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“Seal of Approval” From Local Volunteers

Sunday evening, all cooried in for the night and a call comes through. “We are just heading to check out a seal at Balevullin, meet you there.”

It’s that time of year here on Tiree, the wind that attracts all those who love watersports is pretty constant and it’s been a bit rough all day. By the time I arrive Louise Reid and Margaret Worsley, two Marine Mammal Medics with BDMLR, have already assessed the seal and are on the phone to control.

The seal is a young Common and it looks exhausted. The waves are crashing in at Balevullin and it’s obvious this one has had a bit of a time of it. The decision is made and the wee one is going to head to the vets for the night to get some fluids and rest. However, how to get it there? After a bit of a discussion, the seal is wrapped up in a make shift stretcher, Louise’s Barbour coat, with its head in a sleeve so it doesn’t bite and after struggling across the sand we get it into a holdall to transport it to the vets. However, I hear the zips coming undone as we drive along and sure enough its head is poking out the bag when we arrive.

The next day was full of excitement as the seal decided it wasn’t happy being at the vets after a night’s rest and it was agreed to release it as soon as possible. A couple of fish boxes tied together were used to transport it this time and the seal was off like a rocket when it arrived back on the beach. We were all ecstatic but also discussed how we could improve on our rescues in the future. Being a volunteer team and based on an island it has always been a case of make do. I used to work for a wildlife hospital on the mainland and knew there was equipment we could use but it is expensive. One of the key items was a seal stretcher which would make carrying the seals along the beaches and rocky shoreline a lot easier. Now seal stretchers are specialist bits of kit and hard to come by so I spoke to 1-2-1 Animal Handling Products who make shark carriers for moving animals between aquariums. They were intrigued by our request and offered us one of their carriers at a discounted price. So that evening we put the story out about the seal rescue along with a link to a Just Giving page and a target of £500.

Within an hour of the page being set up I got a message from Frazer MacInnes. Frazer co-runs Tiree Sea Tours which take folk out looking for dolphins, whales, seals and basking sharks. Tiree Sea Tours wanted to pay for the stretcher! In Fraz’s words “Our business relies on the wildlife in our seas around Tiree and it’s important that we also help to look after them”. I let the team know and by the next day we were buzzing as not only had we had this great news, we had exceeded our fundraising target to £695. Our new stretcher arrived last week and the team have had a chance to practice with it and it’s all ready to go. We are also in the process of ordering some other essential pieces of kits such as transport carriers to keep the seals safe on their journeys off the island into rehab. If required.

We are incredibly grateful to Tiree Sea Tours, 1-2-1 Animal Handling Products and all the generous supporters of our appeal which will ensure the safety of rescued seals and cetaceans in the coming years on Tiree.

Community Council By-Election

A recent by-election for the community council was conducted by Argyll and Bute Council.

There were four vacancies, for which six residents put themselves forward. The number of votes cast were as follows below.

There were 302 ballots counted with 6 rejected, a turnout of 58% of those entitled to vote. Dr John Holliday, Convenor of Tiree Community Council welcomed the new councillors:

“It’s wonderful,” he said, “to have a full complement on the council again. We had hoped that the new council would be more diverse, and that has certainly happened. Hats off to everyone who stood for election. It’s a nervewracking thing to do, but it makes the council a much stronger body.”

Congratulations to those elected and thanks to all for taking part!

Tiree Trust News

Tiree Renewable Energy (TREL)

Some of you may have noticed that Tilley has not been turning for the last few weeks. A generator fault was registered in September and since then two teams of engineers from Enercon (the turbine manufacturer) have attended.

The first team conducted diagnostic tests to locate and identify the fault, and the second carried out preparatory work so that the repairs can be made smoothly. A third team of engineers will be attending shortly to install replacement parts and complete the repair. Enercon are planning to have Tilley operational again by 30th November.

Tiree Broadband

Tiree Broadband continues to be affected by a fault in the BT Cabinet in Crossapol. Tiree broadband normally uses 7 fibreoptic lines from the Crossapol Cabinet as it’s ‘backhaul’ (i.e. where it gets its internet from) and then distributes it to the network via wireless dishes.

Our network is currently operating from one backup fibreoptic line at An Iodhlann which is fed from the cabinet at the Scarinish Exchange. The result is that Tiree Broadband customers will have a restricted service but should still be able to do essential tasks online.

