Archive for ‘Clearances’

August 13, 2016

Reindeer are not just for Christmas

reindeer sled

Reindeer are not just for Christmas although they are intrinsically associated with Christmas celebrations. This relatively recent tradition appears to have come from a poem written in 1822 by an American, Clement Moore, called A Visit from St Nicholas in which he appears to draw on Scandinavian and German legends to create the now iconic image of Santa Claus riding across the sky on a sledge drawn by reindeer.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds

… 

When what to my wondering eyes did appear,

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer

 Most deer sightings in Scotland are of roe, red or sika deer. The reindeer that once roamed our mountain sides disappeared a long time ago – estimates run between 800 and 8000 years. We do have small numbers of them now; semi-domesticated and the results of reintroduction programmes.

reindeer and dogs

According to some sources it was in the tenth century when the threat to our reindeer population materialised and within a couple of hundred years they had disappeared entirely from our forests and mountains. The reasons for this are uncertain but there were attacks on their habitats – pine, birch and oak forests which once grew up to levels of 2,500 feet – were being burned or cut down to create land for crops and grazing animals as well as harvesting of timber for building and boats. Deer were also predated by bears and wolves in addition to the most ruthless killer of all, man driven to kill every one of them until none remained – wiping out the last of Scotland’s native reindeer population.  

In intervening centuries some attempts were made to reintroduce them – in the late 18th century by the Duke of Atholl and in early 19th century a handful of animals were released into Orkney and Aberdeenshire but none of these survived. In 1916 Robert Traill collected three reindeer from the Russian area around Archangel and released them in Orkney but he was no more successful.

Mikel-Utsi-and-Nuolja-1955-300x304

Mikel Utsi and his reindeer

A more scientific approach was taken when in the 1950s reindeer were reintroduced into Scotland following a suggestion by a Saami herdsman from Sweden, Mikel Utsi, and his wife Ethel John Lindgren Utsi, who also supervised the project. They thought conditions in Scotland were similar to parts of Scandinavia, Russia and Canada in that they could provide reindeer with the foods they grazed – lichens and reindeer-moss, a kind of boggy carpet.

An area of forest in the Cairngorms at Rothiemurchus estate was fenced-off for a small number of beasts, no more than 25 plus a herder, for it was understood that rather than releasing the animals to roam wild they would benefit from being semi-domesticated.

Eight deer were shipped in from Sweden and quarantined for six weeks at Edinburgh Zoo then shipped out by train and lorry to their Highland home. One of the eight, a calf died immediately but the rest were then transferred to Rothiemurchus. Soon there were two more deaths, then another. A bull deer then disappeared and it was assumed had been shot by a poacher. By the end of the first winter only three animals remained alive. A major problem was their vulnerability to insect infestation in a climate that was warmer and damper than they were used to.

group reindeer

The small herd of Scandinavian reindeer was given freer rein over tracts of the Cairngorms to try to prevent the problem with insect pests but the weather the following summer was wet and warm, not at all suitable for reindeer and led to an increase in the numbers of black flies, midgies, cleggs and mosquitoes attacking the herd and leading to yet more deaths.

The Forestry Commission offered higher land that was drier and freer of insect pests and when more reindeer arrived in Scotland and were put to this new habitat and sure enough it was more suitable with fewer beasts dying.

last reindeer

Post-mortem examinations of stomach contents of deceased animals indicated that Scottish reindeer had been living on less varied diets than their counterparts in sub-Arctic Russia which had access to birds eggs, voles and bones of carrion (providing them with phosphorus) while Scottish reindeer fed mainly on grasses, sedges, pine needles, dead heather tops and very little lichen and moss. Despite setbacks and early failures the Utsi reindeer did survive in the Cairngorms, albeit in small numbers. Reindeer are built for extreme cold; their coats are very dense and well-insulated and their hooves act like snowshoes so one wonders what the future holds for this Arctic species of deer with global warming heating up the environment.

Whenever plans emerge to reintroduce lost species into Scotland there are voices raised in opposition. In the 1950s opponents to the reintroduction of reindeer described them as ‘vicious beasts’ which had no place in modern Scotland and I suppose if you are a clump of lichen they are but humans have nothing to fear from them. There are also those who deny reindeer were ever native to Scotland or if they were it was too long ago to matter and claim what was thought to be evidence of reindeer was, in fact, red deer – for example bones discovered in Pictish middens. It’s a fair debate for a thesis.

coloured reindeer

Our landscapes, rural and urban, are products of actions taken in the past – the Highlands emptied of people and communities for sheep, then red deer with the rise of the myth of good land management by sporting estates whose gamekeepers act like demi-gods deciding what can live on the land and what must be controlled destroyed. It is all about economics not biodiversity. Scotland would not have the landscape it does today were it not for them they claim. No, it would not. We would lose much of the barren muirs that have wrecked the Highland economy and limited its prospects. We would have a greater variety of wild species living naturally and not persecuted for being rubbish or vermin because they are seen as a threat to artificially introduced species, or product in the lingo of the estates, that can be offered up for slaughter on a Saturday afternoon.

