What’s it all about?

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those meaning-of-life pieces, or a despairing rant about the future of humanity in the face of climate chaos and environmental destruction (promise!). This time of the year does, however, provide a fleeting chance for a ‘reflective moment’, with the workload being slightly less bonkers than in spring and summer. As such, it’s a rare opportunity to explore what Forvie actually means to those people who make up its community. Pull up a chair.

A place of many faces

Ask a scientist.

SSSI – Site of Special Scientific Interest. SAC – Special Area of Conservation. SPA – Special Protection Area. Ramsar Site. All of these designations – under UK, European and international law – mark Forvie out as a special place. The data that underpin these designations put into numbers the natural bounty of Forvie, with the aim of maintaining and conserving it into the future. On paper, this appears a rather cold and detached way to look at something natural and beautiful. But ultimately, scientific data is the lifeblood of conservation – you can’t save something if you don’t know it’s there.

Gathering data – the currency of conservation

So if you ask a scientist about Forvie, you might get a reply in numbers and acronyms. But don’t take this as a lack of passion: field scientists, whether it’s NatureScot staff or members of the public carrying out survey work in their spare time, are among the most passionate exponents and defenders of the natural world. Give up your Saturday to count birds on a freezing, rain-washed and windswept estuary? That’s true love as well as hard science.

Ask a local.

Forvie’s nearest settlements are Newburgh to the west and Collieston to the north. Residents of both these villages have Forvie on their doorsteps, an easy walk or cycle from home. With miles of footpaths, stunning beaches, desolate yet beautiful scenery, and all that wildlife on tap. Accordingly, many of our local residents take full advantage, incorporating a walk or run on the Reserve into their daily routine.

Newburgh from Forvie, under a rainbow

Some locals are relative newcomers, having moved from elsewhere – sometimes from places less well-off in terms of open space, fresh air and wildlife – and consequently these people are often doubly appreciative. Others, born and raised in the local area, have their family histories tied up with the site, either through local industries like fishing, or perhaps years spent at Aberdeen University’s field station – for these people, the Reserve is in their blood.

Little Collieston Croft – now the Reserve office and visitor centre

Ask a local about Forvie, and they might well remark on how fortunate they are to have this resource to hand – without having to get in the car for their daily dose of green space. Many also take a good deal of pride in it: we hope to think that for the most part, it’s not taken for granted. In short, Forvie is one of the things that makes this part of Aberdeenshire a great place to live.

Ask a volunteer.

We’re lucky at the Reserve to have the ongoing support of a trusty band of volunteers. Some have been with us for a number of years now – which begs the question: why do they keep coming back? Not just for the coffee and the one-liners I’m sure.

Volunteers Jim and Richard at the ternery

Sheena, one of our regulars, is a bit of a whizz with words, and sometimes expresses what the Reserve means to her in the form of poetry. Having assisted with looking after Forvie’s ternery, Sheena wrote the following verse, in wonder at the tiny and helpless-looking Arctic Tern chicks, which would, almost incredulously, mature into the greatest travellers in the natural world.

Just hatched and fledging

cocktail sticks, ball of fluff,

beak, two tiny eyes

What are you

more than a sprauchle

on the sand?

Had I my atlas with me

I could show you

where you’ll have to go

Maybe you already know?

What more is there to say? Ask a volunteer about Forvie, and they may reply in verse. That’s how much it means to Sheena.

Ask a naturalist.

By ‘naturalist’, I mean everyone from professional biologists and academics, right through to ordinary workaday folk like myself with an interest in nature. It doesn’t matter whether that interest extends to being able to identify every lichen on the Reserve, or whether you just enjoy seeing a skein of geese flying over. Either way, there’s no doubt that Forvie is an immensely special place for nature, and therefore also for people who are interested in nature.

Pink-footed Geese – a simple pleasure

Ask a naturalist about Forvie, and you may get a twinkling-eyed reply which sounds like a nature-lover’s ‘greatest hits’. The towering dunes with their fragile and fascinating flora. The hurly-burly of the huge haul-out of Grey Seals. The noise, chaos and fury of the ternery echoing across the estuary in high summer. Immense arrivals of migrant birds in autumn, with the observer not knowing where to look next. The day the Orcas powered past up the coast, or the summer when the Humpbacks were leaping and breaching offshore.

The Grey Seal haul-out, viewed from the Newburgh side of the estuary

This is not just the stuff of Attenborough documentaries, it happens here – live. That’s why Forvie has a special place in the heart of the naturalist – however casual or serious they might be.

Ask the staff.

And then there’s us, the Reserve staff – a funny old bunch, right enough. After all, why spend year after year of your working life doing things like digging ditches, picking up rubbish and fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds to try and save a bit of nature? Because it’s part of who we are. You don’t work at a place like Forvie without it getting under your skin, whether or not you’re actually aware of it.

Life’s a ditch

My years working on the Reserve have been punctuated with frustration, elation, despair, delight, some dog’s days’ work and some unforgettable experiences. I’ve seen the best and worst of humanity, or so it’s seemed at the time. I’ve learned an immense amount (yet still have an immense amount to learn), laughed and cried, and enjoyed several of my ‘top ten’ wildlife experiences right here on the local patch. Yes, it’s my workplace, my ‘office’ of a thousand hectares, but it’s also my home. Forvie has been, and continues to be, a massive influence in my life, and this will stay with me long after my working days are done.

A place not easily forgotten

Ask one of us about Forvie – and what it’s all about – and you’re unlikely to get an indifferent reply.