Author: Ruth SB

Volunteering Opportunities at Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre

Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre Landwatch volunteers

Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre Landwatch volunteers

Calling all marine enthusiasts!

Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre are looking for volunteers to help us to collect data on the marine wildlife of Cardigan Bay, run our busy visitor centre and inspire people through our educational and awareness raising activities.

Dolphin by Sarah Perry

Dolphin by Sarah Perry

The day to day life of a Wildlife Trust Living Seas Volunteer at CBMWC varies greatly. In the morning you could be conducting a land based marine mammal survey, monitoring Cardigan Bay’s bottlenose dolphin population and in the afternoon you could be running the visitor centre and interacting with members of the public.

But that’s not all our volunteers do. Other daily duties include entering data, helping to run educational events such as Seashore Safaris as well as helping to protect our coastal environment by conducting beach cleans.

Volunteering for the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales at CBMWC is a fantastic opportunity for you to gain valuable experience, contribute towards marine conservation, meet new people with similar interest and experience Wales’ amazing marine life.

Want to get involved?

Each research season we offer Research Volunteer positions (over 18’s only) to those living outside the area to join us for specific time periods (min commitment 8 weeks). These positions are ideal for those seeking a career in conservation as you will gain valuable work experience. For more information please visit Cardigan Bay website.

Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre volunteers

Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre volunteers

Live locally to New Quay? Local volunteers who are available on a part-time basis are welcome year round.  Whatever your age, experience or background we would like to hear from you. For more information please visit the Cardigan Bay website.

If you’re between your 14th and 26th birthday and want to volunteer at CBMWC then you also have the opportunity become a Millennium Volunteer (MV). MV is a recognised award that highlights the number of hours of your time you have dedicated to volunteering; this is great for your CV. You can work towards your 50, 100 or 200 hour certificates whilst helping with our work.

Please note that enthusiasm for our work and the marine environment is as valued as experience, since full training is provided.

The volunteering programme at CBMWC is supported by the Volunteering in Wales Fund via Wales Council for Voluntary Action.

ShoreFin Project – Eye spy a fin!

Jacky and her calf by Manon Chautard

Jacky and her calf by Manon Chautard

About the ShoreFin Project

Volunteers collecting data for the ShoreFin Project whilst being filmed for the UK Big Blue programme in 2015. Photography by Sarah Perry

Volunteers collecting data for the ShoreFin Project whilst being filmed for the UK Big Blue programme in 2015. Photography by Sarah Perry

Initiated in 2014 the ShoreFin project is our dedicated land-based bottlenose dolphin Photo-identification study located in New Quay Bay. For decades we have known that New Quay bay on the Ceredigion coast is a hotspot for bottlenose dolphins, but why?

The ShoreFin project was set up to find out why New Quay bay is such a hotspot as well as to understand more about the bottlenose dolphin population in Cardigan Bay. The ShoreFin Project allows us to extend our dolphin photo-id work and enables us to take photographs from shore-based survey sites using a digital SLR camera and a 500mm lens, it is ideal for our photo-id work in New Quay bay.

The primary aim of the project is to improve the understanding of bottlenose dolphin site usage within New Quay Bay, to identify which individuals visit this site, how frequently and for what purpose.

What we have found out

Since 2014, the ShoreFin project has identified a total of 92 different dolphins that have used New Quay Bay. In 2015, 61 individuals were identified from photographs taken by the ShoreFin project, 19 of which were new to the CBMWC Cardigan Bay bottlenose dolphin photo-identification catalogue. The data collected by the ShoreFin project suggests that it is often the same individual dolphins frequenting New Quay bay, thus highlighting the importance of adherence to local codes of conduct such as Ceredigion marine code of conduct. The ShoreFin project also provides evidence of the frequent use of New Quay Bay by mother and calf pairs; seven were photographed in 2014 and ten in 2015. The area is believed to be favoured by these mothers for its sheltered shallow waters where their calves are safe to socialise and learn to forage.

Nick and calf by Manon Chautard

Nick and calf by Manon Chautard

The project has also found that individual bottlenose dolphins show different degrees of site fidelity (the tendency of a dolphin to stay in or regularly return to a particular area); those who were photographed regularly, likely to be semi-residents and those seen only once during the season, therefore likely to be in transit.

Bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay are exposed to potentially disturbing activities that could pose conservation challenges. The continuation of the ShoreFin project will help provide rigorous scientific assessments of the population to help develop effective and adaptive management strategies and conservation measures.

Interested in reading the report…

The ShoreFin project 2015 report is now available to download from the CBMWC website.

