I arrived on Coll on the 31st of July, and so today is the start of my 5th week. So far I’ve seen white sand beaches, blue sea, blooming machair, a couple of birds for my life list and the odd bit of ragwort, of course...

I will start by mentioning the accommodation, when I walked in for the first time I was more than pleasantly surprised, I hadn’t seen any pictures, but I was imagining a rustic, slightly draughty converted barn. In reality it’s a modern, very well insulated converted barn with everything you need ready to go, utensils, loads of storage, freezers, a microwave, a breadmaker, it’s great!

The work I’ve done so far has been nice and varied, and although I have arrived as many of the surveys have drawn to a close, I spent my first 5 days looking for and finding (although, not me personally) great yellow bumblebees and Irish lady’s tresses with a group of 15 RSPB workers from various Hebridean islands, and the sun shone for almost the entire time.

The following weeks have been a bit more typical, I have helped pull out old fences as well as put in new ones, collected cow parsley seeds to sow as early cover for the corncrakes and I’ve pulled ragwort with Project Trust and stock counted, these are the kind of things I had in mind when I applied to volunteer here, and it’s the kind of experience I was after.

Ben (the site manager) and Dave (the warden) have been really welcoming, helpful and knowledgeable, they seem keen to get me as much experience as possible before I leave, such as driving the reserve vehicles (tractor, quad-bike, Polaris and Land Rover), planning volunteer activities and surveying plants and insects, I have also learnt a few things about fencing in the last week that had never before occurred to me, so all good.

As far as birds go, I cannot complain, I have seen five corncrakes (three in the first week!) I suspect that the count may start to slow down, but we’ll see. I would have been happy with just the one though, so anything on top of that I see as a bonus!

Coming from the middle of England I was eager to see hen harriers, somehow it is a bird that I had never seen before, obviously they are incredibly rare in England, but I knew they were more common in Scotland, especially the islands, surely, in four months I would see one or two?!

It took a grand total of 15 minutes (give or take a few seconds) before my unwittingly pessimistic dream came true. Hen harriers are simply an almost daily sight here, even if all you do is sit in the living room of the accommodation looking out of the window! It’s something that is still very strange to me. On top of that, I’ve seen black guillemot (from the ferry), arctic skuas, and feeding gannets which are viewable from the beach near the house, the big beaches mixed with rock pools mean that oystercatchers, ringed plover, sanderling, dunlin, curlew and several other wader species are easy enough to see, ravens and twite are ten a penny too.

It’s been a good four weeks, and now that I have settled into the lifestyle I think it is only going to get better, and autumn is coming so more waders will start to pass through Coll as well.


Sam Prettyman