Wildlife advocate Brigit Strawbridge Howard loves the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. Her book Dancing with Bees – a journey back to nature is out on the 5th September, published by Chelsea Green.
I first went to Barra to search for the Great Yellow Bumblebee. It used to be quite widespread, but changes in farming practises and land use have squeezed it into the far west coast of Scotland and the islands.
We were only there for a short time, but I just fell in love. The Outer Hebrides are incredible and Barra is the jewel in their crown. It has a bit of everything; the beaches look tropical, with white sand made up of shells. The weather is wild and there are mountains and an incredible coastline, and the bird-life is fantastic!
It’s like time has stood still. They use the same crofting system of farming that they’ve done for generations, with light grazing and no herbicides and pesticides. The landscape is diverse and the wildlife is diverse – the wildlife is possibly the most amazing thing of all, it’s almost indescribable.
The wildflowers blew me away. The machair (a fertile low-lying grassy plain) is one of the rarest habitats in Europe. It changes all the time. When we first went there is was yellow, with kidney vetch and bird’s foot trefoil, ragwort and ladies’ bedstraw.
Next time, Rob and I arrived on our first wedding anniversary, in late July and all the yellows had gone and, instead, there were purples and violets, blues and pinks. That’s what happens, the flowers come and go and then there is another wave. It’s like heaven on earth, it really is.
The people there are really lovely; they waved to us and engaged us in conversation. And I love the lack of retail. You don’t ‘go shopping’. You can get food in the small towns and villages, but you don’t go out and buy loads of stuff and you can get away from wi-fi.
We parked our campervan on a disused pier on the Eoligarry peninsula and were surrounded by the sound of birds from oystercatchers, curlews and corncrakes. We climbed the crag, turned a corner and we were within fifty meters of a fledgling golden eagle! Honestly, if I could close my eyes and wake up somewhere, it would be the Isle of Barra. It’s a hard place to leave.
Words: Naomi Slade