Author Archives: North Devon

Have you seen this snail?

The round-mouthed snail is a very unusual creature which has made a home in Woolacombe dunes and perhaps only a few other places here in the South West. 

I am looking to put together an up-to-date picture of where this small snail lives on the north coasts of Devon, Somerset and Cornwall. I am hoping to find anyone who has seen it (or who is willing to keep an eye out for it) – walkers, biologists, beachcombers and anyone else who might find themselves on sandy dunes.

Have you seen this snail

I had never heard of the round-mouthed snail (or pomatias elegans to give him his proper title) until April of this year when I found this peculiar snail on Woolacombe dunes, here in North Devon.

The round-mouthed snail, generally less than a centimetre long, likes to bury himself in the sand, feed on dead wood and sports a range of shell colours including pink, bluish and beige. He has a long ‘snout’ and his eyes are at the base of his antennae, making him look more like a tiny tapir rather than a snail. He loves to bury himself in the soft sand of dunes and so it seems it is only in these very sandy places that he is found.

He is actually more closely related to marine periwinkles than to other land snails. And, although I am calling him a him, round-mouthed snails are all either female or male unlike many terrestrial snails in which the sexes are not so distinct.

It does seem that this a very special snail.


His long nose gives him the look of a tiny tapir.

Woolacombe dunes

It turns out that, despite him being little known, the round-mouthed snail could actually be a big deal here in Woolacombe. There is a shell in a mahogany case on display in our local museum. I wonder what he did to deserve such an honour.

The official records too tell an interesting tale. Long before iRecord was even a twinkle in someone’s eye, people were collecting national data on wildlife. The first recorded sighting in Woolacombe of pomatias elegans was in 1908, when the dunes were being used as a golf course. The next record was in 1971, then in 1990 and finally my sighting in April of this year – 108 years after that first record.

And then there is the matter of numbers. In April, I saw about half a dozen live snails. In June, I spent half an hour of my lunch break on one sandy path leading from the dunes to the beach. On that one stretch, I counted 482 live snails. The round-mouthed snails may be rare regionally, but it seems very common locally!


Just the sort of sandy area where we find the round-mouthed snail.

The South West

Generally, however, there are very few recorded sightings in the South West. Kerney, the snail distribution expert, postulated that the round-mouthed snail, having once been widespread in this country, has become restricted to the south since our glaciers melted away. Gradual climate change, Kerney found, has impacted on its distribution leaving very few reports of it elsewhere. According to his research, while the snail is still found on the south coast, there are only three or four isolated patches in which this snail now lives on the north coast of Devon and Cornwall, Woolacombe dunes being one of them. At the time of writing, iRecord has only one record in Devon and Cornwall – the one I submitted in April.

What I would really like to try to discover is whether we still only have these isolated patches in which the round-mouthed snail lives or whether he has spread around our coast as the rumours suggest. I have heard anecdotal reports that the round-mouthed snail has also been seen in places with good dunes like Instow and Braunton. And maybe into north Cornwall.

IMG_0563 (2)

They have varying colourings.

Can you help?

There can be a big difference between reported and recorded sightings and what people actually see on a day-to-day basis. What I am hoping now is that people will let me know if they have seen the round-mouthed snail in their locality on the north coast of the South West (or, indeed, in my locality here in Woolacombe) and we can put together a picture of where this snail is and perhaps learn more about how well, or not, it is doing.

Perhaps you have already seen this snail in your area or maybe, when you are next out, you could have a look for him on sandy paths and dunes. He is sometimes also found on beaches.

Please let me know of any sightings either in the comments below or email me. Or just pop it onto iRecord (

Many thanks.

Gudrun Limbrick
Beach Ranger, National Trust, Woolacombe

Have you seen this snail

Volunteering in North Devon

James Blake has just started as a volunteer ranger at Woolacombe and writes about his volunteer journey:IMG_2182

“My name is James Blake and I have been a volunteer for ten years. A neighbour encouraged me to do it as she said it would be good for me to get out and about. When I started with the National Trust, I was at Arlington Court and I helped to look after the horses that were there then – mucking them out and brushing them. A few months ago, I started at Woolacombe where we do all sorts of things like walling and strimming and mending steps. I like litter-picking and walling the most, and hammering in the wooden pegs for the steps. Some of it is hard work but I do like being out and meeting people and working with the staff and the other volunteers.”

The Life of a Woolacombe Volunteer

11951466_10153048064888344_3261647170793114468_oToday Gudrun Limbrick writes about her time as a volunteer ranger at Woolacombe:

“A couple of years ago I joined a wall-building course run by the Woolacombe team at Mortehoe. The course was two days of learning how to cut and lay slate stones to form the traditional stone-faced banks which criss-cross the countryside here. It rained, a gale blew and I finished each day absolutely filthy but I loved it, and I knew that I wanted to do more. So, for a year or so now, I have been volunteering once a week with the Woolacombe team. The jobs we do are varied – cutting and burning gorse in the winter, strimming in the summer, and wall-building, litter-picking, step repairing and many other tasks whenever they are needed. I really enjoy the work and being part of the team but, most of all, I have loved getting to know this beautiful place I live in better and learning about how the land is used and managed, and the varied habitats it supports. As a bonus, my experience as a volunteer has meant that I have been appointed as a National Trust beach ranger in the summer season, surely the best job in the world!”

