Bulletins

Bulletins are quality magazine-style notes, typically about 50 pages of field trip notes, club news, papers on various items of lo9cal interest and recorder notes for this year's bird and animal sightings.

The Bulletin is published in the winter and distributed free of charge to the previous year's members.  While it is good all round if they can be collected, we can post them to members living further afield or unable to attend.

Due to Covid 19 we have not sent out this year's bulletins, they are just too big to fit through a letter box and we dont want anyone having to take an unnecessary trip to the Post Office. (including me).

After much head scratching I have come up with a way to scan them and add the text (sorry cant manage the photographs).  It is a work in progress and if there are typos then sorry but I am sure you understand.

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MORAY FIELD CLUB CHAIRMAN'S REPORTS

 

AGM Monday 4th November 2019 - Elgin Town Hall

 

Norman Thomson summarised in brief the meetings and outings of this year's programme, illustrated with photographs where appropriate: the talks by club member Eric Jensen, who stepped in at the last minute, and by club member Howie Firth on the mathematics of the standing stones in Orkney and NE Scotland; the walk from Ardersier and the guided tour, by Don Asher, of Fort George; the May walk from Dufftown to Craigmillar; the evening ramble around Burgie Arboretum, when the numbers were swelled to 43 by participants from the Moray Walking Festival; the summer outing to the excavation at Rhynie and later the gardens at Leith Hall, where the NT supplied a high tea; the annual trees and fungi walk, this year at Ardross, ably guided by John Miller and Kerstin Keillar; and finally a walk from Hopeman to Burghead with a visit to the Heritage Centre, graveyard, Well and harbour. He thanked Gordon Nicol for managing the Club's finances, setting up the website and maintaining the Facebook page, and John Wright for his expert editing of the annual bulletin. He then appealed to the members to support the campaign against the extension of the wind farm south of Forres, which is set to double in size, with the new turbines taller than the existing ones. Please contact Norman if you wish to find out more about this.

 

In Memoriam

 

It is with great sadness that we have to report on the passing of the following club members: Alan Paterson, who was chairman for 3 years in the 1990s and also in charge of publications, (the club used to produce booklets written by members). John Smith of Paddockhaugh, Birnie; Jeff Jones husband of the Club's Vice-Chair, Jo Jones; and Elizabeth Beaton, architectural historian, who was closely associated with the Club for many years, and whose knowledge of the buildings of the North East of Scotland, was unsurpassed.

Alistair Fraser Cummingston. Alistair had been a loyal member for several years until illness prevented him from taking an active part in club activities. He took many photographs which can be viewed in older logbooks and also acted as guide on several walks.

 

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MORAY FIELD CLUB ACTIVITIES IN 2019

Pictures have not been included from the printed version of 'The Bulletin'.  However these reports are carried in the MFC Facebook page and the photos are there too.

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Tuesday 5th March - Howie Firth: To Bring Together Earth and Sky Standing Stones and Stone Circles

 

Following on from the Chairman's introduction, Howie Firth gave a highly original and individual interpretation I of the Neolithic standing stones and stone circles of the North of Scotland. He began by describing Neolithic society, which was accomplished in mathematics and science and innovative in areas such as plant breeding and modification, ceramics and textiles. Neolithic knowledge of mathematics and what we now call the Fibonacci sequence, informed the design and construction of the great stone monuments. He argued that these were erected after periods of natural disaster to heal and repair the earth, which Neolithic society regarded as a living entity. The Neolithic attitude to the natural world has lessons for us today. After his talk, Howie kindly made a presentation on behalf of the club to Kerstin Keillar, who had recently retired from the MFC committee after many years of service. Kerstin and her late husband lan had attended the inaugural meeting of the club in 1971; she served as outings secretary, vice chair and chairman several times, and led the annual"and very popular trees and fungi walk with her friend John Miller. The Club is very grateful thal Kerstin will continue to maintain the Log Book, and, we hope, continue to identify fungus on our autumn walks.

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Saturday 27th April - Outing to Ardersier and Fort George

Leader Don Asher

Report submitted by Sara Marsh

Twenty four members joined this outing to Ardersier and Fort George. The bus dropped us off in Ardersier. Sadly this was the last bus trip with Mr Stables, who has been associated with the Field Club for 27 years. Sara Marsh gave a brief account of the history of the village. Records of the parish of Ardersier date back to 1227, but there are traces of a settlement of a much earlier date. On the Comal hill overlooking the village there is evidence of a hill fort, and a later medieval motte.

The original village, called Blacktown, was situated where the Fort is now. When construction began on the fort after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, the village was moved to its present situation. lt was actually two villages - Stuarton on the shoreline, which belonged to the Catholic Earl of Moray, and Campbelltown where the high street is, belonging to the Protestant Earl of Cawdor.

The name Ardersier was officially adopted for the whole village in the 1970s to avoid confusion with Campbelltown in Argyll. A leisurely walk along the shoreline led to Fort George. We stopped to look at the last remaining thatched cottage, and the dolphin sculptures named Moray and Cawdor on the old drying green. Traces of the old pier can still be seen; there has been no fishing in Ardersier since World War 2.

We saw oystercatchers and curlews in the bay, and Gordon Birnie spotted 55 Sandwich terns. Norman Thomson found a common vole in the grass verge near the Fort car park. lt was lunchtime when we arrived at the fort: some people had picnics, others went to the Historic Scotland cafe on site.

We assembled outside the visitor centre at '1pm for the start of a tour, very ably and knowledgeably led by Don Asher, a Historic Scotland guide, who had accompanied us on the bus. Don used the relief model of the Fort for orientation purposes and then gave us a concise history of the construction of the site. lt was begun in 1748 and completed in 1769, so this year is its 250th anniversary. Don gave an account of the professional rivalry and tensions between the military architect William Skinner, and the Adam brothers. The classical style and symmetry of the Adams' design is evident everywhere. lt is a huge site Edinburgh Castle would fit comfortably into the "the Parade" at Fort George.

Don enlivened his talk with anecdotes and stories of the people who had been stationed here. We saw the memorial to the Seaforths, the mystery tree, the barrack rooms from different periods and the chapel. We walked along a section of the ramparts and some of us were lucky enough to see dolphins. Finally we were shown the dogs' cemetery, before ending up at the entrance to the museum. Some members spent the last hour in the museum, others had coffee or hot chocolate in The Red Hackle!

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Saturday 11th May - Walk from Dufftown to Craigellachie

Report submitted by Sara Marsh

 

Fifteen walkers assembled on the platform of the Keith Dufftown railway station on a fine spring morning at about 10.30am. Some took advantage of the excellent coffee and home bakes in the railway carriage cafe, before setting off on a leisurely walk down the old railway line to Craigellachie, about 4 miles. There were plenty of stops to look at flowers and trees and listen to birdsong. We passed the Balvenie distillery and noted the blackened trunks and branches of the trees which have been subjected to a sooty fungus related to the distilling process. There were plenty of spring and early summer flowers in bloom, including wood anemone, celandine, wood sorrel, golden saxifrage, stitchwort, sweet cicely, forget-me-not and the occasional bluebell.

Amanda McAIister kept an exhaustive list of all botanical species which she has submitted for the log book. Birds were more evident by their song, though a grey wagtail and a dipper were spotted in the River Fiddich. lan Suttie noted the birds he heard and saw, which has also been passed to the log book. Many thanks to Amanda and lan. For most of the walk the River Fiddich was in view and there were also traces along the way of the old railway line. We stopped for a picnic lunch where the line crosses the Fiddich with fine views of the river on both sides. A little further along, on the left hand side of the path, Mike Grant pointed out the remains of an old sawmill/cooperage which had closed as late as 1971 , and which is now completely submerged in moss and undergrowth. This was the first business to have electric light in Moray. We reached Craigellachie at about 2pm.

 

 

Bird Notes from the Dufftown to Craigellachie walk - 11th May

 

By lan Suttie

 

The wooded bankings along the sides of the former railway track provided a pleasing variety of bird life, identified by their calls and spring-time songs. Blackbirds and Wood-pigeons were in song near the Dufftown station where the party set off and a pair of Jackdaws flew overhead. BIue Tits and Great Tits were feeding in the trees near the distillery, where a noisy Starling was feeding young, and the fairy bell notes of a Goldfinch came from a track-side tree A Garden Warbler poured out its "babbling brook"song from thick cover near a field edge then the first of many Willow Warblers was heard from birches on the left of the track. Other trees included bird cherry, gean and hazel, ideal habitat for Blackcaps - a warbler with a loud and melodious song, usually produced from cover, a total of 10 being heard in the whole walk. Also widespread were Ghaffinches, singing cheerily in the open tree canopy, but only one Ghiffchaff was heard - in trees near the River Fiddich. A Dipper was bobbing on a riverside stone and a pair of Mallards fed in the clear Fiddich water as the party crossed the bridge. Both Song Thrush and Missel Thrush were seen on the last part of the walk and a Wren sang boldly from cover on a banking as the party completed an enjoyable walk at the Craigellachie car park.

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Wednesday 19th, May - Midsummer Walk. Burgie Arboretum

Report submitted by Sara Marsh

 

Moray Field club members were joined by 13 participants in the Moray Walking Festival and 7 guests (42 in total) for a leisurely midsummer ramble around Burgie Arboretum. Unfortunately, the owner, Hamish Lochore, was unable to accompany us and we missed his enthusiasm and expertise. One of his assistants, Tom Cameron, led us through the different areas of the garden and answered questions. After heavy rain earlier, the evening was lovely with clear views across to Findhorn Bay and beyond. Burgie Estate was in the ownership of the Dunbar family from the midl6th century until 1908, when it was bought by the Thomson family. The Estate now consists of just over 1000 acres. The Arboretum was started in the 1970s but was severely affected by Dutch Elm disease. The present owner, Hamish Lochore, took the decision in 2008 to "clear it up" and plant new trees. The Arboretum has been divided into zones with a view to creating colour and interest throughout the year. Most of the plants are grown from seed collected by the owner. These zones include the Japanese garden, the Eucalyptus plantation, the Oak Wood, the Chile Bank, the Asia Bank, the Nut Grove, the Bog Wood, Bog Garden, Lime Collection, and Magnolia collection. There is an Honesty Box at the entrance to the Arboretum, raising money for World Horse Welfare and the Sandpiper Trust, which provides rapid response medical care in rural areas across Scotland. Suggested donation £3. A visit to Burgie Arboretum is a rewarding experience at any time of the year.

Amanda McAlister kept a record of the flora and lan Suttie recorded the bird life.

Bird Notes Burgie Arboretum - 19th June

The midsummer sun shone on the Club's evening walk through the open woodland of the arboretum then on to the estate's Japanese garden near Easter Lawrenceton farm. Chaffinches and Song Thrushes were the loudest songsters, with 5 of each in the whole walk, and another thrush was raging in alarm at some predator, perhaps squirrel or magpie at its nest in thick foliage. Also in song were 4 Blackcaps, many Wood-pigeons and a Blackbird, while a family party of Great Tits chatted as they fed on insects in a bird cherry tree. Some rough ground near the Japanese garden had proved the right habitat for a Yellowhammer, which sat on a gorse bush and tail flicked in the fading sunshine. ln the more landscaped garden a late song came from a Willow Warbler, in a willow tree, and a Chiffchaff was calling from a conifer above the small cliff. The final songster was a Wren, trilling its goodnight from the depths of a bramble thicket.

 

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Sunday 11th August - Summer Outing - Rhynie village & Leith Hall

Leaders Gordon Noble & Sarah Ramsay

Report submitted by Sara Marsh

After a few hiccups locating the excavation site, the party of 24 made their way up through a wood to a plateau where the small Cairnmore Pictish Fort was being excavated. An excellent talk was given by the archaeologist in charge from Aberdeen University. He explained how the location, although previously mapped, had been pinpointed by laser scanning in 2011 and how, following considerable gorse clearance, and with financial help from the neighbouring wind farm, this and previous digs had been made possible. The site is hectares compared with 16 hectares at Tap o' Noth but the principal sign of occupancy was an impressively large hearth. After a stop at Rhyne village which allowed a sight of the three Pictish stones near the cemetery, the party went on to Leith Hall where, splitting into two consecutive groups, they were given an excellent guided hour long tour by Sarah Ramsay, the National Trust head gardener. Many members were astounded by the scale of various constituent parts of the garden, the steepness of its slopes, and the restoration project currently way to restore the large rockery garden. ln the other available hour there was an option of following the tree trail around the grounds, or taking a guided tour of the house. At four o'clock everyone gathered for high tea in the caf6 which was a much enjoyed social occasion, with the coach departure eventually getting under way at around 5.30 p.m.

 

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Friday 7th September - Moray College Living off the Land

Presentation by Eva Gunnare

Report submitted by Sara Marsh

Forty five people attended this entertaining talk by Eva Gunnare from Jokkmokk in Arctic Sweden. Gordon Nicol opened the evening event with a short presentation about Moray Field Club. Wendy Barrie spoke briefly about Foraging Fortnight and introduced the guest speaker. Although born in Stockholm, Eva has lived for about the last twenty-five years in the far north of Sweden, making this area her home after her marriage to a Sami reindeer herder. She has since become an ambassador for Sami culture and especially for the abundant wild food of the area. During her talk we were transported beyond the Arctic circle visually through striking images of her homeland, through the tastes and smells of the food she brought for us to sample and aurally through the beautiful Sami songs with which she began and ended her talk. The audience had the opportunity to try crispy biscuits flavoured with angelica, "bread sticks" made from young birch leaves, "fruit leather" made from a dried paste of lingonberries and blueberries, juniper butter, dandelion "honey", and refreshing rose bay willow herb cordial, and several other tasty morsels made from unexpected ingredients. After her talk, tea and coffee was provided by the college and there was a selection of books on foraging to browse and buy, supplied by Yeadon's bookshop in Elgin.

 

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Saturday 21st September - Trip to Ardross Castle

Leader John Miller

Report submitted by Amanda McAlister

Saturday proved to be one of those early autumn gloriously hot blue sky days. So much so that while strolling around the grounds the grounds listening to John inform us about the many majestic trees surrounding the castle, the cool shade was much appreciated. Not often the case where we shed our coats up Saturday proved to be one of those early autumn gloriously hot blue sky days. So much so that while strolling around the grounds the grounds listening to John inform us about the many majestic trees surrounding the castle, the cool shade was much appreciated. Not often the case where we shed our coats up here in the far north and still swelter, or, then past the potting sheds and into the walled garden are able to wear shorts and tee shirts. Our comfort stop at North Kessock was much appreciated; we were able to enjoy the views, stretch our legs, and refuel with a cup of tea and a doughnut before heading on. John and Margaret met us at the gates to the castle, pointing out the pomegranates which adorn the stone posts, a symbol of the Dyson Perrin family. The castle, a beautiful warm pink shade, shone in the sunlight. Photos on the website illustrate the architecture and grounds very well and I recommend a perusal of them. John took us down the stairs past the huge lead stags towards the circular pond with its magnificent centrepiece of cherubs, hunting dogs and a wild boar. We were amazed by the variety of trees that were collected and brought back to be planted and cared for on this estate. John has undertaken the task of labelling them all. On the way back we saw a beautiful small stone carved bridge which lead to a small stone pond. A grassed area used to be the ice rink, and from there we were entranced by the three peacocks and their single peahen foraging under the trees; even in the dappled shade we caught glimpses of their iridescent feathers. Some folk went on a fallen feather foraging hunt and came back clutching their jewels. Further on we noticed the delightful wooden tree house and smaller "Wendy House" just opposite the stables, then on past the potting sheds and into the walled garden. lt was spectacular to see all the original glass houses along the entire south facing wall; large bunches of grapes hung down where opportunistic robins flew about; the adjacent house had tomatoes and the east wall gave shelter to the vegetable garden with its lush produce. ln the centre another stone pond's walls provided a perch to relax on while we munched our packed lunch, soaking up the sun and revelling at being in such a beautiful place. I went off and roughly sketched the brown wooden door at the bottom east wall to have a memento of this day. Soon it was time to continue out the east door, down the stairs and along the side of the castle. Peering in through the window we saw the old Turkish baths and over the wall we looked at the breath-taking view of the countryside. Looking down we noticed a grass maze enclosed by railings. At the end of the pathway was a small stone rotunda, a peaceful place to sit and relax. Kerstin then gave us an interesting and informative talk about the various fungi she had foraged from the grounds and from the Oakwood in Elgin the previous day. Laid out on her faithful old raincoat, they created a colourful display. After a visit to the stables for a comfort stop, we were ready to make our return journey via Nairn and Forres to Elgin. Our thanks to John for his time and passing on his tree and estate knowledge, and also to Margaret for ensuring we were always safe on damp steps and paths as well as sharing her knowledge our thanks also to Kerstin, to Sara and Gordon for wonderful day out, and lastly to the Kineil bus driver.

