Interpreting Montrose Basin

In the last 20 years Montrose Basin Visitor Centre has had a few minor and one major refurbishment. Some worked very well, others not so much. Many of you may remember what it looked like when we opened on the 27th June 1995.

The original reception desk

The original reception desk

Visitor centre entrance

Visitor Centre entrance

The mud man of the Basin

The mud man of the Basin

Then in 2004/5, we were lucky enough to be granted more funding and the Centre changed again. Mud man was removed and in went world of tides and the history drum.

World of tides and the history drum

World of tides and the history drum

In 2007 improvements were made to the children’s corner by former Scottish Wildlife Trust ranger and artist, Jan Hendry.

Local artist Jan Hendry repaints the children's corner

Local artist Jan Hendry repaints the children’s corner

Fast forward 8 years and Regional Visitor Centre Manager, Caroline Hendry has been working tirelessly on getting funding for the latest enhancement project. Fortunately Heritage Lottery Funding granted us the bulk of the funding in November 2015. So with this new grant funding we have been able to kick start the process of redesigning the interpretation in the Centre.

Personally I have been on my own journey of learning about what makes good interpretation.

What do people want from a visitor centre? How do people learn? Is there a place for high tech interactive learning in a Centre like Montrose Basin?

What lives under the mud - Microscopes

What lives under the mud – Microscopes

My first professional experience of interpretation was my attendance at a Sharing Good Practice event at Battleby in Perthshire. Run by Scottish Natural Heritage it was aimed at people like me who  had designing interpretation as part of their job description. From this experience I learned that knowing your audience was a key element of designing interpretation. Not an easy thing when there are so many different types of people that use our Centre.

So my first challenge was to redesign our annual Visitor Centre surveys and add in questions about the current interpretation and the visitor demographics. I wanted to see if there was anything that was really loved by our visitors and that would be a mistake to remove. The migration globe was in the forefront of my mind as it is such an imposing piece of kit and it actually turned out to be the most liked by the visitors. So surely that means that it has to stay, doesn’t it?

Migration globe

Migration globe

I also found out who uses our Centre; tourists, locals, amateur birders, twitchers, amateur photographers, families, school and community groups. The list is long, a huge range of people all looking to get something slightly different from their experience. How do you cater for everyone? Can one size fit all?

From the surveys I now know who uses the Centre, what interpretation is used and what age group needs more encouragement to visit but how can new interpretation in the Centre benefit the staff?

Fortunately, our design company has been very good at helping us realise the Centre’s full potential. To begin with, they asked the staff some simple questions. Where do you sell memberships? Where do you tell people about the walks on the reserve? How do you currently use the Visitor Centre? These simple questions got us thinking about what we currently do and where there was room for change. Not such easy question to answer when you have worked in the same environment, with the same interpretation for a long time.

However, we quickly realised that this was our chance to dramatically change the Visitor Centre and bring it into the 21st Century.

Watch this space for more developments…

Emma Castle-Smith

Visitor Centre Assistant Manager



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Where are the summer migrants?

Yes, it is that time of year, when we start to ask that question. As looking on the calendar, I realised that it is the end of August, and it means also that I have been here since six months. It is quite unbelievable.


Common Terns breeding on the raft. ©Andy Wakelin

One morning we noticed that there were almost no terns on our raft and the chicks had fledged. This was probably the first time that I realised that summer is almost gone and autumn is coming. Our tern raft has been very successful this year. There were more than a hundred terns on it every day. Now, most of them are feeding up and preparing to depart for West Africa.

Sand Martin wall © Andy Wakelin

Sand Martin wall © Andy Wakelin

Also, the Sand Martin wall, which I liked to show visitors in the summer, has only a few birds left. They also started their migration to the South of Sahara. With about 25-30 nests, plenty of them raising two brood this year, it has been a good year for them, too.

Kingfisher © Scottish Wildlife Trust

Kingfisher © Scottish Wildlife Trust

This year, when I arrived in March, one of the most famous birds was the Kingfisher. We saw him every day at that time. Then spent the breeding season at the Lurgies part of the reserve and now he is back. Our visitors like him very much, when he is here, almost everybody watches him. Although we don’t see him every day now, I hope, he will be back every day this winter.

Osprey on the Basin © Ron Mitchell

Osprey on the Basin © Ron Mitchell

This time of year might be the last chance to see Ospreys here. This week, we saw two of them! All of their chicks have fledged now, but they still might be around here with their father, before they start their route to West Africa.

