Out on the May

Tuesday 19th February comments: Today we ventured back onto the Isle of May to continue the pre-season preparations and we’ll be here until Friday. The weather looks settled for the next few days so it was an ideal time to get out and start opening the place up.

A small team of three arrived mid-morning and moved various bits of equipment up the island with the help of our trusty quad bike and trailer. Soon we were opening windows, cleaning and getting the place sorted as after a three month dormant season, the buildings can be stale and cold. We’ll be carrying out various jobs over the next few days as the countdown is now on for the start of the new Isle of May season.

As well as the buildings, we also checked over the island and the reported on the small numbers of birds that were present. It looks cold and bleak at this time of year and hard to image that the place will become a thriving seabird city in just over one months time. However before then plenty of work to do and plenty to report but more on that tomorrow…

Posted in Uncategorized

Prep time

Wednesday 13th February comments: Slowly and surely the Isle of May is stirring. The seabird season is not far away, the visitor boats are being prepared and the team are getting themselves sorted for another year on the May.

Whilst some seabirds are still in their wintering quarters, some birds are starting to return in anticipation for the new season. Thousands of Guillemots are now in May waters with good numbers being seen daily on the cliff sides. Fulmars are prospecting back at traditional nest sites whilst Shags are looking settled as a result of the recent mild weather.

On the mainland the visitor boats are being painted, checked and prepared for the start of the new season which is not far away. The island opens its doors on 1st April and you can now book direct with the various companies shown below (once you’ve paid your boat fare its free to gain access to the island and the main lighthouse).

May Princess (sails from Anstruther): https://www.isleofmayferry.com/

Osprey Rib (sails from Anstruther): http://www.isleofmayboattrips.co.uk/index.php?fullsite=1

Seabird Rib (sails from North Berwick): https://seabird.org/visit/boats/isle-of-may-landings/10/22/159

As for the team, our pre-season preparations and planning continue as we ready ourselves for another season on the Jewel of the Forth. Everything from equipment to bedding to food has to be sorted and packed as we are about to embark on another exciting season. You can also play your part as we are looking for long-term volunteers to help us operate the mighty May. To get involved check out: https://www.nature.scot/enjoying-outdoors/scotlands-national-nature-reserves/isle-may-nnr/isle-may-nnr-getting-involved

So here we go again, its nearly that time of year again….let the fun begin!

Posted in Uncategorized

February visit

Friday 8th February comments: Its always good to visit the Isle of May at any time of year and yesterday we made a flying visit to drop various equipment off and check the island over. Its always interesting to view the Isle of May at this time of year as it always looks so quiet, bleak and barren.

The Grey Seals have long gone, with several hundred loafing on the rocks but the colonies are finished with just a few dead pups (they don’t all survive) and a battered landscape left behind. The cliffs and tops are all quiet and the vegetation is dead giving it a real ghostly feel. However change is in the air….

Spring is just around the corner and the lighter nights are fast approaching. The first germinating plants are starting to emerge and in less than two months this barren landscape will be transformed…. The new seabird season is just around the corner…

Posted in Uncategorized

We need YOU!

Tuesday 5th February comments: The Isle of May needs you! Are you looking to develop your career in conservation, between years at university or looking for a change of career, well the Isle of May National Nature Reserve may be able to help. We are looking for long-term volunteers who will help with all aspects of this fabulous reserve during the summer months.

We are looking for people who will help with visitor management (meeting and providing information to our daily visitors as well as to help run events and look after the islands infrastructure. As well as this you’ll get involved with species monitoring (especially Arctic Terns, Eiders and Large Gulls) including ringing, monitoring and population counts. On top of all this you’ll get involved with practical maintenance of the reserve including habitat management and basic maintenance tasks and anything else which crops up on the island!

The volunteer posts are for the summer (starting date can be discussed but ideally late April-early May) and you’ll need to be at least 18 years old, personable, approachable, enthusiastic, a good communicator, and have excellent spoken English. You’ll need to be able to fit into a small island community and to work in a team or on your own. You’ll have a strong interest in conservation, a good knowledge of Scotland’s natural heritage and lots of enthusiasm for the Isle of May. You’ll be physically fit and have a responsible attitude to health and safety, complying with procedures designed to keep you and others safe.  You’ll be willing to work outdoors in all weathers, keen to learn and adaptable.

If you are interested, the deadline for applications is on Friday 1st March. For more information follow the link: https://www.nature.scot/enjoying-outdoors/scotlands-national-nature-reserves/isle-may-nnr/isle-may-nnr-getting-involved

Posted in Uncategorized

Battle of the Isle of May

Thursday 31st January comments: The Isle of May has many stories and tales to tell but 101 years ago, a fateful evening proved so costly to so many as on 31st January 1918, the ‘Battle of the Isle of May’ was about to commence.

The nation was gripped by the ravages of the Great War which was raging across much of northern Europe. The British Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet had been involved in one of the deadliest and bloodiest navel battles of all time at Jutland just 20 months previous, with the loss of over 6,000 men. As a result, the Fleet Admiralty were keen to improve on ‘battle readiness’ for any further sea confrontations with the enemy which may come about as the war continued.

