Somerset Wildlife Trust is joining the celebration of marine life that will be taking place across the UK from Saturday 29 July to Sunday 13 August, as part of National Marine Week, to inspire everyone to show a little love for the county’s little-known, unique marine wildlife and habitats.
Somerset has nearly 50 miles of coastline which includes a variety of habitats such as sand dunes, rocky shores, tidal estuaries and the longest continual stretch of coastal deciduous woodland in England – all home to a wealth of captivating species, world class geology and fascinating history and heritage.
National Marine Week is the perfect opportunity for families to get out exploring some of Somerset’s natural coastal wonders. Try the rocky shore around Brean Down where you can find Beadlet Anemones, Green Shore Crabs, Common Periwinkles and Limpets, and at Minehead beach at low tide you may see starfish like the Common Sunstar and Common Brittlestar!
In August look out for the small wading birds, Sanderling and Dunlin, as they start to arrive on our beaches having made their journey from the Arctic in search of warmer climes.
National Marine Week is not only a chance to get out and about and appreciate the beautiful species that can be found locally, but to raise awareness of the wildlife that is under threat and what can be done to protect it for the future.
Michele Bowe, Director of Conservation, Policy and Strategy from Somerset Wildlife Trust, explains why we should spare a thought for our coast when enjoying it this summer: “Climate change and rising sea levels, harnessing the Severn Estuary’s natural power for energy generation, alongside general coastal development, are just a few reasons why Somerset’s coastline is under serious pressure, and this is why we are in the second year of a comprehensive three year coastal survey to increase the scientific evidence base of Somerset’s coastal wildlife. This work is crucial, as in order to deliver conservation programmes that protect our county’s marine wildlife for the future, we need to discover and understand in more detail what is there.”
What can you do to help Somerset’s Coast?
Somerset’s coast is rich in wildlife, from the seriously cute Ringed Plover chicks, to the debatably cuddly Sea Slug, and the bouncy Bouy Barnacles in Minehead to the very delicate Moon Jellyfish at Steart Marshes. There is so much to discover, love and protect along our coast. Why not get involved this National Marine Week? Perhaps you can do a volunteer survey, or support the Wildlife Trust’s coastal appeal that is funding their survey work? You can also join in one of our many events that are happening over August. From a Beach Clean to looking for Porpoise, to scoring the coastline to see what you can find on our ‘Rockpool Ramble’ or a ‘Seashore Safari’ there is something for all the family to enjoy. For more details on these events and more, please go to www.somersetwildlife.org/events .
Don’t forget to tweet @SomersetWT, with what you find.
We predict a Riot! Devon’s longest running Surf & Music Festival tickets selling out fast.
Now in its 19th continuous year – a huge achievement in itself – the GoldCoast Oceanfest team are delighted with the way tickets are going. “It’s been our fastest-selling year for a long while,” says festival co-organiser Warren Latham. “Maybe it’s the sunshine which always brings people to the coast, or maybe everyone just wants to get out and let their hair down for a weekend and forget about any political shenanigans. We are looking forward to welcoming them all.”
Whatever the reason, Goldcoast Oceanfest, taking place mid-summer weekend 16-18 June 2017 beside the sea at Croyde Bay in North Devon, is all set to welcome its biggest crowds. And it’s not just the surf that will be pounding.
Friday evening kicks off with a cool DJ set by SIGMA. Multiple Brit-award winning, indie-rock band, KAISER CHIEFS will top the bill on Saturday night and SCOUTING FOR GIRLS will be Sunday’s headliners. The Cuban Brothers, Charlie Sloth, The Shelters, Gentlemen’s Dub Club, Willie and The Bandits and Alice Jemima are amongst other great acts playing the sunshine stage this year. There’s also a second stage, complete with Bar and Cider garden, offering an alternative music choice and stand-up comedy with the Comedy Avengers.
Always a family event, there will be a circus performance area complete with aerial rig and stilt walkers weaving magic and imagination with live music workshops, lego making and crafts, storytelling and drumming. Food outlets, stalls and a fab chill-out zone are all in the mix.
