Monty takes a trip down to the island of Barra, where he helps to establish a new walking trail and organise a training course for volunteer whale-watchers.
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Imagine walking away from your normal life
to live on a beautiful island packed with spectacular wildlife.
Well, that's what I'm doing,
working as a volunteer nature ranger in the Outer Hebrides.
Welcome to my great escape.
Come on, Rubes, come on!
I've travelled 600 miles from Bristol,
to my new home in the Outer Hebrides,
where my duties as wildlife ranger have included investigating a mystery whale-stranding.
They wash up really very rarely so what I've got to do is take a skin sample and send it off to the labs
-and see what they can say about this particular whale.
-270, going once...
A fundraising dinner has raised essential cash for the cause.
£2,500. That is a working budget here, and there's loads I can do with that money.
Now, at last, I can get going on some hard graft.
Do till January.
I confront the reality of controlling wild bird populations.
It's freezing cold.
I'm stiff and aching,
and it's started to rain.
But also I get to witness one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in Europe.
It's my first big storm,
and all the locals have been really excited about me seeing my first big storm.
They've all been talking about it.
of the wind and the waves, coming together with the land, just beggars belief.
I can't imagine being out there in it. It would just be... It'd be hell.
This is about a force 8 or so, I'd say.
This storm has had a 600-mile run-up from Iceland.
In a way this, is the start of the winter,
The Outer Hebrides will become a very different place for me.
A lot wilder and a lot more demanding.
I wouldn't say that winter is about to arrive any more, I would say it has arrived.
But good things are starting to happen.
I find myself on an awful lot of committees, which is quite
interesting, and actually coming up with projects that I think we can really put into action.
Got a bit of money now from the great feast.
I'm entering the last half of my time here.
So I need to actually get out now and get on with it.
And it's very timely cos the girls from
the Whale And Dolphin Conservation Society are coming up to visit.
Nice to see you, hi there.
I'm a marine biologist by training, and I'm really keen to help them with some research work.
And I'm hoping I can lock in to projects they'll give me to take on in the future with local people.
Nicola Hodgson and Sarah Dolman run a scheme where people who live on the coast keep an eye on the sea,
and report any whale and dolphin sightings.
They're not very happy about being inside!
The idea is to build up a better picture of just how many of the big cetaceans pass through these waters.
We will talk about whales and dolphins in a moment, but everyone
who comes here has to meet the pigs. They're like my kids.
Right. Walk this way. It's about a five-minute walk.
Well, the weather's better than it was yesterday.
Yes, it is, isn't it?
No, this is a very good day.
Where was the beaked whale that you found?
-That was in, er, Benbecula.
My stunning diagnosis of what species it was, was, "Right, it's a whale and
"it's got a beak, so I think it's probably a beaked whale." Yeah, that was it, that was the extent.
-That was a good process of elimination!
-That's better than most people would do.
Yeah, positively Sherlock Holmes-like.
Obviously, I'm only here for a limited period, but I know you want ongoing research, don't you?
You want ongoing data coming in.
Well, WDCS has recently set up a scheme called Shorewatch,
and we're looking for people who would be prepared to be trained up,
so that they can collect data to a good standard, and who will monitor all year round.
So if I put together a group of local volunteers, people who
are enthusiasts, you could come up and do a day's training with them?
Absolutely, and we would provide them with binoculars...
This is pretty much the kit you need, isn't it?
This is what you need when you're out in the field, yeah, to record the animals.
We've got this field guide which tells you about
some of the most commonly-seen species off the west coast here.
Also we've got information on here about reporting strandings.
Do you know, an important point here is, it is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
It's amazing what you see when you sit quietly.
We tend to, when we walk along the coast, walk and talk, and make noise,
and everything disappears then all comes back, doesn't it?
When you sit quietly, it's just wonderful what appears.
Yeah, absolutely. We don't see them very often.
Shall we head back and I'll give you the samples that I've got, which is in my freezer?
Making it smell of stranded whale.
And then we'll go from there.
-That'll be great.
-Perfect, right, let's go. Come on, dog.
It really is a mystery what animals are in these waters.
The stranded whale I've been investigating is so rare,
it's going to need DNA testing to establish exactly what it is.
-Right, here we are.
-A festering bit of whale.
-So this is the remains of a beaked whale.
Yes. That's a bit of tissue,
so I went through the blubber, so I took a bit of the blubber,
-and then went down and took a chunk of the tissue as well.
There are several species of beaked whales that might strand here, so if it can help us pin down
what species it was, then that would be really valuable data.
I'd be really interested, really, really interested.
That's all that's left, I had some in an omelette when I brought it back(!)
-It was delicious!
I'm desperate to start spending some of the money we've raised, and today
I'm heading to Eriskay to catch the inter-island ferry to Barra.
That's Eriskay, the island of Eriskay, and I'm heading to Barra.
And this is the Sound of Barra, home to one of the only resident pods of bottle-nosed dolphins in the UK.
