Cafe Sci

‘The Grim Hell-Hounds Prowling’ – Myths and Realities of Cornish Wrecking

A recording of this talk is available on YouTube HERE.

In this Virtual Café Sci, Dr Cathryn Pearce will be addressing Cornish wrecking in the Long Eighteenth Century.

About the talk

‘…the grim hell-hounds prowling round the shore…’ – So poet and seaman William Falconer described the frightful crowds of wreckers plundered ships unfortunate to run aground on England’s coast in the eighteenth century. The malevolent reputation of wreckers was popularized and sustained through similar descriptions and rhetoric in Victorian novels, short stories and opera, and by sensationalised stories printed in local and national newspapers. Wreckers, too, are found in legends throughout Britain and Ireland. However, the stereotype became solely applied to Cornwall. But who were they, really?

In this presentation, Dr Cathryn Pearce, Senior Lecturer in Naval and Maritime History at the University of Portsmouth, will share her journey uncovering the reality behind the notorious wrecker. She may even mention that most notorious of charges, deliberate wrecking!

Cafe Sci

The Secrets of Ancient Trees

A recording of this talk is now available on YouTube.

Tim Kellet will talking to us about how a citizen science project revealed some of the secrets of the oldest trees in Cornwall.

About the talk

The values of ancient trees for biodiversity and culture. How a citizen science project reveals some of the secrets of the oldest trees in Cornwall.

The talk will show some of the special features of ancient and veteran trees and what they can reveal about our landscapes and culture. He will also talk about their protection and good management.

About our speaker

Tim Kellett is the chair of Cornwall regional group of the Ancient Tree Forum Ancient Tree Forum He is also the SW lead volunteer verifier for the Ancient Tree Inventory – Woodland Trust – a citizen science project run by the Woodland Trust.

Cafe Sci

Taming the living-room lion

A recording of this talk, excluding the Q&A, is now available on YouTube.

Dr. Sarah Crowley will be speaking to us about managing hunting behaviour in domestic cats.

About the talk

Cats are animals of two halves: they are both affectionate companions and extremely efficient predators. Here in the UK, most of our 10 million pet cats roam freely outdoors, and the majority of cat owners are familiar with finding a flurry of feathers in the kitchen, or a dead mouse on the doormat. Not only is this an unpleasant experience, but some conservation organisations are concerned that high levels of predation by cats is negatively impacting vulnerable wildlife populations, and especially small birds.

Our ‘Cats, Cat Owners and Wildlife’ project has been working closely with cat owners to understand how they feel about the behaviour and impacts of their ‘living-room lions’, and to investigate how we might reduce number of animals killed by cats without harming – and hopefully enhancing – cat health or welfare. In this talk, Sarah will explain why our pampered pets still hunt and why controlling this poses an ethical dilemma for cat owners. She will also introduce our recent experimental study which, with the assistance of more than 400 cats (and their owners!), is helping us to identify promising new techniques for managing your cat’s hunting behaviour.

About our speaker

Dr Sarah Crowley is an anthrozoologist and environmental social scientist at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus. The ‘Cats, Cat Owners and Wildlife’ project is sponsored by independent conservation charity Songbird Survival. Read more about the project here.

Cafe Sci

Gardening for Wildlife

This talk has been postponed. We will release information on the new date when we have it.

Liam Shoesmith will be talking to us about gardening for wildlife in Cornwall focusing on Wild Truro and the Urban Buzz project.

About the talk

When we talk about conservation and re-wilding, we are usually thinking of large reserves. But it needn’t be so. Truro City Council’s ‘Wild Truro’ is about changing the way we do our gardens and parks.

Wild Truro is about a parks department creating an environment in our gardens. There are over 400,000 hectares of gardens in the country and our gardens in Truro are hopefully going to be a demonstration of how we can create somewhere for our wildlife to live on a smaller, yet significant scale at home.

Urban Buzz is about bringing pollinators into the urban environment, that is what we did with Wild Truro, starting from the soil, where organic matter brings in microorganisms, mycorrhizal fungus and larger life such as worms. All these things help create a living soil which helps your garden and plants, and then the larger life such as worms, attract birds and hedgehogs.

This talk will be about creating an ecosystem in the garden by creating biodiversity; and also explain how the council has actually saved money by encouraging wildlife.

Cafe Sci

The Science Soap Box

This event has now passed. We didn’t record this week’s session, but read on for a short summary!

We started with a short introduction to get to know everybody, and then opened the floor to suggestions of interesting topics:

After plenty of fantastic suggestions came in, we had a quick vote on which one the group wanted to discuss further.

Finally, we spent the last half hour or so discussing this topic in depth, with some great comments from participants and the initiator of the topic alike.

Join us for our inaugural Science Soapbox where you can join the discussion about the science that is important to you.

