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  • Storms Reveal Ancient Forest on Daymer Bay Beach, North Cornwall

    14th March 2014
    All around our coastline there have been huge geomorphological changes that came with the ferocious stormy seas and high winds that we have experienced quite consistently throughout this winter. I wrote a blog recently exposing how the Spring Tides and Storm Swell caused damage in Polzeath .
    However, some of these changes have brought to the surface some fascinating insights to the natural history of our county.
    There have been huge shifts in sand on Daymer Bay in North Cornwall, this has revealed evidence of a 4,400-year-old forest. Between 4000-5000 years ago the coastline at Daymer Bay would have been between 5 and 10 miles further out and this area was covered in extensive forest.
    This stunning piece of preserved history reveals secrets from Cornwall’s past and research is being conducted into it’s climate and environmental conditions of the time.
    Frank Howie, Cornwall Wildlife Trustee and chair of the Geoconservation Group, said around 20 tree stumps have been uncovered on the bay, which grew when the climate was slightly warmer than today.
    “The storms have revealed trunks of pine and oak as well as possibly beach and yew, and as well as several rooted tree stumps, Neolithic shell middens and fossil soils containing snails, some now rare or extinct in Cornwall, have been exposed,” Mr Howie said.
    These submerged forests are evidence of how the sea level has risen. It is said that there are also fossilised frogs, toads, undergrowth and other species associated with vegetation of this kind.
    It is hoped that in time the ancient forests with again be covered with sand. Mr Howie adds, “These sites are all very fragile and it is likely that any further storms and trampling by interested onlookers may damage the deposits.”
    Signs of damage are already visible. Here you can see how chunks of the ancient soil are breaking away:
    Here is an example of how the run off is eroding through the delicate layers:
    There are many other beautiful natural wonders that the storms have uncovered recently such as these stunning sand formations and large boulders with huge quartz crystal veins cracked open by the elements exposing the glittering treasure inside.
    We are very lucky to be given this amazing opportunity to see our past so vividly on our shores.
    For further reading see the article published in the Cornish Guardian – Storms uncover 4,400-year-old forest on Cornwall’s Daymer Bay and the article by the BBC – UK storms: Ancient forest revealed in Mount’s Bay sand. This article details some of the other interesting things that have been uncovered around our coastline.


    Spring Tides and Storm Swell causes damage in Polzeath

    4th January 2014
    Last night and this morning saw tides reaching 7.6 metres and with 29 foot of swell the surges struck with consequences in Polzeath. There is a clip taken by Sky News of one wave wiping a local van off the road as people gathered to watch the high tide, http://news.sky.com/ click on ‘weather causes widespread damage’ on the right. Here is a screenshot for those that can’t access the news article:
    The swell washed past the Polzeath Marine Centre, luckily the centre itself is fine but unfortunately there is a lot of damage elsewhere in Polzeath.
    The beach information sign has been washed away along with half of the bank of sand.
    The RNLI lifeguard hut and Surf Life Saving Club has been quite badly damaged.
    Some of its contents were seen halfway down the beach.
    The surfside cafes decking has been partly swept away along with their vehicle and some of their furniture.
    There have been huge shifts in sand exposing the foundations of the steps and also some strange metal fixings along an old concrete wall that was previously buried.
    Large debris such as nets and lobster pots have washed in.
    Conezones wall was pushed down by the surges.
    At Daymer, much of the sand dunes have been washed away as have the heavy duty steps leading down to the beach.
    Many locals have said that this is the worst storm swells and high tides that they have seen here on the North Cornish coast.


