Basin Notes - June 2004

The History of the Basin

Form follows function - a concept perhaps of the architect - but does it?

The strong features of the building which houses the Montrose Basin Wildlife Centre have been very satisfactory, even without the usual interpretation and in-house ship and cafe within the latest installations.

Looking out from the viewing gallery, which draws the visitor across the space to the spectacular view of the estuary of the River South Esk, the visitor can appreciate the lovely setting.

The tide ebbs and flows, the river channel meanders through past the bridges and the harbour and on out to sea. Roots of trees, carried by a flood, leave the ideal perch for osprey and cormorant.

There, trace of the 17th Century Dronner's Dyke may be seen at low tide and is easily spotted by wildfowler or those on a guided walk with the ranger across the mudflats.

In the past, though, several ice ages ago, a great firth may have been what lay there. The headwaters of an ancient river, rising among very high mountains in the region of Rannoch Moor and flowing east through deep gorges, collecting waters from many tributaries en route to the sea. These headwaters, eventually captured, now flow into the Tay river system emerging to the south of Angus.

The circular shape of the Basin, though not unique, is fairly uncommon again the result of ice flowing across the ridge of Garvock lava, the same rocky ridge which lies under the High Street of Montrose. The Garvock lavas still determine the shape of Montrose Bay and feature strongly along the coastline to the north. Many sea level changes separate ice ages and their aftermath, leave raised beaches and ancient rock platforms along the coast. Approximately 18 raised beaches have been counted on the Basin shore towards Maryton and Rossie Moor.

Ancient plant forms still to be seen on the mud flats at low tide are the glass-worts. These oddly-shaped, branched plants are inundated by the tide and scorched by the sun and wind. They have coped with severe conditions since the receding ice, form chlorophyll and are very tough, primitive vegetative life forms.

Eel-grass, a staple food four our mute swans, covers large areas of the western end of the Basin. All salt marsh plants have developed mechanisms for coping with the saline conditions and have interesting features. Some are grey and furry, others spiky, and many form cushions like Thrift. The old Norsemen believed that the Holy Grail was carried by swan ships, the top sail banner blowing straight behind to form a T representing Thor, of course. Swans do defend their mate and territory, wings up-raised like the sails of a longboat. Swans have been protected in many societies.

In music and the arts the swan has been symbolic of grace and beauty and of the life hereafter, as in Sibelius's "Swan of Tuonela"; the symbol perhaps that it is the journey and not the arrival that is of importance in life.

Symbolism of other birds - the eagle of Rome, the dove in Christian symbolism - the human mind enjoys stretching across the metaphoric bridge of the imagination for their images of boldness and courage, gentleness and peace.

An exhibition of the photography of naturalist Russell Nisbet will be held in the John Crichton Gallery of the wildlife centre when it reopens to the public. Russell's keen eye and expert photography illustrate the beauty of form and wildlife doing what comes naturally.

The new cafe area will have interesting information and interactive screen to keep you amused over your coffee.

The support of volunteers and the membership of the Scottish Wildlife Trust has been vital to this new refurbishment of the centre. All comments and all newcomers to the centre will be most welcome.