Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Recording an unmeasurable loss

I've been taking part in the RSPB Beached Bird Survey and have surveyed 16km of Arran's beaches.  I'm just one of many hundreds of volunteers who are counting the cost of the winter on our seabirds, and reporting disturbing findings. I can only speak for my own small patch but I've been finding dead birds every 200m or so along the shore.  Most of these are razorbills, members of the auk family, who nest on Ailsa Craig, a rocky island to the south of Arran.

Eslewhere in the UK, the news is little better, with stories of mass puffin deaths along the coasts of Wales and France and as many as 600 washed up on beaches in Jersey. Puffins are close relatives of razorbills, and it seems succumb to similar pressures when wintering at sea.

Mass strandings of dead seabirds are known as "wrecks", and their causes are often complex and hard to determine.  What is known about this particular wreck is that members of the auk family are particularly badly affected, and that the weather is likely to be a factor. Post mortems have shown birds to be undernourished, and unable to feed in the bad weather, they have died of starvation. These brutal winter storms this season are not just bad for humans, but for our seabirds too. The Met Office has said that we can expect more and more winters like this, as climate change tightens it's grip. Our seabirds are under seige from all sides, with worsening weather patterns coupled with diminishing fish stocks through over fishing and changes to the temperature/pH of the oceans.

It's vital that we record wreck events as they happen, but we probably won't know the full extent of the damage until the birds return to their breeding colonies in the spring. Then the living can be counted, compared to previous years, and the catastrophe measured. It is easy to feel powerless in the face of such loss, but we must find ways to help these birds if we can.

I take this all quite personally, I have to admit.  These birds are a part of who I am. Childhood holidays by the sea, boat trips to visit seabird colonies, me lying belly down on cliff tops watching the swirling mass of squawking, bickering bird life below. I took these things for granted as a child, and seeing them as an adult brings the child out in me all over again. It is a joy that never diminshes, and I think it is a tragedy if our children's children don't get to enjoy these sights as well.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Kirstie Boot Camp

I've been concentrating far too much learning to ski this winter and I'm starting to feel a little soft, so I messaged my friend, photographer and fellow Arran MRT member Kirstie Smith, with a request that she and her energetic collie dog drag me round the hills today, to remind me of what it is all about.  Now, Kirstie is a small but perfectly formed powerhouse, someone that storms around the Arran hills whenever she gets the chance, so I knew I'd be in for a fun day.....Kirstie is an awsome photographer by the way- check out her website here.  for lots of stunning photos of Arran and mountain rescue training.

After a relaxed start we headed up Glen Rosa, easing ourselves in to the day and enjoying the views at the lower levels.  Crossing the Rosa Burn was unproblematic, despite heavy rain overnight (it often runs in spate and catches people out here).

Glen Rosa
We headed up on to the Saddle, the halfway point of our day, (the easy half).  We were treated to immense views down Glen Sannox, which we took time to enjoy, as we knew we'd soon be in the clouds.

Looking in to Glen Sannox

Before long we were sweating our way up on to North Goatfell.  Its a big pull up from the saddle, and the path, always eroded, is in a treacherous state after this winter's heavy rain. 

From North Goatfell, the fun began, with a traverse under the buttresses of Stacach, in deep snow.  It's steep ground here, and the snow was soft and wet.  It was slow going along here, working from memory of where the path is- there are some nasty rock slabs on this side of the hill that we did not want to stray on unwittingly!

Traversing under Stacach- photo by Kirstie Smith

The summit of Goatfell eventually loomed in to view- although views were as usual, elusive....

Finally, we began the descent down the "tourist path" from Goatfell to Brodick, although you will see from the photo below, its not very touristy at the moment.  It may be mild in the glens, but there are still full on winter conditions on The Goat.

No sign of the path today, and lots of steep ground!- by Kirstie Smith