Sports action takes place down on Croyde beach with football and volleyball tournaments, surfing and water sports.
A 3-Day Festival Ticket costs £59 per adult, £52 per child (under 18) and to encourage families, a 3-Day Festival Family Ticket costs just £150 (2 adults & 2 children). Under 6s: booking fee only. www.goldcoastoceanfest.co.uk
Wake up to the sound of the waves in weekend accommodation right across the road at Parkdean Resorts Ruda Holiday Park. (Costs from £699 – sleeping up to 8 in a 3-bed caravan. www.parkdeanholidays.co.uk(0344 3353450) There are many other campsites, B&Bs, cottages and hotels in the local area.
Grown from grassroots beginnings, Goldcoast Oceanfest is run by two eco-minded brothers who have a huge respect for the wonderful north Devon coastal playgrounds. The festival is a true family lifestyle event, with festival-goers encouraged to sign up and join in with the beach soccer, beach volleyball, surfing and ocean swimming competitions.
Work is under way to repair and enhance the East Face berth at Ilfracombe Harbour.
North Devon Council is repairing worn fender fixings to improve the safety of the berth for visiting ships. The set of steps at the end of the pier will also be extended, so that local passenger boat operators have an alternative and safe landing to operate from during low spring tides.
There will be restricted access to parts of the pier to allow divers to carry out the work, which began on Monday 24 April and will take four to five weeks to complete, depending on weather conditions.
Ilfracombe Harbour Master, Rob Lawson, says: “We will try to keep any disruption to a minimum throughout the project and ask the public and harbour users for their patience whilst this important work is carried out. We are also asking all vessels to give the area a wide berth and pass slowly with caution. Warning Flag Alpha will be flying when diving operations are taking place, so that harbour users know when to pay extra attention when entering and leaving the harbour.”
Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance is holding its seventh annual Coast to Coast (C2C) Cycle Challenge on Sunday 14 May 2017 and is hoping that the public will come out in support of the 600 cyclists taking part.
The event, which is not a race, involves a challenging 54-mile cycle ride which starts at Watchet Harbour in the north and ends at West Bay in the south, following a wonderfully scenic route through the beautiful Somerset and Dorset countryside. A staggered start will see the stronger cyclists set off first at 11am, with the less experienced riders departing at 11.15am. A shorter 11-mile route starts at the Royal Oak public house in Drimpton at 2pm and also finishes at West Bay.
Last year’s event saw people of all ages and abilities take part, raising over £81,000 (including gift aid) for the life-saving charity. With only 600 places available, it was no surprise that the event sold out within 11 hours of online registration being open.
This ever-popular event is renowned for being an emotional and inspiring day out for everyone involved. That’s no surprise given the fact that the cyclists include patients who have experienced the work of the air ambulance first-hand and those who take part in memory of a loved one. Others get involved as part of a team or simply want to challenge themselves and support the charity in return.
This year, for the first time, the cyclists who were fortunate in gaining a place, will be joined by members of the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance crew who are set to cycle the 54 mile route on triplet bicycles.
The team, who call themselves the ‘COASTBUSTERS’ have been training for the event at their Henstridge airbase and are hoping the public will get behind them and show their support.
In a bid to raise £2,500 and fund one life-saving mission, the team have set up a JustGiving page: www.justgiving.com/dsaa-coastbusters where donations of any size can be made. Mobile phone users can easily donate by texting: CREW54 £5 to 70070. Every penny raised really will make a big difference.
Bill Sivewright, Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance Chief Executive Officer, said: “Our Coast to Coast Cycle Challenge is a fantastic occasion and the atmosphere is incredible. The fact that members of our crew are taking part this year makes the event even more special. They are incredible ambassadors of the Charity and I’m sure it will be an extremely emotional day all round; the aches and pains will definitely be worthwhile.
“Every year the event seems to get better and that is mainly due to the wonderful team of volunteers, members of the public and local businesses who help us with marshalling and keeping the cyclists safe.
