Many people have enjoyed their spring and summer holidays in Strathspey and the Cairngorms with us this year. So, as always, thank you to all our guests, especially in these increasingly tough economic times. For our part, we will be trying to avoid any rate increases into 2023, as we realise it may well cost more for folk to get here and for food, activites, etc. once here.
Firstly, for this Blog update, we are very pleased to blow our own trumpet a wee bit and let everyone know that we’ve recently completed our re-assessment for the Green Tourism initiative, and managed to retain our Gold Award level. Even although we were already gold certified, so many upgrades have been made to the Green Tourism standard, and so much understanding has been gained on biodiversity, renewable energy, climate action, etc., over the past handful of years, that there was still a huge feelgood factor in successfully meeting the gold standard.
So, it has become much more difficult to say you’re “green” or “sustainable”! But, we think this is a very good thing considering the scale of the current challenges (and perhaps the level of greenwash around?)! So, just for those who have not been immersed in it, but are interested in what the “Green Tourism” logo means on the ground, essentially it covers all the features of the cottage + wild garden, the way we run it for self-catering, access “consumables” for guests, undertake our maintenance, engage with the local community, etc… There are now People, Places and Planet goals, with 15 areas for improvement towards sustainability! Each area can have a number of measures, criteria, etc to fulfil, each requiring to be evidenced, whether with a spreadsheet (eg. with calculations), doc (policy, invoice, etc.), photo, etc.
There are some areas we knew we could probably do better in, some areas we thought we would do better in, and other areas where we were pleasantly surprised that we had just evolved in a way that meant we were already close to best practice. But, as with anything, there’s always room for improvement!! In the spirit of sustainability, within which transparency and collaboration are valued, and help improvement, we’re going to share our final score card with you.
If you’ve stayed with us, you will know we’re always keen to have feedback and ideas on how we can improve the cottage, wild garden and your experience. So, in that spirit, if anyone has identified any improvement ideas they’ve been itching to tell us, or in areas where we’ve not scored 100% (most of them!), we’d love to hear from you.
Now that we’re talking about low/no carbon solutions, by chance, as I’m sitting writing this in the cottage, this cheeky wee deer (below) appeared on cue!! I’m thinking maybe pitching for the opportunity for becoming our low-carbon strimmer!?! First idea for the new Action Plan then!
Our deer friend did not bad a job, but trickier to ensure you can get the job done exactly when you want it! But, it’s given me a boost of inspiration for this update though……. As “biodiversity” is one of the more interesting and exciting of the areas assessed by the Green Tourism initiative (but also, perhaps, an area where it’s not so obvious to guests what we’ve actually done), I’m going to take this opportunity to give you a wee bit of insight into how we got our 88% in this area.
Firstly, we hoped we weren’t being a wee bit cheeky in response to an assessment question around what measures we have taken to help with the conservation of wildlife and biodiversity…… our reply was that the most important measure we take, is to NOT take measures to prune, groom, weed, tidy and manicure the garden in a way that many gardens are maintained. Just let nature get on with it!!
As previous guests will know, there is a network of paths around the garden. These do get a minimal strim and a bush / branch trim once a year, just enough to keep them clear and safe for any guests who may have sight or mobility issues. We aim to ensure the garden remains a wildlife “corridor” through the village, between the forest and down towards the River Spey. No green “waste” ever leaves the garden – the limited amount generated is composted, dried for kindling or is simply left where it falls to decompose naturally and cycle nutrients back to the soil.
However, we do take some measures to help increase the abundance of certain species (from wildflowers to mammals) and enhance the range of habitats in the garden, including:
- Helping certain plants to increase their numbers (eg. by planting native wildflower and wild fruit seeds) which also increases the diversity of insects, birds and other animals feeding on them.
- There are many spots around the garden where you’ll find wild raspberries and strawberries, but strawberries tend to get shaded out, except on one particular bank (now the Berry Triangle!), so we have planted wild strawberry seeds there. Surprisingly, many seedlings have survived the hot, dry summer, so will hopefully make it to spring. We’re not the only ones waiting to see this bear fruit in the next few years!
- Many of the wildflower seeds we planted this year didn’t germinate as the ground was never wet enough for long enough (but, being hardy wild seeds, they may just be waiting!). However, places we’ve seeded in previous years, or “facilitated” by allowing spread / more sunlight to them, are continuing to bloom and expand – See our 50 Shades of Purple photo below – I always think of August + September as purple months as many Highland heathers are at their most colourful – but this photo, taken just a couple of days ago, shows one wildflower patch with lots of different species (I counted 7), all showing up for purple September!
- Using some tree and bush trimmings to form “bug hotels”.
- Occasionally by facilitating “succession” (sounds a wee bit grand, especially when you see what it means on the ground!), particularly where it will support faster habitat / biodiversity increase. The forest ecosystem, of which the garden forms a part, has a natural succession of dominant plants (eg. from grass, through heather, broom, silver birch, to pine). So, for example, a significant area of broom has completely died back over past 3-4 years, as it has been shaded out by birch and pine. The dead bushes are not only a wee bit unattractive, but they also cover / shade potential growth of forest floor wildflowers and other plants. Removal of the dead bushes (great kindling!), opens up light earlier to the forest floor, and speeds up a process that is occurring naturally – we think that’s OK.
- Helping out the thriving bat colony (more on that below).
More abundant and diverse plants are one thing, but I guess the proof of the pudding is in the eating if you’re a local insect, amphibian, reptile, bird or mammal. Has the more diverse food supply actually led to a greater diversity and abundance of these too? Obviously, this is far more difficult to quantify, relies a wee bit on feedback from our guests too, but we’d definitely say yes. November is usually a bit of a maintenance month if there are no bookings. But, every year we’ve certainly noticed far more birds in the garden (without putting seeds and nuts out), digging into the many autumn berries that now appear on Rowan’s and other bushes we’ve helped to flourish. We’re clearly biased, but genuinely believe there are more bird species and numbers turning up because of more food and habitats in general.
Amphibians, you say? Sounds a bit fishy (sort of!), if there’s no significant running or standing water in the garden! We too were surprised, but, we’ve spotted at least 2 different species of frog / toad in the garden (although yet to have a phone or camera to hand to get a photo). And definitely beyond our identification skills! The increased “wildness” of certain grassy areas and undergrowth clearly retains more moisture, making the garden habitable to water-loving creatures too – I think I would have remembered if we’d found frogs in the garden when we were kids!
My highly amateur photography skills have been on hand, though, to get photos of two of the most amazingly colourful species of butterfly found in the garden, the Red Admiral and Peacock (thanks to guests who have formally identified!). We’ve even seen larger damsel flies too recently, and the number of bees, of so many different species, mean the garden is positively buzzing at certain times of the year!
Of course, none of these observations are scientific / statistical proof that we have managed to slowly increase biodiversity. But, if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, perhaps the bat colony is the best indicator! We were aware of their increasing numbers, holed up at the apex of the roof at one end of the cottage (we inadvertently seem to have made the perfect bat cave when we started insulating the cottage! They are not inside the cottage roof space for anyone with any bat phobias!!). This spring, as we were doing the solar system, we noticed it had expanded and split to colonise the apex at the other end of the cottage now too.
So, we’ve also got hold of a couple of bat boxes for the garden to provide extra space to allow the colony to expand still further, if it needs to, without eventual overcrowding. Would the bats be thriving like this without an increasingly abundant food supply?
Only time will tell! But, it makes the onset of spring in March / April even more exciting to see what emerges from the Highland winter and starts to thrive again next year!