Sunday, 23 December 2012

Season's Greetings...

The winter solstice is past and the nights are beginning to draw out, so here's a photo to remind us all what the cliffs look like around the summer solstice.  And here's wishing you all a peaceful and warm Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


Just back from the Lochgilpehead where I spent a long weekend, along with 14 other colleagues from around the Trust, learning about the art of wildlife filming.  This is all part of a Trust-wide "Wildlife Watch" project, which involves training staff in the use of professional standard cameras so that we can capture broadcast quality footage of the amazing array of wildlife that can be found on our properties around Scotland.  Not only is the equipment top notch, but the training was second to none too.  Our teachers for the weekend were John Aitchison (picture top), his wife, Mary-Lou and their colleague Martin, all of whom work in the wildlife film-making industry.  All three have been involved in many of the documentaries that we have all marvelled over for many years.  An absolute privilege to work alongside them, and if we can come away with even a fraction of their ability, then we should get some great footage.

Georgia was also making movies last week, but she was on the other side of the camera gathering footage for her Educational DVD project.

And people say, "What do you do in the winter"!

Monday, 12 November 2012

No conferring?

November is conference month in the Trust.  Last week I was up in the Highlands at our Countryside Conference, and next week I will be going to Pitlochry for our Managers' Conference.  The Countryside Conference focuses on a different locality each year, and this year we were at Corrieshalloch Gorge and Inverewe.  A long way for us folks from the deep south to go, but as the Trust is a National organisation, there is no getting away from travelling. And, wowee, was it worth the trip! 

Corrieshalloch Gorge is the UK's best example of a box canyon, and has the third highest waterfall in the UK which was in spate on our visit, and is breathtakingly beautiful, especially in November, with the autumn colours (picture right). It is no wonder that it is so popular with visitors.  Inverewe is a property with hidden depths.  Most folk tend to think of it as a garden, a garden of note, but just a garden, when actually the property takes in an extensive area of woodland, hill and moorland (picture below left) supporting a huge amount of wildlife - otters and common seals being the highlight of our visit.

But we weren't just there for a jolly.  The theme of the conference was landscape level conservation (looking at the big picture rather than focusing in on the minutiae) and visitor safety in the countryside - issues common to all of the Trust's countryside properties. There must have been 80 or so staff there.  Most were countryside staff, but also staff from a wide range of other departments within the Trust, from Digital Media Managers to Health & Safety Advisers. And as always, the topics discussed were many and wide ranging.  Every year, I come away from the Countryside Conference feeling proud and privileged to be part of an organisation that looks after such amazing properties and employs such experience and knowledgeable staff.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Seabird Summary 2012

Fulmars (pictured left) – have not had a good year. We counted 133 nests, which is a decrease of 35% on last year’s count, well below the 10-year mean of 172 and about half of the 28-year mean. Although we weren’t able to carry out a formal study of fulmar breeding success, we only found 5 fulmar chicks that had reached fledging stage on the whole reserve.

Shags – well here, things looked a bit more rosy with 171 nests counted, an increase of 7% on 2011, and similar to the counts since 2005. However, this is below the 10-year mean of 192 AON, and well below the 28-year mean of 250 AON. Breeding success was down on last year (but last year was an exceptionally good year) but about the same as the 10-year and the 23-year means. Shags this year fledged, on average, 1.25 young per active nest.

Herring Gulls – have done OK this year as well, 266 nests counted which is above the 10-year mean, but below the 28-year mean of 354 AON.

Kittiwake – continue to have a difficult time of it. This year’s count of 4,314 nests is the lowest on record, well below the 10-year mean of 5,653 AON, and less than half the 28-year mean of 10,631 AON. However, to put it in perspective, although the number of kittiwakes has declined by 78% since the highest count in 1989, the counts since 2009 are now in the region of the counts from the 1950s. As far as breeding success goes, not as good as last year (but like the shags, last year was exceptionally good), with only 0.48 young fledged per nest. However, this is about the same as the 10-year mean, and only slightly below the 26-year mean.

Guillemot & Razorbills (latter pictured right) – we do not have the resources to count all the guillemots and razorbills every year, but we do count numbers on the same study plots every year so that we can compare whether numbers. This year guillemot numbers have decreased since last year, and are below both the 10-year and the 28-year means. Razorbill numbers are down on last year too, but are about the same as the 10-year mean, if below the 28-year mean.

