Sep 2013

Machair conservation top of the agenda on Uist. The machair LIFE+ conference was held on Thursday 29th August at Talla an Iochdar and was well attended by a wide range of delegates.

The conference was opened by Councillor Uisdean Robertson in his own witty manner followed by introductions from the project partners, Norman MacDonald from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Johanne Ferguson of Scottish Natural Heritage and Maria Scholten on behalf of the Scottish Crofting Federation.

Johanne’s presentation is available here: Why machair is special.

The Machair LIFE+ project team introduced aspects of the project’s work, with Matthew Topsfield summarising the project management works, Rebecca Cotton and Hazel Smith reflecting on the community and education programme and Rory MacGillivary reviewed the achievements of the Uist crop protection scheme.


Project management works
Community and education programme

A number of speakers then shone a spotlight on particular aspects of the machair wildlife, with the RSPB’s Julia Gallagher detailing the findings of her sabbatical on the importance of late-cut arable crops as cover for corncrake, Dr Mike Wilson of the national Museum of Wales and Dr Alan Stewart of the University of Sussex opening our eyes to the world of bugs on the machair and RSPB’s Jamie Boyle highlighting the top six species of wader that can be found on the machair and the worrying plight of the corn bunting.


Late cut & corncrake
Machair bugs
Waders & corn bunting

The afternoon workshop sessions provided an opportunity for delegates to discuss issues around the conservation of seed of the indigenous Uist landraces, agri-environment policy and sustainable crofting communities. A summary of the key points captured will follow in due course, and be used to inform the end-of-project report/recommendations and engagement with new policies and support for the machair.

The plenary session provided a final opportunity to reflect on all topics covered throughout the day and discuss some issues in further detail.

The Machair LIFE+ team would like to thank all who took part in the conference, speakers and delegates alike without whom such a stimulating and enjoyable day would not have been possible.

For more information about this event please contact the Machair LIFE+ project office on 01870 603361.

Aug 2013

The Machair LIFE+ conference sees the launch of the latest in our series of advisory leaflets. The new leaflets cover the use of seaweed as an organic fertiliser and the indigenous varieties of cereals grown on the Uists. A further advisory leaflet on the topic of crop protection will be published later this year.

Jun 2013

Explore the machair and the special wildlife to be found there. These FREE events include a talk/discussion with members of the Machair LIFE+ survey team to learn about the scientific monitoring work they are undertaking on behalf of the project; and a gentle walk across the machair and adjacent habitats to explore and identify the wider natural history interest of these sites.

Bugs (Hemiptera)
Monday 29 July 2013, 2pm
Lionacleit machair

Machair flora
Wednesday 31 July 2013, 2pm
RSPB Balranald

Click here for full details

These events are jointly organised by Curracag and Conserving Scottish Machair LIFE+ project.

Apr 2013

Bookings are now being taken for the Machair LIFE+ Conference, Thursday 29 August 2013, 9.00-17.00 at Talla an Iochdar, South Uist.

This one-day conference will review the work of the Machair LIFE+ project and discuss future policy for the machair.

ALSO field trips to RSPB Balranald and harvest at Drimsdale on Friday 30 August.

There is no charge to attend these events, but booking is required. Bookings should be made at:
For more information contact the Machair LIFE+ office on: 01870 603361

Click for the full event programme
Click here for delegate information
Click here for the accommodation listing

Nov 2012

The seaweed season is upon us and the Machair LIFE+ tractor is ready on stand-by. Please let us know at the Machair LIFE+ office - 01870 603361 - if there are any large quantities of ‘tangle’ washing up in your area.


We will be servicing approximately 90 Management Agreements this year and as last year we will also be providing additional assistance to bring seaweed ashore in those townships where we are working. Please bring your own tractors/trailers to help with this.

