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‘A double edged sword’: TV spotlight can help Mull economy but visitors warned about disturbing wildlife

Sea eagles are a big attraction on Mull. Photo by Iain Erskine

Wildlife watchers are being urged to act responsibly ahead of an expected boom in visitors to Mull which is enjoying the TV spotlight.

The island and its wildlife will have a starring role in this week’s BBC Autumnwatch.

Mull will be one of three locations across the UK to feature in four nights of live broadcasting from October 26.

The famous sea eagles, as well as otters, red deer and other wildlife, will feature along with items from Norfolk and Northern Ireland.

Enjoy Mull wildlife but act responsibly

It follows the BBC’s Countryfile using the island as its base for a programme at the weekend.

On Monday, the Escape to the Wilderness programme will air on More 4 with cameraman Hanza Yassin and actor Martin Clunes.

Dave Sexton, the RSPB’s Mull officer, says an expected influx of visitors following the TV shows is a “double edged sword”.

“You want people to come to enjoy the wildlife,” he said.

“But you want them to do it safely and responsibly so they don’t disturb the wildlife they have come to see.

Wildlife watchers are advised to join organised local tours

“There have been issues in the past with otters and sea eagles being disturbed by over-zealous wildlife watchers and photographers.

“More people coming to Mull will be welcome to a certain extent.

“At a quieter time of year it will benefit hotels, B&Bs and wildlife tours who run all year round.

“So in some ways, it could be good to help local businesses who wish to stay open.

“But people should do a bit of homework before they come and consider joining an organised wildlife tour on the island.”

Sea eagles generate £5 million of visitor spending in Mull

This is a good time of year to view sea eagles which are a major part of the growing nature-based economy on Mull.

The birds are said to generate up to £5 million worth of spending in the area, supporting 64 to 108 jobs.

But Dave says responsible tourism is vital.

“Learn to be patient. You don’t always need to get a photograph,” he added.

“Just watch quietly from a distance and enjoy natural behaviour rather than do something that makes the animals run or fly off.

Dave Sexton says people should enjoy wildlife safely and responsibly

“You can see a lot from long way off, when animals are acting as they should and not affected by your presence.

“It’s lovely when you get a close encounter. But it nearly always means the wildlife is being disturbed.”

Ewan Miles, who owns nature expedition company Nature Scotland, says people keen to get outside post lockdown adds to Mull’s visitor numbers.

As well as wildlife watchers, there has been a rise in paddle boarders and kayakers.

His company is recovering after nine months without any business and a few months running at 40-50% capacity during Covid.

Enjoying wildlife can be a ‘biological necessity’

“Folk are on bird watching tours for the first time as they are seeing things in a different light and want to enjoy green space,” he said.

“It’s important for wellbeing, both mentally and physically. It’s not a pastime for some people, it’s more of a biological necessity.

“However, they should be non-intrusive while wildlife watching.

“A lot of people are, but there are some who don’t understand the impact they can have intruding on habitats.

“Programmes like Autumnwatch can be a powerful voice in encouraging people to enjoy the outdoors in a responsible way.

“Those of us based here will work together to encourage that.”

Nature watching can be done from a distance

Autumnwatch will be presented by Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan in Norfolk, Megan McCubbin in Mull and Gillian Burke in Northern Ireland.

Megan will highlight a device helping save otters by reflecting light from approaching headlights and stopping them going into the path of vehicles.

She will also report on the island red deer rut, research into spur dog sharks and a hedgehog in rehab.

Dave Sexton added: “We all love hedgehogs but in general on islands they’re not a good thing.

Hedgehogs can be harmful to birds

“We have seen on the Uists, where animals were illegally introduced to control slugs in gardens, they have now seriously damaged nationally important numbers of ground nesting waders.

“They’re believed to be native on Mull and part of island life.

“But please never introduce hedgehogs onto islands. It’s illegal and can damage native island wildlife.”

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