Wednesday, 17th November 2021 at 6pm.Register your interest HERE.
A virtual talk by Dr Susan Cheyne, co-director of Borneo Nature Foundation.
About this event
Dr Susan Cheyne has worked in South East Asia since 1997 and in Indonesia since 2002. She received her PhD from the University of Cambridge on primate ecology and conservation looking into the illegal pet trade of gibbons and studying the rehabilitation and reintroduction successes of these threatened apes. As a co-director of Borneo Nature Foundation International, she leads a team working on the conservation of primates and wild cats using camera trap technology to understand the movement, distribution and conservation status of these threatened cats.
How to Register
This event has been organised in collaboration with and is hosted by the Royal Society of Biology: Devon and Cornwall Branch.
For this event only, please register through the RSB website here. The event is free to attend, although you will need to register for an RSB account in order to sign up. Please note that you will receive a Zoom link to join the event immediately before the talk. Please get in touch if you have any issues or questions about registration.
A recording of this talk is now available on Youtube.
Sue Sayer from the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust will be talking to us about wild seal behaviour and what we can do for them.
About the talk
This brand-new talk is aimed at sharing observations of natural wild seal behaviour gathered over two decades. If we begin to imagine what it might be like to be a seal, we can better appreciate what seals need from us. Beautifully illustrated with video content, discover the links seals make between sea and land, their main behavioural drivers and how their world is changing. We end with an optimistic plan for the future, to ensure this wild marine heritage species thrives for coming generations to smile about as well.
The talk will be given by Sue Sayer, founder of the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust The Trust is a multi award winning, evidence-based conservation charity passionately protecting Cornwall’s precious marine species and their environment for future generations to enjoy.
The talk will be 45 minutes long with a Q&A following afterwards.
About our speaker – Sue Sayer
Founder of the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust, Sue Sayer, is an internationally renowned researcher and author. Over 20 years, she has spent thousands of hours observing seals in the wild from land and at sea in Cornwall. To Sue there is no such thing as an average seal. Each one looks different, has a unique personality, range of habits and migration route around the Celtic Sea! Sue’s love for seals shines through as she talks about seals in her own unique and animated way.
Walk along any beach in Cornwall and if you look close enough you will discover tiny plastic pellets hidden among the sand. Commonly known as microplastics, these pellets are wreaking havoc in our oceans. They are a silent killer that is polluting and causing irreversible damage to our oceans and planet.
What Are Microplastics?
‘Microplastics’ is a general definition for any tiny piece of plastic less than five millimetres (0.2 inches) in diameter. They come in many different forms, but the most common types that can be found on the beaches today include:
Microbeads: tiny plastic particles purposefully added to cosmetic or hygiene products
Nurdles: ‘small plastic pellets about the size of a lentil’ which are produced for the purpose of melting and moulding into plastic products.
Secondary microplastics: pellets that start as larger plastic items but are gradually worn down by external factors (eg: bright sunlight or constant battering by waves) until they become individual fragments of plastic.
The origins of these microplastics washing up on our shores are usually everyday activities undertaken by all of us, such as showering or using a plastic bottle. Many popular cosmetic brands take advantage of the exfoliating properties offered by tiny particles of plastics like polyethylene, polystyrene or polypropylene, and can pack over 330,000 of these microbeads into a single tube of their products. Whilst this statistic is disturbing in its own right, it is the knowledge that one shower using these products can send up to 100,000 of the tiny plastic pieces drown the drain that truly illustrates how much each person could potentially be contributing to this rapidly escalating crisis.
Their Effects On Animal And Human Health
Once in the sea, microplastics affect everything in the oceanic ecosystem- both zooplankton and larger sea animals mistake the tiny pieces of plastics for other sea life and ingest them. Although it is easy for some people to remain unaware of this part of the problem because it doesn’t have an impact on their daily life, once the negative impacts start to appear along our coastlines it becomes impossible to ignore. The microplastic problem has quickly evolved into a global issue and nowhere is exempt from its affects, not even Cornwall.
