A version of this article first appeared on February 21, 2017 in the Daily Telegraph
By Nick Drainey
High in the Cairngorms, the old gnarled Scots pines we see now were once saplings, growing while shepherds stood guarding their lambs from packs of wolves.
For award-winning TV presenter and cameraman Simon King that scene, dating back more than three centuries, should once again become a feature of the Scottish countryside –one he claims will benefit the communities who live in the Highlands.
“If we are talking about reintroducing apex predators such as wolves and lnyx, yes, good plan because we killed them in the first place and it wasn’t that long ago,” says King, who is a well-known face on the BBC’s Springwatch and Big Cat Diary and Planet Earth.
It is widely thought Sir Ewen Cameron shot the last wold in Scotland at Killiecrankie in 1680 although some reports suggest the animal was still surviving a century later.
While predatory animals need to be respected, fears over damage to farm animals are overblown, King says.
“What we did was upset the apple cart monstrously by eradicating wild boar and beaver, which have started to make a comeback, and by eradicating all apex predators – they haven’t made a comeback because we are so phobic about losing a single lamb.
“Shepherds are so-called because they used to sit on the hill protecting sheep against just such predations. But we have lost the idea of living in harmony with everything about us – I am not being romantic about this, I have spent plenty of time in communities which do have depredations from lions and tigers and leopards.”
King says the tourism benefits would also help rural economies. He says: “You would have the most magnificent experience as a visitor … If there is the opportunity to walk in a landscape where you stand a chance of seeing a wolf on the hillside, albeit a kilometre away chasing a herd of deer, yes you are going to go and see it, the best show on earth.
“There are Scots pines that had wolves brushing along their flanks when they were saplings still standing now and when you realise that and touch the trees you realise how wrong it was to take this balancing of the natural world out of the equation.”
In 2003, Paul Lister, bought the 23,000 acre Alladale estate near Bonar Bridge in Sutherland with aim of turning it into a wilderness reserve. Although he has introduced boars and elk, his idea of wolves has stalled amid strong opposition to the requirement for a fence to be built around the land.
But calls for re-wilding, or returning land to its natural state, have become louder in Scotland in recent years, but King says that as well as allowing wild animals to thrive, we also need to change our own habits to help the environment.
That can be something as simple as questioning where our food comes from and working out the “true cost” of what we eat.
King says food and growth are the biggest challenges to the planet. “As we consume, not just food but resources in other ways, it affects the face of the land very dramatically.
“We have lost the connection with what it takes to create something that gives us energy. A simple example is if you go in a roadside café and buy a bacon sarnie, it is very tempting, they smell good. But where did the bread come from, how was the wheat grown and how much grain did it take to feed the pig and indeed how did that pig live – would you eat it if you saw how much antibiotic had been put into it?”
King says while governments could be tougher on industrial practices in farming or manufacturing there needs to be a “paradigm shift” in our own everyday habits where “stuff” can dominate people’s lives. But he admits it is hard. “We are where we are today … it is too easy to make bad decisions. There is not a single industry or farm that doesn’t depend on a customer, so relinquish responsibility and point at politicians and systems and say ‘get it right’? No, get it right with what you buy.”
King has travelled the world filming wildlife for major TV series but Scotland is somewhere he loves above all and he will be appearing at the Wild Film Festival Scotland which takes place in Dumfries in March. The first event of its kind in the UK, it will celebrate the natural world through film, photography and discussion, and bring together internationally renowned photographers and film makers.
King says: “When I am asked, I say my favourite place on earth is Scotland by quite a margin. My mother was born in Glasgow so the sound of Scotland rings true to me in terms of the human language and the sense that there can be wilderness in such a small isle. There are tracts of Scotland which still have an edge of wilderness about them – I am not saying there are places where no man has ever trod but in most of the rest of the British Isles there is a constant suppression and sense of dominion. Wherever you turn it has been tweaked or cut, or sprayed or trimmed and I find that obscene, an abuse of the most precious resource we have which is the earth beneath our feet. In Scotland, I can feel as though there is a balance and a harmony and that makes me feel good.”
