Posted in Environment, Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Walks in the Yorkshire Dales – A Short Country Break

Grass Wood

Deer in Grass Wood, Yorkshire Dales

Grass Wood is one of the largest broadleaved woodlands in the Yorkshire Dales and is managed by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.  It is mostly an ash woodland with limestone terraces but sadly here, as well as in other areas of the country, ash dieback has meant some of those trees have had to be cut down.

Grass Wood

While on our Yorkshire Dales break, we had a quick look here en route back to Grassington. An information board detailed the beauty spot’s history and nature. Apparently back in the 1700s a convict had been hung not far from the signpost. The rather grisly named ‘Gibbet Hill’ was the site where the body of a local blacksmith and thief was hung. Tom Lee had been executed in York in 1768, ‘as a warning to any potential miscreants’. Two years earlier, he had been convicted of murdering Dr Richard Petty. Tom Lee had hid Dr Petty’s body in the River Wharfe near Burnsall and nearly avoided conviction but, unfortunately for Lee, his apprentice confessed.

A couple of days later, we went back for a longer walk.

Is this Gibbet Hill in Grass Wood?

We parked at a small car park at Grass Wood. It was early evening, about 4pm, so plenty of time before dusk and the path was clearly seen. We saw bluebells, yellow primroses and dog violets, and heard a woodpecker tapping away on a tree. We came across an empty egg, perhaps dropped by jackdaws. We did not know what bird had laid it.

Mystery egg

The path had a surprising incline upwards. Simon, getting hungry, asked: “Shall we carry on, or turn back?” But we decided to continue for a while further. We came across what looked like a large limestone ridge and I wondered if it was one of the two iron age forts located here but there were no signs indicating this was the case.

A dog barked in the distance and I assumed someone was walking their pet in the woodland. Simon was a little further on from me and had stopped.

“Shush,” he said as he pointed towards something. The animal he was looking at was camouflaged by the surrounding trees but when I saw it move, I realised it was a deer. Usually when an animal such as a deer spots you, they run off. But this one was observing us, the trees helping to conceal it. The barks continued in the background and it turned out to be another deer rather than a dog.

Deer in Grass Wood

I had seen fleeting glimpses of deer before but they were always quick glances, before the deer sharply moved on. This time the deer was relaxed and curiously watched us watching her. After a while she moved on as did we.

Bluebells in Grass Wood

We then came across a sign towards Far Gregory Fort, the iron age hillfort, so we veered left up another incline. According to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, its Victorian discoverers supposed it to be a Brigantian Fort established against Roman invasion. There were rocks but it was hard to know for certain – without archeological knowledge – that this was indeed a place where people lived during Iron Age times. We saw an old campfire site but Simon was convinced that it would have been quite recently used. There is another Iron Age settlement site elsewhere in the wood.

Fort Gregory

The path back to the car park was not quite so easy to follow if you change direction, looking for hillforts.

At one point, Simon asked, “What was the name of the film about people being lost in the woods?”

Grass Wood

I had started thinking about the Blair Witch Project too… (And of course, there was always Gibbet Hill with its grisly history at the other side of the wood…)

Still, thankfully it was daylight and many hours to be comfortably lost in the wood before it got dark and the imagination went into overdrive! Up and over and back down and down.

We heard a sudden rustling movement and it turned out we had surprised a deer who was sleeping. This time, the startled deer ran off.

We carried on down the slopes, what goes up must come down after all, and we remembered a river on that side of the wood so we headed in that direction. Eventually we saw a stile out of the wood, climbed up and out, and now we were on the road. The easy part now, I mused.

Or not. We had earlier walked past log piles and on our way back we came across these again. Logically we would presume that our car park must be nearby… Or maybe not.

Iron Age Fort?

Our walk along the road took us to the first entrance, the one we went in on the Sunday. But where was our car park? I was sure we hadn’t passed it and that we had passed the log pile. But as we retraced our steps we finally discovered that our car park – which neither of us had taken much notice of beforehand – was very hidden, secluded and secret, its tiny entrance could be – and was – easily missed.

