The Anemone Within

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I confess, I’m a big fan of sea anemones. You know the things, they look like blobs of slime-jelly in the rock pools. But, believe me, there’s a lot more to them than the inert lump of goo they resemble.

So I was delighted when I found out that Rob Durrant (the Rob Durrant – all will become clear…) was talking about all things to do with cnidaria (that’s sea anemones to the likes of us).

Rob Durrant is with Coastwise, a fantastic North Devon organization of enthusiastic volunteers many of whom spend their time seeking out and documenting the wildlife in our rock pools. Many of the national records that exist for what lives in North Devon rock pools come from this one group of dedicated individuals.

Coastwise, when they can take some time away from their rock pools, also run a series of talks each year on coastal issues and, last Tuesday was the turn of Rob Durrant and the sea anemones to take centre stage.

Rob spoke very  convincingly about the wonders of the sea anemone. They are not fixed to the rocks, as we think, but can travel, albeit slowly, across rocks and through the water. They are by no means passive, inert beings, but constantly punch above their weight in the rock pool world by capturing and devouring sizeable fish and crabs using their sticky tentacles both as bait and a trap. And if a neighbouring anemone annoys them they will strike them with toxin-filled tentacles – starting a slow-motion tentacle-waving battle that can last for days. Ok, so it’s not exactly going to be the next Rocky sequel, but it is strangely absorbing to watch.

We get sea anemones all around our coast, but I would argue that North Devon is an anemone hotspot, with a rich history of anemone-fanciers. It all started with a chap called Philip Henry Gosse – the original sea anemone expert. Based in Ilfracombe in the mid-nineteenth century, he made a meticulous study of the local sea anemones and wrote the first guide to these fascinating creatures. He also invented aquariums presumably  so that he didn’t have to stand in the cold to study  his rock pool wildlife. His work made him the godfather of rock pooling and the rest of us are following in his learned footsteps.

But our prowess in all things cnidarian is not just historic. As I said, Coastwise volunteers are busy documenting the rock pool species we have and they often find rare and important species living in our waters that we may well have overlooked without their efforts. And then one day in 2014, Rob Durrant hit the jackpot. He found a completely new variety of sea anemone right here in Hele Bay. Not having a name, he called it the Fairy Anemone and, being only 6 mm tall, very delicate and nearly translucent, the name is fitting. The find got national and international publicity for the fairy anemone, for Rob and for North Devon as whole. Yes, even Philip Henry Gosse would have been very proud, although I imagine he may have been just a little bit envious that he didn’t find it first…

Many thanks to Coastwise for their hard work and to the Fairy Anemone for choosing North Devon as its home.

Gudrun Limbrick
Visitor Services Officer

To find out more about Coastwise, please visit:

To find out more about submitting records of local wildlife:


Return of the Native

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We stop at the edge of the pond to examine a tree which has been gnawed almost all the way through but is still standing. A pile of woodchips surround it, and the trunk is covered in large teeth marks. A network of ponds and canals runs across the enclosure, water trickling over the sides of dams from one level to the next.

This is all the work of two beavers currently being studied by Devon Wildlife Trust to find out more about them and what impact they have on their environment. It is an exciting project that the North Devon rangers and volunteers went to visit a couple of weeks ago.

Eurasian beavers (Castor fiber) are large semi-aquatic plant-eating rodents which were driven to extinction in Britain sometime in the 16th century. They were hunted for their extremely dense, warm fur and for castoreum, a substance produced in their scent glands which was used for making perfume and medicines.

Small isolated populations survived in parts of continental Europe which have since been reintroduced to much of the species’ former range including France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. In Britain, there have already been a few trials including the Scottish Beaver Trial in Knapdale, as well as some ‘escaped’ populations, such as the ones living on the River Otter.

It is hoped that as well as restoring a missing native species they could also be used as a conservation tool. Research from the Devon Beaver Project has already shown that the way in which the beavers engineer the river system can improve water quality and regulate water flow. They also control scrub and create a diverse age structure of trees by coppicing.

Many thanks to Mark from Devon Wildlife Trust for showing us around the site. I think it is fair to say we were all buzzing from the experience and will be closely following what happens next for beavers in Britain.

by Zoe Caals, Volunteer Ranger

For more information on the Devon Beaver Project see:

A report on the first two years of the project is available to read here:

Lead Ranger – West Exmoor

An opportunity that doesn’t come along very often has just arisen on West Exmoor. Are you the person to take on the challenging and exciting role of leading a team of rangers and volunteers to look after and manage this stunningly beautiful landscape?