We apologise for any inconvenience this has caused our customers and would like to assure you that we are working hard to resolve this issue and have been speaking with Tiree Community Council to make sure our voice is heard by both BT and The Scottish Government on this issue.

The Cruas Fund

In direct response to the economic impact of the Covid-19 lockdown, The Trust has decided to launch The Cruas fund. Cruas is the Gaelic word for hardship. The Trust will be supported by Cùram Thiriodh to administer the fund via the Solar food project.

The fund is aimed as a short-term support mechanism for people in our community whose financial circumstances change quickly and is not meant to supplement any longer-term benefit system.

If you have recently found yourself in financial difficulty you can contact Solar in the strictest confidence on solartiree{@} or 07375 929350 (text or phone).

Crossapol Playpark Needs Your Help

No matter when you pass the Playpark at Crossapol you will probably see someone in it. Whether you are a child, parent, grandparent, auntie, uncle or friend you will have enjoyed the experience of ‘playing’ there. It is a very well used park by both locals and visitors and the users all make very positive comments about what a great Playpark it is.

Tiree Community Business in partnership with ACHA take care of the Playpark and keep it as safe as possible for all to enjoy. However, most of the equipment has had its day and has outlived its safe lifespan. This means that it needs replacing and this means a large amount of money – about £24,000.

Tiree Community Business have funded some new pieces of equipment over the last few years with the help of many generous donations and these newer pieces will remain. If you feel able to donate towards the replacement of the equipment please contact Norma at Tiree Community Business:

Tel: 01879 220 520 Email:

Cheques should be made payable to – Tiree Community Business and sent to Tiree Community Business, The Island Centre, Isle of Tiree PA77 6UP

Remember “Every Little Helps’ and Thank You

Your Views Needed On Amenity Services

Argyll and Bute’s council has to identify options to meet a projected budget gap of £6.7 million in 2021/2022, and as part of that, is asking for your views on amenity services.

Savings can only come from a relatively small proportion of the council’s budget (32%), because of national priorities and other factors outside council control:

• Teacher posts are protected nationally

• Social work costs are managed by the Health and Social Care Partnership

• Utility, loan and other costs depend on external factors.

Some savings have to come from amenity services, which cover everything from bins and grass cutting, to parking, road repairs and public toilets.

The council is therefore asking people to give their views on how best to make savings in amenity services by answering a short consultation. The survey also gives people the chance to give their thoughts on whether local communities would consider stepping in to save a service at risk, and what if any support they would want to be able to do this.

Councillor Gary Mulvaney, Depute Leader and Policy Lead for Strategic Finance, said:

“Another year and millions more expected to be cut from council services for Argyll and Bute. It’s not enough to say that these are tough times for councils. Years of budget cuts are eroding Argyll and Bute’s council services, and at a time now when they have never been more important – look at how much our communities have depended on council services to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. We have to focus on the support that is most vital for the area. We have to look again at the work we do that is above and beyond the ‘must-do’ duties of a council. I would encourage anyone who uses our amenity services to give their views.”

You can answer the consultation on the council’s website:

https:// consultations/amenity-servicesconsultation.

If you have difficulty accessing the web version, you are welcome to contact the council at 01436 658 981.

A Bird’s Eye View

Dear Editor

Well, they do say a warm welcome awaits Canadian visitors to Tiree.

I was lost, tired and hungry after riding the weather system across the North Atlantic, and could easily have perished. Instead, I found sheltered gardens buzzing with tasty insects on a remote Scottish island, where I could rest and feed, and where I was protected from over-zealous ‘twitchers’.

The Great British Twitcher is a peculiar species: dark muted plumage adorned with paired neckwattles which flick up to the eyes when stimulated, their characteristic call of “have you got it?” joining the dawn chorus.

Rarely forming lasting pair-bonds, they migrate in loose flocks of (mostly) males and are tunnel-visioned when pursuing their prey. Feverishly competitive, they are prone to exaggeration and territorial clashes when hunting. They tick a lot.

I’m glad I didn’t land on public land on the mainland. I could have been surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of these strange, twitchy predators each desperate to take rapid-fire multiple shots. The stress and disturbance caused by such scrutiny could have finished me off as surely as if I had plunged into the Atlantic.