*The Wild Film Festival Scotland takes place in Dumfries Between March 24 and 26. For more information go to www.wildfilmfestivalscotland.co.uk.
© Mick Durham www.wildlife-photographer.net
A version of this article first appeared on February 9, 2017 in the Daily Record and The Herald
By Nick Drainey
We think nothing of taking hundreds of snaps on our iPhones or digital cameras in the hope that at least a few will be worthy of use on social media, as a lap top wallpaper or even in the old fashioned picture frame on the wall.
But does that mean photography is getting easier? Not according to Rod Wheelans who at 70 is about to become president of one of the leading camera clubs in Britain which will take part in a prestigious festival of nature film and photography.
Good reflexes, a certain amount of patience and a quality camera are what’s needed to take a really good nature photograph, says Mr Wheelans, a former fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.
Dumfries Camera Club will be showing off its work at the Wild Film Festival Scotland which takes place in Dumfries in March. The first event of its kind in the UK, it will celebrate the natural world through film, photography and discussion, and bring together internationally renowned photographers and film makers.
Mr Wheelans, who is about to become president of the club, which is itself 70 years old this year, says the members are rightly proud of what they do: “There are over a 1,000 camera clubs in Great Britain and we are definitely in the top ten.”
He adds that nature photography is more popular than ever, helped by the proliferation of nature reserves and hides which make animals easier to see.
“We have a lot of variety of work but in the past four or five years nature work has become almost dominant. Ten years ago we maybe only had a couple of nature people and they were more nature lovers rather than photographers – one of our members said they were ‘more interested in the birds, the photographs are the trophies of the hunt’. These people were building their own hides and sitting in them for hours on end, days on end but there is less need for that now.”
One of the recent highlights of the club’s work has been a photograph of a sparrowhawk catching a bird in flight, taken by outgoing president Mick Durham. It was highly commended in The British Wildlife Photographer Awards 2016 and will be included in the BWPA exhibition at Gracefield Arts Centre as part of the festival.
Mr Wheelans says the way the picture was taken sounds like a piece of good fortune but it was actually a tricky shot.
He says: “He took it in his back garden which makes it sound like he walked down his garden and took the shot but that is not quite how it happened. He has a hide in the garden – his wife says she was having his mail redirected there because he was never in the house. He saw this sparrowhawk passing his garden when it grabbed a bird out of the air right in front of him and he got two or three shots.
“Yes, it is luck but as a lot of famous people have said, the more you practise, the luckier you get.”
The club’s exhibition – Creatures of the Nith – focuses on the wildlife on the river which flows through Dumfries.
Mr Wheelans says that good equipment is vital to capture good wildlife shots but that “considerable investment” still doesn’t guarantee a superb picture.
He says: “You also need to understand how the creatures behave and you also need very good reflexes to catch the shot, and there is a lot of patience involved. It is not as easy as it looks, you still need a fair bit of skill to get the shots – a hundred people can go to a site but a hundred people don’t come away with prize winning shots.”
Mr Wheelans had his first camera at the age of seven when his father won it at a fair near Edinburgh. But he jokes: “I didn’t become a serious photographer until I was 11 – I went up through the normal things like Brownie 127 and I had an SLR by the time I was 13. I just went around snapping all the pictures and then taking the film to the chemist.”
In those days of film he says he had to be careful when pressing the shutter button: “I took pictures of everything really – the family, the house, the place we were, the dog, I didn’t care what it was. You made a film last then. It is a discipline that you don’t think of now – you thought ‘I can’t take two shots of this because I can’t afford another film’.”
But he says the changes have not necessarily made it easier to take a good shot.
He says: “People, particularly in some subjects like nature, machine gun (the shutter). A bird is flying in and you put it on 10 or 20 frames a second and just rattle away. You take maybe a thousand pictures where you would once have taken two. It is what the cameras are capable of now, something we never dreamed of.
