Fraternising with fritillaries and pausing in piggeries: Taynish residential September 2011


On Friday evening we set off promptly from St Andrew Square with our sights set on the National Nature Reserve at Taynish, near Tayvallich on the west coast. This is just about thirty miles south of Oban.

As tradition dictates we paused for fish and chips, this time in Balloch. After taking over the shop for about half an hour we continued on our way. We arrived at the hostel at Kilmartin at about 10.30. I had been told the hostel was very comfortable, and it was: the bedrooms even had an en suite bathroom.

We were here to improve conditions for the marsh fritillary butterfly, one of Europe's most threatened, and the only British butterfly protected by European law. The UK is now its major western European stronghold, and the west coast of Scotland, with just thirty-five sites, has the largest number of colonies of the insect. Taynish supports one of the biggest mainland populations.

We were to rake the mown grass from a wild flower meadow so that the soil would not become too enriched in nutrients and cause the habitat to become degraded. This would sustain the growth of devil's bit scabious, the fritillary's food plant.

Saturday was a good day: raking the meadow, filling sacks with the debris then dragging them to the edge of the site. The weather was a bit windy with occasional showers, but very warm and there was plenty of sun. The view across to the sea was beautiful, and the clouds produced ever changing patterns - not that I really noticed of course, as I was working too hard for that.

We ate our lunch each day within the walls of an ancient piggery, that was state of the art in its time. Built of stone, it had separate compartments for each family, an indoor and outdoor area, and a stream from the farmhouse from where scraps of tasty morsels could be thrown in to eventually arrive at the food trough. It had been restored by the rangers to be a feature of historical interest on the reserve, and a very good job they had made of it.

It was then back to the hostel for showers, food and drink. David had, as usual, prepared a delicious meal, much of it in advance, thus relieving us of the need for too much preparation. There was soup to start, then a wild rice stew. David did not consider the jam roly poly to be up to his usual standard however. I was downhearted at this, as I could certainly have managed some more given the chance!

The Sunday was windier and wetter, but for some reason I felt a surge of energy (could it be the company? or that I was working with Tony?) and worked very hard that day. But I did manage to persuade Tony that it was better to take small loads more often, rather than trying to prove how strong we were by filling the bag to the brim and busting a gut to get it off the field. The difference between the female and male approach perhaps? Later, thankfully, we were removing the material from the site on a motor vehicle with about eight wheels - which seemed very good on the boggy ground - and on which could be piled great hay stacks of the mown grass. The ground was becoming boggier and boggier, and we were getting very wet as the showers became heavier and more prolonged. We finished early, following a frenzy of activity, and went back to a barn to change into what had previously been our evening wear.

Relieved to be dry again, we got into the bus and started on the long drive home. This was thankfully uneventful and we stopped again for fish and chips, this time at Inveraray. At that point the rain was extremely heavy. We arrived home in good time, to contemplate an enjoyable and worthwhile weekend.

Thanks go to Debbie for leading and lending me her shirt, Willie for driving, David for the food and Tony, Calvin, Trevor and Morag for being there.