Thursday, 23 December 2010

Season's Greetings!

Just winding everything up ready to go off for my Christmas break. Obviously the property will be open for anyone to enjoy during the festive period, as it is all year round, but I am just making sure that things are in order, buildings drained down etc so that I don't have sleepless nights and/or emergency call outs over the holidays.

Here's wishing all our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

Liza and Georgia.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Going off road

Headed up the lighthouse road yesterday afternoon as the sun was going down. No vehicle had been up the track except the farm's quad to feed the stock, and then it had only gone to the top of the slope heading down towards Petticowick - very sensible, but the resultant tracks did confuse the mind somewhat (picture right). Well, at least the bunnies knew the correct route!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

In the bleak midwinter

So, today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year; which means from now on the days will be getting longer -cause for celebration in anyone's book I would say! A day on which the sun worshipping Norsemen of old would light bonfires and gather round them to tell stories and drink sweet ale; and the Romans would light candles, deck out their houses with greenery and even indulge in a little cross dressing!

Although I didn't partake of any of these activities as I did the rounds this morning, I did notice how the sun being so low in the sky makes the snow sparkle like diamonds and really brings out the reddy-purple colour of the old Devonian sandstone cliffs - stunning!

No wind today to bring the maritime air inland either, so the White Heugh is white with snow on top as well as guano on the ledges (picture left). If you look carefully you might see a few black spots on the ledges as there were a few guillemots on the cliffs again today.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Just visiting...

I go away for a few days holiday, leaving St Abb's Head looking like a winter wonderland, and I return just a few days later to find it all green again. And what do I see when I go up to the lighthouse - guillemots on the cliffs? Enough to make me feel like I have just woken up from a few months hibernation!

On the whole guillemots tend to disappear out to sea after they have finished breeding in July. Then they spend the winter out at sea, and return to their nest sites to start the whole breeding process again in April. But every now and again, some of the birds turn up on the cliffs during the winter months. No-one is really sure why they come back in, as they really are seabirds in the true sense of the word, being far better adapted for life on the briny than on land. And there doesn't seem to be any pattern to it either, so it is just a matter of chance as to whether you happen to see them or not. But it is a welcome sight (and sound!) when they are in, because however magnificent the coastline may look out of the seabird season, the cliffs still seem to be lacking a certain something!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Gorse you can Malcolm...

More snow, and its laying quite thick (well for us at St Abbs anyway). The lighthouse road is treacherous, white snow with a sheet of ice under it, and the Mire Loch is frozen over. Woodcock and snipe erupt from under your feet all over the place and there are also lapwing and curlew feeding where ever the snow is thinnest.

Whilst walking up the Mire Dean track - blooming hard work at the best of times, but today made it a "one step forward, two steps back" affair with the ice - this stalwart little gorse bush, still resolutely in flower, caught my eye. It reminded me of the old adage "when the gorse is out of bloom, kissing's out of fashion". Well thank goodness for that little ray of positivity to help me up the hill - and a great way to keep warm too, as is walking up hills!

Friday, 3 December 2010

A new addition at St Abbs

There's one thing this snow does for you, it makes you appreciate the little things in life! Today two men struggled through the snow just to bring us a new bit of kit - an all singing, all dancing integrated scanner/printer/fax machine. Now normally this would not be the cause of so much jubilation, but as we have been working away in our lonely little office for what seems like weeks, not seeing a sole from one day to the next it was most exciting to hear a vehicle draw up outside the door! And also rather heart warming to think that there are still companies around who appreciate the value of good customer service. The machine is a bit of a monster, but as it sits between my desk and Georgia's, the added bonus is that we can have a game of peekaboo whenever we want!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Seeing it coming...

One of the great things about St Abb's Head is that you have a panoramic view so you can see what weather is coming your way...sometimes the news is not good! Red sky at night - happy shepherds, but what about purple, green and black?!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Now you see it now you don't!