Nov 2012



In 2013 the Conserving Scottish Machair LIFE+ project will be able to offer help to refurbish some of the existing reaper binders on the Uists that require parts/repair/replacement canvases Machair LIFE+ will:

  • Enable the refurbishment of up to 10 binders across the Uists - Binders must currently be in a condition such that they can reasonably be brought back into operation
  • Provide up to £1,000 for the refurbishment of each binder - Additional costs to be agreed and met by the crofter/township
  • Refurbishment will include replacement/repair of parts - where replacement/repair of parts is technically and economically feasible - and/or new canvasses
If you have a binder in need of repair please express your interest by Friday 21 December 2012 by contacting the Machair LIFE+ office on: 01870 603361

If you are interested you can download the information here Machair LIFE+ - binder refurbishment.pdf

Aug 2012

We are offering payment incentive of £400 per hectare to crofters who are able to put aside corn crop for seed by binder or combine for 2013. This option is open to applicants within the Uist and Barra Natura 2000 network (SAC, SPA). If you are interested in this option please contact the office for more information.

Jul 2012

We lifted and spread over 90 hectares of seaweed across the machair this winter to provide vital organic nutriants for the growing of crops. This work has been very popular with crofters and in support of this we commissioned SAC to run tests on the nutritive value of seaweed as an organic fertiliser so that we can advise crofters on appropriate application rates to obtain quality yields from their crops.

We have commissioned two tests in 2012 to test the qualities of seaweed as an organic fertiliser.  SAC has been commissioned to carry out tests on the nutritative qualities of seaweed so that we can share this information with crofters.  One test is measuring the effect of seaweed on the nutritative quality of soil by taking soil tests before and after the application of seaweed followed by tests on crop yields from areas which have either been established with seaweed or artifisial fertiliser. We have also commissioned tests on the nutritative quality of seaweed at various stages of decomposition. Results from this has shown that as the seaweed becomes more decomposed the levels of phosphate increases while the levels of potasium decreases. Nitrogen content is more sporadic. Based on an average of all three stages of decomposition (fresh, semi-fresh, rotten) the average nutritative quality of seaweed in terms of Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potasium is: 0.55: 0.17: 1.05. From these results recommendations from SAC on the required application rates of seaweed which was at an avearge stage of decomposition would be at a rate of 11000kg/ha (11 tonnes/ha). This would satisfy the levels of potasium required to promote crop growth. However, the levels of nitrogen and phospahte at this rate of application would be below those recommended. Recommendation is therefore to increase nitrogen levels through ensuring that a good proportion of clover is availble in fallow years.  An addition of farmyard manure or another organic phosphate additative would also be advisable.

Seaweed Fresh Semi-rotten Rotten Average
Total Nitrogen0.38%0.016%0.79%0.55%
Total Phosphate0.14%0.17%0.20%0.17%
Total Potasium1.35%1.06%0.74%1.05%

Apr 2012

Machair Art Project underway with help of young crofters from Lionacleit School, Benbecula

Feb 2012

Children from Balivanich Primary School have been getting experience of traditional crofting activity – collecting seaweed for fertiliser from a beach with the help of a pair of ponies. If you'd like to know more follow this link:

Jan 2012

We have been busy this winter signing-up crofters to Management Agreements to carry out beneficial works on the machair this year. The number of agreements has doubled from last year and we now have 60 crofters who have agreed to take part in project works in 2012.

Works agreed range from seaweed application, shallow cultivations and harvesting corn crops with our reaper binder to opening up areas of machair for the growing of corn and grass crops which have not been worked in over ten years. These new areas are of particular importance since the creation of grass and arable silage creates additional valuable habitat for breeding corncrake, waders as well as invertebrates such as the Great yellow bumblebee. Although we are not able to agree any more full Management plans for this year there are some management options which we will still be able to carry out such as reaping and binding. If you are a crofter who is not currently signed-up to an agreement with us and would like to discuss options please contact us.

Dec 2011

We have begun lifting seaweed this winter to assist crofters with the collection of this valuable organic fertiliser. Last year we spread just under 50 hectares of seaweed across the Uists.

