Sunday, 23 November 2014

Birds on our Coast

When you think of Lizard Point at this time of year it might be hard to imagine a place bursting with wildlife, like it was when you visited the in the summer. Believe it or not, in terms of bird life, very little has changed. All the resident species are still here. There are several species of gull, chough, shags, cormorants, oystercatcher, turnstone, corvids, pipits, kestrels and much more.

Swallow - Tony Blunden
However, Lizard Point has been missing two avian visitors recently. 

As to be expected, most of the swallows have flown back to Africa for winter, but not all of them! Believe it or not there is still the occasional sighting of swallows here on the Lizard, despite it being November.

In late summer / early autumn fulmars normally head off to sea for a few months, while they moult their feathers.  After not seeing them here for a few months, we are now beginning to see increasing numbers of fulmars back on the cliffs with nice new sets of feathers.

As well as a few species moving around, we also have other visitors coming in. When you look at the plethora of gulls at Lizard Point you may well think you are looking at the same birds time and time again, and for the majority of gulls you will be. Herring Gulls are resident here so don't tend to move too far. The greater black backed gulls (GBB gulls) are locally resident so tend not to go too far either. However,non-breeding GBB gulls will move some distance to find new territory. We recently had a visit from one GBB gull from Wales and another from Norway.

Lesser black backed gull (© National Trust Images - Jason Smalley)
In contrast to our resident gulls, the Lesser Blacked Gull (pictured right) is a continental tourist, often traveling between Britain, Ireland and several parts of Europe. Some of these gulls will also get as far as Africa and Russia. Most colonies of Lesser Black Backed Gulls are fully migratory ie: they move around a lot! They can breed from as far north as central-north Russia to further south in France and Portugal.

Lesser black backed gull - Terry Thirlaway

This Lesser Backed Back gull (left) was photographed at Lizard Point in March 2014. Using its uniquely coded leg ring people across Europe have been able to record their sightings of this gull. 

From looking at the British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) sightings database we know that this gull had been recorded at several locations in Spain between 2011 and 2014. In March 2014 it turned up here at Lizard Point and spent a week with the other gulls before moving on to Wales where it was recorded in July 2014. I think it’s just fantastic to know that we have such well-traveled gulls on our doorstep. 

Artic skua chasing a kittiwake - Tony Blunden
Speaking of traveling, offshore there are still lots of birds to see. Although the main migration season is drawing to close, there are still hundreds of seabirds traveling past the Point everyday. Tony Blunden, a local ecologist, regularly ‘sea-watches’ off Lizard Point to count the number and the number of species of seabirds passing by. 

On his latest sea-watch, on Sunday 8th November, Tony had a fantastic day. It appears that skuas have had a good year, and the conditions on Sun 8th were just perfect for spotting them. Tony managed to spot several species of skua among a number of other species. This really was a very special sea-watch indeed. All in all Tony recorded 8 Artic skua, 6 black headed gulls, 2 comorant, 648 gannets, 4 great skua, 2 Manx shearwater, 2 Mediterranean gulls, 1 puffin, 84 Balearic shearwater, 1 common scoter, 40 fulmar, 29 guillemot, 2280 kittiwake, 1 long tailed skua, 26 Pomeranian skua, 1 purple sandpiper, 475 razorbill, 32 shags and 2 Sooty Shearwater, and that was just in 4 hours. (It has to be said not all sea-watches provide such fantastic results - this was a busy morning!)

Manx shearwater - Tony Blunden
Few people realise that puffin can be seen passing Lizard Point every day (from April- August). Other species like manx shearwaters, razorbills and guillemots can be seen passing the Point in their thousands by the hour at particular times of year. In order to see these birds you’ll need a telescope and of course to be able to identify them at a distance, which is no easy task! Until you get the hang sea-watching it is quite a difficult to identify the many black dots whizzing through the view of your telescope, but after a few sessions you’ll soon begin to recognise the usual suspects, making anything unusual stand out nicely.

It takes patience to learn the art of sea-watching, and a lot of it depends on the weather conditions  It’s advisable to go along with an expert when you first get started, so why not join us next week? If you are interested in learning more about seabirds and sea-watching, Tony is doing another sea-watch at Lizard Point on Sunday 30th November from 8am –10am. He welcomes people at any level to join him (beginner or expert), and will meet you just below Southerly Point Café. Ideally, you will have your own telescope but there will be spare scopes available. No need to book, just turn up.

