At the beginning of June 2023, we finally returned to our annual summer residential task for the first time since 2019. A group of 8 LCV volunteers travelled to Kilmartin for one week to help NatureScot at Taynish National Nature Reserve (NNR) and Moine Mhor National Nature Reserve. For some of us it was the first time, for others it was a welcomed return to these stunning wildlife sanctuaries.
Taynish NNR is a habitat mosaic consisting of ancient oak woodlands, grassland glades, heath and saltmarsh, bordered by Loch Sween in the East and Linne Mhuirich in the West. It is a haven for red squirrels, otters, dragonflies, moths, and butterflies - including the rare marsh fritillary - and a wide variety of plants. NatureScot's conservation focus lies in maintaining the ancient woodland and open glades to support the large biodiversity the reserve supports. Bracken control is one of the key activities.
Moine Mhor, which means "Great Moss" in Scottish Gaelic, is a low land peatbog. It is also home to many species, including various dragonflies and hen harriers. Conservation efforts here are focused on protecting the moss by removing tree regeneration.
The team arrived in Kilmartin on Sunday afternoon and after settling into the bothy and storing away all provisions for the week, we enjoyed our first communal dinner and a relaxing evening. On Monday, we met with Heather and Gordon from NatureScot at 9.30am and after choosing our weapons, we started clearing a field of bracken not far from the NatureScot shed.
Despite various annoying beasties (hey horseflies) and a very hot morning, we managed to clear the area by lunchtime. Shade, food and some refreshing drinks prepared us for the afternoon but before work commenced, Heather took us for a walk around the reserve. We walked South towards the Piggery and looked for the rare Marsh Fritillary in the nearby meadows. Despite the heat, we all enjoyed being in this beautiful environment full of life and observations. The rest of the afternoon we continued scything bracken near the coastline of Linne Mhuirich. Around 4pm it was time to head back to Tayvallich for a well-deserved ice-cream or wild swim.
Tuesday meant Round 2 for bracken control - this time near Barr Mor. Even in the morning it was already very hot, but we still enjoyed the walk through this beautiful ancient woodland.
The open hillside proved challenging in the heat but with plenty of breaks we still managed to make a good dent in the sea of bracken. However, we were all craving an early finish - including ice-creams and swimming.
After dinner, we went to see the beavers at Barnluasgan. Covered in midge nets and plenty of smidge, we walked the Wildlife Trail at dusk but sadly the beavers proved elusive. However, we got to see and listen to some pipistrelle bats thanks to the bat detector of one of the volunteers.
Wednesday was our planned day off and we all took a trip to the Isle of Gigha. We took the minibus to Tayinloan from where we took the ferry to the island.
Sunshine and a turquoise sea made us think we were in the Mediterranean rather than Scotland, but we were not complaining. Once we arrived, the group split into 2 smaller teams with one of them exploring the Northern part of the island and the second one visiting Achamore Gardens. "Surprisingly" this trip also included a trip into the water.
After returning to the mainland, we headed to Tarbert for our dinner. We soon found an Indian restaurant, which catered to all our requirements - including some odd chicken dish with custard looking sauce for Willie. Our day trip would easily win Best Holiday Experience in One Day and we all returned to the bothy tired but happy.
On Thursday we met Heather at Moine Mhor for a day of peatbog restoration. It was already very warm in the morning, and we all appreciated the short walk to the worksite and a basecamp in woodland shelter. Once we were ready to go, we combed an agreed area for any tree regeneration - some a decent size and some tiny.
The heat forced us to finish early but it didn't stop us from visiting Dunadd Fort on the way back to the bothy. The view from the top of the hill across Moine Mhor is really impressive and in this hot clear weather we could see all the way to Jura.
After dinner (and before bedtime), we were hoping to see some bats, which Debbie had spotted the night before. Midge nets at the ready and doused in smidge we patiently waited in the car park. After a quick drive-past by the police, we saw hundreds of Soprano Pipistrelles leave their roost, which was well worth the bites.
On our final day we returned to do some more bracken control. This time on the East side of the reserve overlooking Loch Sween. By now, we are all scything experts and seeing our fast but steady progress was rather satisfying.
After another hot, sweaty day being harassed by horseflies, we yet again enjoyed our ice creams and wild swims before heading out for a final dinner in the local pub.
All in all, we had a fantastic week at Taynish despite the heat and insects and we are looking forward to returning next year.