“Our thanks go to the event sponsors and the various pit stop locations along the route, without their help and support, we simply could not put on such a large scale event.
“Finally, a very big thank you to all the cyclists taking part who are encouraging their friends and family to sponsor them. Let’s hope the weather stays fine and we raise as much as possible and make this the best Coast to Coast Cycle Challenge yet!”
Supporters will be able to encourage the cyclists at the starting point, along the route, or at the finishing line celebrations at East Beach Car Park in West Bay.
More information about the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance can be found by visiting: www.dsairambulance.org.uk or by calling: 01823 669604.
Ian Brown, who is one of our photographers, is also Deputy Lifeboat Press Officer at the Burnham-on-Sea RNLI Station, which covers us down as far as Watchet. He emailed to tell us about the Station’s latest news…
Saturday 8 April was the official naming ceremony and service of dedication of our D Class Lifeboat D-801 Burnham Reach. This replaces our previous D Class, Puffin. The proceedings began with an introduction from Ashley Edwards (Chairman of the Lifeboat Management Group) followed by our new lifeboat being handed over to the RNLI by Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Somerset Anne Maw. Our new Lifeboat was then accepted by David Page, our RNLI Representative, on behalf of the RNLI who then handed it into our care at Burnham-on-Sea Lifeboat Station.
Accepting this was our Lifeboat Operations Manager Matthew Davies. The Service of Dedication was led by the Reverend Graham Witts which included a short reading by Lyndon Baker (Deputy Launch Authority).
Anne Maw then officially named our Lifeboat ‘Burnham Reach’ and christened her with a local cider kindly donated by Rich’s Cider Farm. Our Town Mayor, Cllr Michael Clarke, gave a vote of thanks and closed the proceedings.
With the official ceremony over, guests were invited to meet on the seafront where our crew (now changed into their operational kit) launched Burnham Reach and gave a short demonstration of the boat’s capabilities. The Lifeboat was then recovered back to station where guests enjoyed light refreshments provided by Café Aroma and were able to chat with our crews and volunteers. Amongst the beautiful cakes provided was a stunning celebration cake made and donated by Tina Whatley showing Burnham Reach “in action”.
Burnham-on-Sea RNLI would like to take this opportunity to extend our thanks to the crews, volunteers, staff and everyone who through their dedicated fundraising efforts have made the acquisition of our new lifeboat possible. Also to Burnham & Highbridge Town Band and Burnham & Highbridge Sea Cadets for their support on the day.
Visit the Station’s Facebook page, where you can see a video of the launch.
Minehead’s “Enterprising Esplanade” has won a significant financial boost thanks to the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund.
The project that aims to breathe new life into The Esplanade – the mile-long stretch of seafront – has been awarded £130,696.
The project is being led by the Minehead Coastal Communities Team, and is designed to give the resort an economic boost and make the most of its spectacular stretch of seafront.
The initiative aims to create new trading opportunities on The Esplanade and will restore six Edwardian shelters that are a reminder of past glories.
There are plans to convert one shelter into a trading post as a pilot project. The team is planning to encourage more seafront tourism attractions to make sure visitors thoroughly enjoy their time at the seaside, while a festival and Harbour market are also in the pipeline.
The initiatives will stretch the best part of a mile along the Esplanade, complementing and celebrating the best of the past and present – and looking to the future to help boost Minehead’s economy.
The Minehead Coastal Community Team comprises representatives from Minehead Town Council, West Somerset Council, Minehead Chamber of Trade, Minehead Development Trust, Minehead Eye, Engage West Somerset, West Somerset Railway, and others.
The following is an article which appeared in summer 2012 issue*. As the World Pilot Gig Championships approach, it seems like a good time to repost it on our website for gig fans up and down the North Devon coast and beyond…
* We’ve tried to bring facts and figures up to date as far as is possible but if your club’s membership figures have since risen and you would like us to amend do let us know.
