We’ve lost the call of the Corncrake for another year! Until fairly recently we had males calling in the long grass around the cottage – hoping for a third brood.
RSPB have just launched a conservation project called ‘Corncrake Calling’ which aims to save one of Scotland’s rarest and most secretive birds. Once widespread across UK meadows the Corncrake population fell catastrophically during the 1900s due to mechanisation and the trend towards the earlier mowing of grass crops. Corncrake are now confined to a few Scottish islands and a few isolated areas on the North West coast. Tiree is really very fortunate because we have the highest concentration of this red listed bird anywhere in the UK – almost a third of the entire population.
‘Corncrake Calling’ will work closely with farmers, local communities and national audiences to provide these iconic birds with the best possible chance of future success. Strategies usually involve creating fenced areas which remain uncultivated, cutting hay or silage later in the summer and cutting from the centre of fields outwards – allowing birds to escape to the edges of the fields and away to safety.
Recent counts show how fragile the numbers are. In 2017 there were only 866 recorded in the UK with 316 on Tiree. The following year the numbers recovered slightly with 899 males recorded across the UK and 322 on Tiree. Last year numbers had fallen again with only 870 calling males recorded within the UK with 300 on Tiree. This year there were 294 recorded on Tiree.
Storm Ellen has wrought a mighty change on the beach below the cottage. The storm, which lasted two days, created massive turbulence in the sea and the accompanying high winds pushed the waves onto the beach. The result is a massive deposit of ‘brown gold’ along the length of the whole beach. The majority of the weed is kelp, although there are smaller quantities of sea lettuce, carrageen, dulse and various wracks in the mixture.
Although not pretty, kelp was at the heart of a very important industry on the island two centuries ago. During the Napoleonic Wars, when other supplies from Spain dried up, the price of kelp ash rose from £2 to £12 per ton.
West coast landowners were quick to capitalise on this bonanza and between 1803 and 1837 kelp was gathered, dried and burned on the island to recover soda and potash. These compounds were essential to the soap and glass industries.
Kelp was also collected from 1863 to 1901 to extract iodine and sodium alginate. In recent years dried kelp from the island has been used to produce alginate food thickenings used in ice cream, beer and medical dressings.
It looks like there may be a small fortune on the beach!
What do the words icicles, test and stowing have in common? Well, we’ve been using them as a unique three word address to pinpoint the cottage location for some time now. The three words, assigned by what3words.com, give a pinpoint location for the cottage here on the island
what3words is a simple geocode system that encodes geographical coordinates into three dictionary words and differs from other systems which use long strings of numbers or letters.
what3words has created a grid of 3m x 3m squares across the whole globe and the three random words are permanently fixed to each square. The main advantage of this system is the memorable, unambiguous nature of words taken from everyday use and the possibility of voice input.
In 2019 a huge number of emergency services signed up to the system – and there are many instances where the use of what3words has saved lives and enabled the recovery of lost, stranded and injured people.
It’s always intriguing to see what words are used for different locations. The beach below the cottage has many but the best are – holiday.roadways.destiny and avid.encoded.sped.
Tiree has always been a place apart. Separated by water and set aside from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. It’s always rejoiced in the security and the peace and quiet of its location and the close knit nature of its community. This year these elements have been weighted with greater significance. We’ve enjoyed a very quiet spring and early summer on the island this year. Without our usual visitors – many of whom return every year – the island seems to have sleepily moved from week to week and the months have slipped by with gentle regularity. The beaches and landscape have been deserted and even the skies have been clear and free of vapour trails.
Like so many lives and communities around the world – as we move forward with the gradual loosening of restrictions the island has once again become a place of dreams, expectation, excitement and activity. We’ve gone from splendid isolation to busy and bustling in record time. Lots of visitors here enjoying some wonderful weather.
Everyone will remember this year in their own way – for some it will be a year of huge loss, brokenness, pain, anxiety and stress – for others a year of challenges, reflection, opportunities and new beginnings.
This will certainly be a year we all remember.