Young people for nature’s future: Murdo from Skye

Interview by Eilidh Summers, RSPB Scotland

The Sunday Mail Young Scot Awards have been running for 16 years – celebrating the young people who have done fantastic things for their community. This year, RSPB Scotland is delighted that our Corncrake Calling volunteer, Murdo MacGillivray, is a finalist for the Environment Award.

Murdo filming sheep shearing on the west coast of Scotland and ski touring in the Cairngorms. Photos by Ewen Jeffrey and Denise MacGillivray.       

Murdo has thrown his time and effort into the protection of corncrakes, a species of high conservation concern in the UK. On his homeplace of Skye, Murdo has worked to improve and monitor habitats for corncrakes – digging, strimming, spreading lime, and building walls and fences. In addition, his technical knowledge and self-taught software skills were essential to create and process the drone footage for habitat monitoring.


Picture from drone camera surveying corncrake habitat. Photo by Murdo MacGillivray.

As a young person from Skye, Murdo has always had a strong connection to nature. “I grew up on a croft when I was wee. The environment, agriculture and nature, were all around me.” Nature is a big part of growing up on an island, and this reflects on his hobbies and interests. Murdo enjoys many outdoor activities like canoeing, kayaking, and climbing, but his favourite of all is cycling – both road cycling and mountain biking. Murdo is studying in Aberdeen, which has a cycling club with more opportunity for social, and competitive cycling. “I like going as fast as I can, and there’s more outdoor competitive stuff in Aberdeen”. Despite this, Skye is his true home; “I like the city but it’s not what I’m used to – I’d rather go back to the island”.


Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides, Highland, Scotland, UK, April. Photo by Mike Read.

Murdo’s home on the Isle of Skye holds fantastic landscapes and an abundance of wildlife, including the majestic white-tailed eagle. However, the island suffers from a housing issue common across the Highlands, and local young people often find it difficult to stay. A Scottish Government study from 2019 (please see link below) found that almost one in five homes on Skye are listed as an Airbnb. 

“Lots of people want it to be more stable for young people – at the moment it’s not unless you’ve got money or have a house” explains Murdo. “People can’t earn enough to stay there and have to move away from their croft.”

When young people are forced to move away to find jobs, they lose connection to their local nature, as well as to the unique island culture they grew up in. But Murdo is optimistic that things are changing. “There are more people who want to come back and make change; to come back to crofts and more Gaelic” he says. “Change is needed to get young people to stay and work in Skye.” 

“I am hopeful. There are a few young activists trying to make change. It’s slow paced at the moment but they're getting somewhere so I’m optimistic for the future.”  Murdo is currently studying media at university. “Hopefully there will be jobs in Skye to come back to. Either in Gaelic, or any different media jobs.”  Continuing to work on the land is also close to his heart; “I’d quite like to go back and live on the croft and continue it on.”


Corncrake Crex crex, adult male calling, Scotland. Photo by Richard Brooks.

In Skye, the people are a huge factor in the future of nature, which is why Corncrake Calling, and other conservation projects, work so closely with local people. On the croft, Murdo’s parents would do a lot of planting for wild and nesting birds, as well as to encourage insect species richness. “It’s good to see more people turning and realising how important the environment is” says Murdo.

Murdo shares that he was pleasantly surprised to be nominated for the Young Scot Award, but that it was “rewarding enough working with the project”. “It’s been really interesting learning with Shelagh (the Corncrake project officer) about the corncrakes and everything else, and more about Skye as a whole”.


Corncrake habitat on the Isle of Skye. Photo by Shelagh Parlane.

Corncrake Calling, a National Lottery Heritage Fund supported project is working with crofters and farmers to help improve and maintain corncrake habitat and give them their best chance of breeding successfully.  “It’s good to see species can be brought back, especially the corncrake, which are good indicator species of how the island is doing environmentally”.

Murdo’s top tip for saving nature is to “Just learn. Find out what the problems are and if you can do little things to help. Small changes at a time”.

Follow on:

Twitter:      @crexcrexnet

Instagram: @murdo_macgillivray @crexcrexnet @corncrakes_skye

Facebook: @RSPBHighlands