The RSPB has been around since 1889 has over 200 nature reserves country-wide, as well as working internationally to improve nature and ensure land is well-managed. The RSPB have a mission in place which is “Together, we can create bigger, better, more joined-up spaces to save our wildlife, and our shared home.” The RSPB reserve on Islay, Loch Gruinart is one of the top wildlife sites in Scotland with two trails and two hides, a range of habitats, and a working farm.
The Botanist have been working alongside the RSPB (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) on Islay since 2017. We got Lily Ann, who is here on work experience from Islay High School, to interview James, The Botanist’s own full-time forager, to find out first-hand what they have been getting up to.
Lily Ann Doyle: How has The Botanist’s relationship with RSPB developed since 2017?
James Donaldson: Well, locally, I’ve got to know the team a bit better. They often have cake! The local team have been very happy to lend their expertise when we have been discussing the best way forward for management of the croft [30 acres neighbouring the distillery bought by Bruichladdich in 2018. Especially regarding responsible management for corncrake.
We started running foraging walks on the reserve in 2017 and have gone from 2, to 5, to 6 annually in that time. They’re a great success, almost always fully booked, a mix of visitors to the island and locals. I’ve met lots of interesting people from many different backgrounds and disciplines. I normally learn as much from the visitors as they do from me.
The Botanist Foundation have also recently agreed to fund a project at Smaull Farm where the RSPB are looking at wild flowers, pollinators etc. This is further to the INHT pollinator project which has been running for two years, so far.
Centrally, with the RSPB, we’ve continued to support the Nature of Scotland Awards since 2017.
LA:Personally, what have you got out of taking folks a walk around the reserve?
JD: It’s been nice to see and nurture the crossover between two seemingly quite disparate entities – a nature reserve and a gin brand. But it’s actually much more natural than it seems (pun!).
What we are doing at the distillery is trying to capture the flavour and smells and essence of the island, it comes out of an appreciation of the landscape, so it feels good to mix with other people who share that passion.
LA: Is there no conflict there then, between Foraging and conservation?
JD: Nah, not if done responsibly.
The Botanist and RSPB Scotland have a shared mission on Islay, to connect people with the natural environment around them. Responsible foraging is at the heart of how The Botanist is made at Bruichladdich Distillery and RSPB Scotland recognises this as a tasty and inspirational way to connect visitors with nature and conservation.
Here’s another article about a threatened species of bird and an invasive species of plant, and how a forager interacts with them both, from English Naturalist Dave at Discover the Wild. >>