Monday, 26 January 2015

A little bit of Winter warmth

Before the mince pies were being nibbled and the Christmas parties got into their full swing, the Poltesco National Trust team headed out to the coastal cliffs of Predannack to help out  at the farm with a controlled fire, or swailing as it is also known.

 Believe us or not, the fires weren’t just our cheeky way to warm us up on a chilly winter’s day. Fires are an incredibly important process in many ecosystems, they occur naturally throughout habitats across the world and have a large number of ecological benefits such as enriching soil, clearing old dead matter, and controlling scrub encroachment. Habitat management was one of the key reasons for us to swail at this site. Rare plants that are found here were at risk of being encroached upon if the scrub had been left to its own devices. Practices such as grazing and cutting can also help with scrub encroachment but they aren’t always the most practical or feasible solution. It was not only the rare plants that benefited, other native plants can flourish when we prevent a site from being dominated by just a few species. This diversity of flora helps provide resources for a wealth of invertebrate life, which in turn supports those creatures higher up the food chain too!

Another huge benefit of the controlled fire is that it helps reduce the impact and likelihood of summer fires that can be set alight either purposefully or accidentally with devastating consequences. Out of control campfires, bbq’s or intentional arson attacks have been known and they put wildlife, people and habitats at serious risk! Even a controlled fire carries risk and is not something we take lightly but there are legal obligations, safety procedures and environmental guidelines that we ensure we abide by.

Dressed for the job in our bright orange jump suits we set to work nice and early, first of all safety checks got underway and then the team took to their posts. With the fire service notified, some of the team got the fires going whilst others kept watch. With fire beaters ready at hand our job was to patrol the fires and ensure it didn't make a break for freedom by jumping to neighboring areas of scrub. The fire was kept nicely under control with only the desired areas feeling the burn.  It was a real eye opener into the power of fires and was interesting to witness how some areas roared up in flames burning bright and fast whilst in other areas the fire just slowly crept through the undergrowth.

The flames created quite the scene over this stunning coastal backdrop but as light began to fade, so did the flames. In the hours of the late afternoon we ensured all the final fires had burnt out before packing up for the day. Once we were happy that all fires were out, the fire service was once again notified.  There is no denying that afterwards the sight of the scorched ground was dramatic and it was probably natural to think that it really didn't look very nice either. However, if you go down to those cliffs today then you are in for some miniature surprises. Yes, there’s still no denying that the burn sites aren't the most attractive but the wonderful thing is that when you look up close, they are full of signs of new life.  Nature is brilliant and resilient and these controlled fires can have incredible benefits for an ecosystem, benefits that will hopefully become clearer to see as the scars fade and the seasons progress.


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Getting Ready for Summer 2015

As you can see in some of the below blogs the staff are busy at this time of year, some at their busiest, even though to the visitor it seem like we are only open in summer. The Lizard and Penrose property portfolio is actually open all year round, unlike the gardens that can close the doors for January and February, we keep all our land and car parks accessible throughout the year, and this means lots of man & woman power!

You may see that there is a lot of conservation management taking place across the property with maintenance to structures, new footpaths and existing car parks to name but a few, all building towards the Easter deadline, so that they are available for visitors to enjoy this coming summer.  Have a chat to the rangers and volunteers who you see out and about on the Lizard cliffs and around Penrose, they would be happy to tell you about what they do to keep these places special, but there is also lots happening behind the scenes, especially in the Visitor Services Department.

For example, the first National Trust face that most visitors see is one of our car park or campsite team; this requires recruitment of these posts in February so that training can happen before the car parks open. If you would like to apply for one of these roles please apply through the National Trust website when the roles are posted in the next few months at:
Another major aspect of our jobs is to plan for the summer season, order stock, leaflets and uniforms and also to plan bigger projects to improve the car parks and campsite to make them all run as sustainably as possible.

Along with all our other weekly tasks, we organise events for the summer season and regularly check our sites and public rescue equipment.

If you would like to book one of our pods (seen to the left) this summer at Teneriffe Farm Campsite or a pitch please call 01326 240293.

You can also still sign up for membership at this time of year with us, all the money comes back to Lizard and Penrose,  you can do this by coming to see one of us at our offices at Poltesco or Penrose, or look out for the blue NT van that is often about on the Lizard!


Friday, 9 January 2015

Looking forward to 2015

Before we look forward to 2015, it’s well worth a look back at 2014. 

