Winter Newsletter

New Year – New idea!

We are adding a new layer to The Neil Mackenzie Trust, this year. The idea is to form a group, to bring supporters and recipients together – in person or online – to have fun, bring ideas, and ultimately help to move the benefits of the Trust forward.  We hope to have some form of get together in the summer, probably in the Highlands, which might include, for example a meal, BBQ or picnic, a multi-generational walk, a short presentation from recent recipients, and time to discuss anything outdoors – not just the Trust!  We also expect to have a bi-annual newsletter which will include more details of how we operate.  We think that this is a good way to increase interaction with the Trust.  Please drop us an email with your thoughts.  If you would like to join we will be asking for a small donation.  Anything from £1 upwards!

For the Record:

Since The Neil Mackenzie Trust was set up just over seven years ago, we have raised nearly £40,000, with the help of friends, family and supporters.  As well as being able to build some reserves, we have assisted 50 expeditions and skills training courses with grants ranging from from £75 to £3,000. Destinations for expeditions have included North America, Greenland, Iceland, Europe and Africa, as well as here in Scotland. Training courses have included Winter and Summer Mountain Leader, Mountain Biking, Rock Climbing and RYA Day Skipper courses.  Visit the website to see reports from recipients and how they have benefited from our assistance.

Application deadlines:

Neil Mackenzie Adventure Grant (UBC VOC members only): 31ST January.

Educational Expedition Grant: 3rd March

Other grants: No deadline. Applications considered roughly once a month. – contact us, let us know your plans and we will send you an application form.

Johanna Hoffman completed her Summer Mountain Leader course in 2022:

“I decided to do my ML training with Pete Hills WMCI in the beautiful Cairngorm National Park in April. Unluckily for our course there was still quite a lot of snow cover upon Cairngorm and towards Ben Macdui. However, it did add on the extra challenge (and fun) to try not to touch any snow while navigating. Apart from the snow we were almost to blessed with the weather and enjoyed a week of glorious sunshine. We were a relatively small group of 4 people and it was a very informal and relaxed atmosphere in our group. Our trainer was very engaged and answered any question about the mountains and the scheme with pleasure. During those 6 days I learned a lot about navigation, flora & fauna and geology, but most importantly what it takes to become a good mountain leader. The course showed me my strengths and what I still need to work on, but definitely left me very empowered to work towards becoming a mountain leader.”

Some more excerpts from Kerri’s expedition to South Africa, 2022.

“Another task that felt surreal to me was when I took part in a rhino dehorning process on a reserve within Kruger National Park. This is still a controversial way of tackling the rhino poaching crisis, many even within the reserves are not a huge fan of it and I saw various signs along the boundary fences stating that rhino horns had been injected with a dye, something that is harmless to them but works to deter poachers as it makes the horn useless to them. However, while various methods are being researched, dehorning is still taking place. Obviously in an ideal world, you want to prevent poaching from even happening but it’s best to have all bases covered. On the specific area of Balule I was on, The Black Mambas [all female] anti-poaching team worked tirelessly to disrupt the landscape. Constantly patrolling, reporting disturbances or unusual activity, engaging with the community and making it very hard for anyone to sneak in. As a result, there has not been any poaching of big game there, like rhino, in several years.”

“Although we had weekly tasks that were required just for the basic running of the reserve, we also would check in with the researchers each week and some of us would go assist them. For example Elwenn is a French student,  conducting her MSc thesis about predator interactions. The aim of this study is to determine if and how the presence of apex predators such as lions or spotted hyaenas influences the activity patterns and spatial distribution of medium-sized predators. For us, this often meant the quite simple tasks of driving to various points and then getting out and hiking to wherever camera traps had been placed in order for us to retrieve the current memory card and replace it with a new one.   To document the activity patterns and the distribution of the different predator species, she has set up 44 camera traps in two nature reserves. 22 are placed in Olifants West which hosts a large density of lions, and 22 additional cameras in the Blyde Olifants Confluent Conservancy Area which doesn’t host any lions and therefore act as a control plot. They are placed in specific areas that over time we know have that particular species occupy the area, and pointing at watering holes and so on. On one of the field days we collected all the SD cards and replaced them with new empty ones and checked if the cameras were still facing the right direction.  Elephants, baboons and hyenas are very curious about them, and tend to move them quite a lot. One camera had been pulled out of the tree by an elephant and dragged a few metres away and crushed. But thanks to the metal case which protects the camera, it remained in working condition.

There were several times however when we went to collect camera traps and you’d get there to find the tree had been completely snapped or knocked over by an elephant and you’d go on a search for the missing camera trap. Occasionally when we did recover the footage, this could make for very entertaining animal selfies!”