So my thanks to all on Tiree who made my unscheduled visit to your continent so safe and fascinating: that Birdy-man and the Ranger-lass who ensured that all twitchers were masked and herded into socially distanced groups, and the neighbouring water-bearers who prevented unprepared twitchers from dehydrating.

The weather is too cold for me now, so I’m heading south. Perhaps I’ll stop off in Spain for a bit, hopefully avoiding Los Twitcheros.

– Y B McFly

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher at Balephuil

On the morning of Tuesday 15 September 2020, a very rare bird was spotted in the gardens at Balephuil. This proved to be a young Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, a colourful migrant that breeds in the northern spruce forests of North America during the summer and winters in the tropical forests of Central America. This species has never been seen before in Europe, let along the UK, and had presumably been blown off course across the Atlantic by the fast-moving depression that hit the island on 13 September.

Knowing that such an exotic vagrant would attract much attention from other birders wishing to see it, and given the current Covid19 situation, we decided not to publicise the sighting. Unfortunately, one of the other birders present on the island at the time let the news slip to a friend of his and by midnight it was clear that the news had been broadcast widely. Together with Hayley Douglas, the Tiree Ranger, we therefore had no option but to manage the ensuing “twitch” following strict ScotGov Covid19 guidelines.

Some 120 people arrived over the following three days, car-parking was organised with help from neighbours, and a strict queuing system was put in place. Fortunately, everyone who came was well behaved and followed the advice given, such that they were all able to see the bird safely. Access to the gardens was closed on the Friday night to give everyone and the bird a rest.

A further 40 people arrived in much smaller groups over the following five days and most were able to view the bird from the adjacent track. After nine days of busily feeding up on insects, including many of our neighbours’ honey-bees, the bird finally departed on the night of 23 September. This was a cold clear night with a light northerly breeze, ideal for the bird to continue its journey south. Quite where it will end up is a mystery. Let’s hope it will refuel again in Spain and end up wintering in the tropical forests of sub-Saharan Africa.

As a thank-you gift, the visiting birders (and some who didn’t come) donated generously to the Tiree Community Trust via a bucket on the site and through a just-giving page. To date this has raised at least £1,800 so far for the island.

John Bowler & Hayley

Image courtesy of John Bowler

Community Council Set For November Poll

Tiree will see an autumn byelection for its Community Council as six candidates put themselves forward for election.

The poll was called by Argyll and Bute Council after a spring date for community council elections throughout the authority was pulled due to coronavirus.

Four vacancies in the island’s community council were declared. With nominations now in, six candidates have put themselves forward:

• Jacqueline Bennett, Schoolhouse, Balemartine

• Iona Campbell, 4 Baugh

• Stewart Carr, Sanderling, Balephetrish

• Iona Larg, The Two Harvests, No. 2, Balemartine

• John Patience, Taigh an Altire, Caolis

• Louise Reid J, 11 Sruthan Terrace, Crossapol

On Thursday 15 October, Argyll and Bute Council will send out postal ballots to everyone whose name was on the Electoral Roll on 1 September 2020. These have to be returned by 4 pm on Thursday 5 November 2020.

The ballots will contain the candidates’ statements, and we are looking to see if there might be other ways for candidates to set out their stall before votes have to be in. One way might be for them to introduce themselves at the Community Council public meeting on 14 October. We will post details with the agenda of the next meeting.

Dr John Holliday, Convener,

Tiree Community Council

Gaelic: Getting Out of The Last Chance Saloon

‘Gaelic language in “crisis” in island heartlands’. ‘Warning Gaelic “could be dead” in 10 years. ‘Gaelic “disappearing” from Scottish island communities’. These were the apocalyptic headlines a couple of months ago.

These stories were based on two years of research by a collaboration of Scottish universities headed up by the University of the Highlands and Islands. The study looked at those places where Gaelic is still a community language: the whole of the Western Isles, Staff in on Skye and Tiree.

Curious to see what they had found in a bit more detail, and particularly to see what they had unearthed on Tiree, I ordered the full report, The Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community. It is 480 pages of solid reading. The researchers had gone beyond the Census figures and looked at children in Gaelic pre-school units and surveyed teenagers in the Outer Isles. And a few of you may remember a 2016 public consultation they held in An Talla. It is blindingly obvious that Gaelic is much less part of day-to-day Tiree life than it used to be.

