Tuesday, 16 June 2015

From basking sharks to Bechstein's bat: A year spent discovering Britain's rarest animals

Sunday 14 June 2015

As exits from the sea go, mine is not exactly up there with Daniel Craig emerging from the waves in Casino Royale. Arms flailing, I drag myself into the shallows and crawl ashore – tugging off my snorkelling gear before staggering stiff-legged up the beach in my wetsuit, between bemused sunbathers and families, a red face-mask ring stamped around my eyes.

I slump down in the sand, seawater streaming from nose and ears, and desperately massage my calves as agonising spasms continue to shoot through the muscles. After two hours in the water, severe cramp has struck in both legs with such force that I am glad to have made it back on to dry land, however ridiculous I appear to the crowds enjoying a sunny day out in Dorset.

Surely now is the time to admit defeat – given that this is my fourth unsuccessful snorkelling trip to Studland Bay, a three-hour drive from my Devon home. And yet, although the odds of striking lucky are stacked against me, I can’t give up hope of finding one of Britain’s rarest marine creatures – a strange-looking summer scarcity that breeds close to shore amid the green tangles of seagrass.

As I hauled myself to my feet and limped up the hill to my car, I knew I would be back…But in the meantime, other warm-weather wildlife was proving far more obliging, ensuring the season of plenty was living up to its promise – just as well, given the challenge I had set myself. Fed up with watching TV presenters enjoying the best views of British nature, I had decided to embrace a long-held interest in the plight of our most threatened species by actually getting out in my spare time and seeing them, in some cases before it was too late.

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