Porkellis Moor

So, in my last post, I said I would visit one of Cornwall’s hidden gems, somewhere  a bit off the tourist trail. In the end, I didn’t pick one of the places I listed last week, but somewhere I’ve been passing by everytime I head towards Helston and keep meaning to explore – Porkellis Moor.

It’s been on my list for a number of reasons:  1. I love bogs, fens, ponds, puddles and mud, and Porkellis Moor is apparently full of them.  2. It is part of the West Cornwall Bryophytes SSSI, so is a haven for some rare liverwort species – very nice if you like boggy places, like me.  3. It’s pretty close to where I live, so it’s high time I went.

The first lesson was, don’t take the car. I did in the end manage to tuck my car away somewhere, but there’s not really anywhere to park at any of the entrances to the reserve. So if my description below tempts you to visit, take the bicycle, or make it part of a longer walk in the area round Stithians and the Reservoir: a good OS map will give you the footpaths.

Entering by a small kissing gate on the south side of the area, a hedgerow-lined path takes you towards the moor but hides it from sight.  A fox ran across the path in front of me, stared me out for a few seconds, and then shot fast into the undergrowth.  Having had a morning getting fed up doing shopping and other chores, and depressed by the dull day, it was one of those ‘entering another world through the wardrobe’ moments and, despite the drizzle, my spirits lifted. I followed the fox.

Porkellis Moor in November (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Dumb buddle on Porkellis Moor (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

I lost sight of my guide, but soon found the moor. It is definitely, decidedly boggy. Take your wellies!  It is in fact not only a lovely marshy area – I’m sure in the spring and summer it is going to be humming with butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and lovely boggy plant species – but is also part of the Cornish tin mining heritage, with various remains, including a couple of ‘dumb buddles’.  A buddle was a circular pit, fitted with rotating brushes and used to concentrate the tin ore, and a dumb buddle was the manual version. It’s fun to explore round some of these ruins, and at this time of year I suspect you will have the place largely to yourself – I did – apart from locals enjoying a good place for a walk. It would be a fantastic place for dogs to enjoy – lots of lovely puddles to splash in!

I made a half-hearted attempt to look for rare bryophytes, but I’m no expert, and will need to ask for some help from more knowledgeable friends in finding them. If any readers happen to know their liverworts, the species found here are Cephaloziella integerrima, C. massalongi and C. nicholsonii.

Yellow Brain Fungus (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

But I did find some other more common but still lovely things.  Yellow brain fungus for one was in its full yellow splendour after the rain.  This inedible golden-coloured fungus of dead and decaying wood – Tremella mesenterica – shrivels up in dry weather, but with wet conditions (of which we’ve had plenty) it swells up and contorts, looking something like a brain, and hence its common name. Not over-large (no more than 10 cm) it’s still a bright sight on a dull day!

And look at this amazing fruticose lichen – an Usnea sp., I think.

Fruticose lichen (Usnea sp.) (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

Or this beauty, which I think is Parmotrema perlatum.

Parmotrema perlatum (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

It just goes to show that even on a mizzly November day, when birds and other beasts are keeping out of sight, there is still plenty that is wonderful to see, if you’re prepared to look at the smaller scale.  A hand lens is a great and inexpensive investment to bring a new world to life.

Before leaving, I explored an area of wet willow woodland.  Even wearing wellies it was tough going in the muddy conditions, so I stopped instead for a few moments, listening to the sounds of the wood – drippings, rustlings, scurryings – still and quiet and yet also full of noises. The more I listened, the more I tuned in to the vibrant undercurrent of life amongst the willows with their weaving branches. As I turned to go, I caught a flash of red moving through the trees. Goodbye for now, fox – see you next time!

