Travel tales

Beachsweeping the Cornish coast as a conservation volunteer

Beachsweeping the Cornish coast as a conservation volunteer

This week I’ll be down in Cornwall, staying in a gorgeous holiday cottage on a mini-honeymoon with my new husband. Lots of lazing is on the cards as we recover from last week’s wedding madness. But the last time I visited this part of south-west England was a lot more active – as a coastal conservation volunteer. The Conservation Volunteers ran several week-long Beachsweep trips to the coastline of Devon and Cornwall each year. In return for helping out with surveying work you got a bargain holiday with food and accommodation included, and the chance to explore some of the area’s beautiful coastline. But would it be more boot camp than holiday? My mum and I signed up for a week in Cornwall one September to find out.

Swanpool beach, Cornwall

Swanpool beach near Falmouth

The thing with volunteering and conservation holidays is you never know how seriously people are going to take things. We had visions of ending up with a group who’d be in bed with a cup of cocoa at 8pm. So after arriving early into Falmouth station, we headed to a bar in the harbour for a last-minute glass of wine, just in case we wouldn’t see another for a week. Our fellow volunteers started to arrive over the next few hours, with 12 of us in total, ranging from 18 to 70 years old. Most were solo travellers and several were on their second, third or even in one case even tenth conservation trip – a promising sign.

Tredegna Farm, Cornwall

Our base at Tredegna Lodge

Our base for the week was Tredegna Lodge, a converted grain store on a farm out in the countryside not far from Falmouth. The lower floors have been converted into small dorm rooms and upstairs there’s a kitchen and huge open-plan lounge/dining room. Our food costs were included in the holiday, but we shared out the shopping, cooking and washing up duties between the group. There was no shortage of food, with the cooks of the day whipping up everything from vast vats of risotto to apple and blackberry crumble made with blackberries that had been foraged from the farm’s hedgerows.

Beachsweep conservation holiday in Cornwall

Hard at work litter-picking and recording what we found

Each day we set out to a different part of the Cornish coast. Our job was to collect and record the rubbish on the beach as part of the Marine Conservation Society’s annual coastal survey. We were armed with litter pickers, bin bags and clipboards as we scoured the beach in pairs or small groups, tallying up what we found washed up. I was expecting it to be mostly litter, but by far the biggest category was rope and net, where fishermen cut up tangled nets and the broken ends get washed into the sea. You could also kit yourself out for a seaside holiday with the odd flip flops and broken buckets and spades we found.

Fishing Cove beach in Cornwall

White sand and blue sea on a sunny day at Fishing Cove

Cornwall has some amazing beaches and we managed to see about ten of them over the week – ranging from the walled harbour at Mullion Cove to the windswept dunes of Holywell Bay on the north coast.  Being England in September meant we had no idea what weather to expect, and had sunshine, gales and showers within the week. It wasn’t all hard work though – there were stops for tea and biscuits in the morning and afternoon, long lunch breaks and plenty of time to chat as we picked. There were also free afternoons to explore Falmouth, go rockpooling and visit the seal sanctuary in Gweek, where we learnt a bit more about the effect of litter on the wildlife and the difference our work makes.

Seal Sanctuary in Gweek, Cornwall in Gweek

Seal in the sanctuary in Gweek

And as for the cocoa-drinking early nights? Well, after our suggestion of a wine kitty went down a storm we ended up with such a surplus that we donated the extra cash. It was a really different type of holiday for me, where I spent the week in waterproofs and woolly hats and didn’t put on a bit of makeup or take my hair straighteners out of the bag the whole time. But we had a lot of laughs and came home with the glow that comes from doing something worthwhile – either that or it was the coastal winds.

Rockpooling on Beachsweep holiday, Cornwall

Rockpooling on Castle Beach

The details

Sadly The Conservation Volunteers (formerly the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers) who ran our Beachsweep trip have now discontinued running their conservation holidays. But there are other organisations running similar trips in the UK, like the National Trust who have a range of different holidays across the country starting at £85 for a short break.

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Beachsweeping the Cornish coast as a conservation volunteer – On the Luce travel blog

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Silver Memories
    October 3, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Wow!! This sounds fantastic – we run our small business from very close to Falmouth and are really keen marine conservationists – maybe we will get involved without leaving the comfort of our own home! Thanks and have a great honeymoon – congratulations!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 8, 2013 at 2:11 pm

      Thanks, what a gorgeous part of the world to live in! I think TCV do weekend and day volunteering too so you might be able to help out without doing the whole week too.

  • Reply
    Karen Johnson
    October 3, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Congratulations and best wishes on your marriage Lucy! This trip sounded like a lot of fun while contributing to a worthwhile cause.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 8, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      Thanks, it was a really different trip but we had a great time and got to meet lots of interesting people.

  • Reply
    Browsing the Atlas
    October 3, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    This looks llike the perfect place to relax and unwind after the craziness of a wedding. Congratulations on your nuptials. I hope this is the first trip of many in your new married life.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 8, 2013 at 2:13 pm

      Thanks – yes after a year of wedding saving I’m already planning to blow the budget on lots of travels next year!

  • Reply
    Ben
    October 3, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    Sounds like a great cause, well worthwhile. I would imagine it makes you feel more connected to the environment you’re in. I’d like to give something like that a go one day. I’ve only been down to Cornwall once and loved every minute of it, I must get back there soon. It’s just so far from anywhere! I guess that’s part of the appeal. Congrats on the wedding!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 8, 2013 at 2:14 pm

      It was really nice to spend the whole week outside and feel like you were doing something useful – though there was enough time off and sitting on beautiful beaches that it did feel like a holiday rather than work!

  • Reply
    Micheng
    October 4, 2013 at 4:16 am

    That is such a sweetie. You must have lots of fun at the same time, you help the environment. Thumbs up.. feeling good!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 8, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      Yes it was great to be able to do some good as well as having a fantastic holiday!

  • Reply
    restlessjo
    October 4, 2013 at 8:22 am

    It sounds brilliant, Lucy. I’ll go polish up my wellies and have a look at the site. 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 8, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      There’s not a lot on there this late in the year (though I do quite like the idea of helping out with the olive harvest in Italy!) but usually have a lot on from spring onwards.

  • Reply
    emmapostcard
    October 7, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    Love that voluntourism doesn’t have to be to a far-flung, third world destination. May have to see if anything similar is run near me (South Wales).

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 8, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      Yes it’s good to be able to do something like this without having to pay a fortune on travel – I think there are different trips run across the UK so do have a look at their site.

  • Reply
    thegrownupgapyear
    October 10, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    This is such a great idea and something I’d never even considered doing in my own country! Thanks for sharing Lucy and hope you’re enjoying married life:)

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 11, 2013 at 3:38 pm

      Great thanks! Think I spotted this trip mentioned in a magazine and thought it sounded interesting, would definitely do something similar again.

  • Reply
    thisgoodink
    October 12, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    My partner is from Cornwall…I can’t wait to make it there one of these days:) Beautiful pics and story!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      October 14, 2013 at 10:29 pm

      I love it down there – hope you get to go visit and check it out sometime soon.

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