John Muir Award

Today was just a perfect day spent on the cliffs near Corbiere, with a local primary school. It was the first day of the John Muir Award, which I think is just a great way of involving people of all ages in exploring and helping to improve their local environment. I was fortunate enough to be able to introduce the Award as part of my work for about 18 months but now I am retired I seem to have lost the opportunity to be involved in this worthwhile project. So when a opportunity arose for some voluntary work in conjunction with Absolute Adventures, I jumped at the chance.
Each Award involves four separate challenges, Discover, Explore, Conserve and Share. To achieve the Discovery Award, the first Level, participants must commit for at least 4 days ( or time equivalent). There are two higher levels, which longer time commitments. Upon completion of each Level the participants receive really attractive certificate.
The John Muir Trust was formed in 1983 with their mission to “To conserve and protect wild places with their indigenous animals, plants and soils for the benefit of present and future generations”.  The John Muir Award was launched on the 26th February 1997, from its base in Scotland and has now spread throughout the UK.  As it approaches its 21st birthday around 300,000 Awards have been presented.  Representing a significant involvement by a large number of people in environmental projects.
Our “little” project was to explore the headlands between Corbiere and Pt La Moye whilst removing some of the hottentot fig, an invasive species, which is taking over the cliffs and killing the natural vegetation.  Although the headlands have a wild and natural feel to them there is some fascinating industrial archaeology, the remnants of the active quarrying industry, which actually only finished in 1957.
After the storms at the start of the year today was just a perfect day to be on the cliffs, non stop sunshine and warm enough not to need a coat whilst pulling up the hottentot fig.  I am always amazed how enthusiastic the young people are and how they wish to become involved.  I feel certain that if we asked them to pull up weeds in somebodies back garden we would get a far less positive response.
Buzzards soaring overhead, a peregrine hunting along the edge of the cliff and fishing boats offshore provided a perfect backdrop to the days activities.  Next week we continue with the hottentot fig clearance before using kelly kettles to produce hot chocolate on the cliffs and heading out for lunch at the world’s most beautiful lighthouse!  Not that I am biased.  The John Muir Award really is great way to encourage people of all ages to engage with their local environment.

John Muir Award
This was the sight which greeted up this morning on arrival at Corbiere. Delightful winter sunshine and a serious North Atlantic swell breaking on the outer reefs.
John Muir Award
Part of the history of the area. Built by the Germans in the Second World War this iconic building is now available for rent from Jersey Heritage.
John Muir Award
The small bay to the west of Corbiere is La Rosiere. The remains of a couple of quarries are clearly visible as is the footpath leading round to a feature which is known both as the Smugglers Cave or Pirates Cave. We weren’t able to enter the cave today because of the swell but did reach a point where we could look in.
John Muir Award
A couple hours of clearing hottentot fig produced this significant pile. Pretty good for primary school children.

Environmental Project in Jersey

Environmental Project in Jersey
John Muir, the father of the modern conservation movement, was born in Dunbar Scotland on the 21st April 1838 and moved to the United States when he was 11 years of age.  His impact on environmental issues is hard to underestimate, he was an inspiration for thousands of people both through his writing and his actions.
In 1983 the John Muir Trust was formed to celebrate his life whilst at the same time preserving some of Scotland’s wild places.  The Trust is now the owner of some of the most iconic Scottish landscapes include the summit of Ben Nevis, Sandwood Bay and areas of Knoydart.
As part of the educational programme the Trust started the John Muir Award, which has gone from strength to strength in Scotland.  Over the last 12 months I have started to introduce the Award into schools in Jersey, as well as about to launch a project with the Jersey Canoe Club.
Today sees the conclusion of Invasive Species Week, which is quite opportune as most of the projects that I have developed have revolved around Hottentot Fig, a South African species, which is gradually smothering the native vegetation of the south west cliffs of Jersey as well as destroying the habitat for species such as the Dartford Warbler.
Various groups have been working on the removal of the Hottentot Fig, with it becoming possible to see a reduction in the spread of the plant and a gradual re-establishment of the native flora.  The young people I have been working with are making a difference to their local environment.
It is not all about pulling up the plant though, there is the exploration of the area, which includes 19th century industrial archaeology, in the form of the quarrying, more adventurous activities, which has included scrambling over rocks, walking out to Corbiere Lighthouse, abseiling down cliff faces, kayaking into more difficult locations and cycling.  Too name just a few of the opportunities.
The activities are then shared with a wider audience, this has included a school assembly, a parents evening, a notice board, a film, model making, writing in the parish magazine etc.  Once this has been completed the participants receive a superb certificate celebrating their achievements.  Amazingly this is is all free.
The John Muir Award is a fantastic resource not just for schools but for anybody who has an interest in their environment.  The Jersey Canoe Club project is to collect rubbish off the more remote beaches and caves along the north coast of the Island.  It is something, which we might have done anyway but this provides a framework and means of celebrating everybodies commitment and effort. So really consider getting involved, you don’t know how far it will take you.

