Tales from the Trail: Isle of Arran
Join us for our weekly blog as we share experiences from sites along the Hebridean Whale Trail - this week we dive into the seas at the southern tip of the Trail as Jenny takes us on an adventure round Arran’s coast.
Jenny is the Outreach and Communications Manager for The Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST)
From the moment you step aboard the ferry, a trip to Arran inextricably links you to the sea. Whether you are an ocean lover at heart, enjoy coastal walks to view seals and otters, or simply enjoy watching the waves crash onto the shore, Arran is the place to be! Known as Scotland in miniature, the Isle of Arran lies nestled in the Firth of Clyde between Ayrshire and the Kintyre peninsula. Arran is home to all of Scotland’s “Big 5” species: Red deer, Golden eagle, Red squirrel, Otter and Harbour seal; it is also home to a rich variety of marine life.
The community on Arran are proud of their marine heritage, and see the value of protecting their coastal and marine habitats. For almost 25 years, the people of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) have worked and battled hard to protect and restore the marine environment around the island, in turn providing the perfect environment for many resident and transient populations of cetaceans and other marine creatures.
In 2008, Arran’s community were proud to establish the Lamlash Bay No Take Zone, a small area of the bay where any extraction of marine life is prohibited. It is a living laboratory and testament to how marine ecosystem can recover when protected. In 2016, the much larger South Arran Marine Protected Area was enforced to promote the recovery of valuable habitats, such as maerl beds (a pink, coralline seaweed) and seagrass (a vital carbon sink), that provide shelter and food to hundreds of different species. This bottom-up protection is vital to the welfare of our marine food chains, and has been credited by the Clyde Marine Mammal Project as a key conservation measure for the Clyde’s resident porpoise populations.
Wherever you are on Arrans coastline, particularly if you are walking the Coastal Way, you are going to have ample opportunity to whale watch and observe seabirds. From the minute you enter Brodick bay on the ferry, your eyes might see a small porpoise fin breaking the surface, or black guillemots bobbing in the swell. Heading northwards you reach Sannox where you can walk on the shoreline to Lochranza whilst enjoying one of the last wild places on Arran. Head this way if you want to try and spot basking shark in the late summer/early autumn as groups of up to 10 have been observed lazily swimming close in to shore.
Round the north end and heading south, you’ll be treated to views across to Kintyre broken only by the puffs of porpoise if you’re lucky! Reaching Blackwaterfoot the Drumadoon cliffs provide a great vantage point to sit with your binoculars overlooking the gateway to the Firth of Clyde, where the [very rarely sighted] Orca entered in March 2018! Heading around the south of the island, you see Ailsa Craig far off-shore. This volcanic plug boasts one of Scotland’s largest breeding colonies of gannets and, as such, you will spot many a bird torpedoing into the water to catch fish. Reaching Kildonan, you are safe to bet on seal sightings; both common and grey haul out on the rocky dykes, and you’re almost certain to see otters nimbly navigating the terrain. Next up as you circumnavigate the island is Whiting Bay, home to the largest seagrass meadow in the Firth of Clyde. Seagrass is a key nursery habitat for juvenile fish and as a result Whiting Bay is an ideal place to watch a variety of seabirds feeding.
By the time you reach Lamlash Bay, home to COAST HQ and Marine Visitor Centre, you are looking out on Scotland’s first community-led No Take Zone. Here local rowers have had a pod of over 30 bottlenose dolphin play next to their skiff, the small passenger ferry across to Holy Isle report regular sightings of porpoise and we have even had reports of Humpback whales off Clauchlands Point at the north side of the bay! Completing the route, as you head back to Brodick, keep your eyes on the horizon for minke whale – rare but not infrequent visitors to our seas.
A minke whale was spotted off Corrie at the end of August, and otters with their cubs have been reported all over the island this summer. Basking shark have returned to the island, as they do every year; the first was spotted off Blackwaterfoot in mid-August and, given September is the high season for them, we expect more sightings to be flooding in. We’ve had recent otter sightings right next to the ferry terminal and seals in abundance reported to us down at Kildonan.
Visit us on the Hebridean Whale Trail - Lamlash Bay
Today, COAST is recognised worldwide as one of the UK’s leading community marine conservation organisations, enjoying widespread support on Arran and beyond. In 2018, following a huge amount of volunteer work from the local community, COAST opened Scotland’s first community-led Marine Protected Area Visitor Centre, the Octopus Centre, at the south end of Lamlash Green.
The Octopus Centre provides a unique opportunity to connect to our seas, through interactive displays, including picture books and videos to watch. Taking centre stage is our catch and release marine tank, filled with creatures from Arran’s seas.
Come visit us to find out more about recent sightings around the island, watch videos of creatures found beneath our waves and get involved with one of our many activities!