Wednesday, 7 October 2015

My year with the Lizard Ranger Team

Self Portrait
I have been volunteering with the National Trust for the past year. I first applied for the role after finishing my degree in Wildlife Photography, as being hugely passionate about nature and conservation, the National Trust seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Brush cutter on the coastpath
Photo Michael Hirst
I have been volunteering with the practical ranger team who care for the Trust’s land on the Lizard. When I first started I had very limited experience and knowledge about conservation work so there was a steep learning curve. I have slowly gained more and more confidence and competence and I have since gained a qualification in use and maintenance of a Brush cutter.

Mullion Harbour last winter
Photo Michael Hirst

During the Monday morning meetings and yearly ranger conferences I get the opportunity to hear about the range of projects that the whole team are involved with. There has been a large scale project to restore the harbour wall at Mullion Cove after the winter storms of 2014 and the BBC came down to film the 'Sounds of our Shore' project.

Chough defending the nest
Photo Michael Hirst
One of the projects I really enjoyed was helping to monitor and protect the rare schedule 1 Choughs. Cornwall is a stronghold for the Chough in the UK and they feature on the county’s coat of arms. From the natural return of just 3 birds to Cornwall over 10 years ago, a small population has grown. My job was to watch and protect a single nest on the Lizard. As I noted down the activities of the two parents I noticed repeated behaviours as they would feed their young. My time with the Choughs came to an end  when the 5 chicks were rung (identification rings placed on their legs) in the nest shortly before they fledged. The Chough doesn't migrate so when I am out walking year round I often see the Choughs flying overhead, which is always a welcome sight.

Tiger Moth at Poltesco
Photo Michael Hirst
Bunny at Lizard Point
Photo Michael Hirst

With the National Trust I have learnt more about the natural world through first hand experience working within the woodland at Tremayne Quay and swailing (controlled burning) the cliffs at Predannack. I have also participated in surveys to monitor the moths in our garden, the crustaceans in our rock pools and the litter on our beaches. Whilst working at the watch point at Lizard Point I have had some of the most rewarding wildlife encounters including seeing two Bottlenose Dolphins, a Barrel Jellyfish and watching a kit first emerge out of a Rabbit warren.

I hope you enjoy seeing these photos, captured in my year with the Trust on the Lizard.


Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Nationally important bat roost discovered at Penrose

The Greater Horseshoe bat has established a nursery roost in a disused barn at Penrose this summer. This endangered bat only numbers approximately 5000 individuals in the UK and is restricted to the mild climates of south west England and south Wales. This new site is only the 5th and most southerly recorded nursery roost for this species in Cornwall and is of national conservation importance.
Greater Horseshoe ©National Trust Images/Bat Conservation Trust/Hugh Clark
The discovery was made by Cornwall Environmental Consultants (CEC) Ltd, the trading arm of Cornwall Wildlife Trust. CEC were asked by us to survey the bat populations in buildings around the Stables at Penrose. The buildings have been monitored for Lesser Horseshoe bats for many years, but we needed to gain a full picture of how bats were actually using the buildings. The outcome of these surveys would then determine how to renovate the buildings.

CEC’s Senior Bat Ecologist, Steve Marshall, found at least 6 species of bats present and more Lesser Horseshoe bats using more buildings across Penrose Estate than had previously been counted, but the most momentous find is the new Greater Horseshoe nursery roost, an unexpected but exciting result of the survey.

“Penrose is a very exciting find. It is fantastic to see such a significant bat species thriving and that the National Trust takes their responsibility to protect them so sincerely….I think they were just as thrilled as I was when we discovered them!” (Steve Marshall CEC)

We are already putting measures in place to safeguard the roost from disturbance and working with CEC to see how it can be improved for the future. We knew that Greater Horseshoes were using our buildings and old mine workings for hibernation in the winter, but it’s great to know they’re choosing Penrose to raise their young. We think the bats were attracted to roost here due to the complex of unused old buildings and the variety of mature woodland, open parkland and Loe Pool; all of which provide a source of insects which the bats feast upon. The Trust manages the land around Loe Pool to try and maximise the wildlife benefit. The building they have been found in will undergo improvements for bats during the winter to encourage them back next summer.

