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Isle of Coll - a unique hebridean wildlife experience

The stunning Isle of Coll, and its close neighbour Tiree nestle on Scotland's west coast, just a few hours from the historic port of Oban. The island has a rich variety of stunning habitats from wildflower-carpeted machair to rolling dunes and grassland.

Coll remains one of the UK strongholds of the rare and secretive corncrake - with over 150 of these threatened migrants now arriving on the island each spring, to take advantage of RSPB reserves and other specially managed areas.


The RSPB bought the 1200 hectare Coll reserve in late 1991, predominantly to manage the land for corncrakes. The reserve is a mosaic of enormous dune systems, machair grassland, fen and wet grassland, maritime heath and upland habitats. All of the grasslands are managed for corncrakes with roughly 50% being late-cut meadow and 50% pasture free from summer grazing.

In addition to the extensively managed grasslands the RSPB has created over 30 small early-cover areas for corncrakes where fencing off from grazing and the planting of early-growing species such a cow parsley and nettle has created perfect conditions for corncrakes on their arrival back from Africa.

The success story of corncrakes on the Coll reserve is plain to see, rising from 10 calling males in 1992 to 90 in 2005.

Figure 1: Numbers of calling male corncrakes on the RSPB reserve and whole island

A plethora of waders nest on the reserve's grasslands and wetlands, including Lapwing, Redshank, Snipe and Dunlin. Evenings in May & June can be a feast of sound with the 'crex crex' of the corncrake, drumming snipe and hundreds of skylarks in song.

In addition, many thousands of passage waders move through, including Golden Plovers, Black-tailed Godwits, Whimbrel and a few Dotterel. Offshore flocks of Great Northern Divers can reach 50 birds, flocks of terns are harassed by skuas, huge rafts of Manx Shearwaters form and Basking Sharks, Minke Whales, seals and otters can be seen. Birds of Coll's upland areas include Red-throated Diver, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Arctic Skua and Twite.

May and June provide a bounty for the botanist too, with several hundred species in amazing abundance across the mosaic of habitats. These include many specialist species and up to eight species of orchid. Rare insects include the Great Yellow Bumblebee.

Isle of Coll

RSPB breaks will bring chance to encounter Coll's threatened corncrakes and other wildlife

The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and an island community group are joining forces to give tourists a chance to see one of Europe's rarest birds.

After many years of successful efforts for corncrakes and an impressive breeding season last year, the RSPB has formed a partnership with the island's Project Trust to offer small-group visitor breaks to the island in 2006, to experience the corncrake and other Hebridean specialities including basking sharks.

With a population of less than 150, it is hoped that the joint project - run over two weekends during May and June, will boost the island's economy and raise the 'green tourism' profile of this stunning hebridean location.

Visitors on the Coll short-breaks can expect to see a huge variety of quintessential Scottish wildlife, with carpets of 'machair' dunes filled with over eight species of orchids, to red-throated divers, skuas and wading birds including the dunlin. During May and June, there is no better place to encounter one of the world's largest sharks - the plankton-eating basking shark, as these huge mammals (that can reach 11 metres in length), roam the warm waters offshore. Other sea-going creatures including seals and otters are also likely, and as with any hebridean island, there is always the chance of something unexpected.

Basking Shark

Simon Wellock, RSPB Coll Warden said: This is an exciting opportunity for RSPB Scotland and the Isle of Coll, and with the corncrakes now doing so well, it will be the perfect chance for guests on the short-breaks to experience some fantastic wildlife - including corncrakes, in a way that benefits the birds and the local community.

The three-day breaks will include several presentations and guided walks across the island and a chance to encounter corncrakes, with the help of the RSPB warden, with guests also given the opportunity to explore the island in their own time.

For more information on the RSPB Hebridean Wildlife Experience breaks on Coll including dates and prices, contact RSPB Scotland on 0141 331 0993.