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Environment & Wildlife, From the Field

A Year without Volunteer Research in the Scottish Hebrides

July 21st 2020

Tagged: Covid-19, Dolphin, Hebrides, Scotland, Whale

Since the UK entered a lockdown, we had to make increasingly difficult decisions about our operations in the Hebrides, which has had wide-reaching impacts affecting every aspect of our work.

Our busy Discovery Centre, which was due to open in March remains closed, our work with schools is postponed until further notice and our research expeditions are cancelled. We are now expecting the longest gap in our vital monitoring work since our programme began in 2003.

At the start of April, we made the incredibility difficult decision to place our boat and community engagement staff on furlough. Staff capacity to run the charity more than halved overnight and team meetings suddenly felt very small.

The financial impact for our charity has been sudden and substantial. Without the income that our research expeditions and visitor centre generate our charity is at risk. It has become clear that we will be facing a long period with no public engagement or boat-based activities – the lion’s share of our work and a substantial proportion of our operating income.

We are incredibly grateful for the support during these difficult times. 

The kindness and understanding of our volunteers, supporters and community has been amazing. Many volunteers who were booked on research expeditions have agreed to move bookings to a later date rather than request a refund at this difficult time.

The continued support for our work from donors, members, animal sponsors and corporate partners is really making a difference. We know that few people and organisations are unaffected financially, so your donations and subscriptions are hugely appreciated by us all.

Our funders have also been sensitive to the challenges the third sector is facing and have provided flexibility for our projects that cannot be delivered at this time.

Cetacean research volunteer steering yacht in HebridesVolunteer Scotland | Marine Conservation Volunteer | Working Abroad

We are committed to making decisions that protect our staff, volunteers and our vulnerable island community, and help prevent the spread of the virus. As Scotland gradually comes out of lockdown, we will need to respond. We are considering alternative research protocols, adapting our Discovery Centre and outdoor learning programmes to incorporate social distancing, and investing in digital tools to deliver our training and educational work effectively and remotely. We are currently looking into options for emergency funding to help support this work.

There is also essential research and conservation policy work for which we are now lacking funding and capacity to deliver. At a time of global climate emergency and biodiversity loss across the UK and globally, our project’s mission has never been more critical.

The complete dearth of data collected from on board Silurian so far during this summer field season is devastating.  2020 will be marked as the only period since 2003 where data on whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks in the Hebrides has not been gathered by volunteers on board Silurian during the summer months.

What’s next?

Whilst we cannot operate as usual, and are unable to welcome volunteers on board or run our scheduled Research Expeditions this summer, we are exploring alternative options to salvage some of the vital species monitoring we undertake onboard this year.

2020 has thrown up some significant challenges for our project, and we need your support more than ever to continue to deliver our programme of community based research and education.  We’d like to thank you for bearing with us as we work through these changes, we are grateful for your continued support and understanding.

We recognise that for many people this year is going to be very difficult. However, if you feel that you can support us at this time, we would urge you to please consider booking a research expedition in 2021, or alternatively make a donation towards our conservation work.

Your support is vital to help us continue our work to safeguard Hebridean seas for whales, dolphins, porpoises and people.

Thank you!

Written by Alison Lomax and Morven Summers,
from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project in Scotland


To make a donation to any of our project partners, please click here to donate under PayPal – and remember to write in your reference which project you would like the donation to be given to. It should be the project name so e.g. Whale project, Hebrides. Or donate to their crowdfunding campaign to do research under the waves this year here

If you are able to join the project as a volunteer in 2021, then even better! The volunteer project runs from April to October each year, and we have made volunteer dates available all the way till October 2021. You can find more info via the project page and if you are ready to join already, you can fill in the online application form by clicking on APPLY NOW. 

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