June on the rocky shore

Summer is already here! And with it, so many exiting things!

First week: Phase 1 habitat survey training (TCV-Edinburgh)

The main focus of the course was to learn how to assess a habitat type using the Phase 1 survey methodology, to map and write this up competently and to understand how to read Phase 1 habitat maps. We spent most part of our time outdoors, learning about different habitats and tips to recognise them quickly. I totally recommend this course, I learnt a lot!

Day 1- Grassland survey

Day 2-Visiting the wild Edinburgh

Second week. Jupiter Urban Wildlife Centre

I was lucky to spend two days this week at Jupiter Urban Wildlife Centre. What is great about this place? Everything! It´ s an oasis in the middle of an industrial area, an example of how we can change grey industry land into a spot full of life! They have super fun activities, like pond dipping, trees and birds identification…

The first day, as part of a TCV meeting, we helped at the celebrations of their 100th session, where people could join in with TCV’s food growing and recycled woodwork projects. It was one of those beautiful sunny and warm days in Scotland, so we all enjoy working outside.

We were working so hard getting signs for vegetables ready

Vegetables ready for our signs!

During my second visit, I helped running a BioBlitz with TCV, the Scottish Wildlife Trust ranger and some skilled volunteers. We were unlucky with the weather during the morning, so not a lot of people joined us. Although that did´t stop us! And some of us went to check the moth trap and see what was living there! I must say that, right after we catch the first moth, I knew I will always be a moth fan!

Can it be Tyria jacobaeae? Or commonly called Cinnabar moth

After lunch, several families came, and we all had the opportunity of participating in different activities, like pond dipping, worm survey, dragonfly identification, birds, flowers, trees… super fun stuff!

Third week. A day out with TCV mid week group

If you like outdoors volunteering, TCV is definitely your group! We were at Cramond, working to conserve a coastal sand dune, that is a UKBAP Priority Habitat. We were removing an invasive non native specie, called Japanese Rose.

It was really hard work, at first it looks like a nice, wee flower, but the truth is that its roots are so long and thick that make the job very hard! It does a really good job as an invasive specie. 

Working hard with TCV Edinburgh mid week group

During the second day with TCV, we started with a wee survey. Unfortunately, the tide wasn’t good enough for surveying seaweeds and coastal lichens. So we focused on the sand dune. Luckily, we found an area full of life, what made us think that the work done on this dune, for its development and conservation, is going on the right way! Super exiting!

Survey guides

Forth week. Oban. I have always loved the smell of seaweeds

The month couldn’t finish better! I was invited to visit Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), one of my project’s partners. Starting with the fact that Oban is one of my favourite coastal towns in Scotland, and that I am extremely interested in seaweeds, I knew the experience was going to be a 10/10.

Dunstaffnage peninsula

First day. Oban is even more beautiful that what I knew

We went out to Dunstaffnage peninsula, 5 minutes walking to the main building, where we had the first try with seaweeds, which was hilarious! I had the opportunity of going to the shore with and expert, so I learnt about donation, seaweed identification, and fun facts about the rocky shore!

Rocky shores are alive!

Crabs attacked us while we were trying to learn the main keys to identify seaweeds. Well… it happened because we put our hands where they were resting, and they were trying to defend themselves.

I learnt how to use a clinometer to measure the slope of the shoreline, what is very important in terms of exposure to the elements.


In general, a good start, learning from the very fist second, and what is very important, having fun!

Second day. A mix of experiences!

During the morning I had the opportunity of learning more about harvesting seaweeds. Uses and benefits. Seaweeds are largely used for food, cosmetic, fuel and in fisheries all around the world. That is why we must be aware of our impact in natural habitats, developing a sustainable method to grow them.

I also helped a graduate student on recording underwater life. Following what I learnt on a TCV training course, we focused on how to record a project making it very informative to the public.

I hope you can see the video!

What else? If you think there can´t be more, you’re wrong! I helped recording data for a research project, looking how natural disturbances, such us storms, may affect seaweed growth. What is, from my point of view, my dreamed research project! I felt like a little kid in a candy store!

Rocky shore. From seaweeds to lichens

Surveying the rocky shore


Third day. Seaweed samples, lab experience and a wonder under the rain

For my last day at Oban, we went out to take some samples for a CoCoast training day during that week. One thing you need to take in account when your working in a rocky shore is that they are pretty slippery! And you may try to go down walking, but at the end you will probably fall down and slip!