Microplastics is an issue for every environment, every country, and every society
In 2019, it was discovered that in a study of 50 marine mammals found in British waters, every single animal had evidence of microplastics in their digestive system. Last year the University of Exeter conducted similar research on demersal sharks living off the coast of Cornwall and found that 67% of the 46 sharks studied contained microplastics and other man-made fibres. The plastics the sharks had ingested were almost exclusively microfibres- suspected to originate from face masks and textiles. This being only one example of how microplastics affect Cornish Sea life, it is reasonable to assume that many more species along the county’s coast are accidentally ingesting microplastics too. Furthermore, the sad fact is that these pollutants do not sit inert within the animals. Scientists are beginning to discover that microplastics are changing the ways animals fundamentally function– with evidence that these plastics alter their feeding behaviour by decreasing hunger for actual food and blocking their digestive tracts- to name but two of the serious consequences that can occur.
As more shocking statistics are released about microplastics,it is increasingly apparent that their impact is not limited to wildlife, but that they affect the human species too. The true danger of microplastics is that- uniquely from other larger forms of plastics- they have the ability to make their way into our food chain largely unnoticed. Despite this, many people remain unaware that this is occurring and, more worryingly still, there is limited research on the effects it may have on human health.
The Problem In Cornwall And Beyond
This is not a problem that Cornwall is exempt from. Historically South West Water has used toxic biobeads as a way of cleaning water, and this has proven to be dangerous to the local environment. Over 10 years ago a spill at SWW’s treatment centre outside of Truro led to over one billion biobeads being spilt into the Fall estuary. There is now evidence that these same biobeads have entered local food chains: an investigation lead by the University of Plymouth discovered that when looking at the digestive matters of a gull found downstream of the Estuary, almost half of the contents found were the biobeads earlier discovered in the surrounding waters. It is not a huge leap of the imagination to assume that these same beads found in local wildlife are already in our food and water.
Despite the UK government banning the production and use of these plastics for cosmetic or hygiene products in 2018, there is yet to be any slowing of these beads appearing on our beaches and in the ocean. Whilst the ban was a huge step in the right direction, the influx of microplastics will only start to slow when a larger proportion of countries enact bans on the production and usage of this type of plastic. Emily Stevenson of environmental charity Beach Guardian said that “People may be aware that there is now a ban, but they weren’t necessarily aware why that ban came into force and what products had the microplastics in”.
She continued: “All of our bodies are getting polluted with microplastics, the air that we breath is polluted with microplastics, the water that we drink is polluted with microplastics, and yet there are no visual tools for us to communicate this”. It is this invisibility that is making the spread of microplastics so harmful and also exacerbating ignorance. Although we are already swimming amongst them when we take a dip in the sea, walking on them hidden in the sand and they pollute almost every aspect of our lives, the majority of people remain unaware of this, and for those who have more knowledge of the issue the size of the pollutants can lead to a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
With microplastics quickly becoming one of the main causes of plastic pollution in the oceanic world, it is imperative that people very quickly become more educated about this issue, how they might be inadvertently contributing to it and what we all need to do to address it. However, this is too big a problem for the public to tackle by itself unless there is increased backing from governments all over the world. A global issue like this calls for global awareness and a united global response- and fast.
It goes without saying that for many living in Cornwall, fishing is a big part of their lives. It is also a major part of the Cornish and UK economy.
The recent documentary, Seaspiracy, directed by filmmaker Ali Tabrizi investigates the environmental impact of fishing and seeks to expose the dark secrets in industrial fishing. Tabrizi interviews scientists and members of marine organisations such as Sea Shepherd and Marine Stewardship Council. The documentary highlights that “sustainable” has become a buzzword of sorts. The EU commissioner of fisheries and environment described sustainable as putting 100 Euros into the bank and only spending the interest and that this is how it should be with fishing.
Since the documentary was released, it has received criticism that some interviews and facts have been taken out of context. Perhaps Ali Tabrizi was telling a story through his filmmaking? It was emotional to watch, and this compels us to make new positive choices.
Fish populations are in decline due to overfishing, disease, pollution, invasive species and climate change. One third of fish stocks were considered to be overfished in the Living Planet Report by WWF. There is a delicate balance in ecosystems, and this decline would lead to decreased food availability for other marine animals. The fishing industry has a responsibility to protect the oceans so that there will still be stocks available in years to come to provide further jobs.