 

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Saturday 12th October - Walk from Hopeman to Burghead

Leader Cath Millar

Report submitted by Sara Marsh

Nineteen members - and one friendly dog - met in Hopeman last Saturday for a sunny and very breezy walk along the coastal path to Burghead, with a detour down to the shore to explore the caves below Cummingston. There were plenty of birds about including eider ducks, oyster catchers and gannets out at sea, yellowhammers, robins and a sparrow hawk on the path. ln Burghead we had our picnic on the roof of the Visitor Centre which is situated on the highest point of the old Fort. At 1pm Cath Millar from the Burghead Headland Trust opened the centre and we were joined by six more members. Cath introduced the various displays on view, including photographs of Gordon Noble's excavations, the carved Pictish bull stones, the model of the fort as it might have looked in Pictish times, information about the Clavie, and the history of fishing in Burghead. The centre also has a viewing gallery, a great place to view the Moray Firth and escape from the wind. Cath then led the group down lo St Aethan's cemetery where she pointed out "the Cradle stone " on the east wall, with a cup like hollow in its centre, made deeper by children repeatedly striking it over the years. " lt is said that as far back as anyone can remember, the children of Burghead have been led to believe that all babies come from below this stone" From there the group visited the mysterious Burghead Well uncovered by builders in 1809 looking for a water supply for the the new planned village. A flight of 20 stone steps leads down to a square chamber cut into the rock and containing a stone tank fed by an underground spring. There are many theories about this well, once thought to be a Roman bath house, but now considered to have been a place of Pagan or Christian rituals. The final visit was the harbour and the Shetland Bus memorial. This was Busy Harbour unveiled in 2O1S to commemorate Burghead's involvement in the operations to transport agents and supplies to Norway in 1942 and 1943 and to help resistance fighters to escape the occupation. One member of our group commented at the end of the visit that they did not know Burghead had so much to offer.

 

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Monday 4th November - The coastline from Hopeman to Covesea: history and industry

A presentation by Dave Longstaff, Highland Geological Society following on from the November AGM, museum volunteer and member of the Highland Geological Society Dave Longstaff presented an in-depth tour of the coastline from Hopeman to Covesea lighthouse, illustrated by almost 100 slides. ln a wide-ranging lecture Dave described the geological features to be found on this stretch of sandstone coastline, the natural rock formations and the traces of prehistoric life still to be found here. He examined some of the caves along the coast which show evidence of human activity from the Neolithic period onwards. He also gave an account of the more recent history of the area, revealing quarrying activity past and present including the Clashach Quarry which supplies stone for the cathedral in Barcelona. His excellent photographs revealed features not easily accessible to the ordinary walker. After the talk Dave answered questions and the audience was able to look at some of the rock specimens and fossils he had brought with him.

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Full accounts of all activities and excursions. including photographs and records of sightings are available in the Field Club Log Book

Editor's Notes:

Electronic copies of past Moray Field Club members.

Club Bulletins are available on a single DVD

All the reports have been scanned in as JPEG files and should readable on any computer. These are available from the Treasurer for £3.  Donations to club funds - please contact the Treasurer for details.

Digital Projector: MFC has a digital projector to cope with the increasing number of speakers whose presentations are on computer. Outside of the period of indoor meetings it will be available to club members (for a nominal hire fee for club funds). The projector is controlled and looked after by the Treasurer.

A plea: As the acting (unelected) Editor, I have been largely dependent upon the goodwill and expertise of our regular contributors in allowing this bulletin to be published. To all of you may I say very many thanks for your efforts? The bulletin is only as good as the contributions from its readers. lf you have something to say, and it complies with the Constitution, please forward your article to me at either the club's email address or at my personal email address.

Outing Leaders: ln addition to forwarding your reports to the Log Book Keeper, would you also, direct to my email address so that I do not have to manually retype whole or partial reports for inclusion in the Bulletin. Photographs are also very welcome.

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Moray Landscapes. Geology and Glaciation

By Don Stewart

 

The county of Moray (1973 definition) has a great variety of landscapes, many of which are influenced by the diversity of the underlying geology, The geological development, over almost one billion years, has determined relief, consequent drainage, "grain" of valley directions, and much of human settlement patterns. Geological factors are rock type and history, folding and faulting, all extensively modified by geologically recent glacial and fluvio-glacial processes. The county can be divided into several distinct geological zones.

Zone 1, the oldest, is part of the Grampian Group of meta-sediments, the oldest of the Dalradian Supergroup, initially deposited along the margin of the Laurentian continent almost one billion years ago. These sediments have been metamorphosed during the Caledonian orogeny (mountain building event) some 465 Ma (million years ago). ln Moray, they are a fairly monotonous assemblage of psammites and quartzites. When metamorphosed, "mucky" sandstones become psammites, and purer quartz sandstones become quartzites. They are all hard and not highly deformed, leading to rounded moorland upland terrain between the Spey and Findhorn river systems. Particularly hard quartzite formations form distinctive relief e.g. the Bin Hill of Cullen, Ben Aigan, and the Cromdale Hills.

Zone 2, mostly in the old Banffshire, is the next younger "Appin" group of the Dalradian supergroup of metamorphic rocks. lt consists of a much greater variation in meta-sediment rocktypes, which have been deposited between about 750Ma to 600Ma, in a paleo-environment varying rather rapidly (geologically speaking) between shallow and deep water environments. They are highly deformed, responding to the intense pressures of continental collision in Caledonian times around 450lVa. Present SWNW valley orientation has often resulted from this deformation structure. South of the Spey this parallel valley trend can be seen in Glen Rinnes, Glen lsla, Glen Fiddich, the Blackwater and Deveron river courses.

Zone 3, primarily along the coastal sections of Moray, consists of post Caledonian sediments, the Old Red Sandstones (ORS) and the later Permo-Triassic desert sandstones of Elgin and the Burghead to Lossiemouth stretch. Although these two sedimentary rock groups are dissimilar, and separated by a 70 million year gap, their effect on landscape is similar for the purposes of this article. Their relief characteristics are partly determined by hardness of sandstones, but probably more so by faulting, see below. The Hopeman Sandstone forms high ground at Quarrywood Hill, just west of Elgin, and forms the impressive coastal cliff section between Hopeman and Lossiemouth. The considerable Teindland ORS outcrop exists largely due to the easterly downthrow on the Rothes fault. lnliers of ORS are also present at Cabrach and Tomintoul, but these don't directly affect the relief.

Zone 4 are intrusions. intrusions are magmas which rose in the crust but didn't reach the surface in an eruption. instead they pooled and solidified at depth in the crust, as a component of the Caledonian mountain-building processes. These were eventually "unoofed" in subsequent erosion / exhumation processes. The granite when exposed is a hard rock which usually resists erosion, thereby forming high ground. The most significant intrusion in Moray is, of course, the Cairngorm range with several peaks exceeding 1000 metres. But Ben Rinnes, a significant peak in Speyside at 840 metres, is a prominent landmark, recognisable from all around the county. Other minor intrusions around the county can also form isolated higher ground. Hill of Mulderie, just west of Keith is another fine example. There are also diorites and gabbros (known as black granites in the kitchen trade!) at Netherly and Cabrach, again not major relief factors.

However, the nature of the rock types is not the only geological influence on landscape. Plate tectonics has had much influence on the structure of Scotland, and indeed at more local level. ln [Moray, both folding and faulting, resulting from continental collision compressions, are present. Folding has already been mentioned in Zones 1 and 2. Faulting is present throughout Moray, although fault exposures are rarely seen at surface. However, some have major impacts on the landscape. It is clear from the mapping that there are several suites of faults with distinct directional alignments. Many minor faults have been omitted to avoid clutter.

Perhaps the dominant fault is the Strathspey or Ericht-Laidon Fault which runs from Loch Laidon on Rannoch Moor to somewhere northeast of Grantown on Spey. LTS course further NE to Craigellachie is inferred from the relatively straight river course which has followed the fault from Crubenmore, just north of Dalwhinnie. lt may also relate also to the fault system east of Craigellachie continuing to the coast at Cullen. This SW-NE grain of Scottish Highland relief, which again has resulted from oblique continental collision tectonics, is an important determinant of landscape. The River Spey turns north at Craigellachie to follow the Rothes Fault, then other minor faults continue from Rothes to influence the course of the Spey to its mouth at Kingston.

Another similar SW-NE trending Scottish fault, the Loch Tay Fault, terminates in the far south of the county at lnchrory. lt accounts for the rather linear eastern boundary of Ben Avon in the Cairngorm granite. Minor faults continue northwards, probably related to the termination of this major fault. Like the Ericht-Laidon fault it relates to other major Scottish faults such as the Highland Boundary and Great Glen Faults.

 

The Rothes Glen fault is also conspicuous on the map and in the landscape, aligned in a NNWSSE direction. lts movements have created a straight boundary between Zone 1 and Zone 2 rocks. This zone of weakness has led to exploitation by drainage and glaciation to evolve into the straight, deep Glen of Rothes. lnterestingly this fault runs almost continuously all the way SE to Cabrach. At its northern extremity near Findrassie, it continues to bound disparate rock-types, but with little landscape impact. lts alignment is unexplained, but it may be a "conjugate" fault, or an accommodation fault, originating in Dalradian tectonics. lt was clearly re-activated in later eras.

ln north Moray there is a suite of east-west trending faults. These represent the southern edge of the Moray Firth sedimentary basin system, although they clearly join with earlier fault systems, such as the Rothes fault. They extend from west of Forres to near Garmouth. The most southerly of these faults is the Heldon Hill fault which may be a reactivated earlier structure. lt has largely determined the steep southern slopes of Carden Hill. lt runs from just SW of Pluscarden Abbey to just NE of Miltonduff where it intersects the Rothes fault. Perhaps the best known fault in Moray is that at Primrose Bay (aka Clashach or Cove Bay), a mile east of Hopeman where the large cave on the raised beach is well known. The alignment and displacement of the fault is conspicuous when viewed from the clifftop at the western side of the bay. This fault continues eastward into the Clashach Quarry where it used to be visible, conspicuously lined with goethite iron ore.

The final geological influence on landscape is, of course, glaciation, for the most part, exploiting geological weaknesses. Although all of Moray was covered by ice sheets at various times, the most evident and widespread effect of glaciation in Moray is actually fluvio-glacial effects, i.e. the effects of glacial meltwaters on the postglacial landscape. Meltwater channels are ubiquitous with perhaps the best-known lowland one being the Millbuies to Blackhills system, running ENE from Millbuies Lochs, then containing the Burn of the EIms. lnterestingly the channel follows another geological boundary between the Spey Conglomerate on the higher ground of Brown [Muir, and the later Scaat Craig sandstone beds on the lower ground to the north. This suggests the presence of another fault, influencing the formation of the meltwater channel.

The water supply dam at Glenlatterach also exploits another impressive meltwater channel. The waterfall there is partly coincident with a cross-fault, which of course predates the dam!

ln highland Moray, we have some spectacular results of huge meltwater flows, just south of Tomintoul in and around Strathavon. The Ailnack Gorge at Delnabo is a giant meltwater channel whose waters carved down some 60 metres through the Old Red Sandstone outlier into the underlying Dalradian meta-sediments, with no regard for the geological alignments, Fluvio-glacial forces can exceed geological influences!ln the same area, and perhaps best of all is the "capture" of the River Don headwaters by the River Avon at lnchrory, a few miles south of Tomintoul. There is now a 45m deep north-south trough isolating the river Don from its erstwhile headwaters, which now drop down rapidly at the Lyn of Avon through a short gorge to the trough bottom. Opinions vary as to the factors creating this hiatus. This is not the conventional slow erosional river capture by another, but probably a combination of glacial and fluvio-glacial influences. The trough has the parabolic-shaped cross-section of a glacial through valley, but meltwater has clearly cut the linear gorge at the Lynn of Avon. Faulting and rock types were influential in subsequent drainage patterns northwards as a stronger river Avon. ln conclusion, there is much in our Moray landscapes and its underlying geology to stimulate thinking about our surroundings. ln this Anthropocene period, during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment, it can be fun to discover and interpret the underlying influences not entirely obscured by the human legacy.

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Anywhere for a Dinghy - RAF Air SEA Rescue in Scotland during WWII

By Tom Docherty


Following substantial losses in October 1940 an Air Sea Rescue Directorate J- was established at a meeting in January 1941 which was placed under the control of Coastal Command with representatives at each of the command's group headquarters. The Directorate was commanded by Air Cdre LG Le B Croke with Capt CL Howe RN as his deputy. Under the umbrella of the Directorate was an organisation comprising ASR aircraft, RAF and RN high speed rescue launches, the Royal Observer Corps (ROC), RNLI, mercantile marine, coastguard service and the police. All of these organisations were to be actively involved in the sighting, reporting and rescue of downed aircrew. The search and rescue areas of responsibility fell within the boundaries of Nos 15, 16, 1B and 19 Groups, dividing the coastal waters into four areas.

 

The responsibility of the rescue services covered only the waters out to a distance of 20 miles and relied upon the fast launches and initially a small number of Lysanders, which carried dinghy packs on the bomb carriers attached to the undercarriage. By May 1941 the control of this small Lysander force had passed to Fighter Command and gradually the strength increased to four squadrons, Nos 275,276,277 and 278. By July 1941 these squadrons were also receiving numbers of Walrus amphibians, which were capable of alighting if conditions were sufficiently smooth to rescue survivors.

 

These units were limited to close in operations and deeper search required the services of operational aircraft, which often could not be spared in numbers large enough to make a comprehensive search. This situation was remedied in September 1941 when approval was given for the formation of two longer-range squadrons, Nos 279 and 280. No 279 Squadron was formed on 16 November 1941 at Bircham Newton in Norfolk and was initially equipped with Lockheed Hudson Mk lll aircraft for Air Sea Rescue (ASR) duties. Over the period of the war the squadron was equipped with the Lockheed Hudson, then the Vickers Warwick and small numbers of Hurricanes. The Hudsons initially carrying Lindholme gear rescue dinghies and pack and later Airborne Lifeboats as did the Warwicks.

 

ln October 1944 the Squadron re-equipped with Warwick Mk I aircraft and moved to Thornaby in the north east of England. By now its ASR net was cast wide and there were detachments at Tain, Fraserburgh, Wick and Banff (all in northern Scotland) and Reykjavik. lts main role now was to provide ASR cover for the Coastal Command Strike Wings, operating from airfields in northern England and Scotland, during their attacks on enemy shipping off the Scandinavian coastline. The Warwick Mk I was replaced by the Mk ll in November 1945 and Hurricanes and Sea Otter amphibians joined the strength during 1945.

The Squadron moved once more in September 1945, to Beccles in Suffolk later re-equipping with the Lancaster ASR Mk Ill sending a detachment from the Squadron to Burma from December 1945, the detachment becoming No 1348 Flight and the Squadron itself was disbanded on 10 March 1946.

Throughout its existence the squadron maintained detachments at many Scottish airfields including Leuchars, Wick, Sumburgh, Tain, Banff, and Fraserburgh and through 1944 and 1945 provided ASR support to the Banff and Dallachy Strike Wings and their escorting Mustang squadrons based at Peterhead.

What follows is a picture of these Strike Wing ASR operations from the Scottish bases.

From October 1944 the Squadron crews would find themselves spread all over the north of England and Scotland providing ASR support to the Strike Wings of Coastal Command. Detachments to Reykjavik in Iceland, Tain, Fraserburgh, Wick and Banff were maintained and the Warwicks and Hudsons would often start a patrol or search at one base to end it at another. The detachment of Hudsons arrived at Banff on 31 October.

The Banff detachment commenced on 18 November when two Hudson were detailed to move there. Both set off and one arrived unserviceable. As soon as the other Hudson, W1279 flown by F/O Elliott, arrived at Banff it was tasked to search for a missing Liberator between Rattray Head and Sumburgh Head. This first sortie of the detachment was unsuccessful.

The Squadron's first operational Warwick sortie was carried out on 1B November with F/O Grimston taking off from Wick at 1421hrs for a search. Perhaps it was a portent of the engine problems to come, but take off was delayed by forty minutes due to engine trouble. Grimston landed at Banff at the end of the sortie.

