Ascension : ASCENSION ISLAND CONSERVATION DEPARTMENT
Submitted by The Islander (Conservation Office) 10.07.2014 (Article Archived on 31.07.2014)
The last time that I left you, I was in the wonderful and bizarre world that is the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.
ASCENSION ISLAND CONSERVATION DEPARTMENT
UK Training Trip Week 2: Bass Rock
Contributed by Kenickie Andrews
The last time that I left you, I was in the wonderful and bizarre world that is the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. It was very down-hearting to leave such an amazing place even though I had only been there for a week as I experienced many new things and made new friends – “I’m from St. Helena Island” has proven to be a very good conversation starter.
The next leg of my journey saw me travelling to beautiful Scotland, where I was working primarily on the famous ‘Bass Rock’. This offshore stack (like Boatswainbird Island) is located off the coast of North Berwick, just under Edinburgh. This island is been famous in Scottish history for a number of reasons – as a religious retreat for Christians, an island lighthouse, a fortress and a prison and as a stronghold during wartimes. Today, the island is most famous for hosting the largest northern population of Atlantic gannets (Morusbassanus), but also a number of other seabird species including cormorants (Phalacrocraxcorbs), shags (Phalocrocuraxaristotehs), guillemots (Uriaaaglge), razorbills (Alcatorda), gulls (Larus mariners andLarusfuscus), kittiwakes (Rissatridactyla), eiders (Somateriamollissina) and the delightful puffins (Fraterculaaretica).
I was very lucky to have the opportunity to visit and work on Bass Rock as access is strongly regulated, and not only was I involved with some of the most mind-blowing seabird work that I have ever experienced before, but I was also assisting my best friend Charlie Dooley and her partner Leon, in collecting data for her MSc research project. The experience was incredible; firstly I was introduced to Charlie’s leader for the fieldwork, a lady called Maggie. Our journey to Bass Rock began from a small enclosed jetty at Dunbar and we travelled on-board a tiny fishing vessel on its way to collect lobster and enormous crabs. The journey took about 40 minutes (the same roughly as any Boatswain Bird Island trip); on the way to the island I saw my first ever group of puffins floating on the cold North Sea and seals playfully swimming. Getting onto the island was ‘a piece of cake’ as there were steps from the sea onto the island and then a well-defined path leading to the summit - no boat jumping and climbing gear required like on Boatswain Bird.
Suddenly we were surrounded by thousands of gannets, their chicks and eggs. I’m used to seeing the Ascension frigatebirds and masked boobies in large numbers, but this was very different - the noise was deafening and the gannets were everywhere. Initially, I thought that they looked similar to our masked boobies but then realised that they were bigger, both in body size and wingspan, their plumage colour was different and you couldn’t tell the sexes apart either by appearance or by different male/ female calls like with our boobies. After giving myself ‘photographic whiplash’ for a few minutes, we set off to the top of the island (our work site) guided by Maggie, noticing the many other bird species and their offspring that we saw on our way.
Once at the top, our aim was to scan for ringed gannets (with binoculars) that each breed here annually. These birds had individually identifying metal rings on their right legs and coloured number rings on the other, which can stand out among the hundreds of other birds. When the birds were spotted, we recorded whether they were using the same nest site as pervious breeding seasons, whether they were faithful to their mate from previous season(s) and at what developmental stage their new chicks were at.
By the end of the day we all were tired but happy from the experience. Although we didn’t find all of the birds on the ‘checklist’ (this will be completed on another planned visit [without meL]), my day on Bass Rock was utterly spectacular and I’ll be forever remembering this amazing trip.
A big thank you to Charlie Dooley, Leon Cutt and Maggie Sheddan for allowing me to join in with this work – it was a brilliant opportunity and learning experience. Thanks also to Charlie and Leon for hosting me and being my guides in Scotland. Thank you to the Darwin initiative for funding this fantastic opportunity for me to receive training in the UK.
