James Donaldson, our first full-time forager, lives at Newton near Bridgend, and has a degree in Botany from Edinburgh University. He developed his love of the outdoors at a young age while exploring the parks and hedgerows of his home in Angus. He says it was then that he discovered his: “Natural talent for falling in burns and getting covered in mud.”Following his studies, James spent time travelling but eventually returned to Scotland to take up a job as a tour guide.
He was to spend the next 15 years introducing visitors to the beauty of the Scottish Highlands and Islands and teaching them all about our rich history. When the tours began to focus more on whisky, James found himself increasingly drawn to Islay, captivated by the sense of community, the diverse landscape and the rich island environment. He says: “The drams were all right too…”.When offered the chance to run the visitor centre at BunnahabhainDistillery, James jumped at the chance to live and work permanently on Islay but sixteen months after moving to the island, an advert from The Botanist calling for a ‘Professional Forager’ appeared in the local paper.
His head was turned. It seemed too good to be true. A job that ticked all his boxes. Working outdoors, getting cold and wet, sharing his botanical knowledge and passion for Islay with visitors -and being part of the team at Bruichladdich. James was to spend the first six months of his time with us, an entire growing season, working with environmental scientists Dr Richard and Mavis Gulliver on the collection and preparation of the now famous ‘22’. Richard and Mavis were retiring after spending ten years on the project, initially on the development of Islay’s first and only dry gin, and then latterly foraging for distillations. James is quick to express his appreciation for their help in sharing their knowledge and ensuring a smooth transition.With his quick wit and dry sense of humour James has quickly settled into The Botanist ethos. Serendipity has taken him full circle, right back to his botanical roots. As he says himself: “It’s a funny old life”.