The parkland immediately adjacent to the newly discovered bat roost is managed through a Higher Level Stewardship scheme by the Trust’s tenant farmer, the Wallis family. Natural England administer the scheme, which encourages farmers and land owners to manage land in a more environmentally sensitive way.
Jeremy Clitherow, Lead Adviser for Natural England in Cornwall, said: ‘We are very pleased to have an Environmental Stewardship agreement with the Wallis family that aims to help them manage Penrose Farm for its very important wildlife and historic features. This includes a plan to restore the landscape of the ancient Penrose parkland. On top of that Martin Wallis provides a valuable facility for visiting school children by showing them around the farm and educating them about how he balances food production with managing a high quality environment.’
The Parkland

Bat fact-file:
·         Of the 18 species of bat found in the UK, 10 can be found at Penrose.
·         Greater Horseshoes are the UK’s largest bat, around the size of a small pear.
·         Bats are an important part of our environment and sign of a healthy and biodiverse landscape.
·         In the 20th century UK bat populations have declined by an estimated 70% and Greater Horseshoes have declined by 90%.

·         They are under threat from unsympathetic building developments, loss of habitat and changing farming practices

Laura, Area Ranger Penrose

Friday, 11 September 2015

Ponds, pirates and pooters: the past few months with the Wild Lizard Project

The past six months has seen pirates, elves and giant sea monsters at Poltesco with Mullion School, a small army of school children all investigating the amazing ponds at Windmill Farm and more seashore shenanigans that you can shake a piece of seaweed at!

Gathering seaweed on a blustery Poldhu beach to create a mermaid 
The Wild Lizard Project is now in its third year and is a joint funded project hosted by the National Trust in partnership with Natural England, the Helford Voluntary Marine Conservation Area Group and Cornwall Wildlife Trust. The project’s aim is to provide opportunities for children and their families to become more involved in their natural environment.
 From January until July this year the project has hosted over 1028 school children’s visits, worked with twelve schools from on the Lizard and beyond and has delivered and supported the delivery of 50 school visits in seven months ...phew! 

Pre-summer we had also run eight public events engaging with 84 children and 66 adults both locals and visitors, took part in three larger joint events with the tenants at Tregullas farm for Open Farm Sunday, Helford VMCA Cruise and Penrose Team for the Big Beach Picnic. We also had the opportunity to run the Forest Schools Association South West bi-annual meeting at Tremayne Woods.

At Open Farm Sunday at Tregullas Farm
The Forest School Gathering saw Forest School leaders from all over the South West for a weekend meeting and skills share at Tremayne Quay 

This year has seen the involvement of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, where the project organised and ran a series of events, talks, scrub bashes and study days as part of their Lizard Horizons - The Landewednack Windmill Conservation and Environmental Education Project.
Six classes came out to investigate the pristine ponds at Windmill Farm as part of the Cornwall Wildlife Trusts project
A series of study days was also organised at Windmill Farm run by local ecology experts
Tom in action at Windmill Farm!

We have been busy which is fantastic as it shows the project is very much valued locally by schools and their families as a provider of exciting experiences in the outdoors. None of which could be done without our amazing volunteers! As well as having Tom, our full time Volunteer Education Ranger on board we have had two work experience students and lots of time given by the National Trust volunteers. Over the past seven months (Jan-July) the project has received 878 volunteer hours and still counting!

Looking forward to the coming months, lots of schools are booking in making the most of the autumn weather and we have our October half term events. If you would like more information about the project or the visits and events we offer please go to the Linking the Lizard website ( or drop me a line

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

In search of The Lizard's lost shipwrecked souls

Pistil Cove, where the shipwreck victims possibly washed ashore. Photo M Hirst
 Recent survey work has brought archaeologists closer to solving a 300 year old shipwreck mystery at Lizard Point.

In November 1721, 207 unfortunate sailors lost their lives in a ferocious storm when their military transport galley the Royal Anne hit rocks and sank off Lizard Point. Just three people survived that fateful night by clinging to wreckage. Among the dead was Lord Belhaven the newly appointed Governor of Barbados, who was leaving Britain’s shores to take up the posting in mysterious circumstances after the untimely death of his wife.

The Charles, a similar galley to the Royal Anne
The Royal Anne was designed by the Marquis of Carmarthen, and had been launched in 1709 as a small and speedy warship, designed to be equally at home under oar and sail so as not to be outmanoeuvred by pirates.  She had fulfilled a variety of military postings, including protecting Russian trade off Norway, combating the Rovers of Sallee, notorious Moroccan based pirates, and she was sent to cruise Scottish waters during the Jacobite rebellion.

