1. If you are facing the sea, make your way to the top-right corner of the beach and follow the path to the left. Continue on the path until it crosses a driveway.

    Widemouth Bay is the southernmost of the sandy beaches around Bude. As the name implies, this is a substantial stretch of sand and faces west into the Atlantic. Consequently, when there is a big surf running, there can be some absolutely monster waves at Widemouth which can make you wonder why going surfing seemed like a good idea at the time. In the autumn and winter, it's a good place to see expert surfers.

    In the past, sloops from Wales would use Widemouth as a port (in the most basic sense), unloading goods such as coal and limestone; and taking Cornish wares back to Wales such as granite, slate, tin, copper and even Cornish pasties! The beaches in the bay are now the landing points for many transatlantic cables linking the USA and UK, supporting an altogether different kind of surfing.

  2. Cross the drive, and follow the path ahead over a second drive to a waymark. Then follow the waymarked path ahead along the coast to a fork in the path at a waymark just after a bench.

    Salthouse cottage (where the path crosses the two drives) was a salt store built in the 18th Century. Salt was an important part of the pilchard industry and the main means to preserve meat and fish for domestic consumption. In some parts of Cornwall, salted conger eels were hung from the rafters and sliced like bacon.

  3. At the fork, bear left to reach a circle of large stones on the headland (Lower Longbeak).

    All salt comes from the sea. Rock salt is just dried-up seawater. Roughly 90-95% of the sea salt is sodium chloride and the remaining fraction contains small amounts of other minerals. The production of table salt involves some processing to remove additional unwanted minerals from the rock which also removes some of the trace minerals from the seawater.

  4. At the rock circle, turn right to follow the path along the coast until you reach a fork in the path.

    Curlews are the largest brown wading bird in Cornwall and easily recognisable by their ridiculously long and slightly curved bill. This has evolved for probing for invertebrates such as ragworms deep in the estuary mud. It gets its name from the call which is along the lines of "cur-lee".

    Roughly a quarter of the world's population lives in the British Isles but the population has declined rapidly and it is now on the Red List of most endangered species. It is thought that increased predation from the growing fox and crow population could be one of the factors driving the decline. Curlews nest on the ground which makes their chicks particularly vulnerable to land-based predators.

  5. Take the first turning left and follow the coast path over the next headland (Higher Longbeak) until eventually you reach the Phillip's Point nature reserve sign just after the gap in the hedge.

    Phillips Point nature reserve is located on the seaward side of the Widemouth to Bude coast road. The small reserve is owned by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and is a good spot for seals. It has magnificent vertical and slumping high cliffs with spectacular views to Hartland Point and Widemouth on a clear day.

  6. From the nature reserve sign, follow the coast path until you reach a coast path sign next to the Upton Cross B&B sign.

    There is another tiny wildlife reserve in Upton, preserving the Culm grassland that supports a diverse range of plants and butterflies.

  7. At the sign, join the pavement and follow this past the houses to a gateway on the left with a "Coast Path" sign.

    The geological formation known as the Culm Measures stretches from Dartmoor to north Devon and across northeast Cornwall as far west as Bodmin Moor. It is a 2-3 mile deep sequence of sedimentary rocks laid down during the Carboniferous period and named after a soft sooty coal known as culm which found occasionally within it. The heavy clay soils result in wet grassland and heath which is unlike any other in England and supports a wide diversity of species including rare orchids and the marsh fritillary butterfly. Over 90% of the culm grassland was lost during the 20th Century, and a number of wildlife organisations are now working together to protect what remains.

  8. Go through the gateway (indicated for Bude) and follow the path past the collapsed cliff until you reach a kissing gate.

    In Cornwall, cliffs erode at an average rate of between roughly 3cm - 30cm per year depending on the hardness of the rocks and location. In reality this often happens in infrequent sudden collapses rather than as a steady, gradual process. It was found that one massive storm in 2014 caused around 100 times the average amount of erosion. There are obvious implications from climate change leading to more frequent or more intense storms.

  9. Go through the kissing gate and continue ahead across the field to the gateway at the bottom of the hill.

    The association of good luck with four-leafed clover was first recorded in Victorian times (1860s-1870s) so may be a relatively recent invention. Perhaps something that occupied children for hours was seen as good luck in Victorian times!

