Monday, 29 June 2015

In Which We Go To Devon To Look For Beavers And Find A Swimming Grass Snake And Beached Barrel Jelly Fish

To celebrate our wedding anniversary, I booked a night away in a village in Devon. It was some time after making the booking that I casually dropped into conversation that the only 'wild' population of Beavers in England just happens to be located on the river that runs through this village.....

Wow (said M), what an extraordinary coincidence.


Otterton is a lovely place. It's a proper old-fashioned village stuffed full of thatched cottages a few minutes from the sea.





It just so happens that friends of ours run the mill by the river. We hadn't seen them for ages so we dropped in for lunch, and while the boys droned on and on about profit margins and business models, I nipped off to their shop which is jam-packed full of local arts and crafts type things and bought some new tins to keep sewing gubbins in.... Badgers and bees- appropriate, no?

 

After lunch we headed off to walk along the river and look for the Beavers. This small group of animals were recently the focus of much media attention when Natural England ruled that they could remain on the river if they proved to be Eurasian Beavers and disease-free. The Devon Wildlife Trust duly caught and tested them and they were returned to the river with clean bills of health and descent.

Beavers were hunted to extinction in England and Wales by the sixteenth century (for their fur and oils). Populations remain in Scotland but the Devon Beavers are believed to be the first to be established and to be living wild in England in over five hundred years. They are what's known as a 'keystone' species, meaning that they provide a fundamental role in the ecosystem and without them, it changes considerably and not for the better.

Needless to say, we didn't see them. They are mainly nocturnal creatures, and the river has an enormous footfall of people out walking along its banks so the disturbance from people and dogs is considerable. I wasn't duly surprised that they kept away. We did see a Kingfisher (always nice) and a heron...


Some sand martins diving in and out of holes in the sandstone cliffs that line sections of the river...


and also (most surprisingly) a Grass Snake swimming along the river...

 
We headed down to the sea afterwards, because, although I am a Chalk Girl, I crave The Sea if I haven't been beside it for a while (note the 'beside', not 'on' which is an important distinction :o)). Probably something to do with being part of an Island Nation.

M had every intention of swimming (honestly, you can't keep that man out of the sea between the months of March and October). I don't like swimming in the sea. I imagine octopuses and sharks and people weeing. This is not an unreasonable fear (especially the last part) because several years ago while swimming off a Greek island I watched horrified as a small girl did a poo on the beach which got promptly picked up by the waves and sucked out to where people were swimming where it bobbed about a bit. I have never forgotten the Poo Incident. It haunts me still whenever I contemplate sea-swimming. M just laughs whenever I remind him of this, he laughs too when I get frightened by the possibility of octopi.

My best thing to do by the sea is shell-seek. That way you are most likely safe from sharks, octopusses and unhygienic doings. I like shells Very Much (and bits of driftwood and polished glass and mermaid's purses and strands of seaweed). So we were all set to happily divide into our respective activities when we noticed large jelly-like blobs all over the shore.



An entire fluther (great word, and I much prefer it to the other collective nouns for Jellyfish which include Smack, Smuck, Smuth and Stuck, which are all Rather Unsightly words), were dead on the beach. Apparently, it's been happening all along the Dorset/ Devon/ Cornish coast this summer, something to do with warmer than usual waters. These are Barrel Jelly fish, and their sting is very mild, similar to a nettle. They can still sting after they are dead, although nothing happened when I touched one to see :o)


The Jellies were enough to make my husband change his mind about swimming, so he walked to the end of the rocks (which were slippery and therefore deemed dangerous enough to be an acceptable Manly Occupation for him- he managed to scrape his ankle open on some rusty nails as well, and then poured scorn on my scoldings by saying that cutting yourself at the sea is probably the safest place to do it because of all the salt that abounds).

I went shell-seeking, which is not a manly occupation, but as I'm not a man we won't let that worry us unduly.









 
Seaside Stuff duly topped-up, we returned to the pub and got changed for supper, which was delicious. It being still light at ten we decided to try our luck with the Beavers again and after walking a mile or so along the river, saw someone coming towards us so I asked him if he knew where the Beavers were.
Sure (he said), I've just been watching them. Come with me, I'll show you where the Lodge is.