White-rumped Sandpiper © Scottish Wildlife Trust

White-rumped Sandpiper © Scottish Wildlife Trust

There was a bit of excitement in the centre recently, when the White-rumped Sandpiper was around. Members and Non-members came here to see it. It was hard to spot it, as it was feeding by Rossie spit. It took me a few attempts to see it in the telescope but at the end I could see something moving around. It is often mistaken with other sandpipers. The upper part of its body is dull grey- brown with white eye stripe. The main distinguishing feature is their white rump, which is visible during flight. We have also been lucky to see Curlew Sandpiper on Rossie spit and in front of the centre over the last few days.

There are already a few geese on the Basin, but I’m looking forward to the arrival of the Pink-footed geese in September, which will definitely be an amazing sight.

Noémi Menczelesz – EVS volunteer and Montrose Basin Visitor Centre Assistant

Brilliant bats1

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Working outside

I like to be outside since my childhood. With my family, we often had trips to the surrounding area of Budapest. I guess, my interest for nature started that time also. I was also very lucky, because I had the opportunity to be outside, and work in a garden, despite of living in a flat: we have had a weekend house for that. I always felt that I like working outside more than sitting in an office, that’s why I was more than happy to accept the offer to help Anna, our ranger in her work from May. It is also an advantage that during work you can be on the fresh air and physical work keeps you fit.

There is always lots to do around the centre. As there are many of them, you can always remove weeds and cut bushes. To avoid the soil to contain too many nutrients and allow wildflowers to grow, the daffodils need to be cut down after flowering. As time passes, I can see more and more wildflowers in our car park. Unfortunately, we cannot see our Bluebells anymore, but the Red Campion, Daisies and Vipers Bugloss are blooming.


Daisies and Clovers – Noémi Menczelesz

I also had chance to help around our dipping pond. This pond had been restored for children’s activities. I watched the beginning of the work from inside, but I helped at the end of it: we needed to move the soil near the pond.

During my outside work, I had opportunity to visit other Scottish Wildlife Trust reserves. One of them was Seaton Cliffs near Arbroath, where we had an interesting task of testing the benches and doing some beach cleaning. During walking you can see many seabirds, like herring gulls and fulmars, as well as a beautiful view to the sea. These two birds are very similar, except that fulmars don’t have a black wingtip and a red spot on their bills. At first it surprised me, how urbanised the gulls here are. It is very usual here they take food from the bins.

While walking on our reserve I could see many flowers. The Shelduck Hide and Wigeon Hide walk both lead near a farmland, where I could see thistles, daisies, forget-me-nots, white clovers, and buttercups flowering. The gorse that had many flowers in early May, now only has its leaves.


Thistles – Noémi Menczelesz

I can feel that summer is here: the visitor centre often becomes very hot and the windows and doors are usually open. The first chicks of birds also appeared in the Basin. First the Eider chicks, then the tern and Sand Martin chicks hatched. Our visitors love them, too. They grow very fast and are almost the size of the adults now. The Sand Martins are probably in their second brood this year.

2016 Common Tern around the Raft - July - 06

Common terns and their chicks – Ron Mitchell

Apart from the usual bird species, sometimes, you can see interesting and rare visitors. A few weeks ago, for example, we spotted a spoonbill on our reserve. As the breeding pairs in the UK is very low (about 0-4 pairs), it was quite an event for us. In Hungary, it is a more common bird, with about 1000 pairs. Another rare visitor these days was a little grebe in the pond in front of the centre. It has slightly bigger numbers in the UK than the spoonbill. This bird likes freshwater, can swim and dive very well. They use vegetation for hiding, so it may be difficult to spot them.

2016 Spoonbill - Maryton Ditch - 4

The famous spoonbill – Ron Mitchell

I can just encourage everybody to get outside and enjoy wildlife. Even if you don’t have a garden to work in, you can go for a walk and be a little bit on the fresh air. Maybe you will see something that surprises you.

Noémi Menczelesz – Visitor Centre assistant/EVS volunteer

Don’t forget that we have “Wild about the Basin” every Wednesday.

Book a place now for this weeks activities – 01674 676336

Wild about the Basin summer2016


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Here at Montrose Basin we’re all about the mud, and rightly so – in which case why on earth am I about to sing the praises of our dipping pond? Well, it has been a fantastic addition to our repertoire since it was created by the then ranger, Karen Spalding, in 2002.

We are only able to safely take groups out on the mud two hours either side of a low tide, restricting us, in effect, to roughly two weeks in each month that school groups can explore the mud. Karen’s idea of a specially constructed / designed dipping pond that groups could use to discover the creatures that live in that environment would give us another option.

