Frozen Gannet

18 12 2011

There’s much in the media just now about Frozen Planet and how yon David Attenburgh cove and the BBC  filmed some Polar Bears in a zoo instead of the Arctic.

By chance a similar storm has engulfed BBC Alba, as it has come to light that their 6 part natural world series ‘Frozen Gannet’, was not actually filmed on Sulasgeir as was widely believed. This series from the BBC Alba Natural History Unit was supposed to be about a year in the life of the gannets living on the rocky outcrop of Sulasgeir. The show was narrated by well known Neisoch naturalist Sir David Adabrock and was first aired on BBC Alba in November this year to rave reviews.

However, viewers began to get suspicious when some of the anticipated breathtaking shots of the far-flung island appeared to be less epic than expected.

Viewers started to become suspicious when the ‘steep cliffs’ of ‘Sulasgeir’ appeared to be climbed very easily by the 85-year old Adabrock (in his Mobility Scooter) and seemed to feature no nesting seabirds whatsoever apart from two hoodie crows sitting on an old fishbox. When the camera panned around ‘the north Atlantic’, viewers caught glimpses of what appeared to be the Cal Mac ferry Muirneag in the background and in one shot the local Brownies could be seen having a sausage sizzle on a stoney beach.

BBC Alba has finally admitted that all of the shots of ‘Sulasgeir’ were in actual fact footage of Sober Island in Stornoway Harbour. A spokesperson for BBC Alba said ‘Well heck, Frozen Gannet was on after the rerun of  Machair at 11.30pm, so we didn’t think anyone would be watching’.

Sir David is also well known for his fishing documentary ‘Lythe On Earth’.

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A Flock of Stornoway Pandas

11 12 2011

Plenty in the news just now about yon pair of Giant Pandas who have immigrated to Scotland.

A good news story for the country and in particular for Edinburgh Zoo, but it’s not the first time Giant Pandas have lived in Scotland.

 In 1850, Sir James Matheson was busy developing Lews Castle as a home for his family, but also as a focal point for his business empire. He had big plans for the Castle Grounds. As well as wanting to see the development of an extensive area of woodland surrounding his mock Tudor Castle, he wanted to see the finest exotic plants from around the globe growing there to add to the elegant splendour.

 Collections of colourful wild birds and myriad strange creatures were shipped in by boat and set free to roam around the Castle Grounds.

 But as a businessman, Sir James always kept one eye open for increasing his wealth. In 1870, just as Harris Tweed was becoming established, Sir James thought there might be some pound signs attached to the humble Giant Panda. Not as a tourist attraction like the two Pandas now in Edinburgh Zoo, but as a way of contributing towards the Tweed industry.

 Sir James had seen Pandas many times through his business dealings in China. Their thick fur had always impressed him and he wondered if this fur could be used to good advantage.

 He ordered a flock of Giant Pandas to be delivered to Lewis and late in 1870 twenty of the cuddly creatures arrived in Stornoway. The Pandas were set loose close to Marybank Lodge under the care of a Pandherd. The Pandas took to Lewis life straight away. There had been plans to plant a bamboo plantation at Marybank to feed the Pandas, but it was soon discovered that the Pandas lived quite happily off rhododendron bushes and marags. It was discovered that the blood in the marags added not only a glossy sheen to the Panda fur, but provided a useful layer of water proofing to help the Pandas cope with the Lewis weather. Up until that point, all marags were grey in colour and it was only as butchers experimented in finding the best Panda waterproofing that the two varieties of Black and White marags became common, as each colour brought different qualities to the black and white Panda fur.

 The experiment with Panda fur ultimately proved to be unsuccessful. Sir James’ original plan was to blend the Panda fur with sheep wool to provided an ultra-weatherproof tweed. Each year, the Pandas would be rounded up and brought to the village fank, where they would be dipped. And once a year, the same round up would occur, this time with the Pandas being sheered of their fur. Sadly the Panda fur turned out to be too thick and ended up clogging up the looms of the weavers.

 Despite the Tweed failure, a number of attempts were made to find a more practical use for the Pandas. It was discovered (at the Creed Chemical Works) that the fur from the Giant Pandas could be distilled to get various essences for cooking purposes. The most successful output of these experiments was to produce a unique flavouring for boiled sweets by adding several drops of Panda essence (providing a sort of minty flavour) to the mixture. These boiled sweets were originally called Panda Drops and proved to be extremely successful amongst church-goers, especially those of the Free Church persuasion.

 The Panda Drops were very successful but had to change their name to Pandrops in the 1920’s following an outcry by a group of local animal rights/environmental campaigners called Coulregrein-Peace.

The bottom fell out of the church sweet market in recent years following the various church schisms that took place in the 1990’s and 2000’s, as none of the denominations could agree on the custody of sweet eating.

The flock of Giant Pandas still lives in the Castle Grounds, although they are very shy and keep well hidden from humans. Unless you happen to be a human with a marag sandwich, in which case beware.