Our World: A dangerous one for badgers

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I’ve never seen a live badger except in photos or television. Being shy, retiring and nocturnal animals, it’s unlikely I will ever just bump into one on the off-chance but I did see the curious sight of a badger sett. At least that is what it looked like.

Simon and I were out for a walk along a wooded path, in Lincolnshire, when we came across a mound of earth on a sloping bank. I was about to walk on, not thinking anything of it, but Simon wanted to investigate further. Behind the mound was a large hole, much bigger than a rabbit’s or even a fox’s.

We believe it was a badger’s sett.

I have heard that setts (badger homes) tend to have large spoil heaps outside, which this one did.

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Unfortunately the British Government appear to be on a mission to kill badgers because of tb fears for cattle. The fact there is a vaccine available for cows and a vaccine available for badgers appears to have been ignored. Tb may even be caused by cows moving around – maybe increased, temporary bio-security measures may be the answer?  

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I do have sympathy for farmers and cattle but I’m sure there must be a better way of combating this issue.

I feel it’s wrong, especially when there are other solutions, and how could it ever work? There will always be badgers, unless the plan is to decimate the entire population? (Surely that would be highly immoral!)

And what if there are other causes and all these badgers have been killed and still tb continues?

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Even worse is the issue of badger baiting. This is thankfully banned but unfortunately undesirables (I’m sorry but there is no other way of describing them) are still baiting the poor creatures with dogs.

Yes, unfortunately even in this ‘enlightened’ age, this happens.

This is barbaric and cruel, both to badgers and dogs.

Maybe one day, the world may be a kinder place for these creatures. I hope so.

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Facts of the Day

1. Badgers live in large family groups.

2. Setts are mostly in woodland, near to open areas and often on a slope.

3. Badgers are relatives of the weasel.

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Fitness Challenge 2019: April/May

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April 

Goals

1. Aim to walk 100 to 125 miles

2. Do something active every day for 5 minutes

3. Set aside 15 minutes 3 days a week for yoga

4. Buy trainers for exercise class

5. Go to at least 4 exercise classes

So far each month I have set myself targets but there was no concrete goal until Simon and I planned to do the Cuckoo Way, along the Chesterfield Canal, in May (46 miles in two days) and my friend Caroline and I opted to walk the Preston Guild Wheel at the start of June (21 miles in 2 days, a little easier!)

Would this make me more motivated?

I walked a total of 103.7 miles this month, beating my lower target of 100 miles – the first time I have done it this year!

Walking to work and during lunchtimes (3 miles in total), walking the family  dogs, walking to the leisure centre and counting Zumba steps, walking into the city centre, a Wicklow Mountain walk in Ireland, a walk to my local Woodland Trust Wood, Mason’s Wood, pictured below (3 to 4 miles), walk to my local shop (1 mile)… Most of these were short but they were more frequent than before. And I think my planned Chesterfield Canal walk spurred me on to do more.

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The doing something active for 5 minutes was successful. Either walking to work, walking the dogs, walking up and down stairs 10 or 20 times… For the most part, I did something.

The yoga, once again, was on and off. There were mornings when I did the Tree and Sun Salutation but I confess there were many more when I didn’t do anything.

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Despite having the time (it was only 15 minutes), I kept putting it off until it was completely forgotten.

Well, I did buy trainers for exercise classes so that was one thing done. Not the best pair but they will do for now.

I went to Zumba at my local leisure centre twice. It was the first time I’ve been back to Zumba after a long break of about 6 months. When I first went it was incredibly popular as it was the ‘big craze’ but now I don’t need to book first thing to get a place. In fact, the second time a friend and I just turned up and there were plenty of places available.

It’s essentially a dance class but without any complicated techniques. The instructor shows the dance moves and you just follow. If you get it wrong – and I often do! – it doesn’t matter! It’s just fun.

Pleasantly, I found that having my pedometer while doing Zumba meant my steps increased a great deal.

