Our passage to Fidra was earned through a day’s worth of volunteering. The job for the day, like most work parties on Fidra, was to cut down tree mallow on behalf of the RSPB who manage the island. This invasive species has been doing its best to take over this and other nearby islands leaving the birds that nest there, specifically the puffins, with nowhere to go. Removal of the mallow over the past few years has allowed the puffin population to rise from about 400 to 1000 pairs. However, it’s an unending task to keep it under control and to prevent it taking over everything.
The small boat that delivered us dropped us at the lighthouse pier, a tricky spot to get in to with hidden rocks, fortunately it was the sheltered side from a fresh breeze blowing down the Firth of Forth. Our 20 minute journey from North Berwick had resulted in most of us getting wet as the little boat split each oncoming wave. Once on the island we made base camp beneath the remaining wall of St Nicholas Chapel. A small group of us crossed the tidal channel to tackle some of the mallow on castle rock where, as the name suggests, a castle once stood. We were’t there long before we had the make a hasty retreat due to the incoming tide – a few wet feet on the return journey!
For the rest of the day we battled the mallow on the main part of the island which is topped by a lighthouse. Only the light on the tower peeks above the high part of the island, the rest of the building tucked below. The route from the jetty to the lighthouse is the course of a small railway, a steep incline in the central section. This must have been the means of winching supplies and equipment up to the building from the boats delivering them. Unlike many lighthouses this wasn’t surrounded by solar panels, instead a power line crosses the narrow Brigs of Fidra to bring mains electricity here.
We tackled whatever patches of mallow we fancied doing, a remaining stand in front of the lighthouse tower, a scattering of smaller plants on the highest plateau, some on the cliff to the west of the island and, for the most part, a tall stand in the lighthouse garden. It’s a satisfying plant to cut, a small squeak as the loppers slice through. Larger plants needed a saw and the piles of chopped plants soon grew as the area became clearer.
The sun stayed shining for most of the day, occasional clouds passed through to the south but any showers stayed away. To the east was the scattering of small islands; Lamb and Craigleith, each with their own Tree Mallow problem, and beyond the imposing Bass Rock with North Berwick Law a sentinel on the mainland. North was the Fife coast and the Isle of May.
Our boat returned on time at 3:30pm with a less spray ridden trip back to the harbour via the cliffs of Craigleith to look at the seal pups and, as it turned out, a great view of a pair of peregrine falcons as they quartered above the island.