Last week a basking shark was spotted just south of the Colourful Coast area around Seascale/Sellafield.
Basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) are the second largest fish in the world and the largest shark we get in UK waters. They can grow up to 11 feet or over 3 metres long. They are regular visitors to the Irish Sea in the summer months, however these elusive creatures are rarely seen from the coast of Cumbria.
Don’t worry, there is no need to fear these gentle giants as they only eat plankton. The warm, still weather and plentiful plankton could mean that now is a good time to spot our ocean giants such as basking sharks, dolphins and porpoises.
Cumbria Wildlife Trust are running regular SeaWatch events throughout the summer sp please check their website if you’d like to join in one of these events – you never know what you might spot.
After we’d finished our beach clean today we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to film some of the Honeycomb worm reefs that are exposed along our coastline at low tide. Check out the video to see them in their natural habitat.
We’ve written a blog post before telling you all about the Honeycomb worms (Sabellaria alveolata) so have a read of that if you’d like to know more.
Look out for the Honeycomb worms when you next visit the Colourful Coast!
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Firefighters were recently called out to tackle a large blaze on the South Head at St Bees, which has damaged an important area for nesting birds and wildlife.
An area the size of around four football pitches has been destroyed following the fire which broke out on the evening of 12 June. The area is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), so is an important place for wildlife. The gorse and heath habitat that has been burned was home to a variety of nesting birds, plants and butterflies that have been badly affected by the fire.
Dave Blackledge, RSPB Site Manager for St Bees Head said: “This is a stark reminder of how easily fire can spread following the dry conditions we have had in the past few weeks. Whilst unintentional, the consequences can be devastating for wildlife. Around 30 nests of birds such as stonechat, linnet and whitethroat, which breed on St Bees Head, have been lost to the blaze, and it is likely many of the adult birds were unable to get away from it too.
“The site is also home to some unusual plants like bloody cranesbill and a range of butterflies such as wall brown and large skipper that have all been affected by this incident. Thankfully the fire did not reach the 25,000 thousand strong seabird colony that St Bees is famous for, as the majority of those breed on the RSPB reserve on the North Head. However, a careless act can do a lot of harm, and we ask that all those visiting the site are respectful of the habitat and the wildlife here to avoid future problems.”
Kate Doughty from Natural England, who oversee Sites of Special Scientific Interest, said: “It will take many years for burnt the clifftop habitats at St Bees to recover and there is a risk that some of the special rare plants that grow there may never return. We are all extremely relieved that the seabird colony avoided a similar fate, thanks to the fantastic job performed by the firefighters from Cumbria Fire and Rescue.”
Next week we have another workshop in our Nature Recorders series. We’ll be joining forces with Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre once again to deliver this workshop on wildflower and plant identification. Come along and learn how to identify wildflowers using a key, books, and hand lens. The workshop is free but booking is essential, contact email@example.com
Join us 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
We had a fantastic day with Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre recently, running a workshop to introduce people to biological recording. The aim of the workshop was to demystify how to turn your plant and animal sightings into valuable biological records. Stuart, from CBDC, did a great job of taking us through the process. The weather was kind and we also got to head outside for an afternoon putting our new found skills to the test, recording all the plant species we found on a quick walk around the Haig grasslands finding three types of buttercup and two vetches in the first few metres of the car park.
Once we’ve got a full list of the species we saw we’ll post it on here so you can see just how many different species we found.
There are two more workshops planned this summer, we’ll post details when they’re finalised.