    After the Storm

    4th November 2013
    Just two nights ago the storm was frighteningly close; one strike so mighty it felt as though it had struck my house. The whole world rumbled beneath my bed. All was fine for us on land in Cornwall; however, the coming days showed that life in the oceans has been quite something else.
    The Cornish coasts this week have been storm battered. Huge swells and high winds have stirred up our vast oceans. Huge waves have crashed upon our beautiful coastline and many marine lives have been affected.
    On the strandline a scary reminder of the huge amounts of marine plastic that spends its time swirling around our oceans as tonnes of the stuff came washing in. Yesterday there were two distinct strandlines. In the high strandline were huge amounts of large plastic items. Pictured here are some of the more useful items that were collected.
    washed up beach toys
    The second and much scarier strandline was a huge line of countless nurdles and tiny fragments of plastic, colourful like confetti. Many millions of pieces from microscopic sand sized pieces to bits that were a couple of centimetres across.
    This is not just a localised problem. Marine plastic is washing up on every beach in every country, is suffocating every stream, river, lake and ocean in the world. The plastic will never go away; it will just break down into smaller and smaller fragments, which then finds its way into the food chain taking with it all the toxins that it has absorbed during its time in the water.
    Every creature in our oceans is being poisoned this way. It becomes more obvious in the top predators and larger marine mammals, as the toxins build up in their systems.
    The fierce conditions out to sea have caused numerous strandings around our coastline; this Harbour Porpoise is sadly one of two that have washed up in the last week in Polzeath.
    If you discover a stranded marine creature the best thing to do is to contact the Marine Strandings Network 24 hour hotline on 0345 201 2626. All reported strandings are investigated by a team of dedicated volunteers. This gives us important insights into the health of our marine life and oceans, valuable information can be obtained from these strandings without intervening with live animals.
    Any live strandings should be reported to the BDMLR which is an organisation dedicated to the rescue and well-being of all marine animals in distress around the UK. The rescue hotline is 01825 765546 during office hours and 07787 433412 out of office hours.
    After a storm you will also find some interesting things that you would not normally see wash in, pictured below is a wooden pallet that had clearly spent some time floating in the ocean and had become encrusted in Goose Barnacles.
    goose barnacle-washed-in
    I had hoped that the winds would have died down enough this week to conduct a boat survey along our coastline of seals, sea birds and cetaceans to try and fill a gap in the data. Conditions had been predicted borderline for the coming days but unfortunately the high winds are forecasted for a while longer. So we will have to watch and wait for better conditions. In the meantime with winter swells and continuing storms life in the oceans will continue precariously…
    For more information on some of the ways marine life is interacting with plastic the following blog is also useful: Mermaids Purses and Marine Plastic. And the following for information on pre-production plastic pellets in the marine environment: Nurdles.


    Hedgehogs in your garden?

    8th September 2013
    Earlier this year I was really lucky and won a HandyKam Trail Camera in a competition. The camera works by way of a motion detection sensor, so you only record the footage or take the photos you want rather than filling the memory card with hours of nothing. This battery saving technique means that you could leave the camera set up over a period of months to film and even has a time-lapse feature.
    I have been setting the camera up with the children in different locations to try and capture glimpses of wildlife. We have filmed various birds on feeders, repeat visits from a cheeky squirrel on the same feeders and Common Pipistrelle bats flying over our garden.
    Only the other day I found a poo in the garden that I hoped might be a hedgehogs. The size looked about right and although our garden is quite new and we’d never seen visiting Hedgehogs before it is a very hedgehog-friendly place.
    That evening I set up the trail cam excitedly and left it for a few days.
    Here is what we saw when we watched the footage:

