What a strange few weeks it has been. I recently watched a clever and darkly amusing short film where a woman happily going through life as normal in early February 2020 (we’ll call her “February-Girl”) meets her future self (“April-Girl”), two months later. February-Girl is as confused as any of the rest of us might have been when told by April-Girl to invest in a (previously) little-known conference call app named “Zoom”.
It was a stark reflection of how much can change over such a short period of time.
February-Girl was also concerned about the Australian wildfires at the turn of the year. These would be, she was sure, the story of 2020.
Devastating for the environment and every single person affected whether directly or indirectly. Devastating also for the wildlife.
But unless you are in Australia… Be honest, that memory has just given you a little jolt, hasn’t it?
It is amazing how quickly we forget.
It is also amazing how quickly wildlife and the environment rebounds.
And it is amazing, when given a little enforced lockdown time, just how quickly we start to notice what has always been there. We have just lost it in the business of life.
At Infinite Scotland we specialise in tours that take our guests off the beaten track, that explore the very best of our fabulous outdoors, that celebrate our superb natural larder of food and drink, that weave it all together with history and anecdote and folklore…
So you might expect that we spend our every waking hour noticing every tiny facet of what is around us.
But we are the first to admit that we also get tied up in admin, in marketing, in the excitement of new tours and ideas, in meeting all of our lovely guests. So much so that we have to confess that sometimes we forget to stop to breathe in our own local environment.
However, with a little enforced stillness, guess what? We are embracing it with open arms! And I am happy to report that Bonnie Scotland has been bonnier than ever over the past 7 weeks.
All the Bs
The title for this blog came to me on one of my daily walks from the front door. The standard route has become a 45 minute fast-paced hike between fields to the “Silvery” River Tay, up to a fishing hut (shelter for those who would ordinarily be seen casting a line on this famous salmon fishing river), and back via our local castle (doesn’t everyone have one?), Castle Menzies.
That particular day I stopped for a 10 minute (socially distanced) chat with our neighbour who gave me the update on the local beaver dramas.
Yes, dramas (and dams too, more on that later).
Continuing on, I put my earphones in to listen to that day’s chosen podcast, BBC Scotland Outdoors, which has recently had a strong leaning towards birds.
On my way back home I spotted three roe deer (of “Bambi” fame) bounding into the woods, their white rumps glowing in the late afternoon sunlight.
Beavers, birds and bambi. All the Bs!
To that I could have added Blossom and Baking, both of which have also featured prominently in Lockdown times, but I had to stop somewhere.
(Brilliant sunshine, buttery coconut-scented gorse and bouncing red squirrels have also featured highly, but it would take a little poetic license to include them in the Bs too).
In any case, I am not the first to note that, with human activity slowing down around the globe, wildlife activity has picked up – and we are loving it!
Bonnie Scotland has never been solely about the mountains, glens and forests. They are iconic and beautiful of course – but it is the wildlife that adds that extra zing. With an ecological hat on, arguably the “bonnie-ness” of Scotland wouldn’t even exist without the wildlife – there is a symbiotic relationship going on… But that is a whole other Pandora’s Box! Come on tour with us and learn all about the “Re-Wilding” hot topic.
We may have lost sight and sound of our wildlife in the general hubbub of human activity, but it is there and waiting to be discovered. Scotland’s great stretches of wild lands are a great place to start, and we can arrange specialist wildlife tours in any one of our bespoke offerings.
However, you don’t even have to go that wild. Our local area is prime farmland, and wildlife is everywhere.
Which brings me back to the beavers.
More closely associated with our Canadian cousins, the nonetheless-native Scottish beaver was driven to extinction around 500 years ago. But wildlife has a habit of rebounding when given half a chance. No one knows where they came from, but in the 1990s a clandestine population reappeared along the River Tay… They have been causing much head-scratching and controversy ever since, and are now the largest population of beavers in Scotland!