Lead Ranger West Exmoor (Based at Heddon Valley, Paracombe)£25,663 per annum. Full-time, 37.5 hours a week. Permanent.

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We are currently looking to recruit a Lead Ranger to join our team in North Devon to ensure excellent sustainable care and conservation is delivered across our stunning coastal sites.

This is an exciting opportunity for someone looking to work in one of the most beautiful and wildlife rich parts of Devon and progress in their countryside career.

As Lead Ranger, you’ll be responsible for the management of a team of Rangers who care for the 4000 acres of countryside Combe Martin up to the West Somerset border. You’ll use your leadership skills and experience in coastal management and countryside (especially woodland) management to drive forward our ambitious plans for conservation and visitor engagement.

This role offers a great opportunity for someone who already has experience of leading a Ranger team with a balance of strong practical, engagement and management skills. Central to the role will be your ability to balance both the demands of managing and developing our countryside estate with those of a busy, high profile visitor environment.

Apply for this vacancy

Closing date: 3rd January, Interview date 11th / 12th January 2016

A day at Dolphin School

I have been fortunate enough to see dolphins, not only when travelling overseas, but in New Quay in Wales, and right here in North Devon – in Combe Martin and, on one fantastic day a few years ago, putting on an incredible display off Woolacombe Beach. However, my knowledge stopped right there – I could tell you they were dolphins but nothing more than that.

A day at Dolphin School Photo: Rick Morris/Twitter

A day at Dolphin School
Photo: Rick Morris/Twitter

Last weekend I went to Dolphin School. Ok, so it wasn’t really called Dolphin School – officially, it was ‘a Marine Mammal and Seabird Surveyor Training Course but that’s too much of a mouthful, even for a basking shark.

Run by Marine Life (the marine conservation charity), the course aimed to train us in how to identify whales, dolphins, seals, and sea birds. And it was fascinating!

It is an eye-opener just to learn how commonly dolphins, and even whales, are spotted in our own waters. From the ferry to Lundy, for example, you may see harbour porpoises, short-beaked common dolphins (sadly one was washed up on Woolacombe beach last year), bottle-nosed dolphins, Risso’s dolphins (always horribly scarred as they are constantly fighting with each other), minke whales, grey seals and sunfish (looks like a dustbin lid with fins), to name but a few.

The latest sightings can be seen here:

Here’s a few of the identification gems I picked up: harbour porpoises have a small dorsal fin shaped like a Dairylea Triangle whereas dolphin dorsal fins curve over like a surfing wave. Short-beaked common dolphins have a yellow streak down their sides whereas bottle-nosed dolphins are all grey; grey seals have dog-like faces while common seals have cat-like faces.

Learning to use a Heinemann Stick to gauge how far away a sighting is Photo: Annette Dutton/Twitter

Learning to use a Heinemann Stick to gauge how far away a sighting is
Photo: Annette Dutton/Twitter

It’s an exciting time for cetaceans, as our seas are getting warmer which means that we are seeing different species, while others remain under threat from hunting. A blue whale, the world’s largest mammal (about the length of two double-decker buses and weighing in at around 200 tonnes) was spotted this autumn off the coast of Cornwall!

I found out quite how hard it is to tell one species of seabird from another and that many sea birds have a nasty habit of having different plumage in the summer from in the winter so you have twice as much homework to do if you are going to tell your black-headed gull from your little tern.

I also learned that, despite being surrounded at time by hundreds of the things last time I went to Eastbourne, there’s no such thing as a seagull. There are many gulls, but none of them are called ‘seagull’. I also now understand that it is very difficult to tell one from another. Here’s a few of my notes:

Greater Black-Backed Gull = black wings, pink legs = looks like a Lesser Black-Backed Gull but smaller (unless it’s far away and then it looks exactly the same)

Lesser Black-Backed gull = black or dark grey wings, yellow legs = looks either like a Greater Black-backed Gull or a Yellow-legged Gull or a Herring Gull if you can’t see its legs

Yellow-legged Gull = grey wings, yellow legs = looks like a Lesser Black-Backed Gull or a Herring Gull (unless you can see its legs) or a Greater Black-Backed Gull if the lighting is poor

Herring Gull = could easily be mistaken for a Greater Black-backed Gull or a Lesser Black-backed Gull or a Yellow-Legged Gull unless you can get close enough to judge the greyness of its wings and the colour of its legs

Common gull = looks like the other gulls but smaller = see Herring Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Lesser Black-Backed Gull and Greater Black-Backed Gull depending on how far away from you it is. It also looks a lot like a Kittiwake

Of course, it’s when they young and the colours of their wings hasn’t developed that it’s really difficult to tell them apart.