The use of seaweed to fertilise crops is an essential aspect of traditional crofting. However, crofter’s ability to access and collect seaweed from the shores has declined over the years and the introduction of inorganic fertilisers has entailed that less seaweed is used on the machair than it used to be. Through our Management Agreements we agree to lift and spread seaweed across the machair on individual plots and in some cases this is the first use of organic fertiliser for decades. We will be working with SAC next year to run a series of tests to measure the true organic value of seaweed for corn crops next year which we hope will help inform rates of application in relation to crop growth.

Sep 2011

Our reaper binder has been out harvesting crops across the Uists and in Barra.

We have harvested 8 hectares of corn this year with our modern version of the traditional binder. The parts for the new binder are easy to source and its speed of working is also a benefit. It has a four and a half foot cutting width, is tractor mounted and is able to cut very low to the ground leaving little stubble waste. The harvested crops have been stacked to feed out to cattle over the winter months or will be threshed for seed to be sown for next year’s crop. We were particularly excited to have re-introduced the binder to Berneray in North Uist since crops have not been harvested this way there for over ten years. As well as being an effective way to maintain traditional crofting the stacking of crops provides a valuable winter food source for the corn bunting and other seed eating birds. We will look to increase the area of crops which we harvest by binder next year.

Aug 2011

The Uist Goose Management Scheme has commenced for 2011, funded and coordinated by the Conserving Scottish Machair LIFE+ project. The project, a partnership between SNH, RSPB, the Comhairle and the Scottish Crofting Federation and co-funded by EU LIFE+ money, is now in it second year and looks to build on the successes of its first season.

image The Uist Goose Management Scheme has commenced for 2011, funded and coordinated by the Conserving Scottish Machair LIFE+ project. The project, a partnership between SNH, RSPB, the Comhairle and the Scottish Crofting Federation and co-funded by EU LIFE+ money, is now in it second year and looks to build on the successes of its first season.

Greylag geese can cause significant damage to arable crops leading to losses both for crofters and biodiversity. The crop cycle is the backbone of the traditional agricultural system on Uists and supports many jobs as a significant part of the local economy. Rotational use of the machairs to grow crops has led to a mosaic of internationally important habitats which support species such as corncrake, lapwing and many flowering plants. In addition the local cattle economy is reliant on the fodder crops produced to feed the animals in winter.

The Uist Greylag Goose scheme aims to minimise agricultural damage by using carefully timed and coordinated scaring activities.

“To ensure another successful year we need more local support than ever” said Rory MacGillivray, Uist Goose coordinator for Machair Life+.

Other local Goose Management schemes around Scotland are facing budget cuts while some are being wound up all together. The Uist scheme, in contrast, has funding secured and in place till March 2014 under the LIFE+ programme.

“If crofters can engage and help make the scheme work more efficiently for a second year, there will be a strong argument for continued goose funding on the Uists into the future.” continued Rory “We want to build on the success of last year when crop damage from geese was minimal, which is a significant advance on recent years.”

“There are basic things crofters can do which will deter geese that may be in the area of crop now. A key message is mix and change what you do. A scarecrow will work for a short time, but move it every few days and walk towards geese when you see them and flush them off.”

Project equipment such as specialist fireworks, kites, and targeted fencing is now being deployed. Additionally man-power in the form of 14 employed scarers will be fully utilised from now till October when the harvest is complete.

Goose scaring equipment is available through the Machair Life+ offices at East Camp, Benbecula for crofters on Uist. For further details crofters are asked to contact the office or look out for information notices around the islands.

Jul 2011

Come and meet us at the Uist Agricultural Shows this summer. We will be at South Uist and North Uist shows on 23rd July and 10th August where you will have the opportunity to meet with the team and look over our modern reaper binder machine. We look forward to meeting and talking with you about how the project may support crofting on your croft.