The proposal was accepted and Karen received Heritage Lottery Funding to create the pond along with it’s boardwalk and tables – specially designed to take the trays, the clipboard to make notes on finds and of course the identification key sheet.


Finished dipping pond May 2003

Once filled up with water, creatures quickly started to colonise it. We added a few aquatic plants and it soon began to look as though it had always been there. Better still – when teachers called to book for their class to visit they were delighted that while half of the class could still go out on the mud the other half could now take part in pond dipping and compare the creatures found in the different habitats, before swapping over.


Invertebrate identification chart

As well as this advantage, the teachers were no longer restricted to the times when the tide was low to come for their visit. The pond was available for their groups to use at any time, so they could do an outdoor activity learning about the creatures that live in the pond and then after a tour of the Visitor Centre have time to look through the telescopes and binoculars and watch birds such as Sand Martins and Swallows catch insects that were recently living as larvae in our dipping pond!

The pond proved increasingly popular over the next few years with both school groups and organisations such as the Cubs and the Brownies that were able to make use of the Visitor Centre and its facilities on specially booked evenings. We also began to run holiday activities for families, looking for the creatures in the mud, the pond or in the grounds and a number of holiday clubs came along too.

Dipping pond tray


In the Winter of 2006 there was a prolonged cold spell and a group of well-meaning volunteers thought they would help the wildlife by breaking the ice on the pond. However, once the thaw arrived, it soon became clear to us that they had been a bit too vigorous with garden tools when puncturing the ice and had unfortunately punctured the pond liner too! Our then ranger, Neil Mitchell, did his best to save the remaining pond water in buckets which were lined up along the side of the fence and another, stronger pond liner was ordered. The boardwalk had to be taken up so that the new liner could be fitted properly by the team of volunteers which was quite a bit of work and even trickier to replace them in the correct places afterwards!

In Spring 2007 we had our pond back and optimistically returned contents of the buckets in despite not knowing what, if anything, might have survived. Very soon it was recolonised by a wide variety of tiny species for more children to study and enjoy. Since then I have annually placed a float in the pond throughout Winter, so that if it ices over there will always be a little area not frozen, which is much better than breaking up the ice for both the creatures and the liner.


Wild about the Basin

Over the years many young people have enjoyed our dipping pond and been fascinated by seeing a variety of species, including hoglice, beetle larvae, pond skaters, waterboatmen, tadpoles and froglets to name but a few. My personal favourite are the phantom midge larvae, but you’ll just have to take my word that they exist as they are pretty difficult to see in the tray and I have no decent photos of them at all!

We find stonefly and mayfly nymphs which are particular indicators of clean water; which is unsurprising since our dipping pond is purely rainwater, occasionally topped up from the hose if we have a long spell of dry weather (not too often to be honest!).

Last Summer, when I returned from my holidays, I arrived back on my first day and was dismayed to see that the water level was quite low. As I had been abroad I asked if Montrose had enjoyed a sunny spell during the previous weeks, apparently it had been “mixed weather” as ever! So – why was our dipping pond looking somewhat sorry for itself? Well, in the next day or so it became clear that the nine year old pond liner had started to come apart.

bt work party

Removing the mud from the bottom of the pond

We have such a large, man-made pond (11m x 4m) that back in 2006 the most affordable option of liner was one that had two pieces bonded together. After nine years of not just sitting there stopping the water from leaking away, but also taking a battering from many pond nets jabbing at the bottom, it had started to literally come apart at the seams!

So began the most recent task of replacing the pond liner. We were lucky that our current Ranger, Anna Cheshier, managed to get a team of volunteers from British Telecom to help us to remove the mud at the bottom, followed by pulling up the old liner. It was messy, smelly work and we are extremely grateful for the hours that they put in that day, and for the donation that they subsequently sent us.


Staff and volunteers reshape the pond

It was a tough job for Anna preparing the area again, removing and cleaning the boardwalk, measuring and purchasing a suitable replacement liner – which alone cost around £700! Now it is in place we hope to get many happy years of dipping out of our fabulous, newly lined pond.


Pond liner in, just the board walk to lay



Pond and mud activities June 2016

Alison O’HaraMuddy

Lead Teacher Naturalist

Why not come along and experience a spot of pond dipping yourself? This Wednesday (13th July) our Wild about the basin event is “Pondamonium!”