As the rest of the country is thrown into turmoil by a thick covering of snow, we at St Abbs find it quite difficult to really appreciate what all the fuss is about, especially when we have onshore winds (see picture taken earlier today, top left)!

The air over the sea is warmed by the relatively warm water (which is at about 6 degrees at the moment), and the onshore winds bring this warm, salt laden air onto the land and thaws any snow that has settled. The stronger the wind, the further this maritime influence comes in land. And its quite breezy today, as the picture on the right shows, so there is no snow within about 100m of the shore (except where the cliffs are higher as this interferred with the airflow).
However, if you do decide to come to the seaside to appreciate the warm breezes, I fear you may be disappointed, its pretty parky as the wind chill is fierce. And also don't go zooming up the lighthouse road looking for the perfect vantage point, as the road is far enough from the sea only to be passable by tractors and rabbits (picture bottom left)!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Snow at St Abb's Head...again!

You may well be thinking that this is nothing surprising as much of the east side of the UK is gripped by snow. However, we seldom get it here at St Abbs because of our proximity to the sea; the warming maritime influence usually stops it from settling. In fact, the picture on the left shows quite nicely that we here on the coastal strip have less snow than just a little way further inland.

It may be coincidence, but we do seem to have had much more snow since Georgia arrived in the area. In fact, the day she moved hearalded the most snow that St Abbs had seen for decades! Sadly, she has not quite acclimatised to the temperature yet, and our office gets particularly chilly when the wind is in the north, but she soldiers on (picture right).

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

So, what do you do in the winter?

A question oft asked of us rangers, and I'm sure people think that we just sit around twiddling our thumbs - but that couldn't be further from the truth. There may not be quite so much wildlife or so many visitors around, but this means we have time to carry out all the other tasks that are involved in managing a nature reserve. Usually, the winter is over and the new season has begun long before we have got to the bottom of our "to do" lists!

Last week was a case in point. I had a site visit from an NTS Nature Conservation Advisor to review our biological monitoring on the Reserve; an architect to advise us on repairing the boat house on the Mire Loch; and an NTS Rural Surveyor to discuss grazing management and applying for funding from the Scottish Rural Development Programme. And that was just on one day! The rest of the week was taken up with footpath work with our weekly volunteers; writing and giving a talk to a local WRI; having a site visit with several specialist footpath contractors so that they can tender for carrying out work on the coast path; putting the final touches to next year's budget; and having a site visit with Scottish Natural Heritage to seek permission to carry out the proposed footpath work on our highly designated reserve. Phew!

In the mean time, Georgia is busily beavering away, putting together funding applications, as part of her role is to raise funds to support her post. She is employed on a fixed term contract dependent on funding, and the current funding package finishes at the end of next no pressure there then! So if anyone has a spare few quid, Georgia can put it to good use!

No rest for the wicked, as they say. But it keeps us out of mischief! Also quite a lot of weather around last week too, the picture above was taken on Friday at Burnmouth Harbour (on the reserve, not at Burnmouth!). There was no wind at all that day, but it had been blowing an absolute hoolie the two previous days - spectacular!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Its hard work being a supermodel

As I have said in one of my earlier posts, life as a Ranger is always varied, often busy and sometimes surreal, and yesterday was a prime example!

A Wednesday, so the volunteers were coming to help out and Georgia had a university group coming for a site vi st. Sadly she had to go to a family funeral so I stepped in; not a problem, as I'm used to having to talk to groups off the cuff, but it did mean that I had to rethink what I was going to do with the volunteers. I was hoping to do a bit of gorse cutting and burning (where it is spreading out and taking over our flora rich grasslands), but this would be out on the Reserve and the group were coming to the Visitor Centre. So, I decided we would start on some vegetation clearance at the Visitor Centre car park instead so I could be on hand for safety reasons for the volunteers and also talk to the students about managing coastal and marine nature reserves at the same time. I was just about to start up the strimmer and have a go at some brambles before the students turned up when a photographer arrived ready to take some photos for the spring edition of the Trust's magazine. He had left messages on our answerphone but we never got them as, unbeknownst to us, there was a fault with the system!

