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Otterly Brilliant

WOW what a week of weather we’ve had! It was definitely needed after the back to back storms and dreich weather. Glorious sunshine and calm skies, I think the sheep were as relieved as me! I’ve been out doing some more detailed surveying and repairs on the dyke, and just really enjoying being outside for a change! I came across a sheep lying down, I was so close to it I was sure it had died. But as I got even closer, about a metre away, it’s neighbours (who were so well camouflaged next to the wall I hadn’t even spotted them!) stood up and ran off, prompting the “dead” sheep to wake up and run away too! I did feel baaaa-d for disturbing it’s lovely warm sunbathing spot on the sand.

The seals were also enjoying the fine weather, hauled out on the rocks south of Linklet Bay. So much so they put up with me watching them from ~10 metres away. With the fulmars swooping overhead, the calmer brighter weather seemed to have the same relaxing effect on the wildlife as it did on me. I’ve been reading Peter Wohlleben’s book on the Inner Life of Animals, in which he gives mostly anecdotal evidence feelings in animals. But it made me wonder, without the wind rattling over the island, if the animals appreciated the peacefulness too.

Last month Anne Bignall from the Northern Isles Landscape Projects (NILPS) visited North Ronaldsay on the search for otters, part of the NILPS otter project to understand more about the otter population in the North Isles. On her walks around the coast she spotted otter scats and set her camera trap in the hopes of capturing some footage of otters on the island. 2 weeks later I went out to retrieve the camera. It had rained considerably during that time, and the “puddle” surrounding the camera post was now part of the loch, over knee high. Still waiting for my wellies to arrive by ferry, I made about creating some “stepping stones” from beach debris. It was going well, if I could just reach a bit further …. SPLASH …. the sound of me falling in the loch. Now soaked, boots full, I stood in the boggy water and detached the camera, before squelching back to my bicycle. I stank of anoxic mud and pongee water, stripping off outside the house before running upstairs to wash the stench off. However, it was all worth for the first North Ronaldsay otter caught on camera!

If you have any interesting info (current or historic) about otters on North Ronaldsay or any other of the North Isles please contact

On 7th and 8th the crowds (13 visitors and 3 speakers - increasing the island’s population by 30%) descended on North Ronaldsay for our Science Weekend. Kicked off the events with a walk and talk on sheep, assisted by Olly who explained tides. Unfortunately the weather had turned (after a beautiful week of blue skies and glorious sunshine), it was very wet and windy. Nonetheless, a few hardy souls braved the walk, and hopefully they learned something along the way if they could hear me over the wind, and spotted some sheep feeding too.

Thankfully the rest of the days activities were in the community centre. More than forty people, islanders and visitors, gathered for a community lunch before the talks got underway. We heard from David Newland about Glenlivet’s success of gaining Dark Skies status; James Paterson, who is helping with our Dark Skies application, spoke about assistant St Helena with their quest for Dark Skies status; Christian Wilhelm presented the challenges for humans colonising Mars; and our own Peter Donnelly inspired us with tips to photograph the night sky - starry or not! We were then treated to a night time trip up the Lighthouse, with hot chocolate.

The next day was much brighter and calmer weather. After lunch I gave a presentation on how to tell the difference between grey and harbour (common) seals before taking the group out to practise their new ID skills on the coast. Unfortunately we didn’t meet many seals along the way, but it was a lovely walk, with lots of sheep and a talk at the Broch of Burrian from Olly. Later that evening Liam spoke about the planets of our solar system, followed by a workshop with James Paterson, who took us for a walk through the constellations and encouraged us with how his astronomy group built their own observatory. As they say… reach for the stars!

Light pollution map of North Ronaldsay - big green blob probably lights on the pier

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