A Year at the Scottish Seabird Centre

This time last year I joined the Scottish Seabird Centre team, hired to coordinate the Wildline Project and deliver practical conservation activities along the East Lothian coastline and out on the islands in the Firth of Forth. The project was funded by NatureScot’s Biodiversity Challenge Fund and we were working with partners from around Scotland to positively impact coastal and marine habitats. After spending the winter months undergoing training, recruiting volunteers, and securing the necessary landowner permission, I was planning on beginning the practical delivery of the 12-month project in Spring 2020.

We were aiming to focus on the removal of invasive plant species (namely tree mallow and piri-piri bur) from important seabird islands and coastal habitats around the Firth of Forth, working with private landowners to improve habitats and reduce the spread of non-native species. We also wanted to use the project as an opportunity to raise awareness about the negative impact that invasive species can have on populations of breeding seabirds and other marine species (you can find out more about this by clicking here). A brilliant team of volunteers stepped forward to help with this, eager to get stuck into practical tasks.

Cutting tree mallow on the seabird islands (c) David Palmer

However, despite all of my careful planning, the arrival of Covid-19 and the Spring lockdown unfortunately made it impossible to safely carry out many of these activities. It became clear as we entered March that the practical tasks that we had planned to complete, many of which involved large teams of volunteers working together, were no longer going to be possible within the project timeline. Unfortunately, this meant that we had to withdraw from the Wildline Project and put our practical conservation work on pause.

Nevertheless, our funders at NatureScot were incredibly flexible and understanding. They made the decision to refund my position for the remainder of the 12-month project, working with us to decide different outcomes that were more achievable during an uncertain time. The majority of these focused on keeping people connected to nature and the marine environment during lockdown and the unsettled period beyond. 

We were especially grateful for this as, like many other businesses and charities, the Scottish Seabird Centre was facing a financial crisis which led us down the path of launching an urgent funding appeal and placing the  vast majority of our staff into furlough. NatureScot’s funding allowed us to continue to release educational resources, blogs and videos during lockdown that would otherwise have been impossible.

So, what have I been working on? The past 6 months have been a steep learning curve for me, stepping away from the outdoors and adapting to life online. Zoom meetings swiftly became the norm, and soon enough my time was filled with video editing, blog writing, and designing educational resources. I tried to take the opportunity to experiment with different methods of communicating educational messages online.

Seabird whiteboard videos for YouTube

My poor flatmates had to pay the price for this, frequently venturing into a kitchen set-up as a makeshift video studio (during the creation of the ‘whiteboard animations’) or else walk into the trial of an experiment or craft activity. Getting into the swing of designing activities for kids, I decided to launch a series of blogs for our younger supporters too (you can view them here). 

Additionally, I was working hard to write content for the Scottish Seabird Centre’s brand-new website, completing and uploading species profiles so that people can easily access information online. I couldn’t have completed these pages without the help of some wonderful photographers, who generously donated images of seabird species for us to use. I also took the opportunity, when it was safe to do so, to venture out with my camera and try my hand at wildlife videography, creating short clips to accompany some of the profiles on the new site (which will be launched later this year).

Short Northern gannet clip created for the new website

Although most of my time was taken up with creating resources online, NatureScot also funded some physical resources to enhance the Centre itself. These included a brand-new portable exhibition display, which explores 10 of Scotland’s most iconic seabird species and contains some information about Marine Protected Areas. It also funded 2 new displays for the Discovery Experience, promoting a range of ways that visitors can take action for nature.   

The last 12-months have been far from what I anticipated. Where I expected to be working alongside a team of volunteers outdoors, I actually spent much of my time working behind a computer, developing new skills and learning to adapt to an ever-changing situation. I am incredibly grateful to our funders at NatureScot for enabling us to develop some great new resources and for funding my position at the Centre during this challenging time.

I am both thankful and excited to be staying on at the Scottish Seabird Centre, taking on a new set of opportunities as Conservation Projects Officer as the NatureScot funding comes to end. A huge thank you to the whole team at the Scottish Seabird Centre for the warm welcome and for all of the support I’ve received during my first year. I’m eager to see what we can achieve together over the next 12 months.   

This project is supported by the Scottish Natural Heritage Biodiversity Challenge Fund.

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