Conserving the marine riches of the Berwickshire coast

The Berwickshire coast and its shallow seas are home to some of the most spectacular marine life in Europe. The newly formed Berwickshire and Northumberland Marine Nature Partnership will help ensure its sensitive management. Claire Hedley, the Partnership’s Project Officer tells us more.

St Abbs Head's stunning coastline. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

St Abbs Head’s stunning coastline. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Rocky reefs, boulder shores and mysterious sea caves provide important habitats for an incredible diversity of life. A kaleidoscope of brightly coloured sea squirts and anemones can be found on the shore, while shy hermit crabs and star fish dwell in the natural aquarium rock pools. The craggy reefs give way to large kelp forests where juvenile fish and crustaceans shelter in the swaying marine canopy. Deeper still, and as the light begins to fade, the kelp leads in to a carpet of animals, from soft-bodied corals to dense beds of brittle stars.

Dahlia anemone on brittlestar bed. ©Linda Pitkin/2020VISION

Dahlia anemone on brittlestar bed. ©Linda Pitkin/2020VISION

The more hardy species can be found around cave entrances, where the crash of waves is no challenge to the hard shells of barnacles and limpets. Cave walls are blanketed by a colourful mosaic of filter-feeding animals including sponges, sea squirts and tube worms. Back on the land, the sheltered bays provide safe breeding areas for large numbers of grey seals, while the towering sea cliffs provide nesting areas for thousands of sea birds who feed in the productive shallow waters.

Grey Seal. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Grey Seal. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Our local marine ecosystem is a complex environment, and its conservation value is recognised by an equally complex network of overlapping marine nature conservation designations that extend across the Scottish-English border. Our productive waters have supported a wide range of human activities for thousands of years, and they continue to do so today with activities such as coastal development, tourism and recreation, commercial fishing and harbour activities all interacting with these sensitive places. These human uses need to be carefully balanced and managed with conservation in mind.

Dead-man's fingers covering rock faces below the kelp. ©Linda Pitkin/2020VISION

Dead-man’s fingers covering rock faces below the kelp. ©Linda Pitkin/2020VISION

The Berwickshire and Northumberland Marine Nature Partnership is a collaboration between Scottish and English organisations responsible for managing coastal and marine activities across Berwickshire and Northumberland. The partnership has evolved from the former Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast European Marine Site Management Group, which was established in 2000 to coordinate the management of two European marine nature conservation designations. Recently, the Management Group decided to apply its partnership approach to the entire network of inshore marine designations between Fast Castle Head in Scotland and the River Tyne in England. The suite of nine sites includes Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) which are designated under European law, plus Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) which are designated under UK law.

A colourful male lumpsucker guarding a clutch of eggs. ©Alex Mustard/2020VISION

A colourful male lumpsucker guarding a clutch of eggs. ©Alex Mustard/2020VISION

Working together, the partnership will develop a simple toolkit, including accurate mapping, up-to-date condition assessments and an inventory of local monitoring activity, to help manage this suite of important marine areas. We hope this will eventually be available on line, so anyone interested in the management of the local marine environment can learn more.

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Discover the area for yourself. St Abb’s Head NNR is on a section of this coastline. Find out more on the NNR website.

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