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.

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.

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.

The ponies were spotted out and about at Kynance recently. Grazing is used to help protect The Lizard’s habitats for wildlife, with Choughs one of  the species that benefits.
Photo: Mark Hayhurst
Nature conservation on the Lizard  

CattleWhilst this summer hasn’t exactly offered the best weather, here on the farm, we’re still suffering the effects of 2012’s disastrously wet summer. The cattle suffered from day after day of rain, thereby eating wet grass all summer long. Wet grass seems to go straight through the animals, producing little milk or growth. The calves born in Spring 2012 should by now have been fattened and gone for slaughter, but due to their slow start to life, we still have many over 30 month cattle. Calves born in 2015, by comparison, are looking a picture of good health. OK, so it hasn’t exactly been the best summer we’ve ever had, but it has been reasonably dry, albeit somewhat chilly, the dry forage allows good growth and milk for the calves.

Cattle on the Lizard

Following the BSE crisis in 19**, all cattle over the age of 30 months must have all spinal material removed, which includes the backbone. This leaves the animal unsuitable as a butcher’s quality carcass, and therefore reducing its value even if one day over. There is therefore pressure on farmers to force growth in order to gain reasonable value in finishing their animals in under 30 months. Many farmers achieve this through housing the cattle over winter and feeding them a diet of grain and high quality ryegrass forage.

1938_Windmill_with_roof.jpg

Windmill with a roof 1938. photo by J.N.Rosewarne

The Windmill at Windmill Farm Nature Reserve, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, has had some much needed TLC recently. Thanks to a grant from Natural England we were able to commission structural and ecological surveys before carrying out emergency repairs to prevent an entire wall from collapsing.

Twin-headed Clover (Trifolium bocconei) in the sunshine at Caerthillian.Thanks to its unique (within England) serpentine bedrock and its unusual climate the Lizard peninsula provides a habitat found nowhere else in England. As a result of this the Lizard is home to an impressive number of rare and endemic species, such as Sea Asparagus (Asparagus prostratus) and Twin-headed Clover (Trifolium bocconei). I am to provide an overview of some of the research being carried out on the Lizard.

 

Pasture after grazing and hayOne of the main aspects of managing a floristically rich NNR such as the Lizard is controlling those plant species which could come to dominate a habitat and exclude other, rarer plants. Such work could be at the level of clearing scrub from around a rocky outcrop noted for a rare species, through to the broader sweep of controlled burning and grazing. Much of this management takes place during the winter months when many species are dormant, but this is not exclusively the case. For example, this summer NNR staff and volunteers have been trialling various methods to control the spread of bracken on the towans at Kennack. Another species to which we have turned our attention is to be found in the quieter confines of central Goonhilly.