Puffins – sadly for many, the puffin breeding numbers went down again this year from 7 birds ashore during the height of the breeding season (so probably with chicks in burrows) last year, to just 4 this year.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Keeping track...

For the second year in a row, our seabirds were the subjects of closer than usual study this year, with a small number of birds being fitted with electronic tagging devices. This year it was the RSPB undertaking the work as part of their Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment (FAME) Project. This involved attaching small a Global Positioning System (GPS) logger to the feathers of kittiwakes and guillemots, which they carried for just a few days. During that period, the logger recorded an accurate picture of the foraging destinations of the birds thanks to the high precision of GPS technology. These surveys will start to answer one of nature’s mysteries – where do seabirds go to feed when they leave the cliff. This will provide us with important information about what the birds need to thrive and will help us to conserve them in the future. Here's what a couple of our kittiwakes got up to over a couple of days:

The first was tagged on the 26th of May when it was incubating a clutch of two eggs. The map on the right shows the flight path this Kittiwake took during a two day period. The GPS tag attached to the feathers on the birds back logged a GPS point every 1 minute and 40 seconds. In areas where the dots are spread out the bird flew fast and in areas where the dots are clumped the bird slowed down to feed or rest. 

The second Kittiwake was tagged on the 27th of May when it, too, was incubationg a clutch of two eggs.  During the three day period this Kittiwake did three flights out to sea, one short trip south and two longer flights north (see map left). You can see quite clearly where this bird searched for food, flying tight circles. If you look closly you can see the side trip it did to visit the Isle of May.

It is truly amazing to see where these birds go to search for food during the breeding season. The map below shows the flight paths recorded for both of the above Kittiwakes on the same map, and gives a bit more perspective as to how far these small creatures travel over a small period of time. There are still many questions to answer, for instance, these maps show that not all bird go to the same place to feed, so what makes them choose the direction to fly in?  As usual, the more we find out, the more we realise we don't know!

Over the season the FAME Team were kept very busy as they were collecting data on kittiwake, guillemot, razorbill, shag and fulmar flight patterns on Orkney, Fair Isle, Colonsay, Isle of May, the Sillies, North Aberdeenshire, Fowlsheugh Nature Reserve and  Flamborough Head as well as at St Abb’s Head.

Another interesting project that stemmed from this work was "SEA Art in a Differnt Way" a collaboration between artists and scientists, culminating in an exhibition at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow between the 13th and the 21st October - check out the RSPB blog for more details

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Long time no see

So sorry that it has been so long since the last post.  I can assure you that this is not because we have not been doing anything – rather to the contrary really.  It is due to the fact that we are having IT problems in the office.

So, what has been going on since July I hear you cry!  Well, we had a couple of groups of volunteers out fighting the good fight against creeping thistles on our grasslands.  A group of NTS Conservation Volunteers (or CVs as they are affectionately known - pictured right) came down from Edinburgh, and a group of Berwick Academy students who are working towards getting their John Muir Award.

Also, out on the grasslands one of the Trust’s Nature Conservation Advisors, Lindsay Mackinlay, came and spent a few days monitoring our grasslands – all part of our new grassland management plan that we have instigated this year.  This has also included us replacing nearly 2.5 km of fence to make sure that we can graze areas when we want to, but exclude stock at other times.

In August, Jack and Dave spent a couple of days working with the Trust’s in-house Footpath Team up at Ben Lawers.  The Footpath Team are experts in using a variety of techniques to repair footpaths, making the paths more comfortable to walk on, and so, in turn, protecting the habitat through which they pass.  Because if a path is uncomfortable to walk on, people will take a route that they find easier, forming more and more paths, and spreading erosion across the surrounding area.  Although the weather was far from balmy (see pic of Dave in the mist, left), Jack and Dave really enjoyed their time at Ben Lawers and learnt an awful lot.  This week, they have been putting their new skills to use on the path around the Mire Loch, improving drainage and surfacing, and putting in some steps. 

We had yet another wedding on the reserve last week - Anita and John got married on the clifftops above Petticowick (picture left). A bright and breezy day, but that only enhanced the already fantastic back drop, by adding in white caps on the dark blue sea and scudding clouds in the bright blue sky!

Also last week, we got a brand new 4WD for the reserve.  We have been having terrible trouble with vehicles over the last 3 months.  Our old 4WD died without warning in June, which rather left us in the lurch.  Luckily, our colleagues from Glencoe had a land rover that they could spare, and they were kind enough to lend it to us for a number of weeks.  It was a bit of an old banger, but better than nothing, but I must admit to being very relieved when I was told our new vehicle was ready to be picked up.  The land rover obviously didn’t want to go though, as it had two punctures in 24 hours, so delaying me being able to pick up the new vehicle by a number of days! 

