Volunteers Trained up to ensure Scilly Strandings are recorded.

Wednesday 16th May 2018

Marine Strandings NetworkMarine Strandings Network

Cornwall Wildlife Trust (CWT) volunteers have been collecting data on marine strandings for many years now and CWT have over 5500 records on their strandings database; the earliest dating back to 1308! However, records from Scilly are sadly lacking, but hopefully now we will be able to get Scilly back on the map and a better understanding of our marine wildlife.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s (CWT) Marine Strandings Network consists of over 100 volunteers across Cornwall and following a weekend at the end of April there are now thirteen fully trained volunteers on Scilly as well.

The last Marine Strandings Network volunteer training was carried out approximately 10 years ago on the Islands and since that time numbers of volunteers, and therefore recordings, have dwindled to nothing.

Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust Communications Officer Nikki Banfield shared: “It’s really hard for the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust to do all the things that the community, both resident and visiting, expects of us. Looking after just under 2000 hectares, 60%, of the Islands is a huge task and we currently do not have the capacity or the funds to assist with the recording of dead marine life, as much as we would like to.

But why reinvent the wheel when the means to do this is already out there, proven and working well? Our relationship with CWT has developed and grown over the past few years, and on speaking to Abby Crosby (CWT Marine Conservation Officer) it seemed the obvious solution; by working in partnership we are hoping to benefit from CWT’s experience whilst adding a much needed and missing element to their Cornwall & Isles of Scilly recordings.

Two members of the CWT Team came to the Islands to deliver the training, supported by a member of the BDMLR Team, and this was made possible thanks to funding from the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and organisation by the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust.”

So why is it important?

The Marine Strandings Network (MSN) volunteers' main activity is recording and photographing (not removing) all stranded (dead) Dolphins, Whales and Porpoises (collectively known as Cetaceans) as well as Seals, Basking sharks and Turtles but they also collect data on all stranded marine life in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly; everything from Guillemots and Zulu fish to Violet sea snails and Buoy barnacles.

It might sound pretty gory but the recording of dead marine life is really important in helping to monitor trends and threats to survival; providing information vital in helping us to conserve wildlife and which cannot be learnt from live animals. The new MSN Scilly Volunteers have received training to identify and record accurately to ensure that information submitted to the MSN Data Officer is of the correct standard and quality and means that all Scilly recordings can be put to good use.

Ruth Williams, CWT Marine Conservation Manager & Trainer shared: “The Strandings training was a great success and everyone’s feedback was really positive. It’s great to expand our Marine Strandings Network to better cover the Islands and to have a dedicated team of enthusiastic and passionate volunteers we can call on to help to gather much needed information from recording stranded animals. The data collected from studying the animals that wash ashore on our beaches is invaluable in helping to better protect them in the future.”

Anthea Hawtrey-Collier Strandings Data Officer & Trainer added: “I’m really excited about the future and really hope that we can gain a better understanding of the stranding situation around the Isles of Scilly. I’m looking forward to receiving lots of data from everyone (I just realised that sounds really bad - I’m not wishing any harm to any animals!). I’ve already had my first record that one of the volunteers had photographed a few days before the training session.”

What happens?

When a member of the public finds a dead marine animal (it doesn’t have to be a mammal or cetacean) they are advised to phone the Marine Strandings Network Hotline on 0345 201 2626. This hotline is staffed by a team of experienced volunteers who will ask questions to glean more information; if any photographs have been taken and can be submitted this is also really helpful.

The Hotline Co-ordinator will then contact one of the locally trained volunteers and ask them to pop out and take a look.

Armed with measuring tapes, cameras and gloves (possibly even a peg depending on the state of decomposition of the reported animal!) Marine Strandings Network (MSN) volunteers will then head out to conduct a detailed survey of the dead animal; taking measurements and photographs and carrying out a detailed observation of the entire animal looking for clues regarding how and why it died.

All recorded animals are tagged to prevent double counting/recording. Currently these tags are plastic but trials are in progress regarding a biodegradable alternative; but the alternative needs to be robust enough to withstand the elements and remain in place until the animal has decomposed.

All of the information collected is then sent into the Strandings Data Officer, added to the database and analysed.  Information can provide evidence of trends or areas of concern as well as adding to robust scientific data which can be used in other areas.

The future…?

Working in partnership with Cornwall Wildlife Trust and BDMLR we now have a selection of “Marine Volunteers” to choose from whether rescue of a live animal or recording of a dead animal is required.

With the combination of training the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust hopes to keep volunteers interested and active all year round and we also plan to offer other training to enhance the volunteer skills later in the year. So watch this space!

If you find dead marine life on our beaches please... 

  • Call the Marine Strandings Network on 0345 201 2626 and report it; this is a 24 hour hotline;  
  • Don't assume it has already been reported (unless it has a visible tag already on it) 
  • Do not touch or try to move the animal; animal carcasses can carry diseases and pose a risk of infection/illness.


This training was provided free of charge to attendees and this was made possible with thanks to the following:

  • Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust & Isles of Scilly AONB for all arrangements and also funding instructors accommodation, travel and the cost of the training (including insurances), venue and refreshments;
  • CWT Trainers Ruth and Andrea and BDMLR Trainer Dan for providing their expertise and time at no additional cost, despite having to be on the Islands for 3 days;
  • The Isles of Scilly Steamship Group for waiving the excess baggage charge for the equipment that was required to carry out the training;

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank all those who attended, many of whom also attended the Marine Mammal Medic training hosted by BDMLR the previous day, and On the Quay for delivering sustenance to the training location.

The visitor season is just starting and we know everyone is incredibly busy so to give up a day of your time in order to become trained volunteers is much appreciated. 

A big thank you and welcome to the Islands newest CWT Marine Strandings Network volunteers! 

Tagged with: Volunteering