  10. Go through the gateway and keep left along the coast, towards the waymark at the top of the hill. Once you reach this, continue to the trig point.

    To your left, on a clear day you can see the headlands of The Rumps (most distant, with the islands of The Mouls and Gulland out from it), Tintagel Head (with Castle Island and the large rectangular Castle Hotel to the left of it), Cambeak (the beak-shaped headland) and the less distinct and closest Dizzard Point. On a really clear day, what looks like a large, round island behind The Mouls and Gulland is actually Trevose Head but the lower section of it is hidden behind the horizon.

    Due to the curvature of the earth, the distance you can see to the horizon depends on your height above sea level. This increases with the square root of height (i.e. with diminishing returns). An adult typically sees the horizon about 3 miles from the beach. From the top of a 100 foot lighthouse, it is about 12 miles away. At the top of the highest cliff in Cornwall it is roughly 33 miles out but if a 100ft tower were built all the way up here, it would only allow an extra 2 miles to be seen.

  11. From the trig point, follow the coast path to a kissing gate.

    The process of placing trig points on top of prominent hills and mountains began in 1935 to assist in the retriangulation of Great Britain - a project to improve the accuracy of maps which took three decades.

    The brass plate with three arms and central depression was used to mount a theodolite which was used to measure the angles between neighbouring trig points very accurately. These angles allowed the construction of a system of triangles which covered the entire country and provided a measurement system accurate to around 20 metres.

  12. Go through the gate and follow the path to reach the stone tower.

    The headland on which the tower stands is called Compass Point.

    Compass Point is a protruding rocky headland just to the south of Bude's breakwater and Summerleaze beach. The coastguard watch tower at Compass Point was built by the Acland family in 1840 and is known as "The Storm Tower" or "The Pepperpot". It is built of local sandstone and based on the Temple of Winds in Athens. In 1900 it was moved inland to its current position as the location where it was originally built was being eroded.

    The summit at Compass Point is an excellent viewpoint from which you can see Trevose Head to the South (and its lighthouse in the evening) and the island of Lundy to the North. There is a topograph here which shows the headlands and moorland summits visible on a clear day.

  13. From the watchtower, keep left on the cliff-edge path and follow this until it descends flight of steps to emerge onto a surfaced path at a waymark.

    You can turn left at this point to visit Bude's breakwater, from which there are good views back into Summerleaze beach.

    The breakwater at Bude is located on the south of Summerleaze beach where the River Neet enters the sea. The original breakwater was built in the 1820s as part of the canal construction work and was shorter than the current one. It was destroyed in a terrible storm in February 1838 and was replaced by the existing breakwater in 1843. The metal support for the Barrel on Barrel Rock at the end of the Breakwater, was once the propeller shaft of the SS Belem, wrecked at Northcott Mouth.

  14. Turn right onto the path and follow it until you reach a signpost.

    At the top of the beach, the Bude Canal meets the River Neet which forms the channel up the beach.

    Bude Canal runs from Helebridge, through the centre of Bude, to the sea lock near Summerleaze beach. The canal was built in the 1820s to carry sea sand and lime inland for use as fertiliser and the original canal system spanned 35 miles reaching Launceston. The canal closed in 1901 when competition from the railway, bringing cheap manufactured fertilisers, rendered it uneconomical. Today, roughly 2 miles of canal remain filled with water.

  15. At the signpost, turn left down the steps and then walk straight ahead to join the road and reach the sea lock. Follow the path over the top of the lock gates and turn right onto the path on the other side of the canal. Follow this to reach a car park.

    When the Bude Canal was built at the start of the 1820s, a lock was constructed at the seaward entrance to allow sailing vessels of up to 100 tons to be admitted to the basin for trading. In 1835, the Sea Lock was badly damaged by a storm. It was subsequently rebuilt, and the opportunity was taken to enlarge it to its current dimensions which could accommodate larger seagoing vessels of up to 300 tons.

    In 2000, the sea lock had a complete refurbishment which included 2 new sets of gates. Only 8 years later, the new gates were lifted and damaged when a storm coincided with a very high tide; this broke the seal and caused the canal to start to drain. An emergency dam was built to protect the wildlife in the canal whilst the gates were repaired.

