A collaboration of coast and countryside organisations on The Lizard Peninsula

National Chough Survey 2014

Surveying

It's been a super busy period for us chough people. A handful of UK breeding birds of conservation concern is regularly monitored by SCARRABBS (Statutory Conservation Agencies/RSPB Rare Breeding Birds Survey) and Red-billed chough is one such species.

SCARRABBS surveys are undertaken at regular intervals (every 10 or 12 years) and concentrate on those species that are not adequately monitored through other more general surveys such as the BTO Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). The survey methodology is more tailored to the specific bird in question and collects more detail to establish its breeding status. Surveys like this that are repeated over decades give invaluable information on population change and range. The last UK wide SCARRABBS chough survey was in 2002, which was when there was only one pair of breeding choughs in Cornwall, their next nearest neighbours were in south Wales.

National Trust scything a way forward

Scything
National Trust Rangers on the Lizard are turning back the clocks, by putting their faith in the humble scythe.  These simple tools, which were the only way to gather in the harvest of hay and corn just a few generations ago, are making a come back for tasks such as cutting footpaths.

Martin McDowall Ranger for the National Trust explains “We care for over 10 miles of paths on the Lizard, which require anything up to 3 cuts per year. I’m a convert when it comes to scythes.  Modern ones are light and can be adjusted in a myriad of ways, so they can be set up for comfort. It’s so nice not to have the weight of a strimmer to carry around, nor the fuel, and it’s much more pleasant to be able to work without the noise and fumes of a petrol engine, even if it is a little slower. It’s less intrusive for the public too, and doesn’t scare wildlife.”

New wetlands for wildlife

biffa pond excavator and dumperIn common with many conservation organisations nationally, we've been doing our bit to try to reverse the long-term decline in the number of ponds in the wider countryside.

Thanks to funding through Higher Level Stewardship schemes and the Millennium Million Ponds Project administered by Pond Conservation (now the Freshwater Habitats Trust), we've dug over 15 new ponds and scrapes on National Trust land on The Lizard in the last 4 years.

NNR management affected by winter weather

The past winter, as everyone has experienced, has been the wettest and windiest that anyone working on the land locally can remember. The very high rainfall and weeks of gale force winds have taken their toll, with land slips on some of our coastal reserves, chunks of the WWII anti-tank wall at Kennack snapped off like twigs on a branch and huge chunks of the wall moved 20 feet or more down the eastern beach. We have been unable to use our tractors and flails on several sites for fear of damaging the ground we would have been driving over.

Our unpredictable weather and how it can affect wildlife recording

Our decidedly unpredictable weather means that wildlife on the Lizard has good years and it has bad years.

Coastal flowers

Coastal flowers

As a keen forager, I'm all too aware that 2014 has (so far) been terrible for fungi due mainly to September being so dry; (11mm for the whole of the month). This autumn has, however, seen a bumper harvest of hedgerow fruits which presumably has, in turn, benefited the birds and small mammals. This spring and early summer saw one of the best shows of coastal wildflowers I've ever seen. Butterflies have had a good year, whereas wasps (thankfully) haven't done quite so well (their hornet cousins have faired better I believe). On balance, this year will probably go down as a 'good year' for wildlife.

This got me thinking about how the vagaries of the Cornish weather can dramatically affect the results of wildlife surveys and monitoring. Obviously, just because there were very few fungi found in October 2014 it doesn't necessarily mean that there has been some cataclysmic drop in fungi populations. Long term trends are more indicative of the health of populations and obviously we shouldn't base too much emphasis on rogue data.

Out in the land with LAN

LAN is the acronym for the Lizard Ancient sites Network, a group of volunteers set up in 2009 to look after the prehistoric and early medieval sites on the Lizard peninsula. We work closely with Cornwall Council's Historic Environment service, Natural England and the National Trust on the Lizard, and in the five years since we came into being, we have looked after a wide variety of ancient sites, many of which were formerly overgrown or in danger of being lost.

   

These sites lie in some of the Lizard's most beautiful unspoilt countryside, and make a worthwhile addition to anyone's day out in the land. We have a number of site monitors, who keep an eye on the monuments, and once a month we do a clear-up at a different site, removing overgrowing vegetation and scrub.

Penrose, Loe Pool and Hardworking Volunteers

In the heart of Penrose is Loe Pool, with a fabled history including King Arthur’s Excalibur and local legends of giants moving sand to create the bar which isolates this, the largest natural freshwater lake in Cornwall, from the sea.
More recently, mining and agricultural activities in the Cober catchment during the last few centuries have led the Pool into a state of enhanced nutrient enrichment known as eutrophication. As a result of this, its impact on the ecology of the Pool, and the expansive algal blooms seen during the 1980s and 1990s, the Loe Pool Forum (LPF) was set up in 1996 to bring together all the different organisations with an interest in the health of Loe Pool.
The great work of the partnership has already seen some positive results over the years. One of the many aspects of the Forum’s work that have made an impact over the years are the practical days, on the ground, carried out by amazing groups of volunteers.


National Trust volunteers creating leaky dams in the willow carr on the River CoberNational Trust volunteers creating leaky dams in the willow carr on the River Cober

Whilst other groups, like the Wildlife Trust’s Wild Cober volunteers, focus upstream, as Rangers for the National Trust at Penrose our team of volunteers tackle the tasks on the land directly next to the Pool. In the past a mix of small projects like leaky dams and willow coppicing, which have improved habitats and water quality, and larger projects like the strapwort reintroduction project (http://www.wwct.org.uk/conservation-research/south-west-uk/slapton/strapwort), aiming to establish this critically endangered plant at the Pool for the first time in a century, have all had a positive impact on the area.
Along the Cober, bank erosion and invasive species are also big issues with many days summer dedicated to removing Himalayan balsam from the willow carr and around the Pool.

Platform views .....

Old Windmill on Windmill farmAn innovative approach has been found to rescue a crumbling ancient monument at Windmill Farm Nature Reserve on the Lizard. The seventeenth century windmill, from which the site gets its name, has been deteriorating since its roof came off in the 1970s. With funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and SITA Cornwall Trust an exciting project is underway to install a viewing platform in the windmill tower and crown it with a new roof. The views from the top will be spectacular, taking in the nature reserve and surrounding Lizard landscape. The windmill was used by the Home Guard as a look out post and the nature reserve is scattered with the remains of other structures from the Second World War.