Below I have summarised what happened for us in 2014, for a more detailed picture it's well worth scrolling back through our blog articles to see what we have been up to over the past 12 months. Wow!

2014 for Lizard and Penrose - National Trust

Repair work on Mullion Harbour 
This time last year our work was being severely challenged by the winter storms. Wave after wave of low pressures hit our coasts and some of our places took a severe beating. Work is still going on to repair that damage at Mullion and at Kynance but it took a lot of our team’s time at the early part of the year to repair footpaths, retrieve litter washed up on beaches and replace public rescue equipment and signs from almost all our beaches. 

Unusual weather is likely to become more and more a part of our lives and having a skilled and knowledgeable team of rangers, ably assisted by volunteers, means that we are able to react quickly to whatever happens and ensure access to our coast is maintained and is safe.

Family day out - cycling on the Penrose trails
Coming out of winter (and almost despite the foul weather) we were able to celebrate the opening of new footpaths at Penrose in April. This work, funded by Natural England but developed and carried out by the Penrose team has made a major difference to Penrose and how it is able to be used by visitors and the local community. Improved surfaces mean a far wider range of users are able to enjoy its beauty and new routes mean there are many more places people can go. Over 17 miles of trails mean there is something for just about everyone!

Visitors watching choughs at the Wildlife Watchpoint
Down the coast at Lizard Point our new wildlife watchpoint was a great success, as over 11,000 people were able to enjoy great views of choughs, seals, seabirds and mammals from the most southerly point. Not only that but we were able to play an important role in monitoring wildlife on our coast through the records our dedicated band of volunteers made during the summer whilst they showed people what was out to sea or up in the air.

Visitors getting directions from our car park attendant Lee
And what a summer it turned out to be, we had record breaking numbers of people at Kynance  car park, more campers than ever before at Teneriffe, lots of visitors to our holiday cottages and the Lizard team smashed their target for recruiting new members to the National Trust.

Kynance - by Shannon O'Grady of Shazzam! Photography

But it’s not just the big stuff  that struck me as I looked back at the past year, it’s the diversity of what the National Trust gets involved with and the beauty of the special places we look after (thanks Shannon for all those great photos to really remind us of that!) that made me stop and think.

From footpath repairs to habitat creations, from apple fairs to archaeological digs, or great learning experiences for school kids to Halloween scariness in the evening! Caring for these places takes a lot of skill, commitment and hard graft and giving people great experiences whilst they visit takes effort, inspiration and creativity, but fortunately we have a team of staff and volunteers at the Lizard and Penrose who have all of that in bucket-loads.

So what about 2015?

Kynance Cove
Walking around Kynance this week on a beautiful sunny day, the people I was with were gobsmacked by the beauty of the place. It reminded me that we couldn’t have achieved what we have in terms of landscape restoration, habitat management and visitor facilities without Enterprise Neptune. It is 50 years since this most successful fundraising campaign was launched. As part of Coast 2015 you can expect to see a whole range of activities and events that celebrate the diversity of our coastline and what the Trust has been able to achieve through the generosity of our supporters. (Keep an eye out on the events part of our website for all of this.)

Loe Pool
Elsewhere I’m looking forward to continuing to work in partnership with other conservation organisations as part of Linking the Lizard and the Loe Pool Forum so that our wildlife rich sites are bigger, better and more connected with others in the area. And I’m also looking forward to working with Visit Lizard, South Kerrier Alliance and Helston BIP to make the most of what our places can offer the local community and the local economy.

We’re also trying to capture the essence of many of our special places, what’s important about them and what do people feel and value about them, so that if we are to make changes in the future we’ll not spoil what we are here to protect.

For visitors we’re hoping to have new information panels at all our most important visitor sites by Easter, a new walks booklet for the Lizard in the summer and we’re working on new facilities for our campsite and Kynance car park to open in 2016 and to improve our car park at Penrose Hill.

Guided wildflower walk
As if that wasn’t enough, there are car parks to open for Easter, work to be done to make sure all our places are safe for visitors, maintaining and improving miles and miles of footpaths and trails, looking after rare and unusual nature and lovely old houses and farms, planning guided walks and delivering lots of activities and events.

Keep an eye out on the blog going through this year and our facebook and twitter pages too for updates on all of the above and lots more!

