197-MILLION-YEAR OLD ICYTHYOSAUR SAVED

‘Operation Poppy’ earlier this month saw a 197-million-year-old ichthyosaur from Stolford delivered to the Somerset Heritage Centre ahead of conservation work. The specimen was successfully extracted on 27 December by experts working against the clock in the intertidal zone of Bridgwater Bay National Nature Reserve.

Despite the skull not being preserved the five-and-a-half-foot-long ichthyosaur is otherwise remarkably complete.

The prehistoric fossil was discovered by amateur fossil hunter Jon Gopsill when he was out walking his dogs on 14 December. The five-and-a-half-foot-long marine reptile had been exposed by recent storms. It has now been dubbed ‘Poppy’ after one of Jon’s dogs who helped make the discovery.

The rescue mission took place at the first opportunity allowed by the tides after the unexpected discovery was made. The fossil was at risk of being washed away by the strong seasonal tides. A team of geological specialists from Geckoella had a four-hour window within which they could extract the specimen from the Blue Lias rock. They used rock saws, hammers, chisels and crow bars to cut out a single block of stone containing the fossil. The block weighs about 160 kg and is 175 cm long, 85 cm wide and 9 cm deep.

Bridgwater Bay National Nature Reserve is owned by the Environment Agency and managed by Natural England, who assisted with the excavation along with archaeologists from the South West Heritage Trust. They were joined by the finder Jon, together with his dogs Poppy and Sam.

Dr Andy King, Co-Director and Palaeontologist with Geckoella, led the extraction. He said: “It was very exciting to have the chance to rescue such an impressive fossil ichthyosaur as ‘Poppy’. Given the tidal conditions at Stolford and very shaley nature of the rock, this particular extraction was certainly more challenging than others we’ve been involved with. Though the skull is not preserved, ‘Poppy’ is otherwise remarkably complete.

“It’s not uncommon to find pieces of fossil ichthyosaur ribs or vertebrae, but such complete specimens are relatively rare. Slightly older ichthyosaurs have been collected from West Somerset, but it’s still quite a feeling to realise that this marine reptile was swimming in the Jurassic seas covering Somerset nearly 200 million years ago at the same time that dinosaurs were walking around on the land and pterosaurs were flying in the skies.  We’re really delighted that this fossil was collected safely and responsibly, and that it will be preserved by the South West Heritage Trust.”

The Environment Agency transferred ownership of ‘Poppy’ to the Somerset Heritage Centre, near Taunton, on 17 January ahead of conservation work to be undertaken by the Heritage Trust.

Sam Astill, Head of Museums from the Trust, said: “We’re grateful to Jon and our partners at Geckoella, Natural England and the Environment Agency for their collaboration in successfully rescuing this remarkable specimen. We will now undertake the conservation work required to preserve the fossil. This involves three basic steps – cleaning, including de-salination and drying, consolidation and stabilisation, to avoid splitting, and preparation for display. We look forward to displaying ‘Poppy’ at the Museum of Somerset where visitors can discover more about the county’s Jurassic past.”

David Evans, a geologist from Natural England who assisted with the extraction, said: “Natural England and the National Nature Reserve team were really pleased to be able to ensure that this valuable fossil and important piece of Somerset’s heritage was safely and responsibly extracted,  and will be going to the county museum to be conserved and then to be seen by the public.”

Jon Gopsill said: “I’ve been interested in fossils all my life. I started fossil hunting on Watchet beach when I was just six-years-old. The scale of this find, at 197-million-years-old, is incredible. When I saw it I thought, ‘I’ve been looking for this my whole life!’

“The whole experience has been amazing. You see ichthyosaurs in museums and think they’re amazing, but to actually find a ‘wild’ one in it’s natural environment is totally mind blowing! Somerset is my home so I’m delighted that this specimen will be staying in the county for other people to enjoy.”

Top: The extraction team, with the fossil on a pallet, following its successful extraction.

