A Year in Cornish Conservation

Claire Wallerstein from Rame Peninsula Beach Care and myself talking about marine litter for Friends of the Fowey Estuary
Claire Wallerstein from Rame Peninsula Beach Care and myself talking about marine litter for Friends of the Fowey Estuary
Great turnout on a wet and windy day be Loo Marine Conservation Group members for a beach walk and talk on marine litter
Great turnout on a wet and windy day by Looe Marine Conservation Group members for a beach walk and talk on marine litter

A year ago I set up the South West Fulmar project. Since then I have been continually amazed by the community spirit and boundless enthusiasm for marine conservation that we are lucky enough to share in the South West.

It’s been a privilege for me to give talks and beach walks for the voluntary marine conservation groups in Fowey and Looe about the problem of marine litter and how we can use seabirds from our coasts for monitoring. I’d like to thank all of those who came and showed such interest in the project.

All the while Claire Wallerstein from Rame Peninsula Beach Care had us frantically collecting bottle tops from our beaches to create the great Cornish bottle top chain over 1km long containing over 65,000 bottle tops! This was an excellent showcase of the vast amount of unnecessary marine litter that results from our persistent use of throw-away products.

Launch day for Rame Peninsula Beach Care's great Cornish bottle top chain was a fantastic showcase of how much the local community cares about the enormous amount of marine litter washing up on our coasts
Launch day for Rame Peninsula Beach Care’s great Cornish bottle top chain was a fantastic showcase of how much the local community cares about the enormous amount of marine litter washing up on our coasts

The launch day saw a great turn out of willing locals ready to carry the chain down to the beach: quite a logistical operation! Not just for a one-off launch day, this chain has been showcased (albeit sometimes in smaller pieces!) at many events and has met various important people including an EU commissioner and even royalty… (I’ll come back to that!). Thank you Claire for your enthusiasm and making us all feel involved in this amazing project.

I was invited to speak at the South West Marine Ecosystems meeting in Plymouth in March, where researchers and charities got together to talk about (you guessed it…) all things marine in the South West. There was an amazing array of talks about research on oceanography and plankton at the base of the food web right up to sharks, rays, porpoises and seabirds at the top, and everything in-between. Talks covered a range of problems facing our marine ecosystem too, including ocean noise, invasive predators, overfishing and – my turn – plastic pollution. Although I only had 5 minutes to persuade everyone in the room to collect dead birds for me, the response was fantastic – so many people came to talk to me that I barely got to eat anything from the buffet! Check out all of the talks on the website.

Seabirds, bottlenose dolphins, and of course seals along the North Cornish Coast during a Cornwall Seal Group survey
Seabirds, bottlenose dolphins, and of course seals along the North Cornish coast during a Cornwall Seal Group survey

In May I was lucky enough to go out on a couple of fantastic seal survey trips with Sue Sayer and the Cornwall Seal Group. Both times the weather was fantastic and as well as recording lots of seals and marine litter – the overall aim of the trips – we saw loads of birds and bottlenose dolphins too! Sue surveys the entire north coast of Cornwall once a month photographing seals. She is creating a hugely valuable data set to determine how unique our seal population is in Cornwall, and learning about the life history of individuals.

A greater black backed gull chick and eggs on the Isles of Scilly, counted as part of an island seabird census
A greater black backed gull chick and eggs on the Isles of Scilly, counted as part of an island seabird census
Plastic in a herring gull nest on the Isles of Scilly - the impacts of marine debris affect a wide range of species
Plastic in a herring gull nest on the Isles of Scilly – the impacts of marine debris affect a wide range of species

June took me to the Isles of Scilly to volunteer with the seabird recovery project. The project eradicated rats from two of the Islands, St Agnes and Gugh. Rats are an invasive predator in many ecosystems worldwide, and have devastating consequences for the resident seabird populations – particularly seabirds that breed in burrows. On St Agnes and Gugh eradication wouldn’t have been successful without the local community, who are really active in the project. I was helping with a total count of all breeding seabirds on the island. These total counts are collected over regular time periods to monitor long term changes in the local ecosystems. Our survey was successful, but the rat eradication has been hugely successful – two different burrowing seabird species have started breeding on the islands for the first time in living memory: Manx shearwaters and Storm petrels!

Surveying for Manx shearwaters with the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery project
Surveying for Manx shearwaters with the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery project
The first Manx shearwater chick on St Agnes and Gugh, Isles of Scilly, in living memory just out of its burrow to explore. Photo from IoS Seabird recovery project
The first Manx shearwater chick on St Agnes and Gugh, Isles of Scilly, in living memory just out of its burrow to explore. Photo from IoS Seabird recovery project

Counting Manx shearwaters was a personal highlight of mine. When a new shearwater comes back to land looking for a burrow to breed in it calls down from the entrance to see whether or not it’s occupied. If a shearwater has already started nesting in the burrow it will call back from inside, at which point the prospecting bird can move on to the next burrow. As researchers, we can’t see down the burrows to look for birds, so we imitate this prospecting behaviour. We crouch/lie on the ground with our ears to a hole, attracting all sorts of odd attention to ourselves, play a recording of the shearwater call and then wait for a response. It is truly amazing when you hear one, have a look on the seabird recovery project website for videos.

South West Fulmar Project meets HRH Prince Charles at the Ocean Plastic Awareness Day!
South West Fulmar Project meets HRH Prince Charles at the Ocean Plastic Awareness Day!

So, earlier I mentioned royalty… well in July I attended the Ocean Plastics Awareness Day with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), organised by them and Surfers Against Sewage (SAS). A lot of conservation groups from around the county gathered to present their work to Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. I was lucky enough to meet both of them, and talk about plastic ingestion by northern fulmars. They both were really interested, and yet horrified at the scale of the marine litter problem around our coast. From the MCS website: ‘The take home message for the couple was very definitely that pollution can cause harm, but that there are uses for plastics beyond an initial single use. Several representatives of companies and groups signed a Statement of Intent, in the Prince’s presence, committing to explore, develop and deliver innovative circular economy pilot projects where waste is used as a valuable resource rather than a burden.’

I could talk so much more about every single project I’ve been involved in. I have seen time and time again how passionate people are to protect our marine environment. Back to the South West Fulmar Project: thank you to all of those who have kept an eye out for beached fulmars throughout the year. I’ll let you know results from our first 2 fulmars in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, please keep it up! This post is full of links to the projects if you want to find out more information or get involved, otherwise check here for a good selection of projects.

One thought on “A Year in Cornish Conservation

  1. Hi Alice Looks very good….and shows how busy you have been. I hope you had a great time in SA. Would love to chat when you get time. Xxxx

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