Thursday, 30 October 2014

The sad tale of Pistil Meadow

Anyone who walks the Lizard coastline regularly will be familiar with Pistil, a little valley a quarter of a mile west of the Most Southerly Point, which, thanks to a small copse of tamarisk, offers a little shelter along this otherwise wind battered stretch of coast.  The name more than likely derives from the Cornish for waterfall; a stream cascades onto the beach below.
Pistil Meadow, cleared ready for the October 2014 survey

Almost 300 years ago, this valley is said to have become the final resting place of 200 shipwrecked souls, buried as was customary at the time, in unconsecrated ground close to where their bodies washed ashore.

A Galley very similar to the Royal Anne
The year was 1721, and their ship was the Royal Anne, a military transport vessel taking the Governor of Barbados to his posting. She ran aground, as have many boats both before and since, on the treacherous rocks off Lizard Point during a November storm, with a terrible loss of life. 207 drowned; just 3 survived.

Local lore has it that the Lizard folk who went to bury the bodies could not complete this mammoth grizzly task within the day, but that when they returned next dawn, a pack of dogs had got their first and were tucking into a gruesome breakfast! Even to this day it is said that dogs cower when passing through the meadow, perhaps in shame at the actions of their ancestors! The story of Pistil Meadow fired the imaginations of later generations, with the likes of Daphne du Maurier taking an interest in the tale.

Wet ground conditions in 2012 made some techniques unreliable
However, is it story or fact?  Although there are plenty of references suggesting a mass grave at Pistil, its exact location is unknown, some saying the tamarisk grove, others the open meadow land.

We have teamed up with archaeologists from Bournemouth University and MAST (Maritime Archaeological Sea Trust) to investigate further. The team first visited in November 2012 to undertake geophysical surveys, using non-invasive techniques to see if they could detect any anomalies in the ground that might be consistent with a mass burial. The ground was first cleared with brushcutters, so that the archaeologists could take the smooth and regular paces on which their equipment relies, and a grid was pegged out. They were able to use magnetic and electromagnetic techniques in 2012 but unfortunately due to the saturated ground, other kit which relies on detecting differences in moisture content could not be used. This preliminary analysis threw up 3 places of interest within the meadow area that could conceivably be grave pits.

Magnetic survey under way
Fast forward to this year, and the unusually dry September gave us a window of opportunity to try some of the techniques that the archaeologists had to give up on previously because it was too boggy! Late into October, the stream bed is still dry, and the waterfall silent. Once again the vegetation has been cleared and this time the team have had success using earth resistivity area 3D imaging, ground penetrating radar and slingram electromagnetic techniques.

We’re eagerly awaiting the results of this latest work. If these techniques agree with the 2012 results, we will have an interesting question to ponder. Do we give permission for the archaeologists to dig a test pit to see if their data has led us to a conclusion, or do we allow this 300 year old mystery to remain just that?


Monday, 27 October 2014

A Celebration of Apples at Penrose

We had an appley agenda yesterday at Penrose with our second annual Apple Day. Our 15 year old orchard provided the produce for apple bobbing, apple pressing and the longest peel competition! The café worked their magic and produced some delicious cakes, muffins, crumble and even an apple and parsnip soup. 
Everyone had a go at crushing then pressing the apples to make their own juice

Some examples of the longest peelings!
Apples are the quintessential British fruit and have played an important part in British life since time immemorial. Orchards were highly valued not only for their produce, but as wildlife habitat, and for cultural traditions. In the latter half of the 20th century big businesses, supermarkets and intensive agriculture meant that we lost many of our traditional orchards and the magic of the apple. Many apple varieties and apple traditions and customs were at risk of extinction. One such custom is Wassailing, which traditionally took place between Christmas and 18th January. The idea is to protect the trees from evil spirits and to ensure a plentiful harvest in the coming season. Cider is poured on the roots and bread soaked in cider is placed in the branches for robins to eat, who are considered guardians of the trees. Then songs are sung and a huge racket is made to drive the evil spirits away and to wake the trees from their winter slumber.
A range of butterflies including the Comma, can be found in established orchards

However, this loss is now being recognised by conservationists and apple enthusiasts. Orchards are being restored by landowners in a bid to regain their wildlife value and to preserve our heritage varieties. We planted a new orchard in 2011 at Penrose, in a field that was no longer useful for agriculture, and a few young fruit trees were planted in the walled garden this year. New orchards are springing up all over Cornwall, many of them boasting an impressive array of Cornish heritage varieties. We have the Manaccan Primrose, the Cornish wine apple and the Cornish Giliflower to name a few. 

