Sunday, 28 June 2009

Royal Highland Show 2009

On Friday I excitedly went off to the Royal Highland Show. I was working on the Scottish Wildlife Trust stand where it was great to get to know some of my colleagues better and spread the word about our work. Everyone was very welcoming and passionate about raising the profile of the Trust.However, I make no secret of the fact the the Shetland Judging was the biggest highlight of my day. I had hoped to enter some of my own sheep but financially and logistically this just wasn't possible, so I just went along to learn and was very glad that I did!

Showing is a game. You play the game, you get the results. Speaking to the breeders showing before judging commenced was interesting: "we've looked at who the judge is an selected animals to bring along in accordance with what we think his preference will be."

At the RHS this year, the judge was a native Shetlander and so, taking this into account, most of the entries were large white sheep! Of course Shetland fans have all heard of how the patterned Shetland sheep were in danger of being lost in their native land, and yesterday I was told that there seem to be alternate predudices on either side of the Scotland/England border. In England there is a strong preference for coloured sheep (but not necessarily spotted in most cases) while in Scotland you see many more white Shetlands.

Plenty of white sheep in the Group of Three class.

And in the Ram Lamb class

Just to show that I am not totally predudiced against white sheep, I quite liked this white shearling ram of Tom Findlay's

And this, the Reserve Champion Shetland owned by Gilbert Meikle

But in the end the Champion of the day was Moira Morrison's ewe. Well done on a fabulous acheivement.

I shant go into the ins and outs of how the judging panned out. Some folk were concerned that coloured Shetlands were not even being looked at, while others defended this saying that a crofter on Shetland needs the most marketable animal possible and that will produce a good amount of meat, rather than just a rack to hang a fabulous fleece on or something pretty to look at! I will say this: it must be a huge honour for one of your sheep to be given the title of Champion Shetland at the Royal Highland Show... but I won't be swapping any of my girls for one like this, nor changing my opionions about what I like! But then variety is the spice of life... and not all Shetland judges think alike either.

I did find some coloured sheep to talk to.
She doesn't look very impressed with being in a pen for four days!

Best coloured Shetland went to Robin McEwan-King's handsome tup.

I'd like to say thank you to everyone from the Shetland Sheep Society for making me feel so welcome. I really enjoyed speaking (and drinking :o) with you all and really appreciated all those who took the time to give advice and pass on some of their masses of Shetland Sheep knowledge. I'll look forward to the next time we meet.

Ban Puppy Farming

Our friends Rose, Archie, Lilly and Daisy are campaigning to stop the horrendous practice of puppy farming. To see how everyone around the world can help by using Blogger and Twitter, have a read of THE PRESS PACK blog.
It's so easy to do something that could make a big difference.

We hope that @petplan and @petrait will help.

Jenny, Chris, Fox and Whisper


Wednesday, 24 June 2009

More tales of tails!

I've been very interested to read on other folks blogs discussions about Shetland breed standards. This year I'm lucky enough to have some ram lambs that I consider nice enough to sell on as breeding animals. However, I have some reservations about one of their tails...

This is Smali Big Wig. I think he's a super lamb, but I'd be interested to hear other opinions.
"Wiggy" has a very correct little fluke tail: short with wool at the top and hair at the tip.

Then there's Braeface who is beautiful in everyway and has the softest grey fleece, but has sadly inherited his mother's tail...

Rosy is a lovely ewe in many ways and I'm happy to have her in the flock. If it weren't for that tail!

Worryingly she has passed it on to her son.

Sure it's woolly at the top, hairy at the tip, but it's a big long and chunky... isn't it? Or am I being overly critical?

When I compare this tail to the likes of Carlin who is also growing into a nice lad with a very fine fleece (but of the shorter staple length type I think) it does make me think that it is on the large side!

Sullivan of course is just a wonderful big strapping lad. I hope that there are some yuglet fans out there. I'm going to be taking the photos to the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh on Friday to see if I can drum up any interest in my stock. I can't wait to see the Shetland Showing... lots of photos to come :o)

Kate wonders why all this fuss over the boys when I have lovely girls like her!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Feelings of helplessness.

Last night my little brother showed up on the doorstep almost out of the blue. He was off sailing with one of the Lake District's climbing legends, Frank Davies who owns a yacht, and his old school buddy Eddy Luke. They all stayed with Chris and I last night and Chris got roped into joining them for a 5 day trip up to Skye. They were all very excited as they set off this morning and I was pleased that Chris could go and enjoy the wildlife and try something totally new.

