Archive for November, 2009
November 27th, 2009
The Guardian has an editorial this week praising the planting of trees, inspired by a scientific study for the Forestry Commission, calling for the mass planting of trees as a reliable and cheap way of soaking up carbon dioxide.
If Britain planted 23,200 hectares of woodland a year for the next 40 years, this country’s forests could soak up 10% of predicted emissions. That might sound like a lot of trees, but even at this rate woodland would cover only 16% of the land, far below the European average. The way this is done matters: no one wants to see a repeat of the endless dark lines of Sitka spruce which harmed the spirit of Ennerdale, in the Lake District, or drained the life from the peat soil of the Flow Country in Caithness. Read
November 27th, 2009
The charity Trees for Life have undertaken a project to restore native woodland on their Scottish Dundreggan Estate in Inverness-shire. The birch/juniper wood is being smothered by impenetrable, towering bracken, severely reducing biodiversity and very difficult to control as its fronds are toxic for most animals. Here’s where the wild boar step in: by digging up and eating the roots they can halt the bracken’s relentless spread. They will also be creating seed-beds for a variety of species by ploughing up the soil. Although boar were originally part of Britain’s ecosystem, before being hunted to extinction in the 13th century, this is not a reintroduction programme and they will be controlled within a 30-acre site enclosed by a special boar-proof fence. BBC
November 23rd, 2009
The Guardian’s Country Diary has a vivid description of the recent torrential rain in the Lake District, which resulted in the catastrophic flooding of the Cockermouth area. Here’s an extract:
Sheets of precipitation ran off the waterlogged ground and into the becks and rivers, which stampeded downhill causing landslides and destroying bridges and collapsing embankments. . . . few Lakeland valleys escaped. Waterfalls cascaded down crags, sweeping scree on to roads so that rocks litter the tarmac, some big enough to have smashed through drystone walls and leave gouges in the fellsides in their wake.
About 25 cm of rain fell in 24 hours, making it the wettest day ever recorded in Cumbria. This quantity is the equivalent of the rainfall usually experienced in the Southeast of England over 5-6 months. Newcastle University researchers have found that rainstorms in the UK have doubled in intensity over the last 40 years, due in part to increased water evaporation from warmer seas.
November 20th, 2009
. . . Constable paints nature at a point in history when its total destruction by the hand of man had not yet become conceivable. But only just . . . Wessel Krul in Green and pleasant land: English culture and the Romantic countryside
“Quintessentially English” is how Constable’s landscapes are frequently described. It’s a source of quiet satisfaction to the painter’s most nationalistic fan base that he was happy to live his life entirely in England, never crossing the Channel, even though his work was much more enthusiastically received by French critics.
Born in East Bergholt, Suffolk, Constable even found the dramatic landscapes of the Lake and Peak Districts too foreign. Rather than mountains, he was inspired by the vast skies of the East Anglian flatlands where he grew up.
Popular opinion was never bothered by intellectual sneering and by 1880 the countryside of The Hay Wain (finished in 1821) was already being promoted as “Constable Country”. Visitors ever since have been drawn to the banks of the River Stour, where Willy Lott’s cottage still stands (Grade 1 listed), so they can compare the view with the painting. It’s reassuringly similar, though the river runs deeper these days, as East Anglia sinks. Read the rest of this entry
November 19th, 2009
Newcastle-upon-Tyne has been named the greenest city in Britain for its work in recycling, green space and tackling climate change. The Guardian Otters have even returned to the Tyne in the centre of the city. Meanwhile, Stoke-on-Trent has become the first city to sign up to the 10:10 environmental campaign
November 15th, 2009
2009 has been the year of the Painted Lady butterflies, after unusually favourable breeding conditions in North Africa triggered a remarkable wave of migration that saw millions arrive in Britain. So it’s appropriate that this year a niggling mystery regarding this species has finally been solved. After breeding, do these butterflies attempt to survive the British winter, or do they migrate southwards?
With a huge response from the public, Butterfly Conservation have been monitoring the movements of Painted Ladies all year and have received numerous reports of the butterflies heading out to sea off the south coast of Britain and arriving in the Mediterranean and North Africa. Richard Fox of Butterfly Conservation:
This is exactly the evidence needed to lay this enduring mystery to rest. Painted Ladies do return southwards from Britain in the autumn enabling the species to continue its breeding cycle during the winter months.