One of the Squadron's main duties from now would be providing ASR cover to the Banff and Dallachy Strike Wings as they set about enemy shipping off the Scandinavian coast. The first Warwick sortie to carry out this duty was flown by S/Ldr Levin-Raw in Warwick RL-J on 20 November. Meeting up with the strike wing at 0951hrs he escorted them until he developed a generator problem, after which he kept the Warwick within visual range of the fighter-bombers. Levin-Raw set course for home al 1144hrs and landed safely at Wick.

The squadron's first successful operational rescue with the Warwick was achieved on 5 December by F/O Garven in Warlock RL-H. Scrambled from Sumburgh at 1617hrs he made for position 6038N 0021W, where he found a Beaufighter circling a dinghy. Dropping a marine marker a steady light was observed 100yards from it. Garven continued to search but his crew could not see any sign of the dinghy. Attempts to contact the circling Beaufighter were frustrated by equipment failure and to make matters worse, shortly afterward all of the lights on the Warwick failed. Luck was with the ditched crew, however, and red Verey lights fired from the surface were spotted by the Warwick crew and they were able to signal base that they were over live bodies in the water. After a while a launch was seen to approach and pick up the aircrew. Garven then set course for home, landing at Banff at 1950hrs.

Don Mabey was WOp/AG on F/O O'Reilly's crew and recalls the type of ASR support the Squadron provided to the Strike Wings during the winter of 1944/45:

 

"Part of the Banff Strike Wing was a Norwegian squadron, whose main job was to take off, timed to arrive off the Norwegian coast at first light, and send a sighting report if any German shipping was on the move. The Beaufighters and mosquitoes standing by, as were 279 Sqn Warwicks, then took off to attack the German shipping.

 

Our job was to take off immediately and we were airborne before the strike aircraft. We then flew to a prearranged position, flew very low over the sea and dropped smoke floats in a circle, a mile in diameter, and timed to ignite around the time the strike commenced. Thus, the strike aircraft had a position to make for if they were in trouble and hoping to ditch. The Warwick would be orbiting within the circle of smoke floats so that there was help if they ditched.

Sadly, the weather, state of the sea etc. was often against us and the lifeboat drops were not always successful. These times were quite traumatic in many ways for we were pretty exposed and on one occasion a whole squadron of FW 190's flew directly over us without spotting us."

The detachment at Banff was visited by an official photographer late in 1944 and as part of the visit he was taken flying in a Warwick flown by F/O O'Reilly as Don Mabey recalls:

 

"The photographer was a big man and very much wanted a trip in a Warwick, so we took him up. When airborne he said he would like to sit in the rear turret, so I was told by the Skipper, Paddy, to help him into the turret. This I did and remained in the rear of the fuselage. I must tell you that he didn't stay in the turret very long! He turned the turret a few times then asked to come out! I had explained the operation of the controls and when I told him to centralize the turret I had to take over by using the 'dead man's handle' because he was going to open the turret doors whilst the turret was facing the beam. Thank God, I remained outside the turret, because we would have lost photographer, turret doors and all! I must say a very shaken and pale photographer was most relieved to exit the turret and aircraft. He couldn't wait to get his feet back on the deck."

 

On 26 December 14 Mosquitoes of 143,235 and 248 Squadrons laid on a strike against shipping in Lerwick harbour. German fighters came up to counter the attack and one of the Mosquitoes was shot down'. Three more were damaged, one of which returned to Banff on one engine, escorted by a Warwick of 279 Sqn, captained by F/Lt Murray. The mosquito was LA-N of No 235 Sqn, flown by F/Lt W Clayton-Graham and his navigator F/O Webster. The navigator contacted the Warwick 20 miles off the coast and it joined the Mosquito, which was firing red, green and yellow Verey cartridges in an effort to pinpoint its location. At one point Clayton-Graham, flying with the port engine feathered, asked if he was flying too fast for the Wawick; the reply was not a polite one!

At the end of 1944 Ted Russell was flying operations in F/Lt Murray's crew and recalls this period:

 

"We were involved in strike cover patrols. We took off ahead of the strike force, usually Mosquitoes and Beaufighters. They would catch us up near the target and we would follow them home in case any were in trouble.

On 26 December 1944 we escorted a mosquito back to base with our port engine u/s. All went OK and we landed after 4 hours and 30 mins. On New Year's Eve we spent 7 hours and 10 mins over a dinghy.

We also did 24hr standby where the engines were kept warm and Jack (Murray) interrupted our card games with crash and ditching drills, which were a bind at the time, but stood us in good stead."

WOp/AG Don Mabey recalls the atrocious weather conditions encountered at Fraserburgh during the winter of 1944/45:

"lt was really grim, bitterly cold, deep snow and freezing winds. We had three attempts to take off on one occasion, being blown off course by the crosswind. We did make it eventually and I thanked God that we never had to ditch. Seeing Fraserburgh after a long trip over the North Sea to Norway and back was always a most welcome sight."

On the 29th January 1945 F/O Grimston was airborne from Fraserburgh, flying Warwick RL-E, in the early hours of the morning. Grimston was tasked with searching for two dinghies from a pair of Dallachy Beaufighters which were reported overdue. A search parallel to the Norwegian coast was carried out but nothing was found, then, on the return trip, the crew sighted three red flares fired in quick succession in position 5831N 0119E. Grimston circled the area until daylight with his navigation lights on and dropping flares to illuminate the scene. Four marine markers were also dropped, but after an extensive search, and having reached the limit of his endurance, Grimston was forced to turn for home.

S/Ldr Levin-Raw took his place on the search, getting airborne from Wick in Warwick RL-O at 0905hrs. Levin-Raw had no more success than Grimston. F/O Elliot and crew in Wanruick BV358:RL-H had an altogether more exciting sortie. They were airborne from Wick at 1401hrs to provide ASR cover for a Dallachy 'Rover' patrol,which went off without incident; however, on returning to Wick the Warwick crashed, luckily with no injuries to the crew. Once again the weather closed in and there were no sorties for the next three days.

The aircrew at Fraserburgh, our crew included, went off to Dyce in lorries to collect salt, which they proceeded to lay on the runway in use so that operations could continue."

Whilst the detached crews at Wick and Fraserburgh were busy supporting the Banff and Dallachy Strike Wing operations those crews remaining at Thornaby were equally busy. A major search for a missing Mustang pilot commenced on the 7th February when F/Lt Burgess in 8/279 got airborne in the late afternoon. The Mustang pilot had been reported to have bailed out 10 miles north east of Filey Bay and the search was concentrated in the bay. B.1279 carried out a search of the area and observed a rescue launch and a lifeboat making for the area also, but the pilot was not found. On return to Thornaby Burgess discovered that he had failed to receive radio instructions to remain in the search area, so 20 minutes later B,1279 was airborne again to return to the search. The bay was covered three times in the darkness and Burgess dropped eight flame floats to help illuminate the area, but still nothing was found.

The sighting of a U-boat was a rare occurrence for Coastal Command crews, never mind ASR crews, but F/O O'Reilly's crew did just that on 15 February, as Don Mabey recalls:

Covering a Beaufighter strike off Norway, I was on the radar and picked up a signal which I first reported as whales, but as the signal remained constant, I suggested we had a look at it. A blip from a single whale was intermittent. Getting nearer we discovered that it was a U-boat below the surface using its Snorkel. Having no bombs or depth charges, only our lifeboat and Lindholmes, we dived on it, but before we could use our guns it went down very steeply. The sighting was, of course, reported to base immediately the U-boat was spotted."

Whilst based at Fraserburgh Don Mabey recalls one incident which caused quite a stir:

"One incident I remember at Fraserburgh was a Ju 88 coming straight in over the sea. He landed. immediately, taxied to the end of the runway and exited the aircraft only to be held up by the controller from the caravan with his Verey pistol. The pilot had had enough and gave himself up. He was taken to the Officer's Mess and given a hearty welcome.

We were allowed to have a good look at the Ju 88 and were quite shocked to see the condition it was in. The tyres were threadbare and the Perspex around the cockpit and also the fuselage had been patched in places. Obviously it had well and truly been peppered at some stage in air combat."

 

In 4th March 1945 a 38 Group Halifax went missing and the Squadron was tasked to search for the crew. F/O O'Reilly got airborne from Fraserburgh at 0845hrs in Warwick D1279, making his way to the search area. At 1040hrs a dinghy with three survivors was sighted in position 5632N 0532E. The survivors were not well equipped to survive in the icy conditions of the North Sea in March, wearing only battledress. As the Warwick approached they waved a yellow flag and O'Reilly dropped an airborne lifeboat to them, which landed 150 feet upwind of the dinghy. The lifeboat did not drift onto the dinghy, however, and the survivors made no attempt to reach it before it began to drift rapidly away. Thirty minutes later three Halifaxes arrived on the scene and five minutes later two Lindholme dinghies, one of which failed to open, were dropped to the survivors. The second Lindholme also drifted away. A second Warwick arrived to assist at 1345hrs. This was Y1279 from Thornaby flown by S/Ldr Burge. Y1279 dropped a second airborne lifeboat at 1417hrs, which landed 300 yards downwind of the dinghy, unfortunately one of the parachutes remained attached for twenty minutes before detaching and, once again, the lifeboat drifted away. At 1545hrs contact was lost with the dinghy containing the survivors in the rough seas. Burge, now short of fuel, was forced to head for Thornaby, O'Reilly having left sometime before. Warwick K1279, captained by WO Williamson was airborne from Thornaby at 1440hrs to relieve the others and at 1709hrs the dinghy and two airborne lifeboats were sighted. The dinghy was, by now, observed to contain only one apparently lifeless body lying in the bottom. Williamson remained in the area until 1838hrs when he set course for base only to be diverted to Acklington in the steadily worsening weather. The search to relocate the survivors was continued by WarwickV/279 flown by F/Lt Ashby, who took off from Thornaby at 1705hrs. Although a radar contact was found in the area, which faded quickly, no sign of either dinghies or lifeboats was found.

The search continued on the 5th with the Squadron making a major effort to locate and rescue the Halifax crew. Four aircraft from Thornaby and one from Fraserburgh took part. H1279 andY1279 were first off at 0450hrs and 0641hrs respectively but searched without success. F/O Grimston,was next away in WarwickEl2T9 at 1100 from Fraserburgh finding only two empty airborne lifeboats. The final attempt to locate the Halifax crew was made by WO Williamson in K1279 who took off from Thornaby at 1456hrs, but was back at base less than an hour later due to the rapidly deteriorating weather. F/Sgt Wells in RL-V developed engine trouble and was forced to jettison his airborne lifeboat and pyrotechnics before turning for home. Australian David Wylie was the WOp/AG on F/Sgt Wells Warwick crew and recalls this sortie:

 

"We were on our way to search for a ditched aircraft in the North Sea and our starboard engine cut out completely. As we were at very low level at the time it was necessary to reduce weight quickly so the skipper dropped the lifeboat, but this was not enough so he told us to toss out flares, ammunition belts and everything that wasn't nailed down. We got back to Thornaby without further incident. The CO was not happy about the equipment we lost!"

F/Sgt Woods, flying Warwick F1279, was covering the Banff Strike Wing and its Mustang escort in company with S/Ldr Simpson in D1279. Just over an hour into the sortie Woods' port engine failed and he turned for base. Simpson asked if he required assistance, but Woods declined any help. On learning of F1279's problem F/O Coppack was dispatched from Fraserburgh in Hurricane D1279 to escort the limping Warwick home. ln the meantime Woods had jettisoned his airborne lifeboat and the crew threw out all of the ammunition and pyrotechnics to lighten the aircraft. The Hurricane met the Warwick and escorted it back to Banff where Woods made a safe single-engined Ianding.

Operations began in April with an uneventful ASR cover for the Banff Strike Wing on the 2nd, followed by an unsuccessful search from midday to midnight on the 3rd by Warwicks from Wick and Fraserburgh for a missing Catalina. Amongst the searchers were F/Sgt Wells and crew who had flown up to Wick from Thornaby. F/Sgt Wyllie, the WOp/AG remembers the search:

"Bad weather was one of the worst problems confronting the squadron. You couldn't choose not to fly because there was a storm blowing in - if there was a kite in the drink you had to go and look for it. One day we flew to Wick, had a meal while the Warwick was being refuelled, and then flew out into the Arctic Circle to look for a ditched Catalina. The weather was foul. lcy cold, a cloud base of less than 1,000 feet and very, very dark. We saw nothing and neither the plane nor a dinghy could have survived in those tumultuous seas. lt was not a happy experience!"

The end of the war in Europe did not, however, bring an end to the Squadron's operational activity. With the occupation of Germany, the repatriation of prisoners of war, constant movement of squadrons to and from the UK and the re-occupation of territories such as Norway, as well as the constant flow of aircraft and crews to the Far East in the continuing struggle against the Japanese, the Squadron would be kept busy in the search for missing crews.

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Elgin and Forres: sanctified sites and the civilisation of Moray

By John R Barrett, BA, MSc, PhD, FSA Scot

 

A two-year research project investigating burgh planning and burgage layout in Moray was trailed as 'The Civilisation of Moray' in the 2017 Bulletin. This project, pursued through the Archaeology Department at the University of Aberdeen, was completed during the summer of 2019.

The research title, The Civilisation of Moray, c.l150 - c.1250, refers to processes readily characterised as the Norman Conquest of Moray. From the time of Mael Coluim lll (1057/8 - 1093) until the reign of Alexander ll (1214 1249) successive kings of Scots struggled to embrace the quasi-independent territory of Moray into their mongrel realm. Meanwhile, the descendants of King Lulach (died 1057/8) intermarried with collateral branches of Mael Coluim's dynasty and with the Gaelic and Norse lords of the north and west. These alliances generated a line of royal pretenders down to 1230 when the last princess of the royal house of Moray who had not long left her mother's womb, innocent as she was, was put to death, in the burgh of Forfar, in view of the market-place, after a proclamation by the public crier; and her head was struck against the column of the cross and her brains dashed out (Lanercost chronicle)

The Norman Conquest of Moray was secured by reform of landholding. A pox of mottes erupted across the province as native estates were granted as feudal possessions to immigrant Flemish and Anglo-Norman lords. Ecclesiastical reform planted communities of immigrant clerics under continental monastic rules at Urquhart, Kinloss, Pluscarden, Edderton and Beauly. Managerial bishops, based in modern cathedrals, exercised rigorous supervision over a pattern of territorial parishes. A chain of burghs secured an exemplary Anglo-Norman economic and cultural zone that, by the reign of Alexander ll, extended from the Deveron to Dornoch. The first new towns - from Banff to lnverness - were established by David I around 1150. Auldearn flitted to Llanvenair in the 1180s.  Dingwall was founded in 1230, marking the northward advance of Anglo-Norman power under Alexander II. Each of the king's burghs was designed to an English linear-borough template; and precisely laid out using an English rod (16fl 6in). And the burghs were populated with immigrant burgesses recruited from the kings own lordships in Lothian and Huntingdon, and more widely from Flanders, England, Wales, and northern France. The design of the king's burghs and their placement in the landscape demonstrate the ability of Scotland's Anglo-Norman kings to conceive and execute visionary schemes of social, economic and physical planning.

The King's Moray burghs - Banff, Cullen, Elgin, Forres, Auldearn, Nairn, lnverness, Cromarty, Dingwall - were not randomly placed; nor did they sprout by accident or grow organically. They were planted with deliberate care; planned and developed with meticulous precision. The pattern of burghs in Moray anticipated by a century the ideal (13% mile) borough spacing suggested by the English jurist Henri de Bracton. This ideal was, however, flexibly applied in Moray to ensure that each burgh occupied an appropriate location with access to the sea for foreign trade. Burgh sites share similarities. Most stand on well-drained sandy ridges at the tidal limit of rivers that define one edge of the town. A royal castle emphasised the special status of the burgh as the king's own possession. The king's residence was built as a motte-and-bailey stronghold, typically taking advantage of a natural eminence to dominate one end of the town. Especially, wherever feasible, the new king's burghs were planted on sites of pre-existing spiritual or political significance. Thus, for example, Auldearn stood close to a remarkable prehistoric ritual landscape of cairns and standing stones. The High street-castle axis of Banff was planned to accommodate a locally significant megalith known as The Grey Stone. Cromarty was planted on thanage land expropriated from the heirs of King Macbeatha. Dingwall was built at a Norse frontier-zone thing-vollr ('assembly field') that was an established social, economic and political centre for Easter Ross.

The king's burghs at Elgin and Forres seem to be special-case erections asserting Anglo-Norman kingship at the heart of the Anglo-Norman culture zone. The particular cultural, spiritual and political glamour that drew the king's burgh planners to these two sites is now examined in detail.