Every year we send most of our apples to local juicers Helford Creek to juice and bottle them, and you can buy small and large bottles in The Stables Café. Thank you to everyone who came and made the day so successful. Please get in touch if you have any feedback about the event.
Flats and Sharps provided musical entertainment, as well as the amazing Signing Choir from Porthleven School


Monday, 20 October 2014

"Why do we volunteer?"

 Keith at the Watchpoint
Here is a wonderful description, from one of our Wildlife Watchpoint volunteers Keith, about why he and many others volunteer at Lizard Point. It captures the wonder so many of us feel when we stand at Britain’s Most Southerly Point.

Why do we volunteer? It’s a no brainer really!! Southerly Point on the Lizard Peninsula is a microcosm of all things good about Cornwall, it encapsulates the vast and rich array of flora and fauna to be seen in this part of the country, it’s a place where time has stood still, where nothing has changed in decades and it’s our place of work!

In the sky we are fortunate to (probably) be the first to see the returning swallows. Later we will catch a glimpse of a sky full of kite having their annual day by the sea and if we are luckier still we may see hoopoe or rare warblers blown in across oceans ravaged by gales.  All this, against a beautiful backdrop of thousands of passing seabirds.

Lizard Lighthouse

In the sea we don’t have to look far for our resident seals, fishing in the coves, bobbing in the waves or just basking on the rocks in the glorious sunshine. Further out that glimpse of black in the tidal races show the porpoise on the prowl for food, or the passing pods of dolphin on their relentless journeys around the coast. When the warmth of summer really arrives and the Gulf Stream is in full flow we ponder at the sights of basking shark, sunfish or any other aquatic organism that has hitched a ride on the seas incessant current.

On land, the parched winter cliffs, left by howling gales and salt ravaged spray, suddenly erupt into a myriad of colours at the first sign of the spring sunshine. Huge varieties of plants, some so rare they are only found on the Lizard Peninsula, take their place for all to see.

Cornish Chough

 And as if not enough, we have our favourite Cornish Choughs cavorting and calling from nearby cliffs, resplendent in their iridescent plumage and unmistakable red legs and beak. Returned to Cornwall of their own accord as if by magic, to set up nest sites for us all to view. That’s why we enjoy volunteering, we just love the place.

But it is not ours alone, this Crown Jewel set on the most Southerly Point of the British Isles is for us all to share. Why don’t you take a peek one day on all that nature has to offer, we’d love to show you around.        - Keith

Keith with other volunteers and visitors at the watchpoi

Keith is an expert in the history and behaviour of Cornish choughs. Not only does he spend hours watching, tracking and protecting the nests of the choughs here in Cornwall, he also spends one or two days a week sharing his enthusiasm for these rare red-legged crows on the Wildlife Watchpoint. Keith has a fantastic way with words and loves to inspire people with his stories. He has entertained hundreds of visitors on the watchpoint, leaving them all with a smile and a new passion for these magnificent birds. Quite a few folk have been so inspired that they have joined the Chough Watch Team which is over 100 people strong in Cornwall. 

Volunteers, like Keith are at the heart of the Wildlife Watchpoint, helping people get closer to nature everyday. We want to send a huge thank-you to all our volunteers for their help, we couldn't run the watchpoint without them.

