Sunday, 18 January 2015

After the Storms and Snow

Storms last weekend, followed by cold north west winds bringing hail and snow.   Today was a quieter, slightly less cold day.   The otter family were out fishing near the slipway and in the 30 minutes I watched, the mother brought on shore two scorpionfish, another couple of fish which I cannot recognise and found other scraps of food under the wracke at the water's edge, possibly crab. The cubs stayed mostly on shore, waiting to be fed.

I eventually lost them as they headed east along Loch na Cairidh

Friday, 16 January 2015

Crofting Bureacracy

It has not been a good week.   It started with storms and power cuts but ended with the much more difficult challenge, that of a bureaucratic brick wall.    It turns out that we are not crofters after all, so I am not sure what we have been doing for the last 7 years.

There are just over 18,000 crofts in Scotland, a legal designation that brings them under crofting legislation, which is unique to Scotland, and complex.    The legal apparatus dates back to 1886 with the most recent legislation enacted in 2011.   The whole thing is overseen by the Crofting Commission, based in Inverness, which has an annual cost of £2.5m.

Simplifying hugely, the aim is to ensure that crofts are worked (though most are not in any way), but an assumption is that the ideal is for each croft to have a landlord and a tenant paying annual rent.   The tenant has some protections under the legislation.   However since 1976 tenants have had the right to buy so that we now have crofts that have different statuses.  In particular where the landlord works the croft - because he lives on the croft then he can be designated as either a landlord of a vacant croft (because there is no tenant)  or  as an Owner Occupier.   The nuance is important because in theory a Landlord of a Vacant Croft could be required to find a tenant - something which the Crofting Commission can enforce whereas an Owner Occupier carries no such risk, and as such is clearly the preferred status.

When we bought the croft from the previous owner its status was that Landlord of a Vacant Croft.   We applied to have the status changed in April 2008 to that of Owner Occupier  and got agreement from the Crofters Commission (as it then was before morphing into the Crofting Commission) to that change.   Unfortunately administrative oversight meant that they did not update their records and they are now refusing to act on their own previous decision which is quite extraordinary - the letter of confirmation is apparently not worth the paper it is printed on.  So we remain Landlords of a Vacant Croft and all the uncertainty that creates.   We have consulted lawyers and fear that we may have to go to the Scottish Land Court.  This small plot of land is proving expensive.

A complex legal system, arbitrarily enforced is something that I never thought we see in Britain.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

It's an Obsession

I heard them first - the soft 'peep-peep' call that the cubs make but it was 30 minutes or more before I saw the otter family in Loch Ainort at 3.20pm, just under 4 hours after high tide.  The mother and both cubs were fishing in deeper water over the kelp, though I am not convinced that the cubs have learnt the skills yet of catching their own food.  The mother catches and eats fish in the water, then catches something for the cubs and they all come on shore to eat, with not a scrap left.   It was too dark to identify the fish species and the photos I got in low light weren't of the best.   The trouble is it has become an obsession that if I see an otter I have to get a photograph even though I have literally hundreds, if not thousands of photographs already.

The sun is there somewhere
The cubs were very active running across the rocks and beating each other up; both rolled around for several minutes while the mother looked on nonchalantly.  As well as food, they are still very dependent on the mother.  On one occasion when the mother and one of the cubs swam quickly to the shore almost surfing on the waves, thrown up by some still quite windy conditions accompanied by hailstorms, the second cub got left 100 metres away.  Panicking it let out lots of peeping calls and headed for the shore at the nearest point then ran along the rocks to meet its mother and sibling coming the other way to find it.   

Monday, 12 January 2015

Recovering from the Storm

In  the north and west of Scotland we had a significant storm last Friday, early in the morning.   Wind speeds of 113 mph were recorded in Stornoway on Lewis, whilst our own anemometer, down in a relatively sheltered spot on the croft, picked up 58.8mph.  I think that is the highest we have seen and more exposed parts of the croft on the Loch Ainort side probably had gusts up to 75 or 80mph.

In common with much of the Highlands and Islands our electricity power was cut, and we were off line for 58 hours, back for 23 hours then off for 4 hours.   Our provider Hydro PD was overwhelmed with significant damage throughout the area, so that at the peak 80,000 homes were off-line, but their engineers do a terrific job in often atrocious weather to repair faults.    The power is back now, obviously!  

The house got colder and colder, with a bedroom temperature of 7 degrees.  I took off my fleece only yesterday after 3 days.  Not trusting a little camping stove which we have for emergencies because it has a tendency to flare up,  I lived off  tinned fish, bread tomatoes, fruit, an apple pie from the local supermarket and chocolate.   It's a brilliant diet and I lost 4 lbs.

The roof lost 4 apex tiles which despite continuing strong (40mph) winds I have put back, and a chimney cowl ended up across the garden.  

A rowan tree was uprooted on the croft, giving me a chance to play at being a lumberjack.  A second keeled over a bit but was stopped from going the distance by a fence.  Rowan are shallow rooted and seem to be just about the only tree to take a hold amongst the thin soils and rocks.   When they keel over there is a mass of stone and root, but no more than 30 or 40 cm deep.   Once coppiced and righted regrowth occurs, and I have lots of firewood.   The coppiced trees are a memento of storms past.  The one I cut back today will have the name 9 January 2015, rather like an event commemorating street name in some South American capital.  Some of the branches were dead and there is rot in the middle of the tree (see photo) so I shall look for beetles in the coming weeks.

9 January 2015
9 January 2015
5 December 2013 
Unsurprisingly there is not much wildlife about.   Even if the otters are around it is difficult to pick them out in the swell.

Need to end though as there is lightning about and no doubt  another  power cut on the way.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Otters Taking Lunch

Rain turning to hail and strong north-westerly winds (30 to 40 mph) brought in the new year.   The hail storms caused some damage to the bituminous roof on the observation hide that I built four years ago.   There is a always something that has to be fixed.

Today was brighter but cold.    We saw the otter family taking lunch about an hour after low tide.   The cubs are now very active, though one, which I think is a female is definitely less keen than the other, which has already learnt to fish.  

Staying in much the same place the mother brought small fish ashore for the lazy cub, tossing one nonchalantly in front of it, but then caught a scorpion fish which she set about herself.  The idle cub then had a go until just about every part of the fish had gone.

The mother's eye problem looks to have healed a little but it is still very noticeable;  now that the cubs are not much smaller than the mother it does help identification,   There is a pink patch to the left side of the left eye, which is probably an injury, maybe inflicted by a male.

Injured eye very noticeable

In all we watched for about an hour, and in a way we were rather glad when the otters went east, so that we could unfreeze fingers and toes.