Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Swallows Sign the End of Summer

So many of our migrant birds have already moved south for the winter and large gathering of Swallows are lining telegraph wires everywhere, a sure sign that summer is coming to an end.  

 There are still plenty of birds to be found on the peninsula however, tail patterns of Wheatear's and Whinchat's can be seen as thay feed on the edge of the heath and along the coast. Or in the sheltered wooded valleys you may be lucky to see a Spotted Fly Catcher show boating the real art of catching insects in flight. 

This photograph of a Sandwich Terns diving from height catching sand eels around the sheltered bays of the Lizard was taken last week and this gem of a rarity, the Red Backed Shrike, was seen just last weekend in the scrub along the Kynance toll road enjoying some late September sun.

Happy Birding. 


Monday, 27 September 2010

Mullion CP School Gardening Club

“I don’t like green beans!” said one young gardener as we started harvesting the fruits of our labour during last week’s gardening club. Five minutes later he was munching away on freshly picked sweet and crunchy beans, straight from the plant. These beans were a far cry from the limp and stringy variety found on supermarket shelves.   

After a long week of meetings and general office work, I really look forward to our Friday afternoon Gardening Club at Mullion CP School. I’ve been running the club with help from Mullion in Bloom and Mullion Horticultural Society volunteers for the past few months. With a group of up to 15 young gardeners, we have been growing our own fruit and vegetables, planting trees around the school grounds and generally improving the school for the benefit of both children and wildlife.

Spring term is the really busy time, when all the beds are prepared, seeds sown and weeds pulled. By the end of term the first crops were being harvested (or in the case of strawberries, just eaten at break time). During the long summer holidays, one of our young gardeners (and her granny) kept an eye on the garden, watered the beds and harvested the vegetables (courgettes, beans, cabbages etc) which she sold outside her gate. She raised over £50!!!

Last Friday, we cleared one of the beds.
Red and purple potatoes were dug, runner beans picked (and eaten), leeks pulled and
a few overgrown courgettes and a giant pumpkin were discovered. We then dug over the bed and sowed some rocket which should mature before winter sets in. We were planning to turn the harvest into soup, but the enthusiasm of the kids took over and we spent too much time harvesting. The plan is to join forces with the school cookery club and make soup this week instead.

The club will continue through the winter, with the next project to sort out the wildlife garden and pond.  Through the sale of vegetables, together with a few kind donations has enabled the club to buy its own poly-tunnel, so next year we’ll be able to grow even more vegetables all year round.   Our ultimate goal is to transform the school dinners with more crunchy green beans and other wholesome fruit and veg.

Happy gardening


Wednesday, 22 September 2010


Volunteers required to help out with our ancient tree survey at Penrose. If you're keen to learn more about the trees on the estate and you know the basic difference between an Oak and an Ash get in touch with our warden David on the office number: 01326 561407

All help is really appreciated and you never know it might start you off on a completely new path in life!

Gunwalloe Beach Clean

The MCS Beachwatch survey and beach clean up is a national event that has taken place every September since 1993, with help from MCS members, supporters and the general public.  The National Trust on the Lizard has been involved in the event since the very beginning.

On Saturday, members of the Gunwalloe Surf Life Saving Club helped me clean and survey the beach at Gunwalloe Church Cove.  Rather than just clean up the rubbish, each item picked up is recorded.  The data is then used by the MCS as part of their litter campaigns and is useful for lobbying governments and other decision makers about the problems of beach and marine litter.  Without knowing where marine litter originates, it is difficult to target the major polluters and reduce pollution at source.

Arriving at Gunwalloe on Saturday lunchtime, it was easy to believe the beach had already been cleaned, as there was very little visible rubbish.  I know that the Surf Life Saving Club, the RNLI, NT volunteers and other locals regularly remove litter from the beach, so I thought we were in for an easy task.

How very wrong I was!!  A closer inspection along the tideline showed all was not so clean and tidy after all.

