This magical island, with crystal clear waters and ancient forests, is a rare habitat. Unlike many windswept Scottish islands, Eilean Shona is nestled close to the mainland which means it’s rich with several different ecosystems. Eilean Shona’s native woodlands are classified as part of the Scottish Rainforest belt, an ancient swathe of forest on the Atlantic coast dating back to the last ice age and characterised by mixed broadleaf woodland. The island is populated by trees dripping with lichens and rocks clad with abundant mosses. Isolated patches of this rainforest exist across the west coast of Scotland including the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, but it is thought that as much as 50% of all temperate rainforest in Europe has been destroyed. Today, temperate rainforests cover less than 1% of the globe’s surface. As custodians of the island, our mission is to protect this vital environment for future generations by providing space for native flora and fauna to thrive. Eilean Shona sits within the Loch Moidart SSSI, protected for its important mud flats. This means a variety of wading birds can be seen from the island’s shores, particularly at low tide.
Our forests are home to some of the world’s rarest lichens, bryophytes, liverworts and fungi. The lichen in particular are rare outside of Scotland and their presence is an indicator of a healthy environment. They are sensitive to pollution and acid rain and can only survive in pristine wild spaces.
In addition to our ancient woodland, former owner of Eilean Shona Captain Swinburne planted a magnificent pinetum around the house during the Victorian era. A handwritten paper titled List of Conifers of 1933 details 40 genera of trees and hundreds of native species on the island. In the early 2010s, the south flank of the island was fenced off from deer in order to create a forest regeneration zone. Initially the area was planted with a variety of native species such as: Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), downy birch (Betula pubescens), juniper (Juniperus communis), hazel (Corylus avellana), holly (Ilex aquifolium), European crab apple (Malus sylvestris), common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), alder (Alnus glutinosa), bird cherry (Prunus padus), elder (Sambucus nigra) and Wych elm (Ulmus glabra) and of course Sessile Oak (Quercus Petraea). Despite a significant wildfire in 2013 throughout the newly planted area, the success of this scheme is evident when walking through the regeneration zone with a healthy new forest and understory starting to emerge. Since the initial tree planting stage, we have had minimal intervention within the area, allowing natural regeneration to occur.
The island holds a variety of habitats from ancient natural woodland to ancient plantation, pinetum, upland grassland and bog to coastal habitats offering the walker the chance to observe most of the characteristic Scottish landscapes and species within a few hours.
The native woodland expansion has created a haven for wildlife. Eilean Shona is home to some of the most stunning wildlife on the Western Isles with a variety of birds, mammals, butterflies and insects. Birds of prey are commonly seen circling over wooded areas and include our resident breeding pair of White-tailed (sea) eagles, golden eagles and buzzards. One of the largest UK heronries can be found in Loch Moidart, with many grey herons fishing and nesting along our shores. The loch and its mudflats are home to an array of waders and seabirds with strong populations of red and amber list species such as Curlew, Oystercatcher, Red-Breasted Merganser, Arctic Tern, Great Northern and Black Throated divers and Goldeneye amongst many others. Meanwhile the island itself with its rich diversity of habitats also shelters an array of threatened birds such as Woodcock, Mistle Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, Bullfinch, Pipits, Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Common Cuckoo (the calls of which can be heard throughout the island from April until June).
Our butterfly and moth species include Peacock, Green-Veined White, Speckled Wood, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Scotch Argus and Cinnabar Moth, a species closely associated with Common Ragwort and thus in steep national decline .
Eilean Shona’s woodlands are home to the native red squirrel and the elusive pine marten, the largest member of the weasel family. Red and Roe deer roam freely and are most easily seen in the colder months when they descend from higher slopes to more sheltered ground. For a few weeks in early autumn, during rutting season the stag’s mighty roars can be heard throughout the island. Large colonies of common and grey seals and otters are found along our coastline. For the lucky few, dolphins, minke whales and basking sharks can be spotted swimming in the surrounding waters.
In 2011, we fenced in a 600-acre deer-free zone to allow for maximum regeneration, while also planting 120,000 new native trees. The ongoing challenge is to keep the invasive rhododendrons at bay thus allowing native trees, moss, lichen and wildflowers to thrive and creating a rich biodiverse environment. Over the last two decades, extensive efforts have been made towards the eradication of mature Rhododendron Ponticum bushes. Many of the mature seed bearing plants have been removed but decades of seeds remain within the soil meaning that rhododendron regeneration continues to pose a threat to the fragile ecosystem. We continue to strive towards total eradication of the species on the island and greatly appreciate guests’ help in uprooting young seedlings when they come across them.
Overgrazing by deer poses a further threat to natural forest regeneration outside of the fenced zone. A local deerstalker responsibly manages the herd to keep numbers to a sustainable level and he sells the venison directly from his nearby shop in Mingarry.
Our conservation plans also include an academic survey of rare lichen, mosses and fungi. In addition, we enlist the help of guests to protect our fragile ecosystem by keeping to the paths.
All profits raised from cottage and house rentals are reinvested into Eilean Shona's continuing conservation projects.
Projects & Collaborations
Sea Eagle Management Scheme
We have a specialist team who is helping with the management, relocation and breeding of sea eagles in the wild. They provide data to the The British Trust for Ornithology and the Highland Raptor Study Group who collate all the raptor breeding data for Scotland. The eyrie was established in 2010 and the pair successfully reared at least two chicks until 2017 at which point the female disappeared and was replaced by a new female. Since then the pair have had successful breedings, most recently in 2023 with the chick ‘Bony’ having fledged in July. The pair prey on a wide variety of species. Flounders, dogfish and mackerel remains are often found plus a variety of seabirds including fulmars, gulls, ducks, shags and tern fledglings. Only two remains of lambs have ever been found in the nest and one common seal pup remains. Judging by the skull and normal weight of a seal pup it is possible that this was a still born pup. They have also been seen scavenging on deer carcasses. These formidable birds can be spotted soaring over the island and loch. Listen out for the alarm calls of ravens, jays and gulls as these frequently bely the presence of an eagle flying overhead.
The Everland Summit
We hosted our inaugural environmental summit in conjunction with COP26. We gathered together a select group of people from different fields to share their wisdom and exchange their ideas on best practices moving forward, with the purpose of forging connections through conversation, collaboration and challenge.
Sapling Spirits Planting Collaboration
We are proud to be a selected partner with Sapling Spirits, the world’s first climate positive vodka. For every bottle they sell, they plant a tree with selected partners in protected environments. In March 2021, a team of 8 people planted over 5,000 trees on Eilean Shona in just 4 days. Trees planted were a mix of native species: Silver Birch, Hazel, Rowan, Wild Cherry and Field Maple.