On Sunday 11th August the Cornubia Community centre in Par was the focus of a fantastic, friendly gathering of the great and the good in local wildlife and environmental volunteering. The event being celebrated was the 10th Anniversary of the Friends of Par Beach, and they had turned it into a proper discovery day featuring Ian McCarthy’s much-loved film ‘Cornwall – Out On the Edge’ and talks by a series of top local speakers. How could I resist? http://www.parbeach.com https://www.facebook.com/groups/123478384321/

My countryside ranger friend Jenny kindly gave me a lift from East Cornwall, notably (for me and no one else) taking us past the Par athletics track where, age 11, I won my heat in the county school sports championship hurdles, only to trip over a wonky hurdle in the final.

We parked by a nature area and walked past a community flower and veg area (very impressive). On arrival, we were given a warm welcome – particularly Jenny, who is involved in the management of local wildlife areas and knows members of the group. Through the attractive grey matching T-shirts of the Friends I spotted, centre stage, the famous Septimus White, Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust’s seal skeleton.  All around the room were displays by more than a dozen wildlife groups (listed later).

A warm welcome in Par

After a brief introduction, the assembled crowd headed upstairs and packed the hall, where Ian McCarthy presented his lyrical, evocative and very personal film about Cornwall’s wildlife and wild places, heavily featuring the peregrines and kingfishers he has watched for many hours. This was my second viewing, and I was able to pick up on detail I’d missed or forgotten from the previous showing. Find out about Ian at https://www.wildstudiocornwall.co.uk/

Next, seal hero Sue Sayer and another keen volunteer, Septimus-discoverer Rob Wells, shared the stage as they told us the story of how this large male grey seal was recorded and later discovered dead by Rob – the third biggest dead seal recorded in Cornwall to date.

We learned how the seal decayed on the beach, photographed by Rob, over 100 days. How his potently stinking carcass was then carried from the beach to Sue’s car and left inland to decompose over two years, feeding a healthy crop of nettles. How the bones were painstakingly collected, cleaned, sanitised and left out in the sun to bleach. How they were sorted into containers, and (thanks to generous financial contributions from individuals and groups) pieced together by professional bone articulator Derek Frampton, recommended by Richard Sabin of the Natural History Museum. How the piecing together revealed a number of horrific injuries that had befallen Septimus during his lifetime – a bump that had damaged his spine, leaving a distinctive triangular scar when he was alive, broken ribs, painful infected flippers, a sinus infection bad enough to cause an area of his cheek bone to decay, and a shotgun bullet in a rib! Sue mused about how many other seals around our shores are suffering from similar illnesses and injuries. The story was embellished by photographs, including an impressive scan undertaken by a student, which enables us to look at the 3D image of Septimus’s skeleton from all angles on-screen. Learn more at https://www.cornwallsealgroup.co.uk/

The skeleton of Septimus White on display in Par

After the interesting talk and discussion, Jenny and I rushed down, with empty stomachs, to the rather quaint catering van outside. The Feral Goat’s tasty coffee and paninis hit the lunchtime spot as Par bathed in summer sunshine.


After the lunch break, there had been some drifting away, so quite a few people missed the treat that was Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Youth Engagement Officer Jenn Sandiford’s highly inspiring and also extremely important talk. She showed us how a group who always seem to lose interest in wildlife – teens and young adults – are now involved with shoreline activities.

I think Jenn’s previous experience teaching this age-group, plus her own energy, heaps of enthusiasm, imagination and a significant flair for collaboration, have worked absolute wonders. She, her helpers, and the many groups she has worked with, have turned things right around. Their valuable work includes engaging young people living difficult lives, offering discoveries and achievements not so far from their own homes.

My own youngsters exploring the shore a few years ago
…. And taking part in a snorkel safari
Jenn Sandiford tells us about the Your Shore Beach Rangers project

You can find out how the Beach Rangers ‘engage, inspire and protect’ at beachrangers.com – it involves a lot of snorkelling, some coasteering, paddleboarding and other adventurous activities, but the Your Shore Beach Rangers can also teach youngsters to swim as they discover wondrous sea life, involve them in beach litter picking and related craft activities, help them discover rockpool life at night … and so much more that my mind was boggled. There are bronze, silver and gold awards to work towards, and a range of life skills can be learned and rubber stamped with training and workshops that build knowledge and confidence, as well as genuine interest and care in the coastal environment. What a boost for the youth of Cornwall and for other age-groups, too. You can tell I was massively impressed. The Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/beachrangers/ and there is plenty about the Your Shore Beach Rangers on the Cornwall Wildlife Trust website, www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk

I stayed in my seat for Dave Groves’s pictorial guide to the mammals of Cornwall, in which he stressed the importance of sending in records.