I spoke with Chris Ranger of Fal Oyster Ltd and Fal Fishery Cooperative CIC to learn more about his methods of fishing and how he is looking to increase populations of the native oyster in the Fal Estuary. Native oysters are important because they are a keystone species that filter the water making it better quality for other species to thrive. One oyster can filter almost 200 litres of water a day. The small estuary is dredged by hand, sail, and oar to harvest the oysters, but this also helps to prevent silt and has been done this way in the Fal Fishery for many centuries.
Ranger’s aim is to have a managed hatchery where hopefully the survival rate of native oyster larvae is increased. These managed stocks will provide important data on how the juveniles best survive and what the population size is in the estuary. This is a sustainable method of fishing because only the larger, older oysters are harvested when they have left many recruits and the stocks will be replenished by retaining the juveniles for longer, whilst allowing a responsible income to be made from selling the oysters. The aquaculture research site means that young oysters will be caught and kept in trays to grow and repopulate while older, larger oysters can be caught and sold.
The larger oysters for market must be purified in the processing tanks before selling them on, which allows them to be sold for more and provides more jobs. In 2008 the UK voted for a shellfish ban on ‘third countries’ from class B waters unless the shellfish is purified before selling. When we left the EU this meant nearly all UK waters were not clean enough to be sold unpurified. The purification process is at an extra cost and time to some fishermen and when we first left the EU there were delays importing goods, which put the shellfish at risk of dying and caused a loss for some fishermen. However, Ranger commented that he did not sell a lot abroad and so the COVID-19 lockdown had a larger impact on his sales than Brexit has done as he was already purifying his oysters before sales. Lockdown has massively impacted sales to restaurants and means that many fishermen have relied on home deliveries much more.
Chris Ranger has an ongoing Crowdfunder to raise money for the SavingEster Campaign, which was built from the first year of donations. The next stage is building the research vessel for the aquaculture site, which will be required for collecting scientific data that can be used to encourage the prevention of overfishing of the juveniles and move towards better fishing regulations for future generations. If you can, this is an important fundraiser to contribute to whether you love eating oysters, care about the local economy or care about the environment. https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/savingestertheoyster
Seaspiracy provided us with a worrying insight into the reality of industrial fishing and has seen many since give up eating fish. However, for some this is not an easy option. Fortunately, there are still fishermen who are hopeful for the future of local fisheries if the right regulations are put into place and consumers make sensible choices by supporting local, sustainable suppliers.
Cornwall has a lot to offer across the county, from the larger, more interactive and modern museums to the little, local museums dotted around different parishes showcasing local history and offering an insight into society of the past and present. This list is not exhaustive by any means but offers a guide to museums that may interest you – whether a local or a tourist wanting to find out more about Cornwall, technology and science, art and social history.
As highlighted by the Cornwall Museums Partnership, Cornwall has a wealth of brilliant museums, many of which include exhibits with links to science and the community. To find something to do wherever you are in the Duchy, follow us on this virtual tour:
We start our journey in the South West of Cornwall at PK Porthcurno, the UK’s only museum dedicated to global communications. The first international telegraph cable was run from India to Porthcurno, or PK, in 1870 and reduced the message time from 6 weeks to just 9 minutes. This was revolutionary for global communications and the beginning of the science and technology that underpins the world today. The museum takes you through the history of electricity, morse code, telegraph and the future of technology for communications with a series of interactive exhibitions and informative talks. While we patiently wait for indoor entertainment to open again, head over to CSC Youtube channel to watch a talk with Paul Tyreman to celebrate 150 years since the cable station opened. Also make sure to head to the beautiful golden sands in the bay of Porthcurno.
Geevor Tin Mine
Next, we head up to St Just to visit the Geevor Tin Mine to learn the story of the tin and copper mining industry in Cornwall. Here you can visit the mining buildings and enter the 18th century Wheal Mexico Mine and walk the tunnels of the mining men over 200 years ago or pan for “gold” in the mill. The Dry is a truly moving experience as the change room is left as it was when it was used for the last time with all the smells and sights that the miners would have known well. Geevor is a truly fascinating day out learning about the science behind and importance of metals mined in Cornwall.
