News from St Cyrus National Nature Reserve

St Cyrus National Nature Reserve is dynamic and changeable at this time of year. With high seas and the North Esk in spate things can feel and look very dramatic. Reserve Manager Therese Alampo gives an update on what’s been happening at this popular reserve just outside Montrose.

A lot of debris has come down the river by high waters, surging and ripping at the banks and lades which have been dry for months or even years. The dramatic scene includes many natural/organic objects, including several massive bails of straw, trees that have been uprooted and several dead animals. Deer, sheep, rabbit, otter, fox and even chickens have found their way to the shores of the reserve.

All these natural items will in time decompose and the tonnes of wood will become part of the habitat available to the creatures of the reserve. In fact all this organic material is attracting loads of invertebrates, which in turn is attracting lots of birds to the buzzing and hopping bugs.

The real worry is how much plastic, rope and other items, which present a real threat to wildlife are now littering the beach, some from the surrounding area but many from ships and further afield. Many people have been asking about this litter so I thought I would write a little in the newsletter about it.

Marine litter poses a major threat to wildlife, either directly through entanglement but more insidiously through the animals mistaking the litter for food. Polystyrene is particularly nasty and all of the pieces we have picked up over the last few days have had peck marks in them.  These items stay in the marine environment for 100’s of years (a plastic bottle for example will remain for 450 years!). As time goes on the plastics may become smaller and smaller and actually start entering the food chain – a solemn thought as we tuck into our fish suppers.

Fulmar are being used to measure the occurrence of North Sea plastics and the stomach contents of the dead birds are being analysed. Sadly over 95% of Fulmar have plastics in their stomachs, and in their lifetimes they are likely to eat 44 pieces of plastic, once in the stomach they stay there taking up valuable room that real food should be taking. The worst case has been 1603 pieces of plastic being found inside the Stomach of an individual bird, poor thing.

I’d like to give huge and heartfelt thanks to all the wonderful people who have been collecting rubbish and the great job that Lathallan School, Duke of Edinburgh students have done. Please come to the office for bags if you would like to help, we would like to find the oldest pop can, crisp packet and the item from furthest afield to demonstrate how long these things stay in the sea! We found a 15 year old can yesterday hardly damaged.

Some of the natural treasures (collected and left by a visitor on a fish box), dead man’s fingers, common starfish, flounder, sea mouse and a male salmon (with elongated lower jaw, Kype).

Last month Radio Scotland visited the reserve and Mark Stephens spent the day with Michael Craig and I. We discussed bird migration and the wonderful visitors and wildlife that St Cyrus hosts. He was really impressed with the thousands of birds that were using the area in front of the hide to roost, feed and preen, what a magical sight and what incredible sounds as the mixed flock of gulls and waders rose up like smoke after being spooked by something. I do hope you heard the program and it was lovely for St Cyrus reserve to be on the radio for all to hear about.

Some of the recent wildlife highlights include:

  • The beautiful red back shrike that visited the reserve on its migration to its wintering ground in tropical Africa. These birds are also known as butcher birds as they ‘skewer’ lizards, beetles and other prey items on thorny bushes.
  • Watching the whooper swans from the bird hide, these beautiful swans come from Iceland and gently call to each other as they feed, magic.
  • The incredible display of fungi on the reserve, this year the best I have ever seen it, and the wonderful flavour of the Blewitt mushrooms delivered to the office by Shiela Brown.
  • Seeing the beach in total disarray and beach combing and picking up litter, it’s fascinating, I loved seeing the dead man’s fingers close up, named so as they are thought to look like the fingers of dead men when looked at under water. The ‘fingers’ are actual formed by a colonial soft coral, fascinatingly most colonies are either all male or all female. Each part of the colony (polyp) has tentacles it uses to catch plankton so when you see them underwater feeding they look a little furry.

So many more things but as always I have run out of space.  Thanks again all for litter picking and please do look out for those old items and pop in for bags and a hot chocolate.


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