To learn more about wildlife on the Lizard visit the Linking the Lizard website

Thanks again to Terry and Tony for the use of their fantastic photos. 

- Cat

Monday, 10 November 2014

Celebrating the tiny things in life

Diatoms from Carleon Cove pool
Most of us don't give much thought to the tiniest things in life, but they are out there, and important to us all!

Meet the diatoms.  These are microscopic single celled algae, defined by having a silica rich cell wall made in two parts. They live in both fresh and salt water, and most photosynthesise, producing energy from sunlight. Diatoms are at the bottom of lots of food chains, and are the ultimate source of energy for many forms of ocean life, and you if you eat fish! A micron is one millionth of a metre (one thousandth of a millimetre), so at 20 microns long they are tiny. However, they can be so numerous that in time their silica rich remains accumulate to form a soft rock type called diatomite, which has many industrial uses.

Examining the catch of diatoms
Trawling for diatoms at Carleon Cove
This miniature world was captured by Kernow Microscopical Society, who recently held a field meeting at Poltesco, utilising our newly renovated barn to set up their equipment. They collected diatoms within the brackish pool at Carleon Cove, formed where the stream meets the shingle beach.

For further fascinating insights into very small things, including a cross section of a moth's tongue, visit the Society's website at


Thursday, 6 November 2014

Withan Woods - well worth a visit

The woods at Frenchman's creek on the Helford estuary are famous for their unique beauty, tranquillity and their abundance of wildlife. The eastern side of Frenchman's Creek is already in the care of the National Trust. Erlier in the year some woodland on the other side of the creek was put up for sale. We put in our bid and are now the proud new owners of Withan Woods. 

Withan Woods – Outlined in red

Withan is a tranquil little wood, its fringe of 'Western oak woodland' overhanging the creek and large open grown trees give it a special character. It also has a real feeling of history. Buried deep in the woods is an old quay, first recorded in the 1880’s, which is a beautiful quiet place to sit and enjoy the wildlife and views up the creek towards the main Helford River.

      Withan Quay

Kathy working hard
There is an existing right of way through the top end of the woods to the farmland above. Historically access to the quay and woodland beyond was limited, but as part of our commitment to enhancing public access, we decided that we should put in a new path down to the quay and clear an existing track to create a circular walking route, giving access to the whole wood.

Finally on warm day in October eight of us, staff and volunteers, headed off to create the new route along the creek side to the quay and beyond. When we arrived we split in to two groups, some heading off to clear windblown trees from the existing track, and the others working on the new footpath along the creek side to the quay. After a day of hard, but rewarding work we had finished the new route.

Our plans for Withan are for sensitive low key management, so the new path has been cut by hand. This ensures there as little disturbance to the existing woods as possible to preserve their unspoilt nature. We still need to return to put a few steps on the steeper sections of path and to install subtle way markers to guide visitors round the wood.

If you’re ever visiting the Helford and fancy exploring then Withan is an fantastically peaceful place to soak up the real character of the area.

Withan Woods

- Martin

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The sad tale of Pistil Meadow

Anyone who walks the Lizard coastline regularly will be familiar with Pistil, a little valley a quarter of a mile west of the Most Southerly Point, which, thanks to a small copse of tamarisk, offers a little shelter along this otherwise wind battered stretch of coast.  The name more than likely derives from the Cornish for waterfall; a stream cascades onto the beach below.
Pistil Meadow, cleared ready for the October 2014 survey

Almost 300 years ago, this valley is said to have become the final resting place of 200 shipwrecked souls, buried as was customary at the time, in unconsecrated ground close to where their bodies washed ashore.

A Galley very similar to the Royal Anne
The year was 1721, and their ship was the Royal Anne, a military transport vessel taking the Governor of Barbados to his posting. She ran aground, as have many boats both before and since, on the treacherous rocks off Lizard Point during a November storm, with a terrible loss of life. 207 drowned; just 3 survived.

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 taking an interest in the tale.

Wet ground conditions in 2012 made some techniques unreliable
However, is it story or fact?  Although there are plenty of references suggesting a mass grave at Pistil, its exact location is unknown, some saying the tamarisk grove, others the open meadow land.