We do not receive any direct funding to carry out this project, but rely entirely on the support of our team of Living Seas volunteers, grants and donations to purchase vital equipment to enable this project to run. If you would like to donate to our work then please contact us.

We would like to thank all the Living Seas volunteers at the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre for their valuable contribution to our work and in respect of this project Anna Stevens and Manon Chautard for their enthusiasm, hard work and dedication to the ShoreFin project in the 2015 season.

Living Seas volunteer 2015 Anna Stevens photographing mother and calf dolphin in New Quay bay. Photography by Sarah Perry

Living Seas volunteer 2015 Anna Stevens photographing mother and calf dolphin in New Quay bay. Photography by Sarah Perry

Be involved…

We are currently on the look-out for volunteers to become part of the ShoreFin team for 2016. If you are interested or know anyone that would be interested in joining the ShoreFin team and volunteering for the whole season (April to November) then please contact us at or phone 01545 560224.

Further information on the project can be found on our website or feel free to contact me directly.

Sarah Perry
Living Seas Science Officer
Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales

Limpets at Frenchman’s Steps, Pembrokeshire

Limpets by Lara Howe

Limpets by Lara Howe

John Archer-Thomson was studying limpets in Pembrokeshire before the Sea Empress grounded in 1996. Here he tells the story of his work on the coastal ecology before and since the disaster, and the wider impacts of man’s activities on the two seashore species.

I have been studying the population of limpets on a rocky shore called Frenchman’s Steps since I started work at Dale Fort Field Centre in 1982. Residential student groups collected the data as part of their biology field course and I kept the data sets, as it seemed like a good idea at the time! When the Sea Empress oil spill occurred in 1996 I had a good set of “normal” data to compare the effects of the oil to.

In essence the oil reduced the population by approximately 50%. Students collected data by measuring the longest diameter, in millimeters, of every limpet in their randomly placed quadrats at different heights up the shore from a base height, a known marker point 2.25m above Chart Datum. They then worked up the shore in 0.75m height jumps until they ran out of limpets. Because we had size data we could also say that the oil had warped the age structure of the population by killing proportionally more young limpets. We assumed, for this shore, that the smallest limpets were the youngest, it might not actually be this straightforward but it’s probably not too unfair an assumption in general.

Student data is all very well but I wished to assess the recovery of the population from the oil and then go on to look at the limpets each year to see what represented “normal” variation. For this I wanted the data to be as reliable as possible so I enlisted the help of some MSc students, from the University of Leuven, to collect the data as I taught them every year. To my surprise numbers of limpets had recovered to what might be considered “normal” within a year of the spill but the population age structure was still askew. Two years later numbers were on the high side of “normal” but, to my delight, the age structure had returned to “normal” as well.

I continued to monitor the population using Dale Fort teaching staff in the latter years as Leuven students found measuring limpets less fascinating than hitherto! All proceeded normally (numbers and population structure) until 2010. To my surprise the numbers of limpets were much greater than ever before (so much so I wondered if the data, collected by Dale Fort placement students, was reliable). In 2011 I collected the data myself, with Dale Fort teaching staff, to check its reliability and to my astonishment numbers were even higher again! In both years the structure of the population was normal.

The explanation for these off the chart limpet numbers is where life gets even more interesting, rather speculative and a little more complex.

Dogwhelk by Lara Howe

Dogwhelk by Lara Howe

Another rocky shore denizen is the dogwhelk, a carnivorous snail that on the shores around Dale Fort eats barnacles (and young limpets at a push). When I arrived at Dale Fort in 1982 you had to search really hard to find any dogwhelks on the shores from the Fort to Dale village, they were incredibly rare. The reason for their rarity was a spectacularly toxic anti-fouling paint called Tri-butyl Tin (TBT). This was applied to the hulls of yachts, tankers etc. to prevent fouling organisms settling on the hulls and therefore slowing the boats passage through the water by friction. This was the most toxic substance ever deliberately introduced into the marine environment by humans; a teaspoon-full in an Olympic-sized swimming pool is enough to adversely affect marine organisms. Since dogwhelks are carnivores they received a bigger “hit” from the TBT as their suspension-feeding prey concentrated it. Female dogwhelks grew a non-functional male reproductive organ, which blocked their oviduct and prevented successful reproduction. Numbers plummeted in estuaries around the UK as a consequence of TBT poisoning. TBT was banned from small vessels in 1987 (and a complete ban has been in place on all vessels since 2008) and as a result dogwhelk numbers have increased spectacularly on the shores around Dale Fort. My suggestion is that the dogwhelk population spike has impacted their main prey, barnacles, freeing up space on the rocks for young limpets to settle on and allowing a population increase above “normal” limits.