  16. Keep following along the edge of the canal to reach the bridge and turn right to reach the pedestrian crossing. Cross this to the pedestrian gate on other side. Go through this and follow the sloping path down to the canal towpath.

    The Falcon Hotel is situated alongside Bude Canal, just below the bridge. The Falcon Hotel was established in 1798 and the current building dates from about 1825, enlarged in the 1870s and then again in 1912, when the central tower was added and several cottages in Falcon Terrace were absorbed. It is thought to be the oldest coaching house in North Cornwall and was once the headquarters for four-horse coaches running between Bideford, Clovelly, Bude, Boscastle, Tintagel and Newquay.

  17. Follow the towpath up the canal, keeping right where the cycle path forks to the left. Continue past the bird hide, until you reach Rodd's Bridge where the path ends at a lane crossing the canal.

    The bird hide overlooks the Bude Marshes nature reserve. You can also sometimes see kingfishers on the canal.

    Bude Marshes is an area of wetlands located on the south-west edge of Bude, along the northern bank of the Bude Canal, not far along from the Visitor's Centre. The marshland is the fourth largest area of reed in the county and provides valuable habitat for wintering migrant and breeding birds.

    Kingfishers are found near slow-moving or still water where they dive to catch fish, as their name implies, but they also eat many aquatic insects, ranging from dragonfly nymphs to water beetles.

    The Kingfisher is able to switch between light receptors in the main central area of its eye and a forward-facing set when it enters water, allowing it to judge distances accurately underwater. It is estimated that a female needs to eat over twice her own body weight in order to increase her condition sufficiently for egg laying.

    The unmistakable metallic blue and orange birds fly fast and low over the surface of the water so may only be apparent as a blue flash. The pigment in their feathers is actually brown but the microstructure of their features results in light interference patterns which generate the brilliant iridescent blue and orange colours. Unfortunately the result, during Victorian times, was that kingfishers were extensively killed for display in glass cases and for use in hat making. The population has since recovered and is now limited by the availability of suitable waterways.

  18. At Rodd's Bridge, cross the canal then turn left onto the towpath on the other side. Continue following the canal, past two locks, until you reach another bridge.

    In 2013, water voles were re-introduced in the Bude area and have been breeding successfully. The colony is protected by an ongoing programme to monitor and trap mink in the surrounding area.

  19. Follow the towpath past the weir, until you reach a footbridge at a fork in the canal.

    The Fish Pass is situated on the weir near Rodd's Bridge. The Fish Pass is a concrete channel along one edge of the weir, down which water flows from the canal to the river. The channel contains a series of aluminium baffles, which create turbulence, slowing the water down and increasing the depth. This allows fish to swim along the channel and commute between the river and canal. Alongside this is an Eel Pass which consists of bristles that the eels can get a grip on, and a pool half-way up so they can have a rest.

  20. Follow the path straight ahead past a redundant stile and into a car park. Walk through the car park until you reach a gate on the right at the far end.

    To deal with the rising land and poor supply of water, the Bude canal included "inclined planes" (hills in a canal!) which were cheaper to construct, saved water and were quicker to use than a flight of locks.

    The 20ft long canal boats had wheels, and the boats laden with 20 tons of cargo were hauled uphill on rails. Power was provided by waterwheels or, in one instance, a very large bucket of water which acted as a counterweight as it was lowered down a shaft.

    The Barge Workshop at Helebridge - a small museum, opened on Sundays during the summer by volunteers - houses the only known example of a Bude Canal tub boat. Despite being at the bottom of the canal until 1976, this is substantially complete, including its wheels.

  21. Go through the gate on the right and follow the path until you reach a public footpath sign. Turn left through the pedestrian gate to cross the drive and reach a gate next to an information board.

    Whalesborough is an ancient settlement, mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Walesbrau. The Whalesborough tea room/bistro, at the top of the drive, has information about the local wildlife in the form of some interactive displays.

    Whalesborough Farm, overlooking the Bude Canal near Helebridge, started making cheese in 1999. Since then they have won national awards for their cheeses which are stocked by The Eden Project and Fortnum and Mason amongst others, and their cheese has even been served in the Houses of Parliament!