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED NOW FOR MARIE CURIE’S GREAT DAFFODIL APPEAL IN SOMERSET AND NORTH DEVON

Marie Curie, the UK’s leading charity for people living with a terminal illness and their families, is urgently calling for volunteers across Somerset and North Devon to give just two hours of their time to hand out the charity’s iconic daffodil pins, in return for donations.

Volunteers will be supporting the Great Daffodil Appeal – Marie Curie’s biggest fundraising campaign, held every March.

In the next 10 years, more than six million people will die in the UK and of this number 75% will need end-of-life care. The money raised from the Great Daffodil Appeal will help Marie Curie nurses provide much-needed expert care to people in Somerset and North Devon with terminal illnesses, as well as support for their loved ones.

Riona Houghton, Marie Curie Community Fundraiser for Somerset and North Devon, said: “Whether you wear a daffodil pin in celebration, in solidarity or in memory of a loved one, you are joining with millions of others to help make sure Marie Curie Nurses can care for more people, as well as providing invaluable support to their families.

“Volunteering just two hours at a local collection is a great way to show your support and help us raise money to help make sure that we can be there for more people at the end of their lives.

“Collecting can be a lot of fun too.  You can do it on your own or with family and friends, and we will support you every step of the way. Volunteering is also an easy way to get involved in your local community and meet new people.”

Peter Bailey from Bideford said: “I collect every year for the Great Daffodil Appeal and it’s a great feeling to be supporting such an important cause. Marie Curie Nurses cared for my wife Christine after she was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer, the nurses supported all of the family and it meant Christine could die at home with us.

“I’ve now been collecting for over 25 years I’ve met so many kind and interesting people over the years – many of whom have directly benefited from the care provided by Marie Curie Nurses in their own homes.’’

To volunteer for Marie Curie’s Great Daffodil Appeal and give out the charity’s daffodils pins in return for donations, please visit mariecurie.org.uk/collect or contact Riona on Riona.houghton@mariecurie.org.uk or call 0117 9420 429.

HAVE YOUR SAY ON THE ILFRACOMBE SEAFRONT MASTERPLAN

Local residents and businesses are being invited to take part in a public consultation event to comment on a new masterplan for Ilfracombe seafront. The consultation includes a face-to-face event at the Landmark Theatre on Thursday 30 and Friday 31 January and an online survey an online survey – www.northdevon.gov.uk/Ilfracombe-consultation – which runs until 9 March.

As part of Ilfracombe’s Strategic Plan 2015-2025, North Devon Council and the Ilfracombe Regeneration Board have been working together to oversee the process of a new public realm masterplan for Ilfracombe seafront. Consultants Node were appointed to create a masterplan that will enhance the seafront’s natural beauty, draw tourists and local residents to the seafront area of the town and help regenerate the area.

A stakeholder consultation took place last year, during which members from a wide range of Ilfracombe’s community groups were asked to help shape the masterplan in a way that represented the views of Ilfracombe. Now the public are being invited to examine the ideas and share their own in a six week online consultation, which began on Monday 27 January or by attending a face to face event at the Landmark Theatre on Thursday and Friday (30-31 January).

Some of the ideas that are the subject of the Ilfracombe seafront masterplan consultation are:

  • improve accessibility and connections to the High Street and the harbour
  • more seating, shelter, lighting, interpretation and dog bins are needed throughout the seafront area
  • public spaces need a clear function and purpose in order to make the seafront a better experience
  • the wilderness and natural aspects of Capstone Hill should be protected
  • more activities for all ages including young and elderly should be provided
  • play park precedents from Paignton and Minehead should be looked at
  • the museum should be extended or possibly relocated to the old pavilion site
  • a fitness and/or art trail could be incorporated that also includes sculpture and work by local artists
  • an outdoor amphitheatre / stage should be incorporated with three possible locations: Jubilee Gardens / Capstone Hill top / Old Pavilion site

North Devon Council’s Lead Member for Economic Development and Strategic Planning Policy, Councillor Malcolm Prowse, says:  “We have lots of exciting ideas for how we would like Ilfracombe’s seafront to be regenerated in order to improve the health and well-being of all those who live and work in the town – as well enhancing the enjoyment of the tourists who visit it. We now want to hear from our residents about what they’d like to see happening on the seafront, to make sure we have captured the views of those who matter most. I hope the people of Ilfracombe will help us by sharing their views, either by coming to our face to face event in Ilfracombe or taking part in the online consultation.”

