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Children from Balivanich Primary School have been getting experience of traditional crofting activity – collecting seaweed for fertiliser from a beach with the help of a pair of ponies.  The activity is being supported by the RSPB-led Conserving Machair Life + project that aims to support traditional agricultural practices in the Western Isles and other islands which retain active crofting.

The seaweed being collected – mainly kelp - is destined for the school’s potato patch, a crop that is traditionally grown along with arable crops on the machair.

The expedition to the beach was the first to be undertaken by one-year-old Cula, the adopted school pony. He will be a key feature of teaching the children all about crofting and outdoor life. The school devotes a Friday afternoon every week to environmental activities, which include gardening with environmental charity , Sustainable Uist and crofting with Machair Life.

The children were supervised forking well-rotted (and extremely pungent) seaweed into home-made creels and up the stony beach.  The Machair Life tractor was made available to demonstrate how the project can assist in collecting huge quantities of kelp for spreading on the machair.

Donald MacInnes, the newly appointed project assistant for Machair Life, is a local man and knows all too well the hazards of the job.

He explained: “We are on stand-by for seaweed. When we know it has arrived in large enough quantities, we get to the beaches as fast as possible and with the help of local contractors and crofters gather it in. It is the product of storms – to which the Western Isles are no stranger.”

This year Machair Life has doubled its management agreements with local crofters and has agreed to spread over eighty hectares of seaweed across the machair. The project team has also been working with townships to facilitate additional collections in order to help as many crofters as possible to use the seaweed on their fields.

Rebecca Cotton, manager of the Machair Life project, said: “We are keen to promote the use of organic fertilisers such as kelp since it reduces the level of artificial fertilisers and is beneficial to wildlife.  The use of seaweed as an organic fertiliser also helps to protect the machair because it helps to bind the fragile sandy soil.  

“Working with young people is also a vital part of the project remit so we were delighted that the children wanted to use the seaweed to help fertilise their new vegetable patch. Soon they will be growing carrots for Cula.  They are obviously crofters in the making.”




Pupils experience seaweed collecting                23/2/12