  22. Go through the kissing gate and bear right to the brow of the hill then head to the waymarked gate in the top hedge.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 (a lot of moo is needed for the cheese and clotted cream produced in Cornwall) so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields.

    The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access Team.

    Do

    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  23. Go through the kissing gate to the right of the gate and follow the path across the next field to the gateway.

    Pineapple weed is related to chamomile and is consequently also known as false chamomile. It's able to colonise poor soils on waste ground including cracks between paving. The flowers resembling little yellow balls are also quite distinctive but even more so is the pineapple scent when is trodden on or squeezed. The leaves can be eaten in salads and the leaves and flowers can also be dried to make tea.

    Since prehistoric times, a year of fallow was used to allow soil nutrients to recover before planting a crop the following year. By the end of the Middle Ages, a three-year scheme was in use with alternating crops allowing production two out of three years. In the 18th Century a four-crop rotation was introduced (wheat, turnips, barley, and clover) which not only resulted in continuous production but included a grazing crop and a winter fodder crop, providing food for livestock throughout the year. Crops used in the rotation had different nutrient demands, giving the soil chance to recover. In particular, bean crops and clover impart nitrogen into the soil and are therefore a key part of modern rotation schemes. As well as balancing the use of soil nutrients between years, by staggering the rotation in adjacent fields, the spread of pests and diseases is reduced.

  24. Go through the gateway and keep ahead past the gateway on the left. Follow the left hedge of the field to the remains of a pedestrian gate.

    The red bunny sign earlier on the route at the information board refers to hares: there is a resident population in this area.

    Unlike rabbits, hares spend all their time above ground and are able to reach speeds of 35mph to escape from predators which include foxes and buzzards. Hares are now rare or even locally extinct in areas of South West England, yet in the late 1800s there were around 4 million hares distributed throughout Britain. Their decline isn't fully understood but is thought to be linked to changes in farming practices, together with hares' need to feed throughout the year as they neither hibernate nor store large amounts of fat. In the past, the dairy farms of the South West had hay meadows which contained a wide range of plants providing hares with something to eat whatever the season. Since the Second World War, 95% of the hay meadows have been lost, largely replaced by silage production using fields sown with pure grass. Since the end of the 20th Century, there has been some diversification of farming in Cornwall and it's possible, particularly if this isn't too intensive, that this may create conditions that are more favourable for hares. The Hare Preservation Trust are interested in any sightings of hares to help build up an understanding of where the habitat is most suitable; they have an online survey which you can use to notify them of any hare sightings.

  25. Go through the gateway and follow the path ahead to a gateway in the far left corner.

    The fields here are rotated between arable crops such as oil-seed rape and barley.

    In the 1800s, using turnips in a crop rotation was a popular means of enriching the nitrogen content of the soil. However, this crop also depletes the lime content of the soil and so the practice was less common in Cornwall than elsewhere in the country. Where turnips were grown, this could well have further fuelled the demand for lime-rich shell sand to be brought inland by horse, the railway along the Camel, or via Bude canal.

  26. Go straight through the gateway. On the other side, where a number of other paths converge, go straight ahead and follow the path along the right hedge. At the far side of the field, make for the gateway onto the road.

    According to folklore, you should not pick blackberries after Michaelmas Day (11th October) as this is when the devil claims them. The basis for this is thought to be the potentially toxic moulds which can develop on the blackberries in the cooler, wetter weather.

    Skylarks are the most common member of the lark family in Britain and are often known simply as "larks".

    Almost all European countries have reported a rapid decline in lark numbers over recent years. In Britain, two-thirds of the population has disappeared in 30 years. This is thought mainly to be due to intensive agriculture and particularly the autumn sowing of cereals. When cereals were sown in the spring, the fields of stubble that remained after harvest provided an environment where larks could nest during the winter.

  27. Cross the road then take the right of the two gravel tracks, marked "To the Coastpath" until you reach a footpath sign.

    During the 18th Century, a salt tax was introduced in Britain, both on production and on import. Ireland didn't have this tax, so large amounts of rock salt were exported from Cheshire to Ireland to fuel the resulting boom in salt refinement there. Refined salt from Ireland was smuggled back to Britain in sufficient quantities to put the (taxed) sea salt industry into further decline.