Dolphin School taught me the difference between shags and cormorants: I can now declare this to be a shag.

Dolphin School taught me the difference between shags and cormorants: I can now declare this to be a shag.

All in all, it was a great day and we all learned an enormous amount. The aim of the course is to train us up so that we can report any sightings with confidence and, ultimately can take our turn volunteering on ferry routes as fully fledged Marine Life surveyors. It is through this invaluable voluntary work that Marine Life can gather information about the species that are around us and evidence changes that are occurring. This information is used to encourage policy makers to make the right policies to protect our seas.

Personally I can’t wait for the next time I visit Lundy. I will be standing on the bridge of the Oldenburg with a pair of binoculars. I may have to lasso a few gulls so I can get a look at their legs.

To learn more about the work of Marine Life:

To learn more about visiting Lundy:

Gudrun Limbrick

Stepping up to the South West Coast Path Challenge

Day One

7am Thursday 29th October, the National Trust minibus was chewing up the miles along the A39 to Minehead. A cargo of intrepid rangers and volunteers looked out of the rain-spattered windows across the lightening Exmoor landscape. We were about to take on an arduous, epic journey; self reliant and exposed to the elements, it was the South West Coastal Challenge 2015 and we had accepted the challenge of walking from Minehead to Combe Martin with gusto.

One of the admirable adventurers broke the comfortable silence to ask “Could we stop at a toilet before we start?” And so a public loo in Minehead was the setting for the beginning of our quest. Toileted and raring to go the team posed for a photograph at the statue marking the start of the trail, and then with a determined stride, we were off!

“Erm, you’re meant to be going the other way” yelled our Lead Ranger and mini bus driver, Julian. The team turned around and, with another determined stride, we really were off.

The morning was wet and grey and after about ten minutes of walking the age old question of “Are you going to put your waterproof trousers on?” started spreading through the group. We stopped, rummaged through our bags, waterproof trousers and coats were donned, and we were off once more.

The climb out of Minehead was arduous and warm work. After we all stopped  again, this time to take off our waterproofs, we finally were well and truly off.

We walked through a blaze of autumnal colour, kicking through a kaleidoscope of sweet chestnut, sycamore and oak leaves and hoping to not come across a lurking dog poo. We descended into the calm and ancient atmosphere of Culbone, and popped into the tiny church and wandered around the old gravestones. One of the rangers stood and listened to the river rushing, he remarked that although the world had changed around this place, the sounds you could hear would be much the same as a thousand years ago.

We continued, marching through the damp woods and tackling steep climbs and knee-jarring descents. At around 4pm we emerged out of those twisted oak woods and were ready to make camp. Tents were pitched, and after a slap up meal it was off to bed on full stomachs. During the night the wind picked up and the rain lashed down, the tents seemed as if they would surrender to the howling gusts at any moment. Needless to say not much sleep was had, and we watched bleary eyed over cups of hot chocolate as the Landrover carrying the rest of our team wound down the road to meet us for the start of the second day.

Day two

We were met with smiles, and the pleasant calm of a campsite going through its morning routine. Packed rucksacks adorned the ground, teeth were being brushed and there were calls for takers on the last of the hot water. The morning was breezy but despite tired bodies, everybody was in good spirits and I was relieved. Having organised proceedings, I had been disappointed not to join the team for Day One of the challenge after being taken down by a bout of food poisoning. My guilt had amplified as the rain and wind gathered momentum during the night. But despite sore ankles and aching legs (our Exmoor lot is a hardy bunch) we set off on Day Two (Rodney Gap to Combe Martin) with a spring in our step.

