Five ways to appreciate Cornwall’s natural wonders this autumn and winter

Autumn and winter can be difficult for a lot of people, and it’s normal for spirits to slump amidst the cold and long, dark evenings. Yet there’s much we can do — by taking the change of season in our stride we can make the most of our natural wonders and experience a feeling of psychological renewal. The Cornish coastline is always inspiring, the ever-changing sea even more dramatic and the refreshing wind ready to blow your troubles away.

1. Watching the arrival of magnificent marine predators

In autumn huge shoals of sardines, whitebait and sand eels begin to amass in the seas around Cornwall. These are soon sought out by some of our most iconic marine predators, eager to enjoy new feasting opportunities after spending the summer in deeper waters. They often put on quite a show; feeding frenzies can include whales – minke and even humpbacks – jostling with dolphins, bluefin tuna and diving companies of gannets.

One way of connecting with the spectacle of these beloved visitors is through our citizen marine recording project, Seaquest Southwest, which puts on lots of events to help volunteers survey the sea from the cliffs.

Alternatively, we’re lucky in Cornwall to have a number of excellent wildlife boat operators all around our coast, which endeavour to provide the best possible viewing opportunities. If this takes your fancy, make sure you choose a WiSe (Wildlife Safe) accredited operator, which shows that they are committed to not disturbing wildlife while still providing breath-taking introductions to its wonders.

2. Diving into an underwater winter wonderland

Diving in Cornish seas during the winter can be a truly amazing experience. The water is often clearer in these months, and the coastline offers many sheltered dive sites with a great deal to see and appreciate. A good example is the mearl beds of St Mawes, where several type of slow-growing calcified red seaweed create a rich purple lattice that forms deep beds home to a huge diversity of species. In many of our estuaries you can also experience the beauty of seagrass meadows, and if you’re really rather lucky, you might be able to spot an elusive seahorse.

If you’re a qualified diver and would like to dip beneath the waves with the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, then you might like to get involved with Seasearch, where volunteer divers help keep track of nature’s underwater happenings. Just email and take it from there.

3. Taking the opportunity for some top-notch bird watching

During the winter Cornwall is home to a range of delightful feathered visitors, who come in search of a more temperate climate after a summer of breeding in Scotland and beyond. The Cornish south coast between Falmouth Bay and St Austell Bay is a key site for great northern divers, black-throated divers and Slavonian grebe, and has therefore been designated as a Special Protection Area.

Winter is also the ideal time to catch a glimpse of the black-browned albatross, great skua, puffin, Balearic shearwater and storm petrel. If you take to the cliff tops, just make sure you bring a pair of binoculars; you never know when you’ll be gifted the opportunity to witness something amazing take to the sky.

4. Uncovering treasures from the deep

Stormy weather might disrupt our Christmas shopping trips with high wind and driving rain, but the rough seas also bring a wealth of riches to our coasts. Shark egg cases (known as ‘mermaid’s purses’) are a particular favourite, but beachcombers can also find shards of sea glass and exotic driftwood carried by currents from far flung oceans.

Unfortunately, in addition to these fascinating discoveries, we also have to contend with the arrival of plastic pollution. Admittedly, some of the plastic can be interesting in itself: crisp packets dating from the 1970s are found every year, as well as gear from fishermen working off the northwest coast of the United States. Yet the plastic presents a serious problem, and throughout the winter months volunteers from the Your Shore Network and Cornwall Plastic Pollution Coalition work to keep our local beaches pristine and plastic-free.

5. Going for a festive ramble

One of the most joyous winter experiences is spending times with family or friends over Christmas, making the most of seeing loved ones who have journeyed down to Cornwall from up country. One of the best (and cheapest!) things to enjoy together is a good walk, and in Cornwall we’re lucky to live within a tapestry of beautiful countryside criss-crossed with footpaths. Just make sure everyone is suitably wrapped up, and that there’s plenty of hot chocolate and mulled wine waiting for you when you get back home.

Have a look at our nature reserves directory, which includes information about parking, wheelchair access and nature-spotting opportunities for all fifty-seven of Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves. From the amazing wetlands of Windmill Farm, to the varied natural splendour of Helman Tor, there’s almost limitless scope for wonderful rambles.

The wind might blow and the rain might fall, but if you wrap up warm and step out your front door, you’ll surely find your reward.

Our thanks go to Cornwall Wildlife Trust for making these great suggestions.

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