There's two - the other one's the other coast of Scotland,
the east coast of Scotland, on the Moray Firth.
The whole reason for going across to Barra
is, there's a local guy in Barra who's got a fantastic nature trail that he's really keen to promote,
so as part of the work of the ranger, I'm going to go over there and do the trail with him.
I've optimistically brought the rib, in the hope of seeing those dolphins.
So the first thing is to park it up before I head off to see this trail.
Hello, Jon, how are you?
-I'm not bad, thanks.
-Jonathon Grant was the ranger in Barra between 2002 and 2005,
until the funding ran out, but he's still committed to getting new projects off the ground.
So have you always lived in Barra?
No, I was brought up in Glasgow, but I moved back to Barra when I was 18.
My parents were from Barra, my family was from Barra.
So Barra's in the blood, as it were.
Yeah. It's a place you can get quite enthusiastic about.
Oh, I can imagine.
Cos this is lovely, isn't it?
This, just right alongside the loch, nice and flat.
In the summer time it's fantastic.
Yeah, yea. So what actually needs doing for this trail?
Well, the path goes so far, and then peters out.
What would be nice would be to
mark out a defined route
across to the other side of the island, to Loch Awe, down beside
the old Northbay school house.
I really want to come and try and help out people like Jon, get trails
like this marked out and just move their work on forward a little bit.
It must be quite disheartening, wanting to do things like this
but there's no funding, there's no backing coming from anywhere.
As I said, it's just an opportunity really for a local guy who is very proud of
the environment he lives in, to show people that environment.
The plan is to put up a series of marker posts that people can easily follow without a map.
No, fantastic view! Fantastic view.
You can just make out Rum there on the background, then Skye up there.
-Right. Oh, of course, you can see the...
Oh, is that Colonsay? Wow.
The rain's coming in, isn't it?
You can feel it thundering in from the beach, so shall we make a run for it?
We've already got the posts organised.
It just needs a good day and a bit of hard graft.
The next day, the sun is shining and Barra is transformed.
One of the aims of the of the island, of the various committees
and things on the island, is to try and promote the tourism here,
because when tourists arrive, of course, it brings income and money into the islands.
And just looking at the place,
you wonder why it isn't one of the top tourist hot spots in Britain.
It's beautiful wave-breaking here, really sharp waves, surfing's really, really good off Barra.
But you've got petrels and terns and gulls and otters and...
It's kind of wild surfing, you know.
Such a great spot. It's a bit cold, bit chilly. Autumnal.
But what a beautiful spot, what a grand spot.
This weather is so spectacular, banging in trail markers can wait
while I try to see the bottlenose dolphins out in the sound.
This is quite a sort of well-known population of dolphins here, in the Sound of Barra.
It's a resident population, and that's quite unusual in the UK.
This is one of the main areas where they're seen. The locals assure me
it's a lousy time to see the dolphins, and they're right cos they know - they see them a lot.
But I haven't got much choice, I've only got a few weeks left.
So I'm hoping if I spend a few hours out here just trawling round, they'll make my day and they'll come
and have a little look at me.
I mean, although they're a resident population here, they'll also head
out on the hunt as well, so they could just be out hunting.
Right off the bow, I've just seen something huge jump. Let's go up and have a look.
Oh, can feel my heart! There they are, there they are.
Weyhey! Here they come!
And they're huge, look at the size of them!
Whoa! Oh, the whole of them stayed right in front of us.
What you're seeing here is a perfect example of communication and co-operation
because the males come in first, they come in and check you out,
and they make sure I'm all right and I'm safe, then they'll call in the females.
It's team work, communication and a fantastic sight. Look at this, look at this.
Look at that! Beautiful.
They're one of the most acrobatic of the dolphins as well.
That huge body, you see it just explode out of the water.
I think that's it. They've come and had a little look at me and decided I'm quite dull,
I think. But it was lovely, they were round the boat for a long time.
I was keeping the boat just straight and level.
By doing that, you let the animals come in to you,
you're not chasing the animals, so they come in and decide how close the interaction's going to be.
Just a great sight.
Anyway, enough fun for now.
Jonathon and I have work to do.
This is putting in the first guided trail that I'm actually going to physically put in.
It's quite a big day, this, because I've spent all this time trying to raise funds, and finally this is
the first bit of proper rangering, I think, creating something that'll be here when I leave.
Cracking day for it as well.
The other reason it's a big day today is it's my birthday. I'm 43.
I got one card from Reuben, which was a nice touch, I thought, as he's a dog and dog's aren't really...
They're not that thoughtful when it comes to birthdays, they're quite forgetful.
All right, Rubes?
I think the very first thing we should do is just decide
exactly how we're going to cut across onto that hillside.
Yeah. These are the things I'm going to be putting in at other places around the islands.
Do you get these just from local building merchants, do you?
These were actually supplied by the council for another trail,
but I was told just to keep the spare ones and use them wherever.
I think somewhere about here, we probably want a post anyway.
