South Mainland Notebook 17.07.09

Open day a big success

Despite the chilly weather, the RSPB open day at Sumburgh Head on Saturday attracted a lively crowd, and the enthusiasm of all involved was evident.

Many had brought binoculars and cameras. “I like their beaks,” said six-year-old Alice Bloomer, who was busy photographing puffins, which are there in large numbers this year.

“They arrived really early, which is a good sign, as it shows they’ve had a good winter,” said RSPB warden Helen Moncrieff, who describes the birds as “gorgeous, comical and friendly”. Rather generously, for she has a permanent “puffin scar” on her hand, acquired while rescuing an ungrateful puffin that had got tangled in a wire.

Saturday’s specimens, though, were nothing other than enchanting. Early in the day one came close enough to peck at the shoelaces of a seabird monitor from the University of Aberdeen. And a camera placed in a burrow allowed people to see, live on screen, a fluffy two-week-old chick being fed by its parents.

“We put the camera in the burrow in February, when the puffins weren’t around,” said Helen. “The footage will be shown in Simon King’s Shetland Diary, which is on BBC next spring. One windy day we were even able to watch a parent sheltering the baby with its wing.”

Helen’s infectious love of bird life extends far beyond puffins, however. As she was speaking, some noisy crossbills flew over. “They seem to like to announce their presence,” she observed. “’We’re here! We’re here! We’re crossbills! We’re beautiful!’”

Excitement mounted with the arrival of TV naturalist Mike Dilger, who had taken time off from a hectic recording schedule to attend the event.

“Yesterday was manic,” he said. “I was filming emperor butterflies in the East Midlands in the morning, and then I went on to a live broadcast at a place called Saint Tiggywinkle’s Wildllife Hospital in Oxfordshire, and then I went down to Gatwick, and I flew out of Gatwick this morning.”

Nevertheless, he was thrilled to be here. “If you’re into natural history, then Shetland is one of those places where you have to spend a bit of time. It’s the best place in Britain to see seabirds.”

After giving a short talk about his life as a television presenter, Mike led a walk aimed particularly at the bairns, effortlessly imparting entertaining information as he went. Pufflings were described as “small, black, furry and very edible”. Bonxies were referred to as “pirates”. An account of a bird eating the eyes of a squashed rabbit, with which eight-year-old Euen Rose had been regaling his family during mealtimes for the last few days, was used to introduce the concept of predators.

At the end of the walk Mike got some of the children to have a go at being wildlife presenters themselves. A few were a bit camera-shy, but Katrine Haydock, aged four, from Aberdeen, who has already decided she wants to be a wildlife presenter when she grows up, positively radiated confidence. “That girl’s going to go far,” said Mike.

Afterwards he talked about the importance of getting kids hooked on nature at an early age. “They have a massive affinity with wildlife. All their books have animals in. You’ve got to keep hold of that. You’ve got to really harness their interest. When they arrive at puberty they want to play computer games, chat to members of the opposite sex, socialise. But if you instil that kind of interest in wildlife at an early age, once they’ve gone through those adolescent years they come back to it.”

It’s for this reason that he sees his work with children as vital. “They’re the next generation of nature conservationists.”

New club for over 60s

If you are over 60 and like the sound of a sheeks, a biscuit and a cuppa, the WRVS has started a new South Mainland Club offering just that. There are also entertainments, such as bannock-making and weaving displays, and talks on topics of local interest.

The club’s next meeting is at Bigton Hall on Tuesday, from 2pm to 4pm. “Just turn up. The more the merrier,” says project manager Colin Manson.”Or if you have reduced mobility we can arrange transport for you.”

For details phone (01595) 743915 or email

Quarff man on plinth

At the beginning of July, Stuart Hubbard, who works on the computer system at the Gilbert Bain Hospital, received an email telling him that his application to stand on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square had been successful. Not only that, but he had landed a prime-time spot – 3pm on Saturday 15th August.

The fourth plinth project is the latest work by sculptor Antony Gormley. Members of the public, drawn at random, get to occupy the plinth for an hour, and do anything they like – as long as it’s legal!

“It was my wife Kathy’s idea that we should apply,” says Stuart. “She’s a fan of Gormley’s work, so it’s ironic that it’s me who gets to do it, really.”

Unlike Kathy, however, Stuart is untroubled by the thought of being eight metres above the ground with no safety rail. “The plinth is two by four metres, so if you stand in the middle you’ll feel okay.”

And with true Shetland spirit he isn’t concerned about what the weather might have in store either. “I believe London rain tends to come down vertically.” He does admit, though, to feeling daunted by the prospect of being very much in the public eye.

So what’s he going to do up there? Although he’s adamant that he wants to “make some sort of impression”, and has come up with a number of possibilities, Stuart hasn’t decided yet, and he’s sure he will change his mind several times before the big day.

Not that there’s been a lack of suggestions from friends, most of them on a Shetland theme. One wants him to do a demonstration of crochet, but this has been rejected on the grounds that Stuart can’t crochet, and wouldn’t be visible from the ground doing so, even if he could.

Another advocates taking a sheep down to London and shearing it on the plinth. This, too, is deemed impractical. “You have to carry anything you want up onto the plinth with you,” Stuart explains. And that’s always assuming the sheep doesn’t object to air travel! Unrealistic proposals apart, Stuart does feel a certain duty to represent Shetland, and might indeed do something linked to the isles. The loan of a Viking costume has already been offered.

Is it art? Stuart rejects the question. “The project is significant because it’s captured people’s imagination. The important thing is the opportunity to express yourself.”

What more can one say, except “Watch this space”?

Fun for the bairns

There is five days of educational fun for children at Old Scatness, from Sunday to Thursday.

Sessions run from 2pm to 4pm and will include such activities as dressing up as Picts and Vikings, grinding grain, making bannocks, and “excavating” in the sandboxes. Call (01950) 461869 for further details.

Bigton rowing regatta

Come to St Ninian’s Isle sands tomorrow to watch the rowing races and enjoy some live music.

The food on offer will include soups, sandwiches, a barbecue and home bakes, and there is also a bar.

Show off your strength in the tug o’ war, or demonstrate your architectural skills in the sandcastle competition. The races start at 3pm.

Music night for seniors

There is a foot-stomping evening in store for senior citizens on Wednesday at Bigton Hall, where Peter Wood and friends will be providing live traditional music.

Peter is well-known in folk circles as a talented accordionist, pianist and piper, who also compose his own tunes. He is a member of the popular ceilidh band Da Fustra.

“This is an offer of live entertainment we couldn’t refuse,” says Geordie Jacobson, one of the organisers. “Peter is a splendid musician and they’ll put on some fine entertainment.”

The event is run by the South Mainland Community Association Senior Citizens group, and starts at 7.30pm. All are welcome, and door-to-door transport is laid on where possible. For further details phone Ann Black on (01950) 460297.

Cathy Feeny


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