Kennack Sands, a winter BBQ and cuddly ponies…

Kennack Sands

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.

Scrub bashing at Kennack Sands: the Natural England volunteers in action (photo: Amanda Scott)
Scrub bashing at Kennack Sands: the Natural England volunteers in action (photo: Amanda Scott)

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.

Ponies doing their bit for conservation at Kennack Sands (photo: Amanda Scott)
Ponies doing their bit for conservation at Kennack Sands (photo: Amanda Scott)

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.

Butcher's Broom fruit (photo: Amanda Scott)
Butcher’s Broom fruit (photo: Amanda Scott)

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!

Gazing to the horizon…I wonder what the future holds! (photo: Amanda Scott)
Gazing at the horizon…I wonder what the future holds! (photo: Amanda Scott)

Kynance Cove to Lizard Point

A beautiful blue sea at Kynance
A beautiful blue sea at Kynance

I haven’t been in Cornwall much over the last couple of weeks, but before I went ‘up country’ I enjoyed a glorious sunny day on the Lizard. It really was a beautiful day, with clear blue skies, flowers finally daring to poke their heads out and plenty of people out on the cliffs making the most of the warmth.

I parked in the National Trust car park at Kynance Cove, but rather than setting off down to the beach, I headed south along the coastal path, with two aims, to find Land Quillwort, and to see some Choughs.

On the coastal path near Kynance
On the coastal path near Kynance

Now, if there’s one thing I should know from past experience, it is that if I set off to find something in particular, I will NOT find it. True to form, I didn’t…Even more frustratingly, I had had described to me roughly where the Land Quillwort would be found, but either it had upped roots and moved (not likely) or I just didn’t have my eye in properly. Those of you in the know will be well aware that this plant is one of the Lizard specialities, so I’ll be off on another, and hopefully more successful, hunt soon.

If you imagine a red beak and photoshop in some red legs, this could be a Chough...maybe?
If you imagine a red beak and photoshop in some red legs, this could be a Chough…maybe?

As for the Choughs, well I had a great chat with the knowledgeable volunteers at the Chough watch point at Lizard Point, who hadn’t seen them much round there on the day, but knew they had been feeding on some fields near to the Lloyds Signal Station within the last hour. Off I trotted – no Choughs. I did see two black dots in the distance flying back the other way – it was probably them!

To make matters worse, almost everyone I passed on the walk said: ‘Have you seen the seal? It’s a really big one, really obvious – you can’t miss it…’. If only noone had said anything, then I’d definitely have seen it!

The sky really was this blue
The sky really was this blue

Now, all of this not quite seeing things made me a bit grumpy, which is why, for me at least, it’s always a good idea to set off and ‘see what I can see’, rather than having anything in particular to search for. Because, of course, I did see some lovely things on a beautiful day along the coast.

Round-leaved Water Crowfoot - one small flower left...
Round-leaved Water Crowfoot – one small flower left…

For example, I found this delicate Water Crowfoot – not the rarer Three-lobed Crowfoot that is another Lizard delight – but what I think is Round-leaved Crowfoot (the Water Crowfoots can be hard for a non-expert like me to distinguish). At first glance, this plant doesn’t look like much, and is found in boggy wet places – but in the early spring its pretty small white flowers appear.

To make up for the lack of Choughs, a Kestrel posed for me on a nearby rock, the soft pink displays of Common Centaury and rich yellow Gorse brightened the cliffs and, round by Lizard Point, the tasty smell of Three-cornered Garlic filled the air before the plants themselves came into view.

Three-cornered Garlic
Three-cornered Garlic

I’m hoping for some more bright days soon, so I can enjoy exploring – but without an aim in mind this time!

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Kynance Cove on a Spring morning

Shell on Serpentine, Kynance Cove

I went to Kynance Cove on The Lizard this Saturday morning, complete with my lovely sister and a small dog called Podge. As far as we know it was Podge’s first trip to the sea (she is a rescue dog), and she had a whale of a time, once she realised how water behaves on a beach!

With Podge, discovering the sea
With Podge, discovering the sea

It was a lovely day, sun shining, a crisp but not-too-cold breeze, salt on the air, and a very quiet beach, with only a few other friendly people sharing the beauty of the sea and sand. Dogs are allowed from 1 October until Easter, and Podge, after scrambling nervously down onto the beach from the rocks (she only has little legs), enjoyed the experience as much as we did.

Kynance Cove is lovely to visit in summer – it’s warm and you can paddle and enjoy an ice cream at the cafe – but it’s also very crowded. At this earlier time of the year, when the cold edge is leaving the air but the visitors haven’t yet arrived, it’s a different place – more peaceful, relatively secluded. You have longer to contemplate the view and investigate the swirling patterns of the serpentine in the rocks.

Kynance Cove
Kynance Cove
Sea campion at Kynance Cove
Sea campion at Kynance Cove

On our way across the beach towards the cafe we enjoyed some of the early signs of spring, including lesser celandine and sea campion. The mass of flowers that will soon adorn the cliffs are not yet there, but this made the sight of these few early flowers bravely blooming all the more lovely, with no competition to detract from their prettiness. Seeing them, these short-lived plants of delicate beauty, set against the aeons-old famous exposures of serpentine, the swirling waves of the sea and the warm-coloured sand, is a reminder of the amazing contrasts of time and form we find in nature.