Climbing up Countisbury Hill got the blood pumping, and we were rewarded with one of my favourite Exmoor views. Stood atop Great Red, the beautiful mosaic of the land takes your breath away; heathland covered in bronzed bracken slides into the autumnal patchwork of a steep wooded valley, whilst the great cliffs tower over the sea, reaching out into Welsh infinity. At this viewing, the shore’s water was bordered by clay red as debris from a recent landslip washed away. The tide was bearing down and the sea crashed over the sea wall at Lynmouth, our next destination.

It was an easy romp down to Lynmouth, and once there we took time to watch the surfers capitalising on the tide, allowing for a few breaths before introducing our calf muscles to the Lynmouth–Lynton zigzag.  However, this was nothing compared to the mighty Sherrycombe that lay before us. The weather was holding and the famous goats of the Valley of the Rocks playfully darted around us. We were gaining momentum, spurred along by Dan and Marcus’ childhood memories of playing around Lee Abbey, and then the elation of being close to home (Heddon) territory and the final strait. Stopping momentarily on a bench recently built and installed by Ranger Dan F and Jodie (a regular volunteer), the group got to catch a breath over the Heddon’s mouth. We could see below us that both our trampers (off road mobility scooters) were being used to full advantage. Sat on that bench (instated for a recently lost loved one), it made me proud to be part of a team of people who made it their business to care for people, coast and countryside.

The next few miles passed in the shadow of the Sherrycombe ascent. Bodies were tiring now and the light was slowly receding. And then, stood at the bottom of the mighty Hangman, it was time for the final climb. We went up in sections taking it slowly; willing each other forward silently with our mutual spirit and momentum. Then, after an elongated final crest there it was… the top… the pile of stones… joyously we took photos and rested our weary legs.

Now down to Combe Martin we rolled, Julian (our boss and super support driver) waiting patiently for us in the car park. There was relief and exuberance that we had done it: 35 miles of unforgiving Exmoor coastline, Minehead to Combe Martin in two days. 192 miles added to the South West Coastal Path’s challenge total and a fantastic effort; thank you Dan F, Kate, Marcus, Carol, Zoe and Julian for all your hard work.

by Kate Jones and Josey Field

Walling Workshop 2015

The 26th and 27th October saw the Morte properties annual walling workshop. 17 people attended battling the elements of windy conditions on the first day and very wet conditions on the second. This didn’t hinder progress of creating a Devon Stone Faced Wall, and in no time nine courses were erected along a 30 metre section with everyone picking up the skills and knowledge required.

Thank you to those who attended, if you missed this year then look out for dates of next year’s workshop.

Luke Johns


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The life of a Dunsland Community Ranger

When I heard that a Volunteer Community Ranger was needed for the 92-acre Dunsland Estate, I jumped at the chance to get involved. My wife Jill and I have been members and supporters of the National Trust for some time now and have long thought that we would like to volunteer in some way. But as most Trust properties are more than twenty miles away, volunteering on a regular basis means a lot of travelling. We often walk in Dunsland so this appointment simply means that we are able to give something back in return for the pleasure we get from being in these beautiful surroundings. Jill helps me out as my deputy and our spaniel Holly is our deputy dog!
The story of Dunsland goes back in time as far as the Domesday Book and the house that the Trust bought had Tudor origins. It had been handed down, sometimes through the female line, for at least forty generations. Sadly as the twentieth century approached, it fell into decline and it was purchased by the National Trust for the nation in 1954. As we know,after the extensive renovations were completed in 1967, a disastrous fire completely ruined the building and it was felt that there was no option but to demolish it as the fire had eaten into the mortar in the brick and stone work. It was decided not to rebuild the house as it would only have been a copy of the original and therefore of no historical value.

Detail of the north front, with firemen attempting to extinguish the fire, 18 November 1967, at Dunsland House, Devon. A house of Tudor origin extensively remodelled in two campaigns in the seventeenth century, burnt down in 1967. Year photo taken: 1967.

Detail of the north front, with firemen attempting to extinguish the fire, 18 November 1967, at Dunsland House, Devon. A house of Tudor origin extensively remodelled in two campaigns in the seventeenth century, burnt down in 1967. Year photo taken: 1967.

