Wild time at bird rock

In the two years since the Scottish Seabird Centre opened its doors to the public, it has been a magnet for school groups, especially in the summer term and early autumn when seabirds are present in large numbers. Soon there will be even greater reason to visit.

Situated on a rocky promontary at North Berwick harbour, the circular building and adjacent education centre have panoramic views over the Firth of Forth, from the island of Fidra in the west to Bass Rock in the east. Two sandy beaches and rock pools teeming with life are on the doorstep.

"We are expanding our education programme to include different forms of marine life present at other times of year. We also plan to widen our target audience," says Sheena Aitken, the centre's education officer, who is near the end of a 20-month secondment from East Linton Primary.

"Visitors to the education centre have been mostly primary school classes," says Ms Aitken, "but we have just introduced a pilot scheme for nursery schools and aim to accommodate more secondary and tertiary students. The set-up at the centre is also ideal for those with special educational needs."

Ms Aitken has developed a programme to support educational visits. Her bank of 5-14 curriculum-linked photocopiable resources is available from the centre (environmental studies A-B, C-E pound;12 each, design A-E pound;5). With broadcast quality, live, interactive cameras on the islands providing the stimulus for her lessons, she has welcomed classes from many parts of Scotland and the north of England. Groups of foreign students visit and some of the materials have already been translated into French.

To break into new areas of the curriculum, the skills of specialist teachers are crucial. Last session 10 teachers took five-day placements at the centre through the education and business partnership scheme. Art, modern languages, biology, primary and nursery teachers have all had a contribution to make.

A solar powered camera newly installed on the Isle of May means grey seals can now be watched live and close up during the autumn and winter breeding season. The new pups are expected in October.

"This has sparked off our first expressive arts project," says Ms Aitken. "We'll be working with East Lothian drama service and specialist teachers of art to deliver a cross-curricular workshop based on the Celtic legend of the selkies (seal people)."

The arrival of the puffins in spring will provide another face of nature through the seasons. The isle has an estimated 50,000 puffin burrows.

Bass Rock is the breeding home of 40,000 pairs of gannets, making it possibly the world's largest single rock gannetry. They start to return in January from their migration.

Other birds you may see include fulmars, shags, kittiwakes, razorbills and guillemots. And if you are very lucky you might spot bottlenose dolphins; the chances are greatest from April to October.

Anne Cowan

Scottish Seabird Centre, The Harbour, North Berwick, East Lothian EH39 4SS, tel 01620 890202www.seabird.org

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