Your local National Trust pages:
Lizard and Penrose blog:
South West Cornwall twitter:
Lizard Rangers’ twitter:
Lizard Rangers’ facebook
Penrose Rangers' facebook:


Monday, 22 December 2014

Preparing for Christmas

Trainee Rangers propped up by new gate 
The winter solstice is coming! The trees have lost their leaves and the great westerly swells have started to roll in across the Atlantic. This year has been very busy with a great deal of effort being put into improving existing footpaths and developing new paths across the Lizard. There is still so much we want to do but this is an opportunity to give a quick rundown on some on the work the Lizard Ranger Team have been up to in 2014.

Installation of a new gate on Predannack airfield (see left). It took one and a half days' work to install the gate and repair the fence  

New steps at Kynance

Steps and further storm repairs at Kynance. This took some time to do as there was extensive damage. We rebuilt the steps onto the beach, re-attached the benches by the cafĂ© to the wall and rebuilt two walls. In one area we used gabions partly filled with the spoil from the smashed walls to rebuild a damaged section of footpath.

As well as the practical repairs to paths, fences etc, our work also involves taking care of many rare habitats which give the lizard its unique character. We use livestock to help us in this work, with our own ponies and tenant farmers cattle out on the cliffs munching away for the benefit of wildlife.

One of our ponies in action!
After Christmas trimming the thorn and scrub from the footpaths and viewpoints is one of my goals before birds begin to nest again. We will also be at Chynalls Point carrying out more extensive work improving the coast path along this stretch. 

So why not take advantage of our work and see what you think? It takes a four mile walk to burn off just one mince pie, so why not head out on one of our many paths? Winter is a great time for a stroll along the rugged coastpath, or a walk in the Helford Woods. Enjoy Christmas and see you in the New Year!

- Darren (Lizard Access Ranger)

Monday, 15 December 2014

Mullion Harbour Repairs; another update

It was almost exactly 12 months ago, last Christmas, that the first storm of the winter hit our coast.  What followed was an unprecedented series of violent westerly storms which continued, with catastrophic consequences, until mid February.  The storms left in their wake a devastated coastline with landslides, floods, beaches stripped of sand and historic features left in ruins.  One such structure which suffered as a result of these storms was Mullion Harbour, and back in February we reported on this blog, slightly prematurely it seems, as this was posted before the the 'mother of all storms' hit our shores on Valentines Day 2014.

Surveying damage to the southern breakwater
It was with some trepidation that we surveyed the harbour following the storms.  The Mullion Harbour Study completed in 2005, agreed that at some point in the future, with predicted increase in sea levels and storm activity, the Trust would one day have to stop undertaking repairs to the harbour walls, following a 'catastrophic event'.

volunteers helped salvage thousands of lost setts

Despite the ferocity of the storms however, the main western breakwater miraculously survived reasonably unscathed following the storms, indeed it showed that the recent investment in repairs and maintenance had paid dividends and the structure was in remarkably good shape, albeit in need of a serious face-lift  The smaller, and frankly less well built, Southern breakwater did suffer more substantial damage, although the concrete repairs undertaken the previous year remained intact.

With some generous funding from the Environment Agency and NT insurance funds, it was agreed that the damage was repairable, and work started on the Western breakwater in early summer to replace more than 5000 granite setts stripped from the surface.  The huge granite coping stones, some weighing more than a ton, were lifted back into place and by the end of the summer the breakwater was arguably in better shape than it has been since the day it was built in the late 1890s.

work starts on the southern breakwater
Repairs to the smaller southern breakwater weren't so straight forward.  The storms had inflicted much more serious damage to both the stonework and concrete foundations.  Following an engineer's survey, it was agreed to undertake these repairs, like the previous repairs in 2012, by using the now tried and tested approach of using reinforced concrete where appropriate, since this creates a much stronger repair and should allow the structure to survive future weather events better.  Since Mullion harbour is a Grade II listed structure, consent was required from Cornwall Council, with advise from English Heritage, for the use of non-traditional materials and thus altering the appearance of the harbour.  A compromise was agreed whereby the seaward, less visible and more vulnerable aspect of the wall would be repaired in concrete, whilst the more visible and sheltered landward side of the wall would be re-constructed with natural stone.
The use of concrete should help protect the harbour longer term.

With these inevitable time delays, work finally started on the Southern breakwater in September and are due to carry on through the winter months...... weather permitting.  the expected costs of the work is likely to be in the region of £400,000.

