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Published by Amy Liptrot

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Published by: Amy Liptrot on May 10, 2013
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Living Orkney
It is not easy to talk through a snorkel mask but, in order toexperience her interesting hobby, this interview beginswith Anne Bignall taking
Living Orkney 
snorkelling othe coast o Papa Westray. At a rocky area o NorthWick bay, we put on wet and dry suits, neoprene bootsand gloves, ippers and snorkel masks and slip into thewater like less-elegant seals.First time snorkeling hits you with several newsensations: frstly being in the water with the protectiono the wetsuit and breathing through the snorkel, butsecondly and most memorably, looking underwater,close to the seabed, able to see clearly this usuallyhidden domain. Although the tide is too high and windtoo strong or ideal snorkelling conditions, the dip isenough to get an idea o the “dierent world” Anne talksenthusiastically about entering.“It’s a completely new experience – everything looksslightly magnifed and sound travels aster – you eel
Living Orkney
Anne Bignall
Amy Liptrot
Amy Liptrot and courtesy of Anne Bignall
Naure Fesival organiser Anne Bignall akes
 Living Orkney 
underwaer o experience e joysof snorkelling around e couny’s coasline
Living Orkney
Dahlia Anemone splitting into two
Living Orkney
like you are part o a new ecosystem. As you go in abit deeper, the kelp can stand up to a couple o metreshigh and you eel like you are in a orest. It’s veryrelaxing, you don’t need to put in loads o eort, youare just oating in the water. You are absorbing so muchand concentrating and everything is new. You get outo the water and eel like you’ve really done somethingwith your day.”Beautiul and strange fsh, sea urchins, anemonesand jellyfsh, are just some o the creatures Anne seesregularly and she explains that “when you see thingswashed up on the beach, they are dead or out-o-place,but when you see them underwater they come alive.Jellyfsh are antastic – the way they move in the wateris really lovely”.A chance or anyone to try snorkelling will be part o thefrst Orkney Nature Festival, held rom May 11-19, whichAnne is organising as part o the Enjoy Wild Orkneyproject.Anne is a good person to go with on a coastal walk. Sheidentifes some resh otter spraint (poo) on the pebblesand points out a quickly moving turnstone making thislittle patch o island seem richer through observations.This eect o new knowledge and enjoyment o thenatural world is what events in the estival hope toachieve.Back on dry land, Anne explains how she startedsnorkelling: “I used to do a bit o diving and about ayear and a hal ago I tried snorkelling, thinking that itwas ‘poor man’s diving’ but I ound that to me it’s equallygood in terms o the wildlie you see. You don’t haveall the equipment you need or scuba diving, you caneel less encumbered and you can stay pottering in theshallows or hours.”Anne oten goes out with Penny Martin, anothersnorkeller and creator o the Snorkel Orkney acebookpage, but she also goes out alone: “I’ll just have thestu in the back o my car and on the way home romwork in the summer, i I see a bit that looks good, I canjust jump in! Sometimes we stay in or up to two hours.“Around Orkney, it’s become really apparent to me howmany dierent habitats we have in the shallows. You’vegot dierent rocky shores, sandy and muddy areas,man-made structures and eelgrass beds...”Anne says that one o the best places in Orkney orsnorkelling is the Churchill Barriers. “It does have to beairly at otherwise you are bobbing up and down, and iit’s really churned up you can’t see anything but there isalways one side o the barriers that is just about alright.”
Living Orkney
Flatfsh at the barriers
Living Orkney
She describes what she sees underwater around thebarriers: “On the blocks themselves, you’ve got smallplumose anemones and other sessile animals likeseasquirts, sponges and bryozoans. You might evensee a conger eel exploring in among the blocks. Inthe sheltered areas there is a sandy bottom that’s gotsome interesting stu on it like atfsh and scorpion fsh– which are real characters. The seaweed around thebarriers is really pretty – there is lots o red and greenseaweed among the brown kelp, so it’s like a gardenunderwater, and things like blue ray limpets grow on thekelp. There are lots o fsh like butter fsh, fve beardedrockling, and in the summer you get young wrasse andpollack. They can be all around you and it’s like beingin a fshbowl sometimes!”Anne moved to Orkney seven years ago rom Sussexwhere she was working as an illustrator. “I came herewanting to do a completely dierent job, somethingto do with the environment, but still do art as well,”she says. She spent a ew years as Ranger on Eday,then moved to work or the Scapa Flow LandscapePartnership and it was during that time that she startedsnorkelling. When the Scapa Flow scheme ended, shetook up her current role at the RSPB working on theNature Festival.Anne still makes her own artwork and is also illustratinga new Orkney book o Wild Flowers by Tim Dean. “Theenvironment in Orkney both underwater and above hasbeen really inspirational,” she says. Over recent years,Anne has taken an Open University Natural Sciencesdegree at home in the evenings, but says “I’ve learntso much rom just doing things here and speaking topeople – there are so many knowledgeable people inOrkney. I enjoy being in amongst it all... there is a lotmore to learn”.The Nature Festival, taking place over three years, willshowcase all o Orkney’s wildlie and will encouragepeople to come and visit as well as giving people whoalready live here the opportunity to get out and about. Itis part o Enjoy Wild Orkney, administered by the RSPBand including lots o other groups within Orkney.Events in the estival will include, weather permitting,excursions to uninhabited islands like Auskerry, Swonaor Fara. There will also be boat trips around Noup Headon Westray, to see the bustling seabird clis rom below,and a ‘pufn cruise’ along the south coast o SouthRonaldsay and the Pentland Skerries. Guides will beonboard and passengers might be able to see thingslike gannets diving alongside the boat and perhapseven passing whales or dolphins.For those who want to remain on land, there will be plenty

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