A little over a century ago, in 1901, almost half (44%) of the island’s population could only speak Gaelic. By 1981, 74% of the Tiree residents reported that they could speak some Gaelic. This was down to 38% at the last Census in 2011, and the figure is expected to fall to 31% by next year. This is the lowest percentage in any of the communities where Gaelic is commonly spoken, and compares to 66% in South Uist.

But the study found that ticking ‘yes’ next to the census question ‘Can you speak Gaelic?’ is not the same thing as what they call ‘active Gaelic speakerhood’. Although half the children on Tiree can speak Gaelic (thanks to the outstanding work of the Gaelic medium unit), Gaelic is only spoken by adults and children in 15% of households on the island. In a detailed study of teenagers in the Western Isles (not Tiree), almost half could talk Gaelic at least reasonably. But they tended not to use it talking to their parents or to each other, particularly when they were discussing important things like gaming, music or films. Surprisingly, more than half did not consider themselves ‘Gaels’.

The numbers of Gaelic speakers in Scotland has been falling for 150 years. The 1872 Education Act – which built five new schools on Tiree, but because of which Gaelic was deliberately downgraded and stigmatised – has been a huge factor. So were centuries of discrimination against Highlanders as a poor and backward people – something that has only recently changed.

Tiree has been particularly badly hit because of our endless migration to find work in Vancouver and Glasgow. You can’t blame a lack of money. Last year £28 million was spent in Scotland on Gaelic broadcasting, teaching and the quango Bòrd na Gàidhlig. But most of this is topdown spending, designed to raise the language’s status and its ‘visibility in the public space’.

For example, Scottish Natural Heritage is now bound to create a glossy Gaelic Language Plan, updated every five years. This includes policies such as ‘We will continue to use a bilingual version of the disclaimer that accompanies all SNH e-mails’. This is not to belittle the efforts of SNH staff. The point is that this sort of spending does not get teenagers talking to each other in Gaelic in Balephetrish. The report recommends a change of tack. We can’t just keep doing what we’re doing and expect things to turn around.

We have to do something radically different, and we mustn’t expect government to come up with the answer. We need to put our resources into basic things, like encouraging mothers to speak to their children in Gaelic at home and like making it cool for teenagers to talk about Call of Duty in Gaelic. Exactly what the Tiree Trust’s outstanding Gaelic Development Officers – Ishbel Campbell, for the last two years, and now Rhoda Meek – are doing. Just more of it.

Tiree entered what the authors dispiritingly call the ‘moribund phase’ some time between 2001 and 2011. This is when less than 45% of a community speaks Gaelic, and less than 15% of family households have Gaelic as their main language. The figures for Tiree nine years ago were 38% and 15%. We are drinking in the last chance saloon. Some would say that we have taken up the dinner, bed and all-day breakfast option there. But we might be able to turn the situation around.

The two bright spots are that that Gaelic is still spoken in 15% of the island’s family households and that 51% of our young people can speak Gaelic. The job in hand is to make them to want to keep speaking it. That needs commitment from Gaelic speakers and non-Gaelic speakers alike to get to a situation where at least half the island can speak some Gaelic. Do we have that? If you want to continue this discussion, do contact me.

Dr John Holliday | 220385 |

Piping Campaign

Dear Editor,

My late husband, Iain C. Macdonald was a piper with family connections both on Tiree and Mull.

Piping bird While sorting through his pipe music I came across the enclosed printout of a rare species of bird which I thought may be of interest to the island bird watchers.

The Avisfisulasaccus tiriensis was created from the Latin – avis-bird: fistula-pipe : saccus-bag : tiriensis – belonging to Tiree.

I believe it was part of a campaign mounted by Robert Beck (the vet), with the help of Iain Mackinnon (Hillcrest) and my husband, to persuade the education authorities to provide Tiree pupils with a piping tutor and to give the same opportunities to them as were available on other islands. Until this time (2008), Robert Beck had been the voluntary tutor for school pupils teaching up to Highers in music. He was worried that, due to poor health and failing eyesight, there would be no one to carry on his work.

His campaign was successful and for several years a tutor was provided.

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