If you have no idea what a working holiday is or you’re not sure whether it would be your sort of thing, here’s a taster of what a working holiday would be like in North Cornwall.
In early October, the National Trust Tintagel to Holywell ranger team was joined by 13 people from across the country who had signed up for a Cornish working holiday. Staying at the Beach Head Bunkhouse at Park Head a few miles west of Padstow, the working holiday involved a good mix of conservation work with the rangers and time off to explore the area.
The conservation task planned for the week was predominantly some reed bed management, reed bed being a Biodiversity Action Plan priority habitat and quite a rare habitat in North Cornwall. It’s home to all sorts of wildlife so it is very important to look after it. The down time activities included sampling the local cream teas, soaking up a sunset on a cliff top walk and braving a surfing or coasteering session. It was going to be a busy week!
Arriving on Monday evening, the guests were given a warm welcome in the bunkhouse by our working holiday leaders. Waking bright and early on Tuesday and following a hearty breakfast, the team, along with a few of the rangers and regular volunteers, headed down to Porth Mear to get stuck into some reed bed management. Areas of the reed bed are cut every autumn (after the breeding season to avoid disturbing nesting birds and other wildlife) in order to stimulate fresh new growth the following year. The team set to work armed with slashers, strimmers, forks, rakes and even a rugged motor mower, cutting down the reeds and other scrub and piling it up.
It is important not to let the cut material rot down where it is, as this results in a high level of nutrients in the soil that is not beneficial to reed beds, usually resulting in it becoming overgrown with more aggressive plants such as brambles and bindweed. As it was not practical to remove the vast amounts of cut vegetation being produced, we started two fires which were lovingly tended and kept topped up for the rest of the day – although the ensuing clouds of smoke did lend the whole scene a somewhat apocalyptic atmosphere!
Practical habitat management is thirsty work, and we were kept hydrated and warm with regular tea breaks complete with hot drinks courtesy of two wood powered Kelly kettles. At the end of the day the team climbed the hill back up to the bunkhouse, having cleared a huge area of land, with the two fenced-off bonfires still smouldering.
On Wednesday, the team had the opportunity to try out something a bit more adventurous with a couple of our ambassador outdoor activity businesses. Six people split off to join Big Green Surf School for a surf lesson at Crantock beach, and the other eight headed off to try out coasteering with Cornish Rock Tors. In the morning the surfers headed to Holywell beach to do a litter pick, and then went on to Crantock after a brief stop off at local bakery for fortifying pasties and pies. Although the weather was cold and wet, and the seas choppy, a good time was had by all – with varying amounts of surfing success – and a grey seal even came to watch! After a long walk back to the car park carrying surfboards, an exhausted group voted to head back to the bunkhouse.
Cornish Rock Tors operate out of the picturesque natural harbour at Port Gaverne, near the Doc Martin famous Port Isaac. Unfortunately, the sea conditions weren’t ideal for coasteering this week with some wild swell rolling in. This meant the remaining 8 team members were whisked off to a bad weather venue at the nearby flooded Tregildrans quarry, surrounded by autumnal oak trees. Here they got the chance to try out stand up paddle boarding, messing about in a canoe and a few adrenaline-pumping jumps from the rocky quarry walls.
Thursday dawned with Cornish sunshine and blue skies. We split the team again, with some folks finishing off raking and burning the reeds we had already cut in Porth Mear valley. The other half were set to work undertaking repairs to the South West Coast Path for the benefit of the thousands of walkers who walk it each year. With mattocks and spades they installed drains to reduce water erosion and leveled the path where it had become uneven and worn.
With the work complete, there was still just about enough time to head off over to the nearby Carnewas tea rooms for a cream tea overlooking the beach at Bedruthan Steps. Making the most of the good weather, the team also squeezed in a quick walk on Trevose Head that evening as the sun went down over the north coast.
Come Friday morning the team were getting ready to say goodbye to each other and head their separate ways. Working holidays are a great way to meet new people and firm friendships are often forged in the short space of a week. Working holidays are also really useful for getting conservation work done as there are often tasks that require many hands. In this case it was the raking and burning of cut reeds from the reed bed but there are any number of other tasks that just require lots of willing volunteers. With the extra help it’s great from our point of view to see how quickly the reed bed was tidied up where it would usually take the rangers at least three times as long.
If you’re interested in the idea of getting outdoors and helping out with some conservation work, meeting new people and experiencing a completely different style of holiday, why not have a look on our National Trust Working Holidays website? Currently the working holidays are divided up into 11 different categories including archaeology, rural skills, farming, historic houses and coast and countryside to name a few, so there’s always the possibility that you might find something that really ticks the box for you. Equally we tend to find there’s always a good age range represented on these holidays, so age should be no barrier to you signing up!
Thanks again to everybody who came on the working holiday in North Cornwall this year. It was great to meet you all and we couldn’t have achieved half as much of the conservation work without you. See you next time?
Tintagel to Holywell ranger team