UK Training Trip Week 3: South Stack RSPB Reserve
The journey to South Stack in Wales did not get off to the best of starts - after leaving Scotland behind, following a brilliant week working there, I had a very long journey to Wales that included a 2 hour train journey in the wrong direction. This was due to a nice old lady pointing to the wrong train, and myself being too busy
lazy to read any signs – I had wanted a mini-tour of Blackpool anyway J
Forgetting about that, my third week has now come to an end after an incredible work placement. After arriving fashionably late, I was introduced to the whole team at South Stack reserve and immediately made to feel part of the team. I was given a South Stack RSBP uniform, a new nickname to go along with it – Lost Boy (Peter Pan) - and then the rest of the day to get myself together and explore.
On my first day, I was given an introduction from Hayley, the People Engagement Officer. We walked around the whole reserve, where she told me some interesting facts about South Stack reserve, what they did there and what the future held for them.
South Stack is home to an iconic seabird colony that at the height of its breeding season hosts over 9000 seabirds. These include approximately 8014 guillemots (Uriaaalge), 1169 razorbills (Alcatorda), 500 occupied nest sites for gulls and 57 occupied sites for kittiwakes (Rissatrdactyla), along with 10 pairs of puffins (Fraterculaarctica) and of late, a breeding pair of peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus). Perhaps the most renowned bird at the reserve is the Chough (Pyrrhocoraxpyrrhocorax), pronounced ‘Chuff’, which looks like a small crow but with bright red legs and bill. Choughs are not found in many places with perhaps only 500 pairs are left in the UK; 11 of which are found at RSPB South Stack.
South Stack reserve is not only a bird heaven, but it is also home to a variety of mammals, reptiles and insects, including adders (something I didn’t see, sadly), lizards, slow worms, various butterflies and moths, hares, badgers, and even weasels. Marine mammals can also be spotted including, porpoises, dolphins, seals and occasionally even whales and basking sharks.
The reserve is also famous for its impressive habitat of heathland, which creates a beautiful purple haze across the whole reserve. That most important plant that grows here is the Spathulate Fleawort, which is an endemic to South Stack and growing alongside it is the spotted rock rose, which is nationally rare but grows in abundance in patches on the reserve’s mountain - Holyhead Mountain.
Hayley also talked to me about the history of the area and the buildings are still in use today. The RSBP was originally formed to oppose the barbarous trade of plumes (long bird feathers) for women’s hats in the Victorian era; a fashion responsible for the extinction of many of birds worldwide. She then went on to talk about the RSPB/ South Stack aims and plans for the future to ‘inspire a world richer in nature’.
The white washed buildings on the Stack and the coastline were just amazing and Hayley described each the modern day use of the area one for the day to day running of South Stack Reserve, in which all I had the chance to work.
Ellin’s Tower is today used by the visitors to allow them to have a wider view of the coastline through the use of binoculars and telescopes. This tower was built for the wife of Lord Stanley Ellin of Penrhos in 1868. It was initially used as a summer house where the Lord could observe and paint the wildlife. Throughout the wars, it was used as a lookout and fell into disrepair. The RSPB refurbished the tower and opened it as a surveying centre for the public in 1982. Here the tower houses information about the reserve, what can be seen from the tower and shows live feeds from cameras positioned on birds that are nesting on the buttresses on the opposite viewing side to the tower e.g. puffins.
The renowned lighthouse of South Stack is a popular landmark visited by the public. This lighthouse is located on a small coast island (Holy Island) at the bottom of the reserve. Although the lighthouse is not owned by RSBP but the Welsh government, both partners work together to promote its history and protect the seabirds that nest around it. The lighthouse was planned in 1645 with King Charles I, but building didn’t start until early 1800’s. Today the lighthouse is for the more able, as the walk to it consists of 412 steps from the reserve to sea-level, 47 steps across the island bridge and up to lighthouse, lastly with 189 steps inside to the top of the lighthouse. At the lighthouse, the public can have a tour of the inside (engine room), the outside and at the top. And then there’s the trek back up again, and along the way you can view the geology of the surrounding cliff faces. The South Stack Visitor Centre was previously privately owned and then named the South Stack Café. In 2010, the Centre was handed to RSBP and a 6 week makeover was used to strip the place, build a café extension, shop and give it a fresh new look.
