I was sorting through photographs today, and I found some from a couple of years ago when I went to visit Pennance Point, not far from Swanpool and Falmouth on the South Cornwall coast. The images brought back some lovely memories – I remember it as a blowy, cold-ish November day, but in the company of good friends from the ecology course I was studying.
It’s a beautiful spot, a County Wildlife site lying within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the neighbouring coastline is an Important Bird Area and Special Area of Conservation. Dominated as it is by cliffs, broadleaf woodland and scrub means there are lots of different things to see and discover.
We were in fact practising doing a habitat survey – and that meant we were searching for all kinds of signs and evidence for what might be snuffling in the undergrowth or curled up underground, keeping safely out of sight. Looking for ‘micro-signs’ like this means you catch so many small details that you would otherwise miss – a nibbled acorn, a footprint, hairs caught on a low branch, scratches in the bark of a tree. Put all these little things back together into one big canvas and you end up with a much more complete sense of what’s happening around you.
So, what did we find, on our day as nature detectives?
- Honeysuckle plus hazel = dormice. We didn’t find any dormice themselves (they’re nocturnal of course and would already be hibernating by November), but hazel nuts to nibble and honeysuckle for building nests are big clues that they may have been there, snoring away.
- Deep gouge on fallen log = badger (probably!). This was quite a big deep scratch – it would have to have been a powerful animal that made it – so we felt pretty sure it was a badger. We also saw badger paths – the characteristic trodden down trails through the undergrowth, made because a badger takes the same route every evening as it forages for food, and a footprint. So lots of clues for badger!
- Many of the trees were old with cracks and crevices = good spots for bats to use as roosts..
- Spraint is a really good field sign – different animals have different shaped ‘poo’, with characteristic smells. We decided this was fox. Do you agree?
We saw lots else of course, out in the open. A kestrel hovered over some scrub, and other birds dashed from tree to tree – long-tailed tits, wrens, chaffinches, dunnocks, goldcrests, and a song thrush perched high on a branch. The wood was full of lovely old trees – sycamore, silver and downy birch, hawthorn, oak, holly, beech and ash. Smaller plants included angelica, old man’s beard, creeping buttercup, sea campion, red campion, navelwort and common dog-violet. We saw a honey bee and a red admiral, and a spectacular drinker moth caterpillar cavorted through some scrub. Nothing out of the ordinary, but no less lovely for it.
Looking back through the photos has prompted me to get back there soon, and see how it looks in early spring. If you want to visit and see what signs and clues you can find, or just enjoy the sea air in your face, then park in the carpark at Swanpool and head south a few metres to make your way on to the path to Pennance Point. You won’t regret it.