Wind, rain, hail, sunshine, ice and temperatures as low as 3°C have met me in Orkney over the past 2 weeks and sometimes all in a single day! But even the cold, wet feet couldn’t put a damper on my spirits. I have settled into Orkney very naturally as I have had the pleasure of living here before. The views are as spectacular as I remember them to be and the people just as friendly and welcoming. Orkney is knee deep in Scottish heritage, beautiful sea views and magnificent wildlife. Who wouldn’t want to wake up to that every day!
My traineeship has certainly gone up a few gears since I arrived here and it has been fantastic. I was at my first outreach event with the Orkney Field Club the day after I arrived on the island. We had a great day searching the shore for sealife and identifying it in the lab. We found everything and I mean everything! Bryozoans, Sponges, Flatworms, Crabs, Sea squirts, Worms, Mussels, Barnacles, Sea spiders, Hydroids, Gastropods and even a few Isopods, Chitons and Fish! Phew. As a group we created a great list of species for the Orkney Information Centre.
Soon afterwards I began surveys on some of Orkney’s piers, harbours and pontoons with my mentor Jo and two Heriot Watt students Andrew and Rebecca. Together we have begun to create a list of species, native and non-native, that foul the areas we are surveying. So far we have come across the invasive Japanese Skeleton Shrimp, the Orange Tipped Sea Squirt and an invasive Bryozoan. But on the positive side we have not seen any that seem to be causing any major impacts up here in Orkney. Hopefully I will have the chance to have another look at our survey locations at the end of the season to see if there has been any changes.
I had a great day rockpooling with the RSPB at the Brough of Birsay as part of the Orkney Nature festival. The day started out great and we prepared some tanks with various crabs, shells and seaweeds for the children to have a look at. Soon kids and parents and even some interested tourists arrived to take a net and go exploring around the fascinating rockpools. It was great to see everyone asking questions and enjoying themselves. Our day was unfortunately cut short as the weather came in. The hail and wind were so strong you could only stand with your back to it! It soon became too cold for even the hardiest of us and we pack up early but it was fun and encouraging all the same! I headed to the Birsay Tearoom which has lovely big windows to watch the wave’s crash into shore and the birds defend their nests.
After a well-deserved bowl of hot soup and a slice of cake the weather had passed and I hopped on the bus back to Kirkwall and had a nice chat with some tourists that had spent the day at the Neolithic Skara Brae. I have been 3 times to the site of the 5000 year old village. Older than the pyramids the houses are remarkably preserved including beds, stone dressers, pottery and jewellery. Objects have been found here that give us little clue as to what they might have been used for and the big question that has not been answered is why Skara Brae became deserted. For me this is the magic of Skara Brae. So much has been left preserved yet so many questions are still unanswered and left to your imagination.
Today is a day for lab work which is great as it is very wet and windy outside. I will be working on DNA Barcoding of the green Seaweed Codium. The last time I did any DNA work was in my student years and so it is great to learn this skill again and to see what we can learn from it. Codium fragile has many subspecies, one of which is non-native and it is difficult to distinguish between them. We hope that our DNA work will helps us to accurately identify it.
Time is definitely flying by and I can’t believe that it is the middle of May already. I have so many exciting projects ahead of me that I sometimes forget to reflect on what I have already done, already learnt and already experienced. It is amazing what you can achieve in such a short space of time and although I sometimes doubt my abilities it is only because of what I have still to do and not what I have already accomplished. A moto for us all I think.