-That's easier for me now anyway.
The trail is 3.5 miles long.
But most of it is over tough terrain that takes you into wild country.
If I take this one, I'll just, I'll stick it on the top for now, and if
we get these ones in...and then when these are in, we'll go up and have a look where to stick this one.
What a way to spend your birthday.
Right, shut up, Rubes.
Just going to leave that one there like that, just lying flat, people can find it, I'm sure!
Now comes the hard part, digging them in.
There's an easier way of doing this.
As in paying someone to do it.
-How about here?
-Yep, that works OK there.
Get digging, Rubes!
This is really significant for me doing this because, as I said,
it's really the first bit of stuff I could describe as actually putting
something in that wasn't here when I arrived, and might not, you know, might not have been done.
Fine piece of work.
That'll be there for 2,000 years, that post - you can tell, can't you?
Look at that.
It's my first pole.
Ah, I suppose we should do another one, really.
I'm really aware, as I do this, that I've got to set myself realistic targets before I leave.
So, the plan is to try and do a trail on each island if I can, and then try and produce
a brochure, a leaflet that describes all the trails, so
anyone coming to visit the islands can come and do those trails.
So this is it. Journey's end.
The last one.
Anywhere here, I think is a pretty good spot.
Yeah, yeah, and you can see the other one up there, can't you, just sticking out the top there.
-Do you want to do the honours?
-I would be delighted.
I'll use my lucky shovel. Perfect, here we go.
Many a weary traveller
will be delighted to get to this post, I hope.
Well, a sweet moment.
OK, plonk her in.
Well done. Good stuff, good stuff.
Right, I'm going to wobble my way to the car.
That's a really nice day's work for me, that is, cos that is so satisfying to get out and actually
get out on the ground, and physically start
hammering in posts to mark out these amazing trails around the islands.
The other thing is, to help out someone like Jonathan, who's a local man, enthusiastic
as you like, used to be the ranger here, and he's been frustrated by just a lack of funding...
I mean, he can't get out and show people these trails.
So, really, really enjoyed that, great way to spend
my birthday, hammering in posts on the island of Barra.
One of my ranger duties is to give wildlife talks around the islands,
and they've been a great way to recruit people for the whale-watching project.
I think talks like this are vital.
I think you can light the touchpaper and get people excited
about the environment and pitching in and helping out,
and already several people have come up tonight and said, "I'll give you a hand with the whale thing."
OK, so thank you again, thank you very much for coming along.
So many people have volunteered that Nicola Hodgson from
the Whale And Dolphin Conservation Society has come back to run a training course.
The area off of Scotland is one of the richest areas when it comes to
cetacean diversity, there are an amazing number of species around.
And also you're seeing species here that you don't see elsewhere.
There are some species of beaked whale that actually, to this day, nobody's actually seen alive,
so the only reason that we know that that species exists is because it was taken from a stranded carcass,
and they did DNA testing on it, and were able to find out it's something completely different.
We don't truly understand why whales end up stranding on beaches, and there were no obvious clues
as to what happened to the animal I've been investigating.
But Nicola has news of what species it was.
The identity of my mysterious whale.
Of your mysterious whale, yes, the sample you gave to us last time.
Well, we took that to be analysed and I can now come back and tell you that
that was a Sowerby's beaked whale, which is fabulous.
I mean, it's amazing to have that information and to have had the sample and to also now document...
There's literally only... I can count on one hand the number of Sowerby's beaked whales that have stranded.
-Beaked whales themselves, beaked whales are the
one group of whales and dolphins that we know the least about.
These guys are out in the deep ocean, they're deep divers, they're spending
most of their life - 90, 95% of their life underwater and out at sea, away from anybody.
You know, they're not coastal animals like your harbour porpoises or bottlenosed dolphins.
And for that very reason, people just don't get to see them, we don't get to learn anything
about them, we can't go out and study them, they're not...
It's not like being able to stand like with these guys to train them to see what they can see from the shore.
These are deep divers, you need to be out in the deep water.
It's almost like the only time they enter our world is when they strand.
When they strand. It's sad but true.
Sad but true. So talking about strandings...
So this is all cetaceans, and you can see here,
compared to some of the other places, you can see how many red dots around about the Western Isles.
And again you'll note too that most of them are on the west coast.
This is an arrow here which shows rare species. You've got here on Harris, you had a killer whale.
You've got a Cuvier's beaked whale...
So we can now add in a Sowerby's here cos, as I say, these are the ones that are rare species,
we don't get to see a lot of them, and it's incredibly important that we
get to the carcass as soon as we can and get the information that we need.
This is exactly the sort of community-based thing
that I wanted to get going during my time in the Uists.
It's using local people, and it's using their knowledge and
their enthusiasm to create a bank of knowledge about the movement of animals off the coast here.
So I'm really pleased with the way this has worked out.
I think conservation effort must come from a local population.
It's absolutely vital, that.
