Fair Isle treasures

deirdre nelson

 

henry pooling

On Saturday morning we made our way to  the rock pool at at Muckle Uri Geo. Ready and waiting were a group of young islanders armed with small fishing nets alongside Nick Riddiford, a passionate Fair Isle ecologist.  As they dispersed on their mission, Nick told us about the area and the many species and plants there. He drew our attention to the coastal Oysterplant, a beautiful and unique dusty blue plant growing through the stony beach and protected from local sheep by a wire fence.

oyster plant flower

Throughout the morning the young ecologists presented Nick with their findings and he identified each creature either from memory or by looking through The Collins Guide to the Seashore.  It was magical to watch the enthusiastic ecologists learn more about their recently found or revisited sea treasures.  Nick is a bit of a Fair Isle national treasure himself and a recent winner of Nature of Scotland Award   

“Nick Riddiford of the Fair Isle Marine Environment and Tourism Initiative impressed the judges with his years of work campaigning for better protection of the seas around Fair Isle. After winning the award, Mr Riddiford said: “I am delighted and Fair Isle is delighted. This award recognises the efforts and aspirations of an entire community to safeguard its threatened marine environment. We now need the decision makers to do the same.”   The Nature of Scotland awards recognise and celebrate excellence, innovation and outstanding achievement in nature conservation.”  via Shetland Times

tray with sea urchins

Amongst the young foragers is 13 year old Henry Hyndman, an enthusiastic, intelligent and well informed ecologist in the making.  He was very eager to show us something on the other side of the rocks below the South Lighthouse   A fledging island treasure himself,  he starred in the award winning and beautiful film Henry and the Waxwings  which documents an influx of waxwings that reached Shetland in October 2012.   In 2011 he found a colony of rare starfish in Fair Isle, 400 miles north of their known habitat and he wanted us all to see where they live now.

“Henry Hyndman,  had been exploring the rock pools alone near the South Lighthouse while his artist father was working in his studio at the lighthouse. Henry initially found one cushion star starfish in a rock pool – he recognised it because he had found a single specimen around two years earlier.  He was really excited at finding another tiny starfish, which are only one and a half centimetres fully grown, and said on his blog: “I ran back screaming to show my dad. Dad was frozen when he saw it and then said ‘awesome!’ and took some photos. It was laying eggs! I went back to look for more. Dad said leave them there if you find more … and I did! Two more! I was so happy.”  The next day Henry, his father and island naturalist Nick Riddiford went back to the rock pool at low tide and to their amazement found a whole breeding colony of 20 or more little cushion stars. Henry said: “I needed Dad to move the big rocks and we all said well done to each other.”  When Henry found his first single example two years ago it was assumed it was an individual specimen lost in the currents of the sea. Now, after finding a colony, the Hyndmans and Mr Riddiford are wondering if it has anything to do with global warming.   Meanwhile dedicated rock-pooler Henry is delighted to have found the cushion star colony. “I can’t believe that they live here now,” he said.”  via Shetland Times 

cushioed star fish 2

Fair Isle is full of  treasures through its landscape, sea and a community with many talents and much knowledge to share.   I recently discovered an article ‘Affective Labor as the Lifeblood of a Commons’ written by David Bollier . He talks of ‘environmental subjects’ and came across a paper by Neera M. Singh, an academic who studies forestry at the University of Toronto.  Her paper, “The Affective Labor of Growing Forests and the Becoming of Environmental Subjects” focuses on “rethinking environmentality” in the Odisha region of India

“How do people become “environmental subjects” – that is, people who are willing to apply their subjective human talents, imagination and commitments and become stewards of some element of nature?

Singh wanted to investigate why villagers were willing to regenerate degraded state-owned forests through community-based forest conservation efforts.  She found that “affective labor” is critical in managing a forest.  The term comes from Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, who use it to describe the role that reciprocity, empathy and affect play in shaping human behavior and action. Indeed, other people’s affect influences what kind of “self” we construct for ourselves….. People patrol the forest as part of their everyday activities.  They pick berries, pull out weeds and check for any signs of pilferage or violations of rules of the commons.  They develop “affective ties with the growing plants, trees, birds and animals,” and in so doing, “forests are transformed from nature out there and become a part of the self that is nurtured through care.”  The forest becomes a place of social life and collective memory.  People take pride in their relationships to “their forest.”  They write songs about the “cool, lovely shade of trees” and describe it in terms one might use to talk about one’s family.  A whole range of “intimate environmental care practices” help maintain and “grow” the forest.”   Neera M. Singh. The Affective Labor of Growing Forests and the Becoming of Environmental Subjects

On the other side of the world, the Fair Isle community are doing that very thing through their tireless work with FIMETI.   Perhaps the previous quote can be borrowed and  re-written for Fair Isle, replacing the ‘forest’ with the SEA.

 “SEAS are transformed from nature out there and become a part of the self that is nurtured through care.  The SEA becomes a place of social life and collective memory.  People take pride in their relationships to “their SEAS.”  They write songs about the “SEA” and describe it in terms one might use to talk about one’s family.  A whole range of “intimate environmental care practices” help maintain and “grow” the SEAS.”

Deirdre Nelson

Fair Isle Marine Environment & Tourism Initiative (FIMETI) website and on Facebook

 

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Deirdre Nelson, Inge Thomson. Sleeping Starfish @ The Glad Cafe as part of Luminate, with Fraser Fifield, Kerri Whiteside

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deirdre nelson

  On Saturday morning we made our way to  the rock pool at at Muckle Uri Geo. Ready and waiting were a group of young islanders armed with small fishing nets alongside Nick Riddiford, a passionate Fair Isle ecologist.  As they dispersed on their mission, Nick told us about the area and the many species... Read More ›

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