After giving a short talk to the young members of the club about the dangers of beach rubbish to wildlife, (did you know that short sighted turtles regularly mistake floating plastic bags as their favourite food of jelly fish and their stomachs become so full of plastic that they starve to death, and that 90% of fulmars found dead around the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs?), we set to work clearing the beach of rubbish and recording our findings.

In total we picked up 1899 pieces of rubbish!!!

Of which there were:
907 pieces of discarded fishing net
131 Plastic bottle lids
172 Plastic sweet/ crisp wrappers
151 unidentified pieces of plastic
35 cotton bud sticks
19 pieces of fishing line
16 balloons (with plastic strings)
15 nails
10 shotgun cartridges
2 pens
and a hypodermic needle!!!!

an example of the typical type of rubbish found on the beach

An extraordinary quantity of litter found on a small cornish beach, which on first impressions looked immaculate.  The worrying thing is the amount which originates from the sea, with the vast majority of rubbish originating from the fishing industry.  (isn't fishing the main industry which relies on a healthy marine environment?).  I would love to know why there are so many short cut pieces of green fishing net, only 2-10 cm long, found on all our beaches.  These look just like a sand eel to many fish and sea birds and are regularly digested.  Of course, this litter could have come from far away.  Plastic takes generations to break down and can travel enormous distances across the sea

a few of the GSLC members who helped me with the survey

 Anyway, a BIG thankyou to the Gunwalloe Surf Life Saving Club, especially the younger members, who so enthusiastically helped with the survey.  The beach really is immaculate now thanks to them.  (until the next westerley gale dumps a load more rubbish!)


Thursday, 16 September 2010

Bee Part of It! update

Since May this year, I have been involved in the National Trust's Bee Part of It! Project, in partnership with the BBC. The purpose of the this project was to highlight the plight of the honey bee and encourage the public to do more to help in its survival. The honey bee has struggled to survive in recent years due to a combination of disease, warm damp winters and changes in agricultural practices.
A hive with a small nucleus of bees was moved to Kynance Coves in mid May where the bees could take advantage of the wonderful variety of flowers growing at this special place. The Lizard is renowned for it’s rich and unusual flora, with some species growing nowhere else in the British Isles. Unique flora produces unique honey

All went well during the early days of the project. A warm and dry May and June, with some of the best shows of blossom and wild flowers seen for years gave an optimistic outlook for a bumper crop of honey as bee numbers swelled and the first stores of honey were stashed away.
By the end of June however, drought had set in and less nectar was available to the bees as the surrounding landscape was parched and brown. Then came July and rain returned to green up the fields and some of the later flowering plants began to flower around the heathland and cliffs. But when it’s cool and wet, like humans, bees tend to stay indoors and reduce their foraging trips.
Then disaster struck! On a routine visit to check the hive in late July, the queen appeared to have gone AWOL. There were no eggs laid in the brood chamber and no sign of the marked queen. Whilst queens live substantially longer than the workers and drones, up to 2 or 3 years, they do eventually stop laying and die. Regicide is also not uncommon in a hive if the workers decide the queen is past it.
All was not lost however. Bees are clever and resourceful creatures and they had prepared for this eventuality by creating a new queen. The tell tale sign of an elongated queen cell on the edge of one of the frames gave an element of hope that the colony might survive.
A further visit a week later revealed that the workers had been successful as a new queen was evident and eggs were being laid. However, the loss of the queen had set the colony back considerably, possibly up to 2 months during potentially the most productive time of the year.                     
photo credit Ben Giles
As another inevitably wet and windy August passed, honey production was slow despite a wonderful display of Cornish Heath and Bell heather around Kynance.

So far September has been kind to us, but it seems increasingly unlikely that we’ll be harvesting any honey this year. It’s important to leave enough honey in the hive for the bees to see through the winter, although they might be able to spare a single frame of comb honey to give to our friends at BBC Radio Cornwall who have followed the progress of the hive through the year.
Further updates to follow…..


