Friday, 23 September 2011

Trees are us!

This week is Borders Tree Hugging week - no, I haven't made it up, its an event being organised by Borders Forest Trust for raise awareness (and funds) to help with the conservation of the woodlands of the area. And, being a bit of a tree fan myself, I have thrown myself into this with gusto, and I decided to start off at St Abbs. "Trees at St Abbs", I hear you cry, "you must be joking?!" Well, I'm not - believe it or not there are actually 33 different types of trees on the species list for the National Nature Reserve. So I decided, what better way to start off Tree Hugging Week than to remind myself (and others!) of all the fabulous trees that are right here on our doorstep.

Most of the trees at St Abb's Head are concentrated around the Mire Loch, planted here in the early 1900s when the dam was built to form the loch for fishing. But there is also quite a concentration at the car park (where the old farmhouse and its gardens used to be) and around Northfield House. So, I decided to take a circular route from the car park, along the coast path (passing alongside Northfield House gardens, where a fair few trees overhang the wall), then around the Mire Loch and back to the car park again. Without having to deviate far from the path I managed to hug 21 different species of tree of all sorts of sizes. From the knarled and wind-sculpted hawthorns of an old hedgeline (probably pre-dating the Mire Loch) to the east of the Mire Loch (picture top left) to the newly planted ash along the west of the loch (picture right).

Purists might tut and shake their heads to see so many types of trees in the area that would not naturally be here. For instance, most of the mature trees around the Mire Loch are sycamore, which are not native to Britain. But at St Abbs they form an important part of the woodland habitat and we are happy to have them. Having said that, when we do plant more trees, we are sticking to native species these days.

So, why not get out on the reserve this weekend and see how many types of tree you can spot (and hug if you fancy!)? We have put some laminated ID sheets in the visitor centre to help you use leaves, twigs and seeds to tell what is what. It can be tricky sometimes, as the windy and salty conditions at St Abbs have resulting in trees taking on weird and wonderful shapes (see the larch pictured left). But you don't actually need to know what they are called in order to enjoy them, so don't so tied up in looking at the ID guides that you miss the beauty of the trees themselves!

For those of you who like tick lists, here is a list of the species I hugged: alder, ash, beech, silver birch, blackthorn, wild cherry, elder, hawthorn, hazel, horse chestnut, larch, pedunculate oak, osier, scots pine, rowan, sitka spruce, sycamore, common whitebeam, goat willow, crack willow, yew.

If you would like to find out more about Tree Hugging Week or the BFT, go to

Monday, 19 September 2011

Basking shark is back!

Myself and many others saw a rare sight yesterday as another basking shark was seen in the area!! Though slightly late in the year for them to be around, this time the shark was seen at the mouth of St Abbs harbour where is lazily swam feeding! My dad with his eagle eyes spotted the shark by seagull rock. Though we could only see its dorsal fin and occasionally its tail fin it was still great to watch! A few divers on two of the dive boats spotted the shark as well and got some amazing views as it swam in between their boats!

Unfortunately my camera isn't great, though I did manage to snap some pictures of its dorsal fin as it came to the surface to feed. It was also spotted in Eyemouth after it left St Abbs so if your in the area keep your eyes out for a black dorsal fin!!

Saturday, 10 September 2011


Yesterday evening, during another beautiful sunset over the Firth of Forth, I got a perfect view of Lorna's Species of the Month, a Minke Whale! I have never seen one before and it is a magical experience. As it was such a lovely evening and unusually calm at the Head I decided to chill out on the cliff at the edge of Foul Bay, just northwest of the Lighthouse and enjoy the sunset. The usual suspects were about, juvenile gulls, a couple of Greater Black Backs, the odd Shag doing a fly by and plenty of Gannet commuting to and from the Bass Rock. The sea was so calm despite a slight swell and the high tide was on the turn.

