A summer day in Skerries, melting tar and some interesting boring sponges

THIS must surely be the week of the well-kent Luckaminnie’s Oo, the bog cotton.

It is in full flower, shining, silvery white fluffy heads catching the light across miles and miles of dark moorland.

The effects of shifting sunlight and Simmer Dim light are wonder­fully magical. But while one plant is at its peak, others are gradually slipping into their seeding stages, having done their flowering best for the season.
The 2008 sea pink spectaculars are coming to an end around the coast. One island resident sent me a couple of prints of some absolutely pure, sparkling white ones, discovered only a few yards from a road in the South Mainland.

The long wait for the South Road roundabout is almost fin­ished, but where is the compass? I have heard so much about the magnificent graphics, designed by James MacKenzie and picked out in Enviroglass as the central feature of this gigantic traffic flow aid for Lerwick, but I can’t see it. All you can see as you approach this superbly crafted edifice is the tractor wheel patterns around the sides. What a shame that all the art and
craft is completely out of sight – except of course to helicopter crews.

Also out of sight, or at least normally so, are boring sponges. This normality was broken in Skerries during a shore life study a few days ago. Veteran sub-aqua enthusiast Linda Davis has been making quite a study of the multifarious characters of Shet­land’s sea creatures. She had anticipated red jellies, alias sea anemones, maybe a crab or two and some whelks, but the sponge was real treasure trove. Carla Anderson deserved a medal, she said, for discovering in under a rock.

Boring sponges have nothing whatsoever to do with sponges being boring. This particular animal bores into the rock in order more effectively to secure a safe home base in this most dangerous and violent habitat.

Most folk think of a potter along the shore as a peaceful and leisurely activity, and so it can be for humans, in good weather. But for the animals who live and breed here, extraordinary skills and mechanisms, chemistry and technology is vital in order to survive and rule number one is: “Stay wet!”

At low tide, especially in hot weather, drying out is death to seashore creatures. In no time, their fragile structures and organs would collapse, dessicate and split, leaving them mere fodder for the maas, the sea gulls. Sur­vive they will, barring accidents, by a bewildering array of tricks and special effects.

Hiding is a favourite. Bar­nacles shut their door plates firmly to keep in the moisture; limpets slink back into their chewed out circular grooves in the rock; sea anemones pull in their tentacles and hunker into the rocks, if possible squeezed in under a curtain of seaweed.

Some creatures are so fragile that they simply sink down and down with the sea, staying well out of sight below even the lowest of tides, and the boring sponge attaches well below the lowest, normally. But on this occasion, a splendid individual was dis­covered by Carla while exploring some of the rocks at the very foot of the beach opposite the school.

The tide at the time was exceptionally low and there was a chance that some of the upper residents of the lower shore would be stranded for a while at the height of the tide.

On Friday of last week the road tar in Skerries melted in the heat of the sun! My shoe soles bear witness to the unexpected, but much enjoyed temperature.

Of all the days in the Skerries school year, Thursday and Friday were the most important for good weather, but June being June, no bets were being placed. These were the days for the school eco day, green day, school grounds, health and environment day, or whatever combination of relevant key words best fitted the list of planned activities. But the weather was critical; and it did us proud.

Eco school status surely can’t be far off for Skerries, as the bairns and staff presented a magnificent event to the whole community. Not only were their displays and work laid out for all to see, but there were events which the visitors could actually take part in and help with.

They could play bird and animal behaviour games, buy plants of all kinds, grown in school, buy Colombian fruit pure or toy tigers on sale for the Shetland Tiger Fund; they could help themselves to safety and health items from the local nurse’s stall, wildlife and conservation leaflets and bird badges from the RSPB stall, or environmental action and materials information from Mary Lisk’s selection.

As if that wasn’t enough they could watch the process of Skerries wild sounds, recorded by the secondary section, being built into a proper, professional CD and put their name down to buy a copy later.

A 2009 calendar had been created also by the secondary and some early print-outs were available. The photographs in this edition are way beyond the standard of last year’s calendar and many local photographer enthusiasts contributed prints.

Many opted to help the staff and bairns to plant some excellent young trees brought in by James Mackenzie, and a few lucky ones managed to squeeze into the felting workshop and came out later in the event with some stunning head gear.

There was an illustrated talk on recycling in Ghana, a seashore animal puppet making workshop and an empty yoghurt pot turret building contest.

But probably the favourite of all activities on offer was the eating. The canteen staff and helpers produced a veritable banquet, which everyone could enjoy, in exchange for a donation, everyone including some Nor­wegian visitors and even the SIC road workers who were doing ditching work in the isle.

Ideas for the Wildernews wild garden scoring system are coming in thick and fast and it seems that we are not alone in the process.

BBC Radio Four has a fascinating series running cur­rently, on migration, called Animals on the Move. The presenters are inviting people to go online and fill in their score cards, reporting exciting sightings and behaviour of native and migrant species in their UK gar­dens, as well as their ideas on how best to plan a wildlife garden.

Jill Slee Blackadder


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