Why so controversial? Back to those dams. Beavers love’em. They’re rather good at building them too, using any handy trees they can get their paws on. And the county of Perthshire, home to the longest stretch of the Tay, is otherwise known as “Big Tree Country”. A lot of beaver-building material! Sadly this has brought the creatures into conflict with the human population as falling/fallen trees get in the way of vehicles and pedestrians. They also undermine flood defences and their dams block essential drainage ditches across farmland. All of which doesn’t make them enormously popular around these parts, hence my conversation with the neighbour. The local farmer had just had to dig out yet another beaver dam.
On the other hand, beavers had a significant impact on the land long before humans did. Their dams create ponds and wetlands which could actually mitigate flood peaks and enhance water quality, not to mention biodiversity.
I sit on the fence… My hope is that a natural balance might be found, now that the beavers seem to be back for good.
And in the meantime, once lockdown is over, I shall be sitting in silence every night beside one of our local streams – because although they are a hot topic of conversation wherever you turn, I still, STILL, haven’t seen a beaver for myself!
Birds, on the other hand, I have seen (and heard) plenty of. And they seem a slightly less controversial topic on which to end our current musings over Scotland’s wildlife.
We are not the first to comment on how loud birdsong seems to have become during lockdown. At long last, the birds are reclaiming their rightful place in the soundtrack of the nation – lost to the noise of us humans and our machinery over the past 100+ years.
The BBC Scotland Outdoors podcasts have had a distinctly “bird” theme recently – we are apparently fast becoming a nation of twitchers. At first I felt lost and confused… But then I signed up to a training course from the British Trust for Ornithology.
Now I can’t get enough of the friendly chaffinch in the back garden and the woodpigeons roosting in the hedge!
It seems I have started simple, with both birds (very) common across Scotland. But their songs are beautiful. The chaffinch has a light laughter with a twirly ending, whilst the woodpigeon’s gentle “coooos” remind me of summer mornings playing in our garden as a child.
Despite its name, I am less enamoured with the Song Thrush, which has taken to perching itself on a telegraph pole around 6 yards from the bedroom window in order to wake me at 5am every morning with its loud, clear song.
Still, that is better than the fate of the chaffinch back in Victorian times (1800s) when they were kept in cages for the listening pleasure of their “owners”. I am glad those days are past – we can now enjoy birdsong in its natural habitat.
Birds are also caught up as much in Scottish folklore as any other animal.
The happy, bubbling Skylark, for example, has always been considered a good omen. Strange, therefore, that one of the best places to spot them is above Drumossie Moor, site of the infamous and bloody Battle of Culloden in April 1746. A happier association might be with the medieval moated Caerlaverock Castle, most likely named after the renowned songster: “laverock” in Scots.
With its distinctive fluting song calling out across grasslands and coastlines, the curlew is another conundrum. To me it evokes warmth and memories of balmy spring evenings. Strange again, then, that in Gaelic folklore the cry of the curlew has long been associated with sorrow, whilst sailors would interpret its call as a warning of brewing storms.
Still travel, slow travel
Whatever your soundtrack to our recent lockdown period, wherever you are in the world, even if you find yourself in a small apartment in a large city, we hope that you have been taking this time to stop, look, and listen out for your local wildlife.
As far as we can tell, our own, human, species seems to be the only one of the hundreds of millions of species on the planet that has been detrimentally affected by the big C-19.
As for the rest of our wildlife, it is apparently blooming. Finally given the opportunity to take advantage of what the world might be like…
…if things were just a little quieter.
Maybe we should sit up, be still – and listen.
To enjoy the still of the wilds in Scotland once lockdown is over, get in touch with us to create your perfect slow travel tour. We promise that any specialist wildlife tour inclusions will be led by an expert – not the novice twitcher of this blog!
For advance preparation, or just a bit of lockdown fun, check out the online tools from the RSPB to learn a little more about our birds and their songs.