 Looking west along the cliffs.  Much of the dark green vegetation is hottentot fig.
 Looking east along the cliffs of the south west coast.  The small granite building is part of the desalination plant.
 An usual view of the quarry at La Rosiere.  It has been drained for maintenance.  Some of the rock from this quarry was used for the Thames Embankment in London.
 
 A normal view of the quarry.
The remains of the quarry infrastructure.
 A pile of hottentot fig, the result of the work of year 6’s from St Peter and St Lawrence Primary Schools.
If you spend enough time walking around an area there is a good chance that you will see some fascinating creatures.  This slow worm seemed totally unconcerned about my presence.
  These two Green Lizards were also oblivious of my presence.

Wildlife sightings by kayak

Over the years I have seen numerous species of bird, animals and other wildlife at quite close quarters whilst out paddling in my kayak.  In common with many other sea kayakers I thought that paddling in a sea kayak was the ultimate green vehicle.  The one form of marine vehicle, which was going to cause the least amount of disturbance to wildlife, either along the shore or on the water.
On reflection though I am not so sure we are as environmentally as friendly as we think we are.  I remember the indignation I felt when a wildlife watch boat off Shetland approach us and told us we were disturbing the birds.  I then watched the boat approach much closer to the cliffs than we had been with no visible impact on the thousands of birds, which were in the area.
On another occasion I recall paddling off the south coast of Skye.  There were numerous seals hauled out on the rocks and although we paddled out from the rocks there was some disturbance with a number of the seas entering the water.  One of the small boats which operated out of Elgol passed reasonably close to us before approaching the rocks so that the passengers could get a better view of the seals.  Surprisingly although the boat was closer than us the seals weren’t at all concerned.
Thinking of other meaningful interactions with wildlife of various shapes and sizes many of the closest encounters have been whilst have been sitting still in my kayak.  Puffins swimming close by, seals approaching the bow my my kayak, whales surfacing nearby, the list could go on.
So why didn’t these larger boats with engines disturb the wildlife?  One theory is that we are not a fixed shape, our paddles are rotating and at times the sunlight catches the blades.  We are a moving image and perhaps the wildlife concerned becomes confused whereas a boat is a fixed shape and so the animals become accustomed to the shape and less agitated.
Of course this might be complete rubbish but I think that it is worth considering the impact we have on wildlife, our environmental credentials may not be as robust as we think they are.  With the winter approaching be particularly thoughtful about those small wading birds who have traveled thousands of miles to find a regular food supply along our shoreline and then we paddle along, passing close to where they are roosting, causing them to take flight and wasting some of their hard earned energy resources.
Seeing wildlife in all its forms is one of the most memorable aspects of sea kayaking but lets slow down, give a bit more space and reduce the anxiety to those animals which call our seas and shoreline home.

Paddling in Shetland.  There were literally thousands of gannets plus numerous other species such as Puffins and Great Skua’s.  We didn’t need to approach the cliffs as we slowed down the birds came closer of their own accord.
This was a memorable day heading south along the west side of the Sleat Peninsula in Skye, for several miles we were accompanied by dolphins.  We didn’t follow them or chase after them, they just decided to be with us.
Basking Shark off Wiay.  Sitting and watching this magnificent creature swim alongside and underneath the kayaks was a very special experience.
 Whilst launching after lunch two whales appeared alongside us.  We sat for 30 minutes watching an amazing display and then as if they had had enough fun they just disappeared.  One of the reasons why kayaking off the west coast of Greenland is so memorable.
 This beautiful bird just swam past whilst waiting for some others in the group to launch.
It is always worth experimenting by pointing the camera down.  This was just a lucky shot but there were so many sea lions in the area it was worth trying a few underwater shots even if I couldn’t see what the camera was pointing at.