Penlee House in Penzance is up next. Here we have galleries with an art collection celebrating Cornish talent from the 19th and 20th centuries. The museum’s collection covers over 6000 years of history in the West of Cornwall through archaeology, social history, natural science and of course art and photography. The house is set in a beautiful park grounds with a shop and café on offer too.
Tate St. Ives
Next stop, St Ives. Here Tate St Ives over-looks the beautiful sandy beach of Porthmeor bringing visitors from all over the world. Whilst the Tate is not a local organisation, many of the exhibitions showcase the artists of Cornwall. A significant artist to note is Barbara Hepworth who was a leader in artists who fled to St Ives during both wars. Just down the road is a museum dedicated to her and her sculpture garden. Here you can also see many other famous artists from around the world including works by Picasso and Matisse. This is a must see if you want to get to all the Tate galleries!
Museum of Cornish Life
The Museum of Cornish Life is a free admission must see back down in Helston. Here is a collection of Cornish history artefacts from farming to toys to gardening and musical instruments. Dotted around all of Cornwall are many voluntary run museums displaying social history artefacts for that particular area. This is potentially unrivalled by any other county due to Cornwall’s interesting communities with fishing and mining.
National Maritime Museum & Falmouth Art Gallery
Falmouth is next, a town influenced by the sea and its maritime heritage. Here we have the National Maritime Museum and Falmouth Art Gallery. The National Maritime Museum explores the influence of sea on history and culture. An interactive and immersive experience takes you around Cornwall and the world. The current exhibition is Monsters of the Deep learning about legends, folklores and modern-day science. Head over to our Youtube channel again for a talk about the evolution of sailing dinghies by Reuben Thompson who is the in-house boatbuilder. Falmouth Art Gallery is another outstanding collection of British and Cornish artworks all available to view for free.
Royal Cornwall Museum
Now we move on to the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro, Cornwall’s only city, which promotes excellence in science and art and tells stories of Stone Age Cornwall to current artefacts. The museum is part of the Cornwall Museums Partnership.
“Cornwall Museums Partnership develop and manage collaborative programmes of work which are designed to help museums raise standards, engage with more people and to be sustainable and resilient. We help museums to do the things that some find difficult to do on their own including advocacy, audience development, fundraising and workforce development. We are always open to suggestions of ways to collaborate in inclusive and innovative ways: if people want to find out more, have any questions or ideas please contact us on email@example.com”
Celine Elliot, Cornwall Museums Partnership Engagement Lead
We move east to Wheal Martyn near St Austell. In the UK’s only china clay mining museum you can learn how the industry has shaped the lives and landscapes of Cornwall. Here you can go to an interactive discovery centre, woodland walks with local wildlife, historic trails and a real modern working clay pit. The china clay industry is less well known than the tin and copper mining industries but is an important contributor to the national economy. Wheal Martyn produces china clay, a material that is used in items such as paper and pharmaceuticals in our everyday life.
Close by is The Eden Project which is a collection of huge Biomes housing plants from all over the world, including the world’s biggest indoor rainforest. There are also outside gardens with many native and temperate region plants. The water used at the Eden Project is harvested rainwater and the buildings have underground irrigation for plants and flushing loos. Here we learn the significance of the relationship between plant and people and how this can help us to address the crisis the planet faces.
Heading north is Bodmin Keep, a centre of Cornish and world history to educate people of all ages about conflict and the impact of war. The Keep is the historic home of the army in Cornwall and teaches 300 years of military history. The museum is a testament to soldiers, their families and the affected local communities.
Museum of Witchcraft and Magic
Finally, on the North Coast is Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle which explores British magical practice and makes comparisons with other systems of belief. Learn about the diversity of magical practice through entertaining exhibitions and the collection of objects which has been described as the largest in the world.
This list of some of the main museums should hopefully provide you with something to do whatever the weather and something to get you excited to learn again. Cornwall has a lot to offer and teach about its social history and importance of different industries. We should take these opportunities to get learning when these experiences are offered to us by volunteers at little cost. We are lucky to live in such an incredible place with so much science to offer.