Call now to book your place. 01674 676336

Wild about the Basin summer2016

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When Countryfile came to town

“Hello, can I speak to your ranger please? It’s James from BBC Countryfile…” this was the request one morning in early May when I answered the telephone at Montrose Basin Visitor Centre, and the first that I was aware that the BBC were considering filming in our area.

Over the coming few days our ranger, Anna Cheshier was in high demand on the ‘phone, the researcher had many questions about what sort of Local Nature Reserve we are, what activities take place, whether we might have a “practical opportunity” for their presenter to help us with and so on.

Sand Martin wall ©Ama

Sandmartin wall ©Amanda Thomson

Monday 9th May dawned bright and sunny; the BBC Countryfile researcher and a cameraman visited our Reserve for the first time – they were delighted with everything they saw, the glorious view, the wildlife, the estuary and the welcoming staff and volunteers. They filmed a little at several locations, including our Sandmartin wall and were led on a tour of the area by Anna. They stayed in Montrose overnight and learned more about some of the interesting activities in the town.

Filming crew

Film crew with ranger Anna Cheshier and volunteer John Anderson

The following Thursday, 19th May, by 9am a larger Countryfile team of 5, including presenter Anita Rani, were ready to film. Typical however of the fickle Scottish weather, it was a dull, grey day – actually the first day in May when we had any rain in Montrose! The team all headed out for a morning of filming in the mist, which turned to a thick drizzle as the day went on. Just as well they had some lovely footage of our Sandmartins taken the previous week! Personally, I was happy to be indoors and just supplying teas and coffees between takes and chatting to Anita and the crew, turns out that Anita is a big fan of our traditional Scottish shortie.

Mallard nesting tube

Mallard nesting tube

In the afternoon Anna and her volunteers were to create a duck nesting tube – the first one on our reserve. Anita had to pull on her wellies, waterproofs and woolly hat again to help with this practical work. We hope that in future Mallard will use the tube of chicken wire and straw to make a nest which will be safe from predators, as these have proven successful on other reserves. This was then mounted on a post which was placed in a pond in front of our Visitor Centre – the sediment at the bottom was rather uneven, and we thought that the water might go over the top of Anita’s boots, but all was well with her – although Anna did return with a wet sock, it was due to a wee hole in her wellie!

© Coastguard Angus & Mearns

Mud rescue with Anita Rani © Coastguard Angus & Mearns

We said goodbye to the by now somewhat soggy BBC team and made plans to meet them again the following morning, much to my surprise Anita gave me a big hug and thanked me for looking after her. They headed off to a nearby hotel and then to meet up with our local Coastguard who was bringing them back to the estuary in the evening to take part in a demonstration of a mud rescue, at this point the weather cleared and everyone actually enjoyed a pleasant view of a Montrose Basin sunset.

Basin sunset © J Harrison

Montrose basin sunset after a rainy day filming © J Harrison

At 6.30am on the Friday the team met Anna once again for the final piece of filming, when I came in it was already half way through their day. Fortunately it was a more pleasant day weather wise and not so many waterproofs were required. Everyone involved had an early lunch, left us about 1pm and went down to the town to join the other film crew with Matt Baker at the rugby ground before flying back from Aberdeen later in the afternoon.

BasinViewsAWW017It seems to me that there is quite a lot of waiting around while the camera and sound person do various checks and that filming requires a great deal of patience. I am happy to tell people all about our fantastic nature reserve, but wouldn’t want a director to keep stopping me in mid flow or asking me to repeat the last bit of information in a different way! The researcher, James, told me that he and the crew were envious of our everyday view.  I replied that they must see some great places in their work, but James said that Montrose Basin was “up there” with the best, and I wholeheartedly agree with him on that!

Anita and myself

Anita and myself

If you missed the BBC Countryfile programme when it aired on Sunday 5th June you can still catch it on BBC iPlayer until 3rd July.

Alison O’Hara – Lead Teacher Naturalist






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My visit to Handa with Scottish Wildlife Trust


I had looked across to Handa island from the mainland a number of times and promised myself that one day I would visit the island as I heard it was a wildlife reserve and a great place to visit, however with work commitments time passed and I never managed to visit.

Once I retired from work I became a volunteer with Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) at Montrose Basin  and I discovered that Handa Island (one of 120 SWT reserves) is one of the largest seabird colonies in north west Europe.

A year later I was helping refurbish the dipping pond at Montrose Basin with Anna, the reserve ranger who asked me if I would be interested in volunteering for a week on Handa and if so I should go and see Emma, which I did immediately and she soon had me fixed up for a week’s volunteering on Handa Island along with Chris a European Volunteer (EVS) from Malta who is volunteering for one year at Loch of the Lowes.