Notable Walks

Wicklow Mountains

I visited Ireland for a few days in April and we went on a trip to the beautiful Wicklow Mountains on the Saturday. Leaving the car in the car park, we made the silly mistake of not taking any water with us. I didn’t realise how long we would be walking for. There were four of us and the pace was much faster than I was used to. The decision not to take water was a poor one for me and I felt dehydrated, tired and weak once we started going uphill.

It is times like this that makes me realise how far I still have to go with my journey to become fitter.

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May

Goals 

1. Aim to walk 100 to 125 miles.

2. Complete the Cuckoo Way along the Chesterfield Canal.

I started May with only two targets, wanting to focus on the canal walk.

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I have written a separate post about the canal walk (not published yet), which took place Saturday, May 4 and Sunday, May 5. Suffice to say, it is the hardest canal walk I have ever done. We started at West Stockwith in Nottinghamshire and ended at Killamarsh, Derbyshire. 26 miles on the first day (!) and 12 miles on the second. Beautiful scenery and fascinating history but it did feel hard on my feet and legs, despite being on the flat. My legs were still sore three days later!

The next Notable Walk was BowFell, a Wainwright Fell in the Lake District. Again, there will be a separate post about this. Although I have been up BowFell once before, about seven years ago (how time flies!), it didn’t strike me as an incredibly difficult climb. But the walk on Saturday, May 25, was hard. We forgot the proper map so only had a less detailed one and I had difficulty with the steepness of the steps up the hill. And then, on the way down, the weather took a turn for the worst and we got lost.

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Normally I can laugh at these memorable walks in retrospect but after the Wicklow Mountains hike and this one, I now had doubts about my fitness ability. What is the point of going up a mountain if it feels too strenuous? And yet, it was something I wanted to keep doing for the scenery, the sense of achievement, the feeling of exploring somewhere new…

So I did something I never thought I would ever do again.

I joined a gym. (Just to be clear, that picture below is not me!)

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It is situated 10 minutes away from my work and 15 minutes away from my house.

And that’s walking distance.

There was no getting away from the place.

It tried to tempt me with vouchers in my workplace – ‘try me for free’.  And when I did the maths, it worked out at £5 a week. Okay, there was no swimming pool but there were various fitness classes included and the location was spot on. 

So I took my voucher, tried it one Saturday and joined.

There is also a selection of fitness classes here so I am hopeful I won’t lose motivation.

And because of the location, it is always there to remind me of my aim to get fit. There is no ‘out of sight, out of mind’ here!

And yes, I beat my 100 mile target this month!

May: 100.2 miles

The mystery of the pixie egg

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A few months ago, I came across a tiny egg. Now bantam eggs are small compared to the average hen’s egg (maybe about half the size) but this was a tinier than tiny egg. Was it laid by a quail? Or a leprechaun’s hen? Pictured above is the pixie egg next to a bantam egg. The bantam egg is half the size of a full-size egg so can you imagine how petite this one was? 

I had never seen the like.

Just to make sure no fairy chickens had infiltrated my hens’ coop  I looked for a rational explanation in my library.

And in Frances Bassom’s Chicken Breeds and Care, Frances reasoned why this may have happened.

She said, ‘When a hen is just starting out on her laying career, she occasionally lays very tiny ‘wind eggs’. They can frequently be as small as a marble and usually have no yolk’.

Why this happens is because of ‘a small leak of albumen into the oviduct’. A shell covers this albumen, thanks to the response of the ‘egg-producing mechanism’.

Once the chicken starts laying regularly, wind eggs are infrequent, concludes Frances.

So who was the culprit of this wind egg?

I reckon Ava, as, along with Mabel, she is the youngest of the girls and had previously only laid a few eggs before this cute but remarkable one appeared.

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And no, I never ate it.

 

Ainsdale Sand Dunes

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I first encountered Ainsdale Sand Dunes a couple of years ago. Simon and I paid a visit to Formby, therein you can see red squirrels, a scarcity in Britain. Near to Formby is Ainsdale and here is another rarity – natterjack toads.

Our walk took us through woodland – where we came across two metal detectorists. They told us about the varying equipment and costs and how it was possible to discover curious finds.