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Through the eyes of another...

A couple of weeks ago Becky Riseborough spent a week volunteering on the reserve.  During her time with us she spent part of her time shadowing us and also helping us with tasks like bracken bashing, thistle thwacking, producing children's activity sheets for the Nature Centre and producing a guide to the sea slugs to be found in the Marine Reserve. Plus, knowing that she takes fantastic photographs, I asked her to takes some shots to illustrate her time with us.  There's no real facility to upload them all onto the blog here (at least that I am aware of), but check them out on our Facebook page.  This link should allow you to access the images even if you are not signed up to Facebook: . Or you could check out some of her images which are on display in the Nature Centre (although they have lost some of their luminocity in printing).
Becky also wrote these words to go with her images: "These photographs were taken as part of my week spent volunteering up at St. Abb’s Head. Whilst there I learnt a great deal, from the nesting habits of guillemots and shags, to flower preference of an array of butterfly species. I took these photos to reflect the vast beauty that can be found around the reserve. It is not often that I find myself in the situation that allows the time to stand back and truly appreciate the unspoiled environment that can be found around our area. My week as a volunteer on the reserve has changed my perceptions of the natural world and taught me to really appreciate even the smallest of detail. I share these photos with the mind that everybody can experience and appreciate the minute, cherished details that we so often take for granted."


Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Butterfly update...

Part of my job as seasonal ranger is to monitor butterflies on the reserve. This is done by carrying out weekly transects. This involves walking a set route around the reserve covering many different habitat types and counting the number of different species encountered. Transects can only be carried out when strict criteria such as minimum temperature and wind speed are met.
Carrying out butterfly transects allow us to monitor butterflies on a local level as well as to contribute nationally. At the end of the year our records are submitted to Butterfly Conservation and though them our records feed into a larger dataset helping to build up a picture of how species are doing nationally. Analyzing the data allows us to see things such as population declines, increases and distribution trends within individual species.

So far this year’s records are indicating that it has generally been a quiet start for many species on the reserve. Cold and wet weather is thought to be the reason for this.

To find out how this year’s weather has affected butterflies nationally visit the Butterfly Conservation website and read this great article.

Fingers crossed that the weather will be nice for our Moth and Butterfly morning on Sunday the 1st July... further information below.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Rumblings in the jungle?

Folk walking along the coast path will have spotted some strange goings on in the undergrowth at Starney Bay yesterday.  In fact, it was so strange that I ended up having shouted conversations with several people explaining what was going on.

Well, what WAS going on, I hear you ask?  Volunteers Ernie, Dave and myself were carrying out a little bracken control.  Being a conservation organisation we don't like to use chemical control where we can avoid it, so we were bashing the bracken using bamboo canes.  Now, this is not just a strange method we have come up with, it is tried and tested.  The idea is to damage the bracken as much as possible so that it has to expend a lot of energy healing rather than growing.  We will aim to bash it twice a year, and after three years it should be gone.  Its the same principle as using a tractor towed roller, or using cattle to trample the bracken.  But, of course, neither of these two methods are going to work on the 45 degree slopes above Starney!

I must admit, it must have looked really rather comical to passers by - like people talking out their aggression on the undergrowth with their walking sticks in a Fawlty Towers kind of way.  Ah well, a double whammy then, conservation work and entertainment all rolled into one!

Here's a couple of photos of Dave (top) and Ernie (bottom) to literally put you in the picture!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Stepping up to the mark...

This week saw the completion of a new flight of steps up the Mire Dam.  Regular visitors will know that it has always been a little tricky negotiating the spillway and then scrambling up the dam itself via some small stone steps.  Hopefully the new steps and the wee bridge over the spillway will make life much easier.  They both look very new and straight and perhaps a little out of place at the moment, but give Mother Nature time and she will soon help them blend in.  We have also replaced the stile at the top, and intend to put in a dog gate too in the future just to finish the whole area off. 

This work is the start of a larger project to improve the access to the Reserve.  Later in the year, when there are less folk about, we will be upgrading the car park and carrying out work on the coast path around Starney Bay.  This work is 50% funded by Scottish Natural Heritage with the other half being covered by the Trust.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Upcoming events...

