Happy Birthday – We’re 20 today!

The Scottish Seabird Centre team share 20 reflections on the wide range of activities that the Charity is involved in, on the day of the 20th anniversary of our formal opening.

Wow, who would have thought our 20th birthday celebrations would be taking place in the strange set of circumstances that COVID19 brings upon us. We had been planning a MarineFest to celebrate all that Scotland’s seas have to offer, as part of the Year of Coast and Waters 2020, but that’s on hold for now. Instead we thought we’d share with you some of the activities that we’re involved with through our Charity and why these are so important.

Scotland’s marine environment is exceptional and diverse with over 18,000km of coastline and we’re lucky to be based on the edge of the Firth of Forth, overlooking the World’s largest northern gannet colony – the Bass Rock. Whilst the Northern gannets are thriving many of our internationally important seabirds are in decline. Our marine habitats also provide vital natural services to society not least climate mitigation and adaptation, food and renewable energy and coastal defences.

Ever since our Charity was established we have strived to emulate the vision of Mr Bill Gardner MBE – the local business man and community councillor – who could see the power of using the natural wonders in the Firth of Forth to bring people closer to nature through technology.  We were delighted that Bill came and spent some time looking around our refurbished Centre at the end of 2019, reflecting on the years gone past and the future that lies ahead. Our purpose today is still all about “Inspiring and educating people about the Scottish marine environment, motivating people to care for it and supporting conservation projects.”

SOS Puffin: This award-winning conservation project, launched in 2007, tackles the problem of tree mallow, an invasive plant which threatens important populations of puffins on the islands near North Berwick. Since then, 1300+ brilliant volunteers have carried out over 300 work parties to control the plant, allowing puffin numbers to slowly recover. Emily Burton, Volunteer coordinator

Gannets on the Bass: Awesome? Overwhelming? Just words. Unlock the prison gate, the steep ascent leading to the gannets. Sit within a metre of this majestic bird. Senses are bombarded, the noise, the odour, the swooping overhead. A lifetime’s experience etched in the memory forever. At times, the calm and pure joy – my world.  Maggie Sheddan, Bass Rock Landing Guide

Bird and seal counts: When it comes to protecting species, knowledge is key. Seal and seabird species raise their young in the Firth of Forth every year, but how do populations change over time? Dedicated teams of volunteers from the Forth Seabird Group & Fife Seal Group conduct counts each year to find out.  We’re always delighted to join in. Charlotte Foster, Outreach officer

© John Hunt, © Gavin McDougall and © Charlotte Bray

Formal education: Our curriculum linked workshops inspire people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds to appreciate Scotland’s wildlife and natural environment. We love working with partners like the Firth of Forth Lobster Hatchery. It’s so important, now more than ever, to continue to engage learners to understand and appreciate nature and how we impact upon our world. Fran Clarke, Education officer

Outdoor learning: First-hand experiences in the outdoors increase awareness and care of the environment. Our Education Team provide hands-on, fun, educational outdoor experiences for people of all ages and abilities – guided rockpooling, bird walks and litter picking sessions are just a few of the sessions on offer! Charlotte Foster, Outreach officer

Live science shows: Live science shows can help us build our future, rather than just waiting for it. With the advantage of having the whole family laughing, Professor Egghead shows remind us just how much fun science can be, and hopefully encourage science fun at home once the show is over. Malcolm Watson, Discovery Experience manager

Outreach activities: Our outreach work ensures everyone can engage with the Scottish marine environment. School visits, science festivals, loan boxes, and online resources are just a few of the activities we provide across Scotland. Simply put, when you can’t access the coast, we will bring it to you in a fun and interactive way to stimulate inquiring minds. Charlotte Foster, Outreach officer

© Phil Wilkinson, © Rob McDougall, © Scottish Seabird Centre

Meet the scientist: Scotland is host to an impressive number of marine science institutes, researchers, and organisations. Our ‘Meet the Scientist’ programme offers the opportunity to hear talks from the brilliant minds involved in this fascinating and varied field. So far topics have ranged from seabird ecology to advice on reducing plastic. Charlotte Foster, Outreach officer

