Sunday, 4 December 2016

Night time serial killer pine marten caught on camera

A bantam, a hen and two chickens were missing yesterday morning. They had been persistently roosting in the shrubbery and I had tried to get them back into their house but they wouldn't cooperate. They paid the price. If poultry aren't safely locked up at dusk a pine marten is sure to get them.

The pine marten will then return the next night looking for an easy meal so I set up the trail camera behind the house where the massacre took place. The first image was a pine marten sniffing around the hen house.

Mimi, my hybrid wild cat, was on the other images also sniffing around but I'm pretty sure that she would give a pine marten a wide berth.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Craigard woodland croft

When the Highland feudal landowners turfed their tenants out of their homes and off their land in the 19 th century they stopped just short of genocide by providing the dispossessed with strips of poor quality land above high water mark.

Remnant of  wildwood, Glen
These holdings or "crofts" were not large enough to support self-sufficiency so the Crofters had to work for the landowner at starvation wages.

Towards the end of the century Crofters acquired some rights to their holdings. These rights brought obligations; mainly to use the land productively.

We are required to carry out agricultural, horticultural or other productive activities which can also include forestry. Most of us keep sheep which only show a profit when you add the Single Farm Payment or subsidy from the European Union.

People in England voted in June to leave the EU. Here in Scotland we voted 72 % in favour of remaining. but when we do eventually leave we will no longer get the EU farm payment ergo if we keep sheep it will be a loss making enterprise. Sheep will largely disappear from the crofting counties. So what are the alternatives.

Providing tourist facilities is a possibility but we already have three campsites in the village and people looking for B&B want en-suite bathrooms (croft houses are too small and bathrooms are expensive to install). Equestrian enterprises and golf courses are acceptable but both require large amounts of land , management expertise and capital.

Forestry is an alternative as long as you are not looking for a cash income in the next forty years. Of course the best time to plant trees is twenty years ago. Second best is now so I think that the sheep will have to go with their lambs in the Spring and I'll start planting trees this winter.

I'll need a new title for the blog, "Craigard Woodland Croft" perhaps.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Mary Jane's dual purpose poultry and roadkill

From time to time old photos turn up unexpectedly.The one on the top left (with the ducks) was sent to me recently by Bill Woods Ballard. Bill and his family have been coming to Kilchoan for their annual holidays for many years and Bill thinks this was taken by his sister in 1995.

In twenty years not much has changed. There are some changes, MJ put on a new roof then I replaced the door and glazed the window.

I tried ducks for a few years, they are phenomenal egg layers. But there's a downside. Large amounts of grass go in one end and even larger amounts green muck come out the other end.  They had to go.

Hens aren't so bad, they ingest less grass and water but still leave hazards for pedestrians, they also go into their house at dusk without prompting. At mid summer, when we have eighteen hours daylight the ducks have to be driven indoors.

Both lots of poultry have another vital function.... traffic calming. No one wants to run over them and they rather like the middle of the road. this has had the tacit approval of the local constabulary.

I've only lost one in a road traffic accident. It was standing by the roadside as Trevor came down the hill with his wide wheelbase boat trailer. It didn't realise it was wide axle..... splat... two dimensional roadkill.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The United Banana Kingdom - Another rant

Ben Tahlaid from the kitchen window at 4.00 pm yesterday

At ten minutes to seven this morning, dozy and still half asleep I switched the radio on to hear that Nigel Farage would be our next ambassador in Washington. The thing is ..... I wasn't surprised or even angry, I just accepted it as the latest episode in the drama of transition from United Kingdom to.... United Banana Kingdom.  Once I was fully awake of course I realised that the BBC were just reporting the latest inappropriate utterance from President elect Trump

OK... this blog is supposed to be about crofting, sustainability, environment and life in  a remote W. Highland village but every so often I can't resist a rant and in post Europe, post truth, post any understanding of economics UK there is plenty to rant about.

Breathing clean air but expelling a lot of methane
You might think that there's nothing to bother about up here beside the sea, beneath the mountains, breathing clean air that has travelled 6,000 km across the Atlantic. But here in Scotland we  are being dragged out of Europe against our will and I am angry about it. Not just because it's economic self- harm on a massive scale but because I like being European.