  28. At the footpath sign, turn left and follow the path back to Widemouth Bay.

    At the rightmost end of Widemouth Bay is a fossil bed.

    There is a fossil bed at the northern end of Widemouth Bay. The bed contains fossilised remains of fish from the Carboniferous period. The fossils are quite difficult to locate as they only occur in certain rock layers. The place to look is in buff-coloured shales between sandstone and siltstone layers.

Bude is a small resort town on the northern part of the North Cornish coast. The Bedes, meaning wise men, attended the chapel on the rock and consequently the location was referred to as "Bede's Haven". In Cornish it was known as Porthbud. Locals pronounce it "bood" which probably stems from the Cornish version of the name.

In Victorian times, Bude was a popular seaside resort and many of the Victorian buildings remain. In more recent times, Bude has become famous for its Jazz Festival in August. There is a Tourist Information Centre in the main car park.

As part of a 21st Century regeneration project, the locks at Rodd's Bridge and Whalesborough have been restored to full working order. The final step of replacing Rodd's Bridge (a relatively recent bridge bearing a small lane crossing the canal) with a lift bridge, once again allows small craft to navigate the canal from Helebridge to the sea lock.

The beach sand and sandstone around Bude was used as a source of lime to improve the fertility of the acid soils further inland.

"the quantity which is every season carried away from different parts of the coast for the purpose of manure almost exceeds belief. From Bude, in the parish of Stratton, it has been ascertained that in one day as many as four thousand horse loads have been taken."
Transactions of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall 1818.

The rock on the inside of Bude's breakwater is known as Chapel Rock. It is so named because a chapel stood there in mediaeval times which is believed to have been dedicated to St. Michael (in a similar fashion to the more well-known "mount" near Penzance).

The Brendon Arms, in a tardis-like fashion, has had five generations of landlord all called George Brendon. The first of these began as "the landlord" in 1872.

Trout are members of Salmon family who all have an extra tiny (adipose) fin on their back towards their tail, that most other fish don't have. No-one is quite sure what the purpose is of this fin but a neural network in the fin indicates that it has some kind of sensory function.

The native trout in the UK is not the trout that supermarkets and trout farms stock (the Rainbow Trout, which has red flush along its side and is native to North America), but the Brown Trout which has well-defined dark red spots along its sides. You can often make out the spots when you see them lying in pools. Rainbow Trout are often stocked in fishing lakes so do sometimes escape into the wild.

Small trout typically feed on invertebrates whereas larger trout generally feed on other fish but have been known to eat anything of a suitable size unlucky enough to fall into a river. In fact in New Zealand, mouse-shaped lures are sold for trout fishing!

Sea Trout have a very similar life-cycle to Salmon, being born in a river, migrating to the ocean to feed and then returning to the river to spawn. As with Salmon, they do not feed once they enter freshwater and after spawning they are susceptible to disease. It is not unusual to see them with fungal growths in early winter, but as long as these infections aren't too major, the trout return to the sea where they recover and return to spawn again.

What is intriguing is that Sea Trout are exactly the same species as Brown Trout, which live all their lives in a river. It seems to be that if there isn't enough food, young trout undergo "the change" (known as smoulting) in which their physiology permanently alters for an existence in saltwater, they change colour to silver, and they head off to live in the sea.

The flooded quarry pits, farm ponds and pools in small streams in Cornwall provide ideal habitats for Freshwater Eels. Freshwater Eels have such an eccentric life cycle that it was a mystery for many years. The adult eels migrate from the lakes in which they grew up, across land, down rivers and 4,000 miles across the ocean to the Caribbean where they spawn and die. The larvae then drift for 300 days in the ocean currents from the Sargasso Sea to Europe. The tiny "glass eels" then migrate up rivers and across fields to find suitable homes.

Eels have been a popular food for centuries as their rich, oily flesh is very tasty. Do to overfishing, pollution and also changes in ocean currents, the Freshwater Eel is now a critically endangered species. Since the 1970s, the numbers of eels reaching Europe is thought to have declined by around 90% (possibly even as much as 98%). A research project has been started to breed eels in captivity. This is not straightforward as the eel is generally only able to reproduce after having swum 4,000 miles. The researchers have therefore developed an Eel Gym to help the eels find their mojo.