I also had the opportunity of using the microscope to identify some pretty interesting red seaweed.

So, new keys to identify seaweeds, new valuable knowledge, and the opportunity of meeting new people involved in exiting projects. SAMS is more than what I expected. I hope I can go back soon…


Looking forward for another trip to Oban

That´s all for now! I can´t be more grateful for this opportunity!


Thank you TCV, SAMS Esmée Fairbairn RBGE 


Fancy a tile painted with lichens?

Hello! Are you enjoying the warm weather? Fancy a walk along the beach? 🙂

So today I´m going to talk about a project part of my traineeship.

What do you think about man-made structures on our shoreline?

Do you think is there any way to make them more environmental friendly?

Over time, we have been building unstoppable next to the coast, using it for houses, industry or paths. We have built sea walls, rock armour revetments or groynes.  By doing so, we are reducing the available habitat for coastal species. I say ecosystem restoration is the key.

So, is there anything we can do to reduce the impact of these structures and increase habitat availability? OF COURSE IT IS! New and innovative techniques have been developed in the last few years to increase biodiversity in cities and towns. Therefore, we can make our ecosystems more sustainable, resilient and healthy.


Rock armour-Granton Beach

So, let’s talk about our project.

Where? Edinburgh. The city has 27 km of coast, from South Qeensferry to Joppa. Our first attempt (yes, I wrote attempt) was in Cramond.

Path to Cramond Island

Who was involved? The project was founded by NERC. We have the support of Edinburgh Living Landscape, RBGE, The University of Edinburgh and the local College, among others.

What is the idea? We aim to create new suitable habitats for coastal species, increasing the local biodiversity, empowering communities to get involved. For example, lichens are very sensitive to pH and high. So maybe the sea wall built on your closest beach hasn’t got the right components for lichens to grow.

Getting lichens ready: we collected samples at southeast Lothian for some of the main lichen species in the area. The idea is to “paint” them on the tiles. Let me explain this better!

So first, I weighted every specie, dried, to know the exactly amount of each we had.

First step-lichen weight

Second, for each lichen, I grinded it using a lab mortar. Some of them were very hard to grind! Lichens fighting back!

Third , I put them in a wee lab jar, with a label.

Finally, we needed to find the way to stick them on a tile, and someone very very wise suggested to use SNAIL SLIM! I apologise for the picture, not the best quality. On the left, we have all the snails we caught at the Botanic Garden. It was one of the most exiting hunts ever! Exactly what I used to do when I for 6 yo. And, who said snails are slow? A few minutes without checking the box and they were already half way out of the box or somewhere on the wall!

Have you already figured out how we got the slim? We “MILK” the snails! It was more like tickling them!!! BEST DAY EVER!

What about the tiles? Several concrete tiles were made for creating suitable habitats. Students from Granton College and The University of Edinburgh worked hard to have everything ready on time. We have different shapes depending on the objective, plus a control tile, painted with the same products used on hard structures.

As I said before, lichens are very affected by high. Because of that, we placed their tiles on the upper zone, out of the tidal area.

(There´s an amazing picture of us getting on with it, I will get it ASAP)

Sad moments: two days after. SURPRISE! Someone, probably more than one, removed all of them! We don´t know who, or why. But I went to check two days after the installation, and that´s what I found. It is very sad, in my opinion, that someone had decided to do something like this without knowing what was it.

On the bottom left, tiles on a pile. The wall is naked!

Our lovely tiles, left on the floor

Survivors, at least, half of them.

So, if you know someone with a ladder, a hammer, chisels and all sort of tools, don´t let them destroy someone else tiles!

Luckily, we are optimistic and we think we will be able to repeat the experiment. FINGERS CROSSED!

That’s all for today.

Enjoy the heatwave!


First month as a TCV trainee :)

Hello! My name is Aroa Sampedro and I’m happy to be a TCV Natural Talent trainee, studying lichens and seaweeds on the Edinburgh shoreline. My office is in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh,  amazing right?

First day at the RBGE

During the first few weeks, I have been learning a lot about lichens! I promise I will be talking about seaweeds later on, but right now, let´s talk about lichens.