Officers from the council’s regeneration team will be available to chat through their ideas at the Landmark Theatre between 10am and 2pm on 30-31 January. Residents who are unable to attend the event can take part by completing an online survey at www.northdevon.gov.uk/Ilfracombe-consultation between 27 January and 9 March.

CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS FOR CONSERVATION DAY IN FREMINGTON NEXT WEEK

Volunteers are being sought to help at a hands-on conservation day in Fremington next week.

The Practical Conservation Day will take place at the Fremington Local Nature Reserve on Sunday 26 January from 10am.

At this  event, run by local wildlife experts in conjunction with North Devon Council, North Devon Biosphere and Fremington Parish Council, volunteers will have the opportunity to help with  conservation tasks such as clearing the blackthorn scrub and managing the wildflower meadow.

Leader of North Devon Council, Councillor David Worden, says: “This is a great example of how our communities can come together to improve their local area. It’s a free event that is open to all ages, and will give volunteers the opportunity to help their local wildlife whilst meeting new people and getting active in an outdoor environment. There is no need to book, just come along on the day and help out as much as you are able to.”

Local ward member for Fremington, Councillor Frank Biederman, says, “This is a wonderful activity for people of all ages to get involved in, or even do together as a family, and I would really encourage people to take part.”

Local ward member for Fremington, Councillor Jayne Mackie, says, “This is a chance for local people to take an active role in the development of their own natural environment. Here we have an ideal learning opportunity for all ages, so please come along to join in with the activities and then take your new skills and ideas back with you to use at home or elsewhere within the community.”

Anyone wishing to take part in this nature conservation work is asked to meet at the entrance to Griggs Field, off Beechfield Road, bring a drink and a packed lunch, wear clothing appropriate for the weather and sturdy footwear suitable for uneven ground.

Parking for the event is available at Beechfield Road car park.

MUSEUM OF BARNSTAPLE AND NORTH DEVON DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY COMPETITION

Are you a budding amateur photographer, seasoned professional or passionate local photography group?

The Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon is excited to announce the launch of a brand-new ‘Documentary Photography Open’ to be held annually between February and April.

The theme for this year is The High Street, focusing on the transformation of North Devon’s local shop fronts and businesses and how they have evolved, particularly in recent times of austerity. Photographers can include proprietors, but the primary focus is to be on documenting the shop and its architecture.

The exhibition is free to enter and will provide a platform for anyone from amateur through to established contemporary photographer looking to improve their exposure, enhance their practice and help document North Devon.

The successful applicants will feature in the exhibition, held in the community gallery, showcasing contemporary photography from across North Devon. Selected exhibition images will gain further exposure online as part of the museum’s digital marketing through their website, social media and mailing lists.

Museum Curator, Alison Mills, says, “With over 55,000 people visiting the museum every year, our aim is to offer a platform to showcase the work of talented local photographers.  We also want to help promote and inspire future documentary photography. The idea is that each year the competition will see a different theme drawing on the museum’s inspirational photography collections that include R.L. Knight and James Ravilious.”

Leader of North Devon Council, Councillor David Worden, says: “This new photography competition is another fantastic idea by the team at the museum, not only as a way of bringing the talent of local photographers to the attention of all the museum visitors, but also as a way of documenting North Devon as it is now and preserving the images for future generations.”

During the exhibition’s duration a public vote will be held within the community gallery and the image with the most votes by the closing date of the exhibition will be awarded with a winner’s certificate, and a £200 voucher from event sponsors J&A Cameras, to help further the photographer’s practice.  One standout piece from the exhibition will be selected by the museum team to enter into the museum’s digital archive, continuing to help to document North Devon and its people.

Applications can be picked up from the museum reception, or to download a form and a copy of the submission guidelines and terms and conditions, visit the museum’s website.

TOP: Appledore News photographed by James Ravilious © Beaford Arts.