To get context and knowledge about Muie Croft before starting on any development, we read a book from Golspie Library called Rogart, The Story of a Sutherland Crofting Parish by John Macdonald. It is a book of verbal social history put to paper on the history of Rogart, starting in the 1800’s but concentrating on 1900 to 2000. On page 363 we get to Rocks and Nature, the following is notes made from this chapter.
‘Rogh ard or Rhidhe meaning an inclining plain and ard meaning high is Gaelic in origin and means very high, the parish is approximately 10 square miles. In the 1800’s over 2000 people lived here, by 2000 it is averaging 400. In the 1960’s there was a push to amalgamate croft land holdings to make each croft bigger and more viable as a farm rather than just subsistence. It was during this time that many croft houses were de-crofted. On our croft we have two de-crofted houses and one much older house in ruins, this is how we have 103 acres. Apportionments of communal grazing were also added at this time into our croft.
It is made up of Strath Fleet, called in 1834 Strathfloid, the river was called the flodag and Strath Brora. Groups of rocky hills with thin soil and mixed blue soil and gravel, the sides of the hills were mostly cultivated, the tops of the hills are heath, the valley floors a light fertile loam. 200 years ago the people lived off the land, raising pigs, owning a milk cow and growing crops, it was a comfortable healthy outdoor life, they all spoke Gaelic. This was before the clearances, when there was an influx of more crofters into the parish. Crofters on Morvich and Blairich were moved to make way for larger sheep farms. From what we can gather no-one was moved in Muie.
Rock: Rogart is chiefly on gneiss rock known as the ‘A Mhoine Succession’ which extends to the sound of Iona. Its age is put at around 700 to 1500 million years. Some 416 to 464 million years ago plate movements allowed molten magna to be forced up which is now the Rogart granite in which you can see veins of quartz and mica. The whole parish is built from these rocks. Moss/peat forms the largest proportion often found to a depth of 12 feet. The valley soils are sandy and gravely. There are many springs. Strath Fleet is a fjord which has filled up over time with remains of ancient lands to the west and north leaving a fine alluvial valley floor with clays,mud, sand and gravels. When the pylon line was constructed they tested to find a solid foundation, the first 15 ft was clay, they they hit shingle and sand, down to 90 feet and still no bottom was found. The last notable earth quake was in 1927 when houses shook, plates fell off dressers and pictures off walls.
The crofters spent many years creating their fields. The method was to ‘trench’ . First the sod surface would be turned aside then replaced, turned soil upwards in the bottom of the trench when all the rocks had been removed. These were used to build the dykes/walls around the edge of the field. Limestone would be ground down and used as mortar in dwellings for human or livestock. Muie croft has several of these fields, Nick and I marvel at how much work it must have been to create them all by hand.
In 1864 Rev McKenzie wrote: The moors produce heather, deer hair and cotton grass but on their sides can be found a mixture of fine grasses. Red and white clover and mountain daisy are common, these meadows with such good meadow grasses are very productive. Roe deer were common, and occasionally red mountain deer pass over the moor. The grey hare is common, the brown hare, and of late the rabbit, the grey hare is very common. Moorfowl (grouse) are abundant and Black game/cock are very numerous. Trout and salmon are commonly fished in the lochs and up the rivers making it high up the burns to spawn.
In 2000 most of this description still rings true, the rabbit then only just introduced are now very common and the grouse and black cock sadly rarely seen. There is still fish in the lochs but not in the same numbers. During the salmon runs in the Brora and Fleet they used to lie side by side in the pools in vast numbers awaiting the autumn spate to carry them upstream. Up the Lettaid and as far as the falls at Milton Muie. This is no longer the case.
The Goats: They were kept by crofters which were then replaced by sheep. There has been a feral goat herd for as long as anyone can remember living on the rocks above Morvich, they were a blue grey colour and numbered always around 20. It was only after WW II when an Indian Soldier encampment was nearby that they disappeared until there was only one old Billy goat remained. Mr Murray felt sorry for him and bought him two nannies from the sales in Lairg and the herd survives today.