Wet willow woodland, Porkellis Moor (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

Off the beaten track in Cornwall…

I’ve been very busy this week, so I’ve had no chances to go exploring – which has been very frustrating! But I have had the chance to do some exploration planning while I was business journeying, so I thought I’d share it with you…

cornwall
Cornwall (Photo credit: R.I.Pienaar)

A meeting in Exeter on Friday saw me motoring up the A39 and A30. It was one of those drizzly, foggy, grey Cornish days. In the safety of my car I could have been anywhere: the mist drowned all view of what lay beyond the road verges, except for the occasional shifting shape of a tree, or a hill, or a horse close to the field edge. And the road signs, pointing to places away off beyond where I was heading …I swept by so many, and being the only material things apart from the road itself that I could see with any clarity, I paid far more attention to them than normal.

Growing up in London, I used to love finding the hidden gems – places that weren’t mobbed by tourists or people, but were enjoyed by locals and had a different charm. Oxleas Wood rather than Hyde Park, the Horniman rather than the British Museum, Dulwich Gallery not the Tate, and the independent Sydenham Books rather than the high-street chain.

Predannack Downs on the Lizard (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

So far, I haven’t really done that in Cornwall.  I’ve been busy visiting the better-known places: St. Ives and Porthcurno, the Lizard, Falmouth and Cape Cornwall. There’s nothing wrong with that – they’re all beautiful – but maybe it’s time I started hunting out the hidden gems down here, too.

Because of the misty drive, and because therefore the rolling hills of Cornwall were out of sight, it was the names on those roadsigns that I noticed, places I’d only vaguely heard of, and certainly never been. Later, I got out my map to look for them, and found many, many more intriguing and beckoning names…

…Polyphant and Old Kea, Two Waters Foot, Treworgan Grove and Lawhitton, Enniscaven and Carclew.  Egloshayle, Restronguet, Washaway. Should I walk Old Carnon Hill to Perranwell, or take the Old Coach Road to Bodwannick Wood?  So many woods – Callywith, Lamphill and Captain’s, Roskrow, Devichoys, Follycoombe, Queenie and Horneywink. Up on Bodmin, I could choose to turn left to the village of Helland or right towards Blisland. I could look down from Hawk’s Tor, or gaze up from below, standing next to the watery depths of Siblyback and Dozmary.

So, I think it’s time I visited some of these places. I may not be able to get to all of them – some may be privately owned, and maybe some are now just names on a map. But I’m going to try…this week, I will be picking one to visit, and will write a post on how I got on and what I found – place, wildlife, people and history.

And if anyone has ideas for hidden Cornwall gems I should get to, please do let me know!


Working together for nature

I’ve been heard to express doubt about whether wildlife NGOs work together often enough. Acting in partnership gives not only strength in numbers and clout, but means that people and organisations, both at local and national levels, get to share views, good practice and ideas.

So I’m always glad when I’m forced to eat my words on this point.

Coverack Harbour on the east coast of the Lizard. Photo credit: Amanda Scott

A great example where I’m proved wrong in Cornwall is the “Linking the Lizard” project. Part of Cornwall Wildlife Trust‘s Living Landscapes initiative, the Trust is working in partnership with the National Farmers Union, Natural England, the National Trust, and Cornwall Area of Outstanding National Beauty to deliver changes across the landscape that will benefit both wildlife and those who live and work there on the land and sea by supporting sustainable business, agriculture and tourism. Wildlife will gain from those involved being able to work across boundaries to link habitats and species. I’ll be watching the project develop with interest!

Nationally, it’s also good to see the NGOs speaking out together on issues. The RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and Institute of European Environmental Policy have recently written to the Prime Minister urging him to push for wise spending on environmental policies. They’ve told him the key is not more expenditure, but in a time of economic austerity, to target it in the most effective way, to improve the environment for all EU citizens. It’s very powerful when wildlife NGOs and an independent policy thinktank speak out together – let’s hope Mr. Cameron listens.

My Cornish Ark

Like me, you may have enjoyed watching David Attenborough last night (Friday 9 November) on the BBC talking about which 10 endangered species he would save by taking on to his ‘Ark’.  I was both entranced by the charismatic  (and in some cases, very cute!) species he chose, but also saddened to be reminded about the threats facing them – all are at some danger of extinction, all because of us humans.

