Piddocks in the Chalk

Daffodils are beginning to poke their heads up through the soil, the sun is going down a whole twenty minutes later than on 21st December and my father has been called up for his first dose of the vaccine – these are things to be cheerful about. Yes, its been cold and wet and the country is again in lockdown, but we remain positive.

This odd-looking vessel below has become a very familiar sight, having been here on and off all week. She is the Ocean Marlin, an offshore supply ship, although she is is now on fishery protection duties.

The Royal Navy’s Overseas Patrol Squadron monitors 80,000 square miles of sea around Britain, protecting our fishing rights. It also carries out inspections of fishing boats in UK waters to ensure that they are operating within the law.

A year ago, the squadron was called the Fisheries Protection Squadron and there were just three ships and a helicopter:

As a result of Brexit, there are now eight Naval ships and other vessels such as the Ocean Marlin have also been seconded in to help. 80,000 square miles is, after all, an awfully large area.

One day this week, we went for a walk around the village and down onto the beach.

Some of the chalk has been burrowed into by Piddocks (Pholas sp). These Bivalves can bore a hole into the soft rock by first locking on with their sucker-like feet and next twisting their shells to drill. The animal is then completely protected in its rock tunnel and extends a siphon out to filter feed on organic matter in the water.

On the underside of a big lump of chalk that had broken away, one of the Piddocks was still there – this was exciting for us because, in all the years of seeing their tunnels, we had never actually seen one of the animals before. The flesh of these Bivalves is bioluminescent and apparently it is possible to see them glowing in the dark at low tide.

We also found some fossils in the chalk wave cut platform:

The Gunnery stands up on the cliff – a recently renovated, James Bond-style house that has incorporated a Second World War gun emplacement within its structure. Building work had been going on for ages and it’s good that it is finally completed. The only access to the house is by a lift up from the bottom of the cliff. I don’t know if this house is still for sale, but it was on the market for £6million in March 2020. This seems a lot for something with very little land indeed and a chalet holiday park nestling around it, but what do I know.

Back at the meadows, there are cameras on two of the gates to photograph perching Birds but we also see these gates being used as a super highways for Rats and Mice throughout the night.

Perhaps they feel safer being off the ground away from the Foxes when they are crossing open areas.

We watched through binoculars as a Fox ran at, and probably caught, a Stock Dove that was pottering around under the feeders. There was also this bitten-off wing of a juvenile Herring Gull lying in the meadows.

This Gull must have provided an excellent meal for a Fox because they are really quite large.

And here is another chance to admire how great the one-eyed Vixen is looking these days. Back in the summer, she had scarcely any fur at all on her tail because of mange:

I hadn’t seen Yellowhammer for a while but now they are back:

The Kestrels have been doing a lot of hovering above the meadows hunting for Voles. The male has also been turning up on the cameras:

Woodpigeon are busy working the hedgerows for any remaining food:

In the ponds, the time is approaching when Frogs gather to spawn. We are certainly noticing increased activity:

Across in the wood, this Squirrel is out and about in the cold weather and has managed to find a Hazelnut:

I’m always surprised to see how high up in its head a Woodcock’s eye is:

Finally today, this picture was taken on our walk to the village and it tells the story of our week of weather – wet with a bitter easterly wind:

It is a good time to curl up in the warm with a book and a 1960s edition of Charles Darwin’s Earthworm book has arrived that we are both intending to read. Who knows, we may even try to reproduce some of Darwin’s experiments on our own Worms here…

2 thoughts on “Piddocks in the Chalk

  1. I knew about the White cliffs of course but I didn’t realise there would be chalky wave platforms. Of course, it makes sense! So much to see in your post. Good to see yellowhammers back. 🙂

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