My work during the week varied; firstly I had to quickly learn information about the reserve as 300+ visitors come to South Stack every day. This included the history, what flora and fauna was present, what the public could do for the day and the locations of areas that they could go to. Although I was a bit uneasy about this, I was surprised at just how much I picked up in one week, and I was confidently left to talk to the public on my own by staff. The staff rota changed constantly due to the number of staff and the volunteers working during the week; we all had something new to do every hour and someone new to work with. A typical day for me was public talks at Ellin’s tower for 2 hours, an hour of roving - this is where we could walk around the reserve to see what can be done, talk to members of the public who wanted help, litter-picking (which I found to be therapeutic, and I got the hang of the special “litter picky up thingy”), or go exploring. Another hour could be tour guiding for the light house, working in the front office to greet and meet the public, working at the centre shop or working in the café – cleaning tables, serving food, refilling drinks/packed lunches in the coolers. Other jobs included seabird, adder and flower surveys, stock-taking and little odd jobs that needed doing such as refilling the centre bird tables, bird baths, cutting grass, mopping / sweeping floors and helping nice old ladies up and down steps and paths.
I’ve greatly enjoyed my week at South Stack RSPB Reserve, again taking away local knowledge, many memories and some badly learnt Welsh. I’ve made many new friends and appreciated the time spent with each of the staff and the other volunteers, working together and having a laugh. I’ve had so much fun with everything, especially explaining to people where I’m from which involves getting out an atlas that the staff gave me for just this purpose, and trying to clarify that I’m not Indian, New Zealand, French, Seychellois or Asian - just British…….with a twist J
This Saturday, I’ll be travelling for the last time for my final placement in the UK to the Vale Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre in Beckford – Cheltenham, until then!
Dewchinniroicartrefifydnatur – Let’s give nature a home
We have received new stock in for you and your family to enjoy: 2 different colour polo t-shirts supporting the Conservation logo (green) and land crabs logo (grey) in sizes XS – 2XL (£15); new magnets and key rings (£2); caps in 5 colours (£8); a lovely range of new postcards made from recycled paper. Why not stop by and take a look at our souvenirs?!
ASCENSION EXPLORERS - Reminder to parents that we have organised another fun-filled Ascension Explorers programme this summer (see next page) - please don’t forget to send in your permissions slips to Two Boats School or the Conservation Office. Please note change of time for both Two Boats and Georgetown pick-ups - now the same.
Ascension Explorers is a club is for children in class Years 2-7 at Two Boats School (although we do welcome older children as volunteers), and will take place during the end of school year holidays. This is a joint effort between the school and the Conservation Centre to get children interested in and familiar with what the Ascension environment has to offer. The name Ascension Explorers was chosen by the children themselves a number of years ago.
Transport will be provided; Georgetown children will need to meet at the Conservation Centre at 8:45am and Two Boats children will need to be at Two Boats School at 8:45 am. We also welcome parents that would like to accompany their children.
Please be advised, if we are unable to provide an activity for the day planned, we will do an alternative for the children.
Look forward to seeing you this summer holidays!
REMINDER: GREEN MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK GUIDED WALK ON SATURDAY 12THJULY starting at 3:30pm from the Residency with Ascension Island Hash House Harriers. The walk will go along the recently cleared Convalescence and Invalids paths, ending up at Monkey Rock Cemetery and then the Residency for refreshments. Thanks to all those involved in clearing the paths, in particular Stedson Stroud, Carl Richards, Godfrey Philips, Kenickie Andrews (AIG) the Interserve team (Shelly Knipe, JaieBubkley, Nola Henry, Kirsty Anthony &Ricco Williams) and Wing Commander Mark Taylor and the RAF teams. We hope that many of you will be able to join us for the walk!
Please contact us if you have any questions or would be interested in volunteering at Ascension Island Conservation Centre, Georgetown. Tel: 6359. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Conservation Office, Georgetown. Tel: 6359. Email: email@example.com