Sunday, 12 September 2010

Boreholes, Bombers and Beef

On Friday over 30 members of the public joined me for a guided walk around Predannack Airfield.   Whilst I was able to talk about the wildlife and history of this fascinating site, I was assisted by Tim and Nick from RNAS Culdrose who were able to explain more about the present military use.  The Airfield, half owned by the National Trust,  is usually closed to the public for operational reasons, but we are trying to improve access to the site through close partnership working with the MoD.

Much of the Airfield is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (sssi) for its rare habitats and species.  It is also very rich in history, with prehistoric barrows, post-medieval peat diggings and particularly the WWII artifacts.  The Airfield was built rapidly at the start of the war and was completed in 1941, initially as a fighter base and later as a base for Wellington and Liberator bombers.  At it's peak, it had a workforce of over 3,600, before closing in 1946.  It was in the 1950s that Predannack Airfield again rose to prominence when it was chosen by Sir Barnes Wallis as an experimental site for new designs of swing winged aircraft.  These experiments, undertaken in secrecy, led the way for much of today's modern military aircraft design.

Today, the primary military use of the Airfield is for helicopter flight training and fire fighter training by the Royal Navy, whilst much of the heathland and non-operational land is managed primarily for wildlife.  The National Trust has recently introduced grazing to the site, with it's in-hand herd of Dexter cattle and each winter areas of the heathland are burned to encourage healthier heathland.


Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Archaeologists shed new light on Gunwalloe's Dark secrets

This summer volunteers from the Cornwall Archaeological Society and Meneage Archaeological Group undertook a week of recording and excavation on the early medieval site on Trust land at Gunwalloe. The site was first identified in 1909 and has since captured the interest and imagination of local residents and archaeologists who have seen archaeological features naturally eroding out of the cliff face from the beach below.

The archaeological remains belong to a possible early medieval settlement in the sand dunes dating to between the 7th and 9th centuries AD. The archaeological site at Gunwalloe is of great importance as only one other settlement of this date has been excavated in Cornwall which makes it of national significance in understanding this period. This period of Britain’s past is aptly named ‘The Dark Ages’  because of the lack of material evidence and understanding of society between the Roman and medieval periods. Little is known of how people lived and what society was like after the Romans left Britain.
 Earlier rescue investigations have found middens, which are ‘rubbish pits’, full of limpet and mussel sea shells, locally hand-made pottery along with animal and fish bones. This limited evidence suggests that the people that lived here might have been both farmers and fishermen, possibly living in small turf walled houses sheltered from the sea behind the dunes. However, the site had never been properly investigated making it difficult to prove this and leaving many questions unanswered.

In addition, the remains continue to slowly disappear off the cliff as the winter storms erode the cliff face resulting in the loss of important archaeological evidence. Local residents and the National Trust therefore teamed up together to investigate the site before it is lost forever.

The fieldwork was carried out by a steadfast and skilled team composed of Christean Wilson, Chris Verran, Priscilla Oakes, Megan Reed, Barbara Powell, Stephen Brooks and others, under the direction of Dr. Imogen Wood of Exeter University and Dr. Bryn Morris.

The week itself was a great success and the results exceeded all expectations !

The investigations revealed a midden, a possible hearth, a clay floor surface, pits filled with charcoal and occupation layers. However, whilst taking environmental samples Dr Ben Pears and Dr Tom Walker by complete chance discovered a line of stones which, when revealed, remarkably turned out to be the exterior of a clay bonded revetted stone wall from a Dark Age house ! 

As you can see from the photographs, the wall was straight and created much like a Cornish hedge with neat stone face suggesting a rectangular house which from the outside would have looked like an earth bank with a roof on top, which one could imagine would be ideal to shelter its occupants from winter storms.

The midden material supporting the walls produced another astonishing find, a sherd of pottery of a previously unknown form for this period. In addition finds included numerous well preserved delicate fish, shellfish, crab and bird remains.

The results of the week have contributed greatly to our understanding of the site. It is now possible to estimate that the settlement stretched over 370 metres from the existing church along the current coastline and possibly a 10 metres inland, with over 70 metres of this already lost to natural erosion by the sea. Such a significant settlement - the largest 7th - 9th century rural settlement in Devon and Cornwall suggests the location was of great importance in that period.