Elgin

The ancient importance of Elgin is asserted by a major class ll Pictish symbol stone. The sculptured slab known subsequently as The Elgin Pillar may originally have stood an impressive 3m high. The pillar we see today is incomplete: a section at the head is missing. The stone is a large-grained granite with notable crystals of feldspar: its colour shades spookily yellowish, grey, black and silvery in the changing light. The stone is not local. Probably it arrived as a glacial erratic. The unusual colour and texture may have attracted attention in prehistory when it was, perhaps, erected as a sacred megalith. lndeed, the knee-high nick at its base is a characteristic of Neolithic and Bronze-Age standing stones.

The coarse granite of the Elgin stone offers a remarkably unsuitable surface for detailed carving.  Sandstones predominate in the Laich; and these even-textured sedimentary rocks were the stone of choice for the Pictish/Scottish monastic sculptors at Kinneddar. Nonetheless, Elgin's dark menhir was laboriously dressed and intricately carved for a princely Pictish patron. The two faces are distinctively pagan and secular. The secular face is dominated by a hectic hunt involving horsemen, hawks, dogs and deer - a commonplace Pictish motif perhaps epitomising a native legend. And there are Pictish symbols too: double-disk-and-broken-spear (z-rod); crescent-and-broken-arrow (v-rod). Elgin shares this combination of imagery with sculptured stones at Aberlemno, Hilton of Cadboll and St Vigeans. The reason for this reiteration in different locations is unexplained; but if Pictish symbols identify individual people then these four stones might all commemorate a single powerful Pictish prince or lineage. The Christian face of the Elgin Pillar comprises a cross decorated with interlace; and with an evangelist occupying each quadrant. A ghastly convolution of biting beasts squirms below the plain base of the cross. We might guess that the missing top section of the Christian face completed the Cross-triumphant-over-Hell iconography with a vision of Christ in Glory.

The Elgin Pillar probably stood as a churchyard cross in the centre of the burgh during the Middle Ages. The Pillar was snapped off and buried - perhaps at the Reformation (1560), or during the spasm of iconoclasm that gripped the Covenanter burgh of Elgin during the 1640s. The Pillar was resurrected when the kirk yard was cleared to make way for a new church in the 1820s; and the stone was relocated as an antiquarian curiosity to romantic ruins of Elgin cathedral. The presence of a highstatus Pictish stone in Elgin begs us to dig deeper.

Arguably the stone was carved to distinguish a Pictish elite site and was retained to dignify the succeeding Scottish power centre. This eligible site was probably a royal residence when Macbeatha, prince (mormaer) of Moray, challenged the inept (or unlucky) King Donnchadh in eastern Moray in 1040. Elgin is the closest Scottish elite site to Pitgaveny - an eligible landing-place and possible trading wic on Loch Spynie, where Donnchadh died in battle with Macbeatha. Hector Boece asserted that dead King Donnchadh was brought to Elgin. Arguably a rapid burial at Elgin would have been more expedient than interment in the royal cemetery in lona which would have involved a (politically and logistically) awkward procession of the king's corpse through his killer's Moray kingdom. However, John of Fordun's earlier chronicle insists that Donnchadh's body was sent to lona. This would involve lengthy preparation by embalming or defleshing, presumably supervised by the king's ow-n priests in Elgin. Body parts removed during this process required decent Christian interment. And it seems probable that Donnchadh's inwards at least - if not his whole corpse - were interred in the royal chapel at Elgin.

When David I came to plant his chief burgh in the Laich of Moray around 1150, the most eligible site was clearly the ridge occupied by the royal enclosure at Elgin. The Lady Hill offered an imperious stance for the castle of an Anglo-Norman monarch; and so the old-fashioned royal enclave (an uncomfortable reminder of the Macbeatha era, and a focus for the Moravia dynasty of pretenders) could be cleared to make space for an English-style linear town. However, the royal chapel, sanctified with the mortal remains of David's grandfather, could hardly be demolished. And so the king's planners laid out the new burgh as a particular variant of the linear-town form (common enough in England but unusual in Scotland): with a parish kirk on the old chapel site, within an enclosure in the middle of the market street. The monarch's particular and continuing interest in the Elgin church is evidenced in charters that secured the income for life of King William's resident priests, Richard and Walter, when the Elgin kirk's endowments were granted to the cathedral around 1 188. And Alexander ll honoured his ancestor in 1235by endowing unius capellani pro anima Regis Duncani in the new Elgin cathedral: a chantry priest would pray perpetually for the soul of his ancestor, Donnchadh I, though probably the king's bones (or the casket containing his viscera) remained under the floor of the St Giles's kirk


Forres
Forres may have been more important than Elgin in the Early Medieval period - and a place of power long before the burgh. The Cluny Hill looms above the wetland landscape of Findhorn Bay, which probably extended inland as tidal marsh to within half a mile of the Forres ridge. An lron-Age fort on the hill (excavated by Professor Leif lsakssen in 2017 and 2018) dominated this pinch-point on the east-west route through the Laich of Moray. Below the Cluny Hill fort (and some two thousand years earlier) a Bronze-Age stone circle dignified the Forres ridge. The grey Witches Stone and a red sandstone boulder bedizened with quartzite pebbles survive from this megalithic monument; a third boulder, 'The Baby Witches Stone', was recorded in the 1930s. The Witches Stone is encrusted with improbable legends and impossible magic: within living memory Forresians made ritual libations - spitting 'for luck' on the stone as they passed; and sentimental offerings of flowers appear on the stone from time to time even today. A little to the north of the stones was a well or pool that may have had ritual significance in the Bronze Age, lorn Age and Early Medieval periods, and served as a judicial ordeal and drowning pond for the medieval burgh.

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Forres may have become a power centre for Gaelic kings of Moray following the abandonment of Burghead, as a royal caput in the Pictish kingdom of Fortriu. Burghead was deserted during a period of political dislocation associated with Norse incursions in the ninth century; and the name 'Sueno's Stone' was coined in the eighteenth century in honour of a Norse warlord. The Forres Pillar was carved as a ninth-century native emulation of the story-board columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius: commissioned by a Moray king with European connections and imperial pretensions that reflect the primacy of Fortriu among the kingdoms of the Picts. The secular face shows troops of infantry and cavalry, variously advancing fighting and retreating. A scene of multiple decapitations is rendered twice: each shows seven headless corpses and seven severed heads (one in a presentation box). lnevitably this suggests the Iegend of the dishonourable killing of the seven Pictish kings at Scone, after which the kingship of the Scots emerged. The Christian face of Sueno's stone is occupied by a monumental Celtic cross. Below the cross is a vaguely visible scene showing a central figure supported by stooping attendants. The low-relief interlace of the high cross is marvellously sharp despite a thousand years of weathering; and the high-relief sculpture of the secular face still powerfully projects its enigmatically violent message with only the top panel dissolved by rain. But the image below the cross is smoothed almost to illegibility, and only a shadowy suggestion of the central protagonist survives. This lower panel is interpreted as a royal inauguration, and may be the most important element of the Sueno's Stone composition. Its presence here confirms the significance of Forres as a sacred royal site in Pictish Fortriu and Gaelic Moreb.

Legend and chronicles associate Forres with Scottish power politics and the forebears of Macbeatha. Kings of Scots were 'far from happy in the kingdom of Moray': some thirteen monarchs died in the province, most of them in and around Forres. lt seems that Scottish kings were both acclaimed and killed in the shadow of Sueno's Stone. Most importantly, the killing of King Dubh by the men of Moray in 966, disrupted orderly succession leading ultimately to the accession of the unfortunate Donnchadh l; and the assassination of 'dove-like' Dubh became a prototype for later Medieval accounts of the treacherous murder of Donnchadh by Macbeatha.

Following the deaths of Macbeatha and Lulach (1057-8) successive kings of Scots encouraged determined Anglo-Norman colonisation in Moray. Native leaders who supported Moray pretenders were killed, exiled and their possessions granted to immigrant feudal vassals. Some local landholders (for example the Mac-Dubh mormaers of Fife, and, more locally, the thanes of Brodie) were bought off and acculturated into the Anglo-Norman mainstream. However, Moray's native royal line was a hydra that continually revived, represented in the early twelfth century by William, son of Donnchadh Il whose royal blood flowed from both Lulach and M6el Coluim lll. David I embraced William-, into his court (keeping his friends close and his enemy closer). William enjoyed high dignity (though limited power) as earl of Moray, succeeding to the title after Earl Oengus fell in battle with Daviod's army. The new Earl William submitted to the new political order by adopting a Norman surname Fitz Duncan. When William Fitz Duncan died in 1150, his heir, Donald reverted to a Gaelic patronymic as MacWilliam. Although Donald was probably still a minor at this time, his supporters probably marked his succession to Fitz Duncan's territorial possessions and royal ambitions by joining an uprising by his kinsman, Wimund, bishop of the lsles that challenged David l's kingship. The Kinloss Abbey foundation myth records an episode during this coup: King David was separated from his entourage when hunting near Forres. Clearly David was in serious danger, alone in the hostile homeland of the Men of Moray. But the king was miraculously protected from harm by the BVM and Holy Spirit - guided to safety by a white dove.

David took refuge in the castle of his loyal vassal Freskin at Duffus until the Wimund-MacWilliam challenge was contained. Probably Fitz Duncan estates in the Forres area were confiscated at this time and added to a land-bank of royal foreststretching from the Ness to the Deveron. David thanked God for his deliverance by founding Kinloss Abbey (1150-1), which he endowed with Donald MacWilliam's expropriated estates and staffed with loyal Cistercians from his earlier foundation at Melrose. We may guess (on the tenuous evidence of church dedications to the Gaelic saint Maelrubha) that the Fitz Duncan/MacWilliam lands named Kethmalruf (Keith) were also taken by the king - if not following the coup of 1150, then certainly after a second MacWilliam rising in the 1 180s when Kinloss received land to farm as a grange in Strathisla. Simultaneously with the founding of Kinloss around 1150, David l's surveyors were planting his new burghs through the Moray lowlands. The native power centre at Forres offered an eligible stance for a new town; and confiscated Fitz Duncan land in the vicinity could be allocated as an agricultural resource for the Flemish and Anglo-Norman colonists who arrived as first-generation burgesses. A king's burgh at Forres emphatically asserted David's ascendancy over the rival lineage stemming from Lulach, the last of Moray's native Gaelic rulers. We are entitled to ask: Did David I assert his kingship and take symbolic possession of the personal estates of the princes of Moray, with a formal inauguration at Sueno's Stone? And did the ceremony of burgh foundation at Forres involve defacement of the inauguration scene - to erase this record of the Moravian royalty?

The placement of burghs is far from accidental. Topographical convenience might attract royal town planners to a particular location; but Elgin and Forres at least are anchored to their sites by political imperatives. What are the stories upon which the other Moray burghs stand?

Further reading

Barrett, J. R., The Civilisation of Moray: burghs in the landscape and the landscape of burghs, c.l150 - c.1250 (Aberdeen University, MSc dissertation, 201g)

Barrow, G. W. S., Kingship and Unity: Scotland 1000 - 1306 (Edinburgh, 1981)

Duncan, A. A. M., The Kingship of the Scots, 842 – 1292: succession and independence (Edinburgh, 2011)

Marsden, J., Kings, Mormaers, Rebels; Scotland's other royal family(Edinburgh, 2010)

McDonald, R. A., Outlaws of Medieval Scotland: challenges to the Canmore kings, 1058 - 1266 (East Linton, 2003) oram, R., David l: the king who made Scotland (Stroud,2005)

Oram, R., Domination and Lordship: Scotland 1070 - 1230(Edinburgh,2011)Woolf, A., From Pictland to Alba, 789 - 1070 (Edinburgh,(2007)

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Warming by the Hearth's Fire

Reproduced from an article in the Forres SpotLIGHT by kind permission of Andrew Grant McKenzie MA(Hons), FSA Scot

 

As we enter the colder months in the North of Scotland, many of us will be considering the use of fire to warm our homes if we have a clean lum and a good stove.

Historically, the hearth, or the place the fire sits, is much more than just a useful heating mechanism. To our ancestors, the hearth was a giver of light; a social gathering point for sharing stories, traditions, music; and staving off the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder. lt was the focal point of strong cultural communities in the winter time and Hugh Cheape describes the hearth as being associated with the true West Coast and Hebridean ceilidh.

Alexander Fenton observed that the open grate hearths were more traditional in Highland and North East homes, rather than the European-style wood stoves that are now becoming popular. These-open fireplaces are perhaps a close relative of the early central floor fires which we can only guess must have been used since prehistoric periods.'

It is difficult to"date the earliest use of fire within the home, but ancestors living in caves, crannogs and more recent blackhouses all appear to have had a central fire, but without a chimney to allow the smoke to be removed cleanly. lnstead, in crannogs and blackhouses, smoke would dissipate through the roof structures, or through a small central hole which would help create a draw of air.

ln castles too, a central fire would have been a usual sight in the earliest wood and stone fortifications. The use of decorative hearths and chimney pieces developed in the early 1600s, according to lan Gow, which is why many of the surviving castles and ruins usually have obvious hearth structures after 17th century additions. Designs were brought from Europe by various Royals and copied throughout the homes of the Scottish gentry, with personal emblems added for variation. ln most Scottish homes, only one fire would be in regular use, regardless of the number of rooms or hearths. This is perhaps a link with the old cottage dwellings. Many cottages were a longer structure than the romantic view of the Scottish blackhouse - usually a smaller structure dating from the 1800s. This is because the original houses would be used to house animals during winter at one end of the house, with the fire in the middle.

Changes occurred when the 'byre' section was closed off from the main living area, with a hearth built into the central wall. Many of the byre sections were later dismantled, like the cottage at Culloden battlefield, or not built on later croft structures like those of the 1800s in Caithness.

As Gary West notes, the hearth was also an intriguing part of custom and superstition in the Highlands. After Culloden, the Gaelic poet John Roy Stuart wrote a curse on Cumberland:

"May your hearth be bare, No wife, son or brother there, Without Clarsach music, without candle light."

The fact that Cumberland died unmarried, with no legitimate heir and predeceased by his brothers is seen as testament to Stuart's curse. For Stuart, the hearth was clearly a very central family symbol to be attacked and included in this deeply personal curse.

If you don't own a stove or fireplace, see if you can find one in a friend or relative's house, a bar, or a hotel this winter. lt will be a good place to meet people and discover common interests. lf you're lucky, one of them might also be a good musician...

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The Devonian of North-East Scotland Revisited!

By Dr Alison Wright - Elgin Museum Geology Group

 

Many readers of the Bulletin will remember Field Club stalwart Sinclair Ross with a great deal of affection. For many years Sinclair reported on the Geology of Moray and kept members informed of geological developments of interest. Articles of his that appeared in Numbers 18 and 19 of the Bulletin (1990 and 1991 respectively) have recently been revisited in the light of a new exhibition at Elgin Museum planned for the 2020 season.

Bulletin Number 18 included information about a paper published in the Journal of the Geological Society that year about the rediscovery of tetrapod footprints at Tarbat Ness in Easter Ross. David Jones (from the University of Oxford) recorded a trackway in the same area in which local minister George Campbell had first observed footprints in 1862. These were further invested by the Rev. Dr George Gordon of Birnie and by the Rev. Dr James Joass of Golspie and a report submitted to the Geological Society of London. Described by Birnie and Gordon as 'Crustacean and Reptilian tracks', these footprints caused much debate at the time as the age of the Permian rocks with their reptile footprints around Elgin (the 'New Red Sandstone') had not yet been firmly established as being separate to that of the Devonian 'Old Red Sandstone' at Tarbat Ness. Sinclair notes that other workers in the 19th Century also recorded the position of the trackways but that no diagrams were ever published.

ln Bulletin Number 19 Sinclair discussed the important new evidence about tetrapod evolution deduced from fossils originally discovered at Scaat Craig, near Longmorn, in the 1820s and 30s. Per Ahlberg, a PhD student studying early tetrapods under the supervision of Professor Jenny Clack at the University of Cambridge, realised the significance of the finds and described an animal that he named Elginerpeton pancheni, the 'crawler from Elgin'. That the fossils had lain largely ignored for so long is perhaps surprising when, as Sinclair writes, Patrick Duff gave a lecture to the Elgin and Morayshire Scientific Association on 29th September 1838 in which he states that l have in my collection from Scaat-Craig ... two portions of under-jaw bones ... which were evidently of a higher order than fishes, as may be inferred from the alveoli or sockets for receiving the teeth, of which I have several which are curved, fluted and provided with double processes to fit into the sockets'. Duff notes that this arrangement is completely different to that seen in his fish specimens 'where the base of the tooth is attached to the bone of the jaw on a plain surface, and not, as in the other case, inserted into a socket.'

