All posts by lucy

Dance of the Adders

Probably the best opportunity to see the elusive adder (Vipera berus) is in March, when the males emerge from hibernation and are found basking in groups.  Then in April, resplendent after its spring skin-shedding, the adder will engage with rival males in bouts of Continue reading Dance of the Adders

Best beaches for beachcombing

The name “beachcombers” was first given to a motley crew of European castaways and ship’s crew deserters making a living as best they could on South Pacific islands.

Modern beachcombers can be quite serious about their activity, becoming experts on storms, ocean currents and seasonal events to increase their chance of an exciting find.  Among the mounds of seaweed, tangled fishing nets and plastic bottles, booty can include shells, driftwood, semi-precious stones, and the content of lost shipping containers.

A list has been drawn up of Britain’s top ten beachcombing beaches, taking into account tidal variation and gradient, as well as safety and accessibility.  The photograph,  which captures the absorption of beachcombing, is of Westward Ho! Devon,  and it accompanies a Guardian article on activity holidays.

1. Runswick Bay, North Yorkshire
2. Newgale Beach, Pembrokeshire
3. Westward Ho! Beach, Devon
4. Cowes, Isle of Wight
5. Camber, East Sussex
6. Frinton on Sea, Frinton Beach, Essex
7. Herne Bay East, Kent
8. Barmston, East Yorkshire
9. Combe Martin Beach, Devon
10. Cresswell Dunes & Foreshore, Northumberland

The Guardian:  Activity holidays in the UK

The most venomous spider in Britain

This title has been awarded to an invasive species, Steatoda nobilis, known as the Biting Spider or False Black Widow.  It first arrived in England around 1870 on a shipment of bananas from the Canary islands to Torquay. Its bite is likened to that of a Continue reading The most venomous spider in Britain

Harlequin Ladybird Population Explosion

The Asian Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) is capable of devouring over 12,000 aphids a year.  This voracious appetite is why it was introduced to North America and then Continue reading Harlequin Ladybird Population Explosion

Wildlife and Sex on Hampstead Heath

John Constable, Hampstead Heath, c.1820
John Constable, Hampstead Heath, c.1820

The management of London’s biggest park (790 acres/ 320 hectares) involves balancing recreational activities with nature conservation. Stressed out city dwellers can relax in a rural landscape, composed of a rich variety of habitats, including meadows, where grass is allowed to grow long to favour butterflies, and woodlands, where all three of Britain’s woodpeckers nest.  Outdoor swimming is a popular activity on the Heath, while by one of the 25 ponds a bank has been constructed to encourage kingfishers to breed.  Up on Parliament Hill kite-fliers enjoy spectacular views of London and might also see Kestrels and Sparrowhawks hunting.

Encouraging respectful attitudes from the wide range of visitors is an important part of looking after the Heath.  There is a particular problem with the amount of rubbish left behind by night-time pleasure-seekers in West Heath, for example, famed as a safe cruising zone. The “Heath & Hampstead Society” proposes the following:

“The Society is . . . working with the City to come up with new ways to manage the problem, for example, putting solar lamps in trees to power flashing beacons on litter bins during the night.”

Midwife Toads in Britain

The Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans) might have lived in Britain for over a hundred years, but it is still officially an “alien” species.  The invasion of the toad began over a hundred years ago in a Bedfordshire nursery garden, as Christopher Lever narrates in “Naturalized reptiles and amphibians of the world”:

“The nursery garden belonged to the firm of Horton & Smart, by whom the toads are believed to have been introduced accidentally as eggs in a consignment of ferns and water plants from southern France.”

Offshoot colonies grew in York and Northamptonshire, but the stronghold of the Midwife Toad in England has remained in Bedfordshire.  The species is named for the nurturing behaviour of the male, who carries the eggs wrapped round its hind legs until they are ready to hatch.  This keeps them warm and protected from treacherous English frosts and unreliable weather.  Yet even after a century the Midwife Toad still has the capacity to puzzle and even frighten people when they hear its nocturnal “bleeping” song in their suburban gardens.

The return of the corncrake

Corncrakes used to flourish in England when hay meadows were scythed by hand.  But with the advent of modern machinery, they soon disappeared from English farmland, sliced to extinction as they sat tight on their nests.  The Daily Telegraph reports on the return of their characteristic “crake, crake” call, heard again after decades of silence, as the species is reintroduced to the large Nene Washes nature reserve in Cambridgeshire.
Daily Telegraph