Keith 'choughed' at the Chough Project Wildlife Weekend

At this time in particular we want thank Keith who has supported us for many years despite his ill-health. (Please note: we have Keith's support and permission to write this.) Unfortunately, Keith was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2011. Since then his health has been up and down but he has still continued to volunteer regularly. As I'm sure you can sense in his words above, he finds the choughs and places like Lizard Point an inspiration. He says 'they keep him going... and without them 'he wouldn't be here today.' 

Keith is a remarkable character, an inspiration not only through his story telling and enthusiasm but through his 'winning' attitude. He has given so much time, effort and energy to the chough project. We (and the 'choughs') have been very lucky to have him on board. Knowing Keith's positive attitude, it was no surprise to learn that, despite his ill-health, he is still trying to do something good for other folk.

Chough - (photo by Terry Thirlaway)

Next month, Keith is planning to take part in ‘Movember’ (a charity event where men grow moustaches to raise awareness and funds for prostrate cancer research). 

It appears Keith has even got the choughs inspired! They seem to be doing their bit to rally up support. We wish Keith every success in his fundraising appeal and hope he feels better soon. 

If you want to see what other antics Keith has inspired for  'Movemeber' and / or if you would like to support Keith and the ‘Movember’ appeal please visit: 

- Cat

Friday, 17 October 2014

Black Head Lookout Refurbishment

If you are walking on the cliffs at Black Head and find yourself in need of shelter, why not stop at the Black Head lookout building? It is situated on stunning cliffs south west of Coverack, on a Peridotite outcrop 55 meters from the sea below.

New display boards at Black Head
Black Head has been home to a lookout point since 1811. Although there is a newer building present today, the original lookout was built during the Napoleonic wars. After being rebuilt in 1915, the lookout was used for coastguard operations until 1987. It was then left abandoned.

National Trust began basic restoration work on the lookout in 2011. We left many of the existing features of the building but had to put in new windows and a felt roof. We also gave the building a much-needed lick of paint. By repainting the lookout its original colour, white, it is now clearly visible on the cliff top making it a useful navigational aid for local fisherman. We also decided to add a couple of scratching posts to keep the cattle from rubbing on the corners of the building.

Window display at Black Head
Looking out onto one of Britain’s busiest shipping lanes, the views from Black Head are stunning. To the north the view encompasses Coverack Bay, out to Lowland Point and the Fal Estuary. To the south west you can see right across to Bass Point, the view includes Enys Head, Church Cove and the new lifeboat station at Kilcobben.

With peregrines, ravens, shags and several species of gull passing the cliffs below it is a great place to see wildlife. As well as the extraordinary flora, in the summer months, there is a good chance you could spot passing porpoise and dolphins.  It’s a popular place for basking sharks too.

If you have never been out to Black Head, we strongly recommend it, it’s well worth a visit. Let us know what you think -

- Darren

Monday, 6 October 2014

My Lundy Island Adventure

I am one of the trainee rangers volunteering with the National Trust down here at Poltesco, Cornwall. Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to work on the restoration of an historic church on Lundy Island, two hours on the ferry from North Devon. 

Kathy, another trainee ranger, and I were there working on the restoration everyday for a week.
As a keen photographer, I spent my free time trying to capture the beauty of Lundy through my camera lens, and hope that some of the photos below bring my experience to life.
Panoramic view, south end of Lundy Island with MS Oldenburg and the South lighthouse.

When arriving at Lundy on the MS Oldenburg, you walk up a road on the
way to the town centre.  It is a steep climb but it is well worth it; this is the view you will be treated with!
Golden light hits the church just before sunset.

Lundy Town from the church rooftop.
Left is the beautiful historic church we were working on, we were chipping
out and then re-pointing the lime mortar on a large section of the wall. Hard work but a pleasant, almost therapeutic job chipping away and talking with the other volunteers. Charlie (our project leader) was very good at creating new topics of conversation!  
The Church restoration  project is led by the Landmark Trust and the Lundy company. It is fantastic to see such care taken of this wonderful building, and it was certainly very rewarding to be part of the restoration.