We are running two new events this summer;

Firstly ‘Jumping Jumplings’ on Saturday 16th June, 8:30-10:00pm.
Every year when Guillemot chicks reach around three weeks old they take a dramatic plunge from their rocky shelf into the ocean below. Join us to watch as the flightless Guillemot chicks try their best to evade the hungry Herring gulls and reach the safety of the sea. The event is at the height of the season so the cliffs will be packed with birds nesting and feeding young. We ‘may’ also be able to pick out one or two Puffins. A car share from the nature reserve car park to the lighthouse will ensure that this event is accessible to all.
Meet at St Abb’s Head Nature Reserve car park (NT 913 674) at 8.30 pm on Saturday the 16th June to car share to the lighthouse. Bring binoculars if you have them, and come suitably clad and shod.

The second event is a ‘Moth and Butterfly morning’ on Sunday 1st July 9:30-11:30am.
We will be discovering the variety of moths at St Abb’s as we open up our live traps (set the previous night). This is an excellent opportunity to see moths close up and in daylight. After opening the traps we will take a leisurely walk around the Mire loch looking out for butterflies, day flying moths and other wildlife. Target species include Small Copper, Common Blue, Dark Green Fritillary and Northern Brown Argus. Experts will be on hand to help you identify.

Meet at St Abb’s Head Nature Reserve car park (NT 913 674) at 9:30am on Sunday the 1st July. Bring binoculars if you have them, and come suitably clad and shod.

Both events are priced at Adults £3, Children (16 and under) £2, Family (2Ad 2Ch) £10. Please note that children must be accompanied, at least one adult to four children.
For further information contact St Abb’s Head Rangers Office on 018970 71443

Thursday, 10 May 2012

St Abbs Fest

So folks...the flyers have arrived, you can pick one up for your self at our Nature Centre or just click on the following link to open an electronic version... .

Come and join the celebrations!

Oh, and by the way, if you are hoping to come along to the SCO concert in Duns, you better be quick buying your tickets as I understand they are selling like proverbial hotcakes!

See you there!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Its Festival Time!

Regular readers will be aware of the pARTicipate project that we have been running at St Abbs for the past year or so, which aims to engage the public in the work of the National Trust for Scotland, through the arts.  Here at St Abbs we have been working mainly with the medium of music, and our main partner has been the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO).  You will have read before about the various fabulous events that have come out of this so far, but now the project is coming to its climax – the world premier performance of the piece of music that the Trust has commissioned from composer, Howard Moody, performed by the SCO.  This will be taking place on Thursday 24th May, at the Volunteer Hall in Duns (see image above for details of how to get a ticket).  The piece will then be performed at two other venues as part of the SCO’s South of Scotland Tour 2012.
And if that wasn’t exciting enough, we decided that we should have some kind of mini festival on the run up to this world premier.  As this was a little bit of an afterthought, and it is a busy old time of year here at St Abbs, we haven’t had time to pull together all the potential events that could be part of a St Abbs Festival.  So we have just called it “The St Abbs Fest”, and who knows, if it proves popular in its embryonic form then maybe it will go on to become a regular thing and develop into a fully grown Festival in years to come!
The “St Abbs Fest” will start on Wednesday 16th May and will run all the way through to the final concert of the SCO’s tour, which takes place in Castle Douglas on Saturday 26th.  Events vary from guided walks to, to art exhibitions (including that of our Artist in Residence, Sarah Riseborough), to film shows and more.  Details to follow soon...

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Just in time...

Hello everyone. I’m Jack the new Seasonal Ranger here at St Abb’s. I’ll be posting using this dark green font.

I’ve been here for about 2 weeks now and I’m settling in nicely. Initial reactions... what a fantastic place! I arrived here after spending the winter at RSPB Geltsdale in Cumbria and I was hoping for some dry, sunny weather. What did I get... snow, sleet, rain and a cold northerly wind. Fingers crossed for a return to spring.

So why St. Abb’s...
My main interest is in birds and the reserve certainly has a lot to offer in this department, from the breeding seabirds to the passing migrants. It’s also great to be working on a reserve that is home to a whole range of other wildlife... butterflies, moths, flowers, insects, mammals etc.

Having previously worked on the Farne Islands it feels great to be back working amongst a busy seabird colony.

It looks like I arrived just in time as the seabird breeding season has certainly kicked off. Shags are firmly settled incubating eggs and one or two of the Guillemots have also begun to lay. Guillemots were first seen on eggs on the 14th making this year the earliest year on record for St Abb’s. Exciting times!

