Hayle Estuary and Porth Kidney Sands

Hayle Estuary

There’s something about an estuary. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Maybe it’s the simplicity. Open expanses of mudflats, silted islets between meandering water channels, clear salt air and receding horizons. An estuary sits in the here and now. It is a very mindful place to be.

Contemplating Redshank, Ryan's Field, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)
Contemplating Redshank, Ryan’s Field, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)

That’s certainly what I and my friend Anne found last weekend when we headed off, on a cloudy but dry day, to visit Hayle Estuary, Britain’s most south-westerly estuary. We went to practice taking photography, but we also found real companiable pleasure in sitting quietly in the hide, taking photographs, yes, but also peering through binoculars and using our own eyes to watch the birds go about their business. It was all very tranquil.

Hayle Estuary is an urban reserve: lift your eyes from the sand and mudflats and you find the buildings, homes and industry of Hayle. It makes the estuary no less tranquil, confirming how important these oases of nature are in our busy lives.

Redshank, Ryan's Field, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)
Redshank, Ryan’s Field, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)

We found ourselves in the Eric Grace Memorial Hide looking out over Ryan’s Field, part of the RSPB Hayle Estuary nature reserve, and were entertained for some time by Redshanks, Curlews, Black-headed Gulls, Lapwings, a Cormorant and a pair of Shelduck. As novice birders, I’m sure there was plenty else we missed. We were very fortunate, however, to be joined for a while by a real birder, who was happy to chat and confirm what we were seeing, as well as telling us a bit about the estuary and its birds. Thank you, Mr. Birder!

Curlew, Ryan's Field, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)
Curlew, Ryan’s Field, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)
Grey Herons, Lelant Saltings, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)
Grey Herons, Lelant Saltings, Hayle Estuary (photo: Amanda Scott)

After Ryan’s Field, we headed a bit further westwards round the estuary towards Lelant, and had a welcome cup of coffee in Birdies Bistro (Griggs Quay, Hayle, TR27 6JG) which we found quite by chance. It hasn’t been there long, apparently, and is a place to be recommended, not just for the cheerful atmosphere, but also for the way the back garden is set up with viewing ‘slits’ in its fence, just like a hide, looking out over Lelant Saltings. We spotted some Grey Herons doing their standing completely still act, as well as a load of gulls doing their standing still with heads tucked under wings act.

After that, we headed off to Porth Kidney Sands, which sit at the mouth of the Hayle Estuary, somewhere that Anne has been to before with her family, whereas it was my first visit. There is limited parking, but you can park just before St Uny Church and then take the footpath down towards the beach (instructions at the end of this post).

Porth Kidney Sands, looking west, with St Ives in the distance (photo: Amanda Scott)
Porth Kidney Sands, looking west, with St Ives in the distance (photo: Amanda Scott)
This streamlet made some beautiful patterns in the sand as it ran across the beach (photo: Amanda Scott)
This streamlet made some beautiful patterns in the sand as it ran across the beach (photo: Amanda Scott)

At low tide the beach here is vast, with an expanse of sand stretching to the sea in front of you, and dunes ranging inland behind you. We didn’t spot much in the way of bird life on the beach or out to sea but, in the distance at the sea’s edge, there were surfers enjoying the waves and dogs bounding about happily in the water. Even so, as we turned west to walk along the sands a little way, staying close to the dunes, the depth of the beach still gave an air of seclusion and separation. After a few minutes walk along the beach, there is a clear track, doubling back in terms of direction but making its way along the top of the dunes: this is a section of the South West Coast Path. Follow this and cross the railway over a footbridge, and eventually you rejoin the path that took you down to the beach.

On the way, we saw a female Stonechat, perching on bramble and surveying her world…

Female Stonechat, in the dunes behind Porth Kidney Sands (photo: Amanda Scott)
Female Stonechat, in the dunes behind Porth Kidney Sands (photo: Amanda Scott)

…and in the churchyard cemetery we found snowdrops – a welcome sign of spring!

Snowdrops, Lelant (photo: Amanda Scott)
Snowdrops, Lelant (photo: Amanda Scott)

This was a lovely, peaceful way to spend a few hours – the grey skies if anything suited the tranquillity and mood, though I never say no to sunshine!

