Ian McNab takes a look back over this year's fantastic nature festival in Orkney.

Orkney Nature Festival 2018

May saw the sixth running of the annual Orkney Nature Festival, with RSPB Scotland co-ordinating a wide range of events all over the county. From navigating boats into cavernous sea-caves, to designing household goods with discarded beach litter, there was something for everyone to enjoy.

While RSPB Scotland are the lead partner of the Nature Festival, it couldn’t be delivered without the incredible support from local businesses, charities and people all over Orkney. Whether through running events of their own, putting up posters or generously contributing raffle prizes, the Nature Festival helps bring people closer to nature and communities closer to each other.

Orcadian wildlife is unique in the UK. Hen harrier sightings are a frequent pleasure, and it is one of the few remaining strongholds of the Scottish primrose and great yellow bumblebee. On the other hand, a magpie spotted on Hoy was the talk of the islands over winter and common garden birds like blue tits are nowhere to be seen. With Orkney being somewhat famous for its calendar of festivals, it was only a matter of time before a celebration of its special wildlife became a yearly tradition.

This year kicked off with a bike ride around Rousay, an island known as the “Egypt of the North” due to its remarkable Neolithic remains. Its wildlife proved equally impressive as participants were treated to views of stonechat, grey seals and even a short-eared owl during the day. Over the next few days, local experts led guided walks around the stunning RSPB Scotland reserves at Onziebust and Brodgar. The former makes up almost half of the island of Egilsay and is a fantastic site for waders such as curlew and lapwing. Moreover, it is a working farm with over a hundred lambs and calves born this year. Proof indeed that nature and agriculture can thrive side by side.

Along with its natural and historical sites, Orkney is also known for its bustling art scene. We were very lucky to have several local artists and craftspeople deliver events and share their expertise. Inspired by the wildlife around them, visitors to Fursbreck Pottery crafted clay sculptures of their favourite animals, while wildlife photographer Charles Tait gave out his expert tips on how to snap the best shots with any camera.

With miles upon miles of stunning beaches, Orcadians are rightfully proud of their coastline. Mark Cook took this a step further by setting up his own company, “Afrayedknot”. Having collected hundreds of metres of discarded fishing rope, Mark led a workshop and showed his guests how to make beautiful doormats with the spoils of his beach cleaning. It’s not often that you can learn a new creative skill, gain something practical for the home, and help the environment all in one go.

To cap everything off, no event is more synonymous with the festival than RSPB Scotland and NorthLink Ferries’ Nature Cruise. The traditional grand finale, passengers were treated to breath-taking views of the high cliffs and steep hills of Hoy from aboard the MV Hamnavoe. For those that could tear themselves away from the buffet, and the whisky and gin tasters, RSPB Scotland staff and volunteers were on deck to point out the plethora of seabirds. Among razorbills, fulmar and even a few puffins, the highlight for most was the high-speed aerial chase between a kittiwake and an arctic skua.

Elsewhere, a woodland stroll with the Orkney Field Club debunked the notion that Orkney has no trees; scuba divers drifted among schools of fish in Scapa flow, and the RSPB Local Group took a brave band of explorers ‘Into the Gloup’. Unfortunately, there was just so much going on that there’s no way we can cover everything but needless to say, we appreciate all of the support from everyone involved.

With the sun having set on this year’s Orkney Nature Festival (although the sun barely ever seems to set during the Orcadian summer), we’re already looking forward to next year. For more information and full details of all of the events, visit www.orkneynaturefestival.org