As a passionate conservationist, dedicated to protecting the Lizard wildlife, it may seem unusual, indeed downright contradictory, that I am also passionate about foraging for wild food.

A few years ago I was invited to do a piece on Radio 5 Live about foraging for food from the wild. This was a live discussion with John Wright, author of the fantastic and highly recommended River Cottage foraging books. As National Trust Head Ranger for the Lizard Peninsula, I think I was brought in to offer a counter argument, defending the rights of wild plants and animals to remain 'un-foraged' in the name of conservation. Unbeknown to 5 Live, I am also a keen forager and agreed with pretty much everything John had to say on the subject. Hardly the live heated argument 5-Live was hoping for!

Choughs-Anne HindmarchFriday 29th March sees the opening of the Cornwall Chough Project watchpoint. This will be the 11th year that the watchpoint has been open. After becoming extinct in 1973, the choughs made a natural return to Cornwall in 2001. Since then a team of dedicated staff and volunteers have been protecting and promoting our very own Celtic Crow, supporting it's natural recolonisation. Thanks to the hard work of the Cornwall Chough Project Team, a partnership between National Trust, Natural England and RSPB, 88 chicks have fledged from several nests across Cornwall. This year there are seven nesting pairs, which is fantastic news, as this rare bird continues to make a steady come back.

Have you ever seen that Venn diagram of sustainability? - The pictorial representation of the three legged stool. The three circles represent social, economic and environmental activity. The place where they overlap completely is 'sustainability' – the Holy Grail!! A world not compromised for future generations! It makes you wonder then why the overlapping bit is so small!

Controlled Winter Heath and Gorse Fires

Controlled Winter Heath and Gorse FiresBelow the mountain caerthillian valley

Over the past few weeks the wind has been from the east, and we have had a respite from the constant deluges of rain. Even the paths which have been mudbound and treacherous for months have dried out in a matter of days and are no longer a case of two steps forward and slip one back. The dry days and light winds have enabled us to crack on with our winter habitat management – which translates as scrub (gorse, blackthorn, bramble) control and swaling (or heather burning). 

When burning standing vegetation we always follow the Burning Code which lays out common sense measures of when and how to best burn in order to avoid embarrassment (or worse) – inform the fire brigade, ensure firebreaks are in place, not too windy, enough people with firebeaters etc. In particular these past couple of weeks we have been concentrating on removing gorse from botanically rich south facing rocky outcrops on the west coast.

   

When burning the gorse in situ it can look very dramatic, and afterwards it can look as we have been landscape vandals with dirty great black smudges left in the view.

Exmoor herd grazing near Goonhilly DownsI was at a social gathering several years ago wherein I fell into conversation with a rather grand woman who enquired what I did for a living. When she learned that I was a nature reserve warden she wished to know more of what that exactly involved. I launched into a lengthy talk about the principles of conservation and habitat management, together with a potted history of the Lizard National Nature Reserve. Discovering that she owned a horse, I elaborated on our need to graze the reserve and the vital role played by our own herds of Exmoor and Shetland ponies in achieving this and the importance of putting in the time to ensure that the animal’s welfare was maintained. She considered all this for a few seconds and then remarked “So, you’re basically paid to pat ponies then”, before wandering off to find someone better paid to talk to instead. This illustrated to me that however interesting you may find your job, the finer details may well sail over the heads of most people. Unlikely though it is that the grand lady in question follows ‘Linking the Lizard’, this article will hopefully illustrate that there is more to the management of ponies than a programme of regular patting.

Picture the stark landscapes synonymous with Cornwall; such as the purple heathers that contrast with the blue of the ocean below. I’ve included a beautiful reminder. This landscape is not only maintained by ungulate grazing, but is built upon the soil that not only holds so much life, but is vital to its continuation.

Lizard Landscape

The Lizard, Cornwall we all know and love. The soils here are situated on Serpentine rock, which is completely unique to The Lizard. They produce calcium and magnesium rich soils whose alkalinity enables rare plant species to grow such as Cornish heath.

It is hard to imagine that 1 gram of soil can contain 1 billion bacteria. These bacteria and all life within what is often called ‘dirt’ and taken to be an inanimate object makes up to 25% of Earth’s biodiversity.
One measurement of soil’s fertility is through the life contained within it. Digging into soil and seeing earthworms is evidence of a nutrient rich, thriving and importantly a living environment. A healthy soil supports all flora and consequently fauna that reside on this earth. So definitely something we should be conserving! 


 

Soil sample
Nematodes, Mycorrhiza (fungi), bacteria, Earthworms are a few of the organisms within healthy soil.


NFU recognises that farmers value this resource to enable continuation of providing us with nutritious foods. But I believe it is important it doesn’t become necessary to rely solely on fertilisers to replace the lost nutrients when crops are harvested, as not only does this mean soil cannot provide life within itself, but it is less capable of producing food. Furthermore, the chemicals can have negative impacts on water quality through leaching of the phosphates and nitrates vital for plant growth. Another issue is uncovered soil after crops are harvested is susceptible to erosion and 1cm of soil can take 500 years to produce but can be blown away a lot quicker. 


Environmental Stewardship is a scheme run by Natural England that helps to promote the maintenance and restoration of the countryside's wildlife and historic interest. Farmers and other landowners who are eligible can enter into either a five year agreement under the Entry Level options (ELS) or ten years for the Higher Level options (HLS). The latter options are targeted towards the most highly valued elements of the landscape, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Scheduled Monuments, as well as the management of soils, hedges and woodlands to help protect the wider landscape and watercourses.

 

The video highlights some of the species that will benefit from additional protection, hear what members of the public value about this significant development, and meet one of the farmers who grazes the cliffs and coastal fields for wildlife.