So, after a little veg clearance and discussion about the potential implications of the new UK and Scottish Marine Acts; the volunteers, myself and the photographer went off for an impromptu photo shoot. And this is where it really became a bit surreal, perching on barnacle covered rocks with the sea breaking behind you and water lapping around your ankles; the low winter sun burning your eyeballs; freezing to death as we had to strip down to show off our logos; and being told not to squint or move as the photographer was using a slow shutter speed to catch the movement of the sea. I'm sure it will be worth it, but we will have to wait until next spring to see the end results!

Thanks to Dave and John for all their patience. Photo top - what the photo looks like in my minds eye.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Life in general

So, what's been going on it the last couple of weeks? The car has been recovered from over the cliff which is great. Sadly recovering it resulted in more damage than when it was pushed over, but hopefully the scars in the grassland will heal when the growing season starts again in the spring. All in all, a lot of effort was put into the job, with one member of the recovery team (Alan) toiling up and down the cliff track (some 300 foot climb) on several occasions carrying bags full of debris and the battery to make sure that the foreshore was left as clean as it could be. And it was all done very swiftly before the car got swept into the sea.

And all this happened just after the repair to the lighthouse road had been completed with the erection of a new fence (picture right). As you can imagine, I wasn't very keen on the recovery vehicles going up the lighthouse road as I didn't want a repeat performance of the oil tanker, but conditions were just too rough to get the wreckage out by sea so there was no other option. Anyway, the road looks very smart now, and we will be keeping the 2m axel width restriction on the road from now on to be safe.

Wildlife wise. There are plenty of migrants moving around with skeins of geese passing daily. We have had a few waxwing (picture left) sightings too, and a flock of 9 whooper swans flying about. So always worth taking the bins with you. And that's what I'm going to do now - get out there and see what's about!

Oh - and top tip for the day. If you have a padlock that will just not shift however much you persuade and squirt it with WD40 - heat it up, it works a treat (thanks to my brother in law for that little gem)!

Friday, 29 October 2010

End of season volunteers day out

A big part of the Marine Reserve’s work is to raise awareness of the marine environment; why it’s so special and why we should look after it. We run lots of educational events throughout the summer for schools, community groups and visitors to find out about the special wildlife in the coastal waters around St Abbs and Eyemouth. It’s been a busy season with 58 events taking place and 1,180 people getting involved. All that rockpooling action is too much for a Marine Ranger to do alone! So I’ve been lucky enough to have the help of some hardworking volunteers who’ve made my job a whole lot easier. To show my appreciation of all the time they’ve put in I organised a trip to Deep Sea World in Edinburgh for a fun (and educational!) day out. Thanks guys, I couldn’t do it without you!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

COAST symposium on the Isle of Arran

I’ve just returned from the Isle of Arran where COAST (Community Of Arran Seabed Trust) hosted a conference entitled ‘Empowering Coastal Community Stakeholders’. The event was attended by academics, community groups, NGOs and government bodies working at the forefront of marine conservation in the UK and abroad. The aim of the meeting was to make connections between interest groups focussing in marine environmental protection and sustainable marine exploitation.

The conference was unanimous in support for protecting various aspects of marine interests from a multitude of different directions; this inspiring feeling is gaining momentum, and several key personnel from Scottish Natural Heritage and Marine Scotland were present. There were also various dignitaries including an MSP and an MP. My personal highlight of the weekend was a presentation by Callum Roberts from the University of York about the historical context of stock decline in the Firth of Clyde which generated a good debate amongst attendees.

It is hoped that the VMR will play an active role in future debates between coastal stakeholder groups and form positive links with other organisations. For more information about the event and COAST, please visit their website

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

While you were out...

