This week, I am back up in the highlands of Scotland, this time working with the Aigas Field Centre. Aigas is pretty unique. It is both the family home of Sir John & Lady Lister-Kaye and Scotland’s premier field studies centre dedicated to environmental education and nature conservation. A dedicated team of staff and rangers lead a comprehensive programme of breaks in this beautiful parts of Scotland.
You can find out more about what Aigas has to offer, by visiting their website, by clicking on the image below:
Despite having visited the Highlands many times ( as it is one of my most favourite parts of the country), I had never actually visited Aigas. When Pete Short, the Field Officer contacted me regarding Bushnell trail cams , we started talking about all the opportunities at Aigas and how my work could support this. A series of conversations has led to me coming up to help them with some camera projects, trail camera opportunities and to to deliver some training to their rangers and to talk to their education team as well.
The centre is closed to the public from the end of October until April and, during this time, they deliver an impressive training programme to their rangers. The Aigas Ranger Training Scheme (ARTS), which has now been running for 30 years, has been a huge success. During that time they have trained over 180 young rangers who have gone on to full time career posts in wildlife management, nature conservation or environmental education. Aigas Field Centre is the only private organisation in the UK to offer an extensive formal ranger training programme followed by 7 months of work experience. I am very impressed with how comprehensive this provision is ….
The intensive training that the rangers undertake is supported by The Aigas Trust for Environmental Education. Subjects included during training include Highland natural history (birds, mammals, wildflowers, soils, native trees, invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians etc), glaciology, geomorphology and landforms, fresh water, woodland and moorland ecology, land-use, crofting, farming, forestry, wildcat husbandry and the Highland sporting tradition. They also provide formal training in first-aid, minibus driving, health and safety at work, lecturing and presentation skills and environmental education for children.
On arriving at Aigas, I was welcomed with typical Scottish hospitality! A supper with John Lister-Kaye, Hermione (his daughter) Pete and Greg (the Estate Manager) and then I was whisked down to one of their hides. It was a chilly evening, but armed with warm blankets and a flask of hot chocolate, Pete and I were ready for a couple of hours of wildlife watching! We were in the Campbell hide (named after photographer, Laurie Campbell) This woodland hide is lit in the evening to provide superb views of the visiting wildlife. Both badger and pine marten are regularly seen here at night. We did not have to wait long, before the first visitor arrived; a female pine marten, known as ‘Spot’ due to her distinctive bib pattern. The lights enabled me to grab a couple of shots on a very high ISO, so a bit grainy.
It is wonderful to see them so close and, in fact this individual came back a bit later as well, giving me great views. Sadly, the badgers did make an appearance at this time, .
After a good night’s sleep in one of the rustic lodges on site, I was ready for a busy day ahead!
As Pete was taking the rangers on their day’s training off site, I met up with Ben Jones, the Staff Naturalist. Ben and I toured a lot of the site and he showed me the landscape, the wildlife projects and the learnt more about the wonderful work they do here at Aigas.
The 8 acre loch at Aigas is the perfect habitat for one of the world’s most important keystone species, the Eurasian beaver (Castor fibre.) In 2006 Aigas Field Centre started a demonstration project to show people the impact of beavers on wetland habitat. The project has been a success and beavers continue to thrive here, modifying the habitat around the Aigas loch to benefit a wide range of wildlife; this was evident as Ben and I walked along the Loch paths.
I chose a loch exit point as a place to set a trail camera…..
We walked around some of the well-marked trails, through the woodlands and up onto the top of the site. I set a series of trail cameras, hoping to record some of the site’s wildlife over the next few days.
It is a beautiful site, even in the middle of winter. It was time for lunch, then ready to meet the education team and start on another Birdsy project!