By Ruth Highley, GWCT Placement Student at our Auchnerran Demonstration Farm
It is definitely daunting coming to live by yourself in a remote part of Scotland, particularly as I have been living in a big city for the last two years with everything you could need within a five minute walk. But the temptation of stunning views, wide open fields and moss covered forests was too much and I found myself moving into the cottage on a cold November Saturday.
It was a crisp minus nine on the morning of my first bird survey on the job, testing my bird ID and even seeing a bullfinch, a species I had not seen before, and impressing (I like to think) with my quick identification of a stonechat.
One of the main things I have been helping with is the setting up of camera traps to see what species of predator we have in the area. This involves hanging a dead rabbit (or pheasant, or parts of deer carcass) from a tree and setting a camera opposite to see what comes to investigate. This appears odd, particularly to the dog walkers that found one of the very rotten pheasants used to bait the trap, but has yielded some wonderful results. We have pictures of buzzards, badgers, otters, jays, roe deer, and my favourite, the pine marten.
Another of the projects I have been involved in has been the on-going monitoring of the large rabbit population on the farm. This has meant accompanying Marlies, the farm's research assistant, on night surveys, counting rabbits using a spotlight; a job I would not have liked to do alone. It got particularly creepy when the spotlight ran out of charge next to one of the abandoned houses on the farm; I was keen to get out of there fast.
I have also been following up other surveying techniques of previous students, including putting out carrot pieces and counting how many have been eaten and measuring grass to compare grass heights next to a large warren and in area where there should be a lower density of rabbits. It may sound tedious but in an area as beautiful as Auchnerran it’s hard to get bored.
But it’s not been all work and no play; I have ice-skated on ponds, hiked up onto the moors behind the farm, driven off-road for the first time and even had a bash at pheasant beating with a local estate.
By far, my favourite part of starting work up here on the Scottish Demonstration farm is the sheer abundance of wildlife seen every day; from the red kites I watched whilst writing this, the red squirrels in the forests, to the little treecreeper in the trees outside the cottage. I look forward to another eight months of adventure.