So why was Gunwalloe such an important place ?

The answer may be in the name, the origin of which is the Winwaloe which is the name of the most commonly dedicated saint in Cornwall. Historic documents suggest that St. Winwaloe was born in Cornwall but studied in Brittany and came back to convert the Cornish people to Christianity. It is possible that St. Winwaloe may have visited the site in the 6th century AD and perhaps lived in a rock cut hermitage in the cliffs at the current location of the church tower. This would have made the area a place of worship perhaps associated with the Bretton monastery of Landévennec. The Domesday Book in 1086 tells us there was a Royal Manor at Winnianton, which owned more land than any other Manor in Cornwall or Devon. This suggests that area must have been well populated and wealth, where local people would come to pay their taxes to the king.

A huge thank you from the National Trust to everyone who undertook the project, and we hope more research will be undertaken in future years at this site. Many thanks also to John Curtis of Winnianton Farm for allowing this important work to take place.

See video on YouTube (Winnianton Archaeological Project 2010) to watch an interview about the work with Dr. Imogen Wood


(with thanks to Imogen Wood for historical / project text ) 

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Weasel's-snout amongst the barley harvest

The combine harvesters have been busy, bringing in the last of the barley around Lizard in the last week in late summer sun. As part of my rare plant surveys this year I've been out and about, looking for a specialised group of plants known as arable weeds. Poppy and corncockle are some of the more well known arable weeds, plants which have grown happily alongside our crops for centuries, but which have declined rapidly in the last fifty years as grain can now be 'cleaned' of weed seeds, and herbicide use has increased. Unfortunately no shows of poppies or corncockle to be found, but good news in that with careful searching I have found a couple of interesting species in amongst the stubble. Pictured above is weasel's-snout, or lesser snapdragon, and it is a species listed as vulnerable nationally, as is field woundwort which I found in several fields around Lizard Point. The pretty field pansy (photo below), is also quite widespread, and always lovely to see. Keep your eyes peeled!  


Monday, 6 September 2010

Kynance - beautiful beach, iconic coastline - now with added cows!

Anyone who knows Kynance, will be familiar with the wonderful coastal scenery, sandy coves and turquoise water, but now you may spot something new when you visit, a herd of Ruby Red Cattle grazing the cliffs for the benefit of wildlife. The cattle belong to Roland Hill of Pendorian Farm, Lizard and they are the first livestock to graze Kynance Cliff and Lizard Downs in many decades.

It’s brilliant to see the cattle out on the cliffs, knowing that their grazing will bring great benefits for wildlife. It has been a bold step to reintroduce grazing here, and it has taken five years of planning and liaison with our neighbours and the local community. 3km of new fencing has been erected, but you would hardly know as it has been carefully hidden out of sight so as not to compromise the open views. So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive, and the placid cattle are proving a real hit

                The cattle, through their grazing and trampling, will be of huge value in managing the cliffs and heath for nature. By keeping in check coarse grasses and scrub the cattle will allow the smaller rare plant species, such as land quillwort, spring sandwort and wild chives to thrive, and the short grazed turf and dung provide perfect feeding habitat for the choughs which have nested nearby for nearly a decade. This additional grazing has given Roland Hill our grazier the opportunity to establish a pure herd of Ruby Red cattle, a native traditional breed from Devon which will thrive on the Downs. He intends to sell their meat locally through butcher’s shops, and their varied diet will mean the meat will be of the highest quality.

The project has been a partnership between The National Trust, Natural England, and the grazier Roland Hill, with works such as fencing, cattle grids and water supply funded by the HEATH project.

Thanks to our Artist in Residence Olivia Dale for the lovely photos.


Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

This Moth is a migrant from Africa which is found in Britain all summer long.You can see them on sunny and overcast days hovering over such plants as Honeysuckle and Buddleia whilst feeding where they will return to the same flowerbeds at the same time every day. You might hear the audible hum of their wings beating so fast.
These pictures were taken outside our workshop at Penrose



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