Monday, 22 December 2014

Preparing for Christmas

Trainee Rangers propped up by new gate 
The winter solstice is coming! The trees have lost their leaves and the great westerly swells have started to roll in across the Atlantic. This year has been very busy with a great deal of effort being put into improving existing footpaths and developing new paths across the Lizard. There is still so much we want to do but this is an opportunity to give a quick rundown on some on the work the Lizard Ranger Team have been up to in 2014.

Installation of a new gate on Predannack airfield (see left). It took one and a half days' work to install the gate and repair the fence  

New steps at Kynance

Steps and further storm repairs at Kynance. This took some time to do as there was extensive damage. We rebuilt the steps onto the beach, re-attached the benches by the cafĂ© to the wall and rebuilt two walls. In one area we used gabions partly filled with the spoil from the smashed walls to rebuild a damaged section of footpath.

As well as the practical repairs to paths, fences etc, our work also involves taking care of many rare habitats which give the lizard its unique character. We use livestock to help us in this work, with our own ponies and tenant farmers cattle out on the cliffs munching away for the benefit of wildlife.

One of our ponies in action!
After Christmas trimming the thorn and scrub from the footpaths and viewpoints is one of my goals before birds begin to nest again. We will also be at Chynalls Point carrying out more extensive work improving the coast path along this stretch. 

So why not take advantage of our work and see what you think? It takes a four mile walk to burn off just one mince pie, so why not head out on one of our many paths? Winter is a great time for a stroll along the rugged coastpath, or a walk in the Helford Woods. Enjoy Christmas and see you in the New Year!

- Darren (Lizard Access Ranger)

Monday, 15 December 2014

Mullion Harbour Repairs; another update

It was almost exactly 12 months ago, last Christmas, that the first storm of the winter hit our coast.  What followed was an unprecedented series of violent westerly storms which continued, with catastrophic consequences, until mid February.  The storms left in their wake a devastated coastline with landslides, floods, beaches stripped of sand and historic features left in ruins.  One such structure which suffered as a result of these storms was Mullion Harbour, and back in February we reported on this blog, slightly prematurely it seems, as this was posted before the the 'mother of all storms' hit our shores on Valentines Day 2014.

Surveying damage to the southern breakwater
It was with some trepidation that we surveyed the harbour following the storms.  The Mullion Harbour Study completed in 2005, agreed that at some point in the future, with predicted increase in sea levels and storm activity, the Trust would one day have to stop undertaking repairs to the harbour walls, following a 'catastrophic event'.

volunteers helped salvage thousands of lost setts

Despite the ferocity of the storms however, the main western breakwater miraculously survived reasonably unscathed following the storms, indeed it showed that the recent investment in repairs and maintenance had paid dividends and the structure was in remarkably good shape, albeit in need of a serious face-lift  The smaller, and frankly less well built, Southern breakwater did suffer more substantial damage, although the concrete repairs undertaken the previous year remained intact.

With some generous funding from the Environment Agency and NT insurance funds, it was agreed that the damage was repairable, and work started on the Western breakwater in early summer to replace more than 5000 granite setts stripped from the surface.  The huge granite coping stones, some weighing more than a ton, were lifted back into place and by the end of the summer the breakwater was arguably in better shape than it has been since the day it was built in the late 1890s.

work starts on the southern breakwater
Repairs to the smaller southern breakwater weren't so straight forward.  The storms had inflicted much more serious damage to both the stonework and concrete foundations.  Following an engineer's survey, it was agreed to undertake these repairs, like the previous repairs in 2012, by using the now tried and tested approach of using reinforced concrete where appropriate, since this creates a much stronger repair and should allow the structure to survive future weather events better.  Since Mullion harbour is a Grade II listed structure, consent was required from Cornwall Council, with advise from English Heritage, for the use of non-traditional materials and thus altering the appearance of the harbour.  A compromise was agreed whereby the seaward, less visible and more vulnerable aspect of the wall would be repaired in concrete, whilst the more visible and sheltered landward side of the wall would be re-constructed with natural stone.
The use of concrete should help protect the harbour longer term.

