Promoting Intertidal Sciences, Conservation & Education Studies | blog | 29th Aug | Dr Mike Kent

Saint Piran and his crab

A couple of weeks ago, Tubestation hosted a Navigators of Faith event when Rev Dr Howard Worsley, Vice Principal of Trinity College Bristol, and Caz, one of his theology students, told us about their voyage around the British Isles. They sailed hundreds of miles in sometimes treacherous seas tracing the routes, landing places and influences of the early Celtic Christian saints. In addition to hearing about the highs and lows of their amazing journey, we explored with them the question “ What can our modern living learn from our Celtic past?” Much was said about how the Celtic Saints brought Christianity to Cornwall, and the monastic model they adopted.

Inevitably, during the discussions the name of St Piran cropped up. Most knew that he is the patron saint of tin-miners. Some also regard him as patron Saint of Cornwall. Most were also familiar with the legends of his landing in Cornwall tied to a mill-stone, and how he re-discovered tin-smelting. But not so many knew about the rare crab that has recently been named after the saint.

Clibanarius erythropus is a rare, tiny hermit crab, easily identified by its bright red legs, its black eyes on long red stalks, and claws of equal size. It was first discovered on British shores by Nick Tregenza when rock-pooling as a teenager at Mousehole in 1960. His discovery was so significant that it was published as a scientific paper in the prestigious journal Nature. Nick went on to become a doctor, but he maintained his enthusiasm for marine biology and passion for marine conservation. He is now Vice President of Cornwall Wildlife Trust. During the last 20 years or so he has become known as the world’s leading authority on the development and use of instruments for monitoring marine mammals acoustically. In 2017, he was awarded the highly prestigious Christopher Cadbury Medal in recognition of his work to advance nature conservation in the British Isles.

Although common in the warmer waters of the Channel Islands and France, Nick’s tiny hermit crab virtually disappeared from British shores after the Torrey Canyon oil spill of 1967. It was not recorded between 1985 and 2016 when it was found at Castle Beach, Falmouth. Its rediscovery generated great interest when featured on BBC Springwatch as the intriguing crab with only a scientific name. A poll was conducted to give it a common name – over 60% voted to call it St Piran’s crab. Chris Packham said it was a good choice because “…St Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall. And the legend has it that the Irish heathens threw him into the sea wearing a millstone round his neck. (Bit like the crab’s shell). And then he crawled out on to a Cornish beach. (Bit like the crab has done now.) And he became a hermit. (A bit like the habit of the crab here.)”

I also think that St Piran’s crab is an appropriate name because of its association with Nick Tregenza, a Cornish ‘saint’ of conservation.

Looking for something to finish this blog, I came across this Celtic Prayer in a Power Point presentation given at Tregolls School on St Piran’s Day (www.tregolls.cornwall.sch.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/…/St-Piran-assembly-story.ppt)

May you have
Walls for the wind
And a roof for the rain,
And drinks bedside the fire
Laughter to cheer you
And those you love near you,
And all that your heart may desire. Amen

I’m sure that Nick (and his crab) would approve.