And you've got a beautiful day here and you've got a bunch of people being set up and given the tools and
the expertise to monitor their bit of coastline and monitor whale and dolphin populations. Just fantastic.
With the money from the fundraising dinner safely banked away, I'm off to an early morning
meeting of the ranger committee to discuss how we should spend it.
The chairman is Peter Rintoul.
-Potentially there's, there's two eight.
-Two eight, yes.
How do you feel about that? Pretty good, you quite happy?
Yeah, good. I was kind of hoping for a little bit more.
-But you could actually achieve something with...
That's the raw materials and buying raw materials, and I'm very happy.
Obviously the whole idea of me doing this job is to provide the labour,
is to go out and actually get these things done.
Can we just move on to the project ideas then?
The committee are particularly keen for me to start work on
interpretation boards about the wildlife.
Obviously that is very much the area of my strength, you know, that's what I do know about, and what I can
put something together for you quite quickly on that.
-Great. It sounds like a whole bunch of interpretation panels we're going to need here, and I'm sure
if we get a kind of job lot and then it'd just be really nice to just sit there and just nail it.
-Get several designs at once.
-A lot to be going on with.
-There certainly is, that's fantastic.
I did, I did, I was
feeling a bit rudderless.
Well, coordinates set.
I'd better get down to some work.
I've been on my own up here for three months now.
And I quite like it.
It's good to be on your own and I always think
that unless you can be satisfied with your own company,
you know, do you need props, do you need lots of people around you all the time and all that?
And if you do, that's not a good sign, I'd say.
One of the snags with things like the interpretation boards.
These are the different types of interpretation boards, they've got to be subtle,
they've got to be in keeping with the landscape and you don't want to turn it into a theme park.
It's not a theme park, it's beautiful,
wild, untouched group of islands in the North Atlantic.
And also there's the design and the research and
everything that goes into it, and that's what I'm doing now.
A rocky shore is...
..very much, it was my stamping ground, I did my apprenticeship
in rocky shores
when I was a kid, you know. And it's where it all started for me.
So, er, I think it's something that I hope I can
kind of communicate my passion for it.
A, with these kind of interpretation boards,
and B, with some leaflets or whatever, that'll tell people how to rock pool,
you know, in a kind of environmentally friendly way, which is really, really important.
The other thing I need to do is go out and get some photos
in the rock pools and in the shallow waters of some of the animals I've identified.
That'll be really nice to find in rock pools, you know, if
you're a kid with a bucket, or even if you're a grown-up with a bucket.
It's a rotten day, unfortunately, but I thought I'd come down here,
just take some photos of kind of target species that the poster boys of the world of the rock pool.
Everything that lives in here is either armoured, can move like lightning, disguised,
venomous, so everything you see is a little miracle of evolution, it's a gladiator.
Turning over rocks is where you're going to find most things, particularly this time of day -
very, very low tide, they're going to be hiding.
And the key with rock pooling is when you turn over a rock you do it really slowly and carefully,
you don't want to crush something, you put it back exactly where you found it.
Now that's fantastic.
We've got a shore crab here, female shore crab
with her eggs,
and she'll carry her eggs around with her
for several weeks until they hatch.
And this little animal here lays 180,000 eggs.
She's going to protect her eggs, and the best way she can do that is by hanging on to them.
And you can see this vivid, vivid orange
set of eggs underneath her carapace, and she's quite a big girl so she certainly can look after herself.
Fantastic. What a great sight, so we'll get a photo of her as well.
All right, all right.
And something else they'll do to defend themselves, they'll just
wedge themselves in, which is what this...
They're like climbing crampons, the legs, so she's just using the points
of her legs to wedge, she's really firmly wedged in there.
That's the shot.
Perfect. Go on then, off you go.
I've taken thousands of photos since I arrived on the islands,
and they're brilliant for showing people what amazing wildlife they have right on their doorstep.
This morning, I'm going back to school.
Just setting up the presentation.
I'm expecting about 50 kids today.
Amongst those kids there's going to be a marine biologist of the future,
there's going to be a wildlife documentary maker, there's going to be a conservationist.
And sometimes it's a talk like this that just sparks it for them.
It's the moment that they think, "Yeah, I'd like to do that. I'm interested in that,"
so I'm always really aware of that when I do these talks to try and sort of make them inspirational
and interesting, and sort of fan the flames of enthusiasm.
Let's just do a little thing about the sort of size of sharks
you may encounter in your life if you're very, very lucky.
OK, shall we start off with the gentleman here, if you can just stand up for a sec.
And if you can just lie on the floor there, that'd be great.
Most sharks around the world, the vast majority are about this size.
It's going to take one look at you and it's going to disappear, it's going to be terrified.
If I can borrow this gentleman here. That's fine.
If you're incredibly lucky, that is a HUGE shark, eight feet, nine feet long.
Most great whites are about that long. OK, if I can borrow the gentleman there, the one who's
glanced down, trying to avoid looking me in the eye! That's the one, yeah!