    :) We were very happy :)
    Help our Hedgehogs!
    Hedgehogs are one of our national treasures and worryingly they are in rapid decline. I remember some evenings as a child when I would gaze out of the window and see up to five happy Hedgehogs feasting on my lazy cats dinner! Sadly until today, I hadn’t seen a Hedgehog for many years.
    There is something we can all do to try and help, here is a short list:
    -Stop using slug pellets, border your flowers and veggie patch with eggshells instead. The sharp shells will stop the slugs from eating your plants.
    -Make small gaps in the base of your fences. And ask your neighbours to do the same; Hedgehogs wander up to 4km per night, with so many closed gardens more hedgehogs are wandering onto dangerous roads and have insufficient space to forage.
    -Check bonfire stacks before lighting them, there might be a nesting Hedgehog inside.
    -Wildlife ponds are great places for nature but make sure that yours is creature friendly with gently sloping sides and escape routes for any creatures that fall in – do not use a pump if you want to attract maximum wildlife!
    -You can feed your visiting hedgehogs. They like cat or dog food but please do not be tempted to give them bread or milk as this will give them upset tummies leading to weight loss. A skinny hedgehog going into hibernation will not make it through the winter.
    -Create a wild space in your garden – this can be long grass with wildflowers (also good for our declining Bee populations), log or leaf piles; these provide for excellent Hedgehog foraging and potential nesting sites.
    -Build a hedgehog house. Click here for a good example of how to make one.
    If you are lucky enough to see them in your garden, enjoy your prickly visitors. A trail camera is not expensive and will give you hours of pleasure setting it up to capture these magical images of these beautiful animals in your garden. Go to the HandyKam website for more information.
    For more information on conservation projects in Cornwall see Cornwall Wildlife Trusts website.
    For ways that you can support Cornwall Wildlife Trust including becoming a member and volunteering visit here.


    Balloons in the Marine Environment

    On our July Seal, Seabird and Cetacean survey, we retrieved a large balloon that had been floating on the waters surface. I have written a separate blog about the July survey, click here to read it.
    Balloons are a particular danger in the marine environment with many marine creatures such as turtles mistaking them for jellyfish – a rich food source. Recently, I have retrieved around 20 washed up balloons from beautiful Polzeath beach, many with twine attached which causes further danger by way of entanglement and strangulation to marine life.
    Unfortunately many people are unaware of the environmental dangers and with balloon manufacturers pushing the fact that latex breaks down in the environment when the balloons reach a high enough altitude to burst, many turn a blind eye.
    Hence, balloon releases are still able to go ahead each day all around the world.
    The fact remains, the balloons released pose a massive threat to wildlife. 10% of released balloons do not reach a high enough altitude to burst so come floating back down to earth semi inflated. Many of these balloons are consumed by creatures such as the turtles, dolphins, whales and many others that think they are jellyfish. Once they are consumed they will block the animals stomach causing starvation and ultimately death. If the balloons are tied with twine or string, not only is the string a hazard in itself, the balloons are then too heavy to reach the correct altitude for bursting, increasing their potential threat to wildlife.
    I have written a separate blog on marine plastics which contains some insightful links to some of the ways in which marine life is interacting with marine plastics.
    Please think carefully about this information and wherever possible discourage balloon releases from happening, there are many alternative ways to have a big visual impact without causing a threat to the environment. For further information and how you can help see the Marine Conservation Society website here.
    To report a stranded marine animal ring the Marine Strandings Network immediately (24 hours a day): 0845 201 2626


    Greenaway Shipwreck Two Days After the Incident

    1st May 2013
    This blog follows up from yesterdays blog ‘Greenaway Shipwreck
    I have been down to Greenaway again just now and its like a different beach. I’m feeling very happy with how thoroughly the demolition team from DRS are picking the debris up and bagging it into re-usable heavy duty enviro-skips. This would have been arranged by the crews insurance company.  The team have been on hand since Monday since the incident.
    Our local Beachcare Ranger, Nick Pickles has also been removing large items from Daymer Bay. There are no signs of debris further into the estuary at Rock Beach and also none at Polzeath as yet.
    The photographs here are those that I have taken today.
    There will be further monitoring and clearing of the debris by the Beachcare team.  To volunteer at a Beachcare beach clean contact Neil Hembrow, Beachcare co-ordinator: neil.hembrow@keepbritaintidy.org or write a message and fill in the contact form on the following page:
    Thank you to the DRS team, you are doing a great job and thank you for your time and for letting me take your photographs!


