Wednesday, 14 August 2013


Over the last couple of weeks it has been 'haytime'.  I have been mowing the grass on half the croft now that the bluebells have set seed.  We are  trying to create a hay meadow replicating I hope, what was done 20 or 30 years ago.  According to the Skye and Lochalsh Haymeadow Report 2003,traditional management of a croft involved a rotation of 2-4 years cropping (potatoes,turnips, oats, oats-undersown) with 7 or more years of grass. The grass was cut annually in late summer to make hay for winter feeding of cattle and horses. The aftermath was grazed in autumn by cattle coming off the hill, then rested in winter before shutting up for the summer hay crop.  Hay meadows are now a rare sight on Skye and indeed elsewhere, having been replaced by year-round sheep grazing or earlier cropping of grass for sileage.  Many crofts have been abandoned to bracken and brambles (and new houses).

Sweet vernal grass

The dominant grasses in our hay meadow are Yorkshire fog, viviparous fescue, common bent and sweet vernal grass with patches of purple moor grass and occasional crested dog's-tail.   Common sedge, oval sedge, starry sedge and green-ribbed sedge are frequent in the damper areas. Soft rush and bracken are the aspirationally dominant plants and have to be kept in check.  More colourful plants include bluebells and pignut in May, and at the moment meadow buttercups (creeping buttercups in the only area that I think was once dug over), and devil's-bit scabious.   This assemblage seems fairly consistent with the 2003 survey.

Rather than gathering the hay up I now leave the grass in place, raking it over a little so it dies down and provides a little nutrient, equivalent to autumn grazing, and it is noticeable that bluebell seeds germinate well under the mown grass.  I disturbed a toad during the cut but surprisingly no field voles.

Areas where the orchids flowered have been left for a later cut in September and October, as they are just at the point of developing seed pods.   I do rake the grass off those areas to keep the level of nutrients low - which is not too difficult - and it seems to benefit the orchids.

There have been no mammals to report, other than a few pipistrelles at dusk.  Reasonably regularly in July and August in the past we have had a sighting of dolphins but not so far this year.   We therefore went up towards Staffin at the north end of Skye where there is a more reliable viewpoint and sure enough we had a twenty minute view of probably 20 or so dolphins (maybe common dolphins but I cannot be certain) in the channel between Skye and Rona.   Too far away to get a photograph - fortunately as I had left my camera at home.   Here is a picture taken four years ago in Loch Ainort of bottle-nosed dolphins

Insects have been the main focus of attention.   Dragonflies are on the wing, a black darter and common dragonfly perched long enough to allow a decent view.

Black darter
Common dragonfly

Common blue

Scotch argus butterflies are everywhere though they do seem to have a preference for the damper areas.   I also found a Common blue butterfly down by the shore.

Scotch argus
Down by the shore there is a little pocket of woodland plants such as wood anemone and I found a few Skullcap plants there.  Feeding on them was what I think is a caterpillar of the Skullcap sawfly.

I nearly forgot; I found another sedge on the croft, pale sedge.   Only a few plants but that brings the number of Carex species up to 8.

Pale sedge