Landscape photograph of the year 2009

Emmanuel Coupe’s photograph of the Isle of Skye has won this year’s popular Take a View Landscape Photographer of the Year competition. Land, water and sky combine in an image of sharp stillness, in which the pinnacles of the Old Man of Storr meet the sun’s rays.  The best entries will be exhibited in London’s National Theatre from December 5th.  Have a look at the Times Online photo gallery for more of the winning photographs and Emmanuel Coupe’s website.

Soay sheep fight bracken

A flock of sheep has been drafted in to try and stop the spread of bracken at Pow Hill Country Park on the Northumberland and County Durham border. Bracken is poisonous to local breeds but Soay sheep, descendants of a feral population on the Scottish island of Soay, are immune and nibble away at the base of the plant. Bracken is spreading across these moors and killing rare plants such as bog asphodel, lesser skullcap, and marsh violets. BBC

See also the superbly titled Soays get crackin’ on the bracken (above photo)

The Swaledale sheep that are native to the hills and farms of the North Pennines steer clear of bracken – but the small flock of Soays that has been drafted in to wage the war against the fiendish fronds just love to feed on the bracken’s stalks.

Clifftop cottage in Cornwall

High on the cliffs in the Lizard Peninsula, overlooking Housel Bay and less then a mile to Britain’s most southern point, stands Wireless Cottage. Originally built by Marconi for his radio experiments and now owned by the National Trust, the building is part of radio history and there’s a small wireless museum next door. Wireless Cottage offers comfortable accommodation for two with splendid sea-views from its windows and the coastal path at its door. More information

Sugar beet and the Pink-footed Geese

At first light, the sound of huge flocks of honking Pink-footed Geese fills the north Norfolk sky as they fly in from their roosts on the Wash. Back in the 1960s, wintering Pink-foots in the UK numbered about 50,000. Nowadays there are over 200,000 and about half of them are found in Norfolk. Continue reading Sugar beet and the Pink-footed Geese

Birds sharing nest boxes

The RSPB have put out a reminder that now is a good moment to clean out nest boxes and put up new ones, since birds begin searching for likely sites well in advance of spring. And a sure sign that more nest boxes are needed in the area is when different species are found sharing the same space. This occurs particularly with barn owl boxes, since holes in trees or old buildings suitable for larger birds are becoming harder to find. The photograph shows barn owl and kestrel chicks being raised together. Great and blue tits are also known to share. RSPB

Rambling on Kinder Scout


The 1932 mass trespass at Kinder Scout has passed into rambling legend and is seen as a milestone in the fight for the right to roam. Located in the north of the Derbyshire Peak District, and very close to the Manchester conurbation, this moorland plateau is of outstanding beauty, with views of Snowdon on a clear day and a 30-foot waterfall that the winds blow into the sky.

But 70 years ago, Kinder Scout was a private moor reserved for grouse shooting. And the famous demonstration, organised by the British Workers Sport Federation, was very much part of the 1930s class war. The confrontation with police and game keepers on the one side and a mixed group of communists, students and ramblers on the other resulted in scuffles, arrests and prison sentences. In his statement at the dock, Bernard Rothman, one of the organisers, argued their case: Continue reading Rambling on Kinder Scout

Dormice campaign

A hazel dormouse

The People’s Trust for Endangered Species is urging the public to look in woodlands for half-eaten hazelnuts to help track down and record the whereabouts of the elusive, endangered dormouse. The hazel dormouse is difficult to find at the best of times, as Lewis Carroll reminds us – mainly because it spends most of its time asleep. According to Dr Pat Morris, an internationally-regarded expert on the dormouse, “They chew a little hole in the side of the nut and then suck out the contents. It’s very distinctive. It looks like a hole’s been drilled in the side”

The Trust notes “Hazel nuts, where available, are a favourite food of the dormouse. And luckily for us dormice leave distinctive tooth marks when they gnaw into the green hazel nuts, before eating the kernel and discarding the shell to fall to the forest floor. Thousands of volunteers took part in the first two nut hunts of 1993 and 2001, sending in hazel nuts from over 2,000 sites and helping to identify almost 500 woodlands that had dormice present across England and Wales. Now we would like you to get out into the woods again and help us find more nibbled nuts this autumn and winter.”

Here is a photo of a hazelnut eaten by a dormouse taken from the Offwell Woodland & Wildlife Trust website, which notes “a smooth circular cut with tiny radiating teeth marks is the sign of the Dormouse”. I am a little confused as this seems to contradict the above “they chew a little hole in the side of the nut and then suck out the contents.”
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Tropical fish caught in Bristol Channel

An almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana) has been caught 5 miles off Lundy island in what might be another sign of climate change. This species is normally found in warmer waters, such as near Florida and the Caribbean. There is speculation if a colony is establishing itself in the Bristol Channel.  The species is known for rubbing itself against passing sharks – and divers – to remove skin parasites. Daily Telegraph

The pygmy shrew: the smallest mammal in Britain

Pygmy Shrews can’t stop eating. Their metabolism is so fast that two hours after a meal they’re starving again. Hibernation is out of the question as they’re too small to store fat reserves, so they have to remain active during the winter, eating ceaselessly to keep warm. They are, in turn, an important part of the diet of Tawny and Barn owls, among other predators. They can live up to 15 months. Continue reading The pygmy shrew: the smallest mammal in Britain

Mystery of vanishing cuckoos

Not only the cuckoos, but other spring-arrivals such as wood warblers, nightingales and spotted flycatchers are declining alarmingly in Britain, even in nature reserves with carefully managed habitats.  The explanation might lie in sub-Saharan Africa, where these migrants winter.  The RSPB and BTO (Bird Trust for Ornithology) have launched a research project to study changing conditions in Africa, where climate change and pressure from a growing human population could be affecting these birds. More in the Independent