It got me thinking about what species from Cornwall I would want to save in my own Ark.  So here is my list (of 8 rather than 10) – not all are unique to Cornwall, but all can be found here (for now) and are loved members of our Cornish countryside. It’s also a list based on my own knowledge and interests – what species would you choose?

Red-billed Chough flying in Penwith, Cornwall,...
Chough flying in Penwith, Cornwall, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Cornish Chough: No apologies for the Cornish prefix – although making a comeback elsewhere across Britain, this is an iconic bird of Cornwall. Absent from Cornish shores for three decades, a breeding pair first reappeared on the Lizard in 2001 (they’re still there! – choughs pair for life). The population has been growing since and choughs can now be found all around the Cornwall coast, in no small part due to the amazing army of volunteers organised by the RSPB who help each year in nest monitoring and guarding. A conservation success story – fingers crossed for the chough!

2. Hedgehog: Hedgehogs are in trouble across the UK. A report The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2011 found that numbers have decreased by 25% in just 10 years – and that’s a conservative estimate. More research is needed into why, but loss of habitat is doubtless one reason. I’d like to see more hedgehogs in Cornwall, so they are in my Ark.

Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus)
Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Basking sharks: I’ve yet to see a basking shark on the Cornish coast, though I’ve been trying – I fell over and hurt my knee on the coastal path last year when spending more time gazing oceanwards than at where my feet were going! Like the Choughs, these plankton-feeding majestic creatures are on the increase, due to their comparatively recent protection from commercial hunting, as shown by recent research. They’re in my Ark to make sure the success continues – I’m not sure how I’m going to fit a pair in, though!

English: A female of Marsh Fritillary (Euphydr...
A female Marsh Fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia)  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4. Marsh Fritillary Butterfly: This is one of our most endangered butterfly species. It’s hanging on in a few locations in Cornwall, thanks to the work of various wildlife charities, including the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation (plus the dedicated volunteers of its Cornwall branch). I’ll need some Devil’s Bit Scabious in my Ark as well, of course – the food plant of its caterpillar.

5. White-clawed crayfish: This is another seriously endangered species – our only native freshwater crayfish – at threat from being outcompeted by the introduced non-native American Signal Crayfish, which also carries a fungal infection fatal to our home-grown species. Buglife and the Environment Agency have been leading on conservation efforts for this small but beautiful creature, including a release in Cornwall, so here’s hoping for success.

Skylark
Skylark (Photo credit: Sergey Yeliseev)

6. Skylark: A lovely bird, and we do still see it in Cornwall but, like all farmland birds, it has been seriously declining.  I was once walking a little-used heathland path in the Cornish spring and accidentally disturbed a skylark who was nesting, hidden away right at the path’s edge – I retreated and watched to make sure she made it back safe and sound, but skylarks are in my Ark as an apology to her, and because I would hate to lose the sight and song of this bird from our Cornish countryside. Read the chapter ‘Hope for farmland birds’ in Mark Avery’s excellent book Fighting for Birds for a balanced and insightful account of efforts to save this and other farmland birds.

timide
Short-snouted Seahorse (Photo credit: Philippe Guillaume)

7. Short-snouted Seahorse: Some people are surprised to learn there are seahorses round the British Coast, but there they are, nestling beneath the waves. Mostly they are found in the warmer south-west British waters, including Cornwall.  All are at risk – partly due to disturbance to the eelgrass and seagrass beds they need for their habitat – and the Short-snouted Seahorse is the rarest. Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Living Sea’s programme works to protect the places they live, as does The Seahorse Trust. Possibly my favourite fish, they are welcome in my Ark!

