Field Notes: Wild times in the Western Isles

The Trust’s community ranger in the Outer Hebrides, Clara Risi, has been connecting with the communities of Harris and Lewis to great effect

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The Ploigh children’s sessions run by Galson Estate resumed in the autumn, to the collective relief of children and parents alike. Clara has assisted and led on woodland and beach activities, which combine active play with learning about natural history and responsible access. Group sizes were restricted to 10 per session, but were all fully booked.

Clara said: “It was great to be out and about interacting with the children, who had a fantastic time rock pooling, beach cleaning, toasting marshmallows, making woodland dens and learning all about their local area. Parents were also delighted that the sessions ran, after a long spring and summer juggling home working with home schooling and childcare.”

The coastal theme continued in October, with a single day in West Harris on beaches and nearby roadsides securing a whole trailer’s worth of litter. The day was very well supported with 20 local volunteers showing up to lend a hand.

Planting plans are also well under way on both North and West Harris Trust community land holdings. Three days of planting will take place between December and February, involving pupils from the rural skills course at Sir E. Scott school in Tarbet, as well as scout groups, local volunteers and staff from the Trusts. There are around 2,000 seedlings to go in, some of which are being sourced from the Woodland Trust’s crofting project (MOREWoods Scheme).

Clara’s work illustrates the power of partnership work in bringing people together to improve their local environment, but also includes wildlife guiding and the occasional rare sighting while on other duties. On her way to a Whale and Dolphin Conservation shore watch for North Harris Trust in the summer, she was lucky enough to spot a honey buzzard at Scalpay common grazing. “I later found out that it was the first one to be recorded in Harris. Other records for the Outer Hebrides date from 1988/89 in South Uist, and one in Benbecula in 1991, making this the first honey buzzard spotted in the islands for 30 years.”

Clara Risi - honey buzzard

Honey buzzards (Pernis apivorus) are a rare summer visitor to the UK, spotted mainly in England and a few locations throughout Scotland and Wales. They spend their summers within mainland Europe before migrating to Africa to overwinter. They breed in open woodlands, feeding on nests and larvae of bees and wasps. A welcome visitor to the islands at a time when more trees are being planted.

Photos by Clara Risi