Brora YOC / ESBG


The Brora YOC came into existence at the end of the 1970s and ended when its leader, Mr Sandy Sutherland, began part-time and full-time study, leaving for Edinburgh in 1986.

The Club met monthly (term times) in Brora High School and also had the occasional Field Trip. Some members received tuition in wild bird photography (hide work). The Club was grateful for slide material from professional wildlife photographer and lecturer, Mr David Garner, St Ives, Cambridgeshire.

The pictures above include (from memory): Leslie and Donna Cameron, Caroline and Paul Jaffrey, Angus and Donna MacKay, Allan, Andrew and Hamish Moir, James and William Anderson, Adam Sutherland, Morven (?)*, Cathy MacSween,* Adrian and Graham Coghill, Iain Cox, Michael MacKenzie, Derek Dunsire, William and Colin MacBeath, (* Both from Golspie.)

Information / corrections welcomed!


Mr Sandy Sutherland, having started bird watching in October 1975, soon discovered that his under-manager at Clynelish and Brora distilleries, Mr James R. Robertson (Bob), was also interested in bird watching. This lead to a lasting friendship and many miles travelled both by car and on foot endeavouring to ‘shoot’ as many of the birds on the British List as possible.

This friendship brought about the introduction of Sandy to one of Bob’s friends, Ian Hogg, who (though from England) was living and working in the Brora area. Ian too had a passion for bird watching—all three making their way to hill and shore in pursuit of spotting as many species as possible.

Sandy and Ian wondered if there might be enough interest in the Helmsdale, Brora, and Golspie area for an RSPB Bird Group. Sandy and his father had, in the 70s, a stall at the Helmsdale and Loth Flower Show. Therefore, as a way of ‘testing the waters’, leaflets on bird-watching activities, RSPB literature, etc., were picked up from Roy Dennis (Highland Representative of the RSPB) at Munlochy and displayed at the Flower Show in 1976 along with a ‘contact sheet’ for anyone interested in joining a local bird watching / support group. This generated a good enough response to advertise a public meeting later in the same year to finally gauge the strength of interest in founding a local Members’ Group.

The public meeting took place at the Sutherland Arms Hotel, Golspie, on 8th November 1976. Forty-five people attended. Roy Dennis showed a film, Birds of Strathspey. At the business part of the evening it was agreed to form a local Bird Group having its nucleus at Golspie (seeing that interest in the project had spread further afield to Dornoch and Bonar Bridge). It was thought that an independent Group (rather than an RSPB Group) would allow the Group more freedom to support different conservation bodies / projects. The East Sutherland Bird Group was born! Mr Dennis wishing us well in the venture.

Mr Ian Hogg was appointed chairman, Mr Sandy Sutherland was appointed treasurer and Mrs Morna Hall was appointed secretary. At Roy Dennis’ suggestion, a nucleus of local representatives were elected: Mr Tony Mainwood for Golspie, Mr Bob Riddle for Brora, Mr David Whitaker for Dornoch, Miss Susan Read for Bonar Bridge, Mr A. R. Smith for Helmsdale. Mr Donnie MacDonald, of Dornoch, and well-known ornithologist, was also appointed to the committee.

It was further agreed to charge £1 membership with 50p for children (subsequently the committee agreed to make the admission free for children). Agreement on how frequent meetings should be (indoors and outdoors) was agreed upon. The committee meeting subsequently to agree the following syllabus for the 1976 / 77 season (all indoor meetings to be held in Golspie High School’s Community Lounge):

6th December 1976: illustrated presentation by Tony Mainwood on Shetland and Snowy Owls (44 attended).

11th December 1976: Bird-Spotting at Golspie led by Tony Mainwood (18 attended; 49 species spotted).

24th January 1977: illustrated presentation by David Whitaker on Birds of East Europe (44 attended).

5th February 1977 saw 18 members attend a walk at Brora beach (37 species recorded).

28th February 1977—three RSPB films were shown in Golspie High School’s assembly hall with 57 people attending.

6th March 1977 saw Donnie MacDonald lead a group of 9 people on a walk from Embo Pier (c. 30 species counted).

28th March 1977: a Something Different Evening was held with four members making a contribution: Mr Donnie MacDonald spoke on his census on Collared Doves; David Whitaker showed slides on birds, animals, insects and plants (with quiz); Mrs Morna Hall spoke on the effects of oil on birds and their aftercare; and Tony Mainwood displayed his collection of birds’ wings, etc., inviting guesses as to identities. He also set out a collection of bird books and literature.

3rd April 1977 saw 10 people meet at Loch Eye / Tarbat Ness (c. 50 species were counted).

25th June 1977—20 members (young and not so young) went to Handa (20 species recorded).


Mr Sandy Sutherland left the committee in 1986 when he and his family left Brora to live in Edinburgh.

Mr Sutherland was invited to give a PowerPoint presentation on the 35th anniversary of the Group in November 2011. Sandy spoke on, Black Isle Beauties: Birds, Butterflies and Bottlenose Dolphins. There was an audience of around 70 people (the Group now meeting in the larger of the two Community Lounges, by Golspie High School, due to increased attendances. Mr Tony Mainwood is the Group’s present chairman—2011/12).

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