Secrets of the sand

Rossall - Len Blacow, second from left, with volunteer Wyre Countryside Rangers
Rossall - Len Blacow, second from left, with volunteer Wyre Countryside Rangers
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Why did the pelican cross the road?

To reach the beach - and find his lost foot.

Call it “shellfish” on my part but when you’re trying to winkle shy kids out of their shells anything goes. Even a bad joke.

And the fact remains Wyre Council’s countryside and waterside officer Len Blacow, 63, has just unearthed one of his best ever finds off the Fylde coast - at Rossall.

It is a shell of Aporrhais pespelecani. More commonly named as the pelican’s foot shell or, even more precisely, “common pelican’s foot.” A sea snail.

Not that it’s particularly common. Indeed this is the only the fourth one Len has found in more than six decades of beach combing as child and man.

Only seven known species of the Pelican’s Foot shell are believed to exist, some of which are from the deep sea and rare.

“You’re more likely to find them in the Med,” says Len who is holding forth on his find to an entranced audience of young beach combers.

Apparently the snail, which has eyes fixed at the base of each tentacle, uses the foot for kicking or lunging while fleeing from predators.

The kids - and parents - have signed up for one of Len’s £2 seashore sessions. He tells the stories of seashells stumbled across there. The children are quick to produce their own fruits of the sea.

Spoils include the shells of razor clams, mussels, oysters, winkles large and small, and whelks. Lots of whelks. Particularly dog whelks, another carnivorous sea snail.

Dog whelks are what Len calls “driller killers”. They use their tongue like a drill to bore through the shell of limpets. They use acid in their saliva to speed a process which takes up to three days.

Once through the shell they are sick into the limpet, mix the limpet up with sick to make a soup, furl their tongue into a straw and suck it up.

“I call them souper heroes,” quips Len.

If that’s stomach churning he describes how starfish turn their tummies inside out to digest meat from cockles.

It puts me right off my prawn butty but kids lap up this kind of stuff. It certainly doesn’t deter the mighty Quinns, Erin, 10, Anya, seven, and Neve, five, who are heading off to “Britain’s best chippy”, Seniors at Thornton’s Marsh Mill, to tuck into fish ‘n’ chips.

They live at Winmarleigh and get to the beach with their grandparents, whenever they can. They regularly attend the outdoor events organised to give locals the chance to explore their local coastline.

Anya adds: “I would love to find a mermaid.”

Elliot Dawson, eight, of Bispham, and friend Ethan Edwards, nine, of Poulton, have an impressive array of shells.

They are delighted by Len’s account of species feeding on “green slime”. Or how we have probably all eaten seaweed - carrageenan is derived from it and used as a thickening agent in ice cream.

Elliot would like to find a “washed up baby sea turtle” but Ethan would prefer a “washed up baby octopus - so I could keep it in the bath at home and let it turn into a kraken.”

Ethan’s mum Marie admits: “They both get such a lot out of days like this. Locals tend to take the beach for granted. These events make you respect it far more.” It comes at a time when pebble pinching (by adults) for building, gardens and other purposes is turning into a cottage industry.

Louis Taylor, eight, and little brother Oliver, five, reckon the razor shells are their best finds.

Len likens the taste of razor clams and whelks to “rubber with salt and vinegar added”. He also spots the barnacles on one shell haven’t opened. “This means the barnacles are alive. Mussels are like blocks of flats for barnacles. They colonise them. If you find them closed put them back into the sea.”

The same advice goes for several other shells from which tiny snails or other creature have emerged.

Len also reveals that the sponge (or bubblewrap) like capsules some of the children have found are the egg cases of whelks. “They’re called buckies in Fleetwood.”

Cuttle fish are pretty darn cute too. They may pared to white bone when we find them but when alive communicate using colour and patterns, such as zebra stripes for courtship.

We’re under observation on the beach ourselves - the kids, parents or carers, Len and volunteer rangers Gwyn McFadyen, Peter Mason and Terry O’Brien. Up above, oyster catchers swoop and circle the shallows in their own quest for fresh finds.

Len reckons 50,000 of them live locally for 150 days a year - and get through around 300 cockles a day. Each. Marine Week has just turned into a maths lesson. You work it out.

Len has another seashore session at the Marine Hall, Fleetwood, next Friday, from 11am. For info call (01995) 602125. or tweet her @jacquimorley