Migrant birds have also begun to return with the first Willow Warbler on Sat and the first Swallows yesterday. I’ll be keeping the blog updated with sightings, as and when. Until then, here's a couple of photos I've taken just outside the Ranger's Office, using the digiscoping set up we have here. A brown hare (top) and a female blackcap (bottom).

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Its official, its spring!

So, there are primroses and dog violets blooming; lambs gambolling about the fields; the seabirds are starting to settle down to breed; and spring migrants like chiffchaffs are singing away like crazing in the woodland. But to us in the Ranger's Office, the official sign of spring is when the Seasonal Ranger starts work, so spring officially sprung last week!

We have a new recruit this year, Jack, who has come to us hotfoot from Geltsdale, an RSPB reserve in Cumbria, and who worked on the Farne Islands last year. Jack has a lifetime's interest in natural history, his first love is birds, but he is also keen on butterflies and moths. Feel free to stop him for a chat if you see him around and about on the reserve.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

A right, royal, celebratory start to the season...

Last week 8 students from Coldingham Primary school helped start off our season by planting trees along the side of the Mire Loch. The trees were sent to the school from the Queen's own forests, or order for them to be planted in a public place to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee year. The pupils were all members of the school's Environment Committee, and had planted trees before, so they made pretty quick work of getting the 20 trees into the ground. There were 4 species planted - birch, rowan, cherry and one royal oak, which was planted, near to the photo above, to mark the entrance to the Nature Reserve for centuries to come.

Monday, 27 February 2012

The Trumpet Volunteer...

Firstly, I need to apologise for the length of time it has been since I last posted. We had the decorators in doing the office just after Christmas which set us back a bit. And this was closely followed by a few unplanned occurrences which have taken some time to deal with, and we have been chasing our tails ever since it seems!

But enough excuses...where to start? As you might have gathered from the title, this post is going to be dedicated to our fantastic team of volunteers, without whom we could not do everything that we do here at St Abbs. And there has been an awful lot going on as far as volunteers are concerned in the last month or so. We had our Christmas party on Robert Burns’ birthday (well, December gets ever so filled up doesn’t it?). As usual, we went on an expedition aimed at being both fun and educational, and this year we visited Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. If you haven’t visited, I urge you to go; it is such a great experience for all ages. Image left, the team enjoy the 3D presentation (L to R Dave, Ernie, Jack, Fran, Margaret, Georgia).

Also, we have taken Dave on as a Voluntary Ranger/Handy Man. Dave has been volunteering with us for a number of years now, but only as a member of our regular gang of volunteers who come and help out on a Wednesday morning. But as he has enormous amounts of energy, and a wide range of skills, it seemed a shame not to use them to their full capacity. So now he is spending the morning with the gang, and then in the afternoon is tackling the seemingly never ending list of jobs that need doing around the property. Regular visitors will notice that he has been doing a fair bit of work on footpath maintenance, as well as less noticeable, but just as important, handyman jobs in the various buildings on the property.

Then a couple of weeks back, Maggie Shaw, willow worker and friend, came to show us how to install a “fedge” (a cross between a fence and a hedge) between the Ranger’s Cottage and the Ranger’s Office, to form a natural looking dividing line, between the garden of the cottage and the surrounds of the office, and give those that live in the cottage a little privacy. Willow is an amazing thing, you can cut off branches, and push them into the ground, and they will take root and grow a whole new tree. We had to cut back some of the crack willow off the Mire Loch Dam so that the whole structure is visible for the annual inspections. So it was great that we could utilise this in the fedge – so free materials as well as giving the old willow in question a new lease of life. We also got free labour as Maggie donated her time as did a group of volunteers. Pictured right L to R Ernie, Ishbel Hayes, Maggie and Georgia. Thanks also go to Helen Cole and Peter Hayes. The fedge will take a couple of years to take root and start to grow above ground too, but once it does, there should be no stopping it. Not willing to wait, there was a robin investigating it before it was complete, and a whole variety of different types of bird have been seen on it since!

So as I say, what would we do without our volunteers hey? Many thanks to you all! And not just here at St Abbs, the Trust as a whole estimated that volunteers donated well in excess of £1 million worth of time to our cause last year alone. If you would like to donate your time to us, we are always looking for outgoing and knowledgeable people to man the nature and chat to visitors. SO if you fit the bill, please get in touch for a chat.