*Apologies- applications for this opportunity are no longer being accepted*

The SOC and Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) have joined forces to be able to offer a funded training opportunity available exclusively to Club members.

Working in partnership, the SOC/JNCC Volunteer Seabirds at Sea (VSAS) training course will draw upon the talents of highly experienced birders and surveyors, and ensure that participants receive first-class training from specialists in their field.

The scheme, which is run in collaboration with Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries, trains volunteers to collect data on seabirds and cetaceans observed from ferries in Scottish waters.

JNCC manages the VSAS programme, which is the only active European seabird survey that collects data to European Seabirds at Sea (ESAS) standard using volunteers/citizen science. The organisation excels in coordinating and delivering training to volunteers. By working together with SOC and drawing upon the expert tuition on offer from the Club’s Birding and Science Officer, Mark Lewis, course participants will leave equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge and confidence to take on and complete future VSAS surveys and act in a mentoring capacity to other less experienced surveyors (these surveys are carried out in pairs, with mentors effectively ‘leading’ surveys while their volunteer partner learns from them).

Increasing the reach of this citizen science project

Together, our organisations hope to increase the reach and legacy of this training opportunity and encourage more people to take part in this important citizen science project.

The opportunity...

This particular training course is open to SOC members only, aged 18 and over, who satisfy the essential criteria detailed below. In the interest of making the course as accessible as possible, the training is provided for free, and JNCC will cover accommodation costs (up to £50 per night, for up to 4 nights), if required, as well as provide a food subsidy (up to £20 per day) for each trainee.

JNCC will provide all training and survey equipment. Trainees are responsible for providing suitable clothing for the days at sea (training will take place outside while on board) and binoculars.

Outline of the course

This three-day training course will take place from Tuesday 28th - Thursday 30th September 2021. The first day is based on land (Tarbert, Loch Fyne, Argyll) and the other two days at sea, on board the Kennacraig (Kintyre) to Islay Ferry. The training will cover all aspects of using the European standard ESAS survey method.

Training will commence with an introduction to the history of the VSAS scheme, and the survey and data collection methods and equipment used to take part. The course tutors have lined up various fun and interactive activities over that first day to help prepare you for the following two days at sea. Although trainees should be competent in identifying seabirds, don’t worry if you need to refresh on the key features to look out for as the trainers can deliver a presentation on general seabird identification, or focus in on one or two groups of species that participants would like to discuss.

On the second and third day of the course, you’ll put your training and identification knowledge in to practice and have plenty time to perfect your survey and data recording methods. Once you’ve mastered the methods, the trainers will be on hand to offer hints and tips on how best to share and pass on your knowledge in a mentoring capacity.

Detailed course schedule

Subject to change depending on weather and other external conditions beyond our control. Dates and timings are to be confirmed.

Monday 27th September:

Overnight accommodation available in preparation for an early start to the training course the next morning.

Tuesday 28th September:

Classroom day in Tarbert. Training to run from 9:30 to 16:30 with breaks.

Wednesday 29th September:

First day on board the Caledonian MacBrayne Kennacraig to Islay ferry. Participants will make four return crossings on board, running from approximately 07:00 to 18:00. Breakfast and lunch will be on the ferry. Return to Tarbert afterwards, where trainees are free to join the trainers for dinner, or to do their own thing.

Thursday 30th September:

Day two on board the Islay Ferry, as per the Wednesday. There is the option to stay overnight on the Thursday should you prefer to leave for home fresh the next day.

At the end of the course, where trainees meet the required standard, they may be awarded JNCC ESAS certification. This is the recognized industry standard for offshore seabird surveys, and may open doors commercially as well as for places on future VSAS surveys (which currently run on four CalMac routes – Ullapool to Stornoway, Oban to Barra, and Tarbert to Islay and Ardrossan to Arran.


Please note that should the training course have to be cancelled or rescheduled due to factors beyond our control, we will endeavor to notify applicants at the earliest possibly opportunity.

How to apply...

In the first instance, applicants are required to submit a completed application form (download below)

However, before completing the application form, please read through the following guidance and make sure you can satisfy all of the minimum criteria:

  • You must be a current SOC member
  • You must be aged 18 or over on the first day of the training course
  • You must be competent at identifying seabirds
  • You must be available for the full duration of the course 
  • You must be able to make your own way to and from Tarbert (and at your own cost)

Please email your completed application form by 5pm on Wednesday 15th September 2021 to Jane Allison at Receipt of your application will be acknowledged via email within 2 working days. If you have not been contacted within this time frame, please email Jane to follow up.

Contributing organisations

This opportunity is a joint collaboration between the SOC and JNCC, and will be led by a representative(s) from both organisations.

Participants should be aware that neither the SOC, nor JNCC, nor individual leaders of this project, can accept any responsibility for any injury suffered by individuals taking part in the training course, nor any loss or damage to personal property. Successful applicants will be given a thorough health & safety briefing on the course as part of their induction process.

Any questions? 

Please contact Jane Allison, the Club's Development Officer at