Category Archives: Woolacombe & Mortehoe

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

Rockham Beach Update

Good news – Contractors Marine and Civil Solutions are on site today starting phase one of the construction of the new Rockham Beach Steps. They are working alongside Celtic Rock Ltd, who are rock/cliff stabilization experts, to put in place safety scaffolding and rock pinning to stabilize part of the cliff.  All being well the main bearers for the steps will be in place within the week.

Please take care when walking along the Coast Path past Rockham Beach and also along the Lighthouse Road as there will be increased construction vehicular traffic for the next three weeks.


Life’s a Beach!

Getting about in our beach buggy

Getting about in our beach buggy

Sitting at my desk on a wet Monday morning in September, it is hard to believe the summer is already over. And what a summer it was! I was lucky enough to be taken on as a National Trust Beach Ranger on Woolacombe Beach.

Starting in July, our first role was to strim all the pathways that run through the dunes – from the Marine Drive car park to the beach and, of course, the Coast Path that runs right through our dunes towards Putsborough and beyond. The second task in the dunes was to fix the wooden steps that take people down from Marine Drive. These are made in a traditional way using only wooden pegs to hold the step in place – no nails, cement or screws are used – just wood and a bit of elbow grease to drive the pegs into the sand.

Hammering in a wooden peg to repair a step

Hammering in a wooden peg to repair a step

An ongoing task throughout the summer was to clean the beach every day. The National Trust owns and manages the stretch of the beach between the two large rocks known as Mill Rock (Woolacombe end) and Black Rock (Putsborough end), with the two extreme ends having private owners. Some of the rubbish left on the beach was sadly left by visitors – dog poo bags, lolly wrappers, barbecues etc. but most – say about 75% was washed in by each tide. Most commonly, we picked up bits of fishing rope, fishing crates, gloves and other detritus from ships out to sea. We loved our ‘exotic’ natural finds – sea potatoes (a type of sea urchin), crabs (sometimes alive), shells, trigger fish, goose barnacles and, most prized of all, a whole dried sting ray which we affectionately called Stink Ray because of his particular perfume.

Recording litter for the Marine Conservation Society

Recording litter for the Marine Conservation Society

We ran events throughout the school holidays – games on the beach (giant snakes and ladders and volley ball were favourites) and rock pool rambles on Barricane Beach where we found pipe fish, star fish, spider crabs and many other fascinating creatures.

The best part of the role, however, was talking to the visitors on the dunes and the beach. Sometimes they had questions about the wildlife, the tides or other visitor attractions, sometimes we just had a pleasant chat and they went on with our day. It was lovely to meet so many happy holiday-makers, walkers and locals. It made all the hard work worthwhile to see people using the paths and steps, and appreciating a litter-free environment.

Roll on next summer!

Gudrun Limbrick
Summer Beach Ranger, Woolacombe

A secret carving we left on a new step. Have you found it?

A secret carving we left on a new step. Have you found it?

October half-term fun with the National Trust rangers

We have lots of fun-filled family activities to keep you busy over the October half-term break. Click on the ‘coming events’ tab to view our events posters or visit for more information and details.

Heddon Valley family fun day: Thursday 30 October, 11am-1pm.
Join the Exmoor rangers for some family fun in the Heddon Valley. Make your own campfire and cook some scrummy food.
£2 per child. Booking essential on 01598 763402.

Family bash and burn: Thursday 30 October, 11am-3pm.
Bring all the family for some free outdoor fun. Help the rangers cut and burn gorse bushes at Mortehoe and then toast delicious marshmallows. Tools and advice provided by our rangers to ensure that your kids have fun in a safe environment.
Free event. Booking essential on 01598 763402.

Art Attack on the Beach: Friday 31 October, 11am-2pm.
Join the rangers on Woolacombe beach and get creative for some family beach art. Find us near the beach entrance. Look out for the tractor and trailer and National Trust feather banner flags.
Free event. Booking advisable on 01598 763402.

See you there!

Walling workshop, Mortehoe, Mon 27 – Tues 28 October 2014

Learn the ancient skills of drystone walling in this great value and action packed 2-day course.

Join the experienced rangers at Mortehoe, near Woolacombe and help to rebuild an ancient Devon stone-faced bank that may be over 200 years old! Learn about courses, how to shape the stones and what makes a good capping stone. This is a hands on, practical way to learn and help repair our heritage. We will provide all tools and equipment.

10am – 4pm.

£40 per person (Save £10 by booking onto our ‘Hedge laying at Peppercombe’ course as well, 29 and 30 Oct. You will then pay only £70 for the two courses.)

Booking essential on 01598 763402.

Meet at Mortehoe village car park, grid ref SS 457 452.

Wrecking and Wildlife: a guided walk, Sunday 19 October 2014

Stretch your legs between Mortehoe and Lee village on this circular walk with our National Trust ranger.

Enjoy spectacular views along the North Devon coast whilst hearing about it’s dark history, the wildlife that thrives here and what it takes to keep this area looking so wonderful.

10.30am – 1.00pm

£4 per person.

Booking essential on 01598 763402.

Meet us at Mortehoe village car park, grid ref SS 458 453.




Beach Huts on the Brink!


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Tuesday nights high tide combined with strong on shore winds and a much lower profile to Woolacombe beach because of the winter storms meant that the Beach Huts and our beach fence was under serious threat of being washed out to sea.  The photographs were taken just before high tide and illustrate how close the waves came to washing some of them out to sea.  Thankfully they all survived the high tide as did our fence and after some quick repairs and rebuilding of the sand bank the following day by Parkins Estate and our Beach Rangers repairing any damage to the fence they are all Ok now.