Volunteering at Dunsland

dunsland volunteeringOur volunteering story today comes from David Manifold, a volunteer community ranger at Dunsland.

“My wife Jill and I have been supporters of the National Trust for many years and when I was offered the chance to help out at my local property, Dunsland, near Holsworthy, I jumped at the opportunity. The site covers about 92 acres of mixed woodland and grassland and there had been a house there for at least a thousand years and it was mentioned in the Domesday Book. The Trust bought the house in 1954 and spent many years restoring it. In 1967, just three days after the official opening, the house caught fire and was totally destroyed. The damage was so bad that it was decided to demolish what was left and now the only trace is some old garden walls and the coachhouse and stables which were unscathed in the inferno.
Before taking up my post as local community Volunteer Ranger, I and two other new volunteers from other properties were invited to our Ranger H.Q at Brownsham. Ranger Luke Johns was on hand to welcome us and show us around the site, we were given a run-down of the Trust’s aims and the type of work the Rangers are responsible for. He explained the importance of the volunteers, stressing that without us, the Trust would not be able to function in its present form. After tea and coffee, we climbed into the Land Rover to be taken on a tour of some of the properties that Brownsham is responsible for, these included some of the coastal paths, some woodland areas, and we also had a look at the artist’s cabin at Bucks Mills etc.

We were issued with our fleeces and t-shirts, a pair of work gloves and other bits and bobs, a roll of rubbish bags, (of course), a folder with leaflets and info together with some health and safety stuff and finally a good dollop of enthusiasm. I must say that I for one was impressed by Luke’s own enthusiasm for his job and the aims and goals that the Rangers set themselves.

My role at Dunsland is to walk the property on a regular basis, usually once a week or fortnight, and to make sure that all is well and as it should be. I collect any rubbish that may have been dropped or occasionally dumped in the carpark. About half of the land is pasture and is let out to two local farmers for grazing and I keep an eye on the fences and make sure that the gates are ok. The farmers are local long-term tenants, so should a problem arise that might affect them, I can give them a call.

I always make an effort to walk the grounds after a storm to make sure that the trees have survived, some of the wonderful chestnut trees are believed to be over 600 years old. There are also some magnificent oaks and I often find myself wondering about what these old trees must have witnessed. There are the remains of the old walled garden, most of it has tumbled down and the surrounding woodland has reclaimed the once cultivated ground. The Trust has planted out a new fruit orchard with about fifty trees with many old varieties of apple and pear etc. Each season, the trees in the orchard are pruned and mulched and this is one of the tasks that we volunteers can help with. Another job is hedgelaying, or steeping as it’s called locally, the Trust offer courses at Dunsland for these activities and I always like to be on hand to help out and take part along with a few others volunteers who come from our local wildlife group.

It’s alway good to learn a new skill, or brush up on an old one, I’ve always spent as much time as possible outdoors in the countryside and the old rural skills such as hedging and ditching, stone walling and fencing are still in great demand at properties like Dunsland. I like to think that our efforts in helping to preserve these wonderful places that have endured for centuries will give the next generation the opportunity to enjoy them as much as we do now.

The beauty of the volunteer system that the National Trust operate is that retired people like myself can help out or get involved in almost any way that suits them. I’m an active seventy three year old and the Brownsham Rangers, Gregg, Luke and Justin always make sure that myself and all of our volunteers, young and old or whatever, feel valued and appreciated, we are always told to work at our own pace and they make a point of thanking everyone for their efforts.”

Celebrating Volunteers’ Week

This week is Volunteers’ Week (hooray!) which gives us the opportunity to say a huge thank you to all our amazing volunteers in North Devon! We literally wouldn’t be able to continue without their hard work, support and dedication. They help us with everything, from practical conservation work to office admin to car park stewarding.

We wanted to highlight some of the great work our volunteers get up to, so over the next couple of weeks we’ll be adding a few volunteer stories from around North Devon, giving you a glimpse into the varied and exciting life of a National Trust volunteer!

Our first story comes from David Dixon, a working holiday leader and volunteer ranger at Woolacombe:

‘I first got involved with the National Trust by taking part in a Working Holiday in early 1999 near Helston. I already admired the work done by the National Trust in preserving the coastline from development, particularly in North Devon, and by the end of 2000 had already been a Volunteer Leader for a Working Holiday. For the next ten years I continued to lead 2 or 3 Working Holidays every year, always well away from home. Eventually, in 2010, I led a Working Holiday at Countisbury, only 25 miles away from home. The work that week was on the Woolacombe Estate, and I got to work with the Ranger team based there.
I had retired the year previously and now found that I had the opportunity to give back some time to the National Trust, so I asked Jonathan, the Head Ranger at Woolacombe what volunteering opportunities were available. He told me that he could find work for me on Tuesdays, and I have been working on that day ever since, except when I am away on holidays (I still lead one or two Working Holidays every year), and am now known as ‘Tuesday Dave’ at Woolacombe.
I get back three brilliant experiences:
I get to see some of the most beautiful parts of the country, often in places not normally accessible to most people.
I meet the most interesting people, with a whole depth of knowledge and enthusiasm for the areas they look after.
I have the satisfaction of working to conserve and improve our beautiful countryside for all to enjoy.’

If you’re inspired by these stories and interested in getting involved yourself, please get in touch or 01598 763306.


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:


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