Introducing The Science Soap Box

What science-related story has caught your eye over the past year?

What seems to you really important?

This week, instead of Virtual Cafe Sci, we are opening up this space to all you, our audience, to have your say on any science-related item that you’ve found especially interesting, whether in the news, in the journals, or on the web.

You can tell us briefly, in the chat box, what you found; and why you think it matters; and we will then give you time on screen to make the case for why we should all be interested too.

After that, as with all our evenings, we will open the discussion to everyone else, to comment or ask questions – and so you may get the chance to expand and say more.

Intrigued? Watch this short video on our Facebook page for a flavour of the day.

Cafe Sci

Empowering Communities – Beach Guardian

A recording of this talk is now available on YouTube HERE.

Beach Guardian co-founder Emily Stevenson shares her journey through marine conservation, plastic pollution and community engagement.

About the talk

Emily Stevenson co-founded Beach Guardian CIC in 2017 with her dad, Rob, which aims to ‘engage, educate and empower against plastic pollution’.

Since its founding, Beach Guardian has organised over 200 community clean up events with over 6,000 volunteers; visited over 85 schools, engaging with over 14,000 school children and worked with some of the world’s largest corporations, to help them reduce their reliance on plastics, such as PepsiCo and Nissan.

The talk will focus on Emily’s journey through marine conservation, plastic pollution and community engagement.

About our speaker: Emily Stevenson

Emily is a budding environmental reporter, with her weekly ‘Tune in Tuesday’ video blog reaching over a million people worldwide and continued features with BBC Spotlight, highlighting the plights of plastic across the South West.

In 2019, Emily’s work received recognition with a letter from her hero Sir David Attenborough, becoming a Point of Light recipient from the British Prime Minister and titled one of the Young Citizen’s of the Year by the Rotary Club in Great Britain and Ireland.

Emily is also currently on the MSc Conservation Science and Policy course at the University of Exeter, where she is undertaking a research project looking into the role of microplastics in the dissemination of pathogenic and antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Cafe Sci

Weather or not

A recording of this talk is now available on YouTube HERE.

BBC weather forecaster, Kevin Thomas, will be talking to us about the challenge of weather forecasting in Cornwall.

About the talk

Cornwall is a challenging area for weather forecasting because of its geography, but modern techniques make the job easier, although knowledge of the region is still very important in developing accurate forecasts.

About our speaker: Kevin Thomas

Kevin Thomas is a weather forecaster with the BBC who does radio forecasts for Devon and Cornwall. Kevin has been a meteorologist for 37 years, joining the BBC in 2009 after a long career in the Royal Navy and seeing service around the world.

Cafe Sci

Introduction to Wildlife Photography

A recording of the talk is now available on YouTube HERE.

Dave Hudson will be giving us an introduction to wildlife photography.

About the talk

In this talk Dave will cover some of the basic steps on how to go about photographing wildlife and how to improve the shots you take to make them look more professional. Dave will briefly touch on some field craft, how to find wildlife to photograph, composition and then we will briefly look at how to set up your camera (depending on how much time we have available!).

About our speaker: Dave Hudson

Dave is an ex-teacher, currently a PhD research student at University of Exeter studying the epidemiology of bovine tuberculosis in Badgers and a keen wildlife photographer.

You can see more of Dave’s work at

Cafe Sci

The Most Remarkable Migrants of All

A recording of this talk is now available on YouTube HERE.

Will Hawkes will be talking to us about the incredible journeys some insects make across vast distances.

About the talk

Some tiny insects are capable of incredible journeys thousands of kilometres long. This talk will explain about these journeys, how you can identify these migrants when they arrive in your gardens, and the absolutely vital role these insects play for the natural world.

About our speaker: Will Hawkes

Will is a Welsh naturalist currently studying for a PhD at the University of Exeter researching insect migration.

Cafe Sci


The recording of this talk is now available HERE.

Dr. Beth Roberts will be talking to us about the lives of one of our favourite garden residents, the humble bumblebees. Register you interest HERE.

Bumblebees are an important group of insects because they pollinate our crops and wildflowers. We have probably all seem them buzzing around our gardens or when we are out on our daily walk, but how much do you know about them? Beth did her PhD on the nesting ecology of bumblebees and so is now officially a Dr of Bumblebees. She is going to be giving a talk on her favourite subject, and during this talk you will learn more about the secret lives of bumblebees: where do they live? What is their lifecycle? What plants do they love to visit?

About our speaker: Dr. Beth Roberts

Beth Roberts is an Ecologist and Postoctoral Research Associate at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health.

Beth recently completed her PhD at the University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences, where her research focused on the hidden ecology of bumblebees. Her thesis implemented classical, novel and computer modelling techniques to uncover some of the previously understudied areas of bumblebee behaviour.