Posted by: Ross Gardner | August 22, 2014

Sailing Barges and Stowaways


Back aboard the Volharding at the weekend, with a group of young carers from Hillingdon.  These are young people and children with a lot going on in their lives.  On top of all the usual stuff, such as going to school or college and everything else to do with being a young person growing up and finding their way, they have to also give a considerable amount of time (in some instances up to 50 hours per week) towards caring for others.  These will often be family members and the support they provide for them can include giving domestic care (including looking after their own younger siblings), emotional care and even helping with administering medication.  These are huge responsibilities for anyone, let alone a child or young adult and this is something that can potentially lead to problems with their own health, difficulties at school/college and very limited opportunities for socialising and recreation and a consequently deepening sense of isolation.  If the work of The Volharding Project can do even a little towards helping young carers tackle their challenges, then our own small efforts are all hugely worthwhile.  This is something which has been aided greatly by the support of private donors, Hermitage River Projects, The Rotary Club of London, Thames Water and Next.

The young carers, of course, were not the stowaways in the title.  Our surprise passengers, were of the small, green, six-legged variety.  Given that the trip set off from Hermitage Community Moorings at Wapping in the centre of London, the sight of several Short-winged Conehead aboard the barge was an unexpected one.  It is something however, that can perhaps be explained by her journey down the Essex coast from Maldon the previous day.  This bush-cricket is well-known for favouring saltmarshes among various other wetland habitats, where, despite being omnivorous, they feed mostly on the buds, flowers and unripe seed-heads of sedges and rushes.  The long, blade-like appendage visible in the picture, although looking rather fearsome, is an ovipositor, with which the female inserts eggs into the stems of plants.  With Maldon’s location at the inland extent of the Blackwater Estuary, an area famous for some superb coastal wildlife habitat (including many hectares of saltmarsh) it is far from beyond the realms of possibility that it is from here that they hitched a ride down the coast and up the Thames.

A female Short-winged Conehead (Conocephalus dorsalis) on board Volharding)  Ross Gardner 2014.

A female Short-winged Conehead (Conocephalus dorsalis) on board Volharding.  Ross Gardner 2014.



  1. Ross, we found what I think was a cone head at Chalkwell beach! I was very confused but now it all makes sense. Thanks.

  2. Could this be the invasion of the coneheads!?

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