So we followed him half a mile further along the path and ducked under some branches and he pointed out the Lodge (Beaver for house). Can you see it?

 
Nope, nor could I.

Which is just as well because not everyone is thrilled to have wild Beavers back in Britain. The Angling Trust have been very vocal in their opposition, with doom-laden prophecies of disaster for river ecology and fish, most if not all of which (ecologists say) is nonsense. As fish and Beavers have adapted together over millenia I suspect there won't be the problems they are predicting, and certainly not from a handful of Beavers on one river.

Anyhoo, it turns out Mr Beaver had been swimming about not five mins before and we'd just missed him :o( The lovely chap showed me the pictures he'd just taken on his phone and we had a good old Beaver Gossip (which M found very amusing) before he wished us good night and we carried on up the river to try our luck further. To no avail as it happens, but it was lovely to be by the river as darkness gathered and wols started hooting and at least I had seen the Lodge and been within five minutes of a real live wild Beaver.



How did you know he'd know where they were? M asked curiously, as we wandered back under the light of the moon with no torches because by then we'd got our Night Eyes working properly.

He had bins round his neck, I said (in some surprise that he'd needed to ask). What else was he going to have been watching?
  
It made me realise how very second-nature ecology stuff has become to me. You recognise another one of the species without the information really registering. We all have the same slightly distracted look in our eyes, as if, all the time we're talking to someone, we're still tuned in to non-human sounds- the whisper of the wind, the sigh of the river, the calls of birds, the squeak of a mouse, the flutter of butterfly wings. And we all drop our voices and soften our footfalls instinctively when we draw near to wild things, something I've noticed non-ecologists don't do. By the end of the weekend I had M conversing with me in whispers, although admittedly this was after some considerable piss-taking about sounding like David Attenborough among the Mountain Gorillas...

The very next morning we were up bright and breezy at 6am (no relaxing and lying in bed on our weekends away, eh?) to head off up the river again and see what dawn (ish) might bring us in the shape of large furry people with big teeth and flat tails.

Nothing. 

We sat and watched the Lodge for half an hour before I got bored, so we had a nice walk along the river instead before returning to the pub for a full English Breakfast.

On the way home we collected the doggy people and L from ma's where they'd spent the night and when we got back both the dogs collapsed on their beds and promptly fell asleep for FOUR HOURS which is UNHEARD OF. While they were snoozing and M was cutting the grass and L was reading, I made up a pair of PJ shorts, because by that point I was feeling quite tired too and didn't fancy any more zooming about. I can't sit down during the day unless I'm occupied and I only stop to watch TV or read if I'm ill, so sewing gives me something to do while sitting down.

I didn't have enough material for a whole pair, so the front is different from the back. I rather like them. This week at sewing club I am going to make a pair of linen trousers :o)


 
We were all knackered as it turns out so the house was silent by nine pm, which is unheard of here. Even L was in bed promptly.

What a top weekend, and now I know where the Beavery People are I shall return at dusk another time (with a cushion).....

Hope you all had a lovely weekend too,

CT :o)
 


 

42 comments:

  1. It was a very strange thing to come here from a life of whispering "so you see something",to making noise out and about so the bears hear you and move away BEFORE you see them.
    I 'get' the antenna tuned to nature all the time..I'm currently (passively)listening to outdoor critters,but my ears tune in whenever Mother Northern Flicker feeds her chicks..
    Jane x

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    1. That must have felt all wrong for quite a while. I think once you start to look and listen for wildlife, you never lose the habit x

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  2. Sounds like a wonderful weekend to me. I was surprised to hear about beaver's there. We have them here too, but bad people usually shoot them when they see them; don't want them gnawing on their trees I suppose.

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    1. So much about wildlife is misunderstood by people. It makes me grumpy, we seem to have this attitude that if it's wild it must be dangerous for us.

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  3. Your weekend away sounded lovely, despite the early starts. I know what you mean by recognising fellow ecological folk. I'm never shy about asking experts exactly what they're looking at and they're always willing to share. Going on a wildlife wander this evening. I'll let you know what I see or hear. Very, very exciting!

