The Western Isles – Or There And Back Again X

By Bernie Bell

The Weather – ‘nowt you can do about it…

Next day, the weather was VILE.  We attempted a walk on South Uist, across machair, to a lake on a point at Rubha Aird a Mhuile, and, on the way we passed the site  of a Viking settlement, and another imaginative gate.

goat gate Western Isles B Bell

The weather, on this day, even defeated us – lashing rain on wind which could knock you over.

St Marys Church Western Isles B BellSo, we sought sanctuary in St. Mary’s Church, swapped our very wet waterproofs for dry waterproofs, and made a dash back to the car.  A very big ‘thank you ‘ to the good people of the parish, who leave the church open as a place of refuge for weather-battered wanderers!

We called by the Temple View Hotel for lunch again.  So good, we ate there twice!  The sky cleared and the sun came out, so, dogged holiday-makers that we are, we stopped at Balranald RSPB reserve, where we had a short walk.  The beach here has white sand, not just pale, but WHITE – pure, gleaming, white – dazzling.

After our walk, sitting on the bench outside the visitor centre, we heard a Corncrake! Repeatedly calling from some long grass over to the right of the visitor centre.  We weren’t sure of what we were hearing, as neither of us had actually heard a Corncrake before, but it sounded as you’d expect a Corncrake to sound, from the descriptions. Then we saw in the book in the visitor centre, that others had heard Corncrake the day before, so we felt sure that we had done so.

The visitor centre has information about the Corncrake and its decline, which, in Britain and the Republic of Ireland, has been a sudden and sorry one.

There are three maps. The first shows the areas where Corncrake were to be found in  1938.  Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Northern England and much of Southern England. The next map is 1972, by which time The Republic of Ireland is still solid Corncrake territory, but, in Britain, the line had moved North.  By 1997, there are just some patches at the very northern edges of both Ireland and Northern Scotland.  It’s genuinely shocking to see these maps, showing the decline so dramatically and straight-forwardly.
Corncrake by Claire Pegrum - Lewis

I am told that this rapid, extreme decline is due to changes in farming practices, in which case, all I can say is that farming practices need to change again. This isn’t a slow decline, due to natural changes – it’s obvious that something has suddenly caused this to happen.  Mike and I feel privileged to have heard a Corncrake at Balranald, which is, presumably part of one of those small patches on the map of 1997.

What does it take to  reverse a decline such as this? It can be done – look at the species which have nearly disappeared, but have been encouraged to re-build their numbers again.  Heaven help the Corncrake.

Then, on to the ferry, back to Harris and our cottage to dry things off and SLEEP.

Part 10 of a series of articles by Bernie Bell on her trip this year to and round the Western Isles. Use our search facility to find more.

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