On the Saturday, the day for the trip, we travelled to Tarbet in the far north west of Scotland.  On arrival, we introduced ourselves to Rodger the ferry master who operates the ferry which takes all volunteers and visitors to the Island.

With Rodgers help we loaded our bags and our food for a week’s stay on Handa on to the ferry and we set off up Handa sound heading for the island, on the way we saw a few Red-throated Divers and Shags in the water and a White-tailed Eagle above us.


The ferry approaches

As we approached the island we could see that it was going to be a beach landing and the two 2016 season rangers were there waiting for us on the beach, one pushed up a portable jetty to the boat and the other held the boat steady so we could disembark safely. Just along from the boat in the water was a Black-throated Diver and on the beach some Oystercatchers and a Ringed Plover.

handa bothy

Welcome to Handa

The rangers Tom and Danni welcomed us to Handa and helped us with our luggage up a very steep hill to the bothy where we would be staying for the week. On the way to the bothy we saw two Wheatears and a number of Skylarks plus a few rabbits running about on the hill just above the shelter.

The next day (Sunday) was a day off and Tom and Danni accompanied us around the visitors walk which is about 6km and took us about 3 hours.

On the Monday morning we put on thigh waders and the rangers Tom and Danni took us to the visitors shelter where we would be each day from 9am to 5pm.  They gave us an introduction to our job on the island, which was to work with the ferry, we were given a radio each for communicating with Rodger and a mobile phone for contacting the rangers.

Rodger would radio us when he was bringing visitors to the Island, we would then go to the beach where one of us would operate the portable jetty and the other would steady the boat, once the jetty was in place then whichever of us was working the jetty would also steady the ferry boat and ensure the visitors disembarked safely.

the beach

The beach

It wasn’t long before we received the first radio message from Rodger telling us he was on his way with a number of visitors and would be landing at the Lockie which was the name of one of two beaches used to land visitors on the island the other was Chapel bay but was simply known as The Beach so we headed down to the Lockie to meet the ferry.

safety talk

Me giving the safety talk

Once the visitors were safely on the beach we then accompanied them to the visitor shelter where Danni welcomed them to Handa and explained that the island was owned by Scourie estate and managed by Scottish Wildlife Trust.  She gave them some information about the island and about their safety while on the island including providing them with a map showing points of interest and the rangers phone number in case of emergency.

Tom and Danni helped us with landing the visitors up until 2pm and then said they were happy that we were working well and left us on our own for the rest of the week. The 2pm ferry brought Kate and Andrew, the new assistant rangers that would be staying on the island for four months. Tom and Danni the season rangers stay on the island for six months.

Handa team

From left to right: Chris (EVS volunteer), Tom (Handa ranger), Danni (Handa ranger), John (SWT volunteer), Kate (assistant ranger), Andrew (assistant ranger)

 The Visitors Walk

After leaving the shelter visitors head up hill and the first point of interest is a ruined village which consisted of 6 black houses and 64 people and was occupied until the mid-19th century when after the potato famine in 1845, followed by two years of failed crops the last remaining people approached McIvor one of the Duke of Sutherlands factors and asked him to ask the Duke if he would pay their passage to Canada (Nova Scotia) which he did and spent around £200 on biscuits for their voyage.

Once the people left, sheep were then put on the island and sheep were the occupants right up until 2003.

visitors walk

Keep on the path

The walk continues north and visitors were advised to stay on the track for their own safety and so they don’t disturb nesting birds or damage the habitats. They pass an area of heath where the Great Skua (Bonxies), Red Grouse, and other birds nest, then arrive at the cliffs and Puffin Bay, where on sheer cliffs, with a vertical drop of around 120 metres and a small needle stack, they can see Puffins and Fulmars soaring in the wind. Artic Skuas, White-Tailed Eagles and Gannets can also be seen flying.

Also on the heath you can see flowers such as the Spotted Orchid and Lousewort, Bell Heather, Sea Mayweed, Roseroot, Thrift, Bluebell and numerous mosses and lichens, common lizards, newts, Magpie and Garden Tiger Moths.

Heading west along the cliffs the next place of interest is the Handa Great Stack, a huge tower of torridonian sandstone reaching up from sea level to the height of the cliffs some 120 metres high, the stack is almost impossible to climb and it has been said that more people have landed on the moon than have reached the top.

On the stack at times there are thousands of Guillemots which at times can reach some 66,000 plus there are Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Shags, Cormorants and Fulmars.

