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.”