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!


Getting Into My Wellies: Essential Kit for a Saline Lagoons Trainee!

Hello again! I am now three months into my saline lagoons traineeship with The Conservation Volunteers and National Museums Scotland. With the arrival of spring and (slightly) better weather, the past two months have seen me spending more and more time outdoors in my wellies! Here are just a few of the things I have been up to in March and April (both in and out of my wellies!)…

Surveying My First Saline Lagoon

After learning and talking so much about saline lagoons over the past few months, it was very exciting to finally visit one! Despite the weeks of planning involved in organising this survey day, clearly the one thing I had forgotten to book was good weather! But, wrapped up in waterproofs and the essential wellies, we set off to the lagoon anyway, armed with nets, sieves and many sample tubes.

Happy to be out at my first saline lagoon!!!

Happy to be out at my first saline lagoon!! This is Skinflats Lagoon in the Inner Firth of Forth.

The day was a great learning experience for me to get to grips with all the different sampling techniques used in lagoon fieldwork (more detail to follow in the next blog post!), and I can’t wait to find out what species we have collected when I sort through the samples in the lab later…

Taking my first salinity reading using the refractometer.

Taking my first salinity reading using the refractometer.

Sharing Saline Lagoons with New Audiences

As well as collecting more data on the species found in saline lagoons, a big part of my traineeship is to raise awareness of these fascinating habitats. In March, I was invited to give a talk at a science meeting between National Museums Scotland and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. I enjoyed having the opportunity to show off the cool invertebrate and plant life that thrives in saline lagoons, including specialist isopods, snails and charophytes.

RBGE presentation photo

Showing off saline lagoon invertebrates at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

In April, I travelled to SCENE (Scottish Centre for Ecology and the Natural Environment) on the sunny banks of Loch Lomond for the Scottish Freshwater Group Spring Conference. I presented a poster on my saline lagoon research, met lots of freshwater biologists and learnt about a variety of freshwater research projects across Scotland through a series of interesting talks throughout the day.

Me and my posteron saline lagoons at the Scottish Freshwater Group conference

Me and my saline lagoons poster at the Scottish Freshwater Group Conference.

And More…

One of my favourite things about my traineeship is how varied every week and day can be! Here are some snippets of my recent adventures:

I worked with Natural Talent Trainee Rebecca at the Edinburgh Science Festival Careers Hive. We used microscopes and science experiments to engage school pupils with science and talk with them about careers in STEM.

I worked with Natural Talent Trainee Rebecca at the Edinburgh Science Festival Careers Hive. We used science experiments to engage school pupils with science and talk to them about careers in STEM.

I attended the Porcupine Marine Natural History Society in Millport. Great to meet so many marine enthusiasts!

I attended the Porcupine Marine Natural History Society Conference in Millport. Great to meet so many marine enthusiasts and have the chance to explore the local marine life with them too!

I went out with the TCV Coastal Community Trainees for a day in Gullane. We worked hard in the morning on unblocking a nearby stream before enjoying a rocky shore explore in the afternoon.

I went out with the TCV Coastal Community Trainees for a day in Gullane. We worked hard in the morning on unblocking a nearby stream before enjoying a rocky shore explore in the afternoon.

I had a fun day in Glasgow working with TCV Scotland and Natural Networks Trainees at a community outreach event: Maryhill's Natural Treasures.

I had a fun day in Maryhill, Glasgow working with TCV Scotland and Natural Networks Trainees to bring local communities closer to nature. These kids couldn’t get enough of our newts and pond invertebrates!

My wellies had an outing again at the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative Rocky Shore Day. Here we are looking for plastic nurdles on Limekilns beach!

My wellies had an outing again at the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative Rocky Shore Day. Here we are looking for plastic nurdles on Limekilns beach.

I should join a welly club! Essential kit for getting involved in Capturing our Coasts: a UK-wide citizen science project based on the rocky shore.

I should join a welly club! Essential kit for getting involved in Capturing our Coast: a UK-wide marine citizen science project.

Stay tuned for more updates from me and my wellies!

Katherine Whyte

Follow my traineeship on Twitter for daily updates!

Find out more about Natural TalentNational Museums Scotland and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

A February of Firsts: Entering the World of Saline Lagoons

Hello! My name is Katherine and I have just started working as a TCV Natural Talent Trainee based at National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. My traineeship is all about saline lagoons: a fascinating and relatively understudied habitat that is found around our coastlines. Over the next twelve months, I will be involved in increasing our knowledge of these habitats as well as improving awareness and conservation efforts for saline lagoons.

My background is in marine biology. This is me out at sea looking for whales and dolphins!


First of all: What are Saline Lagoons?

