Published: 29/12/2017 17:00 - Updated: 28/12/2017 11:56

Couple beat off competition from all over world to become Handa rangers

 

Handa's new rangers, Craig Hisbet and Francesca Clair
Handa's new rangers, Craig Hisbet and Francesca Clair

 

It may be a job strictly for the birds.

But after nearly 100 people from around the world applied to look after 200,000 birds on Handa Island off Sutherland’s west coast, two new seasonal rangers have been appointed.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust has named Craig Nisbet and Francesca Clair as the new rangers on Handa Island Wildlife Reserve. The island is internationally important for seabirds including guillemots. 

The couple will live and work on the island from March to September. They will be joined by up to six long-term and 50 weekly volunteers over the season. Mr Nisbet said: “Francesca and I are passionate about conservation. We’re both looking forward to working and living with volunteers, meeting the visitors, and making a connection with the land, the sea and the local community.”

Sven Rasmussen, reserves manager, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “Handa is an extraordinarily beautiful place and is one of Europe’s most important seabird colonies. However, it is rather remote, which means our rangers have to be resourceful and resilient. 

“Craig and Francesca are both experienced conservationists and I’m sure they have the skills needed to make 2018 a successful season for our volunteers, visitors and wildlife.” 

Mr Nisbet has spent the last 10 years with Scottish Natural Heritage, including four continuous seasons as reserve manager of Noss National Nature Reserve in Shetland. He has also been involved in a number of expeditions, most recently in Arctic Norway identifying and filming orcas and humpback whales. 

Ms Clair has worked for several environmental organisations, including the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, focusing on education, community development and practical conservation, both in the UK and abroad. 

The couple will help to manage coordinated counts of breeding seabirds and chicks, oversee repair work taking places on Handa’s path network, and ensure that thousands of people are able to enjoy a safe visit to the island. 

Handa Island is owned by Scourie Estate and managed in partnership with the Scottish Wildlife Trust. During the summer, the island attracts tens of thousands of birds including guillemots, kittiwakes and fulmars. Dolphins, whales and basking sharks are often seen from the coast.

 Normally uninhabited Handa is also home to Britain’s remotest and most expensive public toilet!

More than 7000 plus visitors flock to the remote isle every summer and in growing numbers because it is on the booming North Coast 500 road route. Even job seekers in Australia and New Zealand applied for the seasonal rangers’ posts.

The advert pulled no punches over Handa’s isolation.

The trust said: “This demanding role requires excellent organisational skills, coupled with a high degree of flexibility.

“You will be responsible for organising work programmes for yourself and a team of volunteers, constantly adapting your plan according to changing conditions.  

“You will need good physical fitness, and the desire to work out-of-doors in a remote location. Familiarity with Handa Island would be an advantage. Weekly trips to Scourie (the nearest village) are necessary to do laundry, banking, shopping and exchange gas bottles. Therefore, a current driving licence and access to a vehicle are both essential for the role.

“Accommodation for the post is provided free of charge in the purpose-built ranger’s bothy.

“The successful candidate(s) will have a high degree of emotional maturity, resilience and flexibility; be able to work under their own initiative and as part of a close-knit team; be able to organise, supervise and motivate a small team; have exceptional verbal communication skills to maintain relationships with stakeholders; have good practical skills and experience to carry out or arrange necessary maintenance on the island; have a thorough knowledge of seabird monitoring methodology and practice; have sound knowledge of marine and terrestrial natural history and be able to produce an annual report on the season’s activities.”

Five years ago Handa had a £50,000 comfort stop installed to keep up with the tourist boom.

The Handa eco loo is turf-roofed and made of steel.

It took a team of five men, six days to build on an island so difficult to reach it needed two landing craft, making several attempts, to land the specially designed materials on shore.

Positioned on a hill overlooking a beach, the foundations are seven feet deep to stop it being blown into the Atlantic by regular gale-force

winds, while the only prying eyes are from the seals and otters who live nearby.

Following completion in 2012, intrepid birdwatchers to one of Scotland’s most spectacular wildlife reserves no longer had to cross their legs until they reached the mainland.

And from the loo you can look out on local mountains like Suilven, Foinaven and Ben Mor Coigach as well as seals and otters on the nearby beach.

On the island’s busiest days it can receive up to 150 visitors.

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