So our trip to Grass Wood came to an end, and we took home our magical memory of the deer observing us peacefully.

Posted in Environment

A curious discovery

Picture by Simon Hunter

One day Simon sent me a photo of a curious discovery he had made at a landfill site where he works. Side by side amongst the leaves were a smooth-skinned common frog and a darker warty-skinned common toad. These two amphibian companions seemed to be happy sitting side by side despite being of different species. They’re both amphibians so, although they live on land, they still require water or a moist environment. This is definitely the case during breeding season when they produce spawn in water. As youngsters, they lived in water as tadpoles.

Outside the breeding season, both frogs and toads are solitary creatures so it would be unusual to see two frogs together, let alone a frog and a toad. Frogs prefer wet or damp habitats (your garden may have a resident frog if you have a pond) while toads generally like drier land such as hedgerows, woodland, gardens, and grassland.

Frog and toad next to each other Picture by Simon Hunter

Other differences are in the way they move, frogs have longer legs and hop while toads slowly walk or crawl. The frog has smooth skin while the toad has dry, warty skin. This type of skin has an advantage for the toad. While the frog’s long legs means it can hop away from danger, the toad’s bumbling movement could make it more of a target. How can it protect itself? By making itself unpalatable… and threatening.

According to the Woodland Trust: “The common toad has foul tasting skin to put predators off eating them. They also puff up when threatened.”

So be warned!

Marianne Taylor’s The Nature Book describes the differences as:

The common frog has ‘smooth skin, usually a distinctive dark bandit mask and a bouncy demeanour’. The common toad is a ‘slower, more bumbling creature, with a blunter nose, warty skin and more inclined to stand up tall and hiss at you when threatened’.

For more information on frogs and toads, visit: https://www.froglife.org/

Posted in Environment, Gardens, Nature

Early spring flowers in my garden

It’s very pleasing to see that my budding camellia a couple of weeks ago has blossomed into the above beautiful flower. It was a housewarming present and I’ve had it since 2012 – it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! For the first few years, it did not flower but its glossy dark green leaves indicated that it was healthy. Then a couple of years ago, it presented its first flower and has never looked back. A lovely splash of colour at the bottom of my garden.

Camellia
Camellia
Posted in Environment, Environmental issues, Nature

Our World: Litter-picking

At the start of this year I wanted to get fit (or at least fitter). I also wanted to be more proactive in looking after nature and the environment. So why not combine the two and start litter-picking walks?

This morning I went on my first, only a 10-minute one to start off. I left my house complete with litter-picking gloves, a litter-picker and a reusable carrier bag. (I’d bought the gloves and litter-picker last year when I felt inspired – and then promptly forgot about them until very recently). There are those who take big black bin bags with them and are much more productive but this was my first attempt.

I actually would like to say that I came home with an empty bag with no litter to be seen, but alas, barely a couple of minutes away in a wooded spot, there was a remnant of a child’s toy (too heavy for me to carry in my bag), a blue disposable face mask (I was too squeamish to pick it up even with gloves and litter-picker), a ‘World’s Best Grandad’ badge (that went into the bag) and various drink cans and bottles. The cans and bottles were the most numerous.

This was all in one spot. I have no idea why anyone would throw litter on the ground but I can certainly see why people go litter-picking. It helps you get fit, keeps places – city or country – clean and tidy and it felt productive too.

Litter-picking can be done by individuals or by groups and there may be organised local litter-picks that people can join (something I might look into). Safety should also be thought of too. I’ll use my litter pick and gloves but there are some items I will avoid picking up. In fact Keep Britain Tidy says litter pickers should leave clinical waste such as needles/syringes, instead advising people to make a note of their location and inform the local council. But leaving the potentially hazardous material behind, there are still plenty of other crisp packets and plastic bottles, drink cans and sweet wrappers to pick up.

