When trying to explain why we have decided to move Scotland to spend our university placement year living on a tiny island on the west coast or a remote field centre near the Cairngorms, which could be described by some as in the middle of nowhere, we have come across many questions along the lines of “why would you go all the way up there?” or “do you know how awful the weather will be?”. And yes the weather has at times been awful. We in fact spent the first week on the island of Cumbrae with FSC Millport being constantly battered by wind and rain while the southern parts of the UK had a heat wave and beautiful sunshine. However even in awful weather conditions, the island of Cumbrae has some of the most spectacular scenery and wildlife the UK has to offer, and once the sun burst through the clouds sometime during the second week there was no arguing that this a beautiful place to live and a perfect place to work for an aspiring ecologist. Within in 3 hours of working for FSC Scotland we spotted a Dolphin only a few hundred metres from the shore, and with sharks, whales, porpoise, seals, otters and numerous sea birds frequent visitors to local waters is there any more explanation needed as to why we chose to work here?
As for the site at FSC Kindrogan, while the area is very different, it is equally spectacular in scenery and wildlife. It took all but 3 hours of arriving at the site again to not only see red squirrels and Pine Martins but to capture some great shots. The hide on site is an amazing place to get up close to the elusive Pine Martins, with frequent visitors such as Squinty and her two kits. A staggering 25% of endangered UK species such as the Red Squirrels live and can be seen around the local area. With forest out the front door and the vast mountainous expanse of the Cairngorm National park out the back, there are plenty of stunning places to experience. After having been at FSC Kindrogan for around a week, we saw beavers and a kingfisher on a river just outside Blairgowrie, a short drive away and a few days later while out doing hydrology with a group we came across a bumblebee nest, which is a rare sight!
Now we have been here a few weeks we have been able to experience many of the activities FSC Scotland has to offer guests. From helping build fires with Real Family Holidays to investigating soils with an advance higher geography group and studying plankton through microscopes with university courses. In our free time, we get the opportunity to explore the spectacular landscapes and wildlife that we have on our doorstep at both sites. And yes, it will get cold and dark in winter but there is still great wildlife to see, the Northern Lights (if we are lucky) and there aren’t many places in the UK where you can go skiing. The changing seasons will most likely provide new challenges, but that is what makes life interesting.
The Scottish ‘right to roam’ means that there are no legal limits on where we explore or where we choose to put a tent for the night. This provides a fantastic feeling of freedom when going out trekking or cycling. Forest trails, farmer’s tracks and roads to hunting lodges make great places for going biking. Heather laden slopes and mountain paths have breath-taking beauty. There is but one important rule to remember: to leave no trace of your visit. Footprints and tire tracks are acceptable, but litter, open gates and vandalism will spoil the outdoors for everyone else! This ethic of leaving a minimal impact is a key part of the spirit of conservation and hopefully it can be conveyed in future classes!
Written by Georgie, Peter and Emma.