I have been away on leave for a week or so, and true to form, all sorts of things have been going on in my absence. There has been a lot of activity on the migrating bird front with more sightings of great grey shrike and yellow-browed warbler as well as more common migrants such as redwings and fieldfares. However, the most exciting sighting has been of a red-flanked bluethroat (picture left) on Saturday. This beautifully colourful bird is a rare sighting in Britain, with one turning up somewhere on the east coast of Scotland or northern England every year or so. They are en route from their breeding ground in Finland to their wintering grounds in SE Asia. Also on Saturday a minke whale and 20+ bottle-nosed dolphins were spotted off the Head.

Not such a good sighting was of the wreckage of a car that has been dumped off the cliff just below the lighthouse. This was spotted by a local boat skipper on Sunday and St Abbs lifeboat went out to investigate. Thankfully there was no-one in the car, and after police investigation it turns out that the car was stolen and presumably dumped off the cliff when the thieves had finished their joyriding. There is now a lot of head scratching going on as to how to remove the wreckage which is pretty inaccessible from both land and sea (picture right).

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Having a look at our Lumps and Bumps

The Trust's Regional Archaeologist, Daniel Rhodes, came for a site visit today. He has newly taken over the role and wanted to check out our archaeological sites on the ground and also chat about future management including possible survey work to try and answer some mysteries associated with the sites.

St Abb's Head is mostly associated with its ornithological and scenic value, but there is also considerable cultural heritage associated with the property. Three thousand years of human activity are visible in the landscape, if you know where to look and what to look for.

The most important archaeological site is Kirk Hill, where there is evidence of multi-period occupation of the site. This is where St Aebbe (after whom St Abbs is named) set up her unisex monastery, bringing Christianity to the area from the west of Scotland, before it was carried on down to Lindisfarne. But there are many lumps and bumps on the ground up there (pictured left: Sue and John wander amongst some of them) and no-one is really sure exactly what there is. We hope to use modern technology to unlock some of the secrets without having to disturb the ground.

Daniel is very enthusiastic about the stories there are to be told at St Abb's Head, not only about the ancient sites, but also some of the more modern ones like the lighthouse, the salmon station and jetty at Petticowick and the Mire Loch. So, watch this space!

Picture right: lunch sitting in the remains of the church on Kirk Hill.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Love is in the air!

Yesterday, we had an interesting spectacle on the top of the cliffs, with a young couple getting married on Nunnery Point, to the north of the lighthouse. The weather was not terribly kind as it rained throughout the ceremony, but at least there wasn't a gale blowing! And the rain didn't manage to dampen the spirits of the 50 or so friends and family who joined the bride and groom on the cliff top for the occasion. In fact, the stunning array of colourful umbrellas, not to mention the jazzy wellies, added a certainly jollity to the whole thing!

Becci and Brad chose St Abb's Head because it is one of their favourite places, and they have enjoyed many a day soaking up the quiet atmosphere and the fabulous scenery of the place. And they were keen to ensure that the wedding was in harmony with this. There were no limousines, or marquees or decorations of any sort. Just a group of people standing on a cliff top with a stunning view for a backdrop. What more could you need?!

Pictures: top - here comes the bride; middle - the ceremony; bottom - a colourful gathering, with a stunning backdrop.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Exotic Visitors

Sticking out as it does into the North Sea, St Abb's Head is a great place for migrant birds to stop of, rest and refuel before continuing on their epic journeys. Spring and autumn are the times that you will find birders stalkng around the Mire Loch and the walled garden behind the lightouse looking for somethng out of the ordinary. Yesterday a yellow-browed warbler and a great grey shrike were spotted.

The yellow-browed warbler (top picture) is a tiny bird, about the same size as a goldcrest, which breeds in Siberia and then migrates south-westwards so they are relatively regular mirgrants, but still fabulous to see. The great grey shrike (bottom picture) is a regular but scarce visitors to the UK in the autumn. They come over from Scandinavia and will often spend the winter in the UK. Shrikes are often referred to as butcher birds as they eat insects and small birds and mammals which they will store in a "larder" inpaled on a thorn in a hawthorn tree.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Work on lighthouse road complete!

