30 April 2018

RSPB Mull of Galloway

Not just for the birds....




It's a long drive, from anywhere, to the Mull of Galloway. By the time I finish my two-week placement as a volunteer with the RSPB I have clocked up nearly 1,000 miles, but then there aren't (many) gannets in Harpenden.....

Trouble is, when I arrive there is, quite literally, virtually nothing to see....




Which is why, I assume, they put a lighthouse here, complete with foghorn, though this was last operated in anger by the resident Lighthouse Keepers of the Northern Lighthouse Board back in November 1987.




Fortunately, following the acquisition of land and buildings at the Mull of Galloway by the Mull of Galloway Trust in 2013, and with the help of local retired engineer Steve Burns, the three Kelvin K2 diesel engines and associated compressed air system have now been restored and every Sunday at one o'clock the glorious blast can once again be heard (providing, ironically, there's no fog!)



Sadly, this doesn't help me find the RSPB visitor centre, but happily a stonechat is on hand to assist me....






And so here we are.....






Volunteering with resident Community Engagement Officers, Botswana Dave and Rob Conn....






Then, the clouds lift, and a Force 8 gale blows the seas clear, so now I can see the Isle of Man.....






And the lighthouse.....






And some birds:  kittiwakes brave the sea spray.....






While gannets skim the waves....






And herring gulls scan the water for anything to eat.....






The wind drops and the 80 metre cliffs support guillemots, razorbills and nesting shag.....





While on the water below courting couples razor-bill and coo.....




Chaperoned by a synchronised pair of  ravens....





It is early in the year, and the spring is late. The water is cold and food for the seabirds (sand eels, small fry) is still scarce, so nesting has not yet begun in earnest, though two and a half thousand pairs of gannets can be seen readying themselves six miles out on Big Scare, and the kittiwakes are collecting mud and grass to tread down into their creviced platforms.  


In the patch of willows in standing water below the visitor centre passing warblers and the occasional chiff chaff can be seen....





And the still brown heathers are alive with meadow pipits....





And handsome masked wheatears, showing their smart backsides (from which they get their name - white rear - or arse if you prefer...) when they flit off.....






Peregrine and kestrel hunt round here and migrating greylag geese pass overhead....






I see buzzards around, though one of them seems too large and powerful to be a buzzard as he disappears out over Luce Bay before I can get my binoculars....  Could that have been a sea eagle, I wonder?  Inland, over the Forest of Galloway, I see another large bird of prey launch itself amongst the firs. Again, probably a buzzard, but a very large, heavy one if so.  But I definitely see red kite there.....  So beautiful.....




It's not just about the birds, however.  Apart from the presence of roe deer on the reserve, standing out against the sea....




Or leaping, perfectly camouflaged (like the brown hare also found here), up the hill....




There is a lot going on.  The RSPB is about conservation. Without suitable habitat there will be no birds. But without suitable habitat there won't be anything at all. So the RSPB is not just about birds - it is the largest nature conservation charity in the country, consistently delivering successful conservation, forging powerful new partnerships with other organisations and inspiring others to stand up and give nature the home it deserves. The RSPB is a charity, founded in 1889 and run by a council of volunteers. 









The visitor centre at RSPB Mull of Galloway attracts some 20,000 visitors a year, and apart from welcoming people and informing them about what can be seen on the reserve (which is part of a much larger Site of Specific Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation) the work here involves fund raising and encouraging membership of the organisation.  Dave and Rob are engaged full time in this, and as a volunteer I am there to lend a hand as well.

A number of those I speak to, however, seem to equate the RSPB with the National Trust and English Heritage and speak of having been a member but not having used it that much, having visited the reserves near their home, and therefore having exhausted the value of membership.  

This is an understandable argument, but it is a mistaken one.  The point of the RSPB is not that it gives you free parking and free entrance to a wealth of attractions preserved in aspic.  I think (and this is my personal view) that the point of the RSPB is that without this organisation (and its partners) there soon won't be the richness and variety of natural life that is in itself a reward, part of the wonder of living....






I enjoy visiting ancient buildings and interesting homes, but to enter a stately doll's house where the family have succumbed to the rigours of death duties is to engage a sense of social history and to shed a tear in the empty room where Timmy's trunk lies, next to the rocking horse, left behind when he went to war.  You look at a large brown portrait of a fat man in a waistcoat, and perhaps of a woman held up by whalebone.... and you pass on, careful not to disturb the teasel on the chaise longue...

With the RSPB your membership is different.  You do get goodies for joining, and a regular magazine, but the essential thing is that 90% of your contribution goes to work with the land, conserving the habitat of the flora, fauna and avifauna that makes life really worth living.






Of course you can also volunteer...  I have just been honoured with a silver swift and certificate in recognition of 5 years' volunteering with the RSPB.  In this time I have probed peat in Sutherland, counted geese at dawn on Islay, guarded ospreys overnight in the Cairngorms, cleaned up tern nesting sites on Coquet Island, cleared reedbeds in Norfolk, watched for bitterns and marsh harriers in Lincolnshire, litter swept in Cumbria, kept an eye on Peregrines at Symonds Yat and cleaned out sheep pens in Wales.....  And everywhere I've made new friends and learned more and more about birds and their world. 


There are lots of ways to get involved and give nature a home with the RSPB.



And now, after a long day on the Reserve, it's time to head back to Drummore for the evening.  There's a shop, here, and three pubs.  One of them, The Queens Head (sic) claims to be Scotland's southernmost hotel, which gives a new slant on the meaning of going south...  A sign in the window says "HOT BEER, LOUSY FOOD, BAD SERVICE..... WELCOME, HAVE A NICE DAY."  Irony is a strong point in the locality.





Opposite is the King's Hall.  At least this has an apostrophe....





But down the road, on Shore Street, there's The Ship Inn, where Bill & Jennifer will look after you (if they haven't gone to bed) and even magic up a lobster (if the wind is in the right direction....)





And then, after a wee dram, there's time for a wander by the harbour at sunset....




Before dodging the traffic and the crowds to get back home to Stair Street, the main thoroughfare to Stranraer...






Where my dreams are full of feathers....








With thanks to Rob and Dave, 
and to the RSPB generally....








https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/mull-of-galloway/








1 comment:

  1. Great stuff - many thanks - now we have relocated we look forward to days at Bempton and Spurn (and others). Well said about the importance of the RSPB.

    ReplyDelete