Jul 2011

Goose Damage - Are Geese Damaging Your Crops? If so, get in touch, as the project is deploying goose scarers to enable crop protection. Please contact Uists Goose Scheme Coordinator Rory Macgillvray on 07879 443518 For more information, please visit the How Can We Help page, and click Crop Protection.

Jun 2011

The project is stepping up its engagement with local schools through a series of practical wildlife and crofting sessions on the machair and a planned interpretation of the machair through school arts programme and crofting connections.

The project has started to engage with local schools to highlight the biodiversity of the machair in relation to crofting management. Our work with the Liniclate Crofting course students this summer has involved practical sessions in the identification of wildlife looking at how crofting management such as, shallow ploughing and late harvesting supports these species. Further plans have started to initiate a creative interpretation of the machair working with local artists and the school’s art programme. All of our work with young people is considered an important element of promoting the role that young people has to play in the future of crofting and the rich machair habitat this system supports.

Jun 2011

The project has successfully committed four applications to the Scottish Rural Development Plan for Biodiversity in North Uist, Barra and South Uist 2010 to benefit Natura 2000 designated features.

The continued availability of funding to support crofting is essential if we are to maintain this valuable habitat.

The workshops were well attended by fifty crofters, agents and community support advisers. Attendees were given a full-day’s training which included an overview of the application process itself, guidance on how to maximise the quality of applications to meet biodiversity objectives alongside one to one instruction on the on-line application process.
The aim of this training was to increase the capacity among the crofting community to put forward applications for funding in time for the 2011 application window.

Jun 2011

The project has initiated 30 Management Agreements with crofters across the Uists, which have agreed a series of traditional crofting practices which will benefit the machair, such as the late harvesting of arable crops. Management work has included over thirty hectares of seaweed being spread as organic fertiliser to benefit machair crops, resulting in management uptake.

Jun 2011

Botanical and invertebrate survey and monitoring work will begin week June 6th. This is the second year of work by our appointed Cambridge–based consultancy Applied Ecology Ltd. We hope this work will reveal important findings.

Apr 2011

We had a big turn-out by local crofters and local government agency staff to demonstration events in North Uist and Benbecula on shallow ploughing and rotovating to benefit the machair.

Demonstration events were held in North Uist and Benbecula. Project machinery was at hand to demonstrate ploughing and rotovating at shallow depths (4 to 5 inches), which encourages the germination of arable plants and benefits soil condition on the machair. Both events were well attended by over forty crofters and their families who gathered to look over project machinery and plough works and discuss issues related to managing the machair. We will be holding follow-up events to look at the quality or crops and biodiversity benefits of these cultivations later in the summer.

Apr 2011

Survey work this summer is taking place to assess breeding wader populations across five machair study areas at Iochar, Balranald, Bornish, Askernish and Berneray.

The survey is taking place to enable the project to monitor the effects of some of its land management works over the next two years. Individual cropped machair plots are being monitored to record the numbers of breeding waders using the plots and their use of the habitat for nesting or feeding. The survey will be repeated 2013 to gauge the effects of various types of management that the project is carrying out in liaison with crofters, which are either known to or thought likely to benefit ground nesting birds.

Feb 2011

The project is stepping up its engagement with local schools through a series of practical wildlife and crofting sessions on the machair and a planned interpretation of the machair through school arts programme and crofting connections.

Jan 2011

We have been busy meeting crofters across the island to agree management work which is known to benefit the machair and to trial additional initiatives where we can measure the wildlife benefits alongside crop yield.

Crofters were invited to sign-up to a number of management works, such as the binding of crops or the spreading of seaweed as organic fertiliser in order to increase the capacity of the crofter to carry out these traditional practices.

