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GUEST BLOG - My summer internship with Nature Scotland - George Hassall (aged 18)

One of my biggest dreams was to be a wildlife tour guide on the Isle of Mull and that dream became reality when I got the opportunity to do a voluntary internship with Nature Scotland. Above a scribbled plan, Mum, Dad and I wrote when I was 13 and planning what GCSE’s to study. My ‘North Star’ – what I wanted to do when I was 18 – included Mull Wildlife Tour. Well, that’s one big, successful, mind-blowing tick!

My summer internship on the Isle of Mull Didn’t quite have the best of journeys as I had a bit of a hangover, after celebrating my 18th birthday literally the day before I left, but my spirits were certainly lifted on the ferry over, with views of golden eagle over the distant mountains. We then had a whistle stop tour of the island with Jack, Indy and Katie, where we saw slowworms, white-tailed eagles and an osprey being mobbed by a hen harrier! The highlight was yet to come; an evening on the boat, where I saw my first basking shark, which swam directly underneath the boat. It was so close you could even see the blue of its gills and its monumental size, not bad for the first day eh?

The usual tour we did was around the South side of Loch na Keal and then through the mountains, the other tour we did was over to the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, which contained the crater of an extinct super-volcano. We saw otters and white-tailed eagles on a daily basis and it was an absolute honour to watch a WT eagle chick grow over the course of my time there. Nicknamed ‘big baby’, due to being late to fledge the nest, I watched it branch and was later happy to hear it had finally fledged.

Whilst on Mull, I got 4 new species with a basking shark, minke whale, storm petrel and an Arctic skua! We had some wonderful experiences out to sea on Ewan’s boat, with super pods of common dolphin with the setting sun behind the Isle of Coll.

What can I say, the rest of my time on the island went something like that! Let me introduce you to the rest of the team, Ewan is an incredible boss, who is honestly one of the nicest, most generous, most knowledgeable people I’ve ever met. Theo, who has got to be one of the most skilled birders I know. Then there’s Jack, who’s a total crackpot (back-handed compliment), but seriously, I spent most of my time working with Jack, and most of that was spent laughing!

I stayed at Tobermory Campsite in a proper luxurious shepherd hut. A lovely site, with a river flowing through the middle, I felt proper at home in my cosy little hut.

Went on a couple of hikes, including climbing Ben More, the highest peak (at 968 metres) and only Munro on Mull. I’ll tell you what, it was pretty bad conditions up there; I got completely battered by wind and rain from every direction. Visibility was terrible, barely 10 metres, but I got to the cairn, finishing the day with a wee whisky in the pub to warm me up! A few days earlier Indy, Katie and I ascended Creach-Beinn; really low cloud at the summit, but a pretty challenging scramble down a ravine was great fun on the scree.

It was great to meet and chat with a wide variety of guests, who all shared my Mull obsession! Great to spend plenty of time with 10yr old nature blogger, Henry and his family, the next gen of nature nerds! Over 2 days of touring/boat trips we spotted otters, hen harriers, red deer, osprey, ringed plovers and of course, WT eagles.

My favourite sightings on the boat had to be the thousands of Manx shearwater so close to the boat you could almost touch ’em. There’s nothing like seeing a manxie flying on long straight wings and the noise they make, it’s absolutely hilarious! But I think my favourite experience was listening to the pops and squeaks of common dolphin under the boat, weirdly, the highlight was when one surfaced and sneezed on my face!

I went back to my gardening roots, with a quick visit to Lip na Cloiche Garden. The landscaping and use of boaty antiquities was proper inspiring. I loved the way the winding path led you through and opened out to incredibly breathtaking view. It was deffo Chelsea worthy.

Wildlife aside, the best thing was the people I met – I’ll get in trouble for forgetting someone, so hopefully they’re on the pics below – pretty much every evening ended in the pub, where I played pool with a heck of a lot of folk and lost every game, except when I played Indy!

It amazes me how different life on an island is, where everyone knows everyone and there’s this feeling of community, togetherness and safety.

I also observed the amount of environmental problems facing Mull, such as the over population of deer and sheep and the invasion of rhododendron. Eco-tourism plays a massive part in the conservation of this wonderful island and you couldn’t get a more passionate and knowledgeable team than that of Nature Scotland and its sustainability aims to protect this spectacular place.

Mull had such a positive effect on me, I had myself some kind of epiphany, it was just magic!

I felt really unsettled when I returned home, but thankfully Scotland called 4 days later and I headed back up north for my next adventure…..

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