‘Bonkers’ Kate aiming to turn the tide in favour of beachcombing - and marine conservation
From ancient woolly mammoth teeth to the tell-tale signs of today’s throw-away, consumer-driven society - the things you can find on a beachcombing walk never cease to be thought-provoking. A new venture aims to promote the activity - and help inspire people to take care of the marine environment.
You never quite know what you’ll find - but you will find something.
That is a mantra that will be heard on Suffolk’s beaches this summer. For along with familiar summer shoreline sounds such as the lapping of the waves, gulls’ wild cries and the joyous squeals of youngsters at play, the guarantee of impending discovery will be issued regularly by Kate Osborne, who unashamedly admits to being a bit bonkers.
Beachcombing enthusiast Ms Osborne, who has set up the not-for-profit venture Beach Bonkers to promote the often-under-rated activity and marine conservation, has announced a full programme of shoreline explorations for the summer holiday period and into the autumn.
She has devised a series of walks and events on Suffolk’s coast - and even inland thanks to her innovative “portable beach” initiative - and she will be present at several key venues, such as the national Trust’s Dunwich Heath and Beach and Southwold Boating Lake and Tearooms.
Beacombing walks will focus on Felixstowe and Sizewell. At the former, Ms Osborne once struck lucky with a find that perfectly illustrates beachcombing’s knack of producing surprises.
“I was going to a children’s event at the library in Felixstowe and I got there about half-an-hour earlier than I needed to, so I decided to just have a stroll on the beach,” she said.
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“I was just having a snoop around to see what was there and something caught my eye - and I thought I knew what it could be. Three have been found at Landguard over the years and I thought I recognised it. I thought that it could be a mammoth’s tooth.
“I showed it to Bob Markham - he’s a local expert in geology and such matters - and yes, it’s definitely a mammoth’s tooth, a left lower molar from a vegetarian species. Probably a woolly mammoth.
“The last mammoth walked through Europe about 12,000 years ago - what a great thrill it was to have found a tooth from one.”
At Sizewell, as well as beachcombing Ms Osborne highlights the international importance of Suffolk’s fragile vegetated shingle beaches.
“As well as the delight in discovering treasures, Beach Bonkers also raises awareness with the aim of changing the behaviour of visitors to Suffolk’s shingle beaches,” she said. “Vegetated shingle beach is a rare and surprisingly fragile habitat only found in three places in the world. The plants that live there are adapted to conditions where there is no soil and very little fresh water. In places, the shingle can be up to 18 metre deep, with plant roots reaching down to as much as two metres.
“We look at the plants and how they have adapted to live in the shingle. We can also find lumps of coralline crag which often contain shells and fossil corals,” she said.
Expect the unexpected seems to be wise advice for anyone taking part in a Beach Bonkers event.
“I can’t tell you what you’re going to find but I do know that you will find something” said Ms Osborne. “This is one of the few real treasure hunts you can still do - and, even better, the beach is refreshed twice a day, every day, with each high tide casting up treasures anew.”
At each event there will be a display of previously found beachcombing treasures, a mini shingle beach with clues to find the hidden treasures, and a giant beachcombing board game.
“People say they prefer sandy beaches, but then come on a beachcomb and see just how much you can find on a shingle beach,” said Ms Osborne. “This means they appreciate them more and, in turn, means they will look after them. Sadly, as well as the natural treasures we also find beach litter, mainly plastic. It doesn’t just ‘wash up from the sea’ – almost half of it is there because we, the public, have put it there.”
Ms Osborne has a lifelong love of the marine environment that was kindled when she spent part of her childhood roaming the coast of the north-east Atlantic in the United States.
Well acquainted with Suffolk shores, she has worked as the ranger on the Landguard Local Nature Reserve at the southern tip of the county and was most recently the project officer for Touching the Tide - the three-year Heritage Lottery Funded Landscape Partnership Scheme that engaged individuals and communities with all things pertaining to the county’s changing coast.
During her time with Touching the Tide, Ms Osborne said she had a “lightbulb moment”.
“I thought to myself ‘why are we not taking people out onto the beaches and showing them all the brilliant natural things that a Suffolk beach has?’ So we started doing just that and it was really worthwhile and enjoyable, and it was always really popular.
“As Touching the Tide was coming to an end I had to think what I was going to do next, at least in the short term, and I thought that here was something that could really work.
“Beachcombing is so endlessly fascinating. After every high tide, a walk along a strandline will show you all sorts of things of interest, both man-made and natural. No-one starts a beachcomb knowing what they’ll find and no-one finishes a beachcomb disappointed. And no-one does it without wanting to do it all over again as soon as they can.
“Every beach treasure we find tells a story - whether it’s egg cases of creatures we never see, glass frosted by the waves, driftwood eaten by insatiable worms or sharks’ teeth and fossils that are millions of years old. Although we have a lot of shingle in Suffolk, this is a rare and fragile habitat that’s full of specially adapted plants and wildlife as well as the evidence of the lives of our sea creatures. Beachcombing helps people to appreciate that and treasure our beaches.”
About half of Beach Bonkers’ 2017 events are supported by three grants - from the Suffolk Secrets AONB fund, the Galloper Wind Farm Fund and an Enabling Communities grant from Felixstowe councillor Tracey Green.
Beach Bonkers’ full 2017 programme can be viewed at http://www.beachbonkers.org.uk/come-to-the-beach/ or call 0751 255 7200.