I like being European because I like the other Europeans, the Dutch, French and German visitors who come here each summer. Scotland has had long and close relationship with Europe, until 1906, if you were born in Scotland you could apply for French citizenship and get it automatically.

Sixty two percent of us voted to stay in the EU and we don't want to be part of a closed, narrow minded, impoverished group of islands in the N,Atlantic.

I expect Nigel Farage to be elevated to the House of Lords in the New Year honours list but I don't expect the Foreign Secretary to be sacked for gross incompetence.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

"Up goes a guinea, bang goes a penny, down comes half a crown"

Tame pheasant on the doorstep soon to be "sportingly" shot
It's  1st of November, I'm in Northumberland and it's the first day of the pheasant shooting season. Soon tens of thousands of tame pheasants, will be used as living, moving targets for shotguns. The people doing the shooting must enjoy it because  it a very expensive pastime.

The economics of pheasant shooting were nicely summed up 100 years ago as above," up goes a guinea, bang goes a penny and down comes half a crown." The ratio is about the same but the actual costs must be ten times higher.

The costs are probably higher for grouse shooting; so in order to make it a bit cheaper for the bankers, oligarchs and wealthy land owners  we, the taxpayers,  do help out by giving them generous subsidies via the EU Common Agricultural Policy. They keep a few sheep on the grouse moors so qualify for this dole, it's socialism for the rich.

The sheep are needed to soak up the parasitic ticks that would otherwise kill lots of the grouse. So we  are in effect directly subsidising the grouse shooting. Just thought you might like to know this!

Friday, 14 October 2016

A walk in the rain forest.......... Things to do around Kilchoan

Sunart Rain Forest in early morning mist
Yes.... rain forest. The Sunart oak woods are officially and ecologically classed as "Temperate rain forest". These woods do have something in common with the seasonal tropical rain forest; "epiphytes"... orchids and ferns in the topics;  liverworts and mosses here in the N.W.Highlands.

Sunart also has some similarities with the coastal rain forest of the Pacific Northwest; epiphytes, high annual rainfall, sea mist and clean air.

Constant rain enables trees to grow on the thinnest soils, you often see quite large trees, usually Rowan growing on the tops of boulders ,its the rain that enables this. Our clean Atlantic air means that the lichens and mosses flourish ,  their absence is a good indicator of pollution.

Park at the RSPB car park just west of the entrance to Glenborrowdale Castle then follow the footpath from the road side up into the big old oaks. Yesterday the the sun shone, roe deer had been up the track before us, a pine marten left it's shiny black turds full of rowan skins on a rock. No eagles and no red deer on the surrounding hills but it's enough to know that they are there somewhere.

You emerge on to the road east of the distillery with a short walk to the Nature Centre with it's excellent cafe and lunch.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Lost farming skills

A couple of weeks ago I watched a huge John Deere tractor direct drilling winter wheat into the stubble of the previous bean crop. A process that used to involve at least ploughing, cultivating, drilling and rolling is now done in one pass by a tractor that is computer controlled and guided by a GPS system. The driver was there presumably to switch the machine on and off and to take it home on the road.

I used to think that farm workers were some of the most skilled people who had a vast fund of knowledge gained largely informally by experience over lifetimes. Computers and robotics de-skill the workforce so that they become machine minders, there to deal with malfunctions and breakdowns. Not much better than working in a call centre.

Do it "wrong" and there's a good chance the horse will bolt forward and
kick up her heels
 flattening you when you release her
A horseman would have been the equivalent of that tractor minder a hundred years ago. Now how many people could turn a horse and cart into a field without taking out the gate post; or put a horse between the shafts of a cart and then load the cart safely. A gang of five or six of us used to "single" turnips by hand with hoes.  What would happen if cyber warfare hackers destroyed the GPS or control software? Just in case, I thought I'd show you how some of these things are done. I found them in an old training manual for the," Women's Land Army" published in 1941.

I'll hang on to it, you never know when it might be needed again.