Heading south you can see the great wall, a huge torridonian sandstone wall, again with Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars and Puffins. Continuing south you come to Poll Ghlup (pronounced Paul Gloop), what a great name for a sink hole! This is a huge sink hole caused by a collapsed sea cave hundreds of feet below. The torridonian sandstone is also the bedrock of the island, over 1,000 million years old and provides perfect ledges on the cliffs for nesting birds.

handa 2

Clear day with a view of the mainland

As you continue south and look west towards the Western Isles of Harris and Lewis, in the ocean if you are lucky you can see whales, dolphins, Porpoises, Basking sharks and seals.

The next place of interest is Boulder Bay here it is possible to see Otters and seals, further along are some more sandy beaches.  The track then heads east and visitors arrive back at the shelter, we then radio the ferry and once it arrives we again operate the portable jetty and get them safely back on board for their trip back to the mainland. We do this several times a day and each visitor is informed that the last boat leaves at 5pm, also as visitors arrive on the island we keep a record of how many adults, children and under 5’s arrive on the island, how many leave and how many are on the island at all times insuring that everyone has left at the end of the day.

Once the last visitors are safely back on the ferry, that’s it, our days’ work is done, we complete the paperwork for the day and head back to the bothy for a meal after which we are free to explore the island or do whatever we want to do.


Handa sunset

In the evenings you can hear numerous Snipe drumming with their tails, a very strange eerie sound and one I had never experienced before and sunsets on the island are simply amazing.

Sadly, Saturday come all too soon, our week on the island was over and it was time to leave but thanks to Scottish Wildlife Trust a great experience on an amazing Island, new friends made and after a few photographs and goodbyes we boarded the ferry as the next weekly volunteers disembarked.

On the way back I took Chris on a tour down the west coast to Ullapool and showed him the Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve before heading back to Inverness and on to Perth stopping in Aviemore for Fish and Chips.

John Anderson – Scottish Wildlife Trust Volunteer, Montrose Basin

Handa Island recently featured on BBC One: Highlands – Scotland’s Wild Heart 
























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Marvellous Moths of Montrose Basin

Laura and Maxime are two students who have travelled from France to join us working on the reserve at Montrose Basin for two months.  They recently enjoyed attending the Moth Night and have written a brief description of how they found the event. 


At the end of the afternoon of June 9th 2016 we participated at the Moth Night event at Montrose Basin Visitor Centre.

Paul giving us a presentation on moths

Firstly, Paul gave a talk on the different types of moth including how they live, reproduce, and how they grow up, with a presentation.


Paul and his moth trap

Then, we have seen many species of Moths thanks to Paul’s traps.

Indeed, he showed us more than 30 species, some in traps, others in tubes. Furthermore we have been able to take some species on our hands; that was really cool and funny.


Elephant Hawk Moth

Our favourite moths were the Poplar hawk and Elephant hawk moth, because we have never seen moths as big and colourful, in addition we would never had imagined that these kinds of species could exist in Scotland.


Poplar Hawk Moth


Maxime and Laura – Volunteer rangers Montrose Basin





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Wandering around

After our arrival, we got a “welcome pack” with lots of leaflets, maps and information. One of the most interesting from them was the one with the walking paths in Montrose. As I like walking very much, it gave me the first goal to reach: to walk along all of them.


Scurdie Ness Lighthouse, the first trip – Noémi Menczelesz

My first tour led to Scurdie Ness Lighthouse, from which one can have amazing view to the sea. If you are not tired, I suggest continue the trip in the direction of Mains of Usan, along the beach. No one should miss the beach of Montrose, too. As I came from a country, where there is no sea, I couldn’t take enough pictures from it.


The beach of Montrose – Noémi Menczelesz

I also had time to explore the walks of the Basin. As many of our visitors take the same road, it was quite useful to walk along it. Although that day we had typical Scottish weather with wind and cold, the walk was very interesting. It was even better, because I wasn’t alone, I went with one of my colleagues. We also had an opportunity to observe the Swan management officer moving the swans off the fields to protect them from overgrazing.

As I have said, one of my aims is to walk along as many walking paths in Montrose as I can. One of them leads to North Esk and Charleton farm. At the first time I didn’t reach North Esk, but I saw the fruit farm. In the beginning of May off course the berries were not ripe yet, but I am sure that I’ll return, when they will be ripe.

