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Fort George Gets Dolphin Friendly

17 February 2008

Among the most treasured and famous residents of the Moray Firth are its pod of around 130 bottlenose dolphins. So when Historic Scotland embarked on a major construction project at the shore’s edge it was keen to ensure that no harm would come to the marine mammals.

The agency has taken expert advice from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to find ways of building a large rock armour barrier in a dolphin-friendly manner. Repairs are being carried out to the walls of the 18th century artillery fort and the barrier will prevent them being undone by wave action.

Unless the job is done at the right time and in a sensitive way there is a risk that vibrations from the two 14-tonne excavators and large dumper being used for the work could frighten them away.

James MacPherson, Historic Scotland district architect, said: “The dolphins love the waters round the fort, in fact lots of visitors come here in the hope of seeing them playing in the water.

“As we were carrying out a major project to create a rock armour barrier along the edge of the water we were obviously concerned about the impact on the environment.

“Colleagues from SNH have been enormously helpful and have given us advice on the best strategies to avoid scaring the dolphins away with all the noise and vibration from the machinery.”

Study of the dolphin’s behaviour shows that the waters round the fort are among their top two favourite sports in the firth. It is unclear exactly why the animals like this area so much but it is likely to be crucial to aspects of their life-cycle – such as breeding and feeding. They often come as little as 20 metres or so from the shore.

As the population is small and vulnerable, it is especially important to care for them. In order to avoid disturbance to the dolphins SNH advised that the entire operation to create the 210 metre long by three metre tall barrier should be done outside the May to September period when the dolphins are most likely to be present.

Historic Scotland has been able to make sure the contract is completed as swiftly as possible so when the dolphins turn up the area will be quiet and peaceful again.

Ben Leyshon, SNH area officer, said: “We are delighted to have been able to give advice on this project.

“The bottlenose dolphins are a very special feature of the Moray Firth and we try to work with everyone in the area to make sure they are safeguarded.

“We know that vibration from shore-side machinery travels some distance into the water and the effect can be to startle them so they leave.

“But by doing things at the right time and in the right way we have found that it possible to carry out projects in a way that suits the needs of people and dolphins.”

Notes for editors

  • Fort George is six miles west of Nairn and 11 miles north east of Inverness off the A96. Telephone 01667 460232.
  • Tickets are £6.50 for adults, £3.25 for children and £5 for concessions.
  • The fort was built by King George II as a defence against further Jacobite risings after the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746.
  • It was completed in 1769 and was the mightiest artillery fortress in Britain, if not Europe.
  • The fort – still a functioning barracks – was never seen military action. It’s greatest threat comes from erosion by waves and the weather.
  • The repairs to the fort walls are needed after 250 years in which they have been battered by waves from the Moray Firth.
  • The rock armour wall, which will not disrupt views of the Moray Firth, will either be removed or reduced in height after around two years.
  • Co-operation between SNH and HS over the rock armour will benefit the natural and built environment respectively.

For further information

Matthew Shelley
Historic Scotland
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8734