Traveling through remote coastal areas, sea kayakers have a responsibility to tread lightly when coming ashore, ironically, it is onshore that damage occurs.
The sea kayak is a low slung silent craft allowing paddlers to get closer to wildlife than otherwise possible. However, it is this very access which requires a level of sensibility.
In the Scottish Hebrides, when on the shoreline in long grass machair, sea kayaks must be carried and not dragged as birds can sit camouflaged and nests lie hidden beneath a walker’s feet without ever being seen.
Terns, ringed plovers and oystercatchers all nest on shingle beaches and care should be taken in mid May to early July.
If a plucky bird with a red bill and red socks flies away from you and lands very close making a kleep-kleep, p’keep you are likely to be near an oystercatcher nest, eggs or young – she is trying to distract you and you should walk away. Be careful where you tread – eggs and chicks are well camouflaged.
When coming ashore it is important to avoid beaches with breeding seals – it is much better simply to choose another beach unless in an emergency situation.
There are two species of seal in the Hebrides – the common seal and the grey seal. Half of the word’s grey seal population is found on the British coastline and many remote islands are given protected status as a result. The common seal is in fact not so common as the grey seal and its numbers are in decline.
The two types of seal have very different looking faces – the common seal has a sweet little face with big eyes, a forehead and a head that looks too small for its body whereas the larger grey seal has a roman nose like a bull terrier and looks more like he means business.
Indeed recent research has revealed that grey seals are responsible for the many dead common seals washed up on our beaches.
Wild camping – sand dunes
If camping in sand dunes it is best to located the fire on the high tide mark – campfires in the dunes damage the layer of live soil, which takes time to recover.
Fires built on the high tide mark are made in a pit about a foot deep, food scraps are burnt and the hole should be filled in afterwards with all burnt embers buried. When leaving a wild camping site it is important to leave nothing more than a flattened area of grass.
Dunes are important in stabilising the shifting sands and, in the Scottish Hebrides, provide ideal location for a unique Scottish habitat called machair. Machair supports wading birds such as the lapwing, ringed plover and dunlin. All care should be taken to avoid treading on or bird nests in these environments.
Wild camping – sea cliffs
Cliff-nesting birds such as guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes are vulnerable whilst with eggs or chicks (mid May to early July) and puffins nest in burrows that are easily collapsed under foot so it is important to always be careful and to stick to paths.
It is hard to get closer to wildlife in any other scenario than on a kayak.
However, knowing about the seasons and breeding times is important so as to avoid being dive bombed by angry and protective Skuas or indeed out manoeuvred by a protective maternal whale.
It is always sensible to keep a respectful 50 metre distance from all wildlife and to let them come to you not visa versa.