imgres

Slaughter of mountain hares

The Scottish wildcat and several of our owls have suffered from this attitude and recently we’ve seen thousands of discarded carcasses of mountain – heaps of rubbish in the view of gamekeepers. Almost daily we learn of protected species, our golden eagles and other raptors that have mysteriously disappeared – poisoned, shot or trapped on the sly in hunting estates. Of all the many species of birds and animals hunted to extinction in this country a few have been reintroduced and others are in the pipeline: beavers, lynx, wolves, wild boar, red squirrel, polecats, goshawks, sea eagles, ospreys, red kites and pine martins.

Keep your eyes open when you are out and about and report illegal activity you come across that threatens our wildlife. You are unlikely to see a reindeer – or indeed any in the above list – and you may well wonder why though I suspect we all know the answer.

 

February 8, 2016

Francis Godolphin Osborne Stuart of Braemar

Old_House_of_Commons_chamber,_F._G._O._Stuart c 1870s

1870s F.G.O. Stuart photograph of the House of Commons

One of Britain’s most prolific postcard photographers was Francis Godolphin Osbourne (sometimes Osborne) Stuart, who for obvious reasons went by the name F.G. O. Stuart.

Unlikely as it might seem Francis Godolphin Osbourne was born in or around Braemar, in October 1843 into the family of a gamekeeper on the Mar estate which goes some way to explain the child’s name. The father did, however, or perhaps it was the mother, have the sense to omit D’Arcy (which might have created issues for a young laddie in the Highland village) for it appears the boy was named after the Duke of Leeds then currently renting the Mar estate from its owner the Duke of Fife.  Neither of their seats of close proximity to Braemar.

seaweed hut netley hants

Seaweed hut

Francis was born at the time men  such as his father’s employer were throwing local people out of their homes and off their farms to create deer forests so they and their friends could indulge in the gentlemanly sport of hunting … for what was the point of owning large tracts of land if not to use it as one’s plaything?

By 1872 100,000 acres of deer forest had been created in the district and the glen people surely disabused of any notion that the land they worked and which had sustained their folk for centuries might belong to them in any way.

flotilla of steam boats from southampton meeting general booth returning from abroad. and image helped created by stuart. 1892

Photograph image of a painting of the flotilla at Southampton meeting General Booth of the Salvation Army

Local sheep and cattle farmers and their families were put out, cleared out of houses, communities scattered so deer and the laird’s sheep might graze the muirs instead. The numbers forced out were considerable though you would be hard-pressed to believe that now for little evidence of destroyed settlements, clachans that once rang to the voices of their inhabitants, remain even as rickles of stanes – places on maps and on the tongues of a few remind us where people lived. Braemar and Inverey were all that survived of any size as sporting activities ousted the rest in the interests of restricting hunting and fishing for rich men’s pastimes instead of providing food for hungry bellies.

Adams+31+Dec+2013_0005

Adams photograph of the Duke of Gordon Statue in the Castlegate, Aberdeen

Young Francis left home to find work in Aberdeen, as a cabinet maker and photographer with Andrew Adams, photographer of Rettie’s Court.  Adams ran one of several photographic studios in Aberdeen, George Washington Wilson’s being  the most famous. However A. Adams also had a good reputation as a portrait photographer and many went to his photographic rooms to have their pictures taken. It is likely Francis’ carpentry involved making the bulky wooden cases which housed early cameras.

Temple Bar, London

The Temple Bar, London            F.G.O. Stuart

In 1872 Francis was living and working in London and a decade later he settled in Southampton where he established a thriving photography business mostly based on photographing townscapes and village scenes around the south of England. By the turn of the 20th century he was a prolific producer of postcards.   

fgostuart_1673_winchester_cathedral_from_s

There’s no doubt Stuart had an excellent eye for composition and it’s little wonder his images proved so popular. He used an excellent German printer, Carl Gottlieb Röder of Leipzig, a music publisher and printer and the first to successfully use lithographic printing for his musical scores, to produce high quality images though you won’t always find the German printer’s mark on cards for many were removed, presumably for political reasons. 219-201310816240_original

Stuart, who was a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, carried out all kinds of photographic work, including portraiture and his pictures were used in travel guides. During World War One  he became an official war office photographer recording damage to Southampton docks.  Of course by this time he had dropped his German printer for an English one of poorer quality.

704_001

A colour tinted version of Stuart’s photograph of the Titanic

The world had changed by the time of Stuart’s death in 1923 – in some ways. Fewer people send postcards increasingly preferring to take their own on smart phones instead but the muirs around Braemar remain empty and the landed estates still reign supreme.

fgostuart_291_salisbury_cathedral