I’ll definitely do it again and I recommend it.

For more information, visit Keep Britain Tidy at https://www.keepbritaintidy.org/

Posted in Environment, Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

A ramble around Nottinghamshire’s Idle Valley Nature Reserve and along River Idle

Idle Valley

One Saturday in January I embarked on a wintry morning ramble along the River Idle in Nottinghamshire with Simon. We parked on Chainbridge Lane and headed towards the river. On the map it’s called the ‘Riverside Discovery’ walk and I thought this was all part of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Idle Valley Nature Reserve at first. It was a sunny, cold day with frost on the ground. Instead of making the ground slippy, it actually made the walk more pleasant as it meant the path was less muddy. As time passed, this frost melted and the ground became muddier.

Map of Idle Valley

A couple passing by mentioned a large gathering of siskins further up, adding: “You’ll hear them before you see them”. In the meantime we came across a clearing where many trees – conifers I guess? – had been felled. This was part of the nature reserve so I presume the plan is to plant native trees instead.

We also came across a swan family of varying ages swimming in the river.

Swans on the River Idle

I had forgotten about the siskins by the time we heard their calls coming from the trees. The siskins could be seen perched on the branches but the sun blocked out their vivid yellow colour and we saw them as silhouettes instead.

It was quiet on our walk with only a few walkers and dogs but as we entered the Idle Valley Nature Reserve – 450 hectares of lakes, wetland, scrub and grassland – we encountered increasing numbers of people. This particular reserve, run by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, is both a Local Wildlife Site (LWS) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s largest reserve and one of the largest sites for nature conservation in the East Midlands.

Idle Valley Nature Reserve
Idle Valley

We reached the visitor centre where Simon had a warming bowl of soup and I enjoyed a filling jacket potato. Our table had a very pleasant view of Belmoor Lake. The visitor centre has a shop, toilets and cafe. It is also called a Rural Learning Centre and looks like it’s connected to North Notts College. I also noticed a sign for Muddy Fork – Social and Therapeutic Horticulture. I believe that nature, whether it’s in the form of gardening, walks or voluntary work, can do wonders for our wellbeing. It’s good to know that there are programmes like this out there.

Idle Valley Nature Reserve

A Willow Tunnel and boardwalk took us back into the reserve, passing a natural playground on the left and Belmoor Lake on the right. Bug arch sculptures were dotted along the path.

We later saw a flock of lapwings flying overhead and goldeneye on the lake.

It was only afterwards when I was reading up about the reserve that I discovered that beavers have been reintroduced here, after an absence of more than 400 years. I also found that Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust offers regular beaver enclosure tours. It would be wonderful to see a beaver!

According to the Wildlife Trust website: “A pair and a family with four kits have been released into an enclosed section of Idle Valley Nature Reserve.  We have created one of the largest beaver enclosures in the UK and in November 2021 released eight beavers, including four kits (baby beavers), to this area securely separated from the River Idle and closely monitored.”

The nature reserve was once gravel pits and was known as Sutton & Lound Gravel Pits, which was incorporated with Hallcroft & Bellmoor Pits near Retford. The whole site was bought by Notts Wildlife Trust.

https://www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org/idle-valley

Posted in Environment, Gardens, Nature

Early signs of spring in my garden

Although there is still greenery in my garden, it lacks colour (except for my vibrant sun-yellow mahonia) at this time of year. But I have noticed a few early signs of spring. My perennial lungwort has started to flower, as it does about this time every year. I have found the plant to be as popular with bees as humans.

Lungwort

My primroses can also always be relied upon to provide a splash of colour at this time of year.

This time of year (start of February) is a turning point in the Celtic calendar with its festival Imbolc marking the beginning of spring, halfway between the winter equinox and the spring equinox. Looks like my garden agrees and I look forward to seeing more glimpses of spring awakening from my currently sleeping perennials over the next few weeks.

