Earlier this week, I joined my chums from Natural England’s Lizard team for a Christmas Barbecue at Kennack Sands (a popular surfing spot), near the village of Kuggar on the Lizard’s east coast.
There are two beaches at Kennack Sands: the eastern beach and surrounding area is part of the Lizard National Nature Reserve. This is a great place to go rock pooling, to search for Basking Sharks in the summer months, or to admire the geology of the exposed gneiss.
It was good to see the team working while they ate their BBQ grub! The sand dunes and cliffs on the nature reserve are home to some of the beautiful coastal plants of The Lizard, but these can be crowded out by encroaching more vigorous scrub and taller grasses. Originally, this would have been prevented when the land was used for low intensity cattle grazing. Now, cattle grazing has to be replicated by keeping the scrub down by other means. The Natural England staff and volunteer team are cutting back the vigorous gorse and grasses on a rotational basis, giving breathing space to more delicate plants.
Also working hard were the Natural England ponies. Well, they wouldn’t call it working hard…they would call it eating! But their grazing also helps in the conservation management of the site by keeping the grass height down. Cattle would have been grazing the site regularly until the 1930s. The old farmhouse, now a guesthouse, is visible from the beach and, apparently, the farmer used to come to his door at milking time, call to his herd, and the cows would obediently return home. They were fed at the same time, so that was why they were happy to leave the pastures at the end of the day: nonetheless, it’s a lovely nostalgic image. Now it’s the job of the ponies to eat those grasses.
If you visit Kennack Sands yourself, watch out for Butcher’s Broom (Ruscus aculeatus), a member of the Lily family and a native of Southern England, Scilly, South Wales and East Anglia. In the winter, you can’t miss its large, bright red berry fruit. The plant gets its common name from the fact that butchers once used the spiny branches to scour their chopping boards. The spiny leaves aren’t in fact leaves at all, but flattened portions of stem: the real leaves are reduced to tiny scales on the stems: you’ll need a hand lens to see them.
All in all, it was a lovely day for a barbecue and to enjoy winter sunshine and good food together at a beautiful spot. I have met so many wonderful people and had such good times in my first full year living in Cornwall. I’m looking forward to next year already!