We have teamed up with archaeologists from Bournemouth University and MAST (Maritime Archaeological Sea Trust) to investigate further. The team first visited in November 2012 to undertake geophysical surveys, using non-invasive techniques to see if they could detect any anomalies in the ground that might be consistent with a mass burial. The ground was first cleared with brushcutters, so that the archaeologists could take the smooth and regular paces on which their equipment relies, and a grid was pegged out. They were able to use magnetic and electromagnetic techniques in 2012 but unfortunately due to the saturated ground, other kit which relies on detecting differences in moisture content could not be used. This preliminary analysis threw up 3 places of interest within the meadow area that could conceivably be grave pits.

Magnetic survey under way
Fast forward to this year, and the unusually dry September gave us a window of opportunity to try some of the techniques that the archaeologists had to give up on previously because it was too boggy! Late into October, the stream bed is still dry, and the waterfall silent. Once again the vegetation has been cleared and this time the team have had success using earth resistivity area 3D imaging, ground penetrating radar and slingram electromagnetic techniques.

We’re eagerly awaiting the results of this latest work. If these techniques agree with the 2012 results, we will have an interesting question to ponder. Do we give permission for the archaeologists to dig a test pit to see if their data has led us to a conclusion, or do we allow this 300 year old mystery to remain just that?


Monday, 27 October 2014

A Celebration of Apples at Penrose

We had an appley agenda yesterday at Penrose with our second annual Apple Day. Our 15 year old orchard provided the produce for apple bobbing, apple pressing and the longest peel competition! The café worked their magic and produced some delicious cakes, muffins, crumble and even an apple and parsnip soup. 
Everyone had a go at crushing then pressing the apples to make their own juice

Some examples of the longest peelings!
Apples are the quintessential British fruit and have played an important part in British life since time immemorial. Orchards were highly valued not only for their produce, but as wildlife habitat, and for cultural traditions. In the latter half of the 20th century big businesses, supermarkets and intensive agriculture meant that we lost many of our traditional orchards and the magic of the apple. Many apple varieties and apple traditions and customs were at risk of extinction. One such custom is Wassailing, which traditionally took place between Christmas and 18th January. The idea is to protect the trees from evil spirits and to ensure a plentiful harvest in the coming season. Cider is poured on the roots and bread soaked in cider is placed in the branches for robins to eat, who are considered guardians of the trees. Then songs are sung and a huge racket is made to drive the evil spirits away and to wake the trees from their winter slumber.
A range of butterflies including the Comma, can be found in established orchards

However, this loss is now being recognised by conservationists and apple enthusiasts. Orchards are being restored by landowners in a bid to regain their wildlife value and to preserve our heritage varieties. We planted a new orchard in 2011 at Penrose, in a field that was no longer useful for agriculture, and a few young fruit trees were planted in the walled garden this year. New orchards are springing up all over Cornwall, many of them boasting an impressive array of Cornish heritage varieties. We have the Manaccan Primrose, the Cornish wine apple and the Cornish Giliflower to name a few. 

Every year we send most of our apples to local juicers Helford Creek to juice and bottle them, and you can buy small and large bottles in The Stables Café. Thank you to everyone who came and made the day so successful. Please get in touch if you have any feedback about the event.
Flats and Sharps provided musical entertainment, as well as the amazing Signing Choir from Porthleven School


Monday, 20 October 2014

"Why do we volunteer?"

 Keith at the Watchpoint
Here is a wonderful description, from one of our Wildlife Watchpoint volunteers Keith, about why he and many others volunteer at Lizard Point. It captures the wonder so many of us feel when we stand at Britain’s Most Southerly Point.

Why do we volunteer? It’s a no brainer really!! Southerly Point on the Lizard Peninsula is a microcosm of all things good about Cornwall, it encapsulates the vast and rich array of flora and fauna to be seen in this part of the country, it’s a place where time has stood still, where nothing has changed in decades and it’s our place of work!

In the sky we are fortunate to (probably) be the first to see the returning swallows. Later we will catch a glimpse of a sky full of kite having their annual day by the sea and if we are luckier still we may see hoopoe or rare warblers blown in across oceans ravaged by gales.  All this, against a beautiful backdrop of thousands of passing seabirds.

Lizard Lighthouse

In the sea we don’t have to look far for our resident seals, fishing in the coves, bobbing in the waves or just basking on the rocks in the glorious sunshine. Further out that glimpse of black in the tidal races show the porpoise on the prowl for food, or the passing pods of dolphin on their relentless journeys around the coast. When the warmth of summer really arrives and the Gulf Stream is in full flow we ponder at the sights of basking shark, sunfish or any other aquatic organism that has hitched a ride on the seas incessant current.

