New Glengorm Wildlife Ranger for 2017

As I approach my fifth summer on the island, it is with great excitement that I can announce I will be the new Glengorm Wildlife Ranger for 2017.

You may have seen me before, clad in my yellow wellies hopping on and off the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s research vessel Silurian, or dressed in a lime green T-shirt, hands grappling in a touch pool at the Mull Aquarium finding exciting creatures to show you all. However this year I am swapping my sea legs for my land ones, and my bright colours for khaki, as I explore the Glengorm estate in all its infinite beauty, ready to share my love and knowledge of the place with you all.

Having lived on the estate for nearly two years now, I am familiar with the comings and goings of the seasons.  The arrival of the first lamb, to the falling of the last cob nut. I’ve immersed myself in the clear icy waters of the bathing pools as curious otters swim out at sea and towelled myself off at flat rock whilst a sunfish swats the water with it enormous dorsal fin. The rutting deer have kept me awake at night, whilst overheard buzzards screech as I sip my hot morning coffee. Mice shuffling in the undergrowth, emerging if I am still for long enough.

I am looking forward to the step from casually observing the wildlife in my back-garden, to exploring the estate full-time showing you all that it has to offer.

So stay tuned and I will keep you up to date with some tall-tales and short-stories throughout the year and will let you know all the upcoming events and activities that I have planned for the season.

 Looking forward to seeing you on the estate soon!

Kerry Froud


The Darling Buds of… January?

Opportunities to complain about Mull being too warm are infrequent. If complaints must be made, one certainly wouldn’t expect to be making them in winter.

All around Glengorm the 5,000 daffodil bulbs that Valerie planted in autumn are budding – some have broken into flower already.

My garden boasts more than a few roses; indeed, they haven’t stopped blooming since last spring. I cut a yellow one on Christmas day.

So far, we’ve only had one serious night of frost. Those clear, bright mornings that break up the seemingly endless fog of rain have been few and far between.

The unseasonably warm weather is due, in part, to a weather cycle in the equatorial Pacific.

Here, fluctuations in the temperature of ocean and atmosphere can influence weather on a global scale. Currently we are enjoying the fall out from El Niño – the so called warm phase of this cycle.

You could be forgiven for thinking that warmer weather at this time of year is a good thing.  Sadly, that is not always the case.

In the rush to get growing, plants are duped into expending their energy too early.

A cold snap – which we are likely to experience soon – will annihilate Val’s 5,000 daffodils. Any that have budded or flowered won’t be able to recover themselves for a second attempt this year. That’s bad enough for cultivated plants – but what about the wild ones?

Nature often depends on things happening at the right time. If the flowers are open too early, their pollinators won’t be around to help them reproduce and they also run the risk of frost bite. Later on when the pollinators emerge, they won’t have as many flowers to visit and feed from. This means bad business for both parties.

For larger animals such as birds, it’s a bit of a mixed platter:

Warm weather can make foraging easier for longer – so, we might expect to see fewer winter migrants around and fewer birds relying on artificial feeding stations. But, warm weather also encourages disease to persist; a particular concern for garden visitors, who feed and defecate in unnaturally close proximity to one another. [So remember to disinfect your feeding equipment regularly!]

For species that prey on small mammals, the mild temperatures could tempt out rodents that would otherwise remain hidden at this time of year. But, hunting in 80-mph winds and lashing rain is probably not an attractive prospect. The bedraggled Hen harriers of Glengorm, whose sodden wanderings are often seen from the access road, would probably confirm this.

Around the shores of Britain, exhausted seabirds appear in the wake of winter gales. Little auks visit our waters in small numbers annually – mostly around the Northern Isles and east into the North Sea. This year, there have already been several sightings of these tiny creatures on sealochs around Mull. As noted by Prince, it’s probably a sign of the times.

Foraging must also be difficult for coastal Otters when the rain, winds and waves are lashing – though, they do at least have the option to spend more of their active period inland.

Glengorm’s biological rhythm seems rather out of step already, so who knows how many unexpected performers might crop up? 

I await spring and summer with interest.

Stephanie Cope

Where the Wild Things Are

Following something of an Indian Autumn, Mull is now back to its default Winter weather setting: horrid.

Torrential rain, cyclonic wind and dour sky aside, I did manage to escape the office for a paltry hour and a half of fresh air.

It’s been a pretty difficult year on the island. As a community, it seems that everyone has been touched by loss and sadness. Sitting cross-legged above a blustery cliff face, my gaze wandered out to sea and I allowed myself time to reflect.

George, who is always annoyed when we sit down during a walk, harrumphed and stomped about in protest. In his opinion walks are strictly for walking.

Across the Sound, the Westward finger of Ardnamurchan was banded in gold. I let my eyes trail over the familiar profile; drinking in the spent bracken, which had now transcended the beauty of its living form.

Movement caught my eye. Raising my binoculars, I found a skein of Whooper swans flying near to where the lighthouse lies. There were fourteen of them.