Our first trip to another town with Marika led to Dunnotar Castle and Stonehaven. Dunnotar Castle has a beautiful view to the sea. The castle is mainly a ruin, but with the information provided there, we could imagine, how they used the parts of it. After that, we continued our trip to Stonehaven, where we saw the harbour and even the bar, where the deep fried Mars bar were invented. Maybe I will miss the experience to taste it. We had some time to explore the beach, and to try our first fish and chips. It tasted so good that I think one of my plans is going to be to try it at as many places that I can. After having a nice ice cream (in hats and winter coats – but we have one life, haven’t we?), we headed back to Montrose. We also planned to visit an RSPB reserve, to see the puffins, but unfortunately, we ran out of time, it remains for the next time.


The view from Dunnotar Castle – Noémi Menczelesz

As the part of exploring new cities in Scotland, we had the opportunity to visit Dundee, and other EVS volunteers there. After spending so much time in Montrose, which is obviously a smaller town than Dundee, it was a little bit strange to be surrounded by so many people. We visited the main parts of the city, the Discovery Point, which was a ship used to explore the Antarctic. We also walked to the McManus Gallery. It is a beautiful building with many paintings and other information, too. It was a hard walk, but we managed to get to the top of Dundee law, too. I can say that for me it has worth the effort, because I like to see things from above, and beautiful landscapes. In my home country, we often went on trips to see our city from a hill nearby. We also saw many churches in Dundee. Unfortunately, none of them were open; which is a strange thing. In Hungary, we can usually visit the inside of the churches. After exploring the town, we had a very interesting international night with other EVS like us from France, Greece and Spain.


Dundee from the Dundee Law – Noémi Menczelesz

Now, I can feel that spring has arrived here, too, so in the following month I hope I can continue wandering around.

Noémi Menczelesz

European Volunteer

Posted in EVS, General, People, Sightings | Tagged , , |

Oh, look, it’s raining again…

Do you know when, for breaking the ice with new people, you take the “weather argument” and you feel an immeasurable loser because you haven’t found a better topic?
Well, here in Scotland it will never happen.
Here “weather” is the must, it’s the usual expression between the first greeting and the passage to the conversation’s heart; and that’s because actually about the weather you can say a lot.
Personally I’ve had a lot to tell regarding these days when I had occasion to assist to a sequence of sudden changes, alternating rain, wind, sun, snow, hail stones, sun, wind, rain, sleet, sun… all in eight hours.
I’m glad not to be meteoropathic.

"Summer is coming" they tell me...

“Summer is coming” they tell me… © Marika Davoli

Anyway, apart the quaint weather, my second month has passed through new discoveries, some trips, little personal goals and project for the future.
One thing that I love mostly of this city is its music dimension. Montrose is quite famous in Angus for hosting MoFest: a music festival which for three days will occupy squares, streets and pubs of the entire city, around the end of May. I’m speaking about bands almost purely local and pubs that give their space (and their beers!) to a mass of people who love the sensation of rumbling tympanums, of bass vibrations under shoes, of hearing guitar solos, and who cannot wait to get wild to the rhythms of rock, folk, reggae, and so on.
Then, I will be in that mass too, probably busy running here and there looking for the sound I love and, above all, groups that I’ve had the honour of appreciating and that I’ll gladly hear again.
So if you, between the 27th and the 29th of May, will have nothing to do, here there’s a little town that’s waiting for you with rivers of beer and good music!

Dunnottar Castle view © Marika Davoli

Dunnottar Castle view © Marika Davoli

In these days – aided by the more human temperatures – I’ve had the possibility to find out new sides of this land which reveal itself with delicate discretion day after day.
Our first, lucky excursion was towards Dunnottar Castle: suggesting ruins roost on a coast’s fragment, a little but fundamental fortified village which gave a very important contribution to Scotland’s history. Was there where, in fact, about the 13th century, William Wallace set fire to the chapel full of English soldiers who had taken refuge inside; and where, about three hundred and fifty years after, the Crown Jewels were hidden during the dark ages of Cromwell’s occupation.
Dunnottar Castle is a typical Scottish landscape, of those which you can find on every postcard and recognize effortlessly. North Sea hitting the bluffs, white froth cutting through by gulls, razorbills and guillemots (unfortunately I didn’t see any Puffins, sigh sigh), huge and green meadows… and romantic castle’s ruins.
Oh, moreover Dunnottar Castle has been the scenery chosen by Franco Zeffirelli for his film Hamlet (1990), which won two Oscars and, well, that’s made me feel a bit at home.

