December 2011 – Over and out! – A sad Bon Voyage to Nick Tomalin

I sit here, dear reader, at the end of a damp Monday, with the light already fading, unsure of what to write for this month’s ‘Life Thru A Lens’. I’m torn because I have to deliver some bad news. I will be leaving the Roseland, and indeed Cornwall, at Christmas, and translocating myself up to new, larger but not necessarily richer pastures in Wiltshire. This may not be bad news from your perspectives, but it is a sad thing for me to have to leave a place after half a decade spent indulging in it. (It is also, no doubt, bad news for whoever has to continue writing these articles in my absence!). Fear not though: the cirl bunting project will go on in my absence, and the birds are in capable hands and continuing to thrive. No doubt more news on their progress will appear on the site in due course.

So I am not sure what a fitting subject for departure should be. And though I’m sorry to be leaving the Roseland behind, I do not wish to part on sad terms. In fact now more than ever I am aware of the wonderful places and fantastic sights I have been fortunate enough to experience over those years. I shall drag myself from any self-pity or morose nostalgia, and instead give you some of my personal highlights, in no particular order. With each I have suggested something for your ‘to do’ list, and hope you will manage to share these experiences over the coming year. I offer them in the hope that they will remind you all of what a truly charming part of the world we live in, so that you too can seek them, and in simple celebration of the Roseland.

1. Cirl Buntings!
These have to be a highlight! These stunning little creatures are the reason I came here, and have delighted me with their company ever since. And more and more of them seem determined to share residency with us on the Roseland. It would be easy to get bored of one species, but the cirls always have something unexpected to offer: usually the fact that they do exactly the opposite of what they’re supposed to! I’m glad I am leaving them at a time when things are looking good for the population. I hope that I can look back years from now at the established population and know that you and I played a part in it.

To do: walk the footpaths around Gerrans and Portscatho in spring and listen out for singing male cirl buntings on wires, trees and houses.

2. Seawatching
What is it about the sea that is so captivating? I have never lived by the sea until I came here, and yet I know I will miss it. Its not as if I even visit the sea each day, but it is somehow comforting to know that it is nearby. And though it rarely affects my day to day existence, I am always vaguely aware of the state of the tides. I often head down to the beach for 15 minutes just to see it. Though it is such a vast expanse of nothing, the chance of seeing something draws me to it again and again. Distant shearwaters and skuas, plunging gannets, bobbing seals, shark fins, breaching dolphins, odd-shaped boats, tall ships, submarines, sunrises and sunsets – all of this available if you simply spend long enough watching and waiting.

To do: wait for a dry autumn day with a strong onshore wind and find a sheltered spot to sit on Nare Head, Pednvadan or Killigeran. Take binoculars, warm clothing and a hot drink, and spend two hours watching gannets, kittiwakes, shearwaters and skuas passing.

3. Fieldwork mishaps
Working outdoors is guaranteed to present you with a whole range of bizarre and amusing experiences. On many occasions I have found myself, apparently alone in the field, talking to myself, singing or maybe even attempting a spot of dancing, when suddenly you realise you are not the only one present. I have often wondered; if a fieldworker falls over and no-one is around to see it, does it make it any less funny? I think not, and have frequently chuckled to myself when I picture the absurdity of my situation. When you accidently lean on the electric fence, pull a stupid face as the current kicks in, and then look around to see if anybody noticed, you’ll know what I mean!

To do: laugh at yourself from time to time!

4. Community
I thought about writing ‘People’ for this one, but it’s more than that. I have met a lot of people since being here, and will miss many of them, but what I’ve really enjoyed since being down here is the sense of local pride I’ve encountered. To a newcomer that can seem quite daunting, as everybody seems to know everyone else, but it amazes me how quickly people become familiar and make you feel welcome. Mostly I like that fact that random encounters in the field tend to prompt a smile or a chat, instead of the impersonal crowds you see in towns and cities. The same faces crop up day in day out, month by month and, in some cases, year to year, to that extent that you can tell the seasons by the people you see.

To do: stop to talk to those you meet out walking; ask them what they’ve seen or share your knowledge with them.

5. Seasons
To anyone who spends time in the field, especially watching wildlife, the seasons are very evident. This is especially prominent on the Roseland, where the birdwatching calendar brings certain highlights at certain times, as we wait for the arrival or departure of our avian comrades. The sea and rivers are particularly interesting in autumn and winter, when passing seabirds and wintering wildfowl and waders can be found. The land has more to see summer, with the arrival of smaller migrants from the south. I feel sorry for our summer visitors (people, not birds that is) as they never encounter the wonderful mix of species and sights you get here in winter. Few things beat a crisp winter’s morning on the beach at sunrise, and you need to spend a full year here to experience the full range of highlights.

