BBC ALBA captures beautiful Hebridean wildlife through poignant Gaelic songs

Narrating - and starring in  - the new BBC ALBA series 'Islands of the West - Hebrides' is leading Scottish folk singer, the Uist's Julie Fowlis.
Narrating - and starring in - the new BBC ALBA series 'Islands of the West - Hebrides' is leading Scottish folk singer, the Uist's Julie Fowlis.

There are few places in the world where landscape and music are as closely entwined as the Hebrides.

Music and song from these Islands have always drawn inspiration from the natural world.

A new four part series on BBC ALBA ‘Islands of the West – Hebrides’ will combine stunning wildlife footage with a Gaelic musical celebration of the natural world.

The programmes, shot as part of BBC Scotland’s ‘Hebrides – Islands on the Edge’ series, are narrated by leading Scottish folk singer Julie Fowlis who also performs several songs inspired by nature.

Throughout the series, she will be joined by other prominent Gaelic singers, Margaret Stewart from Lewis, James Graham who hails from Lochinver and South Uist vocalist Gillebride MacMillan.

Their performances are simply and beautifully filmed and add a vivid new dimension to the wildlife photography.

The four programmes are themed: the sea; the shore; moor and machair; and the seasons; and the series begins tonight (Tuesday, June 4th) with a look at the waters around the Hebrides which are amongst the richest in Europe, teaming with life both above and below the surface.

Everything in the Hebrides is subject to the power of the sea. Exposed to the full force of the Atlantic, these islands experience some of the wildest and most unpredictable weather in Europe.

But the sea also provides a livelihood for people and as such it is not surprising that traditional songs are full of stories of wild ocean voyages, long separations between sailors and loved ones.

No matter where you are in the Hebrides, you’re never far from the seashore which forms the theme for the second programme with its wonderful range of habitats and creatures.

The shoreline can be a busy place for wild creatures. After a storm, mountains of kelp can be washed ashore and if the weather is warm, these soon attract large clouds of insects and bugs which in turn, attracts birds.

Waders like oystercatchers, turnstones and dunlin and even raven pick through the seaweed which has always played an important part in crofting.

Ravens can be symbols of learning and wisdom, but they’re also birds of ill omen in many cultures. They would have been an apt accompaniment to the central figure in the song, ‘A’ Bhean Eudach’ (The Jealous Wife) sung by Margaret Stewart.

The series continues with beautiful songs and striking wildlife footage associated with the moorland and machair of the Hebrides.

The moors that make up more than half the area of islands like Skye, Mull and Rum can seem bleak, lonely places but for many species of animal, the moorland is home; none more so than the biggest land mammal of the Hebrides – the red deer.

On Jura alone there are close to 6,000 deer – outnumbering human beings by 30 to 1. 

The final programme observes the four seasons and how life on the Hebrides for both man and beast is at the mercy of the seasons and the elements.

On the west coast of Scotland, the ever-turning wheel of the seasons is keenly felt. Not surprisingly, spring has inspired more songs than any other season.

This is the time of the year when the dawn chorus is at its sweetest - a natural inspiration for ‘Dh’eirich mi Moch Madainn Cheitein’ (May Morning) sung by Julie Fowlis.

This series celebrates the close relationship on the Islands of the West between people, wildlife and music and begins tonight (Tuesday, June 4th) at 8.30pm on BBC ALBA (repeated on Thursday at 11.30pm and Saturday at 8.30pm); and will also be available to view via BBC iPlayer.