“I am hesitant to say it is easier. It is just you can do things now that you couldn’t do (in the past). You still have to make the thing sharp and you still have to catch it.”
When it comes to other club members, Mr Wheelans’ wife, Anne Greiner, provides his sternest competition. They are both Masters of the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain and Mr Wheelans, who is retired but worked for BT before becoming a studio and wedding photographer in his 50s, says: “I think she has the edge on me, she has an eye for the quirky. She beats me in the club competitions fairly regularly.”
Ed Forrest, Project Manager for the Southern Upland Partnership which has led the partnership of local wildlife groups which set up the Wild Film Festival Scotland, said: “There are so many people out there who love wildlife films and photography, so it’s high time they had chance to revel in some of the best around. We are very much looking forward to welcoming them to join us for this great new festival in Dumfries.”
*The Wild Film Festival Scotland takes place in Dumfries Between March 24 and 26. For more information go to www.wildfilmfestivalscotland.co.uk.
© Tom Langlands www.tomlanglandsphotography.com
© Tom Langlands www.tomlanglandsphotography.com
PIC: KAREN MURRAY
This article first appeared on February 5, 2017 in the Sunday Post
By Nick Drainey
It’s a load of rubbish but for the fishing industry and consumers the discarded waste being piled up at harbours across Scotland is good news.
Fishing boats once dumped the junk they hauled up in their nets back overboard, including waterproof clothes, oil drums, machinery and even sleeping bags. But now they bag the refuse and take it back to port to be disposed of.
And the “Fishing For Litter” scheme has just reached the milestone of pulling 1,000 tonnes of potentially dangerous refuse from the seabed.
Jimmy Buchan, who starred in the BBC TV series Trawlermen, documenting the perilous work of fishermen, said: “When we first started it, we would maybe lift a tonne of rubbish in a trip but I know it is working because now we hardly fill the bottom of a bag. The good we have done means that we are having an environmentally positive effect – we are doing a great service to the marine environment.”
It has been estimated that marine litter costs the Scottish ﬁshing industry around £10 million a year, the equivalent of five per cent of the total revenue of the aﬀected boats, which can suffer damaged nets or propellers snagged with rubbish.
Mr Buchan, who trawls from Peterhead, said: “When you go fishing anything that gets into the net – a dumped sleeping bag is a classic – immediately closes up the meshes. When you are trawling the net is skipping along the sandy seabed and the silt goes through the net but because of this blockage it starts to build up rapidly and that changes the geometry of the net. A few buckets of sand is an extremely heavy weight tugging on the net and it stops you fishing.”
The Fishing For Litter project was introduced to Scottish waters by KIMO UK, an Aberdeenshire-based organisation linking local authorities around the coast of the North Sea, in 2005.
Special bags are given to skippers to store the rubbish before returning it to port. Despite the 1,000 tonne landmark being reached by more than 200 Scottish boats, the plan is going to continue to make the seas healthier fish stocks.
The situation Scotland’s fishing fleet found itself in dates back decades, according to Mr Buchan, 57. He said: “When I was a boy in Peterhead the town’s rubbish was dumped at sea. There was any area at the back the port where all the council carts tipped the rubbish over a wall and into the sea and the tide washed it away. So as a boy my perception was that the sea was a dumping ground.”
Mr Buchan said the coming of plastics changed things as previously the bulk of what had been dumped, such as paper and cardboard, broke down in the sea, unlike more modern materials. He added: “That practice was phased out but if you grow up thinking if you want to dump something you dump it over the side, when you go to sea that is the practice. If you multiply that by a thousand boats all of sudden you have turned your fishing ground into a dumping ground.
“It was becoming a problem so when this scheme opened I immediately thought it was fantastic. I wasn’t looking at becoming an environmentalist or a green person, I could see commercial viability if it started to get rubbish out of the sea. It is going to affect my fishing opportunities and therefore make me better.”
