We had a great day last week taking members of the public on a walk through the Colourful Coast to the St Bees Head Fog Signal Station as part of Heritage Open Days.
The weather was kind which made it a pleasure to show off this stretch of coast. Some of the people who joined us had travelled a few hours and some others had lived in Whitehaven all their lives but none of them had ever been inside the Fog Signal Station. After talking to a few people on the walk we thought it would be good to share some of the information we have about this interesting and unusual building.
The building has a long and interesting history, but fog warnings were set off long before the current building was built.
An explosive fog warning device was in use at the lighthouse from 1913. This would have given an explosive blast at set intervals to warn shipping of low visibility. The blast would have come from disposable tonite charges fixed to the pivoted arm, then set off by the lighthouse keepers after they had retreated as far as they could; the blasts are understood to have been extremely and uncomfortably loud.
The exact date of the cessation of the use of the explosive charge and installation of the Fog Signal Station is unclear. A set of drawings from Trinity House’s engineering section dated 1962 show the plans for the current fog signal station on the cliff’s edge, comprised of a bank of electronically-operated horns. A drawing from 1971 shows the installation of automatic fog detectors, which typically ran calculations on mist density in the air and instigated the signal automatically if the water density in the air went over a certain figure and became a hazard to shipping.
It is unclear how long the electronic fog signal apparatus was in use for at St Bees, but it would not be unreasonable to assume that it was discontinued when the lighthouse was converted to automatic operation in 1987.
The fog signal apparatus was a Trinity House-type 3kw 30-unit stack. The ‘character’ of the fog signal itself (i.e. the pattern of sound/silence/sound/silence) was two ‘blasts’ every 45 seconds, being blast 4.0s, silent 2.0s, blast 4.0s, silent 35.0s. This blast had a nominal range of 16 nautical miles!
Once again this autumn we organised a Great British Beach Clean at Whitehaven. Now in it’s 25th year the Great British Beach Clean, coordinated by the Marine Conservation Society, is the biggest beach clean and survey in the UK.
The information volunteers have collected over the last 25 years has helped make some of the most significant impacts on beach litter ever – the plastic bag charge, microplastics banned in personal care products, better wet wipe labelling, and massive support for a tax on ‘on the go’ plastic single use items.
Trying to get used to the survey forms always takes a little while so perhaps it was good that the beach at Whitehaven was surprisingly clean. However, a few steps along the beach and looking amongst the rocks and we soon found enough litter to keep us going. In total the four of us collected 269 pieces of litter in just one hour. There was rope, cigarette butts, plastic cups, paper, plastic, glass, nails, lolly sticks and straws. Joseph even collected some rope that was nearly as tall as he is!
The rope’s nearly as tall as Joseph!
The full report from the beach clean can be found her 180915 Whitehaven North Shore – Survey 15 Sep 2018. It shows that most of the litter we collected was plastic or polystyrene with paper and cardboard a close second. Most of this was rubbish we were collecting and disposing of before it reached the sea. We had surprisingly little sanitary waste which is different from when we beach clean at St Bees.
As always a massive thank you to our dedicated volunteers who gave up their Saturday morning and came out to beach clean in some grey and windy weather!
As part of the Great British Beach Clean we’ve added an extra beach clean to out usual monthly efforts.
We’ll be heading to Whitehaven’s North Shore on Saturday 15th September between 10.30am until lunchtime to record and remove all the litter we find. We know from our last beach clean that there is a lot of rope caught in amongst the rocks so we’ll be hoping to tackle some of that and finally get it removed.
Give Sophie an email to let us know if you’re coming down so she can buy enough biscuits for afterwards firstname.lastname@example.org
*** This event is now FULLY BOOKED please contact email@example.com to be added to the reserve list ***
This year we’re again taking part in Heritage Open Days and opening up the St Bees Head Fog Signal Station for a select few people.
Heritage Open Days is England’s largest festival of history and culture, bringing together over 2,500 organisations, 5,000 events and 40,000 volunteers. Every year in September, places across the country throw open their doors to celebrate their heritage, community and history. It’s your chance to see hidden places and try out new experiences – and it’s all free.
