I went to the Your Shore Network’s annual conference to find out about an incredible coastal success story. There was a lot going on… I challenge you to read to the end!
First, a summary of what it’s all about:
A growing number of people of all ages have joined together to care for Cornwall’s coastline, thanks to the Your Shore initiative. A network of local marine conservation groups, run entirely by volunteers, has become established around Cornwall’s coast, growing from five original groups at each of the VMCAs (Voluntary Marine Conservation Areas) to 17+ groups in a few short years. See the map at https://beachrangers.com/community/your-shore-network/ to find out where these groups are located, and join one if you can. The network of marine groups is currently supported by the very special Your Shore Beach Rangers Project. Coordinated by Cornwall Wildlife Trust with Cornwall College, and funded for five years by the National Lottery’s Community Fund and Our Bright Future, the Your Shore Beach Rangers project involves young people from Cornwall’s schools and young adult community. This hugely benefits them, society in general, and of course our precious seas and coastline.
The conference begins
The first thing that struck me when I arrived at the conference was the number of volunteers – young, old and in the middle – queuing to sign in at the event, which was held in the Pavilion at the Royal Cornwall Showground, Wadebridge. Many were proudly wearing the T-shirts of their particular groups. Familiar faces from Cornwall Wildlife Trust, including Head of Marine Conservation Ruth Williams, were there with a friendly greeting for everyone as they came in. I noticed Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Marine Awareness Officer Matt Slater and at least one Trustee (Dee Reeves) among the participants, as well as the lovely Sue Sayer and colleagues from Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust, to mention just a few people I know.
Once we’d filled our reusable cups with coffee, had a quick look at some of the many group displays, and settled around a large number of circular wooden tables in the light and airy conference centre, Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Chief Executive Carolyn Cadman and her son Abe (who particularly likes basking sharks) got us started with a rousing introduction and some facts to take away with us.
Did you know?
- Grey seals are rarer than African elephants
- A bootlace worm can be 30m long
- Cornwall Wildlife Trust has 17,000 members and 1,400 volunteers.
Inspired by individuals like Sir David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg, we must overcome our eco-anxiety and make a difference by working together.
Abby takes the stage
One of our most inspiring (and televisual) local champions, Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Marine Conservation Officer Abby Crosby, whose role includes supporting the Beach Rangers project, was the first speaker. She explained that the Your Shore Beach Rangers is one of only 2 marine projects of the 31 that make up the Wildlife Trusts’ ‘Our Bright Future’ programme. In just four years so far, the team have engaged with 9,000 school children and 12,433 community members. There are 123 people involved in the long-term, with 3,861 Beach Rangers trained.
Initial Heritage Lottery funding for the five VMCAs finished in 2013, and The National Lottery’s Community Fund money for the Your Shore Beach Rangers project stops after one more year, but the young people of Cornwall will still have these three asks:
Can they spend more time learning in and about nature?
Can they have support getting into environmental jobs?
Will government, employers, businesses, schools and charities pay more attention to young people in the environment?
Updates from the Beach Rangers Academy
Brender Wilmott, Academy Officer, went into some extra detail about how the Beach Rangers Academy is working with all ages through schools, including ‘gifted and talented’ pupils, enabling youngsters to gain Bronze, Silver and Gold awards and providing equipment and clothing for schools where needed. The project also engages universities in Cornwall and in Plymouth, as well as home-schooled children and those who need extra support, whether they are on a spectrum or underprivileged.
Jenn Sandiford, Youth Engagement Officer, told us that there are still young people in Cornwall who haven’t set foot on a beach. The Your Shore Beach Rangers have been looking at different ways to engage them with the sea, whether they have been fully immersed in the sea (e.g. snorkelling) or on the shore, to improve their wellbeing. Now Your Shore is looking for a new business apprentice, as the youth strategy moves forward into its final year.
(All this was illustrated, like the other talks, with exciting photos of young people taking part in activities such as eco-coasteering and night-time rockpooling.)
Jax Keenan, Community Engagement Officer, has completed her first full year with the Beach Rangers project – a year of change and action. She explained how the network consists of so much more than the 17 groups, as many other groups and organisations are involved too, with connections out of county, such as Coastwise North Devon, the Wembury Marine Centre, which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary year, and even the Isle of Man Wildlife Trust, sharing seal sightings. Jax thanked Niki Clear for covering Abby’s maternity leave.
Briefly but with some impressive news, Jax reported back from members of the Network – Bude (now in its second year) holding rockpooing events every month, Polzeath having its first ever sighting of a St Piran’s crab, plus more visits to its marine centre and valuable work on microplastics.
