Adventures in Ecology

12 October 2010

Yesterday afternoon I sat down to write about the brilliant Ecology Adventure that we held this weekend on Tanera. Unfortunately the sunshine was just too too tempting, and we absolutely had to go out for a paddle. Purple moor grass, tidal pool, and a really nice view

And blimey! what a paddle it was. Just as we were rounding the South East corner of Tanera, discussing where to take ourselves, a small silhouette bounced up onto the glistening surface and started swimming towards us. A seal? No! An otter! Confirmed by the short dark back and flick of the tail as he headed back under. Soon afterwards he popped up again nearer our boats with a large back-lit orange fish fin sticking out of his mouth. He dropped away again and appeared just once more, heading for the shore.

Keen to make the most of the miraculous weather we pointed our bows for Bottle Island – about five miles South West of Tanera, directly into the blinding sunshine. After a lovely quiet float between Carn Iar and Carn Deas, surrounded by fluffy first year common seals, we rounded the rocks of Bottle to face ANOTHER otter, just as startled as we were, frozen on a wrack-covered rock. He gave me just enough time to get over my shock and take a (terrible) photograph before he shot off the rock and into the sea. Beating the sunset home - just

As if that wasn’t quite enough excitement, high on the cliffs around the next corner of Bottle Island was a great big bird which I’m sure must have been a juvenile eagle of some sort. But I’ll probably be told it was just a buzzard. Then we headed home, trying to beat the sunset. What a day.

Anyway, back to the Ecology Adventure. We could not have been luckier: golden autumnal sunshine provided the perfect conditions for learning about the wildlife on our little island. There may not be special species ‘endemic’ to Tanera but we do have a great range of habitats: broadleaf woodland, dry heath, bog and intertidal to name just a few. And we explored them all excitedly – making particular use of the extra exposed shore during Exploring the Woodland habitatthe Spring tides - learning wonderful new things about the world we hurry past every day in our yellow wellies.

Our tutor Viv Halcrow has the perfect manner for keeping her students engaged: deep knowledge of the plants and animals (including an amazing array of Latin names) and how they interact, combined with a liveliness and sense of humour to help our brains keep up with her. It’s impossible not to be infected by her enthusiasm for all things living, and soon we could distinguish hair moss from teddy bear moss; bladder wrack from channelled wrack, and I developed a whole new level of respect for the 'edible' sea urchin as I learnt about its five-way symmetry, its Aristotle's Lantern, and saw its legs emerge from tinytiny holes when put back in the sea. I'm still not sure I fancy eating one though.

But Viv didn’t just show us thEdible Sea Urchin (Echinus esculentus): check out its funny little legs! e wildlife and explain how the creatures interact with each other; we also learnt the importance of various plants and animals to humans, and how the land has been managed over the millennia. Fascinating stuff.

Our days out in the fresh air were rewarded with good wholesome vegetarian meals (even if I do say so myself) in the cosy conservatory of Fuchsia Cottage, sometimes watched by a seal on a rock outside. And, to celebrate the eve of 10:10 – the global initiative encouraging people to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010 - Saturday’s supper was prettily candlelit to save electricity. It seemed appropriate that, after a day marvelling at the wonders of the natural world (a very low carbon activity in itself!), we should make a gesture towards looking after it on a more global scale. Of course, it’s what we’re trying to do every day here...but that’s another story...

A great first ecology course on Tanera. But there’s so much more to know and see, particularly when Spring we all agree there should be a Part 2. We’re looking forward to it already.

Tanera Mòr, Summer Isles, Achiltibuie, by Ullapool, Ross-Shire, Scotland IV26 2YN

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