Saline lagoons are coastal lochs which are only partially separated from the sea. Seawater enters these lagoons by trickling through banks of shingle, flowing through narrow channels which connect the lagoon to the sea or spilling over into the lagoon during high tide. This means that the water within these lagoons is neither fully freshwater nor fully saline, but brackish. The salinity (saltiness) of these habitats is highly variable both between lagoons and within individual lagoons over time. This means that the species that thrive within these habitats include marine species that are tolerant of low salinity, freshwater species that are tolerant of high salinity, and highly adapted lagoon specialists that are rarely found elsewhere. The biological communities that form within each lagoon are therefore interesting as they are unique to the conditions found in that particular time and place.

Feb 2- Map

Saline lagoons are found all around the UK coastline, but are particularly common on the Scottish islands of the west and north coast.


TCV Training Week

The first week of my new position began at the TCV offices in Edinburgh, with an induction week for all of the new Natural Talent and Natural Networks Trainees. The week was jam-packed with essential training including risk assessments, project planning and citizen science. It was great to meet my fellow trainees and hear about the different projects we will each be working on. Over the next twelve months, together we will be contributing to protecting less well known species, increasing biodiversity and improving access to green spaces. Even with all of us heading off to different placements across the UK, it now feels like we are working as a team and I can’t wait to hear what the other trainees get up to!

nattal network together

All 6 Natural Talent and 19 Natural Networks Trainees in the same room at TCV Edinburgh!

Feb Argyll walk compressed

As part of our training week we also had a daytrip over to beautiful Argyll on the west coast.


Starting at the Museum

Feb NMS entrance compressed

The public entrance to the National Museum of Scotland.

After a whirlwind induction week, I had my first day at National Museums Scotland. After spending so much time at this museum whilst growing up, it has been wonderful (and a bit weird) to see what life is like behind-the-scenes. My first week was mostly spent meeting all the lovely staff here at the museum as well as my new best friend: my microscope! Working at the National Museums Collection Centre, I will be using some of the 10 million objects and specimens in the Natural Sciences collections to learn how to identify saline lagoon invertebrates, plants and closely related marine species.

Feb collections centre compressed

Behind the scenes: millions of specimens in the invertebrate biology collections.

Marine isopods (the aquatic form of woodlice) were the first group of invertebrates I would be looking at. Over the past few weeks I have been using museum specimens and identification guides to practise spotting the key features used to tell these species apart, as well as getting to grips with some of the complex terminology used in isopod anatomy. While doing this, I have also had the pleasure of “meeting” my first lagoon specialist (species which are only found in lagoons): Idotea chelipes.

Feb idotea chelipes cropped

Idotea chelipes: an isopod which is only found in lagoons. This specimen was collection from a saline lagoon on South Uist, Scotland.


Feb FEF visit compressed

“What’s in that jar?!” — The Forth Estuary Forum tour around the National Museums Collection Centre.

Forth Estuary Forum Visit

Working at the museum presented the first opportunity for me to engage in lagoon outreach. On February 10th, sixteen visitors from the Forth Estuary Forum came on a visit to the National Museums Collection Centre. As part of their tour around the collections, I gave a presentation on saline lagoons to illustrate the museums’ research in this area and our planned future work in the Firth of Forth. Many of the visitors spoke to me about their interest in this project and even suggested other potential lagoon sites in the area which I am looking forward to investigating!



TCV Edinburgh Volunteer Group

In addition to my work at the museum, I have also been working directly with TCV this month. February, despite the cold winter weather, brought me my first day on a TCV practical conservation task with my local volunteer group! A really fun and satisfying day was had by all as we cut back prickly brambles and bushes to improve the paths and woodlands around Craigmillar Castle Park.

Feb Craigmillar castle park

The result of a hard day’s work! We hope that the woodlands around Craigmillar Castle will now be more open, welcoming and biodiverse.


Strathearn Festival of Science

Discovering a whole new miniature world in our lichen lab!

Discovering a whole new miniature world in our lichen lab!

The month ended with my first community engagement event. Working with Joanne Dempster from OPAL and my fellow Natural Talent trainee Rebecca Cairns, on the 27th of February I spent the day in Crieff at the Strathearn Festival of Science. We all had great fun showing families our lichen lab and collection of pond beasties. Seeing the fascination in children’s (and adult’s!) faces when they interact with these natural wonders for the first time is fantastic, and I can only hope that some of the three hundred people we engaged with will be inspired to go outdoors and explore their local wildlife.



Newts, water boatmen and cased caddisfly larvae were all out to play in our indoor pond!


It is hard to believe that my first month is over, but I have already learnt so much and have many exciting plans for the next year! Check back soon to hear more about my adventures with saline lagoons …

Katherine Whyte

Follow my traineeship on Twitter for daily updates!

Find out more about Natural TalentNational Museums Scotland and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.