Background of the Islay Natural History Trust

The Islay Natural History Trust was formed in 1984 by Mrs. Jane Dawson in memory of her husband, Rodney. Its aims are to encourage the study, documentation and enjoyment of the natural history of Islay and to make information available to the public.

Initially the Trust occupied a building which housed a small information centre and accommodation for twelve students. In 1992, it moved to much larger premises below the Islay Youth Hostel. The combined facilities are ideal for visits from schools, universities and specialist groups.

The Wildlife Information Centre is managed by a voluntary committee over-seeing staff and volunteers.

The Centre consists of:

  • a lecture room able to seat up to 100 people, with audio-visual and projection facilities suitable for small conferences
  • a large laboratory which comfortably accommodates 25 people. This room also contains hands-on activities for visitors, as well as marine and freshwater aquaria, and other live exhibits.
  • a reference library containing up-to-date identification guides to all the major groups of animals and plants, and a wide range of other natural history reference books, magazines, journals and reprints. Records of the flora and fauna found on Islay are available for visitors to examine on computer, complete with distribution maps.
  • a large and informative display area with exhibition boards illustrating and explaining the diversity of Islay's natural history, together with collections of shells, pellets, dried seaweeds and geological samples.
  • a lively children's room with art and craft activities, puzzles, games and quizzes.
  • an office, including a computer and colour printer, photocopier, etc., used for administration, record-keeping and production of display and educational material.

The Centre is accessible to the disabled and elderly. It is open from April to September and on request, and acts primarily as a wildlife information centre for visitors. There is a programme of film and slide shows about monthly throughout the year. In addition, there are indoor and outdoor activities for visitors, including family-oriented, and local schools.

The Youth Hostel above the Centre consists of comfortable two- to four-bed bedrooms for up to 30 people. Although normally closed during the winter, it will open specially for parties of 14 or more.

In November 1996, the RSPB Scottish Staff Conference was held at the Centre. The lecture room seated 100 participants comfortably and the small side rooms were used for workshops. The conference was run in conjunction with the Port Charlotte Hotel and the Youth Hostel. We would like to promote the use of Port Charlotte as a conference venue in the future.

Since 1984, the Centre has acted as a biological records centre for Islay, Jura and Colonsay, and, in 1991, received recognition as an official recording centre from the Biological Recording in Scotland Committee (BRISC). Published and unpublished records for all flora and fauna groups have been gathered and computerised, amounting to over 200,000 individual observations. New records are actively solicited from both residents and visitors through the issue of free checklists and recording sheets for birds, mammals, wildflowers, etc. All the information is available for consultation and study including online: see the "Wildlife" link on the menu bar, above.

The Natural History Trust is run by a small Management Committee, chaired by Fiona MacGillivray

The Natural History Centre Manager(s) are Mandy Hodkinson and Gary Turnbull, assisted by Fiona MacGillivray.