See below for how to get to the places we visited.

Hayle Estuary RSPB reserve, including Ryan’s Field: link here to directions on the RSPB site.

Birdies Bistro: link here to their Facebook page. The Bistro is on the right on the A3074, just to the south of Lelant.

Porth Kidney Sands: This link to the Cornwall Beach Guide gives good directions about where to park.

Patterns on Porth Kidney Sands

Protecting our Cornish seas – things we can do

In my last post, I talked about the two species of seahorses – Short-snouted and Spiny seahorses – we can find around our shores, including here in Cornwall. This cryptic creature is hard to find, but I like to think of it, nestling among the seagrass and seaweed in its salty water world, safe from human disturbance in a world set apart from the hustle and bustle of life on land.

Polly Joke beach (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Polly Joke beach (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

If only that were true.  The reach of us humans has extended everywhere across this globe, from the upper levels of the atmosphere to the bottom of the oceans in far-flung places. So, it has certainly reached our local seas. Seahorses, as fish highly sensitive to environmental disturbance and change, are a good ‘barometer’ of wider adverse impacts. Dredging and anchorages, when not managed sensitively, can destroy the seagrass beds and other habitats they rely on; and, like many mobile sea creatures, and in the same way as we are seeing on the crowded land, they suffer from a loss of connectivity between habitats and breeding sites.

Coverack harbour (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Coverack harbour (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

Cornwall is a maritime county. Cornish people work on the sea, enjoy surfing on it, walking along the strand or cliffs, swimming in the water (in summer!), spotting basking sharks and dolphins, rockpooling, and much much more. We need to protect our seas – they are part of our heritage, livelihoods and culture – but it’s not all serious: there are plenty of things that are fun to get involved with, but which also help in preserving our shores and seas.  Here are a few to think about.

1. Cornwall Wildlife Trust organises lots of different activities under its Living Seas banner: click here to link to their site for more information. You can, for example (and these are just a taster):

  •  Become a ‘Your Shore‘ volunteer – working with a great bunch of people in partnership with CWT and your local VMCA (Voluntary Marine Conservation Area)
English: Basking Shark Dursey Sound
Basking Shark (Photo credit: Wikipedia) 
  • Get trained and help in recording marine sightings, and get involved in some fun events with Seaquest SouthWest. (I’m hoping to spot my first basking shark this year!)
  • If you’re a recreational diver, trained to a level of BSAC Sports Diver or PADI Rescue Diver, then you could get involved in Seasearch, and help in marine surveys.
  • Go rock pooling! CWT are organising a half-term rockpool ramble at West Looe on 16 February at 2pm. Check out their other events for some great and informative days out.

2. You could join The Seahorse Trust. You can adopt a seahorse though the Trust, as well. Have a look at their great website for lots of information about seahorses and the threats they are facing. It is both packed with facts and links to survey and scientific work as well as great photos.

3. Are you a surfer? Surfers Against Sewage is a national charity, but it started its life in Cornwall with a group of surfers and beach-lovers in St. Agnes and Porthtowan. They have plenty of ways to get involved: check out their Facebook page.

Surfing at St Ives (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Surfing at St Ives (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

4. Other local organisations, such as the RSPB and National Trust will have marine-related volunteering opportunities. You could become a Hayle Estuary Litter Picker with the RSPB – it may not sound immediately inviting! – but done in a crowd it can be great fun meeting like-minded people and doing your bit to keep beaches clean for wildlife and us to enjoy.

5. You could resolve to learn about a particular marine species, or group of species. I really enjoyed learning more about seahorses – basking sharks are next on my list! Then join or help out an organisation that campaigns for them, such as The Seahorse Trust, or Marine Conservation Society.

6. Make sure you only eat responsibly and sustainably sourced fish – this supports local fishing businesses, as well as being ethical and tastier.

7. Respond to the DEFRA consultation on Marine Conservation Zones (check out my post from a few weeks ago – and here’s the link again). There are lots of different people and interests involved, and it is very important the outcome is sustainable for the local economy as well as wildlife, so the solutions are not straightforward. Many nature organisations are however disappointed with the Government’s position and, whatever your views, the consultation is a good opportunity to make them known. Or write to your MP.