We are hoping to work with Cornwall Council and English Heritage over the coming months to speed up the consent process so we don’t have long delays like this in the future, to agree a philosophy of repair and to be better able to understand and describe what might constitute a future 'catastrophic event'.

Western breakwater; setts in place, prior to re-pointing
Let's hope we're in for a quieter time this winter.  The events of last winter weren't quite the predicted 'catastrophic event' which will inevitably be thrown at us one day in the future, but for the time being Mullion Harbour is being repaired and it will hopefully be in better shape than ever to withstand whatever nature throws at it.


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Lots of different ways to celebrate the natural environment

The past few months have brought many different opportunities to find more interesting ways to engage children and their families in the outdoors. Now the heat and business of summer has passed with rockpooling events and local festivals the autumn lends itself to foraging in hedges and cooking up some more unusual feasts.

At Poltesco the September forage and feast walk saw locals scrabbling about on the shoreline looking dubiously at limpets and slimy seaweeds as the realisation that this was their lunch set in! An eclectic collection of hedgerow and seashore finds created a fantastic lunch cooked over the fire and was enjoyed by all. The feast included pepper dulse bread, kelp crisps and limpet surprise (the surprise being that when cooked for only a few seconds they can actually taste quite good!) along with berry tarts for dessert

Megan Adams the Wild Lizard Intern sharing her knowledge of the hedgerows. Photo by Shazzam

Cooking some delights over the fire, limpet surprise anyone? Photos by Shazzam
The onset of Halloween and half term brought about some very strange sights indeed around Poltesco. Forty children and their parents set off on a quest to collect dragon fly wings (sycamore seeds) and petrified hedgehogs (teasels) to make a potion. Along the way they met several eccentric characters including the head shrinking professor and a couple of zombies! The aim of the day was to weave more traditional Halloween activities in with children being taken along with a story and using their imaginations to see the natural environment in different ways.
Taking on the spider web challenge with Sarah Henn from Miracle Wood
There be some strange goings on down those parts at Halloween!

Looking forward to Christmas celebrations for the first time Grade Ruan School have been own at Poltesco all this week making decorations for the Tree Dressing Day. With the help of Falmouth University students the pupils from the school created some amazing decorations to cover the trees at Poltesco including a bamboo bender to house the candles made from clay.

Tree dressing, celebrated in early December, is based on many old customs from all over the world. It looks to decorate the trees in a celebration that brings the community together. On
December 12th the school will come down together and have a celebration morning at Poltesco with songs and refreshments and give everyone a chances to admire each other’s decorations. The decorations will remain up until 4.30pm that day for people to come down for a hot chocolate and to look at the children’s handiwork.

Grade Ruan School Up to their elbows in it leaf printing

Beautifully decorated clay candles using clay dug from the Lizard, sunflower oil and rush acting as a wick
There will also be a Tree Dressing workshop running this Saturday  6th December at Poltesco making decorations to adorn the more traditional Christmas tree and front doors.  The workshop is free but booking is essential so please call me on 01326 291174 or email  for more details and to book your place. 

Claire Scott Wild Lizard Education Ranger

Over the past few weeks Penrose has been lucky enough to be the scene for one of my favourite natural events, a murmuration of Starlings. If you have ever seen this close up it is a sight to behold. Thousands of individual Starlings moving as one in a fish like shoal around the sky. The early evening is the best time to see this spectacle up close, and with the birds sweeping low over Loe Pool and silhouetted against the trees it’s a special moment you won’t forget.

Starlings come together like this for a few reasons. Coming together means they have safety in numbers from predators. Individuals are hard for Raptors to pick out in the swirling clouds. Having a few friends’ means it’s also warmer at nights as they tend to roost together in very large numbers. Once they have picked a good spot to roost for the night like any large group they can be quite vocal, and again the noise levels will increase as they begin to stir at dawn. They leave again in massive numbers and can even be picked up on radar, which I bet has caused a few raised eyebrows for fresh recruits at Culdrose.

Stats from the RSPB show that “the starling population has crashed by over 70% in recent years, meaning they are now on the critical list of UK birds most at risk. The decline is believed to be due to the loss of permanent pasture, increased use of farm chemicals and a shortage of food and nesting sites in many parts of the UK”

This makes the spectacle that little bit more important. The past decade has seen a lot of work take place at Penrose between the farmers and landowners to assess the land capability and it seems like we are now seeing the benefits.

If you are around the Helston area then come along around 4pm to try and catch a glimpse.

Community Ranger.

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