To do: record the first and last dates you see a swallow, or more species if you can identify them.

6. Transport
Luckily we have a car provided for our work. I did once try to cycle to a farm I was visiting, and managed to turn a 5 minute drive into a 45 minute slog. I also turned my legs to jelly. Whilst driving less is commendable from an environmental perspective, the practicalities of using public transport or muscle power to get around have had comical outcomes. Thankfully walking is a necessary part of what we do. On one or two occasions we have found ourselves trapped at home when work on the single track road to St Anthony has caused a blockage. In another instance ice got the better of us. But my favourite transport problem is the state of the roads. I once heard a Roselander who, when asked to name the deepest lake in the world, responded that it was a pot-hole just outside Portscatho. And I couldn’t help but chuckle at the ‘Temporary Road Surface’ sign near Trewince to which someone had added ‘Permanent Sign’.

To do: take a bus!

7. Scenery
This has to be a highlight. I have had the privilege of visiting a number of areas on the Roseland beyond the reach of public rights of way. And though I don’t advocate you all trespassing your way into new areas, there are so many beautiful locations that are publicly accessible that you should all be able to enjoy the landscape we live in. Seascapes are equally as dramatic, with the imposing headlands to the east and Falmouth to the west. And the winding tidal rivers mean the same view can look very different throughout the day. Many times I have walked a new path, turned a corner and discovered a vista that required a pause and time to take it all in.

To do: find a footpath you haven’t walked before and go exploring!

8. Pasties
Another obvious highlight. I always enjoyed Cornish pasties before coming here, but had not experienced the near fanatical devotion to them that many residents seem to have. I can not deny that they are objects of affection for me, and I have especially noted the improvement in the local pasty provisions over the time I have been here. I do now have to be careful quite how many pasties I indulge in, since I am no longer doing as much field work as before. At one point I tried to work out what was an appropriate length of time between pasties. Is one a week too many or two few? I’ve also trialled assorted flavours – chicken, bacon, cheese, vegetable, and even chocolate and banana – but I’ve always drawn the conclusion that a traditional steak pasty is the best.

To do: if you’ve not had a Ralph’s pasty, try one. If you have, try another one!

9. Wildlife
In some respects the Roseland is not necessarily the place you would come to see wildlife. There are more dramatic wildlife spectacles to be had elsewhere in the county and on an altogether different scale if you travel around the UK or beyond. But what makes the Roseland’s wildlife all the more special is that it is hidden away, sometimes known only to a select few, and often relies on your own luck to find it. I’m fortunate that there is a seal colony just minutes from my house, and in spring I can watch two diligent peregrine falcons rearing young just down the road. I have bumped into glow-worms, adders and slow-worms on the coast path, and from there I have seen dolphins and basking sharks. Convolvulus hawkmoths have appeared in the garden, along with gold ringed dragonflies, commas and a friendly pheasant. And from the comfort of my office I have seen black redstart, firecrest, great spotted woodpeckers and sparrowhawk. I have become familiar with many bird species I had not seen previously, like the divers and grebes in the bay and the seabirds that pass our shores. Swifts scream through the village in summer and on one occasion a hummingbird hawkmoth flew between my legs. I’ve even learned a few more plant species than I knew when I arrived. There is a never ending list of things to see – birds, plants, reptiles, mammals, invertebrates – and I’m sure there is so much more out there waiting to be discovered.

To do: give yourself an identification challenge! Learn a new species and where to find it.

10. Coast Path
This is not strictly a Roseland highlight, but applies throughout Cornwall. Since living here I have been trying to walk as much of the coast path as possible, and have now covered over 250 of the nearly 300 miles of Cornish coast path on offer. In doing so, I have met some interesting characters, spent time with friends, encountered a range of wildlife, seen some cultural history and so many stunning landscapes. Plus its a great excuse to get some exercise. And with about 630 miles of coast path in all, it should keep me busy for some years to come!

To do: walk from St Anthony to Nare Head along the coast path.

So there you go. All you have to do is walk the local coast path, find a cirl bunting, grab a pasty, chat to those you meet, sit for two hours, fall over, watch the swallows, and get a bus back! Job done! Or should I say proper job done?!

Best of luck, Nick, and thanks for all you’ve done for us all over the past few years. Ed.

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