8. Pigmy RushIn a departure from Ark-ish tradition, I am including a plant on my Cornish Ark. Pigmy Rush is an endangered plant, found in Europe, but in the UK only found on the Lizard in Cornwall. It is one of the smallest rushes, and colonises bare ground so likes land that is a little bit disturbed. Thanks to conservation management efforts, it has done well over the last year or so, including at Windmill Farm where artificial disturbance has been successful. You need to get up close and personal to appreciate its pink-flushed beauty, but it’s worth the effort!

What do you think? What would you save?

Around St. Agnes in the rain

Yesterday, I should have been staying at home doing some work, but the sun was shining, and what’s a person to do!

View from St. Agnes Beacon (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

I decided to explore somewhere new but not too far, so I threw my walking boots in the car and headed off to St. Agnes on the north coast.  First I negotiated the one-way system in the village, stopped off at a local shop for crisps and chocolate, and then drove to near St. Agnes Head, parked, pulled on several layers of clothing and set off on the South West Coast Path.

English: Tubby's Head & Chapel Porth Walking t...
Tubby’s Head & Chapel Porth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The view was stunning, the sea a beautiful greeney-blue, and the path stony but level-ish. I quickly arrived at the intriguingly named Tubby’s Head, and sat for a few moments on a bench, in the seat of which there was fixed a small brass plaque: “June Claydon, Resting in Peace by the Sea, July 1992“. I wondered who June was.  I thought of her, maybe sitting on this bench in this same spot, doing pretty much the same as me, gazing out to sea and enjoying the crisp air on her skin. It is wonderful how you can be touched by the life of someone you know nothing about, simply because you occupy the same space, maybe feeling similar things, albeit in a different time.

Towanroath Mine Engine House, nr. St. Agnes, Cornwall (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

You may already have noticed a discrepancy between the heading of this post and my reference to the sun in the opening paragraph. Well, by this, paragraph 4, the discrepancy disappears. Yes, from this point it started to drizzle, though it fortunately never became a downpour! Never mind, I continued on to admire the industrial archaeology of the Wheal Coates Tin Mine and Towanroath mine engine house, and then on to join the dog walkers and their happy dogs on Chapel Porth Beach.

After this I turned inland up Chapel Coombe, walking through woods on a muddy path alongside a stream. The sea was forgotten, and I was in a world of trees, farmland and  woodland birds until, emerging on to an upward track, I finally reached the top of St. Agnes Beacon. What a view! Wet and cold, but still…The heathland here is an important habitat, looked after by the National Trust. I was a little late in the year for the full heather display, but some Bell Heather was still flowering, its purple contrasting with the vibrant yellow gorse. A bird of prey hovered – what did it see? A vole or mouse (prey)? A pile of stones on top of the hill, meaningless to it? A wet human (not particularly interesting to your average raptor!)?

English: Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) The tip ...
Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After this, the weather was getting the better of me, so I headed back to the coast, enjoying the (very distant!) sun shining through breaks in the clouds lighting up the horizon, and then walked along the cliffs and back to my car.

As I drove home, I thought again about June Claydon. I’d like to think that, when my time comes, Cornwall will be enough my home, and enough people will think well of me, that there will be a bench here for me, too.

You can find a similar walk to mine, plus others, at The St. Agnes Forum Website.

And I’d love to hear from anyone who knows who June Claydon was.

Crossing the Bar

Enjoying Loe Bar – photo credit: Katherine Cho

So, this is my first post on my first ever blog.  I feel quite nervous, even when it’s just my keyboard and me. But I want to share my thoughts, views and enthusiasm for the natural world in Cornwall, so here goes!  I’m conscious I’m joining many others already writing about this wonderful county, but it has enough to offer to inspire many more again.  My main focus will be to write about the many exciting things going on in Cornwall for conservation and biodiversity and about the places of natural beauty to visit west of the Tamar, as well as about some of the great people living in the county who are working hard for conservation.  My first post is more reflective, as I start a new journey in life – but there’ll be plenty of more down-to-earth stuff to come!

