Crop wild relatives on the Lizard
The Lizard peninsular is well known for its biodiversity importance but the importance of its genetic diversity is only just being realised. Research undertaken by Birmingham University in 2013 has shown The Lizard to be one of the UK’s ‘hotspots’ for the wild relatives of crop plants. These species are an increasingly important resource for human society; many plants potentially have a future role in the security of our food.
Crops have been developing over millennia by farmers using traditional breeding methods, and more recently by plant breeders incorporating specific genes into crops to produce new varieties. As a result of this prolonged human intervention modern crops have relatively low genetic diversity; they can be at greater risk to new diseases and pests as a result.
Birding on the south-west Lizard
Around and about Lizard Point is known as a good area for birding, but travel a bit further north and west, and there is plenty to see. The whole area is well served by a network of footpaths, most of which have The Lizard village as a hub, so the best sites are all very accessible.
Kynance Cove and Valleys
There are two valleys leading down to Kynance Cove (SW684134), both of which have scattered scrub, reed, iris and saw sedge beds, with further denser scrub and willow carr developing further up the valleys onto the heath.
Access to the lower stretches from the carpark is very easy, but frequently narrow, wet and often overgrown tracks allow somewhat restricted access to the upper valley areas.
The valleys hold and funnel migrants with nearby open heath, and host breeding sedge, willow with occasional grasshopper warblers, chiffchaff and blackcap. Dartford warbler populations have fluctuated recently but should be located (often by call) on a good walk around the area.
West of the Kynance valleys is one of the most dramatic area of cliffs (SW675135) with stunning views south towards the Lizard. The rocky cliffs and boulders often hold migrant birds despite their exposure and lack of cover. Flocks of song thrush and redwing are often found in late autumn. Black redstarts are regular seen in spring, autumn and winter. Peregrine, raven, buzzard and kestrel patrol the cliffs, and the short cropped grass and heath is an often used by the Lizard choughs for feeding.
Algal diversity at Kennack Sands
While walking toward the coast path from Lizard recently I got talking to a fascinating botanist who told me that the slope he was looking at was home to twelve different species of clover, if I remember correctly. He also pointed out some other plants, many of them rare and most of them with spectacular names. It made me think about our inshore algal diversity so when I found myself at Kennack Sands last weekend I decided to do a one minute search to see what I could find.
I recorded ten species of seaweed adjacent to and in a small rockpool on the midshore. There were plenty more but sixty seconds flies! The only green seaweeds I saw were Ulva lactuca (sea lettuce) and Ulva intestinalis, aptly known as gut weed which becomes apparent when you see it floating in a rockpool. Brown seaweeds dominated the area in terms of mass which is typical of the midshore.
Sizzling Summer Reads
Holidays are a great time to get to explore a wildlife topic that is a little bit removed from the nature on our doorstep. Here are 3 books I have enjoyed recently that I would recommend.
I was gripped from the outset by Mark Avery's Inglorious – Conflict in the Uplands. We can be fortunate to see hen harriers on The Lizard, generally in the winter. They are breeding birds of moorland, land which is now frequently the preserve of grouse shooting. Ostensibly this is a book about hen harrier conservation, but inevitably the majority of the book is the story of red grouse and the people who shoot them for sport. Is it possible to arrive at a solution where all these - man, grouse, heathlands and harrier can co-exist? I read the first half in particular with the appetite reserved for runaway novels. I think that the mark of a great book, film or album is that you find yourself revisiting it in your head in quiet moments, and I have done that a lot with the tale that this book tells. It is a wonderful example of how complicated nature conservation can be, and the ongoing battle between economics and the well-being of the habitats and species that we are all charged with the custodianship of. Mark Avery worked for the RSPB for many years and is now an outspoken wildlife blogger and activist (http://markavery.info/). He is easy to read and ushers us along on a story packed with science and statistics to make his case for the banning of driven-grouse shooting. Read it and make your own decisions – but it is a frightening statistic to know that there is enough suitable habitat in England to support around 300 pairs of hen harriers, but there are but a handful of successful breeding attempts every year.
An altogether mellower read ideal for a beach break anywhere is Spirals in Time – The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells by Helen Scales.
Did you know that the stuff that limpet teeth is made from(geothite) is the hardest biological material known? That 9 out of 10 shells spiral clockwise? That cone shells use some of the most deadly toxins in the world to capture their prey? Or that people have woven silk from the threads that root seashells to the sea floor? Fascinating stuff and easy to read
And if you still have more holiday reading time then try The Beauty in the Beast by Hugh Warwick. Warwick is obsessed with hedgehogs, but in this book he embarks on a quest to find similarly eccentric characters with a fascination for other groups - from bees to badgers, owls to otters. A lovely insight into the lives of those who care passionately and devote their lives to the conservation of some of the UK's flagship species. Warwick commits to having a tatoo of the animal that he discovers to most engaging (other than a hedgehog of course) – crazy.
Happy reading, and thanks to Cornwall library service for letting me borrow all these !!