Well, that’s a few ideas, and there will be lots I have missed out. If you have any ideas you’d like to share, please leave a comment here or on the What’s Wild in Cornwall Facebook page, and spread the word!


A great spotted view from my window today…

A few months ago, the view from my office window was this…

25 Bank Street, Canary Wharf, London
25 Bank Street, Canary Wharf, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, it was this!

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker enjoying some fat balls outside Amanda's office window! (Photo credit: Amanda Scott).
Female Great Spotted Woodpecker enjoying some fat balls outside Amanda’s office window on the Lizard (Photo credit: Amanda Scott).

This weekend is the Big Garden Bird Watch. There are birds in Canary Wharf (maybe not canaries !) as well as in Cornwall where I live. It only takes an hour – I’m going to be counting! Follow this link for more and take part.

Marine Conservation Zones: the picture for Cornwall

Yesterday, DEFRA published its consultation document on the Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) it proposes to designate in 2013 under the UK’s Marine and Coastal Access Act.  The proposals have caused an angry reaction from conservation organisations – including the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and Marine Conservation Society – because, of the 127 sites recommended, only 31 are being put forward for designation in 2013. Others could be put forward in future years, but there is no clear commitment to do so, and the question being asked is ‘Why the delay?’: of the 59 of the recommended sites considered to be at the most risk, under half are being proposed for designation in 2013.

There has already been extensive consultation for over a year with local communities on the impact of MCZs – recommended MCZs in the South West were reported in 2011, following consultation under the ‘Finding Sanctuary‘ project, which considered socio-economic as well as environmental impacts –  and there is no obvious reason why DEFRA shouldn’t now be consulting on the lot. Each site was proposed on the basis it contains important and/or endangered habitats and supports species we need to protect.

What does this mean for Cornwall? What is in and out for 2013? Well, it takes a bit of ploughing through the unwieldy consultation document and annexes on the DEFRA site, but I’ve managed it (have a go here if you like!), with plenty of help from the much more accessible Wildlife Trusts‘ pages.

The South West as a whole has proportionally done a little better than other regions. Of the 45 sites recommended, 15 of these are now being proposed for designation in 2013 (so one-third compared to the one-quarter nationally). These are:

Deeper sea zones: East of Haig Fras, South West Deeps, The Canyons

Cornish coastal zones: Padstow Bay and Surrounds, The Manacles, Upper Fowey and Pont Pill, Whitsand and Looe Bay, Tamar Estuary sites

Isles of Scilly: Isles of Scilly Sites

Other South West coastal sites: Lundy (already designated), Skeeries Bank and Surround, Torbay, Chesil Beach and Stennis Ledges, South Dorset, Poole Rocks.

These are all incredibly valuable sites, and great that they’re in for the current consultation. But which of the other original recommendations for Cornwall are missing? Here’s a few examples, with thanks to the Wildlife Trusts‘ webpages for the information.

Land’s End is out – one of the best UK areas for the critically endangered balearic shearwater.

Fura-bucho do Mediterrâneo // Pardela das Bale...
Balearic Shearwater (Photo credit: jvverde)

Swanpool is out – the only known natural location in the UK for an endangered filter-feeding bryozoan – the trembling sea mat.

Mount’s Bay is out – with its rich population of dolphins, basking sharks, porpoises, as well as seagrass beds, stalked jellyfish and crayfish.

Newquay and the Gannel is out – there you’ll find the protected pink sea fan and European eels.

Pink sea fan
Pink sea fan (Photo credit: CameliaTWU)

Hartland Point to Tintagel is out – noted for porbeagle sharks, mussel beds and reef-building honeycomb worms.

English: Porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus)
English: Porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Via the Wildlife Trusts, you can sign up to befriend your local proposed Marine Conservation Zone – or all of them! They’ll then send you information and ideas on how to support the campaign to get all of them designated. Or on 26th February 2013, the Marine Conservation Society and Sealife are organising a march to Westminster to campaign for MCZs – register your interest in taking part here.

You can expect me to be returning to this topic as the consultation progresses.