University of St Andrews

Whatever Happened to the Guillemots?

Friday 14 December 2012

St Andrews undergraduate Sustainable Development students got more than they bargained for attending the SD2001 module field trip at West Sands beach.

Winter-storm waves had blown in all sorts of flotsam and jetsam, amongst which were many exhausted birds called Guillemots who normally spend much of their life at Sea.  During a planned marine waste survey along the beach, it soon became clear that numerous Guillemots had become stranded, too exhausted to return to the sea against strong Easterly winds, and at risk from dogs.  The field trip was put on hold whilst students volunteered to assist Fife Coast and Countryside Trust staff and SSPCA staff in transporting over 20 rescued birds up to the Eden Estuary, where they could paddle out to sea on the tidal flow.  Guilliemots (as with many sea bird species using the North Sea) have seen a dramatic and worrying decline in the past 5 years, early theories on this decline seem to point to increased sea surface temperature and a related drop in sand eel numbers, the main food source for sea birds and their young.

The field trip is one part of the module SD2001 "Sustainable Development: Environmental and Ecological aspects".  The module aims to build an understanding of how environmental systems function using examples of Sand Dune, Sandy Beach and Offshore St Andrews Bay ecosystems.  Students conducted various environmental monitoring exercises. The outdoor learning session also included in hands on work such as litter picking on the beach, harvesting invasive plant species, and planting Marram and Lyme Grass to stabilise the dune complex.  Staff of the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust, led by Countryside Ranger Ranald Strachan, were on hand to share their skills and talk about professional work in conservation.  The field trip is run in collaboration between the trust and the university, led by Dr Tim Stojanovic and Wenbai Yang from the Department of Geography and Sustainable development with assistance from Dr Will Cresswell and Lauren Biermann from the School of Biology.

(photograph credits: Tim Stojanovic & Wenbai Yang)

Collage of SD students at West Sands