With these inevitable time delays, work finally started on the Southern breakwater in September and are due to carry on through the winter months...... weather permitting.  the expected costs of the work is likely to be in the region of £400,000.

We are hoping to work with Cornwall Council and English Heritage over the coming months to speed up the consent process so we don’t have long delays like this in the future, to agree a philosophy of repair and to be better able to understand and describe what might constitute a future 'catastrophic event'.

Western breakwater; setts in place, prior to re-pointing
Let's hope we're in for a quieter time this winter.  The events of last winter weren't quite the predicted 'catastrophic event' which will inevitably be thrown at us one day in the future, but for the time being Mullion Harbour is being repaired and it will hopefully be in better shape than ever to withstand whatever nature throws at it.


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Lots of different ways to celebrate the natural environment

The past few months have brought many different opportunities to find more interesting ways to engage children and their families in the outdoors. Now the heat and business of summer has passed with rockpooling events and local festivals the autumn lends itself to foraging in hedges and cooking up some more unusual feasts.

At Poltesco the September forage and feast walk saw locals scrabbling about on the shoreline looking dubiously at limpets and slimy seaweeds as the realisation that this was their lunch set in! An eclectic collection of hedgerow and seashore finds created a fantastic lunch cooked over the fire and was enjoyed by all. The feast included pepper dulse bread, kelp crisps and limpet surprise (the surprise being that when cooked for only a few seconds they can actually taste quite good!) along with berry tarts for dessert

Megan Adams the Wild Lizard Intern sharing her knowledge of the hedgerows. Photo by Shazzam

Cooking some delights over the fire, limpet surprise anyone? Photos by Shazzam
The onset of Halloween and half term brought about some very strange sights indeed around Poltesco. Forty children and their parents set off on a quest to collect dragon fly wings (sycamore seeds) and petrified hedgehogs (teasels) to make a potion. Along the way they met several eccentric characters including the head shrinking professor and a couple of zombies! The aim of the day was to weave more traditional Halloween activities in with children being taken along with a story and using their imaginations to see the natural environment in different ways.
Taking on the spider web challenge with Sarah Henn from Miracle Wood
There be some strange goings on down those parts at Halloween!

Looking forward to Christmas celebrations for the first time Grade Ruan School have been own at Poltesco all this week making decorations for the Tree Dressing Day. With the help of Falmouth University students the pupils from the school created some amazing decorations to cover the trees at Poltesco including a bamboo bender to house the candles made from clay.

Tree dressing, celebrated in early December, is based on many old customs from all over the world. It looks to decorate the trees in a celebration that brings the community together. On
December 12th the school will come down together and have a celebration morning at Poltesco with songs and refreshments and give everyone a chances to admire each other’s decorations. The decorations will remain up until 4.30pm that day for people to come down for a hot chocolate and to look at the children’s handiwork.

Grade Ruan School Up to their elbows in it leaf printing

Beautifully decorated clay candles using clay dug from the Lizard, sunflower oil and rush acting as a wick
There will also be a Tree Dressing workshop running this Saturday  6th December at Poltesco making decorations to adorn the more traditional Christmas tree and front doors.  The workshop is free but booking is essential so please call me on 01326 291174 or email  for more details and to book your place. 

Claire Scott Wild Lizard Education Ranger

Over the past few weeks Penrose has been lucky enough to be the scene for one of my favourite natural events, a murmuration of Starlings. If you have ever seen this close up it is a sight to behold. Thousands of individual Starlings moving as one in a fish like shoal around the sky. The early evening is the best time to see this spectacle up close, and with the birds sweeping low over Loe Pool and silhouetted against the trees it’s a special moment you won’t forget.