Particularly memorable were a powerful-looking white hart and a stoat in full ermine. Dave’s commentary included an interesting discussion about the influx of new species of mammals in ancient, Victorian and recent times. What does the future hold as some mammals are reintroduced in limited ways (water voles, red squirrels and beavers) or recolonise (polecats, pine martens)?  I found discussions about red squirrels and badgers particularly interesting, but the smaller mammals – wood mice, voles and the different shrews – were given plenty of attention too. (Dave’s favourite is the otter, and he is often to be found searching for their droppings, or ‘spraint’.) When is a polecat not a ferret? DNA testing has revealed answers. The important thing to remember is that all mammal records are useful, to measure rising and falling populations of species such as rabbits and rats as well as our more unusual mammal sightings. https://www.cornwallmammalgroup.org

The final talk of the day was no less interesting. Delia Webb of the Cornwall Plastic Pollution Coalition was a fount of knowledge and information about plastics found in the sea and washed up on beaches, from discarded clothing and ghost fishing gear to lost shipping containers, marine creatures made of Lego and microplastics. It was interesting to discover the difference between the coloured nurdles used in the production of plastic products and the similar-sized bits used for filtration by the water industry – which have also escaped into the environment. We passed around a lump of burnt and fused plastic that was black and visually exactly like a rock. Who knew that these are on our beaches, too? Much of the information was highly shocking and thought provoking. Our day-to-day lives are now so bound up with plastics. We create microplastic pollution every time we wash clothes made from oil-based products such as nylon. One of the most alarming problems is the lack of regulation of the so-called biodegradable products that only biodegrade in industrial refuse plants of types we don’t even have in Cornwall, and certainly won’t biodegrade in seawater. Bioedegradable body glitter is one of the many things that doesn’t break down, sadly. To make matters worse, these products contaminate and ruin the recycling process if they are added to standard plastic recycling. Add on the fact that the publicity for such products seems to actually encourage people to throw them away into the environment, believing that they will soon biodegrade, and you find that a new dimension to the disaster has been spawned. What an eye-opener and what a huge problem. Recycling is not at the top of Delia’s list of actions we can take. The top one is simply to refuse to use plastics as far as we can. And please remember to avoid the so-called biodegradable products unless they genuinely break down harmlessly in the environment and the manufacturers can prove it! https://www.facebook.com/yourshoreplastic/

How pristine are our beaches?

The whole event demonstrated the positive spirit and actual achievements that benefit a place and its community when different groups work together to do their bit for a good cause – the local environment and its people and wildlife.

Displays at the event (information partly gleaned from a pre-event printout)

Friends of Fowey Estuary

Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Fathoms Free

Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust

Cornwall Bat Group

Friends of Luxulyan Valley

Cornwall Mammal Group

PL24 Community Association

Par Bay Big Local

Cornwall Birdwatching and Preservation Society

Friends of St Andrews Wetland Reserve

Cornwall Plastic Pollution Coalition

Woodland Valley Beaver Project

… and the Friends of Par Beach themselves.

Published by rowenanaturalword

A nature writer and wildlife book and magazine editor based in Cornwall. Runner up in the BBC Wildlife Magazine Awards for Nature Writing; published author of Hidden Beneath The Tides (UK Marine SACs Project) and The Wildlife Adventures of Super Fox (Cornwall Wildlife Trust). Contributor to Wildlife in Trust: a hundred years of nature conservation (The Wildlife Trusts); edited 50 editions of Wild Cornwall magazine for Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Freelance editor for organisations including Wild Nature Press

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    1. I think I should add a bit more about the positive attitude, the appreciation of where we live and general camaraderie. Watch this space!


    2. PS Sorry I didn’t see you – that’s quite surprising. Centre of attention? I don’t think so!


  1. Hmm it seems like your site ate my first comment (it
    was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote
    and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well
    am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to the whole thing.
    Do you have any helpful hints for first-time blog writers?
    I’d definitely appreciate it.


    1. Hi,
      Thank you very much for your kind words. I’m glad you like my blog. I haven’t been blogging for very long, actually, although I have been writing about wildlife and wildlife activities for decades, via press releases, articles and the occasional booklet or book chapter.

      I think my advice is:
      – immerse yourself in what you are writing about, and think of interesting personal ways to describe it,
      – blog about what you know and love,
      – think about your audience so you can build up a group of people who might be interested in what you write,
      – include some photos or pictures,
      – remember to add lots of tag words that people might be looking for in the box provided for these by WordPress that you might have noticed
      – think about the very first sentence or paragraph, to draw people in to the article, as well as a nice ending to round it off,
      – and including links will bring in other people and they might link back to you. Hope this helps.

      PS I am intrigued by your name ‘sinusinfectionhelp’. Is that what you write about?


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