This has resulted in 30 Management Agreements for 2011across North and South Uist and Benebecula. Highlights include the spreading of seaweed on areas of machair which have not received organic fertiliser for more than thirty years. This has entailed a reduction in the amount of inorganic fertiliser being used in these areas, which will aid the establishment of wildflowers due to the slower release of nutrients that seaweed fertiliser provides. We have also increased the area of arable crop which is currently harvested by traditional reaper binder machines in areas of the island where the traditional harvesting of crops has much declined. Other management options we have signed crofters up for include the late harvesting of arable silage, which is grown as cattle feed and usually harvested in August. Delaying harvest until September will protect corncrakes which may be nesting or roosting their chicks in the crop.

We look forward to continuing to enter into agreements with crofters across the Uists. Please contact us if you would like to find out more.

Jan 2011

We held four successful workshops on the Uists, Barra and Lewis for crofters and independent agents in the Scottish Rural Development Programme for Biodiversity application process. Continued funding is essential in order to support traditional crofting management.

The workshops were well attended by fifty crofters, agents and advisers. Attendees were given a full-day’s training which included an overview of the application process itself, guidance on how to maximise the quality of applications to meet biodiversity objectives alongside one to one instruction on the on-line application process. The aim of this training was to increase the capacity among the crofting community to put forward applications for funding in time for the 2011 application window.

Oct 2010

Corncrake recovery back on track - farmers and crofters credited with recent population increase

The population of one of Scotland’s rarest birds has increased for the first time in three years. The count of singing corncrakes, an elusive farmland species, restricted in the UK almost exclusively to Scotland but was once widespread across the country, rose this year to just under 1200.

After long-term declines dating back to the early 20th century, the species’ fortune was turned around following the introduction of a successful conservation programme in 1993, a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Government and most importantly farmers and crofters. It aimed to maintain habitat by offering financial support to manage land in a way that was sympathetic to corncrakes.

Since the start of the scheme, the Scottish corncrake population has trebled, reaching a high of over 1200 in 2007. Despite a modest, but concerning, decline in 2008 and 2009, counts conducted this year show the total Scottish population of calling males was 1193, a rise of 66 on the previous year. This is largely down to the efforts of crofters and farmers working closely with conservation bodies. Scottish Government payments have allowed land-owners to manage hay meadows and field margins in a way that is sensitive to the species’ needs.

Corncrakes migrate to Scotland in late spring from sub-Saharan Africa. Here, they spend the summer breeding and rely on the tall grass to shelter their young. Since changes in agricultural practices, notably the cutting of hay and silage crops earlier in the year, this shy bird has retreated to strongholds in the Hebridean and Argyll islands, along with the Outer Hebrides. This is largely because local crofters and farmers use low-intensity wildlife-friendly land management practices, - “high nature value farming” - which help support bird and animal populations. However, agri-environment payments are needed to provide crofters and farmers with the necessary income to manage land this way.

Local crofter Alistair MacDonald said “I’m very lucky that the land I manage on North Uist is home to a number of corncrakes. You don’t often see these unusual birds but you definitely hear their “crake crake” call coming from the tall grass. It’s a good feeling knowing I am helping save a rare species, while at the same time making a living for my family. But I doubt I would be able to do both without the money I receive from agri-environment payments. They allow me to manage my land in a way that help these birds without greatly impacting on my income. I’m not sure how many farmers or crofters would be able to consider corncrake-friendly farming without them. For land-managers to be able to continue supporting corncrake recovery we have to make sure there’s enough money in the scheme and putting an application in isn’t too complicated.”

Dr Paul Walton, Head of Habitats and Species at RSPB Scotland, added: “The Scottish Government’s Rural Priorities scheme has proved vital in assisting corncrake recovery. Without it, and the hard work of crofters, farmers and our other partners, that distinctive crex call may have disappeared from our countryside forever. However, it is very important that those finishing agreements from previous schemes can get into the new SRDP to carry on this management. We have reports of land-managers facing difficulty getting into the new scheme due to it being online and the long waiting list for advisors. This has to addressed.