It was decided a navel exercise would take place out in the North Sea involving two components of the Grand Fleet; that based at Rosyth near Edinburgh which would meet up with the battle group from Scapa Flow. The exercise, known as EC1 was kept secret and involved the 13th Submarine Division (known a K-boats) and a number of Destroyers, Battleships and Light Cruisers. The K-boats were specially designed to operate with a battle fleet and soon all the waiting boats were ready to sail. The orders were simple; all boats would follow in line and sail out of the Firth of Forth, head north passing the Isle of May before eventually heading direct north to meet up with the

At the head of the line, two cruisers would lead the way; HMS Courageous and HMS Ithuriel which were backed with submarines K-11, K-12, K-14, K-17 and K-22. Then came the   battle cruisers which included HMAS Australia, HMS New Zealand, HMS Indomitable and HMS Inflexible with their destroyers. Finally HMS Fearless which was backed by submarines K3, K-4, K-6 and K7. In total with each boat sailing in a single line, it stretched for 30 miles.

At 18:30 the boats sailed from nearby Rosyth and were sailing with dimmed stern lights and were maintaining radio silence due to the sighting of a German submarine in the area earlier that day. The fleet were not helped by misty conditions whilst travelling under the cover of darkness. Then luck changed and disaster struck. Submarine K-14 rudder jammed and the boat struck K-22 and unfortunately both boats were locked unable to break free from each other.

The huge battlecruiser HMS Australia narrowly missed the stricken K-boats and disaster had been averted. But not for long. Communication eventually reached the lead Light Cruiser HMS Ithuriel about the original collision and the captain of the ship decided to turn around and head back to the two K-boats which had struck each other. Alongside the Light cruiser, the other K-boats also followed her back but communication was poor and unfortunately the boats and submarines further back, lead by HMS Fearless were unaware of the accident ahead and ran straight into their sister flotilla.

Over the following minutes, disaster struck as HMS Fearless rammed K-17, and the submarine sank with the loss of all life in a matter of minutes. Submarines K-6 hit K-4, and nearly cut her in half but locked together but had K-7 fast approaching. Spotting K-6, she just managed to avoid her, but was totally unaware of K-4 lying across her path, and a further collision ensued. The second hit proved fatal for K-4, and she sank. Only nine men were pulled from the water, and one of these died before he could receive medical treatment.

That evening a total of 104 men lost their lives as two submarines were sunk, four submarines were damaged along with the light cruiser HMS Fearless. Despite it being remembered (black humour) as the ‘Battle of the Isle of May’, there were actually no enemy warships involved and only a combination of bad luck and human error resulted in such a great loss of life. The terrible events of that night took place just 1.5 miles off the north end of the Isle of May. It will never be forgotten.

Posted in Uncategorized

Lighthouse open!

Saturday 26th January comments: Over the last two weeks we’ve brought you lighthouse stories of the Isle of May, from the very first Beacon to the departure of the lighthouse keepers in 1989.

However during the season as well as visiting the island to see its spectacular wildlife you can also visit the main Stevenson Lighthouse. In partnership with the Northern Lighthouse Board, we open the lighthouse every weekend and then daily from 1st August. Its completely free to enter and you can check out the centre floor rooms with its great lighthouse interpretation or climb to the very top for fantastic views of the Firth of Forth and beyond.

The Isle of May has so many stories to tell and visiting this hidden gem is something you should do this summer. We are open from 1st April-30th September (weather dependent) and boats sail from both Anstruther (Fife) and North Berwick (Lothian).

Posted in Uncategorized

Goodbye Lighthouse Keepers

Thursday 24th January Comments: The Isle of May lighthouse history is as interesting as it is long. From the first ever coal burning lighthouse in 1636 up to the modern Stevenson lighthouse constructed in 1816, the island had seen it all.

During its heyday the lighthouse employed seven men at the turn of the century but technology was advancing and times were changing. Numbers of staff were reduced when the lighthouse converted from electricity to oil in 1924 and then further changes in 1972. During that year the lighthouse was converted to a ‘rock station’ which meant that the lighthouse keepers families would no longer live at the lighthouse but at the shore station in Granton, leaving just three men to live and attend the light.

Further changes followed in the 1980’s as the majority of lighthouses around Scotland were automated, including the Isle of May. The game was up and lighthouse keeping would become confined to the history books. After 353 years, the island would not have any resident lighthouse keepers present. The final three keepers  were helicopter off the Isle of May on 31st March 1989 and it is now controlled and monitored from the Northern Lighthouse Board headquarters in Edinburgh.

Further changes have occurred since as in 2015-16 the lighthouse was converted fully to solar energy with the old diesel generators removed. The lighthouse still operates today, beaming out over 22 nautical miles and despite the changes the lighthouse still remains as impressive as it did on the day of completion in 1816.

Posted in Uncategorized