Monday, 15 October 2012

Institute of Outdoor Learning Conference 2012

This last week I travelled up to Stafford away from the coast (but never the sea!) and headed for the Institute of Outdoor Learning Conference - a biannual conference bringing together all those involved and passionate about learning outdoors.

It was a hive of activity with workshops, forums, talks by Paul Rose and another on "mental toughness" and a pub-style quiz in which our team - "it's all about the cheese" did pretty badly! Although I did know where animals from the pelagic lived - phew!

Within the conference I ran a workshop trying to remind folk that the sea is never very far away wherever we live - driving our weather systems, influencing our agriculture, providing us oxygen to breathe and even the oil to run the cars and trains we could hear all around us! I asked the attendees to use their senses to explore the field and tree lined bridleway. They wrote some comments in their notebooks and then I asked them to perhaps offer some writing back to me so that I might feed it back to the conference.

The intention was that I would draw this together to create a poem or similar. However, the comments and expressive statements are worthy of independent contemplation. Here they are:

"The spiral buzzing hum of a housefly, fizzes like a breaker sucking sand."

"Childhood memories of a roaring sea" [This was echoed by the sound of the train which replicated the sound of "roaring sea"]

"Mushroom smells
Ebb and Flow
Translucent Gills
Slow Down"

"Bringing back childhood memories - wanting to be a child again."

"Sweet smells of rot
Wind rush around my ears
Air laps and feels
Bird song on the air waves
Spider thread lights the space
Clouds move gently"

"Heightened awareness
Earthy Scent
Smooth Waxy leaf
People Confusion, Indecision and apathy
Earth Hopes, Believes, Calm, Clarity and Compassion"

"This was a walk around the area that I live. It has made made me listen and track my environment in a way that I've not done before. I have listened for the first time.

It is easy to take your own area for granted and not think about its relationship with the sea. The sounds are all around.

I have a home in Yarnfield and a home by the sea. This will enable me to link the two in a new way. It has been a great pleasure to experience."

Two primary school teachers also said that they were now going to do "beach cleans" in their urban areas - reminding the children that this litter will ultimately end at sea! This was music to my ears!

It was a really fantastic conference and we all took something from this to bring new added inspiration for our own work in the great outdoors - I certainly have! Thanks to all who attended, organised the event and offered me new perspectives! Happy exploring!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Part 2. The Great River Race. Row, row, row your boat as hard as you can down the Thames while firing water pistol at competitors.

As previously mentioned in an earlier blog myself and 5 friends- the Sea Girls headed up to London after my jaunt in Padstow to row 21 miles up the Thames. We were doing this to raise money for Sea-Changers and because we love any excuse to row. Still time to sponsor here!

It was a hot, sunny day in London with 300+ boats of various shape and form jostling for space on the staggered start line. The crowds gathered on bridges, boats and on the riverside to create an amazing atmosphere! It was tonnes of fun and fantastic to raise some money for Sea-Changers....I'll let the pictures tell the story! Sadly no photos of the faces of the competitors we "shot" with our water gun - some happier than others! Looking at the results we came a very respectable 4th in the Seine boats in a time of 3hours 26 mins.

Bus left at 6.15am

Things quickly spiraled post race! :)

Flying the Flag for Devon!

Sea-Changers Part 1. National Lobster Hatchery, Padstow.

This last week has certainly seen some of the true highlights of the year so far. On Thursday I travelled up to Padstow to meet with the co-founders of Sea-Changers Rachel and Helen. It was a beautiful sunny day and a perfect setting for what was to be a spectacular day. 

We were there to hand over the first small grant to the National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow. When Helen told me that they would like to award their first grant to the Lobster Hatchery I was over the moon. Having visited the hatchery some years ago I always felt that this was such a brilliant project and so very effective in the remit of marine conservation. They are an active centre of valuable research and education on sustainable fisheries and aquaculture and they restock lobsters in our coastal waters – what’s there not to love?

We were met by Dom Boothroyd the general manager of the Padstow Lobster Hatchery. The world of marine conservation is a small world and indeed I used to work with Dom at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth when I was an undergraduate guide with lots of enthusiasm but little experience or knowledge! Dom very kindly took some time out to go through a talk to help clarify the background, work and vision for the National Lobster Hatchery charity.
This was a real insight and on several occasions comments that Helen, Rachel or Dom made sent shivers down my spine – this is a good sign! The practical vision and direction of a charity is really dictated by the enthusiasm and responsibility of the individuals who run the charities. Here were some seriously impressive individuals with really fantastic, practical, logical and effective ideas to really make a difference in marine conservation.
One Day Old Lobster
We were shown round both the visitors centre and also behind the scenes tour of the various laboratory equipment and tanks holding various stages of baby lobster and artemia shrimp to feed the lobsters. This really gave an insight into how much time and energy goes in to rearing these individual lobsters to be as healthy and robust as possible within this carefully controlled environment.