WORDS by Tony James
CONTEMPORARY PHOTOS by Andrew Hobbs
A strong north-westerly had blown up unexpectedly on that September Saturday and yachts – ours included – scurried towards the shelter of Ilfracombe harbour.
But riding calmly as a gull on the disorderly white water, the sleek burgundy-coloured six-oared pilot gig had no intention of making a drama out of a bit of heavy weather.
Strong, measured strokes brought Ilfracombe Pilot Gig Club’s Rapparee straight as an arrow across the waves, regardless of wind and tide and into the calm of the anchorage where a wind-blown round of applause from a few onlookers on the quay was received with studied nonchalance by the gig crew.
Far from home, the Cornish pilot gig – to its devotees the ultimate expression of the boatbuilder’s art – is becoming an increasingly familiar sight on the sea around Exmoor. Rowing a delicately-built 32ft boat among the perils of the ‘Drowning Coast’ may sound like maritime madness but today pilot gig rowing and racing is becoming increasingly popular among Exmoor enthusiasts and is constantly getting new converts.
You need to be fit and able to handle a 12-13ft, 9¾-10lb oar at up to eight knots in a lively sea, but now hundreds of male and female enthusiasts from teenagers to pensioners are deriving enormous pleasure and satisfaction from going to sea in a gig.
There are now half a dozen thriving gig clubs along our coast, most of which are about to compete in this summer’s 28th World Championships which attracts over 2,000 rowers and 130 boats to the Isles of Scilly and constitutes the undoubted highlight of the gig-rower’s year.
“Seeing well over 100 beautiful pilot gigs on the water at once is a hell of a sight and one you never forget,” says the Hon. John Rous, current owner of the Clovelly estate and president and a founder member of Clovelly Pilot Gig Club, the first in North Devon and the only one rowing locally-built boats.
Founded in 2001, Clovelly may be one of our smallest clubs, but it’s keenly active. As well as competing in local regattas and the World Championships, they have (like others including Appledore and Torridge Pilot Gig Clubs) made the challenging 32-mile trip to Lundy.
“We may be small but we’re really enthusiastic,” John Rous says. “We’re particularly pleased that young people are finding the sport so enjoyable.”
The regulations governing gig-building are draconian to say the least and the two Clovelly boats Christine H and Leah C, built by Appledore shipwrights Ford and Cawsey, were checked and measured at least three times by Cornish Pilot Gig Association inspectors.
The criterion for all competitive gigs was established nearly 170 years ago when a boat was launched in a Cornish creek which would make sure that rowing on the sea would never be quite the same again.
John Peters and his son William had been building six-oared pilot gigs, which doubled as lifeboats and salvage vessels on the Fal at St Mawes, since 1791 and in 1844 William accepted the starkly simple commission from a Newquay pilot: “Build me the fastest gig ever!”
Peters took on the challenge. Today the Treffry (pronounced Tref-rye by those who know) is still in racing trim at Newquay and every new boat has to be a carbon-copy of her. The Treffry was built for £1 a foot. Today a club can expect to pay £20-24,000 for a thoroughbred racing gig from one of the West Country’s eight specialist shipwrights.
For that you get well over 1,000 hours of craftsmanship, the finest seasoned oak and elm – and a skill and tradition which is beyond price.
The delicacy of a pilot gig is frightening – the elm planking is barely a quarter-inch thick – but paradoxically it’s the length and lightness which provide its legendary strength and flexibility and allow the boat to survive in virtually any sea.
The stronghold of Exmoor gig rowing can today be found behind Bideford Bar in the Taw-Torridge estuary where four clubs exist in friendly but deadly-serious rivalry.
Appledore Pilot Gig Rowing Club was formed in 2003 after chairman Len White realised that the estuary would be the perfect place for gigs. “We had them years ago to take pilots out to ships and it seemed an ideal sport for Appledore.” The idea took off and the club now has more than 80 members, two racing gigs, Verbena and Whitford, both from the Dartmouth yard of Brian Pomeroy, and a couple of training boats.
“It’s a tribute to the growing enthusiasm for gigs that we can have four clubs so close together and they all get such good support,” Len White says.