The confluence of rivers Neet and Strat occurs upstream of Bude at Helebridge. From this point downstream, there has been controversy over whether the river should be called the Neet or the Strat. Historically the residents of Stratton seemed to prefer the name shared with their settlement whereas some Bude residents referred to the "Strat" as a "vulgarism". This has never been formally resolved, and on Ordnance Survey maps, the river is now diplomatically known as the "Neet or Strat".

Wild thyme grows along the coast and flowers from June to September with tiny pink flowers. During mediaeval times, the plant was a symbol of bravery, possibly due to derivation from the Greek word thumos, meaning anger or spiritedness. An embroidered motif of a bee on a sprig of thyme is said to have been given by mediaeval ladies to their favoured knight.

Coastal land management including removal of excess gorse and grazing to keep taller plants in trim has allowed wild thyme to become more widespread as well as the Cornish chough. Wild thyme is a nectar source for many bees and butterflies and the food plant for young caterpillars of the large blue butterfly.

The white flowers along the coast in July and August which resemble a more compact version of Cow Parsley are the delightfully-named Sea Carrot. Unlike Cow Parsley, the flowers start off pink and become white as they open and sometimes have a single dark red flower in the centre. The Sea Carrot is technically the same species as a wild carrot, from which the carrot was domesticated, but is shorter, stouter and more splayed out than a wild carrot. The two converge the further north and east that you go in Britain: West Cornwall is therefore the pinnacle of Sea Carrot evolution. You should avoid touching the leaves of the Sea Carrot as they can make skin hypersensitive to ultraviolet light which can result in blistering caused by extreme sunburn.

In late June and July, lady's bedstraw produces clusters of tiny pale yellow scented flowers. The plant has long, thin stems with a star of very narrow leaves at intervals along the stems, a bit like rosemary, or its relative, goosegrass, but is softer than either.

The name has arisen from its use to stuff mattresses as the scent was pleasant and also repels fleas. In Scandinavia, the plant was used as a sedative during childbirth. The plant was also used to produce red and yellow dyes. The light orange colour of Double Gloucester cheese originates from this. The flowers were used in place of renin to coagulate milk but no records remain for the method of how to do this.

Thrift is a tough evergreen plant which grows on sea cliffs and consequently it's the county flower of the Scilly Isles. To survive in this environment it needs to be able to withstand drought and salt-laden winds. Its long, thin leaves and hairy flower stems have evolved to minimise water loss.

The name "thrift" has been suggested to arise from the plant's tufted leaves being economical with water in the windy locations where it is found. It's common all along the Cornish coast and in April-June produces pale pink flowers, hence its other common name: "Sea Pink". The plant grows in dense circular mats which together with its covering of pink flowers gives rise to another less common name: "Ladies' Cushions".

Thrift is tolerant of metals such as lead and particularly copper in soil so it is able to colonise coastal mine tips. It has been suggested that the heavy metal tolerance may be partly down to not transporting much dissolved metal up the shoot of the plant (since thrift grows in a desiccating salty environment, there is less water to transport it than in many other plants). However thrift also has mechanisms to sequester metals and excrete them through its roots and leaves.

Thrift is known as a "hyperaccumulator" of copper: it can concentrate copper by over 1000 times more than other neighbouring plants. This makes it potentially useful to clean up contaminated land but this be done over many years. In principle it's even possible to mine for minerals by concentrating them in plants and then extracting them (known as "phytomining"). It's currently far from economical to do so for copper but for rarer high-value metals it may become economical, possibly in conjunction with chemical soil additives to increase bio-availability.

Purple loosestrife usually grows in damp places such as next to a stream and can be spotted from spikes of bright purple flowers in August-September.

The common name is thought to be the result of a 16th century mistranslation of the Latin name. Attempts were then made to make "loose strife" fit with reported uses for the plant to try to rationalise the wacky name. The Latin name is now thought simply to refer to the name of city in Thrace (Greek-Turkish border) which perhaps had the plant growing along its watercourses.