Mr Buchan says the fish which now come out of the sea are healthier as well because they are not swimming in as much plastic and other pollutants. He said: “Chefs who I supply are over the moon because they see that they are always getting quality fish. If we have a disturbed haul, with silt and mud, the quality of the fish we do catch is affected as well.”
The scheme has funding until 2020, which Mr Buchan said was “great”. “We don’t get paid for it, it is purely for the love of the job and the commercial benefit.”
KIMO Chair Cllr Raymond Christie said the scheme was working well and reaching the milestone of 1,000 tonnes was a “great achievement”. He said: “I would like to thank all of the crews and harbour staff who took part for their fantastic efforts to help protect our precious marine environment and shoreline.”
Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, said the scheme supported the Scottish Government’s Marine Litter Strategy. She said: “Marine litter is a very serious issue both for Scottish seas and across the global oceans. It is shown to harm wildlife and the natural environment whilst impacting on our marine industries through damage to subsea and coastal infrastructure, vessels and fishing gear.
“I would like to congratulate KIMO on their success in reaching this milestone. I would also like to take the opportunity to commend those fishermen who are participating and making a real difference in cleaning up Scotland’s seas.”
Stewart Stevenson, MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast, added: “Our north-east coastline provides a livelihood for thousands of people, as well as providing a habitat for countless species of marine lifestyle. Therefore, it’s our duty to protect it and I applaud our local fishermen for going above and beyond to remove as much litter from our waters.”
A version of this article first appeared in December 2016 in the Australian newspaper Scottish Banner
By Nick Drainey
Scotland’s only herd of reindeer are having a rest after Christmas and the Cairngorms is without a doubt the best place to spot them.
They are not seen in the sky pulling a sleigh but Britain’s only herd of the hoofed animal thrive on the 10,000 acres of sub-arctic tundra found high in the mountains.
A walk up the Cairn Gorm offers great views, especially the shattered rocks of Coire an t-Sneachda but the first thing often mentioned by visitors when they return to the Glenmore Forest below is the sight of reindeer.
They were introduced in 1952 by Mikel Utsi and his wife Dr Ethel Lindgren, 800 years after they had been hunted to extinction in Scotland.
The couple had visited the Cairngorms on their honeymoon and Mr Utsi said afterwards: “Looking across Rothiemurchus Forest to the Cairngorms from the railway bridge at Aviemore on a cold morning in April 1947, I was instantly reminded of reindeer pastures in Lapland… species of ground, rock and tree lichens, which are elsewhere the chief food of reindeer, were plentiful and of little use to other animals.”
Mr Utsi, a reindeer herder from Sweden thought the animals would be a good source of food in the post-war years. However, the public did not share the same appetite to eat the hardy animals as their Scandinavian cousins.
Nevertheless, Mr Utsi grew the herd from a start with two bulls and five cows brought over from Sweden, and there are now 150 of them, visible on the mountainsides. Others can be seen in paddocks next to a visitor centre at a cottage which serves as the base for Cairngorm Reindeer, the operation founded by Mr Utsi.
Looking up to the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms, Imogen Taylor, a reindeer herder based at the centre, says they are “really easy to keep because they just run around on mountains and you don’t have to do anything with them”.
She adds: “They were native here and the only reason they are not any more is because we over hunted them so they obviously played a role in the ecology.
“Mr Utsi was going to use them as a meat source because it was just after World War Two. But people here didn’t want to eat them so he had to think of a different way – people wanted to come and see them, so it grew from there.
“We now run a guided tour every day and their whole purpose is tourism.”
But how do you keep track of these semi-wild animals? Ms Taylor says: “Technically they could go anywhere they want but the Cairngorms is the only place in the UK where we have sub arctic habitat left so they really need that habitat and wouldn’t want to go into the forest – they are not going to Glasgow because there is no grazing there. The habitat keeps them there because it is the right habitat, in the same way that you don’t get red deer wandering around town.”
