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Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Big Five

2013: Lochranza Wildlife and The Year of Natural Scotland

VisitScotland and Scottish Natural Heritage have recently launched the Big 5 campaign as part of the Year of Natural Scotland. The idea is to encourage discussion of Scottish wildlife and they would like to hear your views at www.scotlandsbig5.co.uk

The five species selected to spark off the debate are: the harbour or common seal, the otter, the golden eagle, the red deer and the red squirrel which happen to be creatures we see almost daily in Lochranza.

The common seal is actually much less common in Scotland than the grey seal. They can be seen basking at mid-tide on the rocks off Newton shore.
Otters can be seen almost anywhere round the Arran coastline but predicting just where or when is no easy matter. I was canoeing last week and saw one scampering along the loch shore beside the road. Drivers, please be aware!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you will know how much red deer feature in Lochranza life. During this chilly spring most of them have stayed high up on the hillsides as the grass down here is only just beginning to grow. I really thought the old stag with a damaged eye must have gone to meet his maker after the rut, but he’s back, soaking up the sun in quiet corners of the golf course.

In Lochranza the golden eagles are probably watching you far more than you know. Hares are their main food on the island.  The eagle look-alikes, the buzzards, hunt the lower slopes of the hills around the campsite, often calling as they fly. They’re actually only half the size of a golden eagle. If you want to know more, Jim Cassels keeps meticulous records of birdlife on Arran- see: www.arranbirding.co.uk.

There are no grey squirrels on Arran and the reds range from fiery orange to almost black. Look out for them in the trees along the burn or crossing the road to village gardens early in the morning- another good reason to drive slowly. They tend to stay under cover when it’s raining.

Missing from the current Big Five list is the basking shark- they cruise between Lochranza and Pirnmill, and are a sight that fills everyone’s hearts with joy, every September. It is not unusual to see them from the Calmac ferry. We also have badgers, adders, bats and toads in Lochranza, but, like the rest of Arran, no foxes, weasels or moles, and no magpies, rooks or tawny owls.

Sometimes it can be very rewarding to explore the natural history that doesn’t run, swim or fly away. The island has a positive treasure trove of mosses and lichens in the native woodlands, not to mention the unigue Arran whitebeam trees of Glen Catacol. However, it is the rocks of which Arran is composed which are one of the island’s most famous features. Whoever thought up the phrase “solid as a rock” should visit the Isle of Arran Heritage Museum where you can find out just how dynamic and well-travelled Arran rocks are!
Where can I see:  A guide on where to find some of Arran’s best wildlife is produced by the Arran Natural History Society and costs £4 available from many island shops.

(The otter photo was taken by Mr Berry and the deer photo by Lance Ostler.)