If you want to just lie here, that's great. Now that is a HUGE shark.
Things like a very big tiger shark, a very big great white.
They're a very, very rare animal, you know, so unusual to encounter them.
OK, gentleman there if you can just come out.
Now we're getting to the really big fellas, the ocean giants, basically.
And, er, that's a basking shark, up to 35 feet long, 7 tonnes.
Second largest fish in the sea, and you've got them sculling around off your beaches right now.
And I need one more, gentleman just there.
OK, if you can just lie there.
This is the biggest fish in the sea, there we are, that's about the size of a whale shark.
I really enjoy giving these talks in schools, but now it's my turn to be the pupil.
-How are you?
-I'm fine, thank you.
You're smiling, which worries me!
Good to see you. And today the plan is...?
First of all we're going to look at these rams.
There's some over there.
Cos this time of the year, we have to make sure that these boys are in working condition.
Yeah. And that's a sort of physical examination, I assume.
Right, where you get hold of them and...
-Wrestle with them if you want.
-Excellent! I can think of no finer way to spend a morning.
Niall McPherson has lived on Uist all his life,
and teaches crofting at the school, as well as running his own croft and working as a stonemason.
A typical variety of jobs for many of the islanders.
First you're going to look at his feet, just checking that there's no abscesses.
The next bit we do, we do him standing up.
This is when you get your hands on and you have to feel his testicles.
-So why would you do that, why...?
-Right, you're going to feel his testicles. You don't want to bring...
-If they're very soft, they could be infertile.
And then, at the bottom, there's a wee ball called the epididymis.
We round it...harder,
and you've got to feel that that's kind of...that they're balanced.
Yeah. OK. So...
Feels pretty good,
-the one at the bottom.
-Yes, you can see the wee one.
-Right, who else is going to have a look?
Now, the obvious question is how many do you feel?
-That is correct, that is correct!
-That is a relief, that's a relief!
-Seeing as we've got a new student,
-we'll ask him to catch the Suffolk ram and turn him over.
Oh, no problem! I can't think of a single thing that could possibly go wrong with this! Which one?
Oh, the black one, that one. No sorry, it was obvious, wasn't it?
God, they're strong!
This time, big fella.
God, they're strong.
That is ridiculous.
-They weigh 18, 20 odd stone,
and under here they're relaxed.
Yeah, yeah, it's amazing, amazing.
It's sort of a really weird scene...
If he's not happy, he's struggling, and that's when you know you're wrong.
-It's usually the person that's wrong, not their animal.
And it's not just livestock on the curriculum.
The students have been doing crop trials under the supervision
of Maria Scholten, who moved here permanently from Holland after spending four years researching
the genetic diversity of local oats, rye and barley.
So that's kind of, it's just separating the actual sort of stalks from the seed, as it were.
Yeah, a little bit more than that, cos it also
separates the bigger seeds from the small seeds, the chaff, and some of the green seeds will be sifted out.
These are different forms of oats, that have been planted all over
the Machair and the idea is to see which grows well, and it's actually been done by the students here.
And are there many of these on the island?
There's a few around, there aren't that many, but it's
a kind of a feature of crofting the people kind of share their stuff around, you know?
I agree, yeah, yeah. And any sort of strong findings so far about...?
Yeah, Shetland oat is earlier. And a little bit taller.
But the Uist oats kept very close to the ground,
and some of these particularly Canadian oats were growing up tall and, well, you know.
-Oh, with the wind.
-It's an adaptation for the wind,
and that's what special about what are called the land races, which are kind of indigenous varieties.
They've evolved over time to be low and hardy, I imagine, yeah.
-That's exactly right.
-Yeah. Much like the people.
Crofting is very much the way of life in the Outer Hebrides, and the
traditional farming methods crofters use to work their land has preserved a fantastic range of wildlife.
But in recent years there's been a problem.
The greylag goose population has exploded,
and they're devastating the oat crop, which is bad news for both the other wildlife and the crofters.
David Mackay was born on the islands,
and he works for Scottish Natural Heritage to control geese numbers.
-This is the Machair we're on now, isn't it?
-Yep, that's right.
Just looks like a slightly sandy field.
Yeah, but it's the only area on the islands that can be cultivated, which means it's been cultivated
for probably hundreds and hundreds of years.
Most of the crop that's been cut now, it goes into the bags for silage,
but the crop that's left at the moment is going to be harvested for seed for next year.
And it's so important to keep them, because as I was saying, these seeds are unique to the islands,
and if they can't complete that harvest, then they'll have no seed for next year.
-Yes, of course, of course.
-So it's very important.
And these little brief population explosions are therefore incredibly significant
and need to be managed to keep it going in the long term.
That's the thing, isn't it?
Yeah, I mean, if the crop is destroyed for one or two years, then
there's no seed and the whole system stops.
Various methods have been tried to scare off the geese,
but David's going to show me the most extreme one tomorrow morning -
tomorrow morning, very early!
It's five in the morning.
