Earlier this year the Programme Secretary of the Conchological Society made a plea for offers to lead field trips. I looked at my diary and the timing of spring tides and offered a few days in October. The year wore on, our diary filled up, the EU referendum happened and my enthusiasm waned somewhat. However an Offer means an Offer so here we are awaiting the arrival of three couples and a single woman – all these people are members of the Society but are, to all intents and purposes, friends too. Although we are all mollusc enthusiasts and we are gathered to look for and record occurrences of marine molluscs, the second discipline that unites us is archaeology. Seven out of the nine share that skill, whereas only five us could be said to be mollusc experts. By Saturday evening we are assembled and sit down to share our welcoming House Special, a fish pie.
On Sunday I propose that we should visit the shore where Nick and I found two live ormers (Haliotis tuberculata) about eight years ago. Despite the benefit of several pairs of eyes we do not succeed. I keep my eyes open all week and it is only on the last day of fieldwork that some of us find fragments of abalone shell on a beach on the north Cotentin at Plage des Sablons. I know that the species is living at Cap Levi because I have witnessed pecheurs a pied coming off the beach with ormers in their string collecting bags. Although we are working springs I think we probably need the best spring tides to have a chance of finding the animals.
We work several shores and Nick, Bas and Terry go out twice on Aroona with our small Naturalists’ Dredge. They have some success with these trips and Bas seems well pleased with the hauls. I think the highlight of shore excursions must lie in the foray that we make onto the sandflats on the seaward side of the town marina. This is the area that is traditionally dug for Razor Clams when spring tides prevail. Our good friend Andre agrees to accompany us onto that shore and show us how it is done. Nick has had this experience before and in the past I have gone down onto the beach to observe the locals wielding their clamming forks. It is a bit of a feeding frenzy and at the end of the afternoon the sandflats are a devastation. Fortunately in comes the tide and many of the spoil heaps are washed over although the following day does still bear witness to the upheaval. The darker sediments which are turned over in the hunt for razor clams remain near the surface for several tides afterwards before they are taken back into the mix.
At the end of the afternoon we have a very decent haul of Ensis arcuatus and assorted clams, a couple of Buccinum, and some King and Queen scallops. Over the next couple of days we eat some of our foraged molluscs with risotto, and enjoy razor clams with tagliatelle and a wine, cream, garlic and parsley sauce. These things taste so good. I feel like a ‘creature’ of the sea.
At the end of the trip our house guests go home. It has been an interesting week and we have pulled some decent species lists together for the various sites we worked. Three of us couples have been spending a week in September together for the past seven years. We have rented a big house and have been working on stretches of coast in various parts of the country: Skye, Pembroke, Connemara, north Devon, Scarborough, Anglesey and most recently south Devon. It has always been fun, notably because we thoroughly enjoy going to the shore whether to shell or birdwatch of just to amble. We three women thoroughly enjoy cooking for the assembled. We take it in turns. But something has changed and we can blame that on Brexit. Would that we had all voted the same way but you cannot turn the clock back. Divisions have riven the country, communities, families and groups of friends. The damage runs deep for some more than others. As I say, something has changed and our particular golden age of sharing a capacious house with a large table to eat and discourse around has passed. In these recent days I have read a cleverly worded definition of ‘Leave’ in the context of the EU: it will be ‘To regain what we never lost by losing everything we ever had’