Hi, Liza is away today, but I just wanted to let you know that the road up to the lighthouse is now re-opened. Just in time for the weekend too. Enjoy! And don't forget, if you do use the road, don't forget to put your contribution to the property and the road's upkeep in the cairn at the lighthouse car park. Many thanks!


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Slowly but surely

Work continues on the road, they have been working away compacting stone beside the tarmaced surface in order to form a solid embankment to support the road. All being well, tomorrow they will be doing the repairs to the tarmac and the road will be open again - fingers crossed.

I am hoping that the finished product will make people wonder what took so long as so much of the work will be hidden from view like any self respecting iceberg. However, hopefully the pictures I have been posting will show all the work that has gone in. Here's what things looked like at lunchtime today.

Monday, 20 September 2010

A road less travelled?

There have been strange goings on at the Reserve today - traffic congestion! Sometimes we do have problems with cattle or sheep jams, but never before have we had traffic jams! And its all down with the lighthouse road being closed to traffic whilst it undergoes repairs.

Earlier in the year an oil tanker, which was delivering fuel oil to the cottages at the lighthouse, managed to drop its wheels off the edge of the road. Luckily the fence prevented the tanker from ending up in the Mire Loch below (picture top left), and no one was hurt, but unfortunately the edge of the tarmac and the road embankment were damaged (picture bottom left). The road was safe for everyday vehicles to use, but access for wide vehicles (those over 2m axel width) has had to be restricted until the road is repaired. Obviously as long as no-one's safety was in jeopardy it would have been crazy to try and carry out the repairs during the busy summer months, but now visitor numbers have dropped off the time has come.

It is quite a major job to repair the road, a 40 m long section of the embankement has had to be excavated so that it can be shored up with stone and soil, the tarmac will then have to be repaired and the fence put back up again. All this is estimated to take about 3 days, and we are asking visitors and locals alike to please bear with us.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

And then there were two...

It's always a sign that autumn is upon us when the Seasonal Ranger leaves us, and it tends to be a little bit of a sad ocassion. This year was sadder than most as Laura has spent three seasons with us; one as a Voluntary Seasonal Ranger for the Marine Reserve and two as a Seasonal Ranger (and being paid!) for the National Nature Reserve. And with the last two years being a time of great upheaval with staff changes for both reserves, it has been especially lucky that Laura has been there with her sunny personality and enormous capability to help us all ride out the storm.

Laura is heading off to Mexico to work on a project to monitor the coral reefs off the coast there, and whilst she would be welcomed back with open arms for a fourth season , I fear that her wanderlust will prevent her coming back.

We both wish her well in her adventures.

Roofless behaviour

Over the last couple of weeks John, Dave and myself have been beavering away refurbishing the reserve storage shed which has had a leaking roof for some time and was rotting away before our eyes. It had got into such a state that we had to replace nearly half the roof woodwork as well as part of one of the walls and then had to completely re-felt the roof. Many thanks to John and Dave who gave us an enormous amount of their time over the last couple of weeks, to get it water tight before the autumn sets in.

Pictures: left - Dave shedding some light on the problem; middle - John more than measured up for the job; right, bottom - the finished article, beautiful!

Friday, 17 September 2010

Rescue Rangers!

The other day I had a visit from two volunteers from the Berwick Swan and Wildlife Trust. About a month ago they had rescued three gannets from a beach. They were all very young, all in their second year probably, and uninjured but they were exhausted and needed a little TLC. The gannets have been cared for by volunteers since the rescue and on Tuesday John and Dean brought them to St. Abb's Head to release them.

