Marine Reserve Coast


Marine Reserve

Natural history series. Miranda Krestovnikoff dives into a marine reserve off St Abbs and Neil Oliver travels to North Berwick to visit the Bass Rock.


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This is one of the most spectacular

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wildlife reserves anywhere in the UK.

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The gateway to the reserve

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is the sleepy little fishing village of St Abbs.

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The dramatic cliffs are impressive enough

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but it's the underwater landscape that's so special.

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It's Scotland's only official Marine Reserve.

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Miranda Krestovnikoff is about to do one of the best dives in the UK.

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The Marine Reserve starts here at St Abbs Head,

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and stretches about a mile out to sea,

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and then all the way down the coastline to Eyemouth,

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which is just visible behind the headland.

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A driving force behind the Marine Reserve's protected status

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is writer, and underwater photographer, Lawson Wood.

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This is just such a beautiful spot.

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What makes this place so special? Why is it unique?

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We actually have a colder water current from the Artic,

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but we also have an arm of the warm waters off the Gulf Stream.

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This has created a huge number of Marine habitats.

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Where, exactly, are we diving? Can we actually see the spot from up here?

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The rocks off of the end of the harbour here, these are just

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the tips of a reef that runs around to a site we call Cathedral Rock.

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It's actually two massive archways under the water,

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-and that's where we're going to be going.

-Great!

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Cathedral Rock is only just beyond the harbour.

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But it's one of the must-see dives in the UK.

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'The visibility here is really good.'

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Diving in these conditions is like swimming in a well-kept fish tank.

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And being a protected area, there should be plenty of wildlife to spot.

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Even what looks like a barren sea floor is a sub-aquatic Serengeti.

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'The floor down here is just a carpet of brittlestars.'

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'You can see them all feeding,

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'with their arms raised up catching food as it flows by.'

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Brittlestars gather in huge numbers for protection.

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They link arms and intertwine to prevent strong currents

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sweeping them away.

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But huddling together doesn't always keep them safe.

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There's a seven-arm starfish on the prowl.

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It glides along the seabed with its hundreds of tube feet,

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and it has an appetite for brittlestars.

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'They're really scared.

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'They're moving really fast.'

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It's the incredible variety of life we're seeing on the approach

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to Cathedral Rock that marks this as a unique gathering place.

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A squat lobster is hiding his vivid colours among the rocks,

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they're locals here, and in the Mediterranean.

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'Just look at those colours.

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'They are so vibrant. That lovely, iridescent blue.'

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'Well, Miranda, look at this. We have an angler fish.'

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St Abbs is a haven for the good, the bad and the ugly.

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The angler fish is the kind of creature

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that inspires tales of sea monsters.

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This is one cunning fisherman.

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Its frontal spine has evolved to look like food,

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bait enticing victims towards its cavernous mouth.

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Bigger angler fish can get really greedy.

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Some have even been found with the remains of seabirds inside them.

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'Usually these fish end up in fishermen's nets.'

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'Yes, they're actually sold as monkfish.'

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'I'd hate to be on the receiving end of a bite from that fish.'

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CHORAL MUSIC

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We've reached the heart of Cathedral Rock.

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Its great arches draw you in.

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'Stunning archways, they are huge!'

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These silent guardians have been here for millions of years,

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but the creatures that live amongst them are far more fragile.

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St Abbs is offered some protection by its Marine Reserve status,

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but it's only policed by voluntary good will.

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Surely it's time for the law to properly safeguard

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more of the special environments around our coast.

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We're heading towards North Berwick, at the mouth of the Firth of Forth.

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A huge gash leading deep inland.

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This maritime gateway has a formidable gatekeeper,

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the Bass Rock.

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Once upon a time, the site of one of Scotland's most notorious prisons.

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From a distance, the island appears to be dusted with snow.

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It's only on closer inspection

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that you realise that its colouring comes from birds.

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100,000 or so brilliant white gannets,

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and their slightly less brilliant white droppings.

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It's easy enough from the birds to get on and off of the Bass Rock,

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but it's not so easy for me, which,

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let's face it, is what made it such a a good prison.

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Enemies of the state were sent to rot on the rock in the 17th century.

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It holds a sinister fascination for me.

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I've wanted to set foot on it for ages to get a taste

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of its grim isolation.

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In fact, this will be the third time I've tried to get out

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to the Bass Rock while filming for Coast.

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Rough seas have wrecked my plans every time.

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Maybe today I'll be lucky.

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I'm hitching a ride with Ian Baird

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who works for the Scottish Seabird Centre.

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-Ian.

-Neil, how are you doing?

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-Very well. Off to the Rock?

-Absolutely, ready to go.

-Great!

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He's made the trip out to the rock many times,

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but visiting the birds is never routine.

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The gannets have all left for the winter,

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but right now, their home base is looking idyllic.

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Why do gannets like it out there?

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We're in a really good fish area for them, plenty of food.

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We've got an island away from the mainland,

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so they don't have any land based predators to worry about.

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They also need these big, high imposing cliffs.

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The thermals that come up against the rocks give them that little

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extra lift they need to take off.

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As you well know, I've turned up at North Berwick three times

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looking to get out there.

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How do you fancy my chances today of actually stepping foot on it?

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We'll see what it's like when we get out there, but the swell is already

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bigger than we anticipated from the coastline so we'll just have to see.

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If we do get on, do we face the prospect

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-of being prisoners ourselves?

-I hope not!

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Not able to get back on the boat?

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It might happen, we'll just have to watch ourselves there!

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It's over 300 years since prisoners were held on the rock.

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The dungeons were buried long ago beneath the lighthouse.

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A few remaining ruins blend into the cliffs.

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To see any traces of the old prison

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you have to actually set foot on the Rock.

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Easier said than done.

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We're about halfway out, and it's as if the Rock knows we're coming.

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There's a dangerous swell building, and warnings of storm-force winds.

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Before I know it, our skipper, Dougie, pulls the plug.

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Time to turn back.

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Yet again, the Rock has pushed me away.

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That is one unwelcoming rock!

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I know. Looking at this, you'd never believe what we'd just been out in.

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It's still like that out there.

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-I think it's perfect timing on my part.

-Absolutely.

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-I don't think you're ever going to get onto the Rock!

-That's a jail!

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I can't even break in, never mind break out!

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Subtitling by Red Bee Media Ltd

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Miranda Krestovnikoff dives into a spectacular marine reserve off St Abbs, one of Britain's outstanding sites for underwater wildlife. Neil Oliver travels up to North Berwick to visit the Bass Rock, once upon a time the site of one of Scotland's most notorious prisons.


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