I'm off to shoot goose.
I feel slightly uncomfortable with it, in that the fact that I'm the ranger here,
but...shooting, fishing is a massive part of the local economy.
It's quite key, this, keeping the population of these geese
down because they have an absolutely devastating impact on the crops here.
The idea, by the way, is we set out a bunch of decoys in the stubble, and the geese
see the decoys flying overhead and they come in and we're sitting there waiting for them, basically.
So off we go.
There's no foxes or badgers.
We're meeting up with gamekeeper Colin Newton and his gundog Jip.
-I first met Colin when he took
-me stalking, and we tramped for miles over the hills.
Today is about waiting for the birds to come to us.
This replicates a flock on the ground, you see, some are feeding,
and the ones at the edge with their heads up, they would be the look-out birds?
-They would be the look-out birds.
So suppose this didn't take place, the shooting didn't take place,
what would happen, what would be the impact?
Well, due to the part-time nature of crofting, the crofters can't protect
their crops 24/7 and most of them don't have shooting rights, it belongs to the landowners.
So this is a necessary part of the crop protection.
If it wasn't there, crops would be destroyed.
Because the wind has sprung up, and when you get this wind the geese come in low,
and you almost don't see them until they're right on you.
You don't see them till the last second.
And we've just had a few geese come in back round see the
decoys, nearly land...but they've gone off, down that way.
So it's all sort of quick reaction stuff, it's quite, it gets your heart pumping.
You can hear them all around.
This is the optimum time now,
it's about 6.45pm,
the light's just coming up, they'll start to see the decoys, they'll start coming. Yep.
Off down the other end. OK.
Go, go, go!
Quite an interesting feeling,
as the animals come in, you know, it's...
Huge part of the life up here.
There we are, there's the dog, he's moving in on the goose there.
-Well... Come on, Jip, Jip.
-Well done, Colin.
Some geese coming straight in.
Jip, go on, go on. Good girl, get them all, good girl. Good girl.
Bring it in, bring. Here, Jip. Good girl, good girl. Leave.
Did you see, you just saw them come in, presumably?
So that's two.
It's freezing cold.
I'm stiff and aching,
and it's started to rain,
and I keep missing any geese I shoot at.
And I've been up since 4.30,
the picture of misery.
Colin and the dog aren't talking to me any more.
Jip, the gundog keeps staring at me,
shaking her head in disgust.
After hours of freezing my chops off and being laughed at by Colin and his dog, it's time to head off -
or at least to try.
I was thinking, as I was sitting there,
for me as the wildlife ranger to be sitting with a loaded weapon about to gun down a goose,
you know, with a chap from Scottish National Heritage sitting right beside me.
Again it's just to mention it's about balance, we do want a sustainable greylag population on the islands cos
it's part of the native fauna of the island, but we also want
the crofters to be able to continue their traditional management, so to do that
we need to stop the damage that's occurring, so we're striking a balance again between the two.
There's a lot of pressures on crofting at the moment of which geese are one,
ageing workforce, changing machinery and ways of doing harvesting.
Cos I've sort of wrestled a little bit with my conscience, you know, a little bit.
I was never keen on sport shooting either, really.
It's not something I particularly enjoy, but this, isn't sport -
it's part of the conservation effort, so that's OK, really.
Buy you a coffee, there we are.
I was just saying that for the camera, by the way!
Back home, there's the day's chores to be getting on with.
Looking after the turkeys has been fun, it's been fairly easy,
to be honest.
If I had them any longer, I mean, they're only going to be around for another eight weeks
because of Christmas...
But if I had them any longer I'd have a bigger pen, I think.
But they seem in pretty good nick,
and they're quite... When I walk out of the cottage they always come to this end and come and say hello.
And I'm also raising a very healthy population of rats here as well.
Right, here we go, the main event.
Hello, Smoky, you all right?
Amazing speed, these guys are growing, just spectacular.
And this is the reason.
It's getting dark really early now,
it'll be dark in... It's three o'clock now, it'll be dark in
an hour and a half, so the feeds are obviously coming in...
Time-wise, I have to do them a lot earlier every day.
But they're still a very, very popular event. All right, chaps.
Look at that.
Great slabs of muscle.
That's just a solid lump of muscle
in the shoulders here, because the nose
is just a digger, and obviously this is how these guys get their food.
You know, pigs in the wild get their food, wild boar, things like that,
peccaries, is they drive that nose in, it's just a lump of gristle, like the front of a digger.
And these are the hydraulics, they just ram it through the soil.
I'm very attached to the pigs.
I've always liked pigs, last time I raised pigs, I enjoyed their company.
Yeah, it's going to be tough
sending them off to
I'm going to spare 'em, I think, and send Rubes off.
Rubes goes in and plays with the pigs, and the three of them run round together and it's great,
but the pigs are essentially piglets -
they're large piglets, and piglets are used to suckling,
and to go in for milk, obviously.
And they see Rubes, and they, for some reason, associate him with Mum.
