Guardians of the Reef

‘Guardians of the Reef’ uncovered and shared stories of shellfishing in South Devon through a series of heritage events, exhibitions, displays and film screenings.

Delivered in partnership by Storylines and the South Devon and Channel Shellfishermen Association, the project conducted 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 was 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.

Over Autumn 2017, the project ran a total of 6 heritage collection events in the South Hams area focused on gathering oral histories, photographs and artefacts. We also took to the sea to explore the coast. This material was 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Oral history training enabled volunteers to conduct further interviews and the recordings have been archived through Devon County Archives, Devon Rural Archives, Salcombe Museum and the Kingsbridge Cookworthy Museum preserving them for future generations.

The project revisited the same coastal communities over Spring and Summer 2018 in a series of community celebrations. These events included 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, provided a fitting feast.

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


View all project photos >


  • “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

Funders & Links

Print  large_895f60e4e_67a0f162f8974c30b553c3364b61a43fCook logo ACE