July 2011 – Benbecula

Last entry was mid May.  Now I’ve been here on the Isle of Benbecula, over four whole months in which the Machair LIFE+project  has passed its EU audit and I have exercised my renowned skills of tact and diplomacy to their limits.

Life is still full of change and often the constant ‘newness’ makes me feel pretty insecure.  However the landscape is so dominant and solid here: a constant reminder to be humble and there is great comfort to be found in all the amazing wildlife..  .

I want to be part of this place but am realistic about being an outsider with a huge amount to learn.  I read somewhere that to ’belong’ it is only necessary to cherish the land and its people, but I think this over simplifies the situation I find myself in.  Crofting is a unique way of life and if it wasn’t for the willingness of certain kind individuals to teach me and point me in the right direction, I’d be lost in a bog

Progress however is being made on all fronts: my Gaelic extends to ‘kiss my ass’ and ‘silly mutt’.  I think I know the correct wave when passing a local on the narrow roads, my birding is improving and I’m spotting Great Yellow Bumblebees on the machair.

The bird tick list is as follows: Red-necked phalarope male in secret location.  Sea eagle chick. (big as Sprout)  many of the duck family and waders (so confusing when juveniles).  Corncrake last seen on the wing, helped by S.  I continue with my bird autopsies: recently found a gannet on the beach.  My detective tracking work on footprints in the sand is also improving.
On the botanical front, I have finally seen the Irish Ladies Tresses and aided by Sprout and Rick one of our official surveyors,  Frog Orchids on the Berneray machair.

I’m at my happiest when helping out practically on the crofts.   Calving has been a salutary lesson in life and death and in early June I walked Angus and Ena’s MacDonald’s Highland cattle across from the Island of Vallay (from their machair grazing ) to the mainland to their heather and summer pastures.  Several weeks later it was the time to administer worming treatment to the bullocks and check their bollocks while they were in the crush.

We all thought summer would never arrive but the last three weeks it’s been warm and clear ( but with some terrible flies). I walked out to ? with Stu, one of the RSPB rangers, to check on the sea eagle chick before it fledged.  Sprout found his own way of cooling down while we resorted to more conventional methods.  I have also made it up the tallest hill in N Uist, Aeval, which made me better appreciate how much of these Islands are made of water.

The crofters have started cutting silage and haylidge.  (a kind of wilted hay) I spent friday night watching them cut, bale and wrap the fallow under-sown field next to the house, using with their 1950s tractors.  I am looking forwards to the corn harvest and having a drive of more fantastic machines.   The machair generally is looking beautiful.  I have never seen a ‘made tapestry landscape’ so rich in colour.

The crop protection scheme which the project now runs on behalf of its partners, has just started:  The poor old greylag goose will find no peace.  We‘ve started a scarecrow arts project which is possibly in rather bad taste, given the seriousness of the goose problem.  Today I’ve been researching the cost of a community goose plucker.  Can’t say the job is ever boring.





The Parents recently came out for 10 days and we had some lovely weather, fishing and other happy times together.  They are the first of several visitors this month so acted as test pilots.  It was pretty hard to say goodbye, but my next visitors are arriving as I write…


9 Responses to “July 2011 – Benbecula”

  1. 1 Debbie Sanderson 07/08/2011 at 5:04 pm

    Hi Rebecca, Annie’s friend Debbie here…finally wrote down how to view your blog and very glad I have too! We spent two weeks on Lewis, Harris and Skye in 2007 and wished we’d seen the machair at its best…I think it was beginning to fade a little by the time we saw it, so I loved your photos. It did rain a few times and wow, the earth just spewed water from every orifice, but when it was sunny, it was fabulous, but islands of water indeed!
    We are on the Isle of Man…I couldn’t NOT live on an island near to the sea now. Hope your garden is growing…seafaring gardens are that much more of a challenge! Just eaten my own peas and spuds tho’…it’s the best. I’m a three hen woman…but not celebrity hens like Father Roddy’s! (We watched Island Parish avidly!) Your wildlife looks fantastic..we saw a distant Sea Eagle and many Golden Eagles whilst up there and can boast a small number of corncrakes here. I am selectively jealous of your life there…I hope you manage not to feel at the isolation’s mercy sometimes, I think I might if I was there long term. Spud looks like excellent company and the islanders seemed really friendly too.
    All the best

    • 2 rebeccacottonblog 11/08/2011 at 10:42 am

      Hi Debbie, Thanks for kind words and encouragement to continue with blog. . Sorry late reply. I love the way you describe water coming from every orifice here! I remember Annie telling me you live on the Isle of Man: Do you have any veg growing top tips? I’m thinking of getting some hens: with landlord and the holy father’s approval. The corncrakes numbers are down here this year – only 14 on Benebecula and I’m told that corn bunting numbers from last year are down from 100 territorial males to 80 across the Uists. yes I do feel at Islands mercy some days,but some thing always seems to come along and rescue me, Rebecca

      • 3 Debbie Sanderson 11/08/2011 at 9:45 pm

        Hi Rebecca…gosh no, I’m no veg guru. My potatoes just seem to crack on themselves…but everything else…well…they’re a bit like adolescent children and throw themselves into growing if they feel like it! It might be that I don’t devote myself enough to them…so they do stuff like fall down (on purpose probably!) or get caterpillars or root fly. I can see my peas are better this year because I took a bit of trouble over tying them up, and the kale looks better because I stared at it really hard for three days until I actually saw the kale coloured caterpillars that were in the process of demolishing it! I’m buying plants to grow on, I know that’s cheating a bit,but at least they get a good start…mine only seemed to start when it was time to finish! I guess shelter will be a bit hard for you, it’s bad enough here…get stuff your neighbours get I find is a good plan!
        Pony trekking tomorrow and what’s the forecast ? Yes…rain and wind! It is summer after all. If it’s good though we see Hen Harriers and sometimes mountain hares, white in winter. Choughs and curlews up there too. Take care and good veggie growing

  2. 4 angus a macdonald 09/08/2011 at 11:05 pm

    I like the jacket, I have another letter brewing in my head!

  3. 6 Frode 19/09/2011 at 2:39 am

    Hello Rebecca.

    I´m really impressed!


    (took me some time to answer back though..)

  4. 9 Jayne Chapman 30/09/2011 at 10:55 am

    Hello Rebecca,
    What an interesting and amazing opportunity you have living on the Isles. I always wanted to try that out like that tv series ‘castaway’. Should image it’s fairly hard at times. You probably wont remember me but my parents were friends of your family and the Mclellans (nice to see a pic of your Mum and Dad – they havent changed) – Richard and Vera Ford. Always interesting to see how peoples lives develop, good luck with it all Rebecca.
    Jayne Chapman (nee Ford)

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