Gannets don't actually breed here but they pass by in great numbers to and fro
m the Bass Rock off the coast of North Berwick. The Head is an ideal place to release them because it is accessible and high, making it easier for them to take off. The two gannets (sadly the third one didn't survive) were released up by the lighthouse. The first one made an immediate dash for freedom and soared off into the air, the second one needed a bit more time but eventually flew off out to sea as well.

If you would like anymore information about the Berwick Swan and Wildlife Trust you can visit their website


Thursday, 16 September 2010

Walking the bounds

If you have ever looked at an ordnance survey map of the Berwickshire coast you might have spotted that the National Trust for Scotland actually owns more than St Abb's Head. We also own a stretch of coastal slope to the south of Fast Castle and an area of farmland adjacent to the Rangers' Office. I will explain about the farmland in a later post, but today we went to check the boundary fence of the Lumsdaine strip, as we call it, the length of coastal grassland which runs from Dowlaw Dean near Fast Casle to Westerside Dean near Coldingham Loch. The steep sloping grassland might not be an attractive proposition for farming, but supports nationally and internationally important maritime flora and breeding seabirds not to mention being a spectacular landscape (picture left, Lumsdaine Shore).

It is a fanatsic length of coastline, liberally scattered with hillforts and other archaeological remains, and somewhere where you can really get the feeling of being a million miles from anywhere even though you're not. The Berwickshire Coast Path runs the whole length between St Abb's Head and Fast Castle so it is well signed, why not check it out sometime? Here's a picture (right) of Georgia, Laura and Ernie, a long term volunteer of ours, having elevensies at the hill fort at Tun Law.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Rain Stops Play

John, Dave and myself were intending to re-felt the roof of the reserve shed today but sadly rain has made to roof too slippery to work on safely. So I thought I would post a picture of John in action on a previous occasion, as he is beginning to get paranoid that a photo of him has not appeared on the blog yet. Here's a shot of him clearing ivy off the roof of an outbuilding at the Ranger's Cottage. He may look scary...but he's a pussy cat really!

Saturday, 11 September 2010

A Berry Nice Time of Year

It is beautiful out on the Reserve at this time of year with berries everywhere you look around the Mire Loch. Today the sun is shining, the sky is blue and dotted with puffy white clouds - perfect conditions for bringing out the colours.

On the west side of the loch there are rowans with their clusters of red berries (picture left), brambles laden with blackberries and a small number of blackthorn bushes with a few sloes. The east side of the loch is the best place to see the hawthorn trees, sculpted into fabulous shapes by the salt-laden winds, and weighed down with ruby red haws (picture right).

If you are a forager then all of these berries are edible and there are a host of recipes on the internet. With this selection you have the makings of a fantasic meal: roast venison with rowan berry jelly, followed by blackberry and apple crumble, and rounded off with some cheese and biscuits with a little hawthorn jelly on the side and a little sloe gin for liqueur. If you wait a few weeks then the elder berries will be out and you could make some elderberry wine to accompany the meal!

Please do feel free to forage for berries and mushrooms (also good at this time of year) on the reserve, but don't get too carried away and do leave some for the wildlife. We have had our first sightings of fieldfares already, and they, and their cousins the redwings, just love to stuff themselves with berries, they're not too keen on mushrooms, but the slugs like them!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Splash In 2010 - photos now online

Scuba divers travelled from all over the UK to take part in the ‘Splash In’, an underwater photography competition held on the August bank holiday weekend. Organised by the St Abbs and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve, this annual event is in its 23rd year, and is a favourite date on the underwater photographer’s calendar.

31 competitors gathered at the Marine Reserve on Saturday 28th August, hoping that the forecast inclement weather would hold off long enough for them to capture what they hoped would be a prize winning image. The competition has three categories: Marine Life Portrait (close up images of the Reserve’s amazing marine life); Reserve Atmospheric (wide angle shots showing the stunning underwater landscape); and Most Humorous Shot (where the photographers use their imagination in an attempt to raise a smile). 80 images were ultimately submitted in the competition by the photographers. They were projected at the Old School, St Abbs, on the Sunday evening for the audience to vote on their favourite shots in each of the three categories.