That is why they are such a regular sight for walkers in the mountains. On a walk up Cairn Gorm from they can be seen in Coire Cas when the skiers aren’t around and don’t even seem bothered by the funicular railway trundling past.
The “Windy Ridge Path” leads you up to the top of the railway and the Ptarmigan Station. Here, you can take a breather from the exertions of walking up and enjoy a hot chocolate at 3,600ft. This may seem a little odd but perhaps even stranger is the sight of reindeer walking past.
The walk continues from here to the top of Cairn Gorm – the easiest of the 4,000ft mountains in Scotland to reach but with superb views. South-west is Cairn Lochan, beyond the cliffs of Coire an t-Sneachda. Slightly west of south is Ben Macdui – the second highest mountain in Scotland. To the north on a really clear day you can see as far as Morven in Caithness.
Below are the forests which surround Loch Morlich and in the foreground the habitat loved by the reindeer.
Don’t be fooled by all the signs of civilisation on the walk – the railway, ski slopes and cafe near the summit – it is dangerous terrain and claims human lives every year when Arctic conditions prevail. Walkers in winter have to make sure they are fully equipped for bad weather and can use a map and compass, as well as ice axe and crampons
But for reindeer these conditions are ideal. Even in winter they flourish thanks to their thick coats which provide such insulation that they don’t melt the snow when they lie down. At the same time, extra wide, splayed hooves enable reindeer to spread weight on soft snow to prevent them sinking.
The reindeer can, however, be seen away from the Cairngorms in the run up to Christmas when they are used to pull sleighs for Santa when he visits towns across Scotland.
Ms Taylor adds: “That is their job – each individual reindeer does about five or six events a year over the two months of November and December.”
Now, however, they are in a more natural habitat, enjoying a rest.
This article first appeared in December 2016 in The Scots Magazine
By Nick Drainey
As Hamish MacInnes looks out from his house, below the conical summit of the Pap of Glencoe, he can still remember the days when volunteers wore Wellington boots and carried storm lanterns as they risked their lives helping the lost or injured in the mountains.
That was 55 years ago when he founded the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team after realising the brave group of shepherds, fishermen, landlords and climbers needed better equipment.
MacInnes, now 85, says: “We started off the team to try to get funds because the shepherds were going up the hill in their Wellington boots … and they only had the old storm lanterns, it was really primitive. These people went out on to the hill with no motive but to help people, they used to have to go round on a bicycle to call people out when people were lying injured on the hill.
“These shepherds and people in the team weren’t climbers – initially there was only one other person in the 15 strong team other than me who was a climber. It was vital that we got some money so we could get them climbing boots, anoraks and headlamps. We also had to get walkie talkies for communication.”
The mountaineer says equipment available to rescue teams has improved but the nature of the call outs is basically the same. Recalling a rescue in the early days of the Glencoe team, he says: “We often had to work out where people had gone. We came across a car and there was a lot of good technical climbing gear in it. By doing some Sherlock Holmes work we thought back to the day before which was misty and drizzly – a climber doesn’t go soloing on a hard route in these conditions.
“We realised he must have gone somewhere that was relatively easier but could get progressively harder if he went off the route a little bit. That is exactly what happened because we found his body down at the side of the scree on the west face of Aonach Dubh. He had been on a climbing course with me and we did quite a few routes together – he was a talented climber, a Chinese climber.
“It shows you that back then people wandered off.”
Coping with death is something MacInnes has lived with all his life, in mountain rescue as well as expeditions to the Himalayas, the Alps, New Zealand and South America.
He says: “Chris Bonington and I have both got over 50 friends each killed, that is a lot of friends. It reminds me of my father who was in Passchendaele and his whole platoon was wiped out – he was the only person left alive and was posted as being killed. It runs in the family.”