The wreck of the Royal Anne was found close inshore near Lizard Point by divers in the 1970s, who first located two guns, but the wreck’s identity was only clinched in the 1990s by the discovery of some silver cutlery with the Belhaven family crest. The wreck site was protected in 1993 although the savage rocks and huge Atlantic swells mean that only a scatter of objects survive. Other finds have included coins, watch parts, copper bowls and cannon shot.

It is believed that the dead in 1721 were buried, as was customary at the time, in un-consecrated ground.  The peaceful valley at Pistil just west of Lizard Point and 500m from the wreck site, has always been linked with this dreadful event, being one of the few places where the shore can be accessed.

The view seaward to Pistil Cove. Photo M Hirst
Local lore has it that the Lizard folk who went to bury the bodies could not complete this mammoth grizzly task within the day, but that when they returned next dawn, a pack of dogs had got their first and were tucking into a gruesome breakfast! Even to this day it is said that dogs cower when passing through the meadow, perhaps in shame at the actions of their ancestors. The story of Pistil Meadow fired the imaginations of later generations, with the likes of Daphne du Maurier and Wilkie Collins taking an interest in the tale.
Archaeologists at work

Eager to investigate the truth behind these tales, the National Trust has teamed up with archaeologists from Bournemouth University, Maritime Archaeological Sea Trust (MAST) and The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Maritime Archaeology Society (CISMAS) to survey Pistil meadow.

Recent geophys surveys using electromagnetic techniques, ground penetrating radar and earth resistivity have located a number of anomalies that could indicate mass graves. However, these do not seem to tally with writings in the 1850s that stated low irregular mounds chequered the surface of the field. The National Trust is working with MAST and Bournemouth University to explore the options for further stages of investigation.

Jim Parry National Trust archaeologist said ‘Research so far has revealed a fascinating story about the Royal Anne and her crew, but it would be fantastic to be able to finally answer the question as to where her shipwreck victims were laid to rest - if Pistil is indeed the spot. It is an extremely rare occurrence to find such a site.’

The Trust is working in partnership on plans for a limited excavation Summer 2016, and the information gleaned will help inform management of the site, and may allow it to be afforded legal protection as a grave in future.

Join National Trust Archaeologist Jim Parry and other experts for a guided walk to Pistil for more on the fascinating history of the Royal Anne on Saturday September 12th. Meet 11am at National Trust Lizard carpark (opposite Lighthouse entrance). £2.50 per person, plus additional parking charges for non-members. Dogs on leads welcome. Booking not necessary.  Please call 01326 291174 for further information.


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Tom's round up on being a Wildlife Ranger on the Lizard

Just another day in the office
Originally coming from the Black Country, being based on the Cornish coastline is a little bit different from what I’m used to. I’d been volunteering for a while back home to try and get a career in conservation but was struggling to find a full time position due to lack of experience. Luckily I came across the opportunity to be a residential volunteer on the Lizard to finally put my skills to the test and get some practice in the field. Of course I wasn’t until after I applied that I released just how far away the Lizard actually is, but getting to work at such an awesome and otherworldly location has been one well worth the 'butt-numbing' car journey.

Sunrise at Housel Bay during a dawn watch
As a wildlife ranger I’ve got to spend half my time monitoring 'George' and 'Nora', the local pair of Cornish Choughs. At
Two of this year’s chicks getting their coloured rings so they can be tracked in the future
first I was a bit sceptical about how I would find nest watching duty, surely it must get a bit boring after a while? But one of the brilliant things about the choughs is their unpredictability. They’d have a habit of flying out from one direction, only to sneakily return when you weren’t looking from the other side. Then at other times you have them fly so close overhead you could almost touch them as they soared past with a “cheeaow!” It was a bit challenging at first to try and keep up with them and tell them apart from their
Jackdaw and Crow neighbours, but after a while I was soon picking out their calls and getting used to their favourite spots. It was great sharing their antics with the other nest watch volunteers and visitors. There's other great stuff to watch too, I’ll never forget seeing my very first basking shark. It was a dawn watch when I saw these two fins get closer and closer until finally I could see its massive silhouette under the water’s surface. Naturally some shifts weren’t quite as glorious as this and instead I’d have to battle a fierce easterly winds and monsoon-like rain. But getting to tag along with the BTO bird ringer and see this year’s brood of five chicks (Yoko, Willow, Whoopi, Yeats, and Bill) made it completely worthwhile!