By the early-nineteenth century at least 200 gigs were stationed around the peninsula. They put pilots onto ships, often roaming 50 miles out into the Western Approaches in search of business, and were used to ferry flowers, potatoes, animals and passengers from the Scillies to the mainland.
The Torridge Pilot Gig Club, also based in Appledore since 2006, has around 75 members, two classic racing gigs, Will To Win and Kerens, and two training boats financed by fund-raising and sponsorship. There’s a wide spread of membership, according to treasurer Juliette Hayward, ranging from juniors to rowers over 65.
“We’re pleased to see several generations of the same family getting involved. Youngsters see their parents rowing, try it for themselves and then often go on to join senior teams.”
Bideford’s gig club was only founded in 2010 although it has been a rowing town for 200 years. In its very first three months it raised enough money to buy a secondhand gig from Cornwall.
“It’s great just how widely the interest in Cornish gigs has spread,” says club chairman Andrew Curtis. “You can now find them in Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Wales and Bristol [not forgetting Holland, which is home to a thriving passion for gigs, and even Boston Massachusetts, Bermuda and Kuwait!] and it can only be good for the sport. We have a lovely piece of sheltered water but to prepare for World Championships conditions we’ve been out practising in Bideford Bay.”
Barnstaple also set up a gig rowing club in 2010 and within 12 months had 50 members and an £8,000 secondhand training gig from Plymouth. Further fund-raising and a charitable trust
donation allowed the club to order a £20,000 Brian Pomeroy gig which was named Lady Freda and launched in March 2011.
“Our GRP training gig helps cater for a membership which now numbers more than 80 as interest in gig racing in the
Barnstaple area keeps growing,” says press officer Chris Walter.
Over on the Bristol Channel, Ilfracombe’s boisterous nautical past is reflected in the club’s gigs. Rapparee is named after a cove near the town in which shackled human remains from a slave ship wrecked there in 1796 were discovered 200 years later. The club’s second boat, Rogue, built by Brian Pomeroy, remembers a local family of wreckers known as ‘the Rogues of Rapparee’. Rogue, Rapparee and Appledore’s Whitford and Verbena are all built, believe it or not, using timber from the same tree! Rogue was financed by the sale of
64 shares – a time-honoured way of buying a boat.
Very little is known of the ancestry of the West Country gigs although the present-day craft probably owe something to the shallow-draught fast rowing boats of Arctic Finland and Norway. But we do know that by the early-nineteenth century at least 200 gigs were stationed around the peninsula. They put pilots onto ships, often roaming 50 miles out into the Western Approaches in search of business, and were used to ferry flowers, potatoes, animals and passengers from the Scillies to the mainland.
On a rare day off, gig crews might row to France for a little smuggling, a round trip of about 250 miles, to bring back brandy, lace and silks. No customs cutter could catch a pilot gig – resulting in legislation in 1850 banning eight-oared gigs. Today’s boats still have eight thwarts but one is for the cox and the other is now traditionally called the ‘seagull seat’!
As gig racing booms in North Devon, no one forgets what they owe to one man. In a workshop next to his Pilot Gig Cottage on a tiny Cornish creek, Ralph Bird devoted his life to building and restoring these beautiful boats and in the process became the father of modern pilot gig racing.
Over 30 years Ralph single-handedly built 29 exquisite gigs and restored some of the original iconic craft, including Treffry. Once when we were chatting in his study over mugs of tea, Ralph admitted that he was still mystified by the alchemy which differentiated a winner from a loser.
“You try to make them all the same but they all perform differently. I honestly can’t tell you why.” It didn’t matter: all Ralph’s gigs were winners and when he died at 67 in 2009, the new owners – a Welsh club – named his last boat Ralph Bird, a fitting tribute to a master craftsman and a lovely man.
There’s always something unexpected in gig rowing. An Ilfracombe crew out training rescued a middle-aged man drifting half a mile off-shore in a rubber dinghy at five knots in the direction of Lundy. “He had no idea of the danger he was in,” says Stuart Cansfield.
