Cleaner rivers in the UK

Otters, water voles and fish are all benefitting from the improved quality of the UK’s waterways, now described as the cleanest since the industrial revolution.  Since almost disappearing from the wild in the 1970s, otters are thriving, particularly in the south west of England, Cumbria and Northumberland.  The population of water voles, highly precarious  in the 1990s, is also beginning to recover.   The good results of stricter pollution controls and extensive conservation work are set to continue in the new year with the introduction of new European water quality directives.  Guardian

Polar bears reach Britain?

I thought this article by Michael McCarthy in The Indepedent was amusing:

“Reports of polar bears travelling to Britain made the news earlier this year. The RSPB suggested that one had been washed up still alive on the Hebridean island of Mull – the story was an April Fool. The second report came in September when Naomi Lloyd, a presenter of ITV’s West Country breakfast bulletin, excitedly informed viewers that a polar bear had been washed up dead at the Cornish seaside town of Bude. The animal turned out to be a cow, which had been bleached white by the seawater.”

See also: Polar bear washes up on Scotland’s Isle of Mull

polar bear mull

How oak galls are made

6-minute video by David Attenborough on the weird and wonderful life cycle of the knopper gall wasp (Andricus quercuscalicis.) as it provokes an oak tree to produce a gall in which the wasp can lay its eggs safely inside. From the BBC’s ‘Life in the Undergrowth’. The knopper gall wasp is just one of 70 gall wasps which can afflict a single British oak, though many have only a negligible effect on the tree.

From Wikipedia

  • Knopper galls develop as a chemically induced distortion of growing acorns on Pedunculate Oak (Quercus robur (L.)) trees, caused by gall wasps which lay eggs within buds using their ovipositor. The gall thus produced can greatly reduce the fecundity of the oak host, making the gall a potentially more serious threat than those which develop upon leaves, buds, stems, etc. The Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris (L.)) introduced into Britain in 1735 is required for the completion of the life cycle of the gall
  • The word knopper derives from the German word ‘knoppe’ meaning a kind of felt cap or helmet worn during the 17th-century; also a small rounded protuberance, often decorative, such as a stud, a tassel or a knob

Are severe winters becoming the norm in Britain?

hampstead-heath-december-20101

Hampstead Heath, December 2010 by Marcus Fallon

It’s the third hard winter in a row, following two decades of relatively mild weather. Should the government invest in new technology to reduce the impact of severe winters? How many snow ploughs should the country have?

Philip Eden, Vice President of the Royal Meteorological Society, explains that cold winters in Britain are caused by a weak jet stream and often come in batches.  If the jet stream meanders southwards, Spain gets the Atlantic depressions instead, leaving the UK exposed to winds from the north, which bring the snow and low temperatures. Long term records show that clusters of cold winters occur with relative frequency: looking back at the last 50 years, 1962-65, 1968-70, 1978-82, 1985-87, and, to a lesser extent, 1995-97.

His verdict: no need to panic and stock up on the snow ploughs just yet.

Coldest place in Britain’s second Big Freeze of 2010

hampstead-heath-december-2010

The prolonged cold spell affecting the UK since the end of November reached a new low on the night of December 18, when the market town of Pershore in Worcestershire, on the banks of the River Avon, was at -19.5 degrees.

The photograph of Hampstead Heath was taken on December 18 by Marcus Fallon.

Lowest ever temperature recorded in Northern Ireland

The lowest ever temperature was recorded in Northern Ireland this week, dropping to -18C at Castlederg, County Tyrone on 20th December 2010. The previous record for the country was -17.5 °C  on  1 January 1979  in Magherally (County Down).

See also: Record lowest temperatures in the UK

Poet climbs Scafell

In August 1802, poet, scholar and journalist Samuel Taylor Coleridge set off on a tough 9-day walking and climbing tour of the Lake District, which would include Scafell, the second highest peak in England.  It’s interesting to see how he went equipped. For a walking stick he dismantled a broom, to the annoyance of his wife. His knapsack was made of a square of green oilskin, closed by string, and inside

. . . he carried a spare shirt, stockings, cravat, and night-cap (which seems to have been Coleridge’s equivalent of a sleeping bag), together with paper twists of tea and sugar, his Notebook, and half a dozen quills with a portable inkwell.”  – Early Visions by Richard Holmes

Coleridge is said to be the first “outsider” to climb Scafell and his descent is hailed as the first ever recreational rock climb.  It was a memorable piece of improvisation. Threatened by an approaching storm, he chose a way down, without any idea of what lay below.  He found himself descending a series of ledges, a kind of giant’s staircase, known today as Broad Stand. As the ledges grew further apart, he lowered himself over them and let himself drop.  The succession of jolts soon “put my whole Limbs in a Tremble, and  . . . I began to suspect that I ought not to go on . . ” Continue reading Poet climbs Scafell

Audio nature trails

More and more nature reserves are providing audio trails for visitors. They were originally designed for the blind but there are increasingly used by other people. All are free and downloadable onto your Mp3 device.

Here are a few I’ve found, but most are produced by audiotrails.co.uk

BBC British butterfly documentary

This new BBC documentary on British butterflies looks well worth watching More here from the BBC’s Natural World including lots of clips. The documentary looks at the fascinating lives of Britain’s butterflies filmed in exquisite detail and “is also a celebration of their enduring appeal to the British people, ” but the country’s butterflies are also seriously threatened, with three quarters are in decline. The below clip shows an orange tip butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Continue reading BBC British butterfly documentary

Nature and wildlife of Britain