The confrontation with tragedy in the mountains also led MacInnes to develop cutting edge equipment used by mountaineers and rescuers across the world. It began after he invented the first all-metal ice axe in the late 1940s. He developed this until a version was created in the 1960s using aluminium alloy shafts.
MacInnes recalls: “The reason I invented it was that I was climbing in Ben Nevis one day. I had a police radio because of doing rescues and the police radioed to say they had three people missing up in the region of Zero Gully. We went off at night with torches and we came across these bodies – all three were killed and their wooden ice axes were broken. I realised then that I had an all metal ice axe which was pretty much indestructible and these people were getting killed because their ice axes were not up to standard. I made a resolution then to manufacture them.”
After finding a drop forger in Manchester they went into production and their use was to revolutionise the climbing world, not only improving safety but providing lighter equipment. MacInnes said: “We were making 1,000s of them and they were going all over the world, the RAF, for example, decided to buy them.”
For MacInnes the invention and manufacture of stretchers suitable for use on difficult terrain such as mountains was also a key factor in improving rescues.
He got the idea when using a “Thomas” stretcher with the newly formed Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team on the Aonach Eagach ridge. After a night of searching they found a young woman who had fallen and was lying in a very precarious spot, suffering a fractured spine and head injuries.
MacInnes says: “We had got to this girl and she was in a very dangerous situation, in fact her legs were dangling over the edge of quite a big drop, it was a kind of Charlie Chaplin situation. We had to get her off and we only had the Thomas stretcher which was good for its day but you couldn’t get it in to difficult places and the team agreed something had to be done.”
MacInnes went on to design the first stretcher which came apart and had wooden skis attached. Further modifications were made and the first folding stretcher was invented – quicker to carry out to an injured climber as well as being easier to lift back, meaning there was a better chance of saving lives. Since those early days the MacInnes Stretcher has been used for rescues across the world as well as in conflict zones such as Afghanistan. An MK7 version is the latest and MacInnes, although now retired from the rescue team, shows no sign of stopping work. He has teamed up with Richard Glanville, who makes carbon fibre yacht masts in Inverness who has created a material which is not only lightweight but also strong.
He says: “I am working on a new stretcher. It has now developed to a stage where it is an incredible work of art and is incredibly strong.”
Despite the inventions, MacInnes has always said they didn’t make him a rich man. Rather, his income came from the world of film where his expertise was used in productions ranging from The Mission with Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons to the James Bond film The Living Daylights with Sean Connery.
Work on the Eiger Sanction in 1975 is credited as some of the most dangerous location shooting ever done. MacInnes enabled a camera crew to work on the north face of the Eiger and he developed a mutual respect with the director and star, Clint Eastwood.
MacInnes says: “Clint was a great bloke. He did all his stunts, he wasn’t a climber but he was very fit and had no fear whatsoever.”
However, the Eiger Sanction project was placed in jeopardy when MacInnes himself suffered a rare injury while climbing in Scotland.
He says: “Just prior to the Eiger Sanction I was climbing on the coast south of Edinburgh on a pinnacle called The Souter.
“It was quite a hard route and I was using a peg (to hold the rope) to reach down to get round a corner for a hold and it came out. I fell and bashed the side of my leg.”
He managed to get off the sea stack and went to the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh because of the pain. “I must have passed out because the next thing I remember was a circle of white coats around me.” He was told there was an infection in the small wound on his leg and there had only ever been three cases of it in the history of the hospital – two of which had resulted in a leg being amputated.
An operation ensued, followed by painful washings of the wound with antiseptic. Back home, he was cleaning the wound himself when Don Whillans, a rock climber and mountaineer, paid a visit. MacInnes remembers: “Don came, very concerned. He looked in and said ‘I came to get some lunch but I’ve changed my mind’.”
Looking back to the start of the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team, MacInnes says the motivation to go out was always to help those in trouble. But working in a small team, often in the dark during atrocious weather, created a “terrific bond”.
