Guardians of the Reef

heritage project fishing Devon

Over 2017/2018 Guardians of the Reef uncovered and shared stories of shellfishing in South Devon. The heritage project consisted of a series of community recording events, oral history recordings, exhibitions, displays and film screenings. The aim of the project was to document this unique and largely unrecorded part of coastal heritage.

Recording Memories- A Changing Industry

Delivered in partnership with the South Devon and Channel Shellfishermen Association, this heritage project began with a series of oral history interviews and heritage collection events. We also took to the sea to explore the coast. Many participants families had fished for generations. It was staggering to hear of the changes the industry has undergone within living memory.

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. Many recall transporting their crab catches by train packed in wooden tea chests and apple barrels.

The collection events were supported by Kingsbridge Cookworthy Museum and Salcombe Museum. These museums kindly provided archive photographs and handling objects from their collections. These acted to further stimulate stories and were useful for the next stage of the project. Oral history training enabled volunteers to conduct further interviews.

Heritage Project Sharing and Celebrations

The recordings and photographs we gathered were then woven together to create a series of digital stories, films and an exciting travelling exhibition. These were shared by revisiting the same coastal communities over Spring and Summer 2018 for a series of community celebrations. Events included displays, talks and screenings of the digital stories and films. Locally caught seafood, donated by local fishermen and prepared into traditional dishes, provided a fitting feast.

A longer-term exhibition ran at Salcombe Museum from April-October 2018. We also created a bespoke travelling display, constructed from a series of old tea chests. This toured local community festivals and events along the coast, including Crabfest and Paignton Harbour Festival.

Archiving for the future

The recordings have been archived through Devon County Archives, Devon Rural Archives, Salcombe Museum and the Kingsbridge Cookworthy Museum, preserving them for future generations.


This project was made possible with thanks to a £10,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and South Devon and Channel Shellfishermen Association.


  • Graham Lynn- Memories of a Beesands boy
  • William James Trout- Life of a Hallsands Fishing Family
  • Ken Browse- A Family Business fishing in South Devon

View all project videos >


View all project photos >


  • “It can’t be stressed enough how valuable this project has been for our fishing communities. 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. This project 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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