On Sunday 16th September we’re organising an 8 mile guided walk from Whitehaven to St Bees Head as part of Heritage Open Days. As we walk past the site of the old Haig mining museum along the coast to the Fog Signal Station you’ll see and hear about the industrial history that has shaped this coastline and continues to do so today. We’ll stop for a break at St Bees Head Fog Signal Station with a chance to look inside this normally closed building which perches precipitously on St Bees Head. Then we’ll return along the coast to Whitehaven. It’s a great chance to hear a little bit more about this stunning stretch of Heritage Coast. Places are limited so please contact our project officer Sophie if you’d like to book a place or find out more information firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week at as the tide went out at St Bees it left behind a large number of small jellyfish, marooned on the sand. This jellyfish bloom was probably caused by suitable conditions of warmth, sunshine and calm seas meaning that numbers of jellyfish build up. Jellyfish aren’t strong swimmers and, while they can pulse their bell shaped bodies, they can’t move quickly which means if the tide turns and rushes out they often get left on the sand.
Most of the jellyfish seen at St Bees were moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), which is one of the commonest jellyfish in UK waters. The Marine Conservation Society have more information on all the jellyfish we commonly see in the UK, and a few more exotic visitors.
Some UK jellyfish do sting so we definitely don’t recommend touching any jellies you see washed up on the beach, but have a good look – these beautiful and delicate creatures will be washed back out to sea with the next tide.
Join us next week (Wednesday 8th August) for this unique opportunity to carry out some practical conservation work in a working quarry. We will walk from the old Haig Mining Museum, passing signs of Whitehaven’s mining past up to Birkhams Quarry where we will get a chance get a behind the scenes view of this sandstone quarry. When we’re there well spend a short time carrying out some conservation work on an area of restored wildflower grassland and record what species we find. For more information or to let us know you’re coming along email email@example.com
If you’ve got 15 minutes to spare over the next few weeks then why not get outside with the family and join the big butterfly count.
Run by Butterfly Conservation the big butterfly count is a nationwide survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment. It was launched in 2010 and has rapidly become the world’s biggest survey of butterflies. Over 60,000 people took part in 2017, submitting 62,500 counts of butterflies and day-flying moths from across the UK.
We’ll be doing some butterfly counts at Haig over the next few weeks so why not come along and give it a go – no need for any special equipment as we’ll have ID guides and recording sheets.
Drop our project officer Sophie an email if you’d like to know more firstname.lastname@example.org
While beach cleaning last week our Project Officer discovered a porpoise washed up on Whitehaven’s North Shore. While the creature had clearly been dead for some time, so there was no question that it could be a live stranding, we still reported the individual to the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP). They confirmed the individual as a female harbour porpoise due to the spade shaped teeth (dolphins have needle shaped teeth). Due to the level of decomposition there was no way to determine cause of death.
The UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) has been running since 1990 and is funded by Defra and the Devolved Administrations. They coordinate the investigation of all whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans), marine turtles and basking sharks that strand around the UK coastline. As well as documenting each individual stranding, they also retrieve a proportion for investigation at post-mortem to allow them to establish a cause of death. Strandings that undergo post-mortem examination provide valuable information on causes of death, disease, contaminants, reproductive patterns, diet and also useful pointers to the general health of the populations living in the seas around our coasts. This provides useful baseline data to help detect outbreaks of disease or unusual increases in mortality. The CSIP depends on the publics help in the reporting of strandings around the UK.
More information about the CSIP and what to do if you find a stranded animal can be found on their website or by reading their strandings leaflet which they have kindly let us share CSIP_leaflet
We have the final workshop in this summers Nature Recorders series coming up next week. So if you’ve always wanted to know the difference between moths and butterflies or how many legs an invertebrate has and why spiders are bugs not insects then this free workshop is for you!
The workshop will be held in Whitehaven on Thursday 19th July, from 10am until 3 pm. It’s free to attend but places must be booked via email@example.com