Landscape blogs

There are now some excellent landscape blogs covering Britain. Here are a few:

Above painting: J.M.W. Turner, Landscape, c1845

Britain’s oldest road

The 87 mile-long Ridgeway National Trail is remarkable in being the oldest road in Britain and because you can still walk it, following the same route used since prehistoric times by travellers and, herdsmen.  The route connects the Dorset and Norfolk coasts, passing over rolling, open downland to the west of the River Thames, and through secluded valleys and woods in The Chilterns to the east. It is littered with historical sites dating back to the iron age. Lots of details from the National Trail website here.

The landscapes of Don McCullin

Landscape in winter

The photojournalist Don McCullin is better known for his work recording war and urban strife around the world, but his more recent work has concentrated more on black and white landscape photography, often taken during the winter in his adopted Somerset . I find them stark, bleak and beautiful.

Don McCullin notes on his love for winter: Continue reading The landscapes of Don McCullin

Wild places of Essex

In this intriguing documentary, based on his book The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane warns us not to write off over-developed and over-populated Britain in the quest for wilderness.  Wild nature is there under our noses, in the most unexpected of places, and Macfarlane helps us focus on it, just as his friend Roger Deakin opened his own eyes.

Essex was chosen as an apparently unlikely location to commune with nature. Condensing a year of exploration, the film shows startling beauty among sewage works and dual carriageways. The contrast is beguiling: a peregrine falcon soaring past Tilbury Power Station is the angelic and the toxic closing-up against one another. Continue reading Wild places of Essex

British birds in the news in February

Here is a quick round-up of latest British bird news:

  • Ravens are not responsible for the dramatic declines in the numbers of wading birds seen in many parts of the UK uplands, according to the results of a new study. The Independent
  • Remarkable photo of a flock of starlings in the shape of a rabbit. Daily Telegraph
  • Bunting bounces back: one of Britain’s most threatened farmland birds is continuing to fight its way back after nearly disappearing completely, thanks to help from farmers in the south-west. Birdwatch
  • Poisoned red kite found on Dumfries road RSPB

Best wildlife iphone apps

A few good wildlife apps for iphone / itouch are starting to trickle onto the market. An interesting one is the Collins British Wildlife Photoguide, priced at £5.99 which is an app version of a large book. The Guardian notes “Arranged by taxonomy – mammals, invertebrates, butterflies and moths, birds and so on – it features photos and brief descriptions of over 1,500 species. The navigation is a bit fiddly and there’s no identification feature, so you need to know what you’re looking at or be willing to scroll through several pages to get a match.”

There is also a very nice little app which is a guide to all of Britain’s native trees. Very easy and slick design make identification loads easier and lighter than carrying around a hefty guide book!

When are they going to produce an app for the Collins bird guide, meanwhile though I like Chirp! Bird Songs of Britain and Europe very much with its maddingly bird addicative quiz.

My favourite though is the superb wildflowers guide with its wonderful ID key. Guaranteed to get you out there IDing stuff.

I also want to recommend the complete Wikipedia Encyclopedia app, myfavourite mobile application of all time. Although it doesn’t have photos and is a bit clunky, it includes stacks and stacks of information on the natural history of the Britsih Isles.. Warning takes some time to download, but it’s worth it. Also includes millions of articles from around the world without worrying about data roaming fees. I find it incredibly useful when travelling, or for resolving discussions in bars, and above all for learning about something in situ. This year for instance I enjoyed reading about puffins, 30 minutes after watching them on the Isle of Lunga off Mull.

Since the Atlantic Puffin gets the majority of its food from diving it is important that there is an ample supply of resources and food. Different environmental conditions such as tidal cycle, upwellings and downwellings contribute to this abundance. In a study published in 2005 it was observed that Atlantic Puffins were associated with areas of well-mixed water below the surface. This study implies consequences for the species if impacts of global warming lead to an alteration of tidal cycles. If these cycles are modified too much, it is probable that the Atlantic Puffin will have a difficult time locating food resources. Another consequence of an increase in temperature could be a reduction in the range of the Atlantic Puffin, as it is only able to live in cool conditions and does not fare overly well if it has to nest in barren, rocky places, and an increase in temperature could thus squeeze the zone of puffin-suitable habitat as warmer biotopes expand from the equator but the polar regions remain barren due to lack of historical accumulation of topsoil. From the Encyclopedia app

Children’s farms in the lambing season

A trip to a children’s farm is a great idea in the lambing season.  The Guardian has a list of recommended places in their half-term holiday special, including Cannon Hall Farm in Barnsley, where they are expecting no less than 300 lambs and 50 piglets to be born in February, with more expected for Easter.  They have other attractions such a baby Alpaca called Snowy.

Snowdrops, the poet’s flower

Poets love snowdrops.  Even Linnaeus got lyrical when he classified them as Galanthus nivalis, which translates as “milky flower of the snow”  (in Greek,  gala = milk and anthos = flower). For St. Francis the snowdrop was an emblem of hope and the touch of green on the inner petals has often been seized upon as a symbol of spring’s return.  It is uplifting to see the green sword-shaped leaves piercing the snow and the apparently fragile bell-shaped flowers resisting all that winter can hurl at them.

There is some disagreement about when the snowdrop was introduced to Britain: some say as late as the 16th century.  It’s noticeable for its absence in Shakespeare.  Snowdrops grow particularly profusely in damp deciduous woodlands, and flower from January to March: this year the Big Freeze has delayed them.

A list of gardens with particularly good snowdrop displays can be found here.

Oysters: food for the common people

Archaeologists have analysed the food debris left by Elizabethan theatre-goers in London, obtaining a fascinating insight into their diet.  Sifting through fragments of nutshells, shellfish and pips at the sites of the Rose and Globe Playhouses, they discovered that the poorer spectators – the groundlings or stinkards who stood during the performances – munched oysters and hazelnuts, at the same rate that today’s cinema-goers devour popcorn.  Continue reading Oysters: food for the common people

Allotment fever

With more and more people wanting to grow their own fruit and vegetables, the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners have over 100,000 people on their waiting lists.  The National Trust have responded to this demand by allocating land for “super allotments” or community farms.  In return for a monthly fee, members will decide what should be grown, and have the opportunity to work on the farms, receiving a share of the produce.  Daily Telegraph

Secluded cottage in bluebell woods

Hidden in a corner of Soulton Wood, with views on open countryside, Keeper’s Cottage provides a peaceful retreat for up to 6 people.  The woods turn particularly  magical between April and May, when the bluebells spread among the trees like blue mist.  Soulton Wood is located about 10 miles north of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, and 2 miles from Wem railway station. More info