Thursday, 21 July 2011

St Abb's to benefit from Newman's Own grant

You may have heard the good news in the press that the National Trust for Scotland fundraising department have been successful in securing a very generous grant from the Newman’s Own Foundation.

The grant of £50,000 will be used to support Marine Ranger position and the work of the Voluntary Marine Reserve in achieving its aims of conserving the marine environment and getting more people involved in its management. The VMR is entirely dependent on grants and donations so we are very grateful to have received this vital funding.

I am still waiting to hear confimrmation of the finer details of the grant but I just wanted to confirm this excellent news with you and keep you in the picture. More details to follow when I have them!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Fighting the good fight...

We have been waging war with various invaders over the last few weeks. Not little green men from outer space, but a couple of plants that are making a bid to take over our flora-rich grasslands - namely creeping thistle and ragwort. And this year I have enlisted the help of as many people as I can.

Our regular volunteers (John, Dave and Ernie) have been thwacking away at the thistles for the last few weeks, as have Elaine and I whenever we have a spare hour or so. Then at the weekend we had a residential group of Conservation Volunteers (CVs) from the Trust's Lothian and Grampian groups; 12 hardy folk who persevered through the relentless rain in order to help out with both thistle control on the NNR and also marine litter clearance and surveys on the shores of the VMR. Sadly I have no pictures as the weather was just too foul to get the camera out! They were joined on the Saturday by the Trust's Director Of Human Resources who lives not too far away and wanted to experience St Abbs from the sharp end (pun most definitely intended!). Then yesterday a group of students from Berwick High School came to the Head to add to the thistle mortality rate, as part of their John Muir Award activites (picture top left). And this morning Dave, Ernie, Elaine and I have pulled all the ragwort that has been growing in our butterfly exclosure on the Kirk Hill (see Dave looking particularly pleased with a large specimen that he had pulled up in the picture to the right.

Phew! As you can see, volunteers have a huge impact on what we can do at St Abbs, and, in fact the Trust as a whole, which could not do what it does so well as Scotland's largest conservation charity without the help of our volunteers. So a big thank you to you all.

If you would like to find out more about volunteering for the Trust go to the volunteering section on our website at .

We have recently taken on three additional volunteers at St Abbs, but more about them at a later date!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A spot of cetacean searching

Well it was far too nice a day for being in the office so Lorna and I decided to head out for a coastal walk and a bit of seawatching to see what was about. There have been quite a few reports of cetacean sightings lately (whales, dolphins, porpoises) so we were hopeful that we might be lucky.

Conditions were a wee bit windy for ideal seawatching but visibility was excellent with Berwick Law and Bass Rock well visible on the horizon. We noticed several large aggregations of seabirds on the surface which are usually a good indication of the prescence of cetaceans. This is because cetaceans hunt for small fish and force them up towards the surface and seabirds take advantage of this 'rounding up' for a feeding feast.

Despite watching for a good while we sadly didn't spot any cetaceans. There was however plenty of other interesting things to see: gannets; fulmars; kittiwake fledglings practicing their new flying skills; razorbills and on the walk back hundreds of butterflies and wildflowers so it was a great day out on St Abb's Head National Nature Reserve.

If you fancy trying a bit of cetacean searching yourself why not join myself, Lorna and other volunteers at our 'Searching for Cetaceans' event on 7th August? We will be watching from the south side of the lighthouse compound at St Abb's Head from 11am - 4pm. The event is totally free, just drop in any time and help us search!

Here is a photo of Lorna showing how it's done!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Music to the ears?

A couple of weeks back we headed into the second phase of our pARTicipate project. This was when the school children from Coldingham and Eyemouth primary schools got a chance to have a show an tell session with Howard Moody, our composer for the project, and Kirsten Hunter from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (pictured left).

The children were recounting their visit to St Abb's Head, their experiences observing, listening to and recording the seabirds and the "sonic postcards" that they put together to portray their experiences in sound. Howard then spent some time working with the children on some composition - using sounds from their recordings and words that the children used to describe their thoughts and feelings about the wildlife of St Abbs. A fantastic experience for all involved.

But this was only part of what Howard and Kirsten had come to St Abbs for. They were also wanting to spend time in the area, learning more about the coastal and marine reserves and experiencing what is special about them (picture right, exploring the site of St Aebbe's Monastery). But also exploring the wider locality, learning more about the history of the area and the links between man and the sea and the sea's wildlife. And meeting with people locally to see if they would like to be involved in the project, like the local Fishermen's Choir and the Mission Crew singing group. In total Howard and Kirsten spent three days in the area, and during that time I think they really became inspired by how amazing this small part of the Berwickshire coast really is.