Starlings come together like this for a few reasons. Coming together means they have safety in numbers from predators. Individuals are hard for Raptors to pick out in the swirling clouds. Having a few friends’ means it’s also warmer at nights as they tend to roost together in very large numbers. Once they have picked a good spot to roost for the night like any large group they can be quite vocal, and again the noise levels will increase as they begin to stir at dawn. They leave again in massive numbers and can even be picked up on radar, which I bet has caused a few raised eyebrows for fresh recruits at Culdrose.

Stats from the RSPB show that “the starling population has crashed by over 70% in recent years, meaning they are now on the critical list of UK birds most at risk. The decline is believed to be due to the loss of permanent pasture, increased use of farm chemicals and a shortage of food and nesting sites in many parts of the UK”

This makes the spectacle that little bit more important. The past decade has seen a lot of work take place at Penrose between the farmers and landowners to assess the land capability and it seems like we are now seeing the benefits.

If you are around the Helston area then come along around 4pm to try and catch a glimpse.

Community Ranger.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Frogs eager to breed on The Lizard

The common frog Rana temporaria is a familiar sight across the UK. In any shallow standing water you are likely to come across tell-tale clumps of spawn, and tadpoles and froglets vying for survival, not above eating their siblings if needs must! 
But just when can you expect to find frogspawn and tadpoles in your local pond? The simple answer might be spring for spawn, and summer for tadpoles, but delve deeper and this doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny.

Early frogspawn on The Lizard
Here on the Lizard, in the far south-west of the UK, our mild climate gives lots of species a head start, but our frogs have taken this further than most! This year I first saw frog spawn on Lower Predannack Downs on 21st November, and Will our tenant at Teneriffe Farm snapped some on the 18th. These are both early records, but not unheard of in a Cornish context. The gamble of getting ahead in the breeding game must be worth taking, and the risk of a severe cold-snap which could freeze the spawn worth braving. The Lizard is famed for its rare plants, and one of our speciality habitat types is grandly titled Mediterranean temporary ponds, home to the grass-like fern pillwort, three lobed water crowfoot, tiny 1cm high pygmy rush and yellow centaury. More humbly called puddles, these shallow pools within the cart tracks that crisscross the clayey heathlands, are also ideal breeding habitat for frogs, being free of predators like fish that require permanent water.  However, a puddle that dries up before the spawn reaches froglet stage wasn’t such a wise bet! This is where the very earliest pre Christmas spawn may have the advantage, as the spring breeders are at greater risk of being left high and dry.
Frogspawn on Predannack Airfield Nov 14
Thanks to the long history of phenology in the UK, in which the date of first frog spawn features strongly, records like this from the Lizard can be put to good use. The UK phenology network has morphed in recent years into the website , hosted by the Woodland Trust, and supported by a huge network of enthusiastic amateurs submitting records ranging from first bluebell of the year, to first redwing and last swallow. This website has some excellent time lapse maps showing frogspawn’s march north and eastwards in any given Spring. 70,000 first frog spawn UK dates 1998-2007 were analysed and this revealed that, starting in the far south west, spawn took 7.5 days to ‘march’ 100km eastwards, and 5 days to advance 100km northwards. Comparison with data from 60 years before showed spawning to be 10 days earlier, a symptom of global warming, as early spring temperatures are a critical control on spawning dates. 

And for tadpoles?  Don’t be surprised if you find them in December too! Reports of tadpoles overwintering in ponds have been reported from Cornwall and Kent in the south, to Aberdeen in the north (see Research from Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities suggests this isn’t, as was once thought, a case of tadpoles failing to make the grade, but more a strategy chosen to allow the individuals to get ahead as, when they finally become frogs in Spring, they are a larger size. Some individuals may be taking advantage of the milder winter temperatures, from global warming, to become bigger tadpoles, and hence larger frogs.

So keep your eyes peeled, and records flowing in. You never know quite what time of year you may find frogspawn and tadpoles! 


Contact us


Email *

Message *