Thursday, 8 September 2016

Thatching Workshop with Solway Wetlands Landscape Partnership Scheme

A couple of months ago I attended a workshop organised by the Solway Wetlands Partnership Scheme. I spent a day with some great people and the master thatcher William from Scarborough learning how to thatch a roof with heather. 

At Campfield Marsh RSPB reserve Chris Spencer, an expert earth builder called Alex, some willing volunteers and some small children have been very busy building a clay dabbin vernacular style building that were once found on the Solway plains. Eventually the plan is to thatch the building with heather.

Clay bricks

Chris very proudly showing us his clay dabbin building
Chris had built an A frame that we were thatching, this made life much simpler and meant that we could learn to thatch without having to work at great height!

The materials used are pretty basic and not expensive, the first layer is turf which is laid on the frame grass side down.

The main material of course is heather which was harvested off the North York Moors and it only cost £15 a bale - bargain! We also used some hazel sways to hold the thatch in place.

William showed us how to tease the heather out of the bale and to arrange it into a bundle so that you ended up with the leaves at one end and the stalks at the other - or so that was the theory! The bundles were tied with twine and then we start on the bottom left corner to place them on the turf. A sway was stapled on using a screw and some wire - the unorganic material. We then hammered in stapples or spars with William's fantastic home made mallet to hold the heather in place.

And soon we had the first row finished and then it was just a case of adding more and more rows...

As the thatch got higher so did we, having to use a ladder to put our heather bundles in place. We then made a big roll or heather sausage to lay across the top a bit like a ridge pole!

The building has been continuing at Campfield Marsh and since my day thatching there has been Clay fest and the dabbin build is coming along nicely and is now almost finished. If you want to have a look for your self head down to RSPB Campfield Marsh and take a look at the amazing structure built by many willing workers!

The Farne Islands

It has been far too long since I have written my blog. So to get going again here are some photos from a fantastic day trip I had out to the Farne Islands earlier this summer to see two of my favourites, puffins and seals...along with a whole lot of other bird species. The Farne Islands boast a large seabird colony with 23 different species to be seen along with an abundance of grey seals. The Farnes are a cluster of Islands off the Northumberland coast and easily accessed by boat from Seahouses. Below are just some of the highlights of a great way to spend a day surrounded by wildlife!

Grey Seals
I have been scuba diving off the Farne Islands a number of times and loved it every time. The seals are plentiful and playful. I have had many a wonderful encounter with inquisitive seals nibbling my fins. I have experienced seals close enough to touch looking straight at me their big brown eyes. I call them underwater labradors and I feel very lucky to have been accepted into their habitat. However, I have always been in the water marvelling at the amazing underwater world and so it was time to actually land on the islands.

Young Seal basking in the sun
There are a number of boat companies that run trips out to the Farne Islands and you can choose to visit Inner Farne, Staple Island or both (during the summer season). I went out with Serenity boat tours  who were very helpful and knowledgeable and I would recommend booking in advance as they do get booked up.
As we approached the Farnes we cruised around the cliffs geting a closer look at all the bird life. The most dominant species being the Guillemot, Uria aalge. The guillemots nest in huge colonies all around the Islands.

Guillemot, Uria aalge
Guillemot, Uria aalge
Bird watcher's Paradise
After some time sailing around the islands admiring both the seals and the brids it was time to land on Inner Farne. I was excited about seeing the Arctic Tern, Sterna paradisaea as I have not encountered them before. As soon as we stepped off the boat and headed up the slipway we were greeted by arctic tern chicks looking very cute and fluffy. However, what comes with cute and fluffy chicks is very protective and conscientious parents.  

Arctic tern chick
Arctic Tern with Sand Eel
I had been warned about the arctic terns and took the advice to wear a hat to avoid being hit on the head as the terns swooped down upon the intruders. It still didn't prepare me for the spectacle in front of me. The terns were everywhere swooping and dive bombing - protecting their young and bringing back food to their nests.

I felt a bit of an intruder and did ask the rangers if they thought we have an effect on the terns as they were wasting all this energy on warning the humans away. The rangers thought that the terns would behave in this way anyway as they spend all day protecting their young against other birds. 

I moved on up the boardwalk to enjoy what I had really come to see, the Puffins, Fratercula arctica and I was not disappointed. I have always wanted to get one of those classic photos of a puffin with sand eels in its beak. Now I'm not a great photographer and I have a pretty basic camera but I just wanted to photograph these adorable looking birds.

Puffin showing off his catch of sand eels
The rangers explained that the puffins stand with a beak full of sand eels to show the other puffins how amazing they are at catching eels. I am sure the ladies are impressed, I was! So I apologise but here are more than necessary photos of puffins, but I took a lot more! It is a wonderful way to spend an hour or two just observing birds, watching their behaviour and trying to capture this through a lens.

Puffin proudly showing off his catch

The other quite prolific bird on the islands is the Kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla. A lot of them still had chicks, gorgeous balls of fluff hunkering down on their nests to keep out of the wind. Some of the guillemots also had chicks and most were getting ready to fledge. I arrived mid July and it was getting close to the end of the breeding season. If you are planning a visit June and July are good months to go.

Kittiwake with chick
Guillemot, chick and Razorbill
One other striking bird we saw quite a lot of was the Razorbill, Alca torda and how it got it's name is quite self explanatory, although it is also known as the bird in the dinner jacket. 

Razorbill - showing off his bill!

We also saw a number of shags, Phalacrocorax aristoelis, often confused with the Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo. The shag has a green sheen to its feathers and the cormorant is more blue and black. The shag's beak is also quite a vibrant orange and if you still can't tell them apart you are safe to say you saw a shag on Inner Farne as the cormorant does not nest there!

Shag and fluffy chick

So I will leave you with another seal photo and I hope this has given you a taste of what there is to see out on the Farnes. My little trip to the Farnes took me right back to when I visited the Galapagos Islands in 2009. It truly is a remarkable experience to see wildlife so close up and in its natural environment. Even if you are not an avid bird watcher you will enjoy a trip out to the Farnes. The other good time to visit is in October when the seal pups start to arrive and with it now being September I feel another visit coming on!!