Conservation Volunteering at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary

NHBS’ core purpose is to support conservation. To this end, all NHBS staff members can apply for up to three days of paid time during each calendar year to spend on practical conservation projects of their choice. This month, customer services advisor Alice Mosley spent some time working at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary. Read all about her experiences below:

The Cornish Seal Sanctuary not only rescues and rehabilitates seal pups, but is also home to a variety of other marine animals who live there all year round.

“Earlier this month I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary in Gweek as part of NHBS’ conservation volunteering scheme. As well as seal rescue and rehabilitation, the sanctuary has a huge focus on education of marine pollution, sustainability and how everyone can contribute to cleaning up our oceans.

The sanctuary at Gweek opened in 1975; the founders, Ken and Mary Jones had already been rescuing injured and abandoned seal pups at St Agnes for 17 years and needed a bigger site. It is nestled on the bank of the Helford River, at the entrance to the Lizard Peninsula, a Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Now owned by the charity The Sea Life Trust, the sanctuary focuses on the rescue and rehabilitation of seals from all over the UK. On average, 60-70 pups are rescued each winter but the last year saw over 80 successful rescues. It costs around £2000 to rehabilitate each seal pup, so you know exactly where your donations are going!

A number of seals are resident at the sanctuary all year round and require ongoing care.

The sanctuary has a fantastic rehabilitation success rate of around 98%, but some animal’s ongoing health problems or individual circumstances mean that they can never be re-released. This means that there are a number of resident seals that require care all year round. The sanctuary has also become a home for other animals and birds which have needed moving or re-homing for various reasons; it is home to nine Humboldt Penguins (conservation status: Vulnerable), four sea lions and two Asian short clawed otters (also classified as Vulnerable).

As a member of the animal care team for two weeks, most of the work I undertook was daily husbandry tasks for the animals, such as cleaning, food prep, feeding and enrichment. I was also introduced to the husbandry training that most of the resident animals undergo, which allows staff to look in the animals’ mouths, ask them to lift a flipper or tail for physical health checks, or voluntarily enter their transport cages. All training the resident animals undergo is beneficial to their overall health, while also keeping their mind active. This was particularly interesting to me as I will soon be studying both captive and wild animal behavior at University.

Alice performs a routine health check on one of the sanctuary’s residents.

While it was the wrong season for rescue and rehabilitation (pup season is September to March), I learned a great deal about working in the field of animal care while at the sanctuary. I was impressed by the dedication of all the staff, and the obvious happiness and wellbeing of the resident animals. If you are in the area, or need any more reasons to visit the stunning rugged coastlines of Cornwall, I’d highly recommend a visit to the Cornish Seal Sanctuary”.

The Cornish Seal Sanctuary is located in Gweek Village in Cornwall (TR12 6UG). It is open 7 days a week (except Christmas Day) from 10am – 5pm (last admissions 4pm).

The Marine Biological Association’s 10th Annual Bioblitz

On the weekend of the 13th – 14th July, a small team of staff from NHBS attended the Marine Biological Association’s 10th Annual Bioblitz which took place at Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo on the Devon coast.

View of Newton Ferrers from Noss Mayo Harbour. Image by Oli Haines.

This stunning area, which features a tidal estuary with its many associated creeks, secluded beaches, cliffs and woodland, has long been celebrated as an area of beauty and natural diversity and is designated as an Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB). In recognition of the area’s diverse and high-quality habitats, the Yealm estuary is also a Special Area of Conservation, all of the intertidal mudflats and the woodland around the coastal path are classed as Priority Habitat and a proportion of the region has also been selected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

This year’s Bioblitz featured a huge range and variety of activities for children and adults of all ages; including whale and dolphin watching, reptile, butterfly, bug and fish surveys, stream dipping, nocturnal walks looking for bats, owls and glow worms, moth trapping and much more.

Keep reading for accounts from NHBS team members Kat, Soma and Bryony about the activities that they enjoyed over the weekend.