The Scottish Government has designated 2O2O as the Year of Coasts and Waters and, as part of Elgin Museum's contribution to the theme, a new exhibition highlighting the local area's importance in the story of tetrapod evolution will run during the forthcoming season. Although members of the Elgin and Morayshire Literary and Scientific Association collected important fossil specimens from Scaat Craig and donated a footprint slab from Tarbat Ness in the 19th Century, sadly none of the material held by the Museum is of tetrapod remains.

Consequently, fossils will be obtained on temporary loan from National Museums Scotland, the British Geological Survey and from the Oxford Museum of Natural History. The latter institution also houses a silicon cast that was made by David Rogers at the same time as he recorded the tetrapod footprints at Tarbat Ness for his 1990 papert2l. The mould is starting to degrade at the edges but modern technology means that the surface can be scanned and the trackway recreated digitally. Part of the trackway (B footprints) will be 3D plastic printed and displayed alongside the fossils. A reconstruction of what Elginerpeton may have looked like, based on Per Ahlberg's subsequent description in his 1995 Nature papert3l, was commissioned by Bob Davidson, a local palaeontologist, and he has also kindly agreed to loan this model to the Museum as part of the exhibition.

The Devonian Environment

During the Mid-Late Devonian period (approximately 390-360 million years ago (Ma)), Scotland lay on the southern edge of the large Laurussian continent and sat south of the Equator in the predominantly arid zone. Devonian rocks of this age in Moray (and elsewhere) show evidence of wind-blown sand dune formation and river systems flowing towards the north, some of which may have been ephemeral. The diverse fossil fish fauna found in these rocks shows that at least some of the rivers were large enough to support a thriving ecosystem with high organic productivity.

Across the globe, plants of increasing size and diversity were becoming widely established in the terrestrial environment, stabilising the surface and changing the rate at which sediment and water were delivered to river systems and oceans. Decaying plant matter and soluble nutrients were also washed into the rivers, altering the water chemistry and depleting oxygen levels which, in turn, began to affect vertebrate fauna living in the water. By this time, many bony fish species had already developed lungs which allowed them to gulp air as a means of supplementing the amount of oxygen received via the gills; additional adaptations began to occur, marking an evolutionary shift that ultimately allowed life to move out of the water and on to land.

Scaat Craig

ln 1826 John Martin, the first curator of Elgin Museum, discovered fossil fish fragments in a crumbling sandstone cliff at Scaat Craig, a few kilometres south of Elgin. The site generated much interest at a time when Hugh Miller was only beginning to consider the older and more complete fishes at Cromarty. The mix of sand, pebbles and water-worn fragments showed that the fossils had been washed into a large inland river channel. The discovery of pieces of jaw, teeth, and numerous scales led to a period of intense collecting. Many of these specimens were among the earliest donations to the Museum, which opened in 1843, but others were dispersed far and wide.

 

By 1840 Scaat Craig had faded into obscurity but a review of Devonian fish collections some 150 years later changed this. At the University of Cambridge, evolutionary biologist Jenny Clack and student Per Ahlberg (now a professor at Uppsala University) had been studying early tetrapod fossils in Greenland. At 375 million years old, the Scottish rocks were of the right age to be potentially interesting. per recognised that many of the so-called fish remains had been misidentified and that they were indeed tetrapod bones. Fossil fragments originating from Scaat Craig include pieces of lower jaw, snout, shoulder and pelvic girdles, and part of a femur; these show early skeletal adaptations that would have allowed the animal to support its body weight on paddle-like forelimbs, although it could not walk properly. Per named this tetrapod Elginerpeton pancheni - 'the crawler from Elgin'

ln the Devonian 'fish-eat-fish' world, at up to 1.5 metres long, Elginerpeton was a top predator, with a fearsome bite, snapping its narrow, elongate jaws to catch small, fast-moving prey. Although it was able to breathe air, it was more fish-like than reptilian and wouldn't have survived outside its aquatic environment.

Tarbat Ness

The Elginerpeton fossils are about 375 million years old but the earliest evidence for tetrapod evolution comes from footprints preserved at Zachelmie in Poland. These trackways show that adaptation from fins to limbs began some 15 million years before Elginerpeton swam in the Devonian waters. Similar but slightly later tracks, some 5 million years older than Elginerpeton, have been found at Tarbat Ness in Scotland. Like Scaat Craig, the sediments show that this was a predominantly arid terrestrial environment with ephemeral streams and salt flats. ln a letter to the Rev. Gordon, Murchison (who was sent illustrations of one of the trackways by Joass) refers to the Elgin sandstones remarking that at many points in the eastern portion of (Tarbatness) I was reminded of our upper or reptilian beds on this side of the firth. We shall be anxious to hear to what class the creature that made their marks probably belonged.. When this letter was written the age of the Elgin sandstones had not yet been resolved; the beds containing fossil fishes and reptile remains belong to different geological periods but the similarity of the depositional environments meant that the time gap of some 150 million years was not evident from the exposed rocks. The Victorian geologists determined that the trackways at Tarbat Ness were made by arthropods or crustaceans and again interest in the site waned.

 

Work by David Rogers (1990) confirmed that most of the trackways discovered by the Rev. Campbell are indeed arthropod traces, comprising parallel tracks made as these animals moved across the sediment surface. One of the arthropod trackways examined by Rogers occurs on a sandstone block donated to Elgin Museum in 1863.

 

However, Rogers also found that one set of footprints recorded a different sense of motion and, due to its comparability with other known trackways, ascribed this to an early tetrapod. Because of its obvious significance, he made a cast of the trackway, leaving the original footprints in situ. Sadly 30 years of coastal erosion appear to have taken their toll and the trackway is no longer evident. No bones have been found at Tarbat Ness so it is not possible to assign the footprints to a specific animal; evidence from elsewhere shows that by 380 Ma specialist lobe-finned fish capable of 'crawling' on their fins were inhabiting the lower reaches and deltas of permanent rivers. These fish were displaced in the Mid-Late Devonian as early tetrapods able to support their body weight on limbs began to extend their range from inland waterways into coastal areas.

The further spread of more advanced tetrapods in the Late Devonian meant that Elginerpeton only survived as a species for a relatively short period of time. Changes in water chemistry (possibly linked to the increasing amount of plant cover in the terrestrial environment) and a drop in global sea-level at the end of the Devonian Period led to the extinction of some tetrapod specieslr3J. Other lineages survived and led to the further evolution of four-limbed creatures, including ourselves.

References:

1 Gordon, G. & Joass, J.M. 1863. On the Relations of the Ross-shire Sandstones containing Reptilian Footprints. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, 19, 506-510.

2. Rogers, D.A. 1990. Probable tetrapod tracks rediscovered in the Devonian of N Scotland. Journal of the Geological Society, 147,746-748

3  Ahlberg, P.E. 1995. Elginerpeton pancheniand the eadiesttetrapod clade. Nature,373; 420-425.

Trewin, N.H. & Thirlwall, M.F.2OO2. Old Red Sandstone. In: Trewin, N.H. (ed).

3 The Geology of Scotland Geological Society of London. 213-250.

5 Clack, J. A. 2OO7 . Devonian climate change, breathing, and the origin of the tetrapod stem group . Integrative and Comparative Biology, 47,510-523:

6 Site: SCAAT CRAIG (GCR lD: 1106). Late Devonian fossil fishes sites of Scotland. Vol. 16: Fossil Fishes of Great Britain. The Geological Conservation Review.

7 Ahlberg, P.E. 1991. Tetrapod or near-tetrapod remains from the Upper Devonian of Scotland. Nature, 354, 298-301.

8 Neena, J.M., Ruta, M., Clack, J.A. & Rayfield, E.M.2014. Feeding biomechanics in Acanthostega and across the fish Tetrapod transition. Proceedings Biological sciences 231,1781, 20132689.

9 Beznosov, P.A., Clack, J.A., Luksevics, E. & Ahlberg, P.E. 2019. Morphology of the earliest reconstructable tetrapod Parmastega aelidae. Nature, 574, 527 -531 .

10 Ahlberg. P.E., Friedmann, M. &-Blom, H. 2005. New light on the earliest known tetrapod jaw. Journal of Vertebrate PaIaeontology, 25, 720 -724.

11. Niedzwiedzki, G., Szrek, P., Narkiewicz, K.,Narkiewicz, M. & Ahlberg, P.E. 2010. Tetrapod trackways from the early Middle Devonian period of Poland. Nature,463,43-48.

12 Collie, M. & Diemer, J. 1995. Murchison in Moray: A Geologist on Home Ground: With the Correspondence of Roderick Impey Murchison and the Rev. Dr. George Gordon of Birnie. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 85, 187.

13. Clack, J.A. 2012. Gaining Ground: The Origin and Evolution of Tetrapods (Life of the Past). lndiana University Press. 369pp.

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Burghead - A modern name for the proposed great Pictish capital

By Christine Clerk

Burghead has been known by a variety of names: Burghead, Brughhead, Burghsea, the Bruch and latterly; The Broch. The earliest reference is in 1572 when Burghead is referred to as Bruchsey in Elgin Burgh Court records (Keiller 1994:3). Latterly, Burghead has been called, The Broch. Local folk call themselves 'Brochers'. The original name cited by Boece in his Histora Scofae (1527) uses the Germanic Old Norse word: Burg meaning a fortified settlement. (Onions 1966: 119,127). Therefore, Burghead is associated with the Danes. However, the place name 'the Burg' could be derived from either the Norse, burg or the Scottish word Burgh derived from the Anglo-Saxon burh (OED 1933: 1 , 1187 , Onions 1966: 108,128). ln Scotland burgh identifies a particular kind of commercial settlement founded from the 12th century onwards under royal or seigneurial protection (OED 1933: 1, 1185, Rampini 1897: 6-12)

To the south-west of the 'Old Brugh' Pont shows an additional settlement of Newbrugh which was probably associated with the Old Brugh but now no longer exists. The place name Newbrugh also features on Blaeu's Atlas, which is derived from Pont's cartography, although the Burghead promontory is not named as Old Brugh (Pont c. 1590), nor is a fort depicted on the headland (Gordon 1654). There seems no doubt that Pont observed a settlement named Newbrugh within the sweep of Burghead bay.

 

The burgh/broch element is clearly coined in the languages of relative late comers, either Norse or Anglo Normans. The headland and fort must have had an early name in a native language. There is a temptation to try and reconstruct an early name containing the P-Celtic element Pen, perhaps translated to a Q-Celtic / Gaelic ceann, and perhaps subsequently to a Norse ness. The burgh element of the current name might be a translation of a Gaelic dun or caer. For an elite site that seems to have overarching significance we might expect a ri element as has been argued for the area commanded by the elite site in Rhynie parish excavated by Gordon Noble in 2016 (Mclver 2016). Nor can the bulls of Burghead be ignored. These unique sculptures surely invite the inference of a place name incorporating the Gaelic tarbh or a Pictish/British word related to modern Welsh; tanu. Lt is perhaps among these elements that the search must be made for references to Burghead in medieval sources.

The Burgh-sea version of the Burghead place name.

The terminal element of the Burghsea version of the place name is also met with at Cove-sea/Causie five miles to the east. This may be derived from the Old Norse element ey meaning island (Arthur 2002:80, Smith 1970: l, 162). The ey element is common all around the Viking coast of Scotland, notably in the Orkneys (Orkneyjar 2018). The Orkneyjar (ibid) site refers to the island place name element as ay which is derived from the Norse ey,

The difficulty arises however in that the site of the present Causie village is not an island, however Burghead was more or less an island separated from the Laich of Moray by Spynie and Roseilse lochs. lf the place name element ey is indeed Old Norse, then this clearly justifies antiquarian descriptions of Burghead as a 'Danish' camp. lf the peninsula had been cut off, then this would have made Burghead an island.

Nairn and Narmin

It is appropriate in the context of the place name to notice the difficulty arising in the legend of Narmin. Hector Boece (1527) says that after the conflict between the Scots and the Danes in Moray in the eleventh century, a fortress named as Narmin was occupied by the Danes. Boece conflates Narmin, renamed the Burg, with Burghead. MacDonald (1862) agrees with this identification however later writers favour the likelihood of Narmin being Nairn. John Morrison minister of Nairn, citing Buchanan's History, insisted that a Scottish royal castle at Nairn had been captured by 'Danes' (Norsemen), in the reign of Malcolm l. Morrison further asserted that local people remembered seeing 'vestiges of the foundations of an ancient castle' at the low tide, offshore beyond the mouth of the River Nairn (oSA 1Tg2-3). the survival of such vestiges into the nineteenth-century seems highly improbable. Be that as it may there is nothing to associate Narmin with Burghead. Narmin remains a mystery. The name Narmin does not seem to appear in any other source. The medieval spelling of Nairn was a form of Naren, and the burgh was known as lnvernaren, lnwirnarne , lnvernarryn . Even the most careless copyist or palaeographer could hardly confuse the various Nairn spellings with Narmin.

A further difficulty is thrown in by The Old Statistical Account of Nairn, which mentions the possibility that Nairn was the site of a Danish camp. The narrative states that the castle at Nairn was captured by 'Danes' (Norsemen) during the reign of Malcolm l, King of AIba (d 954) (Keay and Key 1994:706). The local minister of Cawdor Paiish, Rev. Lachlan Shaw, however had no knowledge of any tradition which referred to a Danish Fort near Nairn (1775). Nairn was founded as a Royal Burgh in the late l2thcentury; therefore, the name could be referring to Nairn and not Burghead. lt was known that the Danes mounted raids on the Moray coast from accounts in the English Chronicles (Fordun 1gg3). According to Fordun, Malcolm ll (c. 954-1034) fought a battle against the Danes at Mortlach. Macdonald (1862) believed the Danes were likely to have mounted raids on the Morayshire coast from the sixth Century onwards.

The ruins of a castle depicted on Pont's map of Nairn have been identified as the Danish Camp, Narmin referred to by Boece (Macdonald 1861). Boece in his account refers to Narmin and conflates the place name with the Burg which is thought to refer to Burghead. This would be the first mention of Burghead in historical chronicles. Most of the later writers on the history of Burghead discuss the likelihood of this name being in fact referring to nearby Nairn and not to Burghead. Macdonald seems convinced that Narmin and Burghead are one and the same place. Robert Young disagreed (1868).

Boece refers to Burghead as the Burg in 1527. ln Bellenden's translation the place name relates to Narmin as a fortified settlement. Sawyer tells us that the place name might indicate the influence of the Danes but not necessarily where they settled (1997: vi). Many historiographers have connected Narmin and Burghead together as being the same place. Other historiographers have had difficulty reconciling the account of the Danes cutting through the promontory of Burghead to make it an island with the sea coursing through the ditches between the cross ramparts. Observation of the height which the ramparts now are seems to indicate that the sea level would need to have been about 40 feet higher than at present for the water to flow easily through. Accounts of the triple ditch system across the promontory give measurements of width and depth. The ditches did not reach down to sea level but might have been partially filled in already due to their depth (Algie 1887:g0-1).

Other difficulties in matching the description with the evidence on the ground are that there is no trace now of any cuttings through the promontory which could account for the description. There is the possibility that the ditch was made further down the promontory where the height above sea level is not so great. Another interpretation is that the story of a fabled fortified place has no basis in reality. However, both Statistical accounts observed that the cut was still visible in the late eighteenth century (OSA 1799, NSA 1845). Perhaps evidence for the cutting through the promontory is still there under the ground, waiting to be uncovered, vindicating Hector Boece.

 

Algie, M. J. (1887) Guide to Forres and Objects of lnterest in the Neighbourhood, 1st edn. Paisley, J.& R. Parlane

Arthur, R. G. (2002).English old Norse Dictionary, ontario, ln parenthesis Publication, Available at: http://www.yorku.calinpar/language/English-Old_Norse.pdf p.80

Boece, H' (1938-41) scotorum Historia translated by J. Bellend en, The chronicles of Scotland,2 vors, E. c. Batho and H. w. Husbands (eds) Edinburgh and London, William Blackwood and Sons, first published 1527

Fordun, J' of (1993) [1460] chronicle of the Scottish Nation,vol. 1 and 2,translated by w. F. skene, Edinburgh, Lranarach publishers, first published 1g72

Gordon, R' (1654) Moraviae Descriptio in Geographicat collections relating to ?33,:1i, made by wwatter Macfartane 2, Edinburgh, Scottish History society, pp.