Underwater visibility was excellent, allowing the competitors to capture some fantastic images. In the Marine Life Portrait category, Sarah Forbes’ nudibranch won the best beginner prize; Steve Bateman’s colourful Ballan wrasse won third prize; Clair Jubb’s close up of a shanny second prize; and Kam Arya’s striking image of a coalfish next to a lion’s mane jellyfish in mid-water won first prize. Clair Jubb’s shanny (pictured) was so well liked by the audience that it also won the prize for the best image in the whole competition.

The winners of the Reserve Atmospheric category were a mixture of the new and the old, with Alex Blythe taking the best beginner prize with his shot of underwater photographers next to a reef. The top three prizes were taken by folk who have been regulars in the competition for a good number of years. Mike Clarke won third prize for his atmospheric image of a diver next to a lion’s mane jellyfish; Paul Bury took second with his stunning image of a ballan wrasse at the famous ‘Cathedral Rock’ dive site, a site which can be reached by a 50m swim from St Abbs harbour wall; and Derek Clarke took first prize for his shot of a diver inspecting some colourful soft corals on a reef.

The Most humorous Shot category had a good number of entrants this year, and it was a close fought competition, with plenty of laughs. Third prize was taken by Paul Slater’s “Outgassing”; second prize went to Alex Tattersall’s plumose anemones entitled “Oooh Matron” in homage to the ‘Carry On’ films; with first prize being won by Colin Samuel who went all out with his “St Abbs – a place with real bite!” photo.

Apart from the prestige of taking a winning image, there was over £3000 worth of prizes to fight for; anything from a bottle of wine to a dive computer. All prizes were generously donated by local, national & international businesses and were presented by Rhona Goldie (the most humorous shot category being in memory of her husband) and Lawson Wood, Chairman of the Marine Reserve Committee.

The winning images are now available to view on the Marine Reserve website and all the images entered into the competition are available to view on the St Abbs and Eyemouth VMR Facebook page. So, that's it for another year! Next year's competition will be held on 27th and 28th August 2011.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Who needs Power Rangers when you've got Mini Rangers!

Last Thursday I went to Coldingham Primary School and to meet some Mini Rangers, also know as P5, 6 and 7! I gave them a slide show about the Nature Reserves at St Abbs, what is special about them and how we at the Trust go about managing them. It was amazing the knowledge that the MRs (as I call them) had of all sorts of different types of wildlife, and it was great to hear the stories of encounters they have had with various creatures.

After the classroom session, the tables were turned and it was down to the MRs to show me their local patch. They are incredibly lucky because just over the road from the school is a fantastic bit of woodland that they manage as their own Nature Reserve. As a group they gave me a guided tour, explained that they had designed the various information boards that were alongisde the path (pictured left) and we chatted about different types of bird boxes, and bat boxes and all sorts of other things that we came across. We were also lucky enough to hear a great spotted woodpecker and a nuthatch (pictured right). All in all, a great afternoon with all of us learning something new.

Next week the MRs are out with Georgia helping her do a bit of a beach clean and learning about how she manages the Marine Reserve.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Minke Whales!

Yesterday was AMAZING!!!!! The sea was flat and calm and perfect for looking for whales and dolphins, so I decided to peer at the sea for a bit to see what was about. Within five minutes of arriving on the clifftops I spotted two minke whales very close to shore. I was gobsmacked! I have seen minke whales before but on most occasions I only got a few brief glimpses and then they disappeared. These whales just kept coming back though, patrolling up and down St. Abb's Head for over two hours! Sometimes I could hear them exhaling and on two occasions one was so close to shore that I could see its white markings under the water. I could actually see it swimming underwater and see where it was going to surface next!!!

