A collaboration of coast and countryside organisations on The Lizard Peninsula

Coast Path Erosion

Coast path erosion2012 was in many ways an extraordinary year. Team GB surpassed expectations at the Olympics, NASA landed its rover on Mars, some boffins in Italy finally discovered Higgs Bosun (the significance of this discovery is yet to sink in) and the deadly ash dieback disease, inevitably, reached our shores.

Here on the Lizard, 2012 will live long in our memories as the "rainy year". Considering the first few months of the year we were officially in a state of drought, the rain arrived in Spring and it then just seemed to get wetter and wetter, culminating in some quite extraordinary storms in November. Aside from the localised flooding causing untold misery to many local communities, the torrential rain cast a timely reminder of our dynamic and ever-changing coastline, in the shape of land slides, erosion and cliff falls. As a result, the South West Coast path suffered some of its worst damage in its 40 year history.

Common Agricultural Policy and Cornwall Hedgerows

Cornish HedgeFarming has coincided with the natural environment on the Lizard for centuries. Currently due to the CAP reform, any farmer who has more than 15 hectares of arable land will have to “set aside” 5% of their arable land as an EFA, Environmental Focus Area.
There are five different types of EFA:
1. Fallow Land
2. Hedges
3. Buffer Strips
4. Catch crops and cover crops
5. Nitrogen fixing crop
The Cornish hedge is an obvious ecological resource which many would like to use towards their EFA requirements. There is an abundance of biodiversity within the Cornish hedgerows which is promoted by our mild winters.
EFA hedges can be any width, or any height. They must be maintained for the whole scheme year in line with cross compliance rules. Newly planted hedges can also count for EFA if they are in the ground when a BPS application is made.
Hedges can include gaps. There is no limit on how many gaps a hedge can have – as long as each individual gap is not more than 20 metres.

Conservation and Wild Food Foraging

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!

Conservation Ponies Part 1

History

For many people the bleak looking downs and moors of the Lizard are iconic parts of its landscape.
Due to their wild appearance it is easy to imagine the downs and moors simply as natural landscapes, but their character has in part been formed, and maintained, by thousands of years of human activity, principally through the grazing of livestock.Ponies on Goonhilly Downs
It is generally thought that by the Late Neolithic period (c3000BC to c2500BC) people had probably started to clear woodland vegetation on quite a substantial scale, perhaps to encourage grazing by certain wild and then domesticated animals, and to help favoured plants to grow. By the Bronze Age, settlements, enclosures and ceremonial complexes were being constructed in an increasingly open landscape created and sustained by farming.
Until the l9th century, upland, valley and coastal rough ground were important areas of west Cornwall’s farming landscape and used as part of the rural economy. Today, it is likely that few people are aware of the history of farmers taking sheep, cattle, ponies and goats on to the rough grazing, or of householders cutting furze (gorse), turf (peat), and ferns (bracken). Such sights were once commonplace on the Lizard.

The Goonhilly Pony

The Goonhilly pony was a smart sort of pony, strong in body but light of limb with a pretty head and nice length of rein. More akin to a New Forest pony than of an Exmoor and no doubt had the same stamina, even temperament and surefootedness as the modern native breeds.
Cornwall was one of the last places in Britain to see the introduction of the wheel. Prior to this, ponies or oxen transported goods on their backs or loaded onto skids which they pulled and Cornish folk were reluctant to change their ways. The routes across the county were rutted, uneven and ill suited to wheels, the ponies were therefore a popular choice and it would seem the breed flourished as a packhorse. (Exmoor Pony Webzine)

Conservation Ponies Part 2

What is it? Benefits and Breeds

Ponies on Goonhilly Downs 

What is it?
Managing interesting landscapes in a low intensive way to encourage the wildlife and plants that these areas support.

• Conservation grazing is livestock grazing that promotes biodiversity.
• Many nature reserves are now managed using grazing animals.
• Due to their typically hardy and thrifty nature, our rare and native breeds are generally considered to be the best animals for this job.

The British landscape has evolved hand-in-hand with ‘keystone’ species such as native ponies.
The increase of human influence saw the gradual displacement and substitution of these wild ponies, with domestic animals such as sheep, cattle and pigs. As herd size increased and management changed, this led to problems of overgrazing and compaction of grassland and upland habitats, and a decrease in woodland biodiversity, culminating in an overall loss of habitat and species diversity.

Benefits
Conservation grazing seeks to bring balance back to those habitats which have become impoverished. Through the careful selection and management of semi-feral ponies, natural regeneration is encouraged by virtue of their particular grazing traits. Native ponies are discerning diners, feeding on coarse grass, rushes and smaller fine-leaved sweet vegetation but leaving the more wildlife-friendly plants and flowers. While mowing machines are useful in other ways it is not easy to achieve this kind of discrimination with them. The ponies can also graze round difficult tussocky patches which cause mowers to get stuck.

Ponies grazing on Goonhilly Downs

Cornwall Chough Project

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.

Crystal ball gazing from the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

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!

Devastation to Splendour

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.