On 18th July 2017 three (relatively) intrepid members of the Field Club set out to explore a wooded island at the south-eastern end of Loch Urigill (NC246094). It is the well wooded, central island in the first photograph. Bill Badger had hired one of the boats used by anglers. We decided not to risk the complications of an outboard motor, so he and I provided the motive power, with Gwen Richards and her collie Jess at the helm. It took us about half an hour to row the kilometre to the island.
We spent a couple of hours on the island, which is about 100m long. The centre is peaty and covered with well-grown downy birches, with a few rowans, over dense ground vegetation dominated by great woodrush Luzula sylvatica, with other moorland species. There were scattered grey willow Salix cinerea and eared willow S. aurita in damper areas around the edge of the island and also some quite tall examples of another willow with very shiny, almost hairless, leaves. I have tentatively identified this as tea-leaved willow Salix phylicifolia, but a specimen will have to go off to the BSBI willow referee for their expert opinion. With the possible exception of similar trees on Eilean Dubh, on the northern edge of Loch Urigill (NC248097), which we visited last June, this willow has not previously been recorded in Assynt.
Most of the botanical richness of the island was concentrated in a band, some 5m deep, around its periphery, where the limestone underlying the island is exposed. Long-stalked yellow-sedge Carex lepidocarpa, with its spiky fruiting heads, was a good indicator of this influence, as also were the leaves of globeflower Trollius europaeus. Other interesting finds were twayblade orchid Neottia ovata, wild garlic Allium ursinum, northern bedstraw Galium boreale, alpine bistort Persicaria vivipara and common figwort Scrophularia nodosa. Ferns were scarce, with just six species, mainly amongst boulders, but they did include northern buckler-fern Dryopteris expansa, which is thin on the ground in Assynt. In all some 103 species of plants were listed, not a bad score for an area of considerably less than 100 sq.m.
Animal life was sparse, with signs of red deer, which must swim across Urigill to the island, and the burrows and dung of field voles; also a meadow brown butterfly and two galls, those of the midge Dasineura pustulans on meadowsweet and the psyllid Livia juncorum on jointed rush. There was however an owl pellet containing the front leg of a mole (see ‘Owl on the Prowl’) presumably imported, since no molehills were seen.
The day was hot, with temperatures elsewhere in Assynt reaching 26 deg.F, but a breeze kept conditions on the island very pleasant. This breeze had freshened by the time we left and the waters of the loch had become quite choppy. The return journey caused all of us some concern, with my less than skilful rowing resulting in a complete 360 degree turn on one occasion. However, we reached the beach safely, trekked back to the car and returned to Bill and Val Badger’s house at Elphin for a very welcome cup of tea. Islands have a particular fascination for naturalists, and this was no disappointment.
Ian M. Evans