Special interest groups

RIGS Group

"If we’d been standing here just under two million years ago, we’d have been on the edge of a warm, tropical sea ..." reported Radio Cornwall, broadcasting from St Erth on 12th November, the day of the RIGS AGM, when Cornwall’s first geological reserve was formally opened. Forty people were present, including several from St Erth who had tales from when the pits were being worked. The story was also covered by both BBC and Westcountry TV, as well as by several papers.
Around 40 people also came to Great Wheal Fortune, which we hope may become another geological reserve. Certainly Darren Osborne, who had researched the site for his degree at Camborne School of Mines, gave plenty of reasons for saving the site as he showed us round. And not only geology and industrial archaeology: bats (including greater and lesser horseshoes) live in one shaft, peregrines and barn owls breed, and there is lower plant interest.
In the afternoon, after the short AGM, Mark Jones (Head of Policy and Development Control, CCC) spoke on RIGS and Planning. He emphasised where RIGS were mentioned in the different tiers of planning documents: for example, the Local Plans of five districts in Cornwall mention RIGS by name, though all six Plans include policies for conserving geological sites (SSSIs and RIGS). Finally, Simon Ford and Jon Brookes, countryside managers with the National Trust, spoke on The National Trust and Geology: All in a Day’s Work and demonstrated how sensitive the NT in Cornwall is to the local geology. We have asked that they write up their talk in a publication for the NT membership nationally.
Oh, and apologies, the sea which deposited the St Erth Beds was of Mediterranean rather than tropical temperatures. But Radio Cornwall liked the notion anyway and repeated the clip on its news bulletins all morning! All useful publicity for geological conservation.
John Macadam

Penwith separatism taken to extremes - two million years ago
- when the St Erth Pits were being deposited.

Seal Group

For the first time ever, we are able to make an informed estimate of the number of pups born in 1997 at Cornish sites. This follows a survey carried out in summer and autumn by myself, with support from Ray Helmer and the Hayle Canoe Club.
The first pup was found on a sea-cave beach in the last week of July. The last pup left a Land’s End sea-cave in the second week of November.
Although rough sea conditions and my marriage and honeymoon partly disrupted the survey, we feel the number of pups born was around 125.
Next year, effort will be concentrated in districts where it was weakest this year, allowing us to make minor adjustments to correct this year’s estimate (if necessary). Work in the next two years will allow us to measure whether pup production is increasing, decreasing or roughly stable.
Stephen Westcott

Grey seal. Photo: David Chapman

Bat Group

The Bat Group has had a very busy summer. In August, seven members did a survey for bats on the Isles of Scilly, with support from English Nature and the Bat Conservation Trust. This was mainly carried out at dawn and dusk with bat detectors. The survey confirmed that bats were present on all five inhabited islands, albeit at a lower density than on the mainland. The bats identified were pipistrelles, with possibly whiskered or Brandt’s bat also present on Tresco.
A survey of bridges due for renovation work has found several used by roosting bats. The species found so far have been Daubenton’s and brown long-eared. The survey has also shown wide use of bridges by nesting birds, notably dippers, wrens and swallows. The best bridges for wildlife are the traditional ones, made of granite slabs, where there are substantial cracks.
Our programme of roost visits and bat counts is continuing, as is our Bat Helpline, which has proved very successful. Sixty-nine bats of five species have been taken in by Judd and Rowena Varley this year. These are bats which have been found grounded. Cats are the main cause of deaths, but despite their injuries 29 bats recovered sufficiently to be released back into the wild.
Daniel Eva

Otter Group

Records of otter sights and smells continue to be received from various parts of the county - the former by way of live sightings and the latter from olfactory examination of spraint.
The next meeting of the Otter Group will be a workshop event to be held on Saturday 7th March at Five Acres (see diary for further details). Come along and find out about otter recording: how and where to find and identify spraint and tracks, and how you can contribute to the conservation of otters by helping with surveys to establish where, and where not, otters are present in Cornwall.
David Curtis

Reptile & Amphibian Group

Unusual amphibian finds keep on drawing media attention to the Trust. Ours are always the first in Britain to spawn each spring, encouraged by our relatively mild climate, and some don’t even wait that long. November has become the normal spawning time for frogs at some sites down on The Lizard.
Now Trust member Alison Candy has made an even more surprising observation - toad spawn in October in the Falmouth area. I’ve never come across such early spawning in toads, or in any amphibian north of The Lizard, and I’m sure my "herp" contacts elsewhere in the country will be shocked to hear about it.
There’s a lot more work to be done before we can say whether there really is a trend towards earlier spawning, which might support the idea of global warming, but we do believe that amphibians are very good indicators of environmental change.
I’d be delighted to hear from anyone who would like to help us survey and monitor Cornwall’s fascinating amphibians and reptiles.
Mark Nicholson

Alison Candy An unusually mild October fooled Alison Candy's toads into thinking spring had arrived early. Photo: Mark Nicholson

Living Churchyards

Observation and recording are the first steps towards introducing a parish to the wildlife surrounding its church. Below is an extract about Devoran churchyard written by Jane Irwin in the early days of the Living Churchyard Project.
Carol Simpson Count the creepy-crawlies.
"Count the creepy-crawlies." called Carol. Accordingly, I crept and crawled to catch sight of creatures without backbones of any size from a pinpoint to that of my biggest toe, and with legs numbering from none to several score.
Throughout May, about ten inches of rain poured on the churchyard. No sound and no immediate movement were there, but in the rotted tree under the yew were sinuous earthworms, lots of woodlice, a spiral tree snail and a golden centipede. Gliding up clematis stems in the rain were banded snails, and in crevices in the northern wall adherent groups of garden snails. Steadily sliding across a footpath was a great black slug, nearby a great gold one, and hiding in the lids of flower vases was a ring of little garden slugs. Dryish, under stones fallen from the eastern wall, were grey and spherical pill-bugs. Stretched across loops of briar and clematis in the western hedge were random threads supporting the spindly legs of a long-bodied small spider, while under the yew another spider had built a funnel-shaped web.
From mid-June, for two months it was hot. The leaves and flowers of the overgrown hedge of clematis, briar, bramble, honeysuckle and nettle turned skyward and green, and the silence was broken. In humid air were clouds of minute midges, various solitary humming flies, and a yellow and black dragonfly which darted over long, wet grass. Long grass became hay, and in it invisible grasshoppers chirped. Froghoppers shot from blade to blade, and their young hid green and soft in a bubble of spittle. A wasp zoomed in the rhododendron, and then, more ponderously, a bumble-bee, and still there was a persistent humming from dozens of silver-tailed bumbles and a few honey-bees. Some sort of gall-wasp had induced red and yellow spheres to house her grubs on the surface of a briar leaf. Ground beetles were found under stones, a grey, little-winged bug hopped up my leg, and suddenly, an army of ants was scurrying, disturbed from a crumbling gravestone.
Jane Irwin
Not forgetting....

See page 2 for details of all our specialist groups.

Field vole by David Chapman
of the Wildlife Photography Group
Field vole

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