Borve Estate Newsletter 7

The Significance of Sandeels for Supper

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Gannets swoop on sandeels with Taransay in the background

Down at the ocean, there is a continuous airborne treat at the moment. Large gannets float atop the blue waters of the sound of Taransay, and then decide to take flight. They lazily circle once, then a few more times, before they spot their prey. Soaring upwards they climb to a peak, and then turn and allow gravity to pull them into a nosedive, entering the waves with a hefty splash. Their quarry: sandeels. Occasionally, a big school is spotted, and the gannets dive bomb by the dozen in a frenzy, snaring mouthfuls of these small eel-like fish.

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A school of sandeels: easy to see this year

While this balletic sight is mesmerising, it is also a positive observation on the health of the oceans around Harris. Industrial harvesting of Sandeels in previous decades, mainly for use as fertilizer and animal feed, had a direct impact on the lives of sea birds. Not hard to understand: absence of sandeels means sea birds go hungry and die. So sandeels are a pivotal species, and their presence in large numbers, or absence, will have a massive effect either way.

This year at least, sandeels are here in abundance, with all the positive impacts on this section of the ecosystem. Conservation groups report puffin numbers are high this year, and we witnessed this ourselves during a recent ferry crossing of the Minch from Skye to Harris, in the leeward side of their lair on the Shiants. Plenty of puffins were bobbing in the azure waters, only moving when confronted by a wake courtesy of Calmac ferries. All sustained by the mighty minuscule sandeel.

 Come and see our Gardens on Friday

The Estate horticulture is flourishing in all aspects with everything coming to bloom. Wandering into the gardens, amidst the looming greenery, is a bit like venturing onto the set of ‘Honey I shrunk the Kids.

Vegetables in glorious growth within our main polytunnel

Vegetables in glorious growth within our main polytunnel

Certainly, word is getting around. Our local customers are getting their weekly boxes, filled with whatever is being harvested. Leading island restaurants and cafes are being delivered in bulk, and certainly they have more esoteric tastes, opting for more complex vegetable offerings. And summer visitors are also coming in, drawn to the fresh seasonal produce.

To satiate public curiosity about how we grow all this stuff, we are planning an Open Day this Friday, Aug. 1, between 1400-1600.

Vegetable maestro, and possessor of green thumb, Fiona Tor

Vegetable maestro, and possessor of green thumb, Fiona Tor

Visitors will be able to tour the circular garden, and the upper garden, which is the location of our polytunnels, where they will be able to watch vegetables grow in real time. We promise a front-row glimpse of photosynthesis in action. And once guests have gotten over that raw excitement, they may even be able to sample some of the produce.

If you want to come, we would be grateful if you could ping an RSVP message to our resident horticulturalist, vegetable maestro, and possessor of the greenest thumb on Harris, Fiona Tor (Fiona@borvelodge.com)

 Summer Meanderings and Devil’s Fairies

As the rest of Britain basked in a sweaty heatwave, we have been blessed here by some of the most wonderful optimal Hebridean weather.

Nothing to complain about in the Hebrides...

Nothing to complain about in the Hebrides…

Such a pocket of perfect weather comes usually once once a year, and we shall look back on these weeks during those long winter months.Think along the lines of wispy distant clouds, baking sunshine defused by gentle sea breezes, and you get the drift. In these times, the best thing to do is to get on the RIB and explore this magnificent coastline.

On the lovely island of Scarp, we stumbled onto a cove that seemed to be a perfect location for a desert island hideaway.

The mystery cove on Scarp

The mystery cove on Scarp

Emerald green waters with clear views to fish swimming at various depths. A talcum-sand beach, upon which one could nudge the bow of the RIB, and then jump ashore. Towering cliffs above, crowned by whirling seabirds. As one member of our party said, ‘Its just like Pirates of the Caribbean. Except we are not in the Caribbean. And there are no pirates!’

Spotted frequently on the waters: minke whales, dolphins, porpoises, basking sharks. Spotted frequently in the air: sea eagles, golden eagles.

On Taransay, summer sheep shearing has been taking place. This is all happening in our new old fank, that is, a wonderful old stone fank that has been recently rebuilt to house the island’s flock.

Sheep shearing on Taransay

Sheep shearing on Taransay

The new old Fank

The new old Fank

And this is back-breaking work. The shaggy ewes are corralled to three shearers who make swift work of stopping them struggling and removing the fleeces. The shears are powered by a rackety generator, and the pace is fast and organized. With the backdrop of the Sound of Taransay, it would be hard to find a more picturesque Hebridean scene.

All this sunshine and wind has meant one other massive plus point for this summer on Harris. Those evil personages — the Devil’s Fairies — as they are locally known, have not made much of an appearance this season.

The sort of calm close day when midges rear their ugly heads

The sort of calm close day when midges rear their ugly heads

Yes, the dreaded midge, has not made our lives a misery when outdoors because they don’t like blue skies. But we old hands know with certainty that at some time, the wind will calm, and the skies will cloud, and on those close days, Scotland’s awesome biological weapon – for which it must be honestly said no repellant works – will spring from the heather.