The plant got its common name because its leaves are shaped like lungs, and lungwort was indeed once used medicinally to treat lung ailments.

https://www.thespruce.com/
Posted in Charity, Environment, Environmental issues, Nature

Our World: Supporting wildlife charities

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of the ways we can fight against climate change is to join, support or donate to an environmental charity. Eco-charities may focus on creating and maintaining habitat for wildlife, caring for injured animals, campaigning for better awareness of climate change or an improvement in laws against pollution… There’s a myriad of ways that nature can be helped by the organisations out there, and it’s just as well as wildlife needs all the help it can get.

Personally, I’m a member of The Woodland Trust and the RSPB, two of the largest nature organisations in Britain.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The RSPB has a long history, stretching back to 1889, when it was created by Emily Williamson. It was originally called the Society for the Protection of Birds and its aim was to fight against the Victorian fashion for exotic feathers and plumes; a fashion that meant birds, such as great crested grebes, were heading towards extinction. The society gained popularity and was awarded a Royal Charter in 1904 (so now it was the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and its first big success was celebrated in 1921 when the 1921 Importation of Plumage (Prohibition) Act was passed. The RSPB’s come a long way since then. It bought its first nature reserve in 1947 (Minsmere) and now manages more than 200 nature reserves across the UK. Leighton Moss, near Morecambe, is the one nearest me and I’ve had several good experiences there.

If you live in the UK, maybe you’ve heard about Big Garden Birdwatch? Well, that annual garden bird count is run by the RSPB and although it may be seen as simple good fun for the family, it also helps the RSPB see how Britain’s birds are faring. One million people took part in 2021 – the largest number ever.    

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Increasingly, the RSPB has changed its focus from solely birds to birds and other wildlife species. It also looks at the global picture. The RSPB is part of BirdLife International, a network of organisations working together to save nature around the world.

I joined the RSPB nearly 20 years ago because I got a free bird feeder (not quite the most profound reason to join a wildlife charity but that feeder did help the birds!) The bird feeder may have been replaced since then but I still enjoy reading the magazine, which has become brighter and more picture-led over the years. has helped me gain some knowledge of these creatures, and also other wildlife.

The Woodland Trust

I’ve mentioned The Woodland Trust before in a few posts as they manage various woodlands near me (that’s how I found out about them in the first place) and it’s the second nature charity I am a member of. While world leaders pontificate to the world while flying by private jet to a conference about climate change, organisations such as The Woodland Trust actually do the work. They plant trees, maintain woodlands and protect vital wildlife habitat from developers. The Trust was started more recently than the RSPB, back in 1972, and is the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity. They maintain more than 1,000 woodlands, campaign to stop destruction of ancient woodland, restore damaged woods and create new woodland. Only 13 per cent of the UK is covered by woodland compared to the EU average of 37 per cent. I think nature lovers in Britain would agree that this is definitely an area we need to improve on.

Masons Wood

Over the years, I have been an on and off member with The Wildlife Trust.

The Wildlife Trust is made up of 46 local Wildlife Trusts, which, altogether, look after 2,300 nature reserves, campaign for laws and policies that help wildlife on land and at sea, carry out research, running targeted conservation programmes to help save water voles etc. My local one, Lancashire Wildlife Trust, looks after 50 sites, around 1,288 hectares of habitat in total. At this time I’m not a member but will rejoin at a later date.

These are just three of the largest nature charities in Britain, but there are many, many more. There are small ones, maybe focusing on a local nature reserve, such as Grimsargh Wetlands Trust, in Lancashire. There are specialised ones focusing on a particular species such as Butterfly Conservation. I feel I may need to revisit this topic later on as there are so many people out there helping wildlife in various ways and it really does give me hope.