This evening I received a call from Chris saying that the yacht had hit a rock and was sinking fast. They were trying to get through to the coast guard but salvaging the boat was not looking good and he sounded pretty scared.

I felt so helpless sitting at home waiting for news. Eventually the call came through that the coastguard had reached them and pulled them off the rocks. There was no hole in the boat but it had almost capsized and this was why it had taken on water and something had broken off from somewhere.

I now know that they have managed to limp into port and I'm waiting for the call to go and get them. I'm not sure how taken Chris is with sailing!

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Adventure on a small island

Yesterday evening, Chris and I escaped Knapdale for the first time in over a month. Admittedly we didn't get very far; but then why would you want to go far when you can have an adventure and find endangered species right on your doorstep and all in splendid company.

Our new friend and neighbour Mary-Lou Aitchison runs a wildlife club for local families. The kids love being outdoors getting to know their wild neighbours and there is no shortage of those in Argyll. Last night we were shipped across the sea to the nearby island of Eilean Mòr which is home to one of Britain's most secretive and rarest bird: the corncrake.

To teach us all about this elusive creature, local expert Charlie Self who used to be the RSPB warden for Coll. Charlie now lives in Tayvallich, although he can still frequently be found on Coll, and Chris and I are very happy to have met such a lovely and knowledgeable person. Charlie has been a star in helping out with the beavers.

Mary-Lou and her husband John are both wildlife film makers and have a company called Otter Films. Mary-Lou is making a film about the beaver reintroduction. Argyll is a hotspot for wildlife lovers and it was also a real pleasure to meet Mark Smith, who filmed this amazing snow leopard footage for the BBC.

We headed out at 17.30, since Corncrake are most active in the small hours, with local fisherman Hamish as our captain. As the boat chugged across the flat calm of Loch Sween we watched black guillimot, cormorants and seals hunting for fish in the pristine salty deep.

It seemed to take a very long time to get to the island, but the children didn't seem to mind and us wildlife addicts amused ourselves with tales from the field.
At last our destination appeared on the horizon and, as we drew closer we could see the traditional croft cottages that had been restored by the owners of the island: funnily enough, this little place is owned by the SNP!

Eilean Mòr simply means "large island" in Gaelic and is the name given to the largest island in many groups across the coast of Scotland. This particular Eilean Mòr lies at the mouth of Loch Sween, close to the Island of Jura.
We excitedly disembarked and began to explore the beautiful grassland of this tiny and uninhabited land.

Chris and I plan to return here by canoe later in the summer in order to make another attempt at finding the corncrake since, although we did hear the distinctive call of the bird, like a fingernail drawn along a comb, the joyful cries of the children I think scuppered our chances of a sighting! You can see the kids enjoying themselves on my new Beaver Blog!

Not that it mattered much when we had sausages to cook and when the midges were so fierce that we were happy to retreat into the smoky protection of the barbecues!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

The Beavers are Back!

I have been a bad blogger this week, but I do have an excuse! I'm very proud to announce the return of the Beaver to Scotland after an extinction of around 400 years.

It has been one of the most hectic and stressful periods of my life being involved in this project, but I'm so very honoured to be here.

I was a little busy for taking photos, but you can see footage of the beavers (and a little bit of me I'm afraid) here.

Contrary to apparent popular belief, I am not now taking a break after a very busy time. While all the other staff buzzed off back to Edinburgh and Glasgow, I was left with my dedicated little team here in Knapdale. I can't thank Karen, John, Philippa, Chris and Roisin enough for their help and support this last week.

It's all very well releasing beavers, but now I have to ensure that I keep tabs on them, record their activity and stay on good terms with landowners, lest my charges wander where they are not wanted. I've not had a great deal of time off, or sleep recently, but being out on the water, in the glorious weather we've been enjoying, has hardly been a chore.

This is now how Chris and I spend most of our evenings. Sorry I didn't have a decent enough lens, but there really are beavers in some of these photos!

The beavers are settling well and are beginning to build their own lodges, which is great to see. The other night I was driving down one of the forest tracks and found a stick across the path that hadn't been there half an hour earlier. I stopped and got out and look what I found!

The beavers had come down the stream, up the bank and across the track to cut down one of the willows. Why that particular willow was so particularly desirable when the loch edges have plenty I will never know, but it is good to see them making themselves so at home.

I'm getting a beaver blog soon so I won't have to bore you all with tales of my work; but I'll provide the address when I have it, in case anyone is interested.