Nat­u­ral­ist and writer Sir John Lis­ter-kaye

The sights of the wild con­tinue to sur­prise and de­light the nat­u­ral­ist and au­thor

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - NEWS - Sir John Lis­ter-kaye is the founder-direc­tor of Ai­gas Field Cen­tre in the Scot­tish High­lands, and au­thor of 10 books. His lat­est, The Dun Cow Rib – A Very Nat­u­ral Child­hood (Canon­gate, £20), is out now

IN MY NA­TURE WRITER’S per­pet­ual search for wild­ness, at dawn yes­ter­day I walked out to a re­mote islet half a mile off­shore called the Cul­bin Bar, sep­a­rated from the Mo­ray Firth coast by quick, dan­ger­ous tides. At low wa­ter you can walk out to its ridge of dunes. A few soli­tary gulls dot the ex­panse, but oth­er­wise noth­ing; just a mil­lion worm casts in wet tooth­paste curls.

It was one of thos e aus­pi­cious dawns that seem to quiver in a sky so pure and dis­tilled that it drew me out across the muddy flats to the dunes’ crest, to find that the sea had with­drawn by a fur­ther mile, leav­ing a huge ex­panse of ribbed sand stretch­ing east to­wards Find­horn as far as the eye could see – a sight that im­me­di­ately makes you want to gal­lop a horse. I sat among the saw-blades of mar­ram grass and scanned the great ex­panse be­fore me through binoc­u­lars. Far off, a thin white line of surf flounced sound­lessly ashore. The world was new again, and ut­terly pris­tine. I felt as if I were the first per­son to set foot here.

Later, I stood at the ocean’s edge where, only a few yards be­yond the surf, deep wa­ter win­nowed past. The me­chan­i­cal-look­ing tracks of har­bour seals scarred the edge, punc­tu­at­ing the oth­er­wise per­fectly pat­terned sand. As I turned back I heard a strong, throaty sigh I re cog­nised in­stantly. I spun round just in time to see the great scim­i­tar dor­sal fin of a bull killer whale slice through the waves only 50 yards away, im­me­di­ately fol­lowed by the curved fin of a fe­male, then an­other, much smaller, of a calf. When they breached again, still goose-pimp-lingly close, they rose right up out of the wa­ter so that I could see their white flanks and their dark, shin­ing eyes. They were cours­ing the sand edge for seals, and I watched them for 10 min­utes. I could scarcely be­lieve my luck. TO­DAY I AM BACK at the coast, at Loch Fleet Na­ture Re­serve in Suther­land, with a group of botanists at­tend­ing our field-stud­ies cen­tre at Ai­gas. We’re on a mis­sion to see one of Brit- ain’s rarest wild flow­ers in the pinewood that bor­ders the loch. I come here most years to see if the rare and ex­quis­ite St Olaf’ s Can­dle­stick is rais­ing its del­i­cate white-petalled star be­neath the pines. Years ago, I marked it with an old welling­ton boot up­turned on a stick. Now they are per­sonal, the flow­ers and the boot, both still there, both do­ing well, although the boot has grown a lit­tle moss in re­cent years as if to dis­so­ci­ate it­self from the un­tidy world of man. BE­ING A NAT­U­RAL­IST and a writer is not easy. I have to work at it, get­ting out there, al­ways search­ing and never know­ing what I’ll find next. But it’s leg­work I have never re­sented. Whether high in the moun­tains or out here at the land’s edge, come rain, sun or storm, there are al­ways sur­prises, al­ways re­wards to re­pay the ef­fort. On our way back to the minibus, walk­ing the scruffy plas­tic and drift­woods-trewn-shore, an osprey oblig­ingly crashes into the tidal shal­lows and snatches a floun­der right un­der our noses. I must have wit­nessed it a hun­dred times, but it never fails to take my breath away.

I spun round just in time to see the great scim­i­tar dor­sal fin of a bull killer whale slice through the waves only 50 yards away

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