Battle of the Isle of May (part II)


One of the battleships involved; HMS Courageous

(continued from yesterday) Tuesday 30th January comments: (Isle of May) Part Two:  On the evening of the 31st January 1918, just after 18:30, the secret navy exercise known as EC1 involving the 13th Submarine Division (known a K-boats) and a number of Destroyers, Battleships and Light Cruisers began.

The boats and submarines (all submarines sailed on the surface) departed Rosyth near Edinburgh under the cover of darkness and had plotted to head out of the Firth of Forth, passing close to the Isle of May before eventually heading north to meet up with the battle group from Scapa Flow. Earlier in the day, a German submarine had been spotted near the Isle of May so it was decided to take precaution and the entire fleet would show only dim stern lights (which could only be seen by the boat behind) and maintain radio silence.

Visibility was also deteriorating as a misty haar was developing which was reducing visibility rapidly. Regardless the boats continued on but moments later some of the forward flotilla spotted some distant lights heading towards them and with concerns for the fleet, evasive action was taken.

The flotilla altered course sharply to port (left) to avoid potential collision them but not all was well. In carrying out the quick manoeuvre one of the Submarines (K-14) helm jammed and she veered out of line. Both K14 and the boat behind her K12 instantly turned on their navigation lights and eventually K14’s helm was freed and she tried to return to her position in the line.

However the next submarine in line, K22 had lost sight of the rest of the flotilla in the mist and had slightly veered off line with the result that she hit K14. Both submarines stopped whilst the rest of the flotilla, unaware of what had happened continued out to sea. K22 radioed in code to the cruiser leading the flotilla to say that she could reach port but that K14 was crippled and sinking.

The Battle of the Isle of May was now underway….

Continued tomorrow

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Battle of the Isle of May (part I)


The Isle of May….


British K-class submarine

Monday 29th January comments: (Isle of May NNR) Part One: Over the course of this week, we’ll be running a series of special blog posts which will shock many and surprise others at the events which unfolded off the Isle of May, a century ago.

100 years ago to this week, 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.

Just after 18:30, under the cover of darkness on the evening of 31st January 1918, exercise EC1 was underway as the boats departed Rosyth. Little did anyone know of the events which were about to unfold as the fleet were about to enter the ‘Battle of the Isle of May’…

To be continued tomorrow.

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Star Shag!


Continental Shag…for its ninth winter (per Mark Newell)


Shag map

Far away from the Isle of May…. (per Mark Newell)


Friday 26th January comments: (Isle of May NNR). Following on from yesterday’s blog from Mark at CEH he further reveals more information about this winters Shag movements including one individual which has become a bit of a celebrity…

As we as the Isle of May, Shags from other colonies are also colour ringed to help us with our studies of this charismatic seabird. News has filtered out that a bird on Inchkeith, another of the Forth islands, went even further inland along the Dutch-German border. Blue colour ringed ‘FWA’ was only the third ever record of a Shag in the province of Overjissel (previous sightings in 1905 & 1996) and caused quite a stir in the local media and even has its own youtube footage which can be viewed here: .  These latter sightings are especially notable as shags are marine species and, unlike cormorants, don’t normally inhabit freshwater.

Given our previous data it is clear that the vast majority of these long distance wanderers are birds in their first-winter and are almost never seen again in subsequent seasons. This leads to speculation that they either find under-watched colonies or don’t make it through their first winter.  The exception to this is Blue colour ringed ‘ZBU’ which is a nine year old male, which breeds every year on the Isle of May but winters near Rotterdam in the Netherlands.  After a blank winter last year it was seen again in the Netherlands in late December.

All these extra-limital sightings are valuable in providing a better understanding of the movements of the shag populations and prove it is worth checking out these seabirds for colour rings no matter where they occur. Please send any sightings (dead or alive) to  as all data is valuable and helps pull together a better understanding of these birds. So keep those eyes peeled!