After 2011 limpet numbers have decreased again and my suggestion for the decrease is as follows. Dogwhelks may have impacted the barnacle population to such an extent as to need to switch prey species and I think they then targeted young limpets (old limpets’ shells are too thick to be worth the effort). This has led to a decrease in the limpet population to “normal” again possibly by 2013. I will monitor the population again in April 2016 to continue the story!

All this shows the value of long-term data sets, ideally without missing years. The above explanation for the patterns observed is reasonable but not definite, other variables may well have contributed but it does make an interesting story and allows students to see how data they have collected fits into a broader picture and also how their efforts are valuable in long-term monitoring.

The Sea Empress: twenty years on

Dyfed Wildlife Trust Magazine cover, August 1996

Dyfed Wildlife Trust Magazine cover, August 1996

Many of our readers and members will remember the fateful date of 15 February 1996. The Sea Empress, a tanker carrying over 70,000 tons of crude oil was making her way to the refinery near Pembroke, when she grounded in the Milford Haven waterway, on rocks near St Ann’s Head. The grounding site was close to our internationally important nature reserves of Skomer and Skokholm. The disaster that rapidly unfolded came to be Britain’s third largest oil spillage.

Oil floating in the Wick with Kittiwakes already on the ledges by Simon Smith

Oil floating in the Wick with Kittiwakes already on the ledges by Simon Smith

According to a report from Swansea University, over 6,900 birds were found, recovered dead or rescued. More than 250 birds were recorded as stranded on the Irish coast. The common scoter made up the largest proportion of casualties, with at least 4,700 recovered. In excess of 1,100 guillemots were also recovered, and other species included cormorant, red-throated diver and razorbill. More than 25 species were affected in total.

The Trust (then the Dyfed Wildlife Trust in the west) was heavily involved in the aftermath and clean up effort, which made headline news for weeks. David Saunders, Director of the Trust at the time of the disaster, recalls meeting HRH the Prince of Wales at West Angle to discuss the nature conservation impacts, being filmed for Panorama, and even meeting Tony Blair, who was then leader of the opposition.

Steve Sutcliffe, who had been warden on Skomer till not long before the spill and who lives close to the site of the grounding, remembers:

“In the next few days there were people all over the beaches and cleaning centres set up for oiled birds, although many of them were past it. The oil headed for Carmarthen Bay with north westerly winds prevailing and it was all hands on deck around Tenby and Saundersfoot where the tourist season was due to start.  The cleaning up operation here was a mega removal effort. On Caldey, the oil came ashore all around the island and can still be seen on the rocky shores today, and there are still residues in the sand. St Margarets Island’s auk populations suffered badly – almost 60% of the cliff nesting breeding birds disappeared. The large cormorant colony was unaffected as the breeding birds had not returned yet and somehow they missed it all. Most gulls seemed able to keep out of the oil.”

Experiments carried out after the event suggested that most dead birds probably went across the Irish Sea to Ireland, and it seems likely that many dead oiled auks might have also drifted away from the Pembrokeshire shores on the strong offshore currents. It is very possible that the numbers of dead birds counted was probably a big underestimate.

Oil washing ashore in Angle Bay by Jack Donovan

Oil washing ashore in Angle Bay by Jack Donovan

Significant impacts were observed on the wider marine ecology of the area. John Archer-Thomson is a local ecologist who has been studying the area for many years. Beginning work at the Dale Fort Field Centre in 1982; he is a member of the Trust’s Islands Conservation Advisory Committee to this day. Though his work at the Centre he had been studying the population of limpets on a rocky shore called Frenchman’s Steps and so had over ten years of data by the time the Sea Empress grounded. His valuable monitoring data both before and after the event showed that the oil reduced the population by approximately 50%.

It was fortunate that both Skomer and Skokholm were remarkably unaffected – a gift of the prevailing weather conditions which in contrast sealed the fate of locations like Tenby. Nonetheless many of the long term studies on Skomer did detect impacts at a population level, even though relatively few oiled birds were seen immediately around the island. Professor Tim Birkhead’s detailed work on Skomer subsequently showed an effect on populations and breeding success of guillemots in the immediate aftermath of the incident, despite being masked to some extent by the continuing significant general population increases. The St Margaret’s Island population recovered by 2005 and went on to substantially exceed the pre 1996 figures – but it took nine years to do that.