Dun Estate's path © Marika Davoli

Dun Estate’s path © Marika Davoli

Another much appreciated trip was at Dun Estate, in Montrose: a lovely building in Georgian style surrounded by an enormous green estate, crossed by lots of little rivers reached through one of many “secret” paths, and where a beautiful series of centuries-old oaks stands out and makes a wonderful impression at the sunset.
Taking advantage of imminent summer, hoping the weather won’t get weird, I wish to explore Angus, this region full of stories, ways and views that make it feel like for each threshold crossed there’s a world to discover.
As my friend told me before I left Italy: “Who knows, perhaps you will get inspired for some of your novels”. Happy to confirm that I’ve got inspired.
Yes, because one of the little personal goals which I’ve just spoken is have finished the writing of my second novel, right here in Montrose. As it may seem irrelevant for the rest of the world, writing has ever been my vocation, and to be able to “blend” it with my adventure here as an integral part of it, represents a great outcome and a big awareness for me.
I concluded my latest post with the hope for a more clement weather, and now seems that it’s gently accepted my request… sometimes.
So I’m going to close this post with the hope to improve my English – pardon, my Scottish – which keeps to be not good (damn me).

Thanks to all of you for encouraging me.

Marika Davoli
European Volunteer

Posted in EVS, People | Tagged , |

Dandelions the most undervalued wild flower

At this time of year we are bombarded with TV adverts about how dandelions are going to destroy your lawn and driveway.

What’s so wrong with an over grown lawn or a road verge full of weeds?

Why is it that everyone is so obsessed with keeping things tidy?

My biggest spring bugbear is when councils and home owners insist on cutting road verges. If it was a visibility issue then that makes sense but if that’s not an issue then why not let the vegetation grow?

What people don’t seem to realise is that road verges can be a useful wildlife corridor, offering food and shelter to small mammals and insects. One of the champions of these corridors is undoubtedly the humble dandelion. Persecuted by many as an invasive weed, most people don’t seem to understand its true value.


Loewenzahn; Taraxacum officinale – wikimedia commons

The dandelion (Taraxacum officiniale) is actually a type of daisy, part of the Asteraceae family. It is commonly found in meadows, pastures, waste ground and road verges. I first noticed their abundance at the beginning of the month as they replaced the Daffodils, with an equally bright display of colour.


Florets – Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen – Wikimedia commons

The flower head or capitulum of a dandelion is actually made up of lots of individual flowers known as florets or ray flowers. Each have stamen with pollen, nectar and a single petal. This is a key feature in daisies and is part of the reason why they are so vital to pollinating insects.  With continuous flowering through spring and summer, each floret provides pollen and nectar and therefore a near continuous supply of food for visiting insects.


Fruit – Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen – Wikimedia commons

However as I’m sure you know dandelions don’t actually need insects to propagate through cross pollination. Instead their flowers develop into seeds, creating the dandelion clocks that I used to play with as a child. These seeds are an exact replica of the parent plant and use the wind to disperse. So the relationship between the dandelion and the pollinators it supports is a positive neutral relationship, named commensalism. Meaning the flower doesn’t suffer or gain anything from its relationship with the insect, but the insect gains something positive.

Dandelions can supply food to a number of different pollinators including bumblebees, butterflies, hover flies, day flying moths and solitary bees.

F Green-veined White butterfly

Green veined white butterfly on a dandelion – Andy Wakelin

There is a growing need for people to recognise that our pollinators, and in particular our honey bees are coming under threat of extinction. This is no small matter as we need our pollinators to pollinate many of our fruits and vegetables.

In fact, there are already places in the world that have to transport bee colonies to and from farms just so that they can pollinate the crops. For certain crops, pollination is necessary for the fruit to develop and grow. Therefore these mobile colonies of bees are becoming big business and sadly essential.

In the UK we are heading in that direction and if we all just took the opportunity to sit in the garden and not mow the lawn we might all be better for it in the long run. Just think of all the bees and butterflies you could sit and observe on a sunny day. Of course valuing dandelions as an essential food source and not an ugly common weed can’t be the only way to solve the decline in our bee populations but it is something that everyone can do.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust are currently running a campaign to Save our bees by urging the Scottish Government to recognise that neonicotinoid insecticides are harmful to our pollinators. Click the links to find out how you can help.

Special thank you to Neil Bromhall for allowing  us to use this excellent timelapse footage. His website is available to help with plant ID.

Go wild in June with our 30 days wild challenge

Emma Castle-Smith                                                                                                                                  Montrose Basin Visitor Centre Assistant Manager

Posted in General, Uncategorized, Wildflowers | Tagged , , , , , , |