Through the scope at the watchpoint – you could have picked a bigger rock mate!
I’ve spent the other half of my time down at the wildlife watchpoint at Lizard Point. 'The Point' always
seems to attract something different whether it’s a grey seal trying to haul out on a rock that its way too big for, having gannets dive just metres away for fish, or dolphins leaping across the horizon; you’re constantly seeing something new.  I was pretty daunted by the challenge of ID-ing all the marine species and seabirds I’d never seen before in the Midlands (do Herring Gulls count?). But after a few shifts with the other volunteers I was soon learning how to spot the regular species and where to look for them. With the help of the Cornwall Seal Group I‘m now able to recognise some of the seals by their fur patterns. It’s really rewarding getting to put your skills into practice and help visitors spot species they haven’t seen before, as well as trading tips and anecdotes of the wildlife around the Lizard. 

Lankidden Cove is well worth the scramble down
Working on the Lizard has been a truly unforgettable experience that’s given me so many new skills for the future. It's been privilege to work alongside such a friendly and dedicated team of rangers and volunteers who soon made the Lizard feel like home. Though I'm gutted the season is drawing to an end, I’m psyched to see what the future will bring and I know I’ll be back to visit in no time! 

- Tom
A garden visitor to the volunteer house at Poltesco

To learn more about what's it like being a Volunteer Wildlife Ranger  on the Lizard,watch this video:

Friday, 21 August 2015

Community Volunteering Ranger - What exactly do you do?!

Since I moved from the admin support role to the new role of Community and Volunteering Ranger lots of people have asked the same question ‘What exactly do you do?' Like any National Trust job it’s probably easier to talk about what you don’t do rather what you do do, because there is so much variety in our jobs, which is what makes it so fun. To give you an idea of what I do do, here is a snapshot from my first 6 months.

Wildlife Watchpoint
I started in March when we were busy making preparations for the new wildlife watchpoint. The old serpentine store at the Point became available and we decided to renovate it and open it as a wildlife information centre to support the outdoor watchpoint at Lizard Point. The watchpoint is run entirely by volunteers, with a little help from me, and is open daily from April to mid September. So far this year the team has talked to well over 12,000 visitors about seals, choughs and other local wildlife. Here’s a before and after shot:

Pics 1&2 - Wildlife Watchpoint - before and after renovations              Pic 3 - Crowd seal watching at the outdoor watchpoint

Chough Nest Watch
March came with a very unexpected surprise that broke the ‘chough rulebook’*. The new Lizard pair who nested for the first time at Lizard Point in 2014, decided to move round the corner, whether the view was better or the neighbours friendlier who knows, but we had to think quickly to get our nest watch plans in place for a new site. The new nest was no longer visible from the watchpoint which meant we were going to need twice as many volunteers to cover the round the clock nest watch from March until June. Despite the initial difficulties for us, the choughs had a bumper brood with 5 healthy chicks fledging in early June. Thanks to sightings sent into the RSPB ( we know, and are delighted to report, that all 5 chicks are all still alive.  

(* Normally choughs are faithful to their nest site for life).  Here’s a video of the chicks on their first flights:

Local poop poster

Friends of Poldhu
I also work with the Friends of Poldhu who carry out regular beach cleans at Poldhu and Church Cove. Some of the Friends are about to embark on a mission to reduce the amount of dog waste left along the coastpath in the area. Watch this space for the new friendly Dog Rangers! If you are interested in getting involved please get in touch:

Mullion Harbour Day 2015 - for more pics click here
Mullion Harbour Day

Rosie, from the visitor services team, and I organised Mullion Harbour Day this year, It was the first time we’d ever done but with help from the Ranger Team we had great day and a very successful event. Already we are looking forward to next year.

Elle (Countryfile), Joe and Wireless Station volunteer John Davies 
Lizard Wireless Station

As well as coordinating all the volunteers for nest watch and the watchpoint, part of my new job is to work with the volunteers at Lizard Wireless Station. This fascinating museum celebrates Marconi’s ground breaking experiments in radio. It is here that he proved that wireless technology could be used to communicate over the horizon, he also went on to prove it could be used to communicate with the Americas from his station at Poldhu. Marconi has shaped communication as we know it today and a visit to the Lizard Wireless Station will send you back in time and give you a real sense of The Lizard’s history. The building is over 110 years old and is set up with replica equipment so that it looks just as it would have in Marconi’s day. Volunteers host museum tours for visitors from 12-3pm (on Tuesdays, Wednesday, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays) from March until October. 