This is a view of the town centre, taken from the church roof. Lundy has the wonderful Marisco Tavern which has a great atmosphere and is where most people, including myself end up in the evenings, there is also a gift shop where you can purchase rare Lundy stamps and coins, most other buildings on the island are holiday or staff accommodation. Lundy has a cozy small town environment and you feel at home quickly here, as everyone is friendly and welcoming.

Steps down to the north end Lighthouse.

Lundy Island is just 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, so there is no excuse
not to explore the entire island! The staff are very knowledgeable so I would recommend taking in some history before you head off. 
For instance you can find engines from a 
WW2 bomber that crashed into the island if you know where to look.

 'Old Light' with some early morning mist.
Lundy has three lighthouses, the closest one to the town centre is named 'Old Light'. Unfortunately, it was poorly designed and was never very effective, as the light was often shrouded in fog and not visible.However it is a beautiful building and the views from the top are spectacular. They even have two deck chairs up on the top so you can sit and enjoy the views.

Spiral staircase in 'Old Light'
If you wake up early you may be lucky enough to witness one of Lundy's famous sunrises. Lundy treated me to some amazing light in the early morning and at dusk too, so whenever I had spare time I was out taking photos. The island has just been made an official dark sky reserve so on a clear night you will see some amazing views of the milky way. A must visit for any keen photographer!

Spectacular Golden Sunrise.
As you may have guessed I love photography. Before volunteering for the National Trust I was running my own photography business full time, so photography plays a huge part in my life, and it played a huge part in my trip to Lundy.

Unfortunately I cannot post all of the Lundy photographs here but if you would like to see more please visit: 

With a juvenile Manx Shearwater
(Photograph - David Price)

So as well as wonderful buildings and splendid views, what else does Lundy have to offer? Well the island has been designated SSSI, so has a wealth of terrestrial wildlife. It also has a large marine conservation zone, so is home to an abundance of seabirds and is a haven for marine wildlife.

While on the island I was lucky enough to take part in a study of Manx Shearwaters, which involved catching the birds, ringing, weighing and releasing them. This has to be done at night, as the birds fly in and nest under the cover of darkness to avoid predators. In order to do this there was much stumbling around on the cliffs with head torches until midnight, but it was an amazing experience that I will never forget!

I also had an incredible time snorkelling with very playful Atlantic Grey seals on my last day and witnessed a large pod of common dolphins jumping across the ferry's wake on the way back to Devon. 

Lundy Island, a wonderful place for work or play, do visit if you get the chance!

- Shannon.

Some resident Highland cattle enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Trees of Penrose

Woodland managers have a responsibility for land that is accessible to the general public. Whether we are managing the woodland for conservation, recreation or amenity purposes trees may, if suffering from certain mechanical defects, represent a hazard in areas where people and property are present. It is therefore important for managers to be aware of these tree-related hazards.

Before any work is carried out a tree must first be inspected by a qualified assessor. From the assessment a judgment is made on if the tree represents a hazard, this is based on criteria such as proximity to pathways, usage of the pathway and the extent of the mechanical defects to the tree. If a tree is assessed to be a risk then this is only the first step of the management of that tree, the tree is tagged with a unique number (the little red squares you see on the trees) and all aspects of the tree are recorded. Once all this information is gathered a judgment on an individual basis is made.

There are varying types of remedial action with felling of the tree the very last. Many trees can simply be monitored on a routine basis to see if the defects worsen, this can include climbing by tree surgeons to check potential hazards higher up. If the tree requires further action the next step is surgery, this is almost always done to extend the life of the tree using techniques such as lifting, crown reduction and pollarding. Once a tree has reached the stage where surgery cannot prolong its life and it poses a real danger, the decision is made to fell the tree.

Again this is not the end in regards to the value of the tree. The tree can either be left in situ as dead wood, or the tree can be sneded to create a brash pile which is a rich habitat for wildlife, the limbs can be chipped to feed the Penrose biomass boiler, and the stem can be milled into planks to be used for bench tops and other projects that you will see around Penrose. With the extra light being allowed to pass through the canopy the ground flora has a chance to thrive and allow the next generation of trees to come forth. 

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