The grant from Sea-Changers was to help with the feeding of the baby lobsters which we very happily handed over to Dom…

This insightful morning made the opportunity of heading off to Newquay to meet with the “Atlantic Diver” boat to release some of the carefully reared lobsters such a real privilege! We jumped on board, met with some of the local Cornwall Wildlife Trust and set to sea with the lobsters carefully packaged up ready for release.
Lobsters are grown on individual trays to prevent cannibalism!
Dive plan made and buddy check done we descended on the shot line to be greeted with decent visibility and lots of unsuspecting Pollock and Wrasse. We had been instructed to look for “terminal moraine” type sediment but not to expect to find terminal moraine in this non glacial influenced area! Basically, we were looking for soft sediment with lots of rocky shards and cobbles. After a few minutes of diving around we found a nice patch of “cobbly bottom” and each pair of divers took their tray and carefully released the lobsters into the area. With a flick of their tails the lobsters found their way on to the sediment and quickly sought refuge under loose shale and rock.  At which stage I think I squeaked through my regulator. It was a very gratifying process to be a small part of the process of helping create sustainable seas.
Dive lifts are a diver's best friend!
Post-dive buzz after releasing lobsters from the "doughnut" trays.
We left the water after having seen some incredibly beautiful and large Ross “Coral” heads. A misnomer of a name as Ross are not coral at all but in fact bryozoan. Whatever their name discrepancy they are a rich, deep russet colour of undulating sheets that create a dome-shaped head looking very much like a tropical coral. After enjoying the sights of this and other marine creatures like the Bloody Henry starfish and me continuing to wish I had a decent underwater camera we ascended to the surface leaving the baby lobsters to fend for themselves…

A huge thank you to Helen, Rachel and Dom for all your hard work with your charities and also to Atlantic Divers for taking us out to sea to release the lobsters.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Sea Girls become Sea-Changers

This year I was very pleased to become patron for the charity Sea-Changers As you may well be aware, if you follow me on twitter or know me personally I am a marine obsessive. I often liken my obsession with the sea as a type of (healthy) love affair. The more I get to know the sea and experience different aspects of this salty world the deeper I fall! Sea-changers is a charity which is, therefore, very close to my heart! Sea-Changers is about encouraging all those who love the sea to take small actions and make small donations to improve the state of UK seas and coasts.

Recently this love affair has been made all the more exciting through the opportunities with this patronage and 3 other factors. Firstly writing my book the RSPB Handbook of the Seashore, re-entering the world of diving and also finding rowing with the Dartmouth Sea-Girls

The book has allowed me months of research and reading on the seashore species that can be found between the tides and other aspects of the seashore that I can easily digress into. I have been allowed the time to wallow in my favourite subject knowing that ultimately it might allow other people to start their own relationship with the sea.

The diving is a sport which I always had a desire to continue but struggled to find the finances to buy the kit and time with a young family and seashore business. However, recently I joined the Totnes BSAC, made the PADI cross-over and am now working on progressing my dive qualifications & am totally hooked! I managed to get all my kit second hand and in perfect condition from one similarly proportioned lady! Totnes BSAC are a great club and a brilliant way of meeting other diving folk - learning from some very experienced divers. The conversations rarely go past 2 minutes without some typical diving innuendo and then digressions onto experiences of phosphorescing divers - you can imagine I'm quite at home! The creatures that I have spent so much time seeing on the low tide or glimpses of on the high through snorkeling and freediving are now available to me for as long as my cylinder will (safely) last! The result is that I feel like I am gaining a whole new deeper, obsessive relationship with the sea!

Finally there's the rowing. I stumbled into this through a friend I met at our daughters swimming lessons. We soon realised we had a mutual passion for sporting adventures and set about entering running events and triathlons and then finally went along to "try out" rowing with her crew in Dartmouth. Another brilliant excuse to be on the water early of a Sunday morning. The first rowing trip we saw some fishy-smelling seals hauled up on pontoons...that was it...I haven't stopped rowing! They're a great crew of local girls and am really enjoying being part of the crew and the new adventures that offers.

This (finally) brings me back to my latest adventure and patronage with Sea-Changers! Through all of this I am reminded in new ways of why and how the sea is so very beautiful and important to me on a daily basis but also to all of us whether we live on the coast or not. We all benefit from healthy seas and we must do all we can to protect this stunning resource.

That is why the Sea Girls rowing crew have agreed to raise money for the charity Sea-Changers. 100% of the money will go towards marine conservation projects. This allows all of the rowing crew the chance to give a little back to the sea as a thank you for all the fun we have rowing and living by the coast. The 21 mile London Great River Race will not be without hard training and blisters in places you would not believe! Please do support our adventures and click on this link to find out a little more about the Sea Girls fundraiser for Sea-Changers.

Thanks for your support - this is a fancy dress event and if you are in London well worth a wander down to the Thames!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Come rockpooling with me!

It is thankfully that time of year again! While I have spent considerable time exploring the seashore from my desk for my new book, The RSPB Handbook of the Seashore which will be out in May is now time to go and revisit the rocky shore and rediscover my old friends the crabs, clingfish and starfish! They take place at South Milton Sands on the south coast of Devon - a beautiful spot with cafe, toilets and sandy beach as well as brilliant rockpools!

I will be running only a few sessions this Summer holiday but if you are interested in making a booking then please do get in touch!