Keiller, t' (1994) Place-Names and settlement Patterns in part of the Laich of Moray, North East studies, Names in North-East Scotland, place Names and settlement patterns in the Laich of Moray (unpublished typescript) Blaeu's Atlas, Available at https://maps.nrs.uk./aflas/braeu

Keay' J and J' (2000) cottons Encyclopaedia of Scotland, London, Harper Collins

Macdonald, J' (1861) 'Historical notices of the 'Broch' or Burghead, in Moray, with an account of its antiquities', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 4, pp. 321-369

Maclver, c. (2016) Rhynie Excavations season 4, Available at: https ://nosasbtog.word press. com/20 1 6/1 2/04hhyn ie -season_4/ The New Statistical Account of Scotland (NsA)(1g45) 13, Banff, Elgin, Nairn,William Blackwood and sons, Edinburgh

OED (1933) Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford, Clarendon press

onions, c. T. (1g66) the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology,Oxford, Oxford University Press Orkney Place Names (2}|l)Available at:http://wr,vw.orkneyjar.com/placenames/ptisle.htm

OSA, the sfa/r.stical Account of Scotland-17g9, edited by sir John Sinclair, volume wl Banffshire, Moray & Nairnsh/re (osA) D. J. withrington and r. R. Grant (eds) font, T (c 1590)

ponf Maps of Scotland, c. 1sg3 - 1614, Available at: https:iimaps. nls. u k/pont

Rampini, c' (1897) A History of Moray and Nairn, Edinburgh, William Blackwood

sawyer, P' (1997) The Oxford lllustrated History of the Vikings, New york, oxford University Press shaw, L. (17Ts) The History of the province of Moray,Edinburgh, William Aurd

Young, R. (1868) Notes on Burghead ancient and Modern, with an appendix containing notices of families and other information, Edinburgh

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Clashach Quarry

By Dave Longstaff - Elgin Museum Geology Group

Clashach quarry situated a mile east of Hopeman consists of cross bedded sandstones attributed to the late Permian (-250 million years ago). The site was declared a SSSI because it provides an excellent section through the Hopeman Sandstone Formation, continues to reveal reptile footprint trackways and was also the site of a find of a dicynodont fossil skull in 1997

 

Geology

The sandstones are aeolian in origin with large sets of cross bedding visible in places and belong to the Hopeman Sandstone Formation. The sand grains are very well sorted and rounded with the cement varying between quartz, giving a hard siliceous sandstone, and iron oxide giving a more friable sandstone.

A fault runs through the quarry and effectively forms the southern back wall of the quarry with slickensides still visible in small areas. Recent quarrying has moved south, through the fault zone, and the southern boundary of the quarry is now close to the Moray Coastal Trail.

The sandstones were laid down in a desert or semi-arid environment, at a paleolatitude of aro_und 20'N, with evidence of ephemeral streams having existed in the area. Examples of ripple marked sandstone can be found on the foreshore about 400m west of the quarry. Paleo-wind indicators show the prevailing wind was from the northeast with secondary winds coming from the southeast. The large scale cross bedding found in the quarry has foreset dip angles of up to 26' to the southwest.

The deposits are regarded as an onshore equivalent of the Rotliegend gas reservoir beds of the Southern North Sea and, as such, are regularly studied by geology students.

 

Quarrying

As with other quarries in the Elgin area quarrying at Clashach has occurred for hundreds of years, documentation is sparse but there are mentions of quarrying in old, local newspapers from which a very patchy history can be achieved.

It is not known when quarrying started in the area but Oram (1996. Moray & Badenoch: A Historical Guide) suggests quarrying may have taken place in medieval times. lt is thought Duffus Castle, built in the 12th Century, used stone from the local coastal quarries and there are records

(lnnes charters; Douglas. R. 1928. The Lossie from source to the sea p51) of Covesea quarry being used for building as far back as 1639; Covesea stone was used in the building of Fort George in 1748. Clashach stone was used for many buildings including the Falconer museum in Forres and, more recently, 1500 tons were used in the re-facing of the National Museum of Scotland in 1998 and the 9/1 1 memorial in New York used Clashach stone (Northern Scot 06/03/2018).

A harbour was built to allow the sandstone blocks to be transported away from Clashach by means of boats. First discussed in 1777 by Sir William Gordon and a Mr Kyle, when the harbour was built is unknown but 'Port Clashach' was used until the early 1900s when seemingly it was allowed to fall into disrepair. Apparently, there was a tramway from the quarry down to the port but nothing is left of this structure today although long disused trackways, for horse and cart, can be seen to the southeast of the old harbour and small portions of the pier walls can still be seen. Two inscriptions to be found in a corner of the disused Clashach quarry, high on a back wall, have dates 1781 . (Bill Baftram, Quarrying in Moray).

Over the last two years the quarry has seen a period of increased production due to demand from the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. An article from The Scotsman newspaper from July 2006 gives more detail. "Mr Baillie explained that the quarry secured the lucrative contact after Moray Stone Cutters supplied sandstone for work on the nearby Barcelona Cathedral last year. Architects working on the La Sagrada project noticed that the stone, used in the construction of the cathedral, closely resembled the stone from a now-unworked Catalonian quarry which had originally been used in the construction of Gaudi's masterpiece

 

Fossils

Fossil reptile footprint trackways were first reported from the coastal quarries, mainly Maisonhaugh and Greenbrae, by Capt. Lambert Brickenden in 1850. He thought they may have been made by a tortoise hence the generic name of Chetichnus was given to the fossil footprints. Many of these "rabbit footprints" as the quarrymen called them were found in these quarries and, apart from a small fragment of unidentifiable bone found in Greenbrae quarry, were the only fossils thought present in the coastal sandstones. Fossils found inland from the same formation at Cutties Hillock had mostly come from the base of the formations and it is thought that the lack of exposure of this part of the succession along the coast accounted for the apparent lack of the fossils (Peacock 1968, Geology of the Elgin District.).

 

These quarries closed around the 1970s leaving only Clashach quarry continuing to produce stone. Meanwhile, at Clashach, an in-situ slab situated on the floor of the quarry was well known; the prints on this slab were around 10-15 cm wide and had been made by a medium sized animal , most probably a dicynodont and the slab was finally removed to the display area in 1998). ln-situ tracks seem to be always in beds with dip angles around 18-21'.

Quarrying operations were increased in 1996 to provide stone for the new National Museum of Scotland and during this period many in-situ footprint bearing slabs were exposed. Carol Hopkins, an OU student living in Hopeman, made a systematic survey and recorded - 400 trackways in the quarry.

Ever since trackways were found in the Cummingston quarries, there were anecdotal reports that the tracks always seemed to be heading north, to presumably water or vegetation in the Moray Firth basin (probably a desert lake (playa)) and measurements from Clashach confirmed these reports. Similar evidence exists for Permian animals in the Dumfries area having made their tracks heading south to the Solway Firth. Apart from the broken slabs, most of the larger trackways at Clashach, are 1-4 metres in length. (Carol Hopkins, 2007. The Permian Tetrapod Trackways of Hopeman).

McKeever and Haubold (1996. Reclassification of Vertebrate Trackways from the Permian of Scotland and Related Forms from Arizona and Germany) argue that the prints relate to one ichnogenus Chelichnus (comprising 4 inchnospecies) and that many of the differences in the Clashach sandstones are due to variation in gait and angle and the condition of the dunes themselves. Although tracks may be preserved as digitigrade (toe) or plantigrade (sole) impressions with up to 5 digits visible, the digitigrade stance hadn't evolved by the Permian so similar tracks in the quarry are due to incomplete preservation of the prints (McKeever and Haubold op.cit). The trackways indicate that reptiles of diverse sizes inhabited the area and a large proportion of the very small trackways also show tail-drags.

lnvertebrate traces are also present consisting of vertical or horizontal burrows up to one metre in length. Some are undoubtedly worm traces while others display features that resemble back-filling of sediment as a beetle, or something similar, worked its way through the substrate.

ln 1997, a quarryman spotted an unusual hole in a sandstone block and alerted the manager and Carol Hopkins. Given the possibility that the cavity was a fossil mould, they then informed Neil Clark at the Hunterian Museum. Eventually he took the block to the University of Glasgow where it was subjected to CT and MRI scanning. The scans revealed an undeformed skull and lower jaw and, using the digital data, a model of the animal skull was constructed. The fossil was identified as Dicynodon traquairiand, for the first time, the Hopeman Sandstone was accurately dated as late Permian. Full details are given in Cruickshank, Clark and Adams, 2005. A new specimen of Dicynodon traquairifrom the late Permian of northern Scotland). Both the model and original sandstone block are now housed in the Elgin Museum

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Notes from Covesea 2019

By Janet Trythall


To the Sculptors Cave and back

Frosty morning today and every shade of grey with snow on Ben wyvis although not across the Firth. Neaps, which is not ideal for a beach walk, with 1.9m at low water. That's the same as at half tide at springs. Heading west along the beach, there was a substantial new rock fall in Primrose Bay and a Buzzard ripping open a Herring Gull. The head had already gone - was that taken by the primary predator? Fulmars coming and going on the cliffs but no birds (usually Herring Gulls and Black Backs) yet on the stack or the "Kittiwake Wall" beyond the Sculptor's Cave. Oystercatchers and Curlews on the foreshore. Seen in flower were Gorse, Green Alkanet, Daisies, Lesser Celandines and also Snowdrops although these are probably garden escapes. To the east, the first primroses in the dunes.

 

Gorse

It is over a year since I did much clearing and it shows! Moray Council has just had two chaps out with a gorsebuster, which, though crude, has widened the Moray Coast Trail from Covesea Village towards the Coastguard Lookout. I hear that some people given Community Payback won't do this kind of work! The piece of former 'Gordonstoun land around the Coast Guard Look Out, previously almost covered in gorse, has been brought under cultivation. Consequently, the former diverse range of wild flowers is almost completely wiped out along this stretch of the coastal path and North Lawn Track - the orchids, Yellow Rattle, Eyebright, Milkwort, Red Campion, Vetches to name a few. The gorse burned in the fire between the Lighthouse and Covesea beach golf course in 2017 has surprisingly not grown straight back so that walking the path behind the dunes continues to be much easier.

 

Lindsay's Cave

Last year we were visited by a descendent of George (Geordie) Lindsay who died in 1898 in this cave, which is below and to the east of Covesea Village. This year another member of the extended family, Fiona Lochhead, a local teacher, gave a talk in Elgin Library about her family research using DNA, specialist web sites, social media and public records among other tools. Her link is through her father's mother, named from the gravestone inscription, Helen McPhee. Fiona's detective work led to the correct birth name, Nellie MacPhee, place of birth Strathpeffer, and mother's name Margaret. This turns out to be the Margaret, recorded as Niece, aged 9 in the Census for 1901 (see Notes form Covesea, MFC Bulletin 2016). Fiona came and visited Covesea, and we were able to share information, and went down to Lindsay's Cave; she had previously mis-identified this as the cave under the lighthouse although others of her travelling ancestors did stay there.

 

Painting of Gow's Castle

I was recently shown a very unusual and competent oil painting of the former sea stack at Covesea, blown up for gunnery practice in WWll. This is not the upstanding stack in Primrose Bay, Covesea, sometimes called Gough's Houghs - both stacks are variably called Taylor's and Gow's Castle. The painting is signed by Wilton Motley (Libindx NM 136889). He was an artist and son of an artist, David Motley from Yorkshire and both father and son painted typical Scottish landscapes. Both by Wilton and closer to home are oils of the steam drifter Radiant, underway out to sea, in Aberdeen Maritime Museum and "BF 312 and BF 81", depicted possibly in Burghead Harbour entrance, in the Falconer Museum. He died at 41 King Street, Burghead, aged 69 in 1947, and there seems to be a connection with the Mains of Burghead.

 

The artist has painted the stack from the west side, a section of beach now relatively awkward of access, not least because of the gorse that has proliferated since the cliff top was grazed; but even 30 years ago, there was an easy way down the "90 steps" through Covesea Quarry to the beach nearby until the upper section was blown up by an associate of the then Clashach Quarry manager. The lower slope has suffered serious natural erosion. Postcards of the stack suggest the place was once familiar to tourists - the earliest I have is a Valentine image dated 1889 and a George Washington Wilson postcard sent from Hopeman in 1903.

 

Pride of Moray

The first of nine new Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), P-BA Poseidon number 01, has arrived at Kinloss Barracks from the USA. When the new facilities are completed, the Poseidons will operate from RAF Lossiemouth. The last Nimrod left Kinloss in 2010, since when the need for an MPA has been reinforced by numerous ad hoc sightings of unwelcome visitors in the Moray Firth.

 

HMS Prince of Wales, R09.

The second of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers was out in the Moray Firth in the autumn, carrying out sea trials. The slightly smaller, HMS Queen Elizabeth, was here for the same purpose in 2017. She has had problems with a shaft seal leak; while up here for her sea trials, debris was caught round one of her prop shafts and had to be cleared in lnvergordon. lt is interesting that aircraft carriers are vulnerable to the same hazards as small craft.

 

Lossiemouth to Hopeman Cyclepath (See Notes from Covesea, MFC Bulletin 2018)

We ended 2018 on a fairly upbeat note, but now all is looking less promising; as the route's future is unclear, shall not elaborate. Sustrans is still actively involved. The project is under the auspices of Lossiemouth Community Development Trust (www.lossietrust.org), now with the more correct appellation of an Alternative Transport Route (ATR) as it is intended for all non-motorised users, not just cyclists.

 

Lummie ladder

Countless years ago, I made up a rope and wood-rung ladder from flotsam and jetsam and strung it up from a carabiner in the Lummie, the rock cut steps in the chimney between Covesea Village and the Sculptors Cave. Over the years we have made minor repairs, and it has been well used, as this is a fairly long stretch of beach with no cliff access route except by rock climbing/abseiling. The ladder disappeared in late November. I am loath to make another if that too would be removed. lf anyone knows who removed it or why, please let me know.

 

Beatrice

Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Ltd (BOWL), the 84 turbine, 558 MW development, 13 km off the Caithness coast, is just visible from Covesea on a clear day. lt was completed in May, with the main on-shore maintenance base at a refurbished Wick Harbour. That still leaves the decommissioning of the now redundant Beatrice oil field hardware, which is expected to take from 2025 - 2030. The decommissioning programme recommends complete removal and onshore recycling for all topsides facilities, jacket elements and subsea infrastructure. All pipelines are trenched and buried for most of their length and will not affect other users of the sea so are recommended to be decommissioned in situ with exposed sections remediated by rock cover, trench and burial or cut out with removal to shore.

(https://www.repsolsinopecuk.cominews/draft-beatrice-decommissioningprogramme-released-for-public-consultation). Beatrice is the name of the wife of one of the early owners of the oilfield, a favourite wife until the marriage ended in acrimonious divorce

Bird Report 2019

By lan Suttie

 

January

Winter visitors at the start of the year included 400 Knot around Nairn east beach, a Little Egret at Kingsteps, a Green-winged Teal on Loch Flemington and a Blackcap in a Forres garden. Off the Nairn Bar were 600 Long-tailed Ducks, 837 Common Scoters and 31 Velvet Scoters, on the dunes were flocks of 26 Reed Buntings and 26 Snow Buntings, the salt marsh had a Jack Snipe, the shore line had 146 Sanderlings and the mud flats had 3 Grey Plovers. A large Starling flock at Cummingston had 2,500 birds on 6/1. lnland a Hawfinch was seen near Cawdor and a Mealy Redpoll was with flocks of 40 Lesser Redpolls and 180 Siskins feeding on birch seeds at Drynachan. Glenlivet had a visit from a White-tailed Eagle on 1111, perhaps the same one seen near Aitnoch, south of Glenferness, a week later.

Findhorn Bay had normal winter counts of 332 Golden Plovers, 930 Dunlin and 384 Pintails on 19/1 , when nearby Netherton had a flock of 98 Yellowhammers and Earnhill had 15 Grey Partridges. The Lossie in Elgin had a Kingfisher on 2211 and nearby there were 15 Brambtings near the Leisure Centre, likely finding beech nuts. At the month's end 28 Gorn Buntings were in a flock near Lossiemouth, 3 Water Rails were seen out in the snow at Loch Spynie and Barn Owls were seen at Moy and Alves.