Everyone needs a place to call ‘home’ – a breathing space, a port in a storm, or whatever phrase you prefer. Deciding to move to Cornwall permanently earlier in 2012 after a year studying near Falmouth confirmed to me that home is not so much about ‘four walls’ as it is about a place of inner retreat, a safe emotional haven to recuperate before setting off on the next adventure, but it can still be anchored in real places and people.  My family in London are my main anchorage, friends in other parts of the country are others, but in terms of places, my first Cornish anchoring point, as a student back in 2010, was Loe Bar.

I was living just outside of Helston, at the top of the Lizard Peninsula, about four miles away from Loe Bar, so I set off to explore.  Loe Bar, lying between the Atlantic waves and Cornwall’s largest natural freshwater lake, Loe Pool (or simply The Loe – Loe derives from the Cornish logh, meaning pool), is nationally, even internationally, renowned in geological terms as a fine example of a bay-bar, a bar of sandy, silty sediment formed across a bay, creating a lake behind it. In the case of Loe Bar, it lies across the original but now drowned estuary of the River Cober.

Loe Bar (photo credit:  Amanda Scott)

Both The Loe and Loe Bar have some mysteries attached to them.  The Bar itself is mainly composed of sediment that is nothing to do with the nearby cliffs.  The geological jury is out, but the most likely explanation is that the grit and sand has been transported by the strong (and treacherous currents) from over 100 miles up the coastline. On the subject of those treacherous currents, the drownings and shipwrecks they have caused through the centuries have probably led to the tradition that The Loe claims a life every seven years (definitely not a place for a swim).  Tradition also has it that The Loe reclaimed Excalibur – it is a contender for the site where Sir Bedivere threw Arthur’s sword into the waters.

Loe Bar is however atmospheric enough without the need for myths and legends.  You can reach it by a gentle two-mile walk from Porthleven to the west along the SW coast path, but my favourite route, and the way I first approached it, is to park in the public car park at Penrose and walk through the National Trust-owned Penrose Estate.  I’ll talk about the lovely Penrose in a future blog soon, but for now the point is that, walking this way, you approach The Bar from above, and the effect of emerging from the wooded path to the sight of the Pool, the Bar and the waves of the sea beyond them opening before you is straight away to expand and refresh your spirit.

English: Overlooking Loe Bar nr Helston on a s...
English: Overlooking Loe Bar nr Helston on a spring day from Penrose Walks nr Helston (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once your feet are walking in the sand of the Bar (like any beach, it’s hard to resist shedding your shoes), the reality doesn’t disappoint. I’m always struck by the different characters of the sea and pool sides of the bar, helped by the steepness of the slope meaning that you cannot always see both except in the middle strip. At the lake edge, the vegetation changes from salt to freshwater (the sea has little if any influence on the composition of The Loe’s waters), in the winter visiting birds rest and feed on the water (including my favourite Shovellers and Tufted Ducks), and once I eyeballed an adder before she disappeared fast into the undergrowth.  On the ‘other side’ you are clearly on a beach, sea fishermen sit by the waves with their lines, and you can see gannets speeding close to the water, as well as the ever-present gulls.  But they are not really apart from each other – gazing at the waters of The Loe you can still hear the crashing waves just out of sight, while looking out to sea, you remain aware of the still presence of the lake, ever behind you.

The Loe Pool - geograph.org.uk - 716608
The Loe Pool – geograph.org.uk – 716608 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my more fanciful moments, I like to think of Loe Bar as a symbol of one of those life transitions, with the move from peaceful woods and walking across its sands towards the sea standing for moving on to new challenges, new adventures, but with the security of your safe anchorage always ready behind you.  Whatever, Loe Bar is an entrancing place to visit, so do try to get there to clear your head and widen your horizons before setting your feet on the road again.

Check out the National Trust website for more about Penrose and Loe Bar.

And enjoy the engaging ‘Man on a Beach’s mini-interviews on Loe Bar.