I began a short residency at St Abb's during the summer which began with a number of informal site visits. Some were with the Property Manager and gave me an invaluable insight into the the breadth of her responsibilities, the structures supporting the reserve, and the system that is St Abb's Head National Reserve. The Reserve does not actually operate in isolation, the community of St Abb's once relied on fishing and has a migrating population of visitors. The farms adjacent to St Abb's Head have grazing arrangements and each has an impact on the other. Thousands of walkers and pilgrims cross the cliff tops every year. The sea bird colonies, for which St Abb's Head is known, are a transient population whose natural habitat is the open sea. The birds come to nest and fledge their chicks. The cliffs, cathedral-like in their grandeur are an amphitheatre for the cacophonous tenure for only a few months before the Gulls and Guillemots leave, the Guillemot chicks enduring a traumatic (perhaps only for the viewer) rite of passage before joining their parents in the sea (I will describe this later.)
The Reserve is home to flora and fauna specific to its rough and uncultivated grasslands and coastal location. The site is not wilderness and left to its own devices would go back to woodland. It is carefully managed to preserve an environment which is both critical to certain species' survival and no longer common in the UK.
I am fascinated by the contrast between this concept of 'conservation' (which, needless to say, is vital) and the ongoing cycles of nature which create both vast and microscopic changes: Weather, tide- and here I mention briefly the geological identity of the place, the meeting point of two tectonic plates that forced the cliffs into existence and will, at some point, make The Head an island surrounded by sea, (as well as an island of carefully managed habitats for a rich variety of species.) This 'Island' is not only traversed by animal and insect migrations but by locals and visitors who enjoy the walks and by pilgrims who acknowledge the site of St Aebbe's Monastery on Kirk Hill and celebrate her exemplary Christian life. The Kirk is only one of many historic sites: Humans have enjoyed the location for thousands of years and the nature of some of the remains are still subject to conjecture.
I am aware that the aims and ideals of a place such as this can appear at odds with aims and functions of the surrounding communities; reserves must exist as designated areas which are outside our normal day-to-day experience (unless, of course, you live or/and work there.) This draws attention to the separation of human from nature and the loss of communion which can enable people the fully enjoyment of material comfort, culture, etc. while maintaining a relationship with the natural systems which sustain our existence.
I am not on a mission, I am interested. I am fascinated: The Reserve in isolation, as specific and as the facilitator for many processions and cycles.
I have tried to offer a short summary here and have omitted many thing, experiences, meeting with people, sights and sounds and hope to resolve this in the coming weeks.