Saturday, 23 March 2013

Contrasting technologies on Canna

we continued on our walk to explore a little of the island of Canna and arrived at the telecommunications and postal hub.  A traditional phone box with functioning payphone, Post Office  and post box contrasted with the satellite technology used to carry calls from the payphone and transactions from the Post Office.  We used the payphone to check in with families (no mobile phone signal here!) and to arrange a call ahead to let the hostel manager on Rum know that we hoped to arrive later that evening.

Canna has recently been connected via satellite link to a fast wireless broadband network known as "Hebnet".  Developed initially for Eigg, the network is gradually being rolled out acorss the Small Isles (Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna) and has brought dramatic increases in bandwidth/operating speed.  The network has been designed and implemented by the community with assistance from Highlands & Islands Enterprise and has had to take account of some local constraints such as lack of a centralised electricity supply on the islands. 

Hebnet is capable of 50Mbps transfer rates - and is now only limited by the BT backhaul arrangements on the mainland which limits speeds to 8Mbps - an interesting situation!  The roll-out of a fast wireless network is, rightly, perceived as crucial by the islanders.  Without access to the internet at realistic rates businesses are constrained and folk simply won't be able to diversify in a way which can develop and enhance the island economies.

 We wondered what the users of these earlier technologies would have made of it all!

One traditional technology which is in obvious use on Canna is the use of  snares to kill rabbits and traps to ensure that the Rat problem doesn't re-emerge.

Canna suffered a large increase in the population of Brown Rats, and a consequent large decrease in the number of nesting seabirds.  Clearly some form of control was required (Rats are not native to Canna) and so a programme of eradication began, primarily using poison.  One creature which needed special protection was the Canna Woodmouse, a distinct form of woodmouse found nowhere else.  As the mice would also be depleted by the poison, the Trust in partnership with the Royal Zoological Society for Scotland trapped over 150 mice and moved them to sites in Edinburgh and Kincraig in order to preserve a viable population pool for susequent re-introduction.

The programme has been a big success; the Rats are pretty much gone and the reintroduction programme for the mice can begin.

But as ever in nature, removing one animal from a niche gives an opportunity to another......

 Rabbits.  With no Rats, the rabbit population has vastly increased to an unsustainable level.  We saw big areas undermined by burrows, causing damage to farmland and the rabbits will potentially eat both crops and wild flowers to the ground, as well as competing with burrow nesting birds such as Manx Shearwaters.

An active control programme is in full swing using snares and the gun to reduce the rabbit population down to a manageable level.  It's a battle against large numbers, and this rabbit was among several piles of carcasses near the NTS buildings awaiting disposal.

It's not pretty, but it is very necessary.  Wherever possible the meat is sold on to butchers on the mainland- and the island restaurant and tearoom (currently up for lease) featured a lot of rabbit dishes on its menu!

Next on our route was the rather fine Canna House, home of the then owners of the island John Lorne Campbell and his wife Margaret Fay Shaw.  Open for visiting in the summer months, the house houses the Canna Archive, an imprtant collection of items relating to Hebridean culture and folklore.

Next we passed the Presbyterian church and burial ground - one of three churches on this small island.  Built in 1914, it was constructed partly in memory of Robert Thom and was also designed in part to act as a landmark for the fishermen who would worship there - an interesting mutifunctional technology in itself.

 The furthest point of our short exploration was the new slipway built to accomodate the newer classes of ferry as well as a Ro-Ro facility for freight and vehicles.  The waiting room has toilets and a tap for water (useful for kayakers) and also contains a small exhibition of pictures and information about Canna.  Nearby is the tiny community shop whic in summer sells (amongst other things)  island handcrafts to visitors.

 On our way back along the shore road to our tents, it was obvious that although Canna is a relatively sheltered and fertile island, it gets its share of strong winds!  Near here we had a superb close view of a Sea Eagle, perhaps eyeing up some of the rabbit carcasses we'd seen earlier.

Arriving back at our camp site, we took down the tents and packed the boats.  The wind had only dropped slightly, but our timings now fitted in with the last part of the east-going tidal stream.  this would help us whilst not being so strong as to kick up rough conditions in the wind - we hoped!

Setting out, we felt that this section of our journey would be potentially the roughest water we'd encounter.  We were correct.....

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