Kynance sky
Kynance sky

Also amazing was the delicious apple cake we enjoyed at the cafe, which we were delighted to find open!

If you want to take a spring trip to Kynance Cove, you can park in the National Trust car park signposted from the A3083 just before you get to Lizard Village. Parking there is free to National Trust members, but otherwise there’s a charge (less this time of the year than in the summer). It’s worth checking the tide times, as the beach is much more restricted at high tide.  But then, you can always take the path that avoids the high tide and enjoy a delicious cake in the cafe while you’re waiting for the beach to reappear…

Serpentine, Kynance Cove

My top ten Cornish wildlife-related moments

So, here I am, almost at the end of 2012. The year started with my permanent move westward to Cornwall, and the year is now close to its end as I sit here, in my lovely Cornish cottage, enjoying a G&T (I am writing this after 6pm, honest) and contemplating how I got here.  It’s been a tough year – bereavement, a change of career, lifelong friends and family now many miles away. But it’s also been an amazing year – new friends,  a new home, a different life, fresh challenges.

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that change is either good or bad, depending on how you greet it.  I hope I’ve greeted it well – sadness, joy, but absolutely no regrets!

So, having got that self-reflection out of my system, I started to think about my Cornish wildlife highlights of the year.  Looking back over 2012, what do I remember about the things I’ve seen and done, each of which have taken me forward a few steps in learning about how wonderful and amazing our world is? It was quite hard wittling the number down to only a few, but here’s my top ten Cornish wildlife highlights of the year…

1. Great nature-loving people: There are so many people in Cornwall who care about the environment, from academics, to farmers, to conservationists, to ordinary people like you and me.  My first real experience of this was turning up at the Cornwall Butterfly Conservation branch AGM in January (I can’t even remember why I went – I might even have just been bored, and keen to get out for an evening!). I came away having felt welcomed, had loads of fun, and chatted to some wonderful folk who know an amazing amount about butterflies and moths (and plenty of other wildlife-related things). Now, a few months on, I’m the Branch Secretary!

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

2. Choughs: I mentioned choughs a few weeks back as residents of my Cornish Ark.  Recently, I had a meeting with the RSPB down on the Lizard. Walking back to the village car park from Lizard Point Cafe, we spotted two choughs in a field – not only a pair of choughs, but THE pair of choughs, the original two who came back to the Lizard in 2001. That was pretty cool..!

3. Long-headed clover: OK, not everyone is particularly interested in planty things.  But I love them, and the Lizard Peninsula, that planty hotspot, hosts clover species that you can’t find anywhere else in the UK. I headed off to Caerthillion Cove in May last year looking for Long-headed Clover.  Could I find it anywhere? No. Despondent, I plopped myself down on a grassy patch and gazed disconsolately around me…at a slope filled with Long-headed Clover! Stop looking, start seeing – that’s the message I learned there!! I haven’t been back in 2012, but I’m aiming to go on a new hunt in 2013.

Dormouse on hand
Dormouse on hand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4. Dormice: This isn’t a Cornwall story, but I’m justifying it because it could have happened in Cornwall, as we have dormice here. But I had nipped just over the border to Devon with South West Lakes Trust to help with some dormouse monitoring. I’m not sure I will ever ever forget the experience of holding a very fast-asleep dormouse in the cup of my hands, and listening to her actually snoring! I felt both awed and protective in equal measure…

5. Science in the Square: I’ve been working for the University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Cornwall Campus for the last year, and they are doing tonnes of work to engage with young people.  As part of Falmouth Week 2012, we held a humungous science event in Events Square in Falmouth in August – it rained all day, but we were in a huge marquee with earthquakes, mini-beasts, raptors, mammals etc. Lots of kids there and they were amazing!

Buzzard at Stithians (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Buzzard at Stithians (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

6. A Very-Close-Buzzard: I’ve already mentioned this in a recent post about Stithians Lake, but I was stunned by my very close encounter with a Buzzard. What amazed me most was how unphased this bird, happily sitting in a tree,  was by me – there I was, having turned a corner and surprised both of us, pointing lens-y things at it and generally behaving not like your average dog walker. The buzzard stared, glared, and then soared away.

7. Screechy wildlife noises: In London, I was often woken up in the middle of the night by foxes screeching. In Cornwall,  I’m also often woken up by foxes screeching – a nice reminder that wildlife knows no boundaries. However, the other night it was a barn owl screeching that woke me up – I can’t remember ever hearing that in London!!

8. Pearl-bordered fritillaries: With my new-found friends at Cornwall Butterfly Conservation I went looking for these on Bunny’s Hill, on Bodmin, earlier in 2012.  We found them! These lovely butterflies are endangered, but are hanging on in a few locations.

Adder
Adder (Photo credit: wildlifewanderer)

9. Adders: Nosing about at Loe Bar earlier in the year, I caught sight of an adder – probably several seconds after she caught sight of me. She slithered away into the undergrowth, but I watched her and there was a moment – only a few seconds – when we were eyeballing each other. A bit like my buzzard, there is something both uncanny and empowering about meeting a wild creature’s eye.

10. Last but not least: So, two years ago, the view from my office was the London smog. Now, it’s this. Need I say more?

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