Whoopers are my joint favourite Big White Bird – the other being the Gannet. I like the strange juxtaposition of these two: one carries summer, the other marks the onset of winter.

The swans travelled further out to sea than I expected. For a few moments, they appeared to skim over the hills of Coll as they made their way south. Their loveliness was like a sip of cool water.

George, finally, was still. I sighed and dropped my binoculars to my chest. Noting his pricked ears and intent expression, I followed his gaze to the shore below. He was watching two otters rolling about in the weed.

I grinned and wondered what he made of them.

Sometimes, being a person is tough. Life simply gets us down. When misfortune strikes, I turn to the wild things for solace.

Watching those birds, at least a few of my cares left upon their downy backs.

A wonderful festive season to you all,

Stephanie Cope

Whooper Swans


Dawn over Aigas

Perched among the manifold cushions of Sir John’s sofa, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d talked myself onto it. It was a most alarming situation.

To my right, a stuffed Ptarmigan stared blankly out from a large bookcase. To my left, a well-doing Jack Russell [called either “Nip” or “Tuck”] met my glance with mute appeal. I had tried to dress smartly and was thus reluctant to allow him onto my knee.

Back through the hall, I could see my coat dangling in front of the Aga and dripping rainwater onto Lady Lucy’s kitchen floor. I eyed the puddle guiltily. It was a horrible afternoon.

Sir John first made his way into my life some years earlier. For my birthday, a friend kindly gifted me a book called “The Birdwatcher’s Companion”. It was a nicely presented volume, with a cover of rough beige paper and an ink sketch of some binoculars. The book was an anthology of facts, poems, excerpts and drawings – all starring birds.

Hidden within was one of my favorite pieces of writing. Even now, sitting by my stove and listening to hailstones battering the slate of my roof, I am at a loss to explain just why it affects me so much.

The extract was about a whooper swan. It described the author’s discovery of a mortally wounded bird that had collided with a power cable. The language was beautiful. Perfect. The sad finality of the words “All it knew was the fear of my presence and that it could not fly away” brought tears springing to my eyes as I read them.

Tactfully, the section finished before events reached their unhappy conclusion. Blinking and staring at the last full-stop, I looked down for a name and a title. John Lister-Kaye. Nature’s Child.

It sounded like the sort of book I had to read.

As I became more familiar with the “who’s who” of conservation in Scotland, I discovered that Sir John – in addition to being a naturalist of terrifying repute – was also the proprietor of the Aigas Field Centre. This institution has connected people with the wild highlands for over thirty years; I hoped that they would teach me to do the same.

Back in the sitting room, “Nip” or “Tuck” had maneuvered skilfully onto the sofa. He regarded me with earnest eyes and a sanguine expression. Sir John was asking shrewd questions about my motives for approaching Aigas. My thoughts had been invaded by swans, and I wasn’t doing a good job of answering.

Three weeks later, I couldn’t find my torch. It was 6am, and I was bumping about in an unfamiliar room, trying not to wake the rest of the house. Peeling up my blind, a clear and twinkling sky peeked through the pine boughs. I shuffled into my wellies and did my best to close the door quietly.

Aigas smells different to my home on Mull. A stiff breeze carried the dawn; laden with the rich-damp smells of river and forest. I couldn’t see them, but it was exciting to imagine the sleek bodies of pine marten flowing along branches overhead. Or the tawny flanks of wildcats, melting seamlessly into the undergrowth and guided by eyes like green marble.

I was heading towards a small loch further up the hill. I had only been there once before, but hoped that I would be able to find the circular trail and follow it along the shoreline.

At first the surface was a dull, frozen cataract. Hard snow crunched underfoot – making quiet progress difficult. I continued past the beaver lodge and recently nibbled trees, towards a shining stand of birch on the farthest shore. Blackbirds clucked and chittered in the forest beyond. I stoped to see what had alarmed them. The grey-brown shape of a sparrowhawk flickered past.

The Aigas Loch looked beautiful that morning


The eye of the loch opened slowly, like an old dog. The rolling clouds warmed and grew pink – blushing over the ice like a bruise on milky skin. Reflected trees stretched ghostly capillaries towards a pupil of dark water. Above, six crossbills chipped and dipped through the cool morning air.

Each path was peppered with deer slots and badger prints. Woodpeckers beat their timber drums as munching larvae beat a hasty retreat. Siskins offered a wheezing harmony; gathering in yellow swarms around branches that sagged under the weight of pine-cones.

As I broke cover from the forest and headed up onto the moor, three roe deer sprung across my path. Each paused, eyeing me with wary curiosity and twitching its black moustache. The moon still lingered above the dun. Beyond, the mountains were rosy with sunlight and snow.

I don’t know what my time at Aigas holds. Standing by the cairn, watching the rising sun skitter across a silver Beauly, it seems full of promise.

…I’ll keep you updated!

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward

Breaking Dawn: the moon was still out on the moor above Aigas