Guardians of the Reef

‘Guardians of the Reef’ will uncover and share stories of shellfishing in South Devon through a series of heritage events, exhibitions and film screenings.

Delivered in partnership by Storylines and the South Devon and Channel Shellfishermen Association, the project will conduct a series of oral history interviews with shellfishermen, many whose families have fished for generations, transforming these into a series of digital stories, films and displays. Thanks to a £10,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Guardians of the Reef will be able to document this unique and largely unrecorded part of coastal heritage.

Those alive today still remember the days of horse and carts transporting crab; huers on clifftops; and tarring clothes before setting to sea. They remember men who went blind in the War but still managed, with a little help, to weave the crab pots. They remember transporting their crab catches by train packed in wooden tea chests and apple barrels. They remember the hard, hand to mouth days of life in rural Devon.

Community buildings such as a Fishermen’s Store, Reading Room and the local pub have acted as back-drops to these stories. For this reason the project will use these buildings as hubs for events, interviews, screenings, celebrations and displays. The project will also take to the sea in a traditional crabbing boat, carrying small groups of retired fishermen around the coastline to identify undocumented fishing marks and share further memories.

Over Autumn 2017, the project will run a total of 6 heritage collection events in the South Hams area focused on gathering oral histories, photographs and artefacts. This material will then be woven together to create a series of digital stories, films and an exciting travelling exhibition. These events will be supported by Kingsbridge Cookworthy Museum and Salcombe Museum, who will provide archive photographs and handling objects from their collection to further stimulate stories and incorporate into the digital stories.

Oral history training will enable volunteers to conduct further interviews and the recordings will be archived through Devon County Archives, Devon Rural Archives, Salcombe Museum and the Kingsbridge Cookworthy Museum preserving them for future generations.

The project will revisit the same coastal communities over Spring and Summer 2018 in a series of community celebrations. These events will include displays, talks and screenings of the digital stories and films generated throughout the project. Locally caught seafood, donated by local fishermen and prepared into traditional dishes, will provide a fitting feast.

A longer-term exhibition will run at Salcombe Museum from April-October 2018 and a bespoke travelling display, constructed from a series of old tea chests and apple barrels, will tour local community festivals and events along the coast. This will include Crabfest in Salcombe and Paignton Harbour Festival.

If you want to find out more about the project or get involved then we would love to hear from you.


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  • “It can’t be stressed enough how valuable this project has been for our fishing communities and over the coming years, we intend to continue recording memories for archiving and copying photographs for collation to expand the collection. The individuals and communities who have been involved hope for more projects of this nature to help breed understanding of different ways of life and to record what will soon be lost to time; we look forward to seeing Storylines next project.”
    Beshlie Pool, Executive Officer at SDCS
  • “Well done for capturing these voices and histories. They were all great, enigmatic pieces. So nice to hear these stories and be able to share them with my family and friends to raise awareness of traditional fishing. A wonderful way of preserving our heritage and gives great insight into past lives and their ways of life. I hope this livelihood will continue in the future.”
    Exhibition attendee
  • Having watched several of the Storyline’s videos, including the one featuring myself, I would like to congratulate you for the excellent way in which you have put them together. Because commercial fishing is carried on out at sea and which for many fishermen is a way of life rather than just a job, your Storylines videos will convey to the general public a little more of the fishermen’s job. The sea is our office, which unfortunately is difficult for the majority of people to access, your video’s help. Keep up the good work.
    Alan Lander, participant

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