    Greenaway Shipwreck

    In the early hours of the morning Monday 29th April the Courageous II ran into trouble in worsening weather conditions nearby to Stepper Point in the Camel Estuary. The crew of four had left Bristol on Sunday to head to Padstow Mayday celebrations.
    BBC news reports ‘They attempted to anchor at Stepper Point in the Camel estuary but a gearbox failure meant they were quickly driven onto rocks just outside Padstow and forced to issue a mayday call at about 04.45 BST.’
    Shortly after this distress call the RNLI lifeboat crew rescued all four men as the boat and wheelhouse broke in half.
    The wreckage from this 15.2m boat has washed up on Greenaway beach. It was reported that the vessel had been carrying 900 litres of fuel. It is since believed that it had been 150 litres, which coastguards and harbour authority quickly contained.
    The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) was informed about the incident on Monday.
    Many different species of sea bird breed and nest along this stretch of coastline, these include Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Puffins, Shag, Cormorant, Herring gulls, Great black-backed gulls and lesser-black backed gulls. There are also many other sea birds in the estuary such as Oyster catchers. So any oil spill or slick can be potentially devastating.
    I went down to Greenaway myself before work this morning (Tues 30th April). The beach itself was strewn with huge amounts of litter. There were no signs of oil, no sight or smell of diesel spillage or harm to wildlife from pollutants which is a huge relief. But the amount of debris was quite unbelievable. I was shocked that it was so bad and that more hadn’t been cleared up the day before. The photographs here are what I took, as you can see there is a fridge amongst the larger items which is worrying for its damaging effects that it could have on the wildlife here if the chemicals leak out.
    Many of the items were plastic and foam.
    Unfortunately much of the ocean battered litter has started to break up into smaller, harder to clean up fragments which will be very detrimental to the marine environment.
    I removed this light bulb from the beach, I could not bear thinking of the consequences if someone were to step on it should it become buried and left. I only wish I could have stayed and removed all the plastic and foam items too.
    I have been told that there was a clean up operation today but I will be keen to investigate again tomorrow to see for myself.
    I’m not sure how likely it is now but if there does become an oil spillage or if an existing spillage has been missed there will be problems for the sea birds.
    If you find any dead birds, please call the stranding hotline immediately on 0345 2012626
    If you find any alive oiled birds call the RSPB 0300 1234 999


    Mermaids Purses and Marine Plastic


    My daughter found this:



    She was so excited that she wrote about it and took it to school for her show and tell.  It is the egg case from a Small-spotted Cat shark, it was on the rocks at low tide attached to some orange plastic fishing netting.  As you can see from the second photograph, the shark had attached it to the netting itself, it was very intricately intertwined.   So at the time, the netting would have been tangled and attached to the seabed.  Then at a later date, once the embryo shark had developed and hatched, the whole thing, case and plastic would have been washed in together and got caught on the muscles on the rocks.



    This is one example of how marine life is interacting with marine litter.  I have seen other photographs where people have seen hermit crabs using small plastic containers as their homes instead of shells or Albatross lining their nests with plastic or feeding it to their chicks.  I’ve seen many disturbing images of various different marine creatures caught in drift nets, or the disturbing images of the plastic contents from marine creatures stomachs that has ultimately starved them to death.  I have witnessed the masses of plastic debris that gets washed up on the beach where I live, including the nurdles which quite frankly scare me beyond belief.  There is so much micro plastic in the ocean that it is reported to out-number plankton.  This is an interesting article looking into “What are long term threats of plastic in our seas?”:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21236477.  This article also featured on BBC’s Newsnight.


    In fact with a previous Mermaids purse also from a Small-spotted Cat shark, I thought it would be fascinating to look at under a microscope.  The first thing I saw was this blue micro-plastic fibre, I found this very disheartening, it was not what I was hoping or expecting to see at all.  But it goes to show how bad the problem is.



