June was off to a fantastic start with the week in Northern Ireland and then a week on holiday in Morocco, but had a much slower end as I was off work for a while with an exotic stomach bug I brought back with me (lovely). However, I’d been having such a fantastic time that I think I had to pay for it somehow.
Off to Northern Ireland and Rathlin Island for rock-pooling and shore surveys with the Marine trainees
The marine trainees, their programme manager Mari-Ann and I took a ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast at the beginning of the month and drove down to where we were staying in the Strangford Lough area. I had never been to Northern Ireland before so I was very taken with the beautiful scenery, and we even managed to coincide with a week of glorious weather which made it even more enjoyable. The first day we weren’t working and spent the day on the beach, swimming in the Irish Sea, rock pooling, walking and barbecuing – it was great!
The following day we met the Ulster trainees and had a tour of Queen’s University’s labs at Strangford Lough which were very interesting and very smelly, and then took a boat trip around the lough and saw the nesting terns and gulls.
On Friday we were to take a ferry across to Rathlin Island where we were helping the Ulster trainees with the maritime festival, and decided to make the most out of the drive to the ferry by stopping off at the Giant’s Causeway. The Giant’s Causeway has now been turned into a sticky web designed to confuse and frustrate tourists into a state of desperation so extreme that throwing money out of their car windows and weeping is the only remaining option, and only after this has happened are you allowed to park. I think this may be why you can now get a bus to the actual causeway itself – so that they can scoop the lifeless bodies on board without having to revive them. Needless to say, by the time we were granted access we had only twenty minutes left in which to walk down to the causeway, take in its beauty and atmosphere under strict guidance from the helpful enjoyment enforcers who are stationed around it, and then sprint back to the car, so that is what we did.
After that experience, we boarded the ferry to Rathlin and had a lovely day carrying out a Shore Thing rocky shore survey and helping to set up the stand. I haven’t been rock pooling for a quite a while, and although I couldn’t name most of the species we saw, I found it really enjoyable and it reminded me what I used to love about it. I am definitely going to get out more often with my ID guide now that I’m home and get to know the species again. It also made me really excited for the marine aspect of the ecology course I will be studying at Bangor university from September, and even more excited to live by the sea! We had a raucous evening with the Ulster trainees at the youth hostel on the island and at one point we even played charades – they were all lovely and it was great to have the opportunity to get to know them.
Saturday was the day of the maritime festival and after finishing setting up the stall we ventured up to the seabird centre run by the RSPB. I have never visited a seabird colony before and was so excited to see such a huge number of birds all nesting in one place. There were guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars and even puffins galore! I was so pleased when the RSPB asked if we could spare a couple of people to help man the viewing platform for a few hours, which meant we got to stay there a bit longer and share our excitement with other visitors. Unfortunately my camera died as soon as we arrived at the centre so I don’t have a single good photo of the colony! Just to finish to the trip off, we had a sighting of a minke whale from the ferry home – my very first whale, and well worth the wait.
The Ulster trainees were fantastic hosts, thank you very much for having us, but also thank you to Mari-Ann and our trainees for letting me tag along on a wonderful trip and allowing me to be an honorary marine trainee for the week – I absolutely loved it!
About the Author: Kate Cartmel-Done was Apprentice Conservation Officer with Cumbria Wildlife trust from 2014 to September 2016