Monday, 13 October 2014

Coast To Coast - The Island Beach Clean

Friday 10th of October was an important day in the calendar of my month's volunteering with the Isles of Scilly Widlife Trust. I ventured from the office to join the rest of the team of volunteers, Rangers to help the Seabird Recovery project with a big task - a full island beach clean on St Agnes and Gugh. St Agnes and its sister Gugh which are joined by a tidal sand bar, have been the focus of the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project which has been working to protect the internationally important breeding seabird populations. 
The biggest part of the work the project has been doing has been a concerted effort to eradicate Brown Rats from the island. Brown Rats were accidentally introduced to the island and have been destroying the breeding chances of ground and burrow nesting seabirds by eating the eggs and chicks. Although we will have to wait a while longer to hear if the islands have official rat free status, indications are hugely positive that the eradication has been successful. This summer the successful fledging of healthy Manx Shearwater chicks was seen for the first time in living memory. 
Aside from monitoring the seabird nests and working with the island inhabitants to remove the destructive rats, the project has taken on other work such as habitat management, environmental education and beach cleans. 

Much of the work has required technical training or experience, but the beach cleaning is a fantastic way for the local people, and indeed anyone on any coastline and make a real difference to coastal wildlife. 
The volume of rubbish in our seas is hard to believe, and it ranges from plastic pellets no more than a few millimetres in diameter, to containers leaking corrosive chemicals. The thought of the damage this rubbish is doing every day to wildlife is sickening. Plastic bags look remarkably similar to a jellyfish when floating in shimmering water, and this can cause an uncomfortable end for turtles and other jelly-eaters (several Leather Back Turtles were recorded around Scilly this summer, not for the first time!). Small plastic pieces, bottle tops, or rubber bands, pieces of foam and polystyrene can be ingested by seabirds when mistaken for fish and other food. Viciously sharp fishing line, plus discarded nets and rope, becomes entangled around seabirds and cetaceans (dolphins etc); the plastic rings that hold together multipack cans should always be cut apart when put in the bin - imagine that around your neck or dolphin-beak! When washed up on the coast, glass bottles not only pose a hazard when smashed, but act as an effective trap for small mammals such as the Scilly Shrews here on the Isles of Scilly. 

We met on the quay on St Mary's at 8.30 and took a 15 min journey across to St Agnes. Under the guidance of Jaclyn, the project manager, the assembled crowd of willing volunteers split into teams, each designated a section of coast to work along. After various health and safety issues were highlighted regarding tides and hazardous waste, we donned our gloves, collected our rubbish sacks and got to work. 


View across the sand bar to Gugh from St Agnes


The orange hats help make Seabird recovery project volunteers recognisable

We weren't the only ones visiting the island - we stopped here to chat to a group of birders. Scilly is popular with birders in October, as many migratory bird and rare species can turn up on the island's shores.  - Photo by Abbie 
Before long we were shedding coats and jumpers under the sun, remarkably strong for near-mid October. We followed trails through bracken, bramble and gorse, slithered and scrambled over rocks and scrunched over sandy beaches, gathering every piece of metal, plastic, rope or other rubbish to be found. Odd flip-flops were a common find, whilst plastic water bottles were by far the most frequent. Fishing line and nets were pulled from where they had wrapped around rocks, lumps of foam were retrieved from thick beds of tide-line seaweed. 

Curlews called and Oystercatchers flickered over the rocks. A seal surveyed us down her long nose briefly from the sheltered water of a bay. Small brown ball-shaped Wrens jittered between the rocks and boulders, or rattled grumpily at us from the thick brambles. I have never know a place where my favourite bird is quite so plentiful as here in the Isles of Scilly. 


The rock to the left is dotted with Shags, a coastal bird that is most common in the south west, favouring the rocky coastline of the Isles of Scilly and mainland Cornwall.

A break for lunch was a time for laughter and camaraderie (and sharing of chocolate flapjacks!) before we returned to complete our relevant sections of the St Agnes coast. 


We faced some tough terrain - but it was great fun and not all this hard going!

Late afternoon arrived, and we returned to the quay for the boat back to St Mary's, exhausted and aching, but satisfied, proud of a job well done, and closer for a shared experience. 
We knew we had made a difference, and it felt good. Tired smiles all round - and we all knew that we would be back again as soon as needed, if not before. 

Diving gannets and cruising gulls accompanied us on our return sailing to home, it was almost tempting to give them a brief salute. 


Three volunteers (thats me in the centre) and just a small haul from one bay, a quantity we repeated and bettered, several times over during the course of the day! - photo by Jaclyn










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