"Moreover, the threat of spending cuts has raised concerns that those who farm with corncrakes in mind will be unable to access the right support. The story of the Scottish corncrake tells us that agri-environment measures really can make a difference. We urge the Scottish Government to keep that in mind as it considers its financial future in the light of spending cuts and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy."


Oct 2010

The project has successfully committed four applications to the Scottish Rural Development Plan for Biodiversity in North Uist, Barra and South Uist 2010 to benefit Natura 2000 designated features. The continued availability of funding to support crofting is essential if we are to maintain this valuable habitat.

The project worked with four crofters to put in application for funding through the Scottish Rural Development funding for Biodiversity in 2010. The applications covered areas of croft land within the Natura 2000 designated areas and included management options which will benefit key wildlife features of the machair. These included mowing and grazing management to benefit breeding corncrake and waders such as lapwing, redshank and oystercatcher and invertebrates such as the Great Yellow Bumblebee which is a UK and Scottish biodiversity action target species. One hectare of new cultivation of cropped machair was also agreed at Baleshare, North Uist. These applications have enabled important funding support to the crofting community to maintain beneficial management for the machair and its wildlife.

Sep 2010

The first year of fieldwork has just been completed relating to botany and insects on the Uist machairs. As part of the Conserving Scottish Machair LIFE+ project two surveyors from Applied Ecology, a Cambridge based consultancy, have spent much of the summer collating valuable data on lesser known fauna and flora of arable machair habitats.

A number of sample sites were surveyed across more than 60 plots spread along the west of the islands. Pitfall traps were put in place to collect invertebrates while transects were walked to attain data on pollinators such as bees as well as record the botanical diversity of the plots. Additionally soil samples were taken from each plot to allow assessments to be made both of the soil itself and the creatures within it.

Dr Chris Woolley, Applied Ecology, recovers invertebrates from pitfall traps in an arable crop

Yellow Field Pansy – one of the beautiful species found on the Uist machairs amongst the crops

Analysis of results can now begin, and over the four years of the project a picture will develop of what methods of arable crofting work best for wildlife. Combining this data with crofter discussions to find out about use of seaweed, depth of ploughing and other techniques should allow a firmer understanding of the habitat to be collated.

Aug 2010

The Machair LIFE+ Project attended this year’s South Uist agricultural show to support the International Year of Biodiversity.

The Machair LIFE+ team were joined by the Uist Wader Project, the Hebridean Mink Project, and the Outer Hebrides Natural History Society in the show’s biodiversity stand. The Machair LIFE+ information display was extremely popular and well received by visitors to the show; and the project’s seaweed spreader exhibited adjacent to the stand created a lot of interest – as did one of the project’s experimental goose deterrent kites soaring above. Look out for Machair LIFE+ at the North Uist show on 11th August.

Aug 2010

Have you got a reaper binder hidden at the back of your shed waiting to see the light of day? If so the Conserving Scottish Machair LIFE+ Project would like to hear from you.

The project would like to encourage crofters to once again fire up their reaper binders and reap, bind and stook some of their crops, which not only supports the unique, traditional crofting culture, but is great for conserving the machair and its wildlife too. The project has also sourced bailer twine to help get binders back into action since consultation with crofters has suggested that a shortage in twine is one of the reasons why they no longer make use of their binder. Getting parts for reaper binders is also a major issue and it may be that your reaper binder can donate parts to bring new lease of life into other binders. So if you have cropped machair in a Natura 2000 site and have a reaper binder that you would happily put back into service, or donate for parts, or if you require bailing twine in order to get yours going, then get in touch with us.

Jul 2010

The Conserving Scottish Machair Life+ Project, Uist Greylag Goose Management Scheme document has been produced. Download a copy of it (if you cannot view PDFs, download a viewer). This explains how the Project will coordinate the 2010 Uist goose management scheme. We will be utilising a mix of coordinated goose management methodologies, including some tried and tested methods, but also some new, which have been proven to work in other schemes. The project will be closely monitoring what works best for the Uists.