So twenty years on, what has changed? The Milford Haven waterway remains a busy and important industrial centre, and if you stand on Skomer and Skokholm and watch the lights of the tankers and refinery at night it throws the vulnerability of the islands to a catastrophic event into undeniably sharp relief. Safety procedures and environmental controls have improved, but the potential will always be there. And the Sea Empress herself? She was repaired and put back to work after the 1996 disaster, changing hands (and name) several times, before being decommissioned in 2012.

One of the most important lessons remains incredibly pertinent in these days of austerity. We are only able to look back and talk about the impacts of the disaster because of the long terms studies undertaken by the Trust, and by individuals such as John Archer-Thomson and Professor Tim Birkhead. Their long term investment in monitoring meant that high quality data were available for the years before the event, providing the baseline against which the impact was measured. Without the maintenance of these long term studies we cannot decipher the evidence to establish the effect of our decisions, policies- and yes, disasters. Funding has already been cut to many biological monitoring programmes, and there are serious concerns about the security of those that remain.

Sea Empress beneath St Ann's Head by Mick Baines

Sea Empress beneath St Ann’s Head by Mick Baines

It seems fitting, twenty years on, to end with a memory from David Saunders, who watched from St Ann’s Head as the Sea Empress was towed away from the grounding site on 27 March 1996.

“As soon as I left the car near the old light I could smell oil, and see an enormous oil film spread back from the stern of the Sea Empress, narrow at first, just like the wake of a ship, but broadening out the further east one looked. It extended from the ship eastwards into Milford Haven at least as far as West Block-house, and from the Mid Channel Light north to under St Ann’s itself. It looked to be an oil film, though here and there one could see (through binoculars) small patches of darker material. A Gannet flew low over the oil film heading north… …at one stage, a female Grey Seal appeared several times in the midst of the film south-east of St Ann’s, it seemed to be watching the inward passage of anti-pollution craft and tugs.”

Say Yes to Gift Aid

Dolphin in Cardigan Bay by Sarah Perry

Say Yes to Gift Aid and our Dolphins will be jumping for joy (picture by Sarah Perry)

You may soon receive a phone call from a representative of WTSWW asking if you are eligible for Gift Aid. These are genuine calls on behalf of the Trust and we kindly ask that where possible you take the call to help us raise much needed funds.

hareGift Aid is vital for charities as it helps us increase our donations and subscriptions by 25% without any additional cost to you. If you are a UK tax payer (nearly everyone in the UK pays a certain amount of tax) and pay an amount of tax that is equal to, or more than, the amount we will reclaim in the tax year, you can say yes to Gift Aid.

So, if you are a member and pay us £60 in any one year, we can claim an additional £15 in Gift Aid! As long as you pay at least £15 in tax in a year, then you can say YES to Gift Aid and increase your donation with no cost to yourself.

We understand that people can sometimes be wary about taking phone calls, however the more people that say yes to Gift Aid over the phone, the more money we can save, as this will drastically reduce the amount of letters we need to post.

You may already have received a call regarding this but were not sure how Gift Aid works, or preferred not to speak to someone over the phone at that particular time. Don’t worry, you can still say yes to Gift Aid by contacting our membership department on Tel: 01656 724100 and speaking to one of our friendly team. Alternatively you can drop us an email to with your full name, membership number and postcode, informing us that you would like to say yes to Gift Aid. It really is as simple as that.

If you do have any queries about this or would like to check whether you have already said yes to Gift Aid, please do not hesitate to contact us on Tel: 01656 724100.

Dear Mr. Horse

“Why aren’t you turning into food?”

“Why aren’t you turning into food?”

Dear Mr. Horse,

Is the food in the box

Is the food in the box?

Thank you for your kind attention. May I first take this opportunity on behalf of the WTSWW to personally thank both yourself and your herd-mates for your concerted and dedicated conservation grazing efforts here at Pwll Waun Cynon, we are particularly impressed with the whole nutrient recycling effort.

I further commend your positive outlook and realise that this is probably quite a disappointment but neither my camera nor myself are likely to miraculously turn into food at least in the short term. I do realise that this human not instantly turning into food thing is contrary to millennia of Equine experience and philosophical thinking as usually when a two legged Ape turns up it instantly turns (much like Carys) into a carrot/banana, for this I can only apologise. I hope I haven’t caused too much of a metaphysical dichotomy or any undue psychological upset.

Yours sincerely,

Graham Watkeys,

Taf Fechan Volunteer warden