November 9th, 2009
A British Waterways wildlife survey has shown a big increase in sightings of the elusive water vole. 89 voles were spotted on inland waterways this year, twice as many as last year. There were also numerous sightings of kingfishers – an indicator of good water quality and a healthy ecosystem, and more bizarrely a single porpoise. See also Lucy’s post Canals: corridors of wildlife and the slow-life
• Although rare, 89 water voles were spotted (twice the number than in 2008), with the most being seen on the Kennet & Avon Canal
• 127 different species of bird were sighted, including woodpeckers, reed warblers, little owls and almost 200 kingfishers
• 27 different species of butterflies were seen, including brimstones, small blues and speckled woods
• The number of frogs seen leapt three times from 2008, with three-quarters of them seen in Scotland
• The most unusual of the 42,500 sightings was a porpoise, a close relation of the dolphin, seen in the River Ouse near Selby and a large alligator snapping turtle, a non-native species from north America, at Earlswood Reservoir, Solihull
• The most water-loving bugs and beasties were sighted along the Kennet & Avon Canal, which stretches between Reading and Bristol; the Forth & Clyde Canal in Scotland, and the canals in and around Birmingham
November 9th, 2009
Instead of hibernating, bumblebees are showing increasing activity during British winters. Sightings are most frequent in the south-east and the west of England, but are also being recorded in East Anglia, Wales, the Midlands and as far north as Hull. Climate change undoubtedly has a role to play, but the trend is also being attributed to the British passion for gardening and the availablility of flowers all year round for foraging bees. The non-native shrub Mahonia is mentioned as being particularly popular with both gardeners and insects. The phenomenon, restricted to British urban and suburban areas, is shedding light on how certain species of bees might be adapting to climate change. More info in the Independent
November 6th, 2009
One of the pleasures of walking is knowing the history of your path, why it exists and who walked there before.
The need for Corpse Roads disappeared centuries ago, though a few are still known by that name. When population was low and villages were widely scattered, the nearest consecrated ground could be miles away, across harsh and inhospitable terrain. Sometimes coffins had to be abandoned in blizzards, miles from anywhere. When weather improved, they would be picked up and the journey resumed. Coffin-bearing horses bolted with fright during storms, never to be seen again, but living on in legends and ghost stories. Read the rest of this entry
November 5th, 2009
Meirion Owen is an expert sheep dog handler, who’s been working with Border Collies since he was nine. He now travels around Britain, showing the skills of this intelligent breed at fairs, private parties and, increasingly, corporate days out. The other stars of the Quack Pack are a troop of Indian Runner ducks, who love to charge around at a fast pace in a tight group (with the occasional lone rebel). First of all, Owen gives a demonstration of how it’s done, instructing his dogs with only four commands to herd the ducks through an obstacle course. Then the spectators have a go.
“We never try to embarrass anyone,” he says. “I’ll always try to help. With duck herding, there is a sense of the unexpected and seeing a manager lose control of his ducks is great entertainment for the staff.”
A recent tendency among lowland livestock farmers is to replace Border Collies with quads, and Owen would like to turn this around by promoting the many qualities of this breed. More information
November 5th, 2009
For those who don’t succumb to the charms of grey squirrels, keeping them off the bird feeder is a challenge. There are plenty of ideas on the forums, such as placing a table on top of a greased pole, or capitulating by scattering food on the ground to distract the squirrels and give the birds a chance. If unwanted rodents are consuming kilos of bird food, it might be worth investing in a specially designed squirrel-proof bird feeder. Those sold by the RSPB include conventional seed and nut dispensers caged within bars too narrow for a squirrel to pass through. Then there’s the robust–looking Squirrel Buster, which automatically closes down when something heavier than a small bird tries to access the food. It’s the most expensive option, but comes with a life-time guarantee. Not bad considering the fearless acrobatics and determined wire-chewing tendencies of squirrels.
View at the RSPB
November 5th, 2009
Some lovely photos by Owen Humphreys in The Guardian of the mass return of starlings to Britain from Russia and northern Europe. They come here to roost in the relative warmth. Some flocks have as many as two million birds. However, starling numbers have fallen dramatically in the UK in recent years probably due to the loss of insects because of the increase in chemical use on farms since the 1970s and new grassland management techniques. Visit
November 3rd, 2009
The Woodcraft School runs various courses for acquiring skills that pre-historical man needed for survival. Bark, Bone and Antler is a particularly interesting 2-day course that explores the materials available to our primitive ancestors. Those attending will be taught about the sustainable harvest of bark, weaving crafts to make knife sheaths, folding crafts to make baskets and containers, and the preparation of bone and antler.
This particular course will be held in May 2010 in West Sussex, with groups limited to 12, but there are many others to choose from.
November 3rd, 2009
The RSPB has just published a report on the role Britain’s 2,600 golf courses can play in providing sanctuaries for birds and other wildlife, especially in rough and out-of-bounds areas, which account for some 140,000 hectares across the country. Golf has been heavily criticised by green groups for excessive water, pesticide and fertiliser use, but according to the RSPB’s Nigel Symes, “Golf courses may have gained a bad reputation, perhaps not always justified, amongst environmentalists in the past but that is changing.” Read the rest of this entry
November 2nd, 2009
Hen harriers (photo BBC here) have had a disastrous breeding season, and are now on the point of becoming extinct in England, where only a dozen pairs survive, mainly in the northern uplands. Only six nests were successful in total for the whole of England from 12 attempts, with just 15 chicks being raised. The poor breeding season has been blamed on the cold weather last winter which killed off many of their small animal prey. Hen harriers were always going to be vulnerable to a year like this. Their numbers had been reduced to extrememly low figures in recent decades in part due to severe persecution by the gamekeepers of grouse moors, though this year there is little direct evidence of this affecting their failure to breed. Some 800 hen harriers survive in Scotland. Read the rest of this entry