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    1. I remembered tonight was your nightjar and glow worm night- I am excited for you! Do let me know how you get on. Someone said to me a while back that they didn't like to ask people with bins what they were looking for- I'm the complete opposite and I'm always happy to chat to people when they ask me too- how else do we all learn?

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    2. Hi CT, The nightjars on Ockham common (acid Heath) were amazing last night. From about 9.30 until 11 we watched an almost continuous display. The ranger said it was the best night ever. The sounds and the flight patterns were wonderful to witness so close, at one point we had two nightjars circling overhead within a few metres. I hadn't realised how acrobatic they were. Almost like swallows in flight. And their eyesight to hunt at night is fantastic too. Last night in Surrey was very warm so the insects were flying high and there was almost a full moon (a hay making moon?) and it was so still, perfect conditions to be out on the Heath. We didn't see any glow worms but I know of another place nearby to look and we saw several different types of bat including pipistrelle, long-eared and noctule. Altogether an unforgettable evening. Sarah x

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    3. Brilliant! I'm so pleased for you, that's an excellent result. And what an experience- I'm sure it will stay with you forever. Great about the bats too :o) x

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  4. looks like a nice place, and like you I would have to be by the sea, don't think I've been on holiday with out the sea been in walking distance. Shame you did not get to see the beavers, maybe next time.
    Amanda xx
    PS Happy anniversary...

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    1. Thanks my dear :o) Yup, lovely to spend time by the sea. Water is important to me, so to be by the river too was fab xx

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  5. Your weekend sounds wonderful, Mike is a fisherman & I'm sure I've educated him enough to be happy to see a beaver in the wild. Not that we have any local ones. Happy anniversary x

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    1. Well, if all goes well with the River Otter project perhaps more rivers will get them then Mike may get to see some xx

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  6. What a lovely weekend. School sports day on Saturday, and then Sunday at home pottering around. I had hoped to crochet outside but it kept raining! Oh well - maybe next weekend. x

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    1. Pottering about at home days are the best aren't they? I have cleared my diary for the end of the week so I can do just that. x

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  7. That sounds like a wonderful break, and so close to seeing a beaver. I didn't know they were a keystone species. It's good news that they're back. Well done on the pj bottoms. I'm no good at sitting around doing nothing either, so I know exactly what you mean. CJ xx

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    1. Sewing is a god send for those too tired to do much but not wanting to flake out moments I find. And always nice to have something new to show for it at the end :o) xx

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  8. So envious. Lovely lovely visit and a chance to view the beavers.
    When I was much younger and we use to backpack the Sierras I once was able to see some beavers and the lodge. I could have sat there for hours. Wonderful !
    We love Badgers at our home.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. I would love to see them in the wild so I expect we will go back.

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  9. I am with you on swimming in natural water. A fish might touch me. People and animals wee in it and SHARKS. The End. I'm sad I didn't get to see your toothy chums!

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    1. Hoping to go back and see them at some point...

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  10. Certainly there be something special and mysterious about the sea, she calls to my soul so often with seagulls cries, white horses crashing down on storm kissed beaches and the dark sense of power under yer feet when fishing on mill pond calm dark green waters...ahhhh indeed she calls to me.

    Sounds like the perfect weekend m'dear and a belated happy anniversary to you both. I do wish people would take more time to try and understand the connection all living things have with each other, just scrapping the surface fills me with wonder. Hopefully there will be more rivers with beaver lodges and dams spanning them. The country could truly benefit from such things. Bugger sorry for the rambling comments... Bloody well on night shift :(

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    1. I know you're a sea person John, more a fisherman than a tide walker if I remember rightly?

      It'll be interesting to watch how the Beaver colony progresses.