MacInnes says: “Denis Barclay (a founder member of the team) said we did it because we enjoy it. But he didn’t mean enjoying the injuries people had it was the fact that it created a satisfaction in what we were doing.”
This article first appeared on January 24, 2016 in the Sunday Post
By Nick Drainey
Mervyn Browne says there is “nothing you can do about it” but that hasn’t stopped him recording the weather outside his Perthshire farmhouse every day for nearly 60 years.
The 88-year-old is the longest serving member of the Climatological Observers Link – a team of weather recorders across the UK who send all their readings to the Met Office.
Every morning at 9am (GMT) sharp he notes down the readings on thermometers in his Stevenson Screen weather station, a rain gauge and a sunshine recorder, which uses a magnifying glass to burn the rays on a piece of card.
Mr Browne, who still works as a hill shepherd above Loch Tay, admits farmers have a reputation for moaning but says weather conditions can have a real impact on the 300 sheep he tends in his fields.
Gazing out almost wistfully as rain lashes down on the mountains outside, he adds: “We would prefer a dry, cold winter so sheep don’t lie all winter with a sodden fleece, which you get with a milder winter – that is debilitating.”
He adds: “Farmers are always watching the weather, that is why they complain about it. And when you have been around a few years you have the ability to forecast three or four days ahead.”
But he jokes that many “blamed him” when the weather interrupted the wedding of his grand-daughter in July.
He says: “The wedding was supposed to be held on the lochside but it was filthy summer weather. People were asking me if it was going to clear but I thought it was going to be heavy showers. So we had it in the garden in a gazebo and then they were piped down to the sheep shed for the reception.”
As with many weather watchers, Mr Browne thinks back to better days. “Wall to wall sunshine is becoming very rare – you get one day, which we call “pet” days, and then a lot of gloomy days. In 1976 it looked like it was never going to end but I think 2003 was our last really good summer.”
But the shepherd, who lives alone following the death of his wife Katie in 1983, says rain is part of life on a farm in the Scottish mountains. He says: “We had four inches in this area over two days recently but in 1951 we also had four inches in two days – there is nothing new under the sun – although that kind of rainfall is becoming more common.”
Mr Browne first became interested in weather on the family farm in Tyrone, Northern Ireland at the age of six. He says: “The year 1933 saw one of the vintage summers of the century and being in a farming community, everyone was talking about the weather and the drought. And I began to take an interest then from a childish viewpoint. Eventually, that crystallised and when I was 15 I remember asking my mother for a diary so I could record the temperature and the weather.”
He was given a job as a shepherd in Balquhidder after finishing his National Service in 1947, where he worked for a farmer called Jimmy Fergusson, who he describes as a “second father”. A love of farming, and Scotland, was cemented and a series of jobs in the area, including at a farm in Glen Lyon followed before he was able to by his farm in 1954. It was four years later that he was asked to join the Climatological Observers Link.
He has seen many changes at his home in the hamlet of at Milton of Ardtalnaig since he began officially observing the climate nearly 60 years ago. Most dramatically, annual rainfall measurements have risen from 51 inches in 1958 to 61 inches now.
As well as increased rain, and less days of continuous sunshine in summer, Mr Browne has also seen wildlife changes in the time he has spent by the loch. “We have lost a lot of small birds,” he says. “We used to get five cuckoos calling at once and now only one comes but goes away a lot earlier, Curlews are thin on the ground and pewits have disappeared.”
And it all has an impact on his sheep. He says: “The amount of rushes that are growing in places where they never grew before is quite amazing, it reduces, of course, the grazing value.”
Adam Barber, the Met Office Climate and Rainfall Network Manager, paid tribute to Mr Browne. He said: “Mr Browne is a dedicated volunteer in the Met Office Climate Network, which provides the UK with an important source of meteorological data. Mervyn has shown great commitment, providing high quality data, day in and day out throughout such a long record. Having a long data record is one of the really key aspects to maintaining a good climate record.”