 

February

Other visitors were 42 W4xwings in Elgin, 100 Bramblings near Rafford, on 412, and flocks of 150 Linnets and 80 Skylarks on fields at Clochan. Findhorn Bay had over 7.000 Pink-footed Geese flying out at dawn, as well as 1360 Knot and 3 Shovelers. Nearby Kinloss airfield had a Hen Harrier fly over, a Red Kite was seen near Duffus and 150 Fieldfares were on fields at Mill of Tynet. Signs of spring were the pair of Lapwings inland at Blairfindy and Dippers at their nesting bridge on the Mosset burn on 10/2.

On the coast, Nairn Bar had 130 Shelduck and 40 Twite, the Lossie estuary had 506 Teal and 1583 Wigeon, and 14 Purple Sandpipers were on the beach at Buckpool. First Oystercatchers were back in the Cooper Park area on 1412, a Gadwall was on Loch Spynie and 30 Black Guillemots were back on the sea near breeding cliffs east of Portknockie. A remarkable sight was a White-tailed Eagle, accompanied by a Golden Eagle, over the Cromdale Hills on 1612, a photograph showing size and outline differences; both were likely immature birds. The undisturbed Cloddach quarry ponds attracted many waders and ducks on 1712 including 317 Curlews, 47 Whooper Swans, 130 Lapwings, 1,550 Oystercatchers, 694 Wigeon, 48 Tufted Ducks and 14 Shelduck. Blairs Loch also had 18 Whooper Swans on 2412, feasting on water weed, when 4 Little Grebes were back on territory there. Early migrants back were the 3 Lesser Blackbacked Gulls on the Spey estuary on 2512, when the Dunlin flock in Findhorn Bay had increased to 1,520 birds and 50 Bar-tailed Godwits and 6 Black-tailed Godwits were among the bay's visitors.

 

March

A flock of 11 Crossbills, with some males in song, were at Loch Kirkcaldy on 1/3 and 40 Lapwings were inland nearby at Dunearn on 5/3; also in this area, the Great Grey Shrike was seen again at Refouble, south of Glenferness. The Pink-footed Geese total in Findhorn Bay had risen to 17,650 by 2/3, when the first Chiffchaffs were back at Waterford, by the River Findhorn, and Loch Spynie, where a Glaucous Gull called in. The salt marsh near Netherton had a flock of 17 Twites and a hunting Short-eared Owl on 13/3, and a Barn Owl was seen at Kinloss

Coastal movements of seabirds from winter feeding areas to breeding cliffs continued with 2,266 Razorbills passing Lossiemouth in an hour on 16/3 and 500 Kittiwakes on 24/3. Gathering off Spey Bay were 6 Great Northern Divers, 450 Common Scoters and 200 Long-tailed Ducks on 23/3. First Sandwich Terns back were the 4 at Burghead and 2 at Nairn on 24/3.

A very early Willow Warbler, first of the year, was singing at Torrieston on 2413, and Spey Bay had a Wheatear passing through on 26/3. A Long-eared Owl near Duffus was likely a local bird. Migrants built up at the month's end: 8 Chiffchaffs on the lower Findhorn, 10 Sandwich Terns at Nairn, 5 Wheatears on the Lein and 13 White-fronted Geese with 73 Whooper Swans at Muirton. Also of note were the King Eider drake at Nairn,the second Willow Warbler at Clashdhu, the first 5 Sand Martins at Loch Spynie on 30/3 and Ospreys back in the Findhorn valley.

 

April

Winter visitors preparing to fly north were 19,750 Pink-footed Geese and 1,033 Redshanks in Findhorn Bay on 1/4, when 3 arctic bound White-billed Divers were off Cullen. Passing through were 2 Snow Buntings on Lossie beach, 200 Yellowhammers at Pitgaveny and 17 Bramblings at Dunphail. First Swallow back was at Loch Spynie on 4t4 and first Common Tern was on the Spey estuary on 10/4, when a Golden Eagle was on the wing near Lochindorb. Other "firsts" were the Common Sandpiper at Ardclach and House Martin at Fogwatt - both on 12/4.

Passage migrants were 68 Sandwich Terns on Nairn Bar, 35 Purple Sandpipers at Lossiemouth, a White Wagtail and Whimbrels on the Spey estuary, a Gadwall and 15 Shovelers on Loch Spynie and a Slavonian Grebe off Spey Bay. Around 400 Meadow Pipits were in a flock at boltfield and a Ruff and Iceland Gull were on the Lossie estuary on 21/4, when a Grasshopper Warbler was reeling its song near Findhorn Bay. The first Whitethroat was in song at the Lossie estuary on 25/4 and, next day, the first Cuckoo was calling in Glen Avon. Also back on breeding territories were a Stock Dove at Darkands, a Redstart at Dulsie, on 27/4, and a Tree Pipit in Newtyle Forest. The sea off Cullen attracted 30 Red-throated Divers, Findhorn Bay had 42 Goosanders and 3 Barnacle Geese, and Delnies had an Arctic Skua, 2 Arctic Terns and 200 Gannets feeding off shore, all on 30/4

 

May

A flock of 9 Whimbrels were feeding on the salt marsh at Findhorn bird hide and the Goosander count on the river channel increased to 63 by 4t5.The Spey estuary saw the first 2 Little Terns back on 6/5 and Loch Spynie had the first 3 Swifts back, hawking insects on 9/5. A Garden Warbler was in song near Dufftown on 11/5, when a walk to Craigellachie counted many Willow Warblers and Blackcaps but only one Chiffchaff. Also in song were the Goldfinch in our garden and 3 Song Thrushes in or nearby, the most for many years. The Spey estuary had 40 Arctic Terns, 5 Common Terns and 93 Goosanders mid month, when the first Spotted Flycatcher was back in an Elgin garden. The arctic bound Ring Plovers, always later to pass through Findhorn Bay, had increased to 705 on 16/5, when 2 Arctic Skuas passed Tugnet. The 4 Stock Doves at Darkland on 18/5 would have been using local,mature hardwood trees for hole nesting.

A Curlew Sandpiper in attractive breeding plumage was in Findhorn Bay on 20/5, feeding with 146 Dunlins, and Lossie west beach had 142 Sanderlings running the tide edge on 22/5 - all soon to head north. Here for the summer were 250 Sand Martins at Loch Spynie and over 100 feeding above the River Nairn on 27/5. Also being well fed were the young Tree Creepers in a nest in our log shed, both parents working tirelessly. More Ring Plovers were the 226 on the Lossie estuary on 28/5 but almost all had gone two days later.

 

June

A Little Gull was on the Spey estuary on 1i6, when Findhorn Bay had an Iceland Gull, 593 Ring Plovers and 41 Canada Geese - on their way to their Beauly Firth moulting ground. A Black Tern visited Tugnet on 6i6 then, on 9/6, a special visitor was a Black Stork which arrived in Findhorn Bay. An Eastern European bird, nesting in swampy forests and wintering in Africa, its navigation had failed it on the way north; last seen on 10/6 , in the creeks opposite Binsness. Some added attractions for the birdwatchers arriving from afar were the Spoonbill, Little Egret and a Glaucous Gull.

A Quail was calling at Lethen, 5 Greenshanks passed through Findhorn Bay,2 Gorn Buntings were singing near Portgordon and a pair of Red-legged Partridges had a covey of young at Westfield, all mid month. Non breeding visitors in Findhorn Bay included 2 Grey Plovers, 4 Black-tailed and 8 Bar-tailed Godwits and 75 Curlews The 82 Shelduck on25/6 included some young ones, but they suffer much predation from gulls and crows out on the mud flats. The Goosander count off Tugnet reached 155 at the month's end, when a pleasing sight inland was a pair of Ring Ouzels in the Ailnack gorge, south of Tomintoul.

 

July

Early passage migrants were the 106 colourful Black-tailed Godwits in Findhorn Bay on 2/7 , when a Rose-coloured Starling was in Nairn and Corn Buntings were singing at Boath and Cummingston. The Bay had 227 Curlews on 6/7 and, along the tide line, an insect hatch had attracted over 200 Sand Martins and Swallows, 6 House Martins and 8 Swifts, feeding in low flight. A Wood Sandpiper arrived on the Spey estuary on 16/7 and 2 Little Tern juveniles were a welcome sight at the Lossie east beach protected area.

Mist nets and a tape lure, set up in the Portknockie harbour in the dark of 16-17/7, caught a Leach' Petrel and 26 Storm Petrels for ringing. Further trapping nights caught 2 Leach's and a total of 151 Storm Petrels for the season, a great effort by Alastair Young and Martin Cook. Any retrapping or recovery of these ringed birds reveals migration routes of these ocean wanderers, as noted under General Notes.

A Bearded Tit was heard at Loch Spynie on 21/7 and the Spey estuary had 13 Common Sandpipers, 1 Ruff, 61 Common Terns and 18 Whimbrels on 24/7, with 247 Goosanders off shore. The Buckpool shore had 3 Green Sandpipers, Findhorn Bay had 2 Little Egrets and 616 Redshanks; 2 Little Ring Plovers were at the Hopeman pools and a Kingfisher arrived on the Spey at Mosstodloch. The Wood Sandpiper was still in the Spey estuary at the month's end, when coastal migration included 5 Manx Shearwaters passing Cullen.

 

August

A month of passage migrants on the river estuaries and coast. The Spoonbill and 2 Little Egrets were in Findhorn Bay on 2/8, when the Spey estuary had a Water Rail, 18 Pied Wagtails, 240 Great Black-backed Gulls and 4 Green Sandpipers among its visitors. Findhorn Bay had a Marsh Harrier on 4/8 and young Stonechats were being fed by parents on Findhorn dunes and inland at Aitnoch. A pond near Kirkhill had 9 Ruff on 12/8; resting on Findhorn beach on 14/8 were 230 Sandwich Terns, 6 Common Terns, 14 Kittiwakes and 64 Knot. The Spey estuary had 9 Snipe mid month, when an off shore record was of a Wheatear, 8 miles north of Cullen, heading for land!

A Red Kite was seen at Househill and another at Kinloss on 23/8,when Loch Oire had 11 Moorhens and 20 Coots and the Spey estuary had 170 Lapwings, 150 Curlews and a flock of 30 Goldfinches. Down from the north were the 4 White Wagtails on the shingle by the Spey, on 26/8, when Wheatears were arriving all along the coast.

A flock of 13 Jays were foraging at Torrieston, while a more active hunter, a Merlin, was at the Spey estuary, where 60 Turnstones called in on 28/8. Findhorn Bay had a Curlew Sandpiper,116 Ring Plovers, 48 Black-tailed Godwits and 260 Greylag Geese on 29/8. A 2 hour sea count off Lossiemouth on 31/8 included 17 Manx Shearwaters, 7 Sooty Shearwaters and 29 Turnstones on the move.

September

A Swift and Blackcap were still in Lossiemouth on 1/9, when the Spynie canal attracted a Hobby, no doubt hunting dragonflies. Cullen harbour had an influx of 15 Wheatears next day, and the first 200 Pink-footed Geese made an early return to Findhorn Bay, smaller skeins having been seen at Dufftown and crossing the Dava. The extensive mud flats at Findhorn Bay entrance were a regular resting point for terns and waders, while 70 Eiders gathered off shore. A large Kittiwake movement on 7/9 saw 1,220 passing Lossiemouth in an hour, Loch Spynie had a Kingfisher and 7 Ravens were in a small flock at Logie.

Loch na Bo had a healthy 22 Little Grebes on 11/9,when a Spotted Redshank and 600 Greylags were in Findhorn Bay, and 46 Mistle Thrushes were at Wellhead. A further 470 Sandwich Terns were on the Findhorn beach on 13/9, when 7 Shovelers and 2 Swifts were at Loch Spynie. Gull counts mid month found 345 Great Black-backs on the Lossie estuary, 1,500 Herring Gulls at the Balormie pig farm and 5 Lesser Black-backs at the Cloddach, where there were also 14 Gadwalls and 9 Little Grebes. An early morning count in Findhorn Bay found a record total of 56,200 Pink-footed Geese there, on 20/9, indicating a good breeding season in Iceland but also the Bay's importance as a migratory staging post.

Altyre woods had 3 Chiffchaffs on 21/9. Next day the Lossie estuary had a visit from a Mediterranean Gull and a Sabine's Gull, and the Great Black-backed Gull total reached 1,100. Pintails were returning to Findhorn Bay, 128 on 24/9,when 425 Barnacle Geese also arrived, increasing to 886 next day. Passing warblers were the Yetlow-browed Warbler at Portknockie and 3 Willow Warblers in Hopeman golf course trees. At the month's end the first 17 Redwings had arrived, while a late Chiffchaff and 5 Swallows were still around Altyre House.

 

October

A Lesser Whitethroat and a Yellow-browed Warbler were on the old railway banking at Portknockie on 4/10, showing how much a haven it is for migrants coming off the sea. Blacksboat had a flock of 200 Redwings, the woods at Loch Spynie had 31 Jays, Balormie had 206 Lapwings, and 113 Whooper Swans were at Bailiesland. Over 1,000 Razorbills passed Lossiemouth in an hour, 1,400 Gannets were feeding in Burghead Bay and 9 Grey Plovers were in Findhorn Bay, on 10/10.

The sea east of Burghead had 496 Eiders on 13/10, when 60 Red-throated Divers were off Spey Bay and 2 Snow Buntings were on the beach there. A single Mealy Redpoll was in a flock of 450 Lesser Redpolls in Teindland Forest on 18/10, about the date migratory Woodcock started to appear, from Scandinavia or further. Fields near Duffus Castle had 328 Whooper Swans, Forres had 9 Waxwings feasting on rowans, 2 Kingfishers were at the old river channel in Findhorn Bay, and Kingsteps had 6 Snipe, 2 Jack Snipe and a Red Kite on24/10.

Duck counts in Findhorn Bay included 255 Teal and 237 Pintails but only 25 Shelduck; waders included 988 Oystercatchers,20l Golden Plovers and 1,034 Dunlin. Winter flocks were the 47 Crossbills in Newtyle Forest, 70 Fieldfares at Clochan, 20 Waxwings at Hopeman, 6 White-fronted Geese at Arradoul and a build up to 854 Whooper Swans near Duffus Castle. A Barn Owl was seen at Greshop and another one was an A96 road casualty at Hardmuir on 28/10. Little Auks were on passage at Lossiemouth and 12 Black-throated Divers were in Burghead Bay at the month's end.

 

November

A dusk vigil at Loch Spynie counted 1.600 Starlings using the reedbeds for a safe roost, while 760 Whooper Swans landed on the loch for the same purpose, on 1/11; also seen were a Woodcock, in flight to a feeding area, and a Water Rail. Netherton had a flock of 5 Grey Partridges, Kinnedar had another 8; and more Woodcock, always single birds, were seen at Dunphail and Pluscarden. A Lesser Whitethroat at Portknockie was likely a Siberian race, and 4 Goldcrests there were also likely migrants. Findhorn had a late Swallow on 6/11, when 50 Snow Buntings were at Spey Bay and 2 Siberian Chiffchaffs were in trees on Hopeman golf course.

Fields near Forres had 100 Fieldfares and 60 Redwings on 10/11, Hopeman had 80 Waxwings and Findhorn Bay had a high Greylag total of 614, as well as 16,000 Pinkfeet; also there were 1,220 Knot and 223 Golden PIovers. Mid month saw Waxwings increase to 170 in Forres, Snow Bunting flocks of 35 at Findhorn and 60 at the Spey estuary, and a male Blackcap appear in a Forres garden. Sea ducks off Findhorn built up to 845 Eiders, 749 Long-tailed Ducks and 258 Common Scoters by 18/11;  60 Scaup were off Nairn on 21/11.

Other visitors were a hen Blackcap in Forres and a Pochard and a Kingfisher at Loch Spynie. The Balormie pig farm's shallow, well fertilised ponds attracted 540 Black-headed Gulls,287 Lapwings and a Mediterranean Gull on 24/11, when Findhorn Bay had 2,340 Knot, 1,560 Dunlin,59 Bar-tailed Godwits, 335 Golden Plovers, 56 Shelduck and 34,600 Pink-footed Geese. A late Chiffchaff was at Covesea on 29/11

 

December

Findhorn Bay winter visitors showed a further increase by 7112: the flock of Knot was up to 4,480, impressive when all in flight; Pintail were up to 328, Dunlin to 1,825 and Bar-tailed Godwits to 82. Elgin had 80 Waxwings on 11112,6 Barnacle Geese were near Findhorn Bay and the Eider flock east of Findhorn was up to 940 on 14112. Other wildfowl counts found 74,AWigeon, 1,100 Greylag Geese and 389 Pintaits in Findhorn Bay; Nairn Barhad 43 Brent Geese, 167 Shelduck, 1,680 Long-tailed Ducks, 1,580 Common Scoters and 30 Velvet Scoters; the Lossie estuary had 1,254 Wigeon and 383 Teal. Also on Culbin Bar were 21 Grey Plovers and 137 Sanderlings on 15/12, when a Siberian Chiffchaff was near the Loch Spynie hide.