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Wandering Shags


Stunning summer-plumage Shag

Thursday 25th January comments: The Isle of May NNR is very important for its Seabird assemblage and Grey Seal nurseries. It is recognised as one of only four nationally monitored sites for seabird breeding performance in the UK and the only easterly site in this exclusive list.  Our friends at CEH study the breeding Shags intensely on the island as Mark Newell takes up the story…

Winter months for the seabird team at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology are generally spent analysing the previous season’s data however there is still some information to collect at this time of the year and it involves shags. With several thousand colour marked individual shags scattered along the coast we spend many weeks of the winter searching for these birds.

So far this winter a monumental 2,800 individuals have been seen amongst over 9,000 sightings. This will allow us to examine how migration links with how well individuals survive and breed, and to try and understand why some birds migrate while others stay in the same location year round.  A large proportion of birds remain around the Isle of May while other birds head north up to Aberdeenshire and beyond while others migrate to the south as far as North Yorkshire.

Each year a small number of birds make a more epic journey reaching southern England and the continent. This winter has been especially interesting with an Isle of May bird reaching inland Cambridgeshire and another in Ramsgate, Kent.  The first bird to cross the Channel this winter turned up in Dunkirk Harbour in early December and is still present.

However more strangely a bird appeared in central Amsterdam and was found roosting several floors up on a residential building overlooking the main canal and this bird was seen into the New Year. It maybe not a Seacliff but it’s a safe place to roost! However this strange inland sighting was eclipsed by another but more on that individual on tomorrow’s blog…. The wonders of bird study.

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Pups Away!


The seal pup as seen on Seabird Centre webcam (see link below) 

Monday 22nd January comments: The Isle of May NNR is offering up yet more mid-winter surprises! Just as we start looking forward to the new seabird season, the island surprises us with a Seal pup! The pup was born late last week on the sheltered beach of Pilgrims Haven and is doing well, with mother in attendance.

Grey Seals generally give birth from mid-September to late-December and although this is late, its not that unusual. We are glad to report the pup is doing well and our friends at the North Berwick Seabird Centre have a live webcam beamed onto the beach and you can view the pup at:

We’ll keep track of the pup as it grows over the next few weeks but its a welcome (late!) addition to the Grey Seal pup season of 2017 (into 2018….). Fingers crossed the youngster can keep out of trouble and hopefully reach independence and as usual, we’ll keep you posted with all the latest.

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70 days to go…

Saturday 20th January comments: The Isle of May NNR opens its doors in just 70 days time and its not to be missed. One of the greatest, most accessible seabird reserves this country has to offer is about to open its doors and if you’ve never been before, give it a go as you’ll not be disappointed.

The boat companies will soon have their daily sailing time tables and on-line bookings available (and remember its free to enter the reserve and free access to the main 201 year-old Stevenson lighthouse once you’ve paid your boat fare).

For further information on boats, check out the independent boat companies who operate to the Isle of May from both side of the river (Anstruther and North Berwick)

May Princess (sails from Anstruther):

Osprey Rib (sails from Ansthruther):

Seabird Rib (sails from North Berwick):

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Winter Work


‘Steely’ at work behind the computer screen

paper 1

Reports and paperwork

Wednesday 17th January comments: Running the Isle of May NNR is an all year round job although many people ask what we do during the winter months? Having spent nine months living and working on the island, the winter months are very different for those islanders having to get use to mainland life.

The winter months give all those connected to the Isle of May the opportunity to get all the important paperwork complete from annual reports to analysing data. Work is very different as working hours are dictated by office opening hours of  9am-5pm, Monday-Friday; a very different world from the wildlife-filled irregular long hours out on the Isle of May (and we don’t get too many distractions in the office, I can’t recall the last time we had Orcas going by to send us running!)

However it is an important time as we can prepare for the new season whilst completing reports from the previous year. Mid-winter visits ensure we stay connected to the island but more importantly it gives everyone a chance to recharge batteries because before long, March will be upon us and we’ll be off again. All aboard the Isle of May!

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