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  11. this entire post made me literally LOL.

    i have my own sea-poo story [so i totally GET what you're on about] -- when i was Small, we holidayed in Spain and i remember seeing a poo bobbing about near the shore.....needless to say, i only wanted to paddle my feet after that. i also understand completely the Beside but Not On the sea notion. i believe it's something to do with us Aries types being fire signs....or at least, that's what i tell myself.

    ah, the noble beaver. they're abundant here -- obvs. as they're our national mammal/symbol/thing -- but they're not universally loved either. they like to dam up culverts and drainage things and gnaw down trees -- but, to me, that's in the category of Doing What Comes Naturally and humans need to stand down from all their arm-waving and lodge-bombing [true story]. they're lovely beasties to see...and to hear them tail-slap the water...ah, fab. i do hope you get to see the local inhabitants

    very jazzy not-the-same-side shorts....you might start a new trend. :)

    xoxo

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    1. Yes, water and fire don't mix too well!

      Can't believe people actually bomb Beaver lodges, that's insane. I shall be looking forward to returning to Devon another time :o) x

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  12. Love all of your wonderful observations! You are a real hoot! As in fun not being an owl, maybe a little owlish!😊

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  13. Nice post CT, great photos too. I like the badger tin and how good was that seeing a snake swimming along the river. I've never seen a snake in the wild, I'd have loved to have been there. Oh and congratulations on your wedding anniversary too.

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    1. I've only ever seen one snake swimming before- just got lucky I guess :o)

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  14. We have all kinds of wildlife here in and about our small town. I found a new beaver lodge this spring and actually saw the fat mama once so far. I enjoyed seeing and reading your weekend. It was a lovely trip and a Happy Anniversary to you both. I actually like the Kool Shorts you made and think they are quite lovely.

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    1. I'm envious you have Beavers on your doorstep- it must be great to see them x

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  15. Wonder if there are any otters in Beaverton?

    Jellyfish, the plague of Scottish beaches as a child...terrifying mounds of pinkish mucus deemed almost certain to cause pain, paralysis then death if you so much as caught the edge of one with your little toe.

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    1. There are Otters on the Otter, but rarely seen as always. I also remember Jellies on remote Scottish beaches as a child.

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  16. What a lovely weekend break...It's lovely to be beside some water every now and then. Shame you didn't get to see any beavers.. but a good excuse to visit again :o) xx

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    1. It is indeed- I am planning already :o) x

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  17. What fun - you certainly packed in loads in just one night away. Shame you didn't see a beaver. I saw that bit about them on Springwatch which was really interesting.

    Also having hysterics about the poo incident - have seen similar with small boy and his mum on a Spanish beach whilst we were sitting in a cafe across the road - which was hardly far for them to walk to to use the loo! Ugh! :-) Lovely photos and I'm craving some seasideyness myself now. Minus jellyfish and poo!

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    1. Yes, poos and the sea definitely don't mix :o) x

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  18. Happy Anniversary!! Sounds as though poor T & P were thoroughly exhausted! At least it meant you could enjoy your sewing without any helpers! Not at all sure about the jellies, but I would have been interested to see the beavers! I am not a fan of sea swimming either, but I do like your shells! See, that is because I am a girl! xx

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    1. I don't think I've ever seen Pop in particular quite so sleepy. We missed her normal bounciness and are all rather relieved she's back to annoying everyone now! Hope all's well xx

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  19. Must tell you because I have been guilty of the same mistake myself for years until I read about it last week. You cannot use octopi as the plural of octopus - it has to be octopuses - because octopus is from the Greek and only Latin derived words change their plurals to i.
    Fantastic photograph of that snake swimming.
    And horror story of the poo in the sea - I rather think some sewage pipes also go in in some places. Horrendous and definitely puts me off.
    Lovely village you chose.

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    1. I'm afraid Octopi is my juvenile sense of humour- I use it because it winds my husband up- he studied Latin at school and I didn't :o)
      Disgusting thought about the sewage pipes but I fear you may well be right.

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  20. Congratulations on your anniversary, funnily enough we have one next week too, and are heading to Dartmoor for a one night pub stay too! What a shame you just missed the beavers, you will have to have another night away sometime now you know where to find them! We saw some jelly fish at Lyme over the weekend too. Sarah x

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    1. Dartmoor is lovely- hope you have a great time. I think the Jelly fish have been washing up all along the south west coast- poor things. x

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x