John Fletcher will be discussing the Battle of Hehil and the emergence of the Early Medieval Cornish State.
About the talk
During the Summer of 722 the invading army of Saxon Wessex was met by a force of Native Britons at a place called Hehil. Despite a string of earlier victories this time the Saxons were defeated and forced into retreat, marking the start of a century of prolonged conflict that would serve to protect and preserve not only the Kingdom of Kernow but also the unique culture, language, and heritage of the Cornish.
This talk will aim to put the battle in its proper context by looking at the wider period and events, while also touching on the factors that have kept it, and other aspects of Early Medieval Cornwall, relatively unknown.
About our speaker – John Fletcher
John Fletcher has spent sixteen years recreating the life, crafts and combat of Early Medieval Britain as a reenactor. For much of that time his focus has been on the history of Cornwall and the South West after moving to the region in 2006 to attend the University of Plymouth and remaining there ever since. He is the chairman of the Hehil 1300 Committee who are seeking to put on a Festival of Cornish Heritage to commemorate 1300 years since the eponymous Battle.
Not a trained historian, John has a BSc in Environmental Sciences and completed his dissertation studying Climate Change on Early Medieval Dartmoor.
Fred Deakin will be introducing us to the world of modern astrophotography and how it works.
About the talk
Astrophotography used to mean spending hours outside in the dark and cold to get an image of one of the many targets above us. Now-a-days, with most astrophotographers needing their sleep for their work the next day, or not wanting to spend hours in the shivering cold, automation tools especially in the advance of software has meant they can stay in the warm and just let the telescopes do all the work automatically. It is since the introduction of this type of image capturing that the hobby has boomed in popularity and more and more very deep and incredibly long image runs can take place. It is not uncommon for astro-images to now be made of 20 or 40 hours of exposures, bringing unparalleled detail and beauty to the hands of amateurs. This introduction will show the types of tools needed, the methods used, and the philosophy behind bringing the heavens much closer.
About our speaker – Fred Deakin
Fred is a design engineer and has run his own company for the past seventeen years, designing and manufacturing machines to clean up our waterways. Prior to that Fred worked for the Medical Research Council in Oxford for many years. Cornwall was Fred’s real home though and he decided to return and change profession so he could be back in the place he’s always loved. Fred has always been interested in the night sky, and even as a teenager would be out on clear nights looking up at the night sky to see what he could find. In 2008 he had an industrial accident and the subsequent medication had the side-effect of reducing his eyesight enough that looking through an eyepiece was not the same. He decided to try his hand at astrophotography, and as they say the rest is history.
You can see more of Fred’s work on his Facebook page by clicking this link.
Josh Arbon will be discussing how jackdaws cooperate and learn from one another and the wider implications of the research.
About the talk
How does being scared help birds thrive in new environments? Want to know what remote controlled bird feeders can tell us about cooperation and the evolution of intelligence? How can eating cheese in Cornwall help save a species in Hawaii?
About our speaker – Josh Arbon
Josh Arbon is a PhD student at the University of Exeter who studies the social cognition of jackdaws, a member of the crow family. Using study sites in the local area, Josh investigates how birds navigate their social and physical landscape as well as how they learn new information about each other and their environment. In his talk, Josh will reveal how the work of the Cornish Jackdaw Project has shed light on these issues and aims to further our understanding of how animals interact with the world around them.
When you think of Cornwall and rum, your initial thoughts may be of the county’s notorious smuggling history. Indeed, in the 18th and 19th century, Cornwall was a centre for smuggling of goods such a tea, tobacco and of course, rum. There are many stories, including the famous novel ‘Jamaica Inn’ by Daphne du Maurier, that tell the tale of wreckers who would entice ships to the coastline before looting them when they inevitably ran aground on the rocky shores.
But what if instead, your first thought was of a pioneering project that harnessed renewable geothermal energy to mature and distill rum right here in Cornwall? Well, this is the hope of the Cornish Geothermal Distillery Company (CGDC) who have ambitious plans to create the UK’s first geothermal run maturation facility and distillery on land in Redruth, Cornwall.
