Highlights from our Year of Coasts & Waters poetry competition

Our Coast Lines of Tentsmuir poetry project has just had its wonderful finale at StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, at St Andrews’ Byre Theatre. Molly Aldam has been with SNH on a graduate placement since September, working to connect a wider range of communities with our National Nature Reserves in the central belt.  Passionate about environmental engagement through the arts, she’s been running the 2020 Coast Lines of Tentsmuir poetry project, and here shares the winners of the poetry competition…

Our competition saw an explosion of poetic work celebrating Tentsmuir and the Year of Coasts and Waters – and a lot of ‘firsts’.


Creative art at the Tentsmuir NNR open day.©Lorne Gill/SNH

Sand art at Tentsmuir NNR


The poetry afternoon with StAnza on Wednesday was their first ‘relaxed performance’, challenging the image of a poetry audience as sitting strictly still and silently, to make the reading as inclusive as possible.  In partnership with the charity Promoting a More Inclusive Society (PAMIS), it also saw the first-ever performance of a multi-sensory poem involving people with profound learning disabilities onstage at a mainstream poetry reading.  During Maureen Phillip’s original Tentsmuir multi-sensory poem, Rachel and Ariane gave us recorded birdsong and seal calls, and umbrellas trailing shells floated through the audience.



Multi-sensory poetry from PAMIS


Anna Crowe’s poetry reading included her wonderful ‘A Tentsmuir Flora’, while Jim Crumley brought home the troubling projections of sea-level rise with his new work ‘Tentsmuir 2050’.  Valerie Gillies likewise wrote a Tentsmuir poem especially for the event, involving the audience in a lively Scots addition to her Tay sequence.

And over just six weeks leading up to StAnza, my inbox brightened with entries to our poetry competition that were thoughtful, imaginative and of an extremely high quality.  In all of them, a real love of the Tentsmuir coast came through.

I’m absolutely delighted to announce our winner Kathleen Gray and our runners up, Alexia Grosjean and Elizabeth Taylor, whose poems will form a mini poetry trail at the Tayport side of Tentsmuir.

Kathleen Gray is a Tayport local who volunteers with sea eagle monitoring at Tentsmuir.  This is her winning entry:

The Return of the Eagle with the Sunlit Eye

Welcome back, wise bird of the waters.

     Welcome back, you belong to us.

          Welcome back, guardian of seas.

               Welcome back, you are safely home.


We know this place.  Passed down from

the old ones.  They spoke of the land between

two estuaries: great Tatha and little sister, Eden.

A washed, water map.

Our friend the great North Sea still strums sand;

greeting us again.  Her bounty of salty, sweet

seal provides.  The clarsach ebbs, flows, the tune

of tides.  Our presence completes this shore song.

Memory of wing, feather, fur, claw, scale, fin.

All that is gone, will return.  We, the harbingers

of hope.


               Welcome back, great soarer of the skies.

          Welcome back, to your rightful place.

     Welcome back, a return from exile.

Welcome back, to your sunlight eye.


Alexia Grosjean, who also lives in Tayport, was a runner-up:


Sink, softly,

into the silken sands.


Sea-spray stings


seal-song sings.



clouds catch currents


sea-eagles soar, serenely.


Our other runner-up was Liz Taylor:


Shifting sands, drifting sands,

storm and spindrift lifting sands,

an ever-changing line.

Where Tay and Eden greet the sea,

creation and destruction hail

the shifting Sands of Time.


Kathleen, Liz and Alexia have been published along with 13 other competition entrants in a poetry pamphlet, which we gave out at the StAnza event and is also available in the hides at Tentsmuir and online from our website.  After our winners delivered their poems at StAnza, we had spontaneous readings from others published in the pamphlet: thank you to the fantastic Jodi Glass, Beth McDonough, Finola Scott and Mary Harwood.

Mary was one of four poets in the pamphlet from a writers’ group in the Hilltown Community Centre, Dundee.  The group made Tentsmuir their January project and came on two trips across the Tay to the reserve, where we did activities such as writing from the perspectives of a sea eagle, the sea, marram grass and a razor shell.  In my main role of running facilitated visits to the NNRs for community groups, I’ve found that engagement happens best through art, as it gets people noticing – as they write about wildlife; as they collect shells and grasses for crafts; and as they take in the natural world and relay it in a personal way.  The arts can help us, as a culture, to shift the focus away from our own species and pay more attention to the needs of whole ecologies.

Although the poetry competition and event is over, we have more creative projects coming up to celebrate coasts and waters at Tentsmuir:

  • On April 9th we will have a drop-in afternoon of Easter nature crafts for families
  • We’re working with the Dundee Rep Theatre’s Community Company to put on a Tentsmuir-inspired performance in Dundee on the 27th June, and a public outdoor theatre workshop on the NNR itself later in the summer.
  • On the 7th and 14th July we will have bushcraft expert Willow Lohr at Tentsmuir, teaching us traditional forest and coastal crafts such as woodcarving and net-making.

I hope you can join us and get inspired at some of these events – do keep an eye on our website for more details!

See our website for more on the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020.



Left to right: Pete Cunningham, Tom Cunningham, Molly Aldam, Kathleen Gray, Alexia Grosjean, Jim Crumley, Liz Taylor, Finola Scoth, Mary Harwood, Jodi Glass, Beth McDonough, Anna Crowe, Valerie Gillies


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