Children over 8 can be left with me unaccompanied (full CRB checks, insurance & H & S in place) whilst children between 4 - 8 must be accompanied by an adult. Anybody is welcome (over 4 years) although traversing the rocks can be a bit tricky at times and not for the fainthearted! All you need to bring are shoes that you are happy to get wet - crocs or wellies, weather suitable gear and a sunny disposition!

Dates for the 2 hour guided tour of the seashore (which includes an activity such as a seaweed press etc) are:

Wednesday 1st August 1130 - 1330
Wednesday 15th August 1000 - 1200
Wednesday 22nd August 1500 - 1700
Wednesday 29th August 1000 - 1200

Please contact to make a booking!

Many thanks and happy summer holidays to you! Remember to check the tide times and follow the Seashore Code when you take your trip to the seashore!

Costs: £10 per person (accompanying adult of a 4 - 8 year old £5) with a maximum of 10 children / session.

Private bookings are available on request.

Thursday, 26 April 2012


Am I the only one that gets a bit of brain squeeze looking up seaweed life-cycles? As I am sure you do look up seaweed life cycles...or just generally any reproductive cycle of any creatures, plant or animal? Well I do... we are all different and that's what makes up special, right? Anyway, even if you don't look up life-cycles, you may well have come across these terms and had to stop to translate.

I do not say (and do not intend to say) monoclinous in every day conversation. As a result, I do not remember what it means. I have had a child and as a result of that lovely experience, I have lost half of my grey matter. My daughter is my memory bank and walking, talking lovely personal organiser. She tells me what I went upstairs for and why we're in town. I cannot be expected to remember what monoclinous means when there are days when I have clearly forgotten my own name.

I plan to work at providing some simplified terms for you but in the meantime - make your own suggestions and comments. The more absurd they are the more welcome they are to grace the comments box.

Here are some of the terms that I would like to see less of:


















I could go on but I won't, I have a book to write and laborious text on life-cycles to translate.

Please do comment...

Ha!  I just did a spell check and guess what? None of the words are recognised - what a surprise!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Foul bottoms and mackerel.

Recently, I was asked if I, as an ecologist, ate fish. This hasn't been the first time that I have been asked. There have certainly been times when I have questioned whether I should eat any seafood or not from a sustainability perspective. These dilemmas become even more important as you have children and you start questioning your own practise, wanting to deliver the right messages. During the winter months we rarely eat fish or seafood. We might occasionally have some leftover frozen pollack that we make into fish (slightly broken & crooked looking) fingers.  Mostly, we eat sustainable seafood that we catch and as the seasons allow.  Now in early April I can almost smell the plankton bloom in the air, which means only one thing - mackerel!

As the air temperatures warm, living on the south Devon coast our coastal community starts prepping boats for the fishing season. This might include scrubbing fouled bottoms. This is an exceptionally more interesting job than it sounds and involves mechanically removing, with elbow grease or a power hose, any creatures that have started growing on our (boat) bottoms over the cold months. It usually consists of an assemblage of algae, barnacles and odd strands of purple laver. I always hope that one year I might find something really unusual! However, a foul bottom is never a good thing. This spring there was a boat which has stayed in the water for 3 or 4 years without much attention. When this boat was taken out of the water there were enough mussels attached to her hull to feed a large wedding banquet. She would have hardly made it out of the estuary with her heavy bottom.

Now that our little community has put the time and effort into getting geared up for spring we wait to hear news of the first mackerel. I am already imagining the meaty, oily red meat of the first mackerel of the season. As they are such fast swimmers they have a lot of red meat which is packed with blood vessels. This means they can move  through the water at great speeds both towards prey and away from predators. It also makes them an incredibly oily, nutritious and delicious fish.

The first fish of the season is something to look forward to. The excitement of feeling the mackerel tugging on the fishing line, the sight of the incredible rainbow coloured skin as they surface. Followed by the taste of that same crisp skin, some of which has got stuck to the grill which hazardously lies perched on rocks over the driftwood fire. The fish tastes so much sweeter for eating with oily, sticky fingers that glint with the small scales which are stuck to your fingertips from the gutting process.

We don't have to travel to get our fish, we catch only what we need, we don't catch other fish in the process and we savour every morsel of flesh. We appreciate what we have, knowing that our lives are so enriched through the entire process of fishing. We are also very lucky to be able to live on the coast and go fishing so we make sure we make the most of this opportunity. We teach our daughter about plankton and mackerel migration. She understands why the belly of the mackerel is lighter than the top side. She knows how to gut a fish, where the gills are and she likes dissecting fish eyeballs. She is 6. She knows that if we do not do all we can to look after our coast, we will not be able to to eat food straight from nature's larder..when tide, time and weather allows!

Having the chance to catch fish, inspires me and drives me to protect our seas and oceans. I would still feel the same way if I didn't eat seafood but I remain further indebted to the sea as a result. I feel strongly that my daughter's young experience will make her recognise the value of our coast and seas almost effortlessly. This lesson is not something you can teach but something which I think experience helps to understand and that is why... "Yes, I eat (sustainable) fish as a marine ecologist."