the end of the month a last delve into the shoreline at Port Mor campsite, although I say for adults, all ages are welcome and catered for.
See poster for details:

Monday 28 August 2017

Geological Walk at port Ellen

Nice weather for a change. 12 folk met at the Co and on the way across the bay and out onto the Ard learnt about 600 million-year and 60 million-year old oceans, collisions and break-ups of ancient continents. plus a bit of metamorphism.
The ridges of the Ard are composed of harder meta-basite rocks and the interveening linear boggy bits are underlain softer meta-sediments. Good hiding places for illict whisky stills in days gone-bye. We finished off with the obligatory bit of audience-participation as we created a human timeline from the big-bang to the stone age.

Friday 25 August 2017

What's next?

This week our Family Activity is the final of the season, and will be held in Bridgend Woods, for a fun afternoon discovering trees, leaves and hidden minibeasts. The event is free to all, no need to sign up, just come along with good footwear and dressed for the weather.

Our Sunday rAmble this week is not the last of the season though, these continue until the end of September for anyone interested in birds, fungi and sea life. This Sunday, we're in Port Ellen, for a geological exploration of underwater volcanoes and whisky on the rocks. Charge is £5 per adult, or £10 per family. If you're already a member of the INHT, the charge is £2. See you there!

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Rockpooling at Port Mor

We had a lovely day rockpooling at Port Mor on Friday for our seashore safari event and were very glad to see so many people come out to explore and learn more about our native wildlife. This was certainly helped by the beautiful weather we had (all except for one slightly torrential rain shower) which always makes a day on the beach more enjoyable.

Hunting for creatures at Port Mor beach

A small hermit crab peeking out of its shell.

Among the creatures found were shrimp, dog whelks, winkles, hermit crabs, sea anemones, shore crabs, a ten-spined stickleback, and some sea squirts (which lived up to their name quite humorously).

There is a stickleback in there somewhere...
 Starfish and a shore crab 
Looking forward to the Magic Moorland activity at RSPB Loch Gruinart this Thursday 17th August. Join us at the hide car park at 2pm to discover beauty in miniature - sphagnums and midge-eating flowers!

Monday 14 August 2017

rAmbles and Galas

This Sunday we are at the Kilchoman Gala Day - come and pay us a visit! Due to this there will be no walk this Sunday.
Next week, the 27th, we will be discovering geology at Port Ellen. Come for a tale of two oceans, underwater volcanoes and whisky on the rocks.
Don't forget our Thursday activity at 2pm, this week at the RSPB Loch Gruinart car park for Magical Moorland to discover beauty in miniature - sphagnums and midge-eating flowers!

Friday 11 August 2017

Show Day!

We had a really successful day at the show yesterday; the weather was good, the show was busy and our games and activities went down a storm. We had everyone from families, small children, 20-something year olds up to the older generation all joining in our "Great Bird Race" game - an old classic designed to get your competitive spirit going!
Great Bird Race!

Our other game, fishing for a prize, proved popular with our younger visitors. Fish using an animal of your choice, and catch two or three fish with matching numbers to win a prize! Harder than it looks...

Fishing for prizes

Plenty of people came to "buy a plot." Choose a square on the Islay map where you think the Highland Coo is hiding, and be in with a chance of winning a bottle of Bruichladdich Whisky and the Highland Coo! Some people decided to max out their chances and buy a whole corner of the island...!

Choose your plot...!

You could also challenge yourself and build a wall, using diagrams, numbers and shapes. I had a go, it wasn't as difficult as it looked at first...!
Build a Wall

Our displays, toys and books for sale, and the map.

 In all, a successful day, raising awareness of our rAmbles and kids' activities, the centre and all the work it does. And of course, raising lots of funds! Many thanks to everyone who came to see us, and especially to those who played our games and bought a plot - it was great to see so many friendly, enthusiastic faces.

Tuesday 8 August 2017

New display - Orchids of Islay

In keeping with the wonderful array of orchids on the dunes at Killinallan, as celebrated with our Sunday Nature rAmbles, we have a new display illustrating the variety of orchids of Islay. Complete with detailed information cards, and high definition, beautiful photographs, your curiosity will surely be met.

Monday 7 August 2017

Killinallan the final summer dune delight

My anticipated final opportunity of the season to show people the amazing floral display at Killinallan was looking like being thwarted by RAIN! again, another damp Sunday. 

 However I had already been out there on the Thursday before for our 'Mini-wildlife Adventure' and knew there was much to see.  The rain was however going to clear not far off 2pm so I waited and low and behold a determined family arrived to participate on the walk...hurrah!  And five minutes past 2 it was dry.

Across the saltmarsh were a few new species in flower since last visit, Sea Spurrey which had been flowering on Thursday was now thin on the ground though I did find one in flower.  The full moon has brought on some high tides which I expect has knocked the flowers back.  There was a nice amount of Glasswort, once you got your eye in and still flowering were the Sea Arrow-grass which tastes of coriander and not to be confused with the sea plantain which has some equally non-descript flowers.

Sea Spurrey

Sea Arrow-grass
Sea Plantain

In the dunes the carpet of colour was interspersed since July's visit with a peppering of blue and purple flowers which weren't out a month ago; Harebell, Devil's bit Scabious and Autumn Gentian. 

Devil's Bit Scabious
Many of the orchids were now passed however there were plenty of Frog orchid still well in flower and through the wetter dune slack area we still saw a range of quality blooms of the Common Twayblade and after a bit of searching we did find some remaining flowers of the Marsh Helleborine although these were definitely past their splendour of early July.

Common Twayblade

A large Frog Orchid developing large seed pods
It was a windy day so capturing the flowers in mid sway was a little tricky and insects were few, but enjoy the display and if you have some spare time for a walk get along to the dunes in the next week or so, to soak up the splendour of flowers in the back end of the season.
Patchwork of colour with Autumn Gentian

Red clover

Carder Bumblebee visiting Scabious
Marsh Pennywort

Wild Thyme
with resting dung fly!

Grass of Parnassus

Black Bog Rush and Common Twayblade

Self Heal
dissolving Shaggy Inkcap on cattle dung

Common Knapweed

fly on Harebell

Bug eye-view of Eyebright and Red Clover
More flowers and sights to be had next Sunday at The Battery Bowmore 2pm.
Fiona MacG