Himalayan Balsam is a tall plant with very pretty pink flowers that can often be seen lining footpaths in the summer and early autumn. It was introduced as an ornamental species in 1839 and unfortunately the plant is now a major ecological problem. It can grow from a seed to 9ft high in a few months, forming dense thickets and wiping out other plant species. It is also extremely invasive as the seed pods open explosively, launching around 800 seeds per plant up to 7 metres and the seeds are also adapted to travel by water. It is a nuisance on riverbanks as roots are shallow and allow the sediment to become easily eroded into the river. It can be identified its bright pink flowers and it has a characteristic sweet smell.

Geese migrate to warmer climates for the winter and fly in a V-shaped formation known as a skein or wedge (on the ground, a collection of geese is known as a gaggle). The V-formation allows birds behind the leader to fly more efficiently as the rising air from flapping wings of the bird ahead helps to support the weight of the one behind. This can increase the range that the bird can fly by over 70%. The birds each take it in turns to do the harder job of flying at the front.

Biologically, there is no clear distinction between ducks, geese and swans (geese and swans are one lanky subfamily of ducks). Dark-coloured ducks get the equivalent of "grey hairs" with age - their feathers gradually turn white.

The species of duck that you're most likely to encounter is the mallard. Mature males have striking iridescent green heads and dark bodies whilst females look totally different - a brown and white pattern which offers much better camouflage. However, both have a common feature that is unique to mallards - an iridescent blue patch on their wings.

In situations where ducks need to watch out for predators, they can sleep one half of their brain at a time, keeping one eye open for danger. In safer circumstances, ducks will sleep fully.

Male ducks (drakes) have a penis which falls off every autumn and regrows the following spring. The length each year depends on the amount of competition for females and varies up to a maximum of the duck's whole body length.

Ducks can change gender. This happens for about 1 duck in 10,000 and more commonly from female to male than the other way around. It seems to occur in a flock of ducks where there is a significant gender imbalance where it gives the duck that changes a competitive advantage. It's likely that the female to male direction is a bigger evolutionary win because one male can fertilise multiple females.

Feeding bread to ducks is quite bad for them although not feeding ducks anything at all is potentially worse as many have now become reliant on being fed. White bread lacks many of the nutrients that ducks need but ducks will gorge on it to the point of ignoring other foods, effectively becoming junk food addicts. The problem is that by filling up on just this, they can become malnourished, deformed and even die. Some healthier things to feed ducks are leftover peas, sweetcorn, seeds, rice and salad.

Moorhens are water birds which is the basis of names including "waterhen" and the more entertaining "swamp chicken". The name mor-hen was recorded in the 13th Century and is from an old word for marsh that also gave rise to "mire", rather than simply "moorland".

Moorhens are close relatives to coots but have red-and-yellow beaks rather than white. Like coots, they are aggressive in the breeding season. Unlike coots, they are not aggressive the rest of the time too! The older moorhen chicks will even help their parents to raise the young ones. Moorhens also spend more time out of the water than coots and will even climb trees.

Roach are silver freshwater fish with red fins that are members of the Carp family. They are typically found in shoals in fairly static water such as lakes and canals. Cornwall's fast-flowing streams are the domain of more powerful swimmers such as trout.

Roach are tough little fish that can live for up to 15 years. They are able to cope with more pollution than most other fish, salty water, cold temperatures and can even adapt their body shape to deal with a scarcity of food. They are able to survive on just about anything from insects and fish eggs to water plants.

They can be confused with their cousins rudd which are similar in shape and also have red fins. The easiest way to tell them apart is that rudd have distinctly upturned mouths for hoovering in floating water plants.

The earliest form of canal lock was a single gate known as a "rush lock" which afforded downstream navigation resembling whitewater rafting!

The idea of an enclosed area between two gates - allowing upstream as well as downstream navigation - was pioneered in mediaeval China by the naval engineer Qiao Weiyue in 984. It is now referred to as a "pound lock" (pound in the sense of "enclosure").

  • Initially all locks used a vertical gate, raised like a portcullis. These were very heavy and cumbersome to operate and often took two men to raise it against the force of gravity, by which time lots of water had been lost down the canal.
  • Leonardo da Vinci improved on this by inventing the mitre lock, where a pair of angled gates are sealed by the upstream water pressure. His design slowly spread worldwide over a couple of centuries and is now used everywhere.
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