    I recently went to a marine conservation conference, we had a couple of guest speakers.  One of which was Jo Ruxton from Plastic Oceans, a Foundation established to provide a powerful and effective platform campaigning for, supporting and funding targeted solutions aimed at significantly reducing plastic pollution in the environment.   Despite the talk on such a terrifyingly huge problem I felt reassured that there are a significant number of people concerned about it, and together, hopefully we can start to resolve the problem of marine plastic.  There are still so many people that are not aware of the marine plastic problem and education is the first step.  To keep up to date with Plastic Oceans latest information “like” them on facebook and check their website: http://www.plasticoceans.net/


    If you find a Mermaids purse washed up or if you are a diver and see one whilst in the water, the best thing to do is to take a photo of it and report your findings to the Shark Trust.  We have more than 30 species of shark and rays around our coastline, and only have regular sightings of a handful of these species. The Shark Trust are trying to map the distribution around our beautiful coastline to gain a better understanding and protection of these wonderful creatures.  Their website is full of information on how to identify and record your finds to aid their research:  http://www.sharktrust.org/en/great_eggcase_hunt


    Here are some egg cases we found on a rock pool ramble last summer.



    To get involved with the Beachcare project here in Cornwall email Neil Hembrow, Beachcare co-ordinator  neil.hembrow@keepbritaintidy.org or write a message and fill in the contact form on the following page: http://www.keepbritaintidy.org/Programmes/Beaches/BeachCare/GetInvolved/Default.aspx


    The Marine Conservation Society organise beach cleans all over the country, check their website for more information: http://www.mcsuk.org/


    The Cornwall Wildlife Trust Marine Strandings Network is the official recorder for all marine strandings in Cornwall.  See their website for more information:  http://www.cwtstrandings.org/
    To report a Stranded Marine animal Ring the 24 hour hotline number immediately: 0845 201 2626



    Polzeath Marine Conservation Group 2013 Events Leaflet


    7th February 2013

    One of our latest projects has been the production of a leaflet for the Polzeath Marine Conservation Group (PMCG).
    We designed the leaflet using Adobe Photoshop and Indesign.  The leaflet features a summary about the group, the area and the full events program, contact information and QR square that takes you to the Polzeath marine conservation website.


    The PMCG is a strong local team of volunteers and related organisations in Polzeath that support the Polzeath Voluntary Marine Conservation Zone.  They do this by way of education and engaging with local communities to encourage sensible use of the natural resources in the area.  In doing so the marine environment will be protected for future generations to enjoy.


    The group provide activities and events throughout the year from cliff top walks to rock pool rambles; there’s plenty of things to help everyone get involved in looking after everything marine based.


    Take a look at their Polzeath Events leaflet for 2013:  Leaflet Outside PDFLeaflet Inside PDF.


    And there’s more information on how you can support the PMCG including membership and donations on their website www.polzeathmarineconservation.com


    Also check www.littleripples.com for more information.







    27th December 2012
    Today was a beautiful day to go for a walk after all the festivities.  Its been windy and stormy for a few days so there is a lot of marine debris washed up at Polzeath.  Most of which is plastic which comes as no surprise; lids, bottles, bags and bits and pieces.  What really did surprise me was the amount of nurdles that were actually visible in the strandline.  I have never seen so many nurdles on Polzeath beach before.  I gathered as many as I could before the kids got too wet and cold but I know my attempt has not even scratched the surface of how many are still there to gather.




    Nurdles are pre production plastic resin pellets.  Increasingly nurdles are escaping the production process and ending up in streams, rivers and the ocean.  This is catastrophic for the marine environment as nurdles are a major contributor to marine debris.  Being so small they are finding their way into the food chain along with all the chemicals that they contain.


    The following information is from Wikipedia: “Marine life is severely threatened by these small pieces of plastic: the creatures that make up the base of the marine food chain, such as krill, are prematurely dying by choking on nurdles. Nurdles have frequently been found in the digestive tracts of various marine creatures, causing physiological damage by leaching plasticizers such as phthalates. Nurdles can carry two types of micropollutants in the marine environment: native plastic additives and hydrophobic pollutants absorbed from seawater. For example, concentrations of PCBs and DDE on nurdles collected from Japanese coastal waters were found to be up to 1 million times higher than the levels detected in surrounding seawater.”  For further information visit: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_particle_water_pollution