Woods: in 1834 Timber did not abound in Rogart, there was about 20 acres in Strath Fleet with some native oaks, this was enclosed and Larch and Fir planted. The oak woods on Tressady are probably the oldest most northerly oak wood in Britain on the East coast. There is a record of old oak and newly planted oak in 1810. Over the years many have succumbed to man and gales. There are still considerable quantities of birch woods and they quickly grow when there is no grazing. The marsh areas of Rogart Park were recently probed for core samples of sediment. They revealed a depth of 11 metres in places with samples of birch pollen from 9000 years ago. In the 1950’s there were a few commercial forestry plantations which are now coming to maturity. There are birch, aspen, alder and willow, elm and sycamore also flourish. Bird cherry can be found in the lower reaches of the Garb ault. The woodlands have wood anemone and wild hyacinth. The high moors have dwarf vegetation which is associated with greater altitudes further south in Scotland. The Fleet over the past 200 years was fringed with birch and alder.
Birds of Prey: Golden eagles, Red Kites, Hen Harriers, Buzzards, Short eared owl and Barn owls should all live in Muie where there is still an abundance of rabbit and voles.
Birds: There has been a dramatic decline in black headed gulls and lapwings. You can still see oyster catcher and curlews. Jackdaws, crows and hoodies are very common. Ground nesting red grouse are also rare. Pheasants have been brought in by Tressady. 1999 RSPB winter farmland survey done in Rogart reported: reed buntings in rushes, common snipe, chaffinch, linnet, goldfinch, song & mistle thrush, blackbird, fieldfare, redwing. There should be yellow hammer, stonechat and skylark, the corncrake has not been heard for 70 years. Divers can still be found in outlying lochs and around the moors golden plover. We also have a robin!
Tressady Estate was one of the best grouse moors. It had less in the way of fishing and deer stalking. There are extensive records of what was shot. On the 12th in 1887 they shot 348 red grouse and 12 hare, 2 snipe and 2 plover. On the 13th they shot 340 red grouse, 10 hare, 3 snipe and 2 duck. Records go on daily until shooting stops in October. The total that season was 3382 red grouse, 24 partridges, 3 plover, 81 snipe, 16 duck, 28 teal duck, 512 hares, 237 rabbits, 22 salmon and 75 trout (fishing was mostly done in The Shin). Records in 1888 show 2899 grouse shot, what the crofters also shot meant this figure was double. So approx 6000 grouse were shot each year and this was sustainable. 1950 over the whole of August on the estate they shot a total of 92 grouse (4 brace were in Muie) In total that season they shot 287 grouse, 9 brace of partridge, 13 snipe, 3 hares and 10 rabbits. 1994 they shot 61 red grouse in the season, and since then have stopped. Mammals: Voles, rabbits are still common, hares are rare, stoats, weasels, hedgehog, fox can be found but not many. Rogart is perfect habitat for the Wild Cat and in the days when mid century when men folk could still earn a living snaring rabbits they were seen. There has also been recorded pine martens, sika deer, roe and red deer. You may also find a feral ferret left from the 1980’s when they were used as ‘sport’ on a shoot and often abandoned down a rabbit burrow. The book explains that the men who used to use ferrets to catch rabbits for a living never lost a ferret.
When we arrived on the croft in September we saw plenty of rabbits, when we walk up on the top we spring 1-4 red grouse, we have seen 20 red deer and one roe near the river. There is plenty of evidence of voles. We have heard and seen one short eared owl. A robin lives in the garden and we have seen wrens and blackbirds. Crows sweep overhead and roost in the pines. Bats hunt over the day room we see them swooping and believe they roost in the elms. We have seen one frog! There are two red kites that ride the thermals over the croft.
Our hope is that by improving habitats and going back to crofting the old wa,y allowing fodder crops to stay in the fields, using regenerative grazing and increasing biodiversity we can encourage a wider range of birds and mammals to join us.