The team at RSPB Lochwinnoch is not only responsible for the management of this wonderful reserve, but also for that of other, smaller reserves too, including Horse Island. A wee craggy island 1km off the coast of Ardrossan, Horse Island has been managed by the RSPB since 1961. If you have ever taken the ferry from Ardrossan to the Isle of Arran, you would have sailed right past it: a small, flat, rocky surface with a little beacon on its Southern edge.

The beacon AKA Martello tower (Paula Baker)


The island is designated as an Area of Special Protection for breeding birds, as plenty of sea birds choose to breed there, notably eiders and lesser black-backed gulls. Access to the reserve is therefore prohibited to the public, to avoid disturbance to the birds. Even the RSPB will only access it once a year, to monitor the breeding birds.

The island from above (Stuart McHanon


In 2012, this yearly outing took place on the 14th of May. A team of seven staff and volunteers sailed form Ardrossan at 10 in the morning in a fishing boat so small it had to do two trips to get all the team and material to the island. It was, according to Sam Taylor, “a 5 minutes mini-cruise on a lovely sunny day”. Once on the island, the team planted canes in the ground, setting up grids to facilitate the count. Forming a line, they walked along the grid, “a little like one of those police search you see on TV”, counting nests on their clickers. In the meantime, another part of the team was walking along the rocky edge of the island, still counting.

The magnificent seven: Chris, Sam, Gary, Paula, David, Andy and Craig (Paula Baker)


The team recorded mostly lesser-black backed gulls and herring gulls nests, with an increase of 500 nests compared to the last survey. Some greater black-backed gulls, one raven, three shag, some coot and one mute swan nests were found. Sadly cormorant nests were down to one from 22 in the last survey. Eider nest were not counted that day as the Clyde ringers group had done it the day before. The increase in lesser-black backed and herring gulls nests is great news though, as those birds are respectively amber and red-listed species, due to recent decline in their populations.

A gull chick in its nest (Paula Baker)


At 4pm “the magnificent” seven, as they named themselves, left the island, sunburned and exhausted, but happy. It was, according to Sam, “a cracking day, everybody enjoyed it”.

Waving bye (Paula Baker)