Squirrels, reefs and straws…
It all started at school. In 2016, Caillin took the idea for a poster to her class teacher Mary Rose MacNeil, and asked whether the kids could draw more of them in golden time. The poster was asking motorists coming off the ferry to drive more slowly through the woods on the edge of town that are home to a recently reintroduced red squirrel population that were brought into Dundonnell by the local estate and had made it round to the outskirts of Ullapool being regularly decimated by traffic.
The posters were so amazing, and the kids’ enthusiasm so infectious, that word soon spread and Calmac (ferry operators) were contacted by a local conservation project Living Seas and resulted in an invitation for the kids to a meeting with the captain and gave them a tour of the ship and their choice of locations for the posters to go up on board.
All the media attention encouraged Bear Scotland to install permanent signs alerting motorists to the squirrels’ presence.
If you would like to hear Ullapool Sea Savers chatting about red squirrels tune in to listen to the radio programme made on Loch Broom FM
People wrote to the kids at school expressing their support and appreciation, and the kids learnt that people really do appreciate it when you speak out about things that matter:
As an amazing, supportive and generally brilliant teacher Miss MacNeil not only said ‘Yes’ to the squirrel campaign, but then continued to encourage them to think about all local environmental conservation work. So, with the fire now in their bellies and the knowledge that they could make a real difference, that same class then engaged in a letter writing campaign expressing their outrage at the dredging of Loch Carron’s flame shell reefs, adding their voices to mounting pressure to see these areas better protected. Sadly, the reefs were already dredged. But they were eventually given the protected status by the Scottish Government that they need and are now embarked up on the slow road to recovery.
In 2017, Ullapool Primary School joined forces with Sunnyside Primary School in Glasgow who had been working with Living Seas also and were invited to visit Ullapool to see some of what was happening locally for marine protection and conservation. Together, and with extensive support from the Living Seas Project, they campaigned against plastic straws:
Which resulted in Ullapool becoming the first village in Europe to become plastic straw free!
Pebble Magazine mentioned the campaign, as did many other newspapers (see our media section) and it even got mentioned in Scottish and UK parliaments! other successes followed and the straw campaign soon went global and saw the schools being jointly awarded a Great Scot Award in 2018
It was at this point, with media attention intensifying and school holidays fast approaching, that Caillin had the idea of forming the Ullapool Sea Savers:
a small group of committed, informed, articulate and passionate kids from both the primary and high schools in Ullapool, ready to respond fast and effectively to issues threatening the marine environment as they arise. With more enthusiastic members joining fast, this idea quickly expanded into the kids developing their ideas of how to educate and engage the wider public in reducing threats to marine life. They agreed that people protect what they love, and they love what they know – so they also work hard to help people to get to know how amazing our marine environment is – even learning to snorkel at their local pool and going out to look for themselves on the Living Seas NW Highland Snorkel Trail.
What has been crucial to the group right from the very beginning has been their ability to listen carefully and respectfully to each other. The ideas that they have (and they have a lot) are always carefully, thoroughly examined by the group. They talk to each other about what they want to do, and they seek out expert advice. They are proud of this high level of professionalism, and they are also proud to be learning the whole time. They are ready to work with partner groups from all over the world because they understand that their local marine environment is part of a global marine environment. They are the Ullapool Sea Savers.