And he just lay down a moment ago, and the piglets which, are
as I said, are large now,
immediately thought, "Ah, the restaurant's open!"
and moved in and attempted to suckle.
The problem is that Reuben is a boy dog, and the noise he made
as those very sharp teeth connected somewhere where they shouldn't have
connected was very similar to the noise I would make
in similar circumstances, I think.
And I was helpless with laughter,
and Rubes is still in a bit of a mood with me.
There he is, looking a bit...a bit stunned!
Sorry about that, Rubes. I won't laugh again, it wasn't funny!
It's beginning to get seriously cold at night and my supplies of peat for burning on the fire are running low.
So it's time to visit my peat cuttings.
One of the things that struck me while I was cutting the peat was what amazingly hard graft it was,
and I only did quarter of the amount that would normally be expected to do, and interestingly that road
I've just come up is a monument to graft and toil and to misery, cos that's the Committee Road.
And it was built during times of famine and hardship on the land
to provide employment for local people, to provide a little bit of money for local people.
So in a way, it's quite fitting that my peat lies next to a place that was the result
of just how hard this landscape really is to carve a living out of.
Not looking good.
It's been one of the wettest summers, on record, the worst August since 1986.
And I cut my peat late as well. So if anything...
It's supposed to get smaller, the blocks start off this big and are supposed to end up this big.
I'm sure some of these have got slightly larger, they've absorbed water.
So I think I have to leave it a little bit longer, some of the smaller chunks there are
pretty good, but I think I have to leave this just a wee big longer.
We tend to paint a really romantic picture, don't we, of living off the land, and the simple life and
all that, and it's not...you know, we live in fabulous luxury, I think, nowadays.
And I think things like this, it's a novelty for me at the moment,
it's quite interesting but it would very quickly wear thin.
Like I say, we live in fabulous luxury these days
but, hey, I'm saving my strength for a big day tomorrow.
It's a beautiful, peaceful quiet morning,
but 13 miles round the corner there are the Monach islands,
and it's bedlam out there because 20,000 grey seals have come in.
They've pupped, they're fighting, they're mating.
It's one of the great wildlife spectacles of Europe, and something I've always wanted to see.
You often find seal pups and young seals along the edge of the shore,
and they're on their own and it doesn't mean Mum's abandoned them.
I mean, in this case you can see Mum's just there,
just keeping an eye on me, making sure I'm not getting too close.
I'm determined not to use the word "cute" while I'm on these islands,
but they are undeniably appealing.
This guy's probably a couple of weeks old, you can see he's a little bit bigger,
he's obviously dreaming about something as well - you can see he's kind of twitching.
Although he can't have had a huge amount of experiences worth dreaming about, actually.
This young animal's got a really tough year or so ahead of him.
Generally about 40% of seal pups don't even make it off the beach.
They get crushed by bulls, or, you know, they'll get hit against rocks or they'll starve or whatever.
But if they can make it beyond that first year, their chances of survival increase dramatically.
But up to that first year, two-thirds of them won't make it.
People have lived on these islands before, but they're empty now.
And it's one of the reasons the grey seals come here, of course,
is it's a perfect remote location to have the pups.
And you've got a perfect example of that here, there's one guy who farms sheep here,
and this is one of his pens, and tucked in the pen there just in the corner is a one-day old pup.
So we're going to have a look at him, we won't go too close. Let's go and have a little look at him.
OK, so here we are, this is the placenta trail.
Obviously, this was as the fella over there was being born...
The placenta's gone now, would have been eaten by gulls. And this guy,
he's all a bit bewildered,
but Mum will come and suckle him every sort of four or five hours, and her milk is 60% fat.
It's like mayonnaise.
And he'll gain a huge amount of weight very quickly.
Conversely, Mum will lose a huge amount of weight very quickly.
Mum will lose about four kilograms a day,
just keeping him going and making him big and strong for about four weeks' time
when she disappears off to sea and essentially abandons him.
After that he'll have to fend for himself.
Unfortunately, his mum chose a really bad day to give birth
in the sheep pens because it's also the day the crofter who grazes sheep here has come to round up the lambs.
Donald McDonald has had grazing rights on the Monachs for the last 15 years, and every
autumn the lambs are separated from the flock and taken off to market.
He's helped by his brother, Alasdair, and nephew John Archie.
And is this pretty much all of the sheep or...?
At the centre, you've got about - how many at the centre?
We've taken in 114 lambs already, and I don't know how many's left here.
-So we'll take the remainder in.
-So you'll be heading off this evening?
Oh, yes, as soon as we get loaded.
Right, fantastic. We might be able to give you a hand.
If you need a hand, don't hesitate to ask.
I'm good at standing there waving my arms around.
That's something. Grab all the lambs. Grab hold the lambs and put them in there.
Right, no problem.
Let's see how much I was listening during my crofting lesson.
Niall had me wrestling an 18-stone ram the other day, so that was good practice.
