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 http://www.bats.org.uk/.

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.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Nothing to see here?

It always feels a little odd come the beginning of August when all the seabirds have left the cliffs and headed back out to sea where they spend most of the year. And you could be forgiven for thinking that without the clamour of the seabirds, that St Abb's Head is not worth visiting because there's nothing to see. But that's just so not the case, even if to take the spectacular scenery out of the equation, the property has something to offer whatever the time of year and whatever the weather.

Take yesterday for example. Definitely an autumnal feel in the air, and a strong breeze troubling the steely grey sea. Not a day for birdwatching you might think, but actually one of the regular local birdwatchers had a very fruitful seawatching session yesterday recording sooty and Manx shearwaters (the latter pictured above); great,arctic and pomarine skuas; a red throated diver and a little gull to name but a few.

And, I was leaning on the gate by the office texting earlier (we get very little reception actually in the office!) and a stoat virtually ran over my foot - I'm not sure who was the most surprised! And then when I was doing the rounds this afternoon, the sea had calmed down and it was a perfect day for spotting cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). So I was keeping my eyes on the sea, looking out for any congregations of feeding birds, or disturbances on the surface and I was lucky enough to spot at least 3 harbour porpoise quite a way out to the NW of the Head feeding in amongst a group of diving gannets. Fabulous!

Splash In 2010

I've been busy with organising the St Abbs and Eyemouth VMR annual underwater photography competition of late, the Splash In. The event will be held on Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th August this year. On the Saturday, up to 45 amateur and professional photographers will take to the waters of the Marine Reserve hoping to catch what will be a prize winning image. On the Sunday, there will be a slide show presentation of all the images at the Old School, St Abbs, where the audience acts as judges voting on their favourite photos. There are prizes for images in 3 categories: Reserve Atmospheric, Marine Life Portrait and Most Humorous Shot. There are prizes for beginners as well, so everyone has the chance of taking home a prize. There is also a prize for the best image in show. The photo above shows a Yarrell's Blenny, taken by Brian Jubb, which won the Marine Life Portrait category and best image in show in 2009.

The main thing to organise has been finding a suitable venue, and after some last minute deliberations and the kind offer of some technical help in setting up an AV link between rooms, I have decided to hold the slide show in St Abbs this year. The prizes are all sponsored by companies and organisations working in the diving industry, so another big task is contacting sponsors and asking for their help. Luckily I had the help of local diver Bob Clay, who knows many of the companies personally so he put in a good word for me!

For more information and to download competition rules, visit the VMR website www.marine-reserve.co.uk

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Radio Ham

I forgot to mention. I did a piece for BBC Radio Scotland yesterday about the wildlife of St Abbs above and below the waves. It was for a programme called "Out of Doors" and will go out on air this saturday (14th) between 7 and 8 am.


Catching Up

Sorry I haven't posted a blog for a while, but I was away on leave for about 10 days and then I have been catching up with the resultant backlog since I got back. So what have I been up to?

We will gloss over the mundane but never the less time consuming task of dealing with the literally hundreds of e-mails in my inbox, and concentrate on the more interesting stuff. First thing I did was to get straight back in to thistle thwacking (a seemingly never ending task at this time of year, but luckily very satifying!) and ragwort pulling with our volunteers Dave and John. We do not have too much ragwort on the property, but as it is injurous to livestock both in its green and dried form, and we use sheep to help manage our wild-flower rich grasslands, we must make sure that we keep what ragwort we have got under control. We use the age old technique of pulling it out by the root which is very effective and also more environmentally friendly than using chemicals.

Then we had a visit from the Trust's Mountains for People Project Officer, Bob Brown, who is our in house expert on upland footpath maintenance. Now, I know we are not in the uplands, but believe it or not, montane and maritime enviroments have a lot of things in common. Both are exposed to extreme weather conditions which has an effect how vulnerable the vegetation is to damage and so how easliy the paths get eroded. With nealry 50, 000 visitors a year, our paths are beginning to become quite eroded in places and need some attention. So the idea is, Bob and his team of upland footpath workers will come down from the mountains this autumn/ winter and spend a while in the relatively balmy conditions at St Abbs using their expertise to make our footpaths more pleasing to the eye, more confortable to walk on and also protecting our grasslands from damage.

What else? Well today I need to make comments on a consultation concerning the siting of offshore windfarms off the Berwickshire and Lothian coasts, and then maybe out for a bit more strimming of footpaths.

So I suppose I'd better get on with it then, bye for now, Liza (have you worked out colour coding yet?).

Sunday, 1 August 2010

So, it's the 1st of August today. Wow - I can't believe how fast this year has gone already! It seems like just a few months ago I was moving to Scotland with a van full of belongings and getting snowed in. Now I have been in post for 7 months, and I feel like I have achieved quite a lot in that time, as well as moving 450 miles and starting a new job. Anyway enough about me, you want to find out what's been going on at St Abbs!

Well I've been busy attending lots of festivals with the mobile information trailer - Coldingham last week and St Abbs yesterday. Both very successful events, and everyone I spoke to seemed to enjoy the rockpool display and making herring kites. I was assisted by 2 volunteers, Elaine and Holly, who were fantastic at showing people the crabs and starfish. In the photo we have Elaine and a rapt audience of onlookers around the rockpool aquarium.

The St Abbs Gala was visited by a special boat, Reaper, the last surviving sailing herring drifter of the 'Fifie' type, the most popular design of fishing boat of the east coast of Scotland during the 19th and 20th centuries. She is a 70ft long vessel, first registered in Fraserburgh in 1902, and fished extensively in Shetland and used in the south of England during the war years. She was restored in 1975 to her original rig of 1902 and can be visited at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther. Her visit to St Abbs was to coincide with the Gala day which is a fundraising event for the St Abbs lifeboat, and visitors were treated when the Eyemouth fishing choir performed a few songs on her deck.

Off for a Seashore Safari now, then lots of organising to do for the annual underwater photography event, the Splash In, which I'll explain more in my next post, and lots of fundraising to do. There's never a dull moment!