About the Project
The United Downs Deep Geothermal Power Project (UDDGP) is the first geothermal power plant in the UK. It aims to utilise the hot granite rocks below the United Downs Industrial Site to generate power and heat. The CGDC’s plan is to make a direct connection to the power plants waste heat output and boost it to run heat intensive distillery processes. To do this they aim to use an innovative high temperature heat pump that they are developing alongside global engineering consultancy, Buro Happold. This would go a long way to making it one of the most sustainable and carbon-neutral distillery projects in the UK.
CGDC’s concept requires proximity to the geothermal power plant and in their Design and Access Statement for the original plan they argue that the ‘development has the potential to offer long-term security for the site and its mining heritage’ and claim that they are committed to provide funding to contribute towards ‘restoration of the mining heritage on and around the site boundary’ as well as ‘offering World Heritage and Cornish mining related literature’ in the Visitor Centre. In spite of CGDC’s promise to spend £2 million decontaminating the site and restoring heritage features that have been heavily eroded, Historic England and UNESCO’s intervention means the original project’s future is now uncertain.
The conflict over the use of this site also comes from the current leaseholders, Purple Cornwall Ltd, also known as Autospeed, who currently use the site for stock racing. According to a statement by Cornwall council ‘Purple Cornwall’s lease with the Council to operate their stock car racing business on Cornwall owned land at United Downs runs until October 2021.’ Autospeed fear that with alternative sites for the racetrack yet to be found, the council’s plans to look for ‘low carbon and sustainable alternative uses for the site’, such as the distillery, may signify the end of stock racing in Cornwall for good. Calls to save the motor sport venue are being made by The Save United Downs Raceway Action Group and have been backed by former Renault Formula 1 racing driver Derek Warwick.
The concern shown by UNESCO/Historic England for the protection of this world heritage site from degradation caused by the construction of the distillery is somewhat confusing when considering its current use. Undoubtedly over the 50 years during which the site has been used as a racetrack, it will have suffered from erosion and continuing to use the site in this way would seem to conflict with the aim of preserving the heritage of the Cornwall Mining Landscape.
CGDC’s determination to safeguard their green, job-creating, sustainable project has seen them submit a new outline planning application for a much smaller research and development proposal. This project would be built on the hard edge of the former United Downs landfill site – a brownfield site that currently has no designation and is situated directly next to the Geothermal Energy Plant. The “Celsius – Sustainable Distillery Research Centre” will make use of the aforementioned high temperature heat pump to operate a copper still for distilling rum and a small facility to mature rum in casks. This Celsius Centre is a separate scheme from CGDC’s pioneering Rum Cask Maturation Facility and would have no biome or visitor centre, no public access and would create 6 full-time jobs. Its true value lies in its focus on the development of green technologies that will not only enable the distillery ‘industry to make vast improvements in energy efficiency’ but will also allow other ‘enterprises to use waste heat from other industrial processes too’.
The research conducted at this Centre and the technologies developed would undoubtedly act as important foundations for the shift to a green economy post pandemic and would contribute to increased focus on sustainability ‘in the distillery sector and beyond’. In a time when Cornwall Council has declared a climate emergency, surely supporting the development of a project that is committed to the creation of green jobs and ‘revolutionising sustainability’ should be part of the action plan to achieve a cleaner and greener Cornwall.
Jaz Millar will explore how life survived approximately 100 million years of ice and show us why scientists travel to the poles today to understand the past.
About the talk
From 720-635 milion years ago the planet was completely frozen in ice from the poles to the equator. Not only did the microorganisms that live there survive these harsh conditions they somehow thrived and diversified, as the first ever animals appear in the following period. In this talk we’ll explore how life survived approximately 100 million years of ice and show you why scientists travel to the poles today to understand the past.
About our speaker – Jaz Millar
Jaz Millar is a molecular- and micro-biologist with a background in extremophiles – organisms that thrive under extreme conditions. Their work is at the intersection of environmental science and biology, and involves everything from DNA analysis to climbing glaciers. They’re currently working towards their PhD at Cardiff University and The Natural History Museum London.