Editorial Assistant Kat Clayton took part in a crabbing competition on Friday evening:

“As the sun began to lower it was time for the crabbing competition. Conveniently situated on a pier by The Ship Inn at Noss Creek, this event sure was popular with the locals! The aim of the game was to catch the biggest crab and, along the way, survey the population of the Green Shore Crab (Carcinus maenas) around the pier. Children were wet-suited up and were not afraid of swimming off with their bait to find the best spot. After depositing their bait, they quickly swam back to the pier to reel in their catch. A twist on the mark-capture-release method was used, where the marking consisted of a dab of lipstick on the carapace of an unsuspecting crab. Bacon was flung as bait, children were dripping on the recording sheets and lipstick found itself on most peoples’ fingers and t-shirts. This organised chaos was much loved by all and I’m sure it will become a regular annual event. As this was a BioBlitz however, other species were recorded too, such as the sea slater (Ligia oceanica). Secretly, we were all hoping to see the crab parasitic barnacle Sacculina – which this year remained elusive”.

As well as the popular woodland walk, the list of activities included a dusk bird and bat walk. Image by Oli Haines.

Marketing Coordinator Soma Mitra-Chubb went along to the Bioblitz on Sunday with her children to take part in the Ancient Woodland walk:

“On Sunday, we joined in an Ancient Woodland walk. Ancient woodlands are those which have existed since the early 1600s and are the UK’s richest land-based habitat for wildlife. Our aim was to spot as many different types of trees and plants as possible, so off we went armed with our recording sheets.

Our walk took us through the beautiful Newton Woods running alongside the river Yealm. Fiona, our guide, set the younger children (and some adults) the task of collecting as many different leaves as possible which were gathered in a pile. We spotted leaves from cedar, ash, pine, oak, and a host of smaller plants including a nettle which was collected by one brave child. (There were, alas, no dock leaves to be found, triggering a discussion on why, in nature, you often find both poison and antidote growing next to each other). Some unusual finds included wild strawberries, and a herb named Robert.

It was a delightful walk, helped by the brilliant weather and congenial company. Unfortunately, as the walk overran, we were forced to turn back at the halfway point. We will be returning to Newton Woods to complete the walk at a later date!”

Bryony stands ready to help at the NHBS stall. Image by Oli Haines.

Wildlife Equipment Specialist Bryony attended the Bioblitz, both to take part in the activities and to provide a friendly face behind the NHBS stand, which offered a great range of wildlife survey equipment and identification guides for sale at the event:

“The MBA’s BioBlitz was a fantastic event to be a part of! It aimed to encourage more people to get involved in nature conservation and raise awareness of the abundance of wildlife on their doorstep.

Children, ecologists, naturalists and enthusiasts all got involved, no matter the age or the background. Activities were constantly on the go, wellies marched onwards to location after location on the search for more species; buckets, field guides and nets in hand. Marine, land-based, air-borne and tidal were all explored and examined.

Having the NHBS stall at such an active event was brilliant as we were able to provide inspiration to children, ecologists and families. We sold all manner of items enabling everyone to get closer to nature and to experience it first-hand. Our Educational Rock Pooling Kits and Pond Dipping Kits were a great success, along with bug magnification pots and pooters. Ecologists loved the new books that we had, aiding identification of all manners of sponges, seaweeds and lichens.

We were also able to answer questions, show children how to use the equipment and partake in the activities ourselves.”

The Bioblitz Research Hub. Image by Oli Haines.

Photos and highlights from the BioBlitz will be showcased in a celebration of the diversity of life along the Yealm at an event in the WI Hall in Newton Ferrers on Saturday 13th October. Everyone is welcome to drop in between 11am-4pm, with tea and cake being served.

The Bioblitz was organised by the Marine Biological Association and was supported by the Royal Society of Biology, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Yealm Waterside Homes.