Newquay has had excellent attendance at events and won a Britain in Bloom award. Perranporth, in its first year, has officially become a Community Interest Organisation. Beach cleans have attracted many people, from St Agnes to St Ives Bay, Portheras Cove to Helford, with Lego finds, talks on ‘ghost gear’ (Mounts Bay), and the removal of thousands of Pacific Oysters (e.g. Falmouth).
In Falmouth alone, 574 children have been engaged through outreach.
The Three Bays Group held a bioblitz, the Friends of Par Beach celebrated their 10th Anniversary with a day-long community event involving many other groups, and benefited from the Co-op Local Community Fund.
Friends of the Fowey Estuary obtained a new sign and released baby lobsters, as well as surveying 18,000 Pacific Oysters.
In Looe, there were 170 people at an Easter Beach Clean and, as crabbing is such a popular activity in and around the town, their Crabbing Code has gone nationwide following coverage in the national news.
Rame Peninsula Beach Care engaged 4,000 people through their events, including the Forgotten Corner film festival. Children from the Rame Peninsula who campaign about single-use red noses from Comic Relief received a letter of commendation and thanks from Sir David Attenborough himself. An artwork made from beach collections featuring 10,000 net fibre pieces was put on public display.
If you don’t know what these are, please watch this great little film (see link below). Rame Peninsula Beach Care and the Cornwall Plastic Pollution Coalition produced the film, which we all enjoyed watching, to ask fishermen to help solve the problem of net offcuts ending up in the sea, and win prizes for doing so. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwa5Jyra7Fc&fbclid=IwAR0SjblQ7g_LTZDfSQLp1lrLVY9hCnjia51_tFP2dHziEnS20XUwQ_dwVEo
Somerset and the climate emergency
Next, Mark Ward, Brilliant Coast Project Manager from Somerset Wildlife Trust, told us how Somerset is in awe of what Cornwall is doing.
Somerset has ‘Curious Coasts’, ‘Parish Shores’ projects and a ‘Wild Beach’ youth and schools project, funded by Hinkley Point Community Impact Mitigation Project. But Mark was mostly at the conference to bring home to us, on film, the sheer emotive power of Greta Thunberg and to remind us of stark climate science findings, including bar charts showing temperatures going from blues to reds, the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph, and the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report of 2018.
He had us all moving about the room to demonstrate our opinions about the seriousness of climate change and how empowered we felt to make change happen.
Mark showed us, pictorially, how even traditional groups like the WI can get involved. One group held a tea in the sea (rather like King Cnut/Canute) for their ‘Turning the Tide’ campaign – see a newspaper report at https://www.wsfp.co.uk/article.cfm?id=122062&headline=Turning%20the%20Tide§ionIs=news&searchyear=2019
Workshopping to come up with ideas to tackle climate change
We were divided into mini workshopping groups, table by table, to come up with ideas. These included:
- Sea grass beds need to be publicly acknowledged, appreciated and protected for their carbon storing abilities.
- Parish councils can get involved to help build community resilience to the threats from coastal erosion and sea level rise. Tackling the effects of climate change is important as well as taking action to mitigate them.
- People can help through citizen science – such as the Great Seaweed Search, looking for new species. This also helps impress the baseline data on local people.
- We should encourage holidaying in the UK to cut carbon emissions, but also discourage traffic build-up in Cornwall’s coastal areas by better use of public transport and car sharing. Maybe trams could link beaches?
- We should talk about sustainable food.
- We should campaign for less tourist ‘tat’, especially single-use plastics, and move on to encouraging a more sustainable society.
- We should promote local seafood.
- We should plan for transition, building resilience.
- CO2 reduction programmes should include new houses, parishes and local government.
- We need to tune in to what matters to other people and discuss how climate change affects their way of life.
- Can we engage with community centres?
- We need groups to join together for wider publicity.
- We need to share the results of our findings.
- We need to suppress our ‘eco ego’ and broaden out to wider social groups. Conservation can’t be just about middle-class, white people.
- Can climate change be incorporated into new areas such as TV soaps?
- We need to promote green energy.
- Can we counter Newquay airport expansion?
- We should avoid alienating people, by not trying to make everyone perfect.
- We should share ideas with tourists.
- We should promote sustainable businesses and the ‘blue’ economy. We already have Tevi.
Note: ‘Tevi is a partnership between the University of Exeter, Cornwall Council, Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the Cornwall Development Company. We use circular economy and environmental growth strategies to help businesses improve their processes, save money and benefit Cornwall’s natural environment.’ See https://tevi.co.uk/
Three Your Shore Beach Rangers – Josh, Laura and Jodie
Three young people took the stage. They have benefited greatly from the Your Shore Beach Rangers project. All three were enthusiastic, very articulate, and excited about their future.
Their aims included, as described earlier by Abby, an hour a week of curriculum time ‘learning in and about nature’, support to get environmental jobs and ‘to be heard and to play an active role’.