What is a lichen?

A lichen is a symbiotic association between a fungus and algae and/or cyanobacteria.

The lichen symbiosis is a mutualism, where the fungi are “heterotrophic” and need an external source for getting food. The algae and/or cyanobacteria are photosynthetic, and provide the simple sugars to their fungal partners.

The fungi build the structure of the lichen thallus, within which they provide conditions for a long term, stable association with their photobionts, the basis of the lichen symbiosis. What can I say? They are like nice flatmates helping each other!

Highlights of my first weeks

So far I have been meeting everyone at my department and getting my head around this new step in my life! I´m loving every second I spend working on this project!

So, why is this project so exiting?
Edinburgh shoreline was an important settlement during World War I and II and is forgotten nowadays, becoming a place for heavy industry, retail and sewage. All this industrial and military history is telling us a story about local habitat development, on a clearly unknown coast for the nearby human communities.

So it is in our hands to give Edinburgh the coast that it deserves!

  • Lichen trail RBGE

Lichen Safari at the RBGE

Lichens on a branch at the RBGE – Aren’t they beautiful?

What an amazing idea! It´s open to everyone and I totally recommend it. I personally enjoyed it a lot, I visited it on my second day and it opened my eyes to a new world! The lichen safari gives you an excellent opportunity to look closer and see how astonishing, colourful and different lichens can be.

Let´s go to the beach!


  • South Queensferry

First contact with rocky shore lichens and my beginner photograph skills. And it was the first time I was under The Forth Bridge, it leaves you breathless.

South Queensferry -The Forth Bridge (opened on March 1890!)

I had the opportunity to walk around, and understand better what can I expect to find in an area like Edinburgh. I could spend hours looking for lichens, but tides don’t let me do it! Honestly, South Queensferry worths a visit. Lovely walk along the coast, ending in a beautiful small woodland near Dalmeny Estate.

Rocky shore lichens

Interesting facts about the bridge: it was one of the first cantilever bridges in Britain, and Britain’s first all-steel bridge. It´s a Victorian engineering icon and it sees 200 train movements daily!

  • Cramond

I must say I found a gem in the Edinburgh coast! People in Edinburgh TAKE THE BIKE/BUS/CAR AND GO TO THE BEACH!

Sunny day at Cramond

The potential of this area is huge, walking from the main beach heading to Granton, you can find nice rock pools for seaweeds and lichens everywhere!
On the other hand, we have Cramond Island. It is a tidal island in the Firth of Forth reached at low tide.

Rocky shore at Cramond Island

This wee island was used to graze sheep by the 1800s. Although its recent history is a bit more violent.

Walking towards Cramond Island

During the World War I the War Department took over the northern part of the island, as part of the defences of the Firth of Forth.

During the World War II, several military defences where placed in this island. The most obvious one is visible when you approach to Cramond Island; it is an emplacement for guarding the gap between the island on the south shore.

Actually, the imposing concrete teeth alongside the causeway were intended to ensure that U-Boats could not pass south of the island at high tide. It´s amazing, isn’t it?

Fun fact about Cramond Beach: it is that close to the airport that planes fly over your head!

  • Visit to South East Lothian

This was my first visit with a lichenologist. Sally Eaton is the Scottish Plant Conservation Officer at the RBGE and one of my mentors. She showed me what a rocky shore zonation looks like.

Lichen zonation on a rocky shore

Can you see there are three different colours? Let me explain you a little bit about zonation.

A simplified way to explain zonation -only where I will be working-and yeah… I’m the artist behind this!

Littoral fringe (Black zone): occasionally submerged by the tides. Subject to heavy spray and waves. The main lichen here is called Verrucaria maura, and it looks like oil! So please, look closer, it is not pollution!

Submesic- Mesic zone (Orange zone): the amount os spray declines, and new species can survive here! Crustose Caloplaca and the first foliose species, such as Xanthoria.

Xeric zone (Grey zone): only light spray. This area gets wet and dry with tides.

That´s all for now!

Next…”Greening the grey” project and first days in the lab!

Follow me on twitter Twitter for all my adventures with lichens and seaweeds and visit our TCV Natural Traineeship.

Thank you to the Royal Botanic Garden EdinburghEdinburgh Living Landscape and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation for this amazing opportunity!