Conservation Volunteering at Ambios Farm and Wildlife Fayre

At NHBS, all members of staff have the opportunity to partake in conservation volunteering days as part of the company’s philanthropic initiative to carry out nature conservation locally. As part of this initiative, I recently chose to volunteer at an event for a cause that is close to my heart nearby in Totnes.

On Friday 8th June, I volunteered at a Farm and Wildlife Fayre run by Ambios, an organisation that provides education and volunteering opportunities in nature conservation in the UK and abroad. Set in the beautiful Sharpham Estate, with the river Dart and rolling hills surrounding the farm, it was the perfect setting to engage others in nature conservation. This place is special to me, as this is where my initial nature conservation training began before I joined NHBS in 2017. Below is a video of the Wildlife Fayre filmed by Ross Gill of Fresh Ground Films.

At the Wildlife Fayre I worked alongside conservation volunteers, knowledgeable experts in the field and the charity, United Response, who provide a range of support services for individuals with physical and learning difficulties. The aim of the event was to get a wider audience of people involved in nature conservation by allowing them to take part in accessible activities that help individuals to get up-close and personal with local wildlife. More than 200 children and young adults from special needs schools and colleges attended, in addition to young families from the local area.

Engaging and educational activities drew in crowds, including bug hunts, bird box making, forest school sessions, green woodworking and plant identification. The air was filled with excitement as children and adults alike rushed around with their newly carved spatulas and bird boxes. Footsteps hurried as groups rushed between activities with freshly picked produce from the farm in their hands.

Photo by Ross Gill of Fresh Ground Films
Photo by Ross Gill of Fresh Ground Films

The farm office was transformed into a wildlife information hub, which hosted an array of interesting finds. Through microscopes you were transported into another world where you could view bumblebees and Garden Chafer Beetles at close range.

Tanks held Palmate Newts hiding amongst curtains of pond weed and field guides lay next to plaster-cast footprints of creatures who had visited the farm. In one corner, a table was covered with flora found locally for anyone wishing to test their plant identification skills. In another, an array of uncommonly seen finds were lined up including the skulls of animals and tightly woven dormouse nests.

Something that really drew me in were the screens in the wildlife information hub which displayed stories of the wild residents of Sharpham, including nest box inhabitants and various small mammals. You could watch a timeline of Blue Tits building their nest and sitting on eggs. Later you saw the chicks being fed, strengthening their wings and finally fledging!

My responsibilities whilst volunteering at the event revolved around providing support and an extra pair of hands. I helped groups to move between activities and demonstrated how to use tools and equipment such as nets and pooters. At NHBS I work as a Wildlife Equipment Specialist, so it was great to be able to show others first-hand how to use the equipment that we have access to every day. It was lovely to see how excited the children got about using the equipment to get closer to nature.

Photo by Ross Gill of Fresh Ground Films

The Farm and Wildlife Fayre was a fantastic success! The event proved to be a brilliant way of captivating young minds and introducing them to the natural world. By partaking in accessible activities, each person felt confident enough to try something new and learnt a great deal along the way.

Photo by Ross Gill of Fresh Ground Films

Ambios Director and Farm Manager said,

“Our farm and wildlife fayre was a huge success – we are delighted! We had nearly 200 people over the day, from all walks of life experiencing what we do at lower sharpham farm, and getting up close and personal with wildlife as well as getting to know our farm animals. Our farming practice aims to prioritise wildlife, and we are delighted to share our work and our story with a wide audience. Our next event will be a barn dance in the late summer, so watch this space!”

Photo by Ross Gill of Fresh Ground Films

It was great to be involved and I love to think that if this event has inspired just one person to appreciate and protect nature a little further, then it was all worth it!

Stay tuned for more volunteer event posts from my colleagues at NHBS as they embark on their own conservation volunteering days.

To find out more about NHBS’s approach to philanthropic work, please follow this link. For more information about the work that Ambios does, please follow this link.