Interesting what you end up doing when you come out to take a few pictures of seals!
For me, Donald typifies the kind of character I meet everywhere in the Outer Hebrides.
Aged 66, he suffered a heart attack two months ago,
and yet here he is hard at work, claiming nothing's wrong with him.
I guess it's the way of life for crofters - there's always something to be done and the spirit to do it.
It's funny. Came out here to take a couple of rather beautiful photographs of grey seals pupping,
and I end up wrestling nervous sheep into the back of a trailer with Donald barking instructions at me!
You're a brave man.
Obviously, Donald needs really good weather to get
the lambs off the island, and he's had to grab this chance before the winter storms make it impossible.
I'm with you, Donald. I'm hot on your heels.
The lambs will be sold on to farmers on the mainland for fattening over the winter.
That's it, we're done, we got all the lambs on board,
and I need to head off because time's moving on, I want to take some photographs of the seals.
What a lovely, lovely way to spend a couple of hours, and
I'm hoping that Donald was grateful for a bit of help.
I just said cheerio to him up there, he's just putting the quad away.
And he just went, "Haaa!"
Just sort of made a noise at me.
But I think it might have been thank you.
But what a great, great thing. I'll remember this for a long time,
you know, helping out an old crofter on the Monach Islands, stepping over
seal pups whilst hoying lambs into a rowing boat for him to take back to the mainland.
Great. Good fun.
Anyway, let's go and get some photos.
What you're looking at here
is a huge percentage of the Eastern Atlantic grey seal population.
20,000 years ago the ice came down and sort of split the grey seal population in two.
And there's about 130,000 on this side of the Atlantic
and there's about 160,000 on the other side, so it's about 300,000 in total.
So it's a huge percentage of the population of this side of the world.
I'm just going to try and get down there, just little bit along the beach cos I think there's
this great view there, of these sort of ranks of seals that have come in.
Let's go and have a look, try and not tread on anything.
This guy's really interesting because he's been around for
a few weeks, cos you can see that he's just starting to lose the white fur and he's getting
the grey of the grey seal, and this means that he's kind of starting to get ready to go to sea.
Couple of weeks, he'll probably be ready to go to sea,
because the white fur doesn't really insulate in the water.
This grey stuff does, and underneath that he's got a bit layer of blubber.
So, the outside layer is like hard, bristly hairs.
The inside layer is very, very soft, fine hairs and that holds air when he dives.
So it almost looks like a wetsuit, almost creates a layer between him and the outside of the water.
And then under that he's got blubber.
You see a couple of bulls in the water there, scrapping for dominance.
And it's really important, that, because whoever loses has to move away
and doesn't get that bit of the beach.
And they're ferocious, these punch-ups, think of the body weight going into that.
hundreds and hundreds of kilograms.
But they have very thick folds of skin and fat on their neck, which they'll bite.
And most fights don't end in injury,
you know, one of the males will move off very quickly.
But sometimes you'll see them bleeding very dramatically from the neck,
and that's actually just these folds of fat, skin, but it looks terrible.
Let's have a little look round the corner and then we'll disappear, leave them, leave them alone.
It's quite a primeval scene, really, cos it's all here.
Life and death and fighting,
and the smell - there's a really sort of heavy smell in the air.
But you can see there's Uist in the distance.
It's so close to man, there's a set of islands that, at least
for a couple of months of the year, are given over entirely to the seal.
Next time. Back into history, as I ride the Bonnie Prince Charlie Trail.
And down on the shoreline I organise a beach clean-up.
Half an hour's work from one tiny section
of one beach in the Outer Hebrides, which is one little stretch of coastline round the British Isles.
Just shocking, isn't it? Absolutely shocking.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Marine biologist and professional diver Monty Halls is back in the Highlands and islands of Scotland, living the good life and working as a volunteer wildlife ranger in the Outer Hebrides.
With the proceeds from the Great Feast banked away, Monty can get going on some hard graft with a trip down to the island of Barra. After an encounter with the resident pod of bottlenose dolphins, he helps the ex-ranger Jonathan Grant establish a new walking trail.
Back at home, Monty helps to organise a training course for volunteer whale-watchers and starts to research and design a series of interpretation boards about the rocky shoreline.
His education programme continues with a talk to local schoolchildren, before they turn the tables on him, and he's invited to take a hands-on part in a crofting lesson, checking rams' testicles to make sure they are ready for breeding! He also learns that crops on the island are being badly hit by an explosion in the greylag goose population. So he joins David MacKay, of Scottish Natural Heritage, and gamekeeper Colin Newton, on a goose shoot aimed at keeping the birds away from the crops.
Finally, it's back out to sea. The Monach Isles are a thirteen-mile trip from Monty's cottage, and in autumn they are home to 20,000 grey seals, who spend their time pupping, fighting and mating in one of the great wildlife spectacles of Europe. Monty is also drafted in to help crofter Donald MacDonald round up the lambs that graze on the islands, and transport them to the mainland for sale.