There are a few cetacean species that can be seen from St. Abb's Head. Sightings in recent years have included minke whales, bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoise and rissos dolphins. Minke whales are much larger than the others though, growing up to 10m in length. You see very little of its body when it surfaces. The tip of its snout breaches first, its dorsal fin is set quite far back on its body and you don't see its tail at all. They have quite a distinctive dive sequence too. They tend to surface several times in a row then they disappear for a while.

Anyway, this is the best time of year to see them so get out there and have a look!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Minibeast mayhem!

Today I visited Chirnside Nursery to talk to the kids about minibeasts. They are doing a project at the moment about creepy crawlies and asked if I could come in and bring some friends. I didn't bring anything fancy; just some snails, slugs, woodlice, worms and a spider.

Between being collected at my house this morning and getting to the nursery a few hours later my little arachnid friend had managed to make a web in its container, which the kids liked. Another highlight was when the earthworm did a poo right before their eyes. Fascinating stuff!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Seeing things in a different light

There were lots of folk out and about enjoying themselves today - walking, running, birdwatching, picnicing, diving, fiishing, you name it. And who can blame them, a fabulous day for it, and the light today was something else, it really brought out the colour of the red cliffs today. Lucky I had mt camera on me really!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Batman visits St Abb' Head

This week we have had a bat expert (is there a special word for one I wonder, a eutheriologist perhaps? This particular one was called Dr Dean Waters!) surveying the property for bats. Although the reserve is not huge, Dean only had a couple of days to do the survey and which was no mean feat as bat surveys are easier said than done. He carried out a visual inspection of all our buildings looking for signs of roosts; undertook dawn and dusk surveys of the buildings with the help of a group of Trust volunteers to try and identify any bats coming out of or going into roosts; and walked a 7 km transect around the reserve twice, identifying any bats that flew past. (Picture right: Dean checking out the Rangers' Office; picture left; the mummified corpse of a pipistrelle bat found in the roof of the Ranger's Cottage).

An important tool used in surevying bats is a bat detector; basically a box of electronic trickery that translates the near inaudible sounds bats use to "see" in the dark into sounds that we humans can hear. Different species make different sounds and/or use different frequencies so you can tell them apart from their echolocation.

Dean has been carrying out similar work on various of the Trust properties as part of the Trust's bat conservation work. We own all sorts of properties many of which we know to be home to bats, and have the only Bat Reserve in Scotland at Threave, but there are also many properties where we know there are bats, but we don't know what species, and where they are roosting. So Dean has been taken on to fill this gap in our knowledge. He has gone away to analyse all his recordings and data from his work at St Abbs, but initial findings show that we have definitely got roosts of both pipistrelle and brown long-eared bats which is fantastic news. We will keep you posted, and hopefully be able to post some infra-red video too!

If you would like to learn more about bats, check out the Bat Conservation Trust website at

Thursday, 19 August 2010

A burning issue

Had to have a chat with a couple of people who had camped out by the Mire Loch this morning as they had had a fire. Now, I don't want to be a kill joy, and I can certainly understand why people would want to come and camp on the reserve, and indeed folk have every right to wild camp under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code but only if they do so responsibly. And there's the rub - what exactly constitutes responsible wild camping?

This morning's campers thought they were being responisble campers because they were taking their litter home with them and they had made sure the fire was burnt down and had even doused it with water. However, my idea of responisble wild camping is to leave no trace of your having been there at all. Certainly not leaving a burnt patches in our internationally important grasslands and the ragged ends of branches that have been broken off the surrounding trees (which are very precious as they are few and far between at St Abbs).

Its a tricky issue, as I firmly believe nature reserves should be living, breathing places where everyone is welcome to enjoy themselves, but only as long as their enjoyment does not effect the wildife or the landscape or impinge on the enjoyment of others. And I certainly don't want to have to have "DO NOT" signs up all over the place. The key, to my mind, is education, and we will continue to educate folk whenever we can.