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Cockles of the Thames Estuary

Nature volume 130, page 395 (10 September 1932) | Download Citation



IN the Southend Standard for Aug. 4 and 11, Mr. Laurence Wells describes the local cockle industry, and has collected much valuable information (“The Cockle Industry of Leigh.” Part I., “Early Use of the Cockle as Food and the Rise of the Industry at Leigh-on-Sea”. Part II., “Natural History, Distribution, and Economics”). The natural knowledge of the fisherman is extensive. From experience and from observation he has acquired an intimacy with the ways of the cockle which would put many a naturalist to shame. Spawning time, free-swimming larvae and the effects of the weather on them, their growing stages, and the strange sounds made by the young under the sand are all known to them. To the different parts of the animal he gives special names. He knows that if conditions are unfavourable the cockles may migrate to more pleasant surroundings. Cockles have been collected at Leigh for more than 150 years. To-day the industry is thriving and affords work for a number of men and women. The sandbanks and flats of the Thames estuary afford a habitat admirably suited to the needs of these bivalves, from Shoebury Sands for the whole length of the Maplin and Foulness Sands, known collectively as the “Maplins”. The Leigh men also work along the Kent side as far as the Whitstable Flats; for 60,000 cwt. of cockles, minus the shells, are demanded from them annually, valued at £11,000. The boats are of a special design and peculiar to Leigh. The cockles are collected with a special rake and are cooked, according to law, in a steam oven, before being sent to market. Apart from the sale of the cockles themselves, there is a thriving industry in by-products from the shells. A complete account of the cockle, both historical and biological, is given in Mr. Wells's interesting article.

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