“Another time we picked up a gig oar which had been lost by a Padstow boat 50 miles down-channel. We took it to the World Championships in the Scillies and gave it back to the Padstow crew. With oars at £2,000 a set, they were delighted to have it. They never expected to see it again.”
Watch out for more in our summer issue, out in May…
Work to provide a new seating and information area next to the Verity sculpture in Ilfracombe is complete.
The project to re-landscape the area around the sculpture to provide a larger viewing platform, seating and lighting was finished last week with the installation of a new information plinth.
Damien Hirst’s 20-metre sculpture was loaned to North Devon Council by For Giving CIC in 2012. The information plinth is located at the foot of Verity and provides visitors with information on what the statue is all about.
Ilfracombe Harbour Master, Rob Lawson (pictured), says: “Completion of the re-landscaping works have provided an exceptional new viewing area for the statue. The materials used, both in colour and texture, have enhanced the Verity experience and I feel privileged to be able to see this iconic landmark every day. Verity will continue to provide much interest and discussion for the many visitors who come to see her and I would like to thank Mr Hirst for his continued support of Ilfracombe.”
Work started on the final phase of the project in November 2016. Since Verity has been installed she has become a popular draw for tourists and this work will further enhance the Pier area and improve the visitor experience.
A survey of coastal wildlife at Combe Martin attracted over 300 children from four Devon schools to celebrate British Science Week. The children moved round three different activities on their Bioblitz day to survey and find out more about coastal wildlife. They started with wildlife surveys in the rock pools and on the beach. Then they studied creatures and seaweeds under the digital microscopes in Combe Martin Museum. Finally they visited four stands with different science activities on the school field. The event was hosted by Combe Martin Primary School, one of the major partners in the Coastal Creatures project led by North Devon Coast Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“The children lived and breathed science for a day,” said AONB officer Cat Oliver. “Their knowledge and enthusiasm was infectious, whether delving into rockpools, magnifying shells and seaweed or drawing the coastline with a long piece of rope. We would like to thank our major funder the Heritage Lottery Fund and our sponsors of the day, North Devon Council through their councillor grants. Without their support, this fantastic event would not have been possible.”
“Seeing the children from different schools working collaboratively and fully engaged with discovering our coastal wildlife was truly inspirational,” said Combe Martin Primary’s Sea School teacher Graham Hockley. “Such a large number of children working as mini inter-tidal ecologists, each one helping to find and identify coastal species will hopefully inspire them to go on and study STEM subjects, becoming the next generation to understand and protect our stunning coastline.”
The day was attended by Combe Martin Primary School and Tiddlers Nursery, Bampton CE Primary School, Woolacombe School and Caen Community Primary School from Braunton. The activities provided on the school field included matching animals with their habitats on the AONB stand, making wildlife badges with the National Trust, identifying what bats eat with the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat project and drawing the coastline with Exmoor National Park’s rangers.
All the wildlife survey forms completed by the children, Coastwise members and Museum volunteers from the day were checked by the Marine Biological Association. These will contribute to science nationally by being uploaded as records on the National Biodiversity Network.
PHOTO: Dave Edgecombe from the AONB, surrounded by fascinated children explains the life of limpets.
The National Park is working with the South West Coast Path Association and Visit Exmoor to market the region as a top tourism destination to overseas visitors.
Discover England’s South West Coast Path is one of a number of projects across the country to benefit from the initial round of the Discover England Fund to encourage year-round visits, outside the peak holiday season and specifically targeting Dutch and German visitors.
Itineraries for three-, five- and seven-day walking holidays within Exmoor, and five other areas, have been developed in English, Dutch and German and are available in print as fold-out leaflets, and as mix-and-match day walks online, and a new app has been produced.
To complement the itineraries, video footage has been produced and a public relations campaign is underway in the German and Dutch markets. This includes visiting some of the leading travel and tourism trade shows and hosting a number of journalist visits to the area.
You can access the Exmoor itineraries on the Visit Exmoor website and further details on the project can be found here.