Of course, what they really wanted was to find treasure.

Our journey took us from woodland into the sand dunes. Sometimes the dunes themselves are not the easiest to walk on, having such a soft ground.

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We heard a reed bunting. A flock of black-headed gulls made a racket near a pond, we hoped that they wouldn’t eat any toads that may be around.

Pippets and buff-tailed bumblebees were also spotted.

The dunes took us to the beach. Yet another type of habitat. Unlike many seaside resorts, this beach is incredibly quiet. It can feel as if you are the only one there.

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We saw a boat wreck and wondered at the story behind it… And discovered a starfish sheltering under the wreck.

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Fish egg casings and an array of shells – razor, cockle and so on – were curiosities we came across on the beach.

The biggest discovery was natterjack toad spawn in one large pond.

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The last time we came was a little gloomy in that, while the weather was glorious for us humans, there were signs that the heat and sun was not such good news for our amphibian friends. Yes, we saw many natterjack toads that summer day. Depressingly, they were all dead because there was not enough water in the ponds because of the drought.

And in a way, I guess we did find treasure of a different sort that day, hope for a rare species of toad to survive and thrive in this peaceful wildlife haven. 

 

 

 

 

Masons Wood

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Just over a month ago, I had the delight of exploring a patch of woodland called Masons Wood in Lancashire, England. I used to live five minutes walk away from this little piece of paradise and I truly believe my love of nature as a youngster was sparked by frequent dog rambles in this vicinity. When you wander along the path, it’s easy to forget that suburbia is just a few minutes away.

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The walk took place in April, a good month to gaze upon the bluebells and smell the wild garlic.

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The path took me down to a river where a wonderful sight greeted me. It was a vivid brightness sitting on a tree stump or a rock in the middle of the water. Unfortunately I am no photographer and I don’t have a proper camera – also I was scared to get close in case I scared the vivid blue away – but, in the third picture below, you might, just might, see a tiny bright cobalt-blue shape in the centre. That, I believe, was a kingfisher.

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And this is what a close-up of a kingfisher looks like (picture not my own).

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My thanks to The Woodland Trust, who help to protect British woodlands, including Masons Wood.

http://www.woodlandtrust.co.uk

Mill workers’ protest

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I wonder how many shoppers and visitors walk past this modern statue in Preston, in the North West of England, thinking about catching a bus or train, meeting friends and family for lunch or rushing to buy the latest bargains. We so often take for granted familiar sights but this particular sculpture tells a disturbing story.

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Back in the 1840s, poverty was widespread in Britain. Preston, a cotton mill town, was one of those places affected by a depression in the country. To make matters worse for over-worked and under-paid workers, the mill owners decided to reduce wages.

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As you can imagine, mill employees weren’t happy. On August 13, 1842, cotton workers went on a protest march in the town centre. This was part of the General Strike, which took place across the country. Unfortunately, the military were waiting for them. They met the protesters at a location called Lune Street and, while attempting to break up the crowd, the soldiers shot – and killed – four men.

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This happened at the spot where the monument now stands. The 1842 Memorial Statue, built in 1992 by Gordon Young, marked the 150th year of the Lune Street protest.

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As I said earlier, we become accustomed to familiar sights in our familiar towns and cities but delve a little closer and it’s possible to step back into time and find out about the people of yesterday and their lives.

For a more detailed account, read: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/nostalgia/lune-street-the-land-that-time-has-forgot-1-4834634/amp

A little pear tree

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As I have earlier mentioned, plants and hens sometimes – often – don’t go together. Either the plants don’t like the chickens and end up poisoning them (Thankfully I think my bantams are too canny to eat poison, touch wood) or the hens like the plants – too much, unfortunately, as it can often be a case of a nibble here, a nibble there, and suddenly the greenery has vanished into thin air.

One solution is to get a fruit tree. The tree leaves should be too high for hungry hens to forage and a tree bearing fruit is always a useful plant for a garden.

So here’s a big welcome to Cosy Cottage’s conference pear tree.

No, Mabel, it’s not for you to eat.