Just out of the corner of my eye I saw a dark shadow and a little spray. I saw nothing through the binoculars so thought I was imagining things. Same thing happened again. And then by pure coincidence I managed to get the binoculars on the right spot just in time to see a full blow, followed by a graceful arch of a massive black back through the water showing the small dorsal fin and a final flick of a huge tail fluke! I could not believe my eyes. It was so close I even saw its nostrils (or the whale equivalent!). At that point it was very close in, it was near two white buoys, which I assume were marking the position of some lobster pots. After that it hung around for a good 20 minutes surfacing occassionally. I saw some spray and the tip of its nose but I didn't get anymore amazing views.

What a magical moment and a perfect way to end a wonderful season here.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Species of the month - the Minke Whale!

There have been quite a few sightings recently of Minke Whales off St Abbs head!! With so many minkes spotted here is a bit of info for you all about these magnificant mammals and how to identify them.

Minke whales have a world wide distribution and are found in tropical, temperate and polar seas. They can be spotted from Norway to France and in the Northern North sea, where they can be seen in small numbers mainly from May to October.

Minke whales are the most abundant of the baleen whales as well as the smallest. The males range from 7-9.8m in length and the females are slightly larger from 7.5-11m! The head of a minke whale is slender, triangular and pointed.

The feature to look for to idenitify minke whales is their dorsal fin which is situated 2/3rds along their back and is small, triangular and curved in shape and is often the only feature seen when they are swimming. The head and body are dark in colour from grey to black. Another distinctive feature to look for if your up close or have binoculars are the white markings on each flipper.

The jaw of a baleen whale has approx. 300 short smooth baleen plates used to filter food from the water! The whales often ‘lunge feed’ where they lunge towards their prey at high speeds. Minke whales can reach speeds of 30km/hr! They feed on fish such as herring, cod, capelin, saithe, haddock, whiting and sand eels. In polar regions they feed on plankton or krill.

In the northern hemisphere reproduction takes place from October to March and gestation is about 10 months. Some whales migrate from polar feeding grounds to temperate water breeding grounds. Females normally give birth to a single calf but a very small percent give birth to twins or triplets!

Minke whales can be seen in small groups or as solitary individuals but they may congregate in larger feeding groups where up to 15 minke whales may come together at once! They also sometimes spy hop and breach and some curious individuals may even investigate boats.

During the 1930s in the northern hemisphere and the 1970s in the Antarctic minke whales were major targets of the whaling industry. In 1986 they were given protection from commercial whaling. Despite this Iceland continued their whale fishery until 1993 and in 1998 Norway resumed catching minke whales. Another concern for these large mammals is entanglement in fishing nets and traps. Some minke whales become entangled in fish cage nets.

This cetacean species can be seen quite regularly at the moment feeding off St Abbs Head or passing by. So if your planning a visit to St Abbs over the next few weeks keep an eye out for these incredible creatures.

Photogrpagh shown by Christopher Swann and taken from

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Party time!!!

Come and party with us at a fundraising ceilidh on Saturday 22nd October, Coldingham Village Hall! All profits being split 50:50 between the Voluntary Marine Reserve and St Abbs RNLI :)

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A joining of nations

Last weekend saw another handfasting ceremony at St Abbs, and it appears that we are on the international map as far as suitable locations to get married are concerned. This occasion saw a German groom joined to a Spanish bride and so the ceremony contained four languages: English, Gaelic, German and Spanish!

The wedding was relatively kind to the happy couple, Thomas and Lucia, as it was not blowing a force 5 and raining as the forecast threatened. I think Thomas and Lucia would have preferred a calm sunny day, but I rather think that the moody sky in the background rather added to the atmosphere!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Splash In 2011

Last weekend the St Abbs and Eyemouth VMR hosted the 24th Splash In underwater photography competition! The winning photo was taken by Martin Davies of two pollack on the wreck of the Glanmire. To see all of the images entered visit out flickr page.