Burning in the Sun

In today’s beautiful sun, myself and the rangers at Hartland were out on Windbury Hill Fort creating a lot of smoke. We seized the beautiful weather and very low winds to spend the day out burning the gorse to encourage the diverse grassland on the hill fort. This work, paired with future grazing by hebridean sheep will reduce the effects of scrub encroachment.  With spring very much round the corner we will hopefully see the results of our labour in improving the habitat in this stunning location.

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By Karen Saunders

Full-time Voluntary Ranger, Torridge

Peppercombe Beach Path Re-Build

On a fair Friday in February, Luke and I found ourselves down on the beach with some of the community volunteers at Peppercombe. During the recent stormy weather the path down to the beach was washed away meaning that access to the beach was lost. So we headed down to rebuild the path. We were lucky to have the help of 3 volunteers. As is often said, ‘many hands make light work’ and the new path was built in just a few hours, restoring access to the lovely beach.

Check out the photos below of the new beach path.

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Thank you to the volunteers that came down to help us on the day.


Karen Saunders

Full-Time Volunteer Ranger, Torridge.

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.


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: http://www.coastwisenorthdevon.org.uk/

To find out more about submitting records of local wildlife: http://www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/


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: http://www.marine-life.org.uk/ilfracombe-or-bideford-lundy

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: http://www.marine-life.org.uk/

To learn more about visiting Lundy: http://www.landmarktrust.org.uk/lundyisland/

Gudrun Limbrick