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  • Facts of the Day 
  • 1. The conference is ‘reliable and self-fertile… It has long, pale green fruit.’
  • 2. Other varieties of pear are Jargonelle, Beurre Hardy and Marguerite Marillat.
  • 3. The pear’s ‘natural home is in the countries around the Mediterranean – it needs more warmth and sunshine than an apple tree’ if it is to fruit well.
  • Information courtesy of Growing Food by Anna Pavord

May 2014 onwards – Paws forward

This experience happened while on a sabbatical from work in 2014. I recommend helping out an animal sanctuary but be aware that you will want to take all your new-found furry friends home!

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My assumptions that all dogs were ready and eager for a walk (based on my own experiences with canines) were dashed after I encountered the lovely residents of Animal Care. Staffie-cross Cleo was an overweight old lady who waddled along at her own pace, plump jack russell Della wanted to be bribed to walk an extra five steps (no delicious titbits for you, Della, you’re meant to be on a diet!) Emma was a beautiful, gentle lurcher who preferred to sniff the fascinating smells at her leisure and chow chow Millie was too hot in her fur coat on a summer’s day to venture far. There were, of course, the younger boys and girls who reminded me more of my own two rascals (sorry, Molly and Teddy, I mean jack russells!) Bouncy Roxy, a black lab-type; well-named Bullet, a lurcher who wanted to run; amiable jacks Nelson and Bella; and…

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May 2014 – Tales of Kells

This comes from my earlier blog, written back in 2014 during a six-month sabbatical from work. It was a break which was needed and came at the right time for me. I didn’t write about all my experiences but some I did, and it’s quite nice for me to look back on those memories. I thought I would reblog some of these earlier little adventures. 🙂

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Photo0185Trudging up the highest hill of County Meath, we knew it would be worth it once we got to the top. It was tougher for my dad, who is in his 70s, than me ( I had once climbed Snowdon). But reaching the Loughcrew Cairns, an ancient burial site located at the top, was worth it. On our way down we encountered a coachload of passengers plodding up the hill. Some were of elder years. I would imagine that, although County Meath is no Snowdonia, they would still have found it hard going. But sometimes a steep difficult journey is worth the reward at the end. Our trip to Ireland started two days earlier. I was chief driver, a Hyundai i10 and ferry was our means of transport, and dad was navigator. Kells was our destination. I have an ambiguous view of Ireland’s roads. The country tracks are riddled with potholes…

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Major Oak and the Legendary Sherwood Forest

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I may not have met Robin Hood but I did encounter another famous citizen of Nottinghamshire’s Sherwood Forest a few weeks ago – the Major Oak. This elderly and magnificent tree is at least 1,000 years old, has a 10m trunk and a canopy of 28m. It is so large, old and, unfortunately, vulnerable, that it has to be propped up and fenced in. But it is a truly grand sight indeed.

The Major Oak may be King of the Forest, but there are more than 1,000 ancient oaks in this woodland, making them ideal habitats for wildlife. To my eyes, they so looked like works of natural art!

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We saw many hollow oaks, the heartwood is decayed by fungi such as beefsteak fungus and chicken of the woods. These hollow oaks are excellent habitat for wildlife, including insects.

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To age a tree, one needs to count its annual rings. For the old trees of the forests, the Rspb, which manages the nature reserve in a partnership, looks at tree girth or diameter at breast height so the oaks don’t need to be felled. The above tree was over 100 years old, a mere youngster in these environs.

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As for Robin Hood, the most famous man of Nottinghamshire? It is believed he lived in around 1200 – at least, this is when the stories start – at a time when the forest covered 100,000 acres. He is seen as a heroic outlaw, avoiding the clutches of the Sheriff of Nottingham and robbing from the rich to give the poor. It is hard to tell whether he really existed, whether the character is based on a real man or if there is no basis in fact. Whatever the case, Sherwood Forest definitely exists, even if it feels as if it belongs in a beautiful legend. And the ‘Merry Men (and ladies) are its stunning oaks and accompanying wildlife.

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