The full time Ranger responsible for Dunsland, Gregg Wilson, is based at Brownsham near Clovelly and it was there that I and two other new recruits had our induction, adding our names to the list of over 60.000 volunteers who are vital to the day to day work the Trust does nationwide. Two full-time Rangers, together with one who is part time, operate from the Brownsham site. They are responsible for parts of the South West coastal path owned by the Trust at places near Welcombe and Brownsham, round at Portledge, Abbotsham and at Kipling Tors near Westward Ho! Alongside the job of maintaining the paths they are also responsible for many parcels of woodland and the associated nature trails that run alongside the coastal paths.
On the day of my induction, after being given a rundown of the duties I will be expected to perform, I and the other two new-boys (a term I use loosely), were
issued with fact sheets, a T-shirt and fleece, some work gloves and a pep-talk laced with enthusiasm! We had a look around the site including the on-site workshops and then set off in the Land-rover for a tour of some of the local properties (a term used by the Trust to describe any land or buildings owned by them) including the coastal paths that come under Brownsham H.Q. the Brownsham office. All in all, it was a very interesting day and I came away with a greatly enlightened view of the hard work that the full-time Rangers and the many volunteers do on behalf of the National Trust.

The east front destroyed by fire, 18 November 1967, at Dunsland House, Devon. A house of Tudor origin extensively remodelled in two campaigns in the seventeenth century, burnt down in 1967. Year photo taken: 1967.

The east front destroyed by fire, 18 November 1967, at Dunsland House, Devon. A house of Tudor origin extensively remodelled in two campaigns in the seventeenth century, burnt down in 1967. Year photo taken: 1967.

It seems that Dunsland was the only N.T. property in the south west that didn’t have its own volunteer community Ranger, hence the move to recruit one.
My role as Dunsland Ranger is simply to keep an eye on the park-land and the remaining coachhouse and stables, making sure that everything is as it should be and there hasn’t been any vandalism etc. These buildings are in good order and are being utilised by the Holsworthy beekeepers who have some hives in the small paddock to the rear. Also, I check the fencing and gates etc. and if we’ve had a windy spell, I walk the grounds to see if the trees have weathered the storm.
The Trust has re-planted an orchard in one of the paddocks, bringing in some of the old varieties of apple, pear and plum etc.; these trees are pruned and mulched each spring and have stock-proof guards around them. There was a walled kitchen garden, but all that remains are a few sections of the old walls and nature has reclaimed the beds and it has all become very overgrown. At the beginning of June, together with some other volunteers, we cleared most of the old plastic tree guards from an area where re-planting had taken place a few years ago. These guards are supposed to biodegrade, but that hadn’t happened and some of
the young trees were suffering because the guards had filled with rotting muck and debris, causing some of them to rot.
If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to have a walk in the lovely parkland, then I urge you to put on some stout footwear and come out for a wander. There is a small car park with an honesty box if you have some loose change and walking is on hard tracks. It’s level for the first 150 metres or so with a not too difficult uphill walk to where the house once stood. It’s important to point out that from
spring through to late autumn, cattle owned by the local farmer graze the fields and with this in mind, if you bring your dog, please keep it under close control at all times. The cattle quickly become accustomed to seeing people and generally mind their own business. Please feel free to wander “off road” if you want to get a closer look at the wonderful trees; just be careful that you don’t put your foot into something wet and sloppy! There are some wonderful old chestnut trees and
some fantastic oaks, also, on the right, heading up the hill, there is a huge horse chestnut tree, the branches of which extend right down to the ground.

There is a pond that needs a bit of attention and a small stone building with a spring welling up inside it that must have been used for centuries to collect drinking water. A pair of binoculars will give you a close-up view of the local bird population and roe deer can sometimes be seen on the woodland edge. The site has SSSI status for lichen and deadwood invertebrates, (which I have to admit is not my specialist subject). In the spring, celandines and snowdrops bloom on the woodland floor and later bluebells are everywhere. There is a large magnolia tree and several huge rhododendrons standing on the edge of the woodland overlooking the area where the house once stood. Also there is a large
information board showing pictures of the house before and after the fire and giving a brief history of the property through the ages.
I am hoping that I will be able to give a short update of the seasons activities in the future, in the mean time, should anyone have any questions or concerns regarding a visit to the site, please don’t hesitate to contact me, my mobile is 07787726419 or get in touch with the Ranger team 01237 441976.
This is a wonderful local amenity and I hope that more people will take the opportunity to enjoy it.

David Manifold – Dunsland Community Ranger