Engaging with local communities and groups

Noel Hawkins – Living Seas Community Officer – Scottish Wildlife Trust

0041Looking to the seas of North West Scotland it is clear that a once strong connection between the communities and the sea has diminished in recent years. Whilst some local boats manage to make a living still, the numbers seeking and able to make their livelihoods from the sea has decreased. Interaction in terms of recreation and culture has also been weakened in many of the coastal villages – villages that in many cases owe their very existence to the sea.

As part of the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s ‘Living Seas’ project, we are engaging with local communities and groups to promote and foster a greater sense of stewardship of the marine environment. This involves raising awareness of the marine wildlife in our local waters, but also aims to encourage greater use of the sea for both recreation, education and sustainable livelihoods.

In 2015 we worked with the SSACN at Ullapool Harbour where we invited children and their parents to come along and sample crabbing sessions – making crab lines, using crab nets and creels and examining what was caught before returning the catch to the sea. Adults and kids alike participated with enthusiasm – so much so that we had to repeat the day on three occasions, with larger numbers each time (first day 6 children and 5 adults, by day three over 50 children and unknown total of adults and bystanders!).

We have also re-established an angling event that saw many who had not fished non-commercially for many years, and some who had not even been out on a boat for quite long periods of time. The reconnection between community and sea was apparent from those that took part and also an eagerness to participate from those that initially came as spectators.

Highlighting the gap between our seas and our lives serves to make us look at reasons why we have become so detached and for solutions to reconnect. Encouraging younger members of the community to take part in activities such as crabbing and angling can hopefully provide a channel to raising awareness of what our seas offer, how we can benefit from them for work and play, and also how we best protect them for our/their future.

The experience and knowledge of those who have lived and worked the seas is part of this asset and ensuring this is not lost but passed down to the next generation is a crucial part in making this viable.

a-keen-student.jpgAlthough perhaps small steps, the crabbing days prove there is a demand on the part of the children themselves to be hands on and involved by and at the sea, to take part in activities out of doors and to see and question what is there. Similarly, an awareness of a relatively cheap and easy activity for families is clearly appreciated on the part of parents – both visitors that had not previously tried such activities and also those from here who had perhaps forgotten.

By making the sea and marine life less abstract and into a reality, perhaps the bigger picture of our environment, community and potential work, recreation and just somewhere to enjoy can be encouraged and built upon. We hope that further activities and involvement can be developed so that our seas and coast can be reclaimed and nurtured in the hope of securing a living and vibrant sea for all who care about, use and work on our shores and waters.

Noel is Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas Officer based in Ullapool.

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