Sound of our Shores
Elle from Countryfile talking to Joe at Kynance - photo Steve Haywood
If you regularly read our blog or social media pages (facebook and twitter) then you will already have heard about the ‘Sounds of our Shores’ Project. It’s a partnership project between National Trust, British Sounds Library and National Trust for Scotland. Their aim is to encourage people from around the UK to go out and record coastal sounds and upload them to the first ever coastal  sound map this summer. You can read more about it here.

Because of the obvious links with sound, Marconi’s Lizard Wireless Station (LWS) has been in the limelight regularly this summer, so far we’ve had Countryfile and Radio 3 come for a visit to talk about Marconi and the ‘Sounds of our Shores’ Project.  This coming week we have a Sound Artist and Musician called Joe Acheson (from the Hidden Orchestra) coming to LWS. Joe will be staying with us for a few days recording various coastal sounds as well as sounds from the museum in preparation for creating a piece of music to celebrate Marconi’s work on the Lizard. You can find out more about Joe’s other work here.

Petroc Trelawny (BBC Radio 3) visiting Lizard Wireless Station

Unfortunately the Lizard episode of Countryfile  is no longer available on iPlayer, but you can listen to the BBC Radio 3 broadcast herefeaturing the Lizard Wireless station, sounds of our shores and the Cadgwith singers.

And the rest...
So those are the exciting bits that everyone wants to hear about, but to keep things running smoothly in the background I’m in the office most days. If I’m not doing emails then I’m often in meetings to discuss events and opportunities on the Lizard. One of the things that has taken up quite a large chunk of time this year is the launch of our new online volunteering system, which I must say is brilliant, it means a lot less paperwork for me and makes all of our processes much quicker. It has taken time and a touch of effort for the staff and volunteers to get used to the new system, but overall we’ve had a hugely positive response. I can certainly say that it makes keeping in touch with and looking after our 90 plus volunteers, here on the Lizard, a lot easier. It also gives our volunteers more flexibility in booking shifts, claiming expenses as well as easier access to information. WIN WIN WIN!

If you are interested in volunteering with us, please do get in touch:

- Cat

Friday, 14 August 2015

25 Year of Environmental Education at Poltesco

Poltesco:  25 years of environmental education with the National Trust.

A couple of weeks ago I had a chance encounter with a young lady who enthusiastically reminded me of the ‘Wild Wednesday’ workshops she attended as a young girl at Poltesco almost 15 years ago.  These children’s workshops, started in 2001 during the summer holidays, were a means of engaging children in nature and art around the Poltesco valley.  Today she works at St Michaels Mount undertaking similar work, engaging with young people through story-telling and events.  Perhaps her attendance at the Wild Wednesdays sparked a future interest and career in environmental education?

Wild Wednesday: 2006?
Wild Wednesday 2003

Christmas Workshop 2006
This chance meeting got me thinking about the variety of children's activities delivered at Poltesco over the years for generations of young people.....

In 1992 the National Trust hosted the first Earth Walk Festival at Poltesco.  This legendary event involved more than 100 children learning everything from circus skills, drumming and wood carving. The primal and hypnotic drumming of ‘Thelemic Pulse’ resounding up the valley remains etched into the memories of those lucky to have attended whilst a more physical reminder of this seminal event is the small wooden totem pole in the picnic area. This was created, with the help of local wood carver Peter Boex, by the children of the Earth walk

1992 Earth Walk Festival; anyone you recognise?

For a number of years, the Trust hosted the annual ‘Poltesco Memories’ visits.  For a whole week, we hosted each primary school on the Lizard, over 300 children each week, to learn about the local history of milling, serpentine working, fishing and farming in the valley through role play, story-telling and dressing up. 
Over the years, pretty much every Lizard child has had the opportunity to visit Poltesco on numerous school visits, Christmas and Halloween workshops, bushcraft clubs, forest schools, camping trips and of course the truly magical Grade Ruan School plays.

Grade Ruan School Play 2010?

The tradition continues today.  Claire Scott, the Wild Lizard Education Ranger, is employed through the Linking the Lizard Partnership to deliver education and events, not just at Poltesco, but across the whole Lizard including Kennack Sands, Windmill Farm, Bochym, Predannack and the Helford River.
If anyone has any photos or memories from these past events, please share them with us.  It would be great to hear from you.


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