Beach cleans: Our much-loved marine wildlife and habitats are under threat from litter that is choking and polluting our seas. We run community beach cleans in partnership with East Lothian Countryside Rangers and North Berwick in Bloom. These are a great way to educate children about the damage our waste can do and the steps we need to take to prevent it. Jess Thompson, Marketing manager

© Scottish Seabird Centre, © Rob McDougall

Seaside holiday school: At Seaside Holiday School, children enjoy activities from exploring the local beaches to super science experiments, whilst making friends and learning new skills along the way. It gives children the opportunity to really get stuck into our most immersive and exciting activities – no two days are ever the same! Fran Clarke, Education officer

Tourism: East Lothian’s spectacular coastline and beautiful countryside are easily accessible and can be enjoyed for free. The county has fantastic visitor attractions and we are proud to be part of the East Lothian Tourism Attractions Group, which works together to encourage visitors to enjoy all the region has to offer. Jess Thompson, Marketing manager

Seasonal recruitment: The county’s high schools have long provided brilliant team members and it is a joy to see them, having gone through the application and induction processes, making a fabulous contribution to our teams. Even better when they rise through the ranks to become valued team leaders and even managers. Jill Dryburgh, Business Support Officer

Local and sustainable: When purchasing for the gift shop and café, we always aim to support local businesses. We strive to highlight the products of Scottish/British companies that follow environmental sustainability policies that mirror our own values. All our proceeds help the charity to continue our environmental and conservation work. Dawn Kane & Jordan Ralston, Retail and Catering

Discovery Experience – then and now: The old discovery centre was loved, inspired many and gave visitors a unique insight into the natural world. However, change has to happen to keep up with current issues and technology and we now have a more rounded experience for everyone. This is not just of the local area but of Scotland’s marine environment, with a sense of wow thrown in. Malcolm Watson, Discovery Experience manager

© Helen Pugh, © Scottish Seabird Centre

Wildlife boat trips: Our boats trips get up close to the wildlife. Bass Rock is home to the world’s largest colony of Northern gannets in summer, 150,000! Isle of May’s National Nature Reserve is a breeding ground for puffins, guillemots, razorbills, shags, kittiwakes and the largest Altantic grey seal colony in Eastern Britain. Caroline Doran, Boat office manager

Digital resources: The marine wildlife and habitats around Scotland’s shores are exceptional and diverse, but so much of it remains unseen, hidden below the waves. By providing our resources and education packs digitally we can inspire even more people to love and care for our fragile marine world, no matter where they are based. Jess Thompson, Marketing manager

Trustees: As a new Trustee of the Scottish Seabird Centre, my role is to listen to the team, understand the challenges and opportunities ahead and help them achieve their goals. Having grown up in North Berwick and returned here with my young family four years ago I am looking forward to being able to contribute to the future success of the charity and raise awareness of the vital role it plays in helping to preserve our fragile marine environment. Fiona Alder, Trustee

Being a team member: The centre offers a variety of things; this means that we really do need to work together and support each other to help provide the best possible experience for international and local customers and for each other as we strive to give our best. Working at the centre, you learn a lot about the bird and marine life in Scotland and we all work towards the same value and goals. Jordan Ralston, Café assistant manager

Volunteering: Volunteers have always been an invaluable part of our charity, playing a key role in the delivery of our education, conservation, and community work over the last 20 years. Recognised for their exceptional and varied work by the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, they remain a key part of everything that we achieve today. We are incredibly grateful to them all. Emily Burton, Volunteer coordinator

© Rob McDougall, © Scottish Seabird Centre

Membership: Many of our members have been with us since they ‘bought a brick’ when the Centre was being built and others have joined since; we are grateful to them all. Some, because of geography, are seldom able to visit but still support our charitable activities and give us encouragement when we need it most. Like now. We are immensely grateful to you all. Thank you. Jill Dryburgh, Business support officer

What next?
As for many smaller charities life is quite challenging just now. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far through our Charity and its 5-star visitor attraction, both directly and in partnership with others. With your ongoing support we can look forward to celebrating our 21st birthday in 2021 with a MarineFest packed full of fun and engaging activities for all.

Scottish Seabird Centre Urgent Public Appeal



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