Ben Rinnes had 4 Ptarmigan and 2 Ravens on 18/12, 14 Magpies were at Clochan and 150 Lesser Redpolls were in a flock at Balnacoul. The flock of Brent Geese at Nairn was up to 98 and included single dark and grey bellied birds on 26/12; a pair of Goosanders were on the Mosset burn at Chapelton on 28/12, likely after young brown trout, and a Snow Goose had joined the pinkfeet in Findhorn Bay on 31/12.

 

General Notes

  1. The Storm Petrels netted and ringed at Portknockie harbour in July revealed some of their movements round our coasts. One bird had already been ringed in Norway 5 years earlier; one had been ringed at Burghead 13 days earlier; one had been ringed on Fair lsle in 2005, so was 14 years old; and the fastest mover was the petrel ringed on 21/7 at Portknockie and recaptured on Fair lsle, 216 km away, just 4 days later!

  2. A 5 year programme of White-tailed Eagle reintroduction to the lsle of Wight is under way with a local connection. The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Forestry England are behind the project, having received permission from the Department of the Environment after due consultation. Sourcing the young eagles was Roy Dennis's major contribution, this being achieved by June, when 6 eaglets were all being cared for near Dunphail, having come from Mull, Skye and the Scoraig peninsula. I got the chance to see the birds, through a tiny peep hole - to avoid habituation to humans. Their overall size was impressive but the width of their mouths and enormous feet were awesome indicators of their feeding habits. After veterinary checks they were driven overnight to the south of England, where they were 6 weeks in captivity before release on the lsle of Wight, since when they have adapted well to life on the Solent. Two have formed a pair bond and are seen regularly together, one toured the Home Counties and had a look at Big Ben, one has been seen in Oxfordshire being chased by Red Kites, but one died, likely after pesticide poisoning from eating a dolphin carcass. Look at Roy's Wildlife Foundation website for much more information - satellite tagging records etc.

  3. Many thanks to all the contributors of bird sightings to the Moray Bird Club website, www.birdsinmorayandnairn.org, in particular Martin Cook for updating information and records with help from Bob Proctor.

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Mammal Report 2019

By lan Suttie

Fewer Pine Marten reports in the Forres area perhaps reflected the abundance of bank voles, a favourite food item, so there was less foraging at bird feeders. Occasional scats were left in our garden, likely from a lone ranging male, and one clear act of predation in July was the pulling apart of a red squirrel drey, presumably to eat the young. A squirrel drey is a compact mesh of twigs - surrounding a lining of grass and fine tree bark strips, with a tight side entrance. Only a marten could climb to the height of this drey, which l'd been unaware of in a tall pine in our back garden, and only a marten had the strength to pull out the whole lining. The evidence, an empty drey lining, lay on the ground below the tree. Several pine marten sightings came from Roseisle, mostly from the car park area where food waste in the bins would be an attraction.

Badgers remain widespread all around Forres are the likely cause of ground nesting birds, like pheasant, oystercatcher and woodcock all failing to breed in recent years to the south of the town. Mid July was destruction time for the nests of underground nesting wasps, when large numbers of juicy wasp grubs, loved by badgers, are in the combs. Several holes were dug in Newbold Wood to get at the grubs and one, in our garden, destroyed a white-tailed bumblebee nest, which the insects had made from an old mouse nest - on a banking. A dead badger on St Leonard's Road in November was a young animal, suggesting a breeding sett was not too far away.

 

Further relocation of Red Squirrels from the healthy population in Moray to formerly occupied forests has been carried out by Trees for Life, 20 animals having been taken north to Lednrore and Migdale on the Dornoch Firth. Previous reintroductions to Shieldaig, Attadale, Letterewe and other forests, of around 140 animals during 20162018, have all been very successful. ln our garden squirrels had their usual busy time, burying acorns, hazelnuts and beechnuts: on one occasion a squirrel buried a beechnut, freshly nibbled from the tree, just 3 metres from my feet, so engrossed was it in its task! The lining of the drey, destroyed by a marten in our back garden, was mostly a fine wood wool, produced by the squirrel using its incisors to remove long strips from the inner bark of a nearby Japanese cedar. The soft, inner bark of a giant sequoia has also been used for this nest insulation - squirrel home comforts

 

Two yearling Roe Deer emerged from Cluny Hill and had to jump a wall to safety from St Leonard's Road traffic in May, so even town gardens aren't safe from nightly browsing! On 9/6, I came on a young roe fawn in a tall grass area of Forres Enterprise Park. Legs folded and head flat on the grass, it remained motionless apart from a slight ear twitch, its coat attractively dappled with spots from cream to dark brown. l'd already seen the mother near by and once disturbed a buck in the same area, which made a perilous crossing of the nearby A96, so I retreated swiftly from the youngster.

 

Grey Seals were in the news in October, after bacteriological research showed that their bites, containing saliva specific bacteria, were the cause of lingering deaths of harbour porpoises around the North Sea. The toxic bacterium is also found in dog saliva but, of course, dogs can't bite porpoises. Because of their aggressive behaviour to common, or harbour seals and other cetaceans, Grey Seals may also be causing some of their deaths.

 

Otters are only occasionally seen in Elgin's Cooper i Park pond but one appeared there in August and was unafraid of admiring observers, as it fed on perch and came ashore. Sadly, it suffered an injury to its head, of unknown origin, and was later found dead on the banks of the River Lossie.

 

The Pipistrelle Bat roost at Balnacoul had 440 animals there in July. This is our commonest and widespread species, some 20 of them flitting round our house eves one warm twilight in September. Long-eared Bats were reported from Portknockie and Daubenton's Bats, which feed over water, were seen at the Winding Walks pond, Blairs Loch, and over the Lossie at Hillhead and River Spey near Fochabers.

 

Cetaceans

 

The famous male Killer Whale, "John Coe", along with another male orca, made a surprise visit to Chanonry Point on 7/1. Once thought to confine himself to the west coast and lrish waters, his distinctive dorsal fin was recognised off the east coast as well, in 2013. A further 5 orcas were seen and photographed by a local boat off the Lossiemouth skerries on 15/5.

 

Bottlenose Dolphin sightings were fewer than usual, perhaps explained by Moray Firth animals being seen as far away as southern Ireland and off Holland. Harbour Porpoise sightings were also fewer but sightings depend on calm weather, as the porpoises are smaller and less active animals"  Lack of fish in the Firth in the summer months, indicated by lack of feeding sea birds, may be why there were fewer Minke Whales until October. Fish shoals must then have arrived in the Firth, as sea bird flocks and whale sightings then increased

 

A pod of Common Dolphins was seen at the Cromarty Firth entrance on 1115 and likely the same pod, 20 strong, was seen 5 miles off Hopeman on 13/5. An unusual sighting was a Fin

Whale off Chanonry Point on 3/8, and the only Sperm Whale record was the sighting of a small group off Balintore on 20t11. Perhaps one of these was the stranding casualty near Arderseir in early January.

 

As usual, Basking Sharks (fish,of course) were seen in August and September, from Nairn to Burghead, the highest count being 6 in Burghead Bay on 2AB.

 

Many thanks to contributors, in particular Alan Airey for cetacean sightings.

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The Hidden Life of Trees

Book Review by Norman Thomson

Peter Wohlteben, publ. Greystone Books, Vancouver 2015.

The author is a forester with a passion not just for trees, but also for the quasipersonal relationships they have with each other which he has noted during his many years managing German forests. He would argue that mankind is only just beginning to realise that trees are living creatures with DNA which have personalities as individuals, as well as being part of a vast ecosystem involving tens of thousands of inter-dependent species. This is a book on ecology from the viewpoint of trees, whose relative longevity has until now blinded science to the ways in which they communicate and form social systems. Do trees share food? Can trees learn? Do trees form family bonds? Do trees need sleep? Do trees form friendships? Do trees have social security systems? Wohlleben would answer affirmatively to all these questions, in the last two cases citing pines which had been dead for 30 years but whose roots were still pumping up water, courtesy of help from neighbouring trees. Although it could be argued that Wohlleben sometimes carries anthropomorphism to extremes, there is never any doubting his love for trees, nor his desire to promote the large amount of recent relevant forestry research conducted in countries as far apart as Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, Sweden and Japan. Results from this indicate that fresh understanding of the place of trees in the great global ecosystem is overdue, with consequences for present received wisdom in forest management.

The text is divided into 36 short chapters which avoid all but a minimum of technical jargon. The impression is that these chapters may have appeared separately as individual articles or reports which makes the book attractive to dip into any point. A selection of chapter titles which encourage a 'quick dip' are The Language of Trees, The Tree Lottery, Forest Etiquette, Tree School, Trees Ageing Gracefully, Carbon Dioxide Vacuum, A Question of Character, Sick Trees, Tough Customers, Why is the Forest Green? Even the forestry expert is likely to find some interesting facts - for the less knowledgeable here is a selection of some of them :

 

One square mile of forest releases 29 tons of oxygen per day. A human being breathes 2 pounds per day, so the square mile serves the needs of 10,000 people.

 

A mature beech sends up over 130 gallons of water a day through its xylems. A single mature beech prior to leaf fall has effectively 1,200 square yards of solar panels whose demise is equivalent to a 100x130 foot mainsail dropping from a 1 30 foot mast.

 

The xylem and phloem tubes which are the essential channels of a tree's plumbing and transpiration systems are typically about 1/50th inch wide for deciduous trees, and 1t1,0o0th wide in conifers. The latter are much older in terms of appearance on the plant (c. 170 million years) compared with 100 million years for deciduous trees.

 

Contrary to popular opinion, old trees grow more vigorously than young ones. Previously an old tree might have over its lifetime years stored 20 tons of CO2 in its trunks, branches and root systems, which, after the tree's death, ultimately become coal through agencies such as rain seepage and insect gnawing. Today modern forestry practice with policies of rejuvenating forests in cycles of around 60 to 120 years has resulted in humus-consuming species digging deeper into the soil, thereby releasing carbon roughly equivalent to that stored in the originating timber. Together with atmospheric nitrogen this creates a measurable fertilizing effect causing trees to grow more quickly than they used to, and at the same time contributing to rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

 

Autumn colours

Trees manufacture their own food using light from the sun and converting it into sugar through photosynthesis, a complex chemical process dominated catalytically by chlorophyll in the leaves. Chlorophyll, so far from being a 'greening' agent, makes trees green because its light-processing capability includes all wavelengths except green - the so-called 'green gap'. ln autumn, trees gradually halt their sugar making process of photosynthesis and begin to prepare for the dormant winter period by extracting the chemical components within their leaves, including the green chlorophyll, for re-use again next growing season. As these valued chemical components break down and get extracted from the leaf, underlying pigments are revealed. These pigments which were in the leaves all along, but hidden by the green chlorophyll, include the orange and yellow colours of pigments called carotenes and xanthophylls. Red pigments, or anthocyanins, are believed to be formed late in the summer and protect sensitive leaves from bright sunlight during the chemical extraction process. What happens to conifers in winter when the ground is frozen and no water can be pumped upwards? The answer is that they fill the stomata on the underside of the needles through which transpiration takes place with an anti-freeze chemical and seal the stomata with wax. Although conifers do not shed their leaves annually, all eventually find their needles clogged and thus needing replacement in recurring cycles, typically 10 years for firs, 6 for spruce, 3 for pine.

 

Symbiosis and fungi

Trees compete mercilessly with each other above ground, but fungi, which are their underground symbiotic companions, lean more towards compromise. The scale of the root systems and fungal networks which sustain trees can be enormous. One honey fungus in Switzerland is estimated to be 1,000 years old and covers 120 acres, while another in Oregon is estimated to be 2,400 years old, covering 2,000 acres and weighing 660 tons. Add to these astonishing statistics that there are more life forms in a handful of forest soil than people on the planet, and that a mere teaspoonful contains over a mile of filaments (hyphae) from the vast underground networks through which trees communicate with each other. There over a thousand species of beetle mites no more than 1l25th of an inch long which devour leaf litter and share sugar with their fungal partners in the form of rotting wood and dead insects. Add to these weevils, springtails and pseudo-centipedes, and no doubt thousands more species which almost certainly are waiting to be discovered. These are the bottom elements in a vast food chain - the terrestrial equivalent of plankton! Species diversity makes for security for ancient forests, for example if beeches die due to beech mites the underlying beech-specific fungi adapt to find other species to support. Pines also provide an interesting example, where if a tree suffers nitrogen deficiency , the Laccaria fungus species known as the 'bloody deceiver' pumps a deadly toxin into the soil. This causes insects to die, thereby releasing nitrogen, and manufacturing humus which acts as compost for the tree.

 

Communication

Trees communicate with each other by chemistry, electricity and even sound. Consider chemistry. When the canopies of a species of African trees were being eaten by giraffes, the trees reacted b! generating a toxin which repelled the animals, which they followed up by passing a chemistry message to their neighbour trees. This forced the giraffes to move some distance to new tree townships. As another example leaves of a certain tree responded to hungry caterpillars by transmitting a poison to the far ends of their own leaves. As for electricity, it has been demonstrated that electrical impulses can act on nerve cells at tips of roots which act like fibre-optic cables transmitting at very slow rates, c. 1 inch per 3 secs. Sound is more debatable, although laboratory experiments have shown plants reacting to crackling sounds at one specific wavelength and to no others.

 

lndividual species

Beeches which feature dominantly in the book mature at about 150 years. Mother trees smother their babies, then die, which gives them the light whose absence has brought about their hitherto stunted growth. A beech tree typically produces copious amounts of fruit once every three to five years, usually about 30,000 beechnuts, so that in a lifetime of, say, 400 years such a tree will have produced about 1.8 million beechnuts. Of these probably just one will develop into a full-grown tree, the others being either eaten by animals or broken down into bacteria by fungi or bacteria. Another remarkably consistent feature of beeches is that they do not start spring growth until daylight exceeds 13 hours. Close examination of a bud reveals a transparent shield which is in effect a scientific light-measuring tool.

 

Oaks, another species which features strongly in the book, can have 100 different species of fungi in their underlying mycelium. Oaks live longer than beeches on average, but in directly competitive situations, beeches almost invariably lord it over their rivals. Aspens quake because this makes them able to photosynthesise on both sides of their leaves.

 

Spruces (which incidentally can live up to 500 years in their native territories) defend themselves against inbreeding by arranging that at the level of an individual tree, male pollen emerges before the female flowers so that pollination occurs with a different tree or trees.

There is no such thing as "the" Douglas fir. Seeds brought back in the 19th century were already from mixed and hybridised species, so present UK Douglas firs embrace a huge range of genetic variety.

 

Woodpeckers

Woodpeckers are both protectors and destroyers of soft-barked trees. ln the former role they run up and down trees listening for bark beetles on whose larvae they feed. The bark beetles go for the cambium which is full of vital sugar and minerals. (As an aside bark cambium can be eaten by humans. Use a knife to peel strips from a recently fallen spruce - Wohlleben assures readers that it has a resinous carroty taste and is very nutritious). ln the second role they penetrate deep into the sap of the tree (one American variety is called a sapsucker), causing it to bleed from its wounds.

 

Wrinkles

Like humans, trees become increasingly wrinkled with age. A typical mature tree increases its girth by ab6ut ½ to l inch per year, so that Just like a human needing a new suit, a tree's outer garment (bark) needs to find a way to expand. Beeches contrast with most other species such as pines, oaks and firs in that until middle age the bark, which is thinner than that of the other species, seems to expand elastically. ln middle age, however, nooks and crannies develop which become colonised by mosses so that the age of a beech can be estimated by the height of green growth up its trunk.

 

And so one could go on. An underlying thesis is that due to their hugely long life cycles compared with animals, man has been blind to seeing trees as living companions in our giant ecosystem. (Consider that in order for there to be a piece of paper for you to read this review, a tree or trees somewhere had to be killed!) ln short, this is a thoroughly readable book, full of interesting facts, many thought-provoking, others perhaps anticipating questions which might be posed by an intelligent child on a forest walk. lt is written for general readers by an expert in a complex scientific field. and is a deserved best seller.

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The annual General Meeting minutes followed in the Bulletin. Any member wishing a copy should ask the treasurer or Sara.

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