On land, the parched winter cliffs, left by howling gales and salt ravaged spray, suddenly erupt into a myriad of colours at the first sign of the spring sunshine. Huge varieties of plants, some so rare they are only found on the Lizard Peninsula, take their place for all to see.

Cornish Chough

 And as if not enough, we have our favourite Cornish Choughs cavorting and calling from nearby cliffs, resplendent in their iridescent plumage and unmistakable red legs and beak. Returned to Cornwall of their own accord as if by magic, to set up nest sites for us all to view. That’s why we enjoy volunteering, we just love the place.

But it is not ours alone, this Crown Jewel set on the most Southerly Point of the British Isles is for us all to share. Why don’t you take a peek one day on all that nature has to offer, we’d love to show you around.        - Keith

Keith with other volunteers and visitors at the watchpoi

Keith is an expert in the history and behaviour of Cornish choughs. Not only does he spend hours watching, tracking and protecting the nests of the choughs here in Cornwall, he also spends one or two days a week sharing his enthusiasm for these rare red-legged crows on the Wildlife Watchpoint. Keith has a fantastic way with words and loves to inspire people with his stories. He has entertained hundreds of visitors on the watchpoint, leaving them all with a smile and a new passion for these magnificent birds. Quite a few folk have been so inspired that they have joined the Chough Watch Team which is over 100 people strong in Cornwall. 

Volunteers, like Keith are at the heart of the Wildlife Watchpoint, helping people get closer to nature everyday. We want to send a huge thank-you to all our volunteers for their help, we couldn't run the watchpoint without them.

Keith 'choughed' at the Chough Project Wildlife Weekend

At this time in particular we want thank Keith who has supported us for many years despite his ill-health. (Please note: we have Keith's support and permission to write this.) Unfortunately, Keith was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2011. Since then his health has been up and down but he has still continued to volunteer regularly. As I'm sure you can sense in his words above, he finds the choughs and places like Lizard Point an inspiration. He says 'they keep him going... and without them 'he wouldn't be here today.' 

Keith is a remarkable character, an inspiration not only through his story telling and enthusiasm but through his 'winning' attitude. He has given so much time, effort and energy to the chough project. We (and the 'choughs') have been very lucky to have him on board. Knowing Keith's positive attitude, it was no surprise to learn that, despite his ill-health, he is still trying to do something good for other folk.

Chough - (photo by Terry Thirlaway)

Next month, Keith is planning to take part in ‘Movember’ (a charity event where men grow moustaches to raise awareness and funds for prostrate cancer research). 

It appears Keith has even got the choughs inspired! They seem to be doing their bit to rally up support. We wish Keith every success in his fundraising appeal and hope he feels better soon. 

If you want to see what other antics Keith has inspired for  'Movemeber' and / or if you would like to support Keith and the ‘Movember’ appeal please visit: 

- Cat

Friday, 17 October 2014

Black Head Lookout Refurbishment

If you are walking on the cliffs at Black Head and find yourself in need of shelter, why not stop at the Black Head lookout building? It is situated on stunning cliffs south west of Coverack, on a Peridotite outcrop 55 meters from the sea below.

New display boards at Black Head
Black Head has been home to a lookout point since 1811. Although there is a newer building present today, the original lookout was built during the Napoleonic wars. After being rebuilt in 1915, the lookout was used for coastguard operations until 1987. It was then left abandoned.

National Trust began basic restoration work on the lookout in 2011. We left many of the existing features of the building but had to put in new windows and a felt roof. We also gave the building a much-needed lick of paint. By repainting the lookout its original colour, white, it is now clearly visible on the cliff top making it a useful navigational aid for local fisherman. We also decided to add a couple of scratching posts to keep the cattle from rubbing on the corners of the building.

Window display at Black Head
Looking out onto one of Britain’s busiest shipping lanes, the views from Black Head are stunning. To the north the view encompasses Coverack Bay, out to Lowland Point and the Fal Estuary. To the south west you can see right across to Bass Point, the view includes Enys Head, Church Cove and the new lifeboat station at Kilcobben.

With peregrines, ravens, shags and several species of gull passing the cliffs below it is a great place to see wildlife. As well as the extraordinary flora, in the summer months, there is a good chance you could spot passing porpoise and dolphins.  It’s a popular place for basking sharks too.

If you have never been out to Black Head, we strongly recommend it, it’s well worth a visit. Let us know what you think -

- Darren

Contact us


Email *

Message *