Highland Rangers on Seashore Life Workshop in Skye and Lochalsh

 Thoughts may have turned as to what could cause such a mass gathering? The answer is easy, Skye and Lochalsh’s magnificent beach natural history.

The Highland Seashore Biodiversity Project had funded the two day workshop for Rangers and Nature Conservation Workers, who work with community groups and visitors and lead guided activities on the seashore. The workshops aim was to hone the already amazing identification skills of these dedicated professionals and also introduce them to the surveying aspects of the project. Leading them in this was the internationally respected marine Biologist Mike Kendall. 

Both days were blessed with the most beautiful spring like weather and extremely low tides. On the 31st March Ashaig beach near Broadford, was the focus of the day, an alien landscape of freshly exposed rocks and sands revealed marvellous animals that are rarely seen by many.  The group followed the retreating tide down to the kelp, now standing as a slumped forest of giant leaves above the water. Soon a list of species was gathered that included peanut worms (Sipunculids left over from prehistory), Sea Gherkins, small starfish beyond anyone’s count, brittle stars, butterfish and more.

Mike Kendall was so impressed by the diversity of worms in the sands and silts, it was hard to leave the beach at all. But the tide turned and reluctantly pushed the group up shore. However John Philips, The Highland Council’s Ranger for Skye and Lochalsh was on hand to show the group the stunning fossils of Ashaig: ammonites; gryphea (also known as Devil’s Toe Nails) and fossil shells, which closed the day beautifully. To realise that Ashaig has come full circle from a prehistoric beach accumulating the shells of giant ammonites and compare it to the fauna it supports today, was awe inspiring.

The next day the group explored the shores of Plockton, where in a hidden cove between the skerries of the lighthouse, the tide had pulled out so far the group could walk from island to island. Again a super rich diversity of life was on show. Peacock worm tubes stood up from the surface of the beach like spines on a hedgehog. Peter Cunningham of the Wester Ross Fisheries Trust was so impressed he went snorkelling and pulled out some huge finds, large Common Sea Urchins and Horse Mussels, all thriving in these rich waters. One of the best finds of the day was flame shells and a bootlace worm, which was held between six people at full length, to appreciate it as one of the longest animals in the World.

On leaving the beach Peter Cunningham said: “This is one of the best beaches I have ever seen.” Jenny Grant of the Inverness and Nairn Highland Ranger Service said: “I learnt so much, saw things I’d never seen before.”

Paramount to the workshops were the usual guidelines to being safe on the shore, including checking tide tables and making sure the sands are stable.

At the end of two days everyone in the group was enthused and determined to get out surveying and encourage others to do so too. One can truly say that our shores are inspirational.

To find out more about workshops and activities the Highland Seashore Project provides for the community please go to www.highlandseashore.co.uk or the Facebook Page at Highland Seashore Biodiversity Project .Or to find out more please emailjanet@highlandseashore.org.uk.

The next Highland Seashore Project event is with the Kintail and Balmacara National Trust for Scotland Rangers at Plockton on the 12th April starting at 11.30am for seashore explore and Seashore story telling with Bob Pegg at the Village Hall at 1pm to 3pm. For more details please go to Gavin Skipper at GSkipper@nts.org.uk.


3 Apr 2014
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