As Youth Forum rep, there had been opportunities for Laura to attend conferences and seminars across the UK, and to meet parliamentarians at Westminster. Jodie, in her capacity as Beach Rangers Project Apprentice, had been given the opportunity to speak at the Natural History Museum, London. She had led snorkel safaris, had been to Looe Island to take part in surveys, and had attended the Our Bright Future Conference.
The three young people are keen to engage people outside the ‘conservation bubble’ both offline and online, whether through a takeover of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust Instagram output, or going out on coasteering adventures and finding out what young people in Cornwall actually need.
Your Shore Beach Rangers had clearly helped our three inspiring young adults to be buoyant, lively and confident members of society, and demonstrated how we must involve and utilise young people when getting our message across. Josh summarised: “Get everyone outside to have a nice fun time!”
Rising Tides Workshops
The participants in the conference moved to new tables to come up with more ideas, answering questions such as: ‘What are the barriers to engaging with/involving young people? How do we bring down barriers? Answers were through post-it notes and Survey Monkey. Keep in touch with the Your Shore Beach Rangers to find out what we came up with. A few ideas included sharing resources between Network groups, publicising the job pathway aspect of the Beach Rangers and championing success stories, encouraging more apprenticeships, as well as getting young people from more deprived areas out to the coast.
Our seas – beautiful but vulnerable
Paul Naylor, a top marine photographer and author (who has recently joined Instagram @paulnaylormarinephoto), has captured some unusual and maybe never-before-seen footage of behaviours which highlight the incredible life stories of four different marine animals.
The Corkwing Wrasse
This strikingly beautiful fish uses ten different types of seaweed as nesting material, with a pink, crusty weed on the outside growing to knit and hold the nest together in the underwater currents.
Did you know that 20% of males look like females? The trick is in order to get into the nest, to fertilise eggs under the unsuspecting nose of a more colourful opponent. Sadly, a wrasse fishery has developed to provide cleaner fish for fish farms. The fishery is being controlled by IFCAS (Association of Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities) but there seem to be more fish lice (we saw some huge ones pictured) due to the decrease in wrasse around our coast.
The Dog Whelk
Paul showed us how the Dog Whelk drills through its prey, including mussels, limpets, periwinkles and … other Dog Whelks. We also learned how boat paint had been sterilising female dog whelks. A ban has led to a welcome return of these active, spiral-shelled animals and their eggs, like clusters of tiny orange milk bottles, to our beaches.
The Spider Crab
During the pubertal mass moult of the Spider Crabs, the seabed looks like a graveyard strewn with skeletons, but the bodies are just old crab suits, made of chalky material. We watched a young male emerging, with his huger-than-before claws coming out last from the old shell. Ocean acidification, in which the pH goes down, is the ‘evil twin’ of climate change, said Paul. Shellfish, crustaceans and corals cannot cope with increasing acidity, as it reduces the calcium carbonate needed to make their shells and outer casings.
The Tompot Blenny
Every tompot blenny can be recognised by its unique skin markings. By checking facial patterns and scars, Paul has been able to build up a picture of different characters, including ‘Bourgeois Bradley’ and ‘Beverley’, a female who was very clearly changing colour according to her mood. Fish tend to become darker when fighting, and pale when submissive. We learned about ‘sneaker’ males (female mimics) and also about a new species – the Variable Blenny – which is moving in and occupying a very similar ecological niche to the Tompot Blennies. Paul will no doubt be watching closely to see what happens.
An introduction to Holly
Holly Berwick is Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s new Volunteer Coordinator, having moved across from a similar role on the Penwith Landscape Partnership. She told the conference participants about the 1,500+ volunteers at the Trust who are involved in Seasearch, Seaquest South West, Shoresearch, the Your Shore Beach Rangers, the Marine Strandings Network and Hands off Our Crawfish.
She told us of research by the London School of Economics that shows how volunteering makes us happier and helps us to live longer. Yet another good reason to get (and stay) involved.
And finally ….
Jax Keenan had some final workshopping challenges for grassroots marine conservationists in Cornwall, particularly the Your Shore Network members: How do we keep the projects going into the future?
We discussed advertising, protecting marine life, and how to get funding to support the next generation of projects. Here are a few of our thoughts:
- Some volunteers love fundraising, but we also need funds from external sources.
- We need more protection for Marine Conservation Zones.
- We need to raise awareness among tourists and get them involved.
- We need to allocate one volunteer to each type of social media, to avoid work overload.
- Can Your Shore Beach Rangers and Cornwall Wildlife Trust offer social media training?
Feedback was by post-it note and on surveymonkey.com/r/YourShore2020.
Here’s to even greater success for our growing coastal network of volunteers in the extremely challenging times that lie ahead.
View this post with the official photographs from the day at https://www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk/blog/rowena-millar/cornwall-leads-way-your-shore-network