The next phase is for Howard to star work on his composition. He intends to return for a few short visits in the autumn and spring to work with the local community, and by May or June next year the Scottish Chamber Orchestra will be showcasing the new composition on their South of Scotland Tour.

If you would like to find out more about Howard Moody and/or the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, here are the links and .

Thursday, 7 July 2011


I do hope you can join me (Elaine, Seasonal Ranger here!) for one of two walks I will be giving soon. These walks will be held at an easygoing pace so we can get more intimate with the wonderful wildlife here and really enjoy the stunning scenery on offer. At this time of year we should see several species of butterfly and bumble bee, wildflowers, some remaining seabirds and the odd cetacean if we're lucky! But you never know what you could bump into here, so be prepared for any encounter. I also hope to inform you of the turbulent geological past and of the cultural legacy left by St. Aebbe herself.

TIME: 13.30 until 16.30
PLACE: St. Abb’s Head Car Park, grid ref: NT913673
PRICE: £3 per adult, £2 per child, free for NTS members.

No booking required.
Please wear walking boots/sturdy footwear and wear appropriate outdoor clothing.
Children must be accompanied by an adult.
CONTACT: tel: 018907 71443 email:

Sad sight at the marine reserve yesterday

Lorna and I came across a very sad sight at Coldingham Bay yesterday. A dead shag tangled up in a fishing lure. This bird had obviously got the lure caught in its bill whilst diving for a fish and then in its panic used its feet to try and remove it and caught them too and so drowned and died a really horrible death. Its things like this which should make us all more aware of how we dispose of our litter, not just fishing tackle but plastic bags, rope etc. so that other marine creatures do not suffer the same fate as this poor bird. If you would like to help tackle marine litter by taking part in beach or underwater clean up then please get in touch with me, cheers

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Hi everyone! I'm Lorna, the voluntary marine ranger here for the summer so here's a little bit about myself. I have almost completed my undergraduate degree in Marine Biology and Oceanography at Newcastle University (Graduation soon!) and volunteering here is a great experience and a chance to put to work all that I've been taught these last few years!
I've been coming to this little part of the world for a few years now exploring the scuba diving sites and it is my absolute favourite place to dive (I have quite a soft spot for diving Cathedral Rock despite the long walk around the harbour!). I was very excited and lucky to have seen a John Dory on my last dive at the reserve! And I spotted my first nudibranch which was very exciting for me! Hopefully this summer there will be more opportunities for diving.
So far everything has been great fun as I'm sure the rest of the summer will be too. I'm looking forward to meeting everyone else over the summer and will see you all around the reserve!

Monday, 4 July 2011

In the pink

Last week as I was heading along the lighthouse road when a strange sight met my eyes - the sea at Petticowick was pink! A blink, a shake of the head, and was still pink (see left)! Basically all this colour was caused by a whole load of moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) being washed in shore by the tide and being caught up in the bay there.

There have been a lot of jellies around this year; nobody is really sure why you get these blooms of jellies, but it may be to do with decreasing fish stocks meaning there are fewer predators around to eat them. And phenomena such as these can have surprising knock on effects - who would have thought that jellyfish could cause Torness nuclear power station to have to be shut down...twice? Basically the huge smacks (the collective noun) of jellyfish were blocking up the filters on the intake pipes for the cooling water for the plant. I personally always get a bit of a buzz out of nature reminding us that we cannot control everything!

I have a bit of a soft spot for jellyfish (no pun intended) - I think they have got a bad reputation with many people being scared of them or at the very least disliking them for their stinging ways. But if you see them literally in their element they are extraordinarily beautiful (see right), their bell-shaped bodies pulsing to propel themselves through the water and their delicate tentacles catching the light.

There are 6 main types of jellyfish that are found in UK waters, and all of them sting, but some have stings so mild that they cannot be felt by us humans with our thick skin (moon jellies have a sting of a similar strength to a nettle). And they are an important part of the food chain with many iconic marine animals (like whales, dolphins and turtles) relying on them for their survival. And our jellyfish are not just important to UK species. Did you know that each year leatherback turtles make a beeline from their breeding grounds in the tropics to UK waters, just to feast on our jellies, and then they head back down south to breed again? No short journey, so an illustration of the importance of this food source.

So next time you see a jellyfish caught in a rockpool of washed up on a beach, maybe you will look at it through different eyes. If you would like to do your bit towards conservation of species like the leatherback turtle, why not take part in the Marine Conservation Society's jellyfish survey .

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Minke whales about!

Minke whales were spotted off Coldingham Bay yesterday! Here is a photo of one so you know what to look out for. They have a distinctive dorsal fin situated nearly two thirds along their back.