The RSPB – https://www.rspb.org.uk/

The Woodland Trust – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/

The Wildlife Trust – https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/

https://butterfly-conservation.org/

https://www.grimsarghwetlands.org/

Posted in Crafts, Environment, Gardens, Nature

The RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch and making a bird feeder

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Big Garden Birdwatch is on this weekend in Britain and nature lovers are being invited to watch our feathered friends for an hour, count the numbers of each species and then tell the RSPB our results. The bird watch can be in your garden, but if you don’t have one, the local park or other green space will suffice. I’m not a big ‘twitcher’ but I do like watching birds going about their business.

I have a regular robin visitor who seems to follow me around, looking for mealworms and sunflower seeds. Recently I have even seen two robins in my garden. Robins are not great fans of robins so I assume they are a pair or maybe relatives – a mother and daughter or father and son, perhaps?

Last weekend I enjoyed a close-up view of a bullfinch eating seeds in Simon’s Lincolnshire garden. I hadn’t realised how colourful bullfinches were. The below photo wasn’t taken by me but it illustrates how vivid Simon’s visitor was in its colouring.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If you’re not in the UK, maybe you could do your own informal bird watch? For more info on the birdwatch and the RSPB, visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

And if you want to attract birds to your garden, here’s an idea for a recycled bird feeder…

First, we need an empty plastic milk bottle, two branches, an empty tray – in this case it’s a plastic one, two pieces of twine or string, a scoring tool and a pen knife.

The items needed to make a bird feeder
Pictures courtesy of Simon Hunter
Milk bottle and tools Picture courtesy of Simon Hunter

Score or cut four holes into the milk bottle and slide in the branches – this is for wild birds to stand on while feeding. Cut two holes near the top and slide the twine in as seen below. This is to hang up the bottle in your garden. Cut holes above the branches as an opening so the birds can access and eat the seeds.

Then fill the bottle with bird seed. The seed will scatter onto the tray rather than the ground, providing less opportunity for rats. Once the feeder is finished, the same thing can be done again meaning it will be more hygienic, especially when there are cases of bird flu in the area.

Looking at the size and shape of a bird’s bill provides a good clue to its diet. Starlings, blackbirds and gulls have ‘general purpose’ bills that enable them to take advantage of a wide variety of foods.

RSPB Birdfeeder Handbook, Robert Burton
Posted in Environment, Gardens, Nature

Learning about Trees and Shrubs: Mahonia (Oregon Grape)

My mahonia – pictured in January!

When I moved into my house 10 years ago (I can’t believe it was that long ago!), my garden was very sparsely planted indeed. A bamboo on the left (which Simon very kindly volunteered to take it out, a difficult task), a laburnum further down, a rhododendron on the right…

The bamboo and rhododendron may be long gone but the bold and dramatic mahonia – a spiky looking shrub with large dark green leaves, displaying yellow flowers in winter and blue-black berries to follow in spring – is still here and I hope for a long time yet. I believe it is a mahonia japonica as it’s about 7ft in height and doesn’t look like it will grow much more. When I was reading about this particular species, it was described as a┬ávery hardy shrub (just right for me) and will grow well in most soil types including heavy clay. Heavy clay? I have plenty of that in my garden!

When I learnt about the benefits of the mahonia to me (as well as being a striking plant, it provides plenty of colour in winter) and to wildlife (offering berries, flowers and shelter), I was pleased that this complementary gift came with the house. I noted my parents liked it too, so one Christmas a few years ago I bought them one. It’s not as big as mine yet but it’s growing healthy and strong.

The genus name, Mahonia, derives from Bernard McMahon, one of the stewards of the plant collections from the Lewis and Clark expedition (USA expedition from August 31, 1803, to September 25, 1806, to cross the newly acquired western portion of the country)

Wikipedia

Here are five facts about this dramatic looking tree:

  1. It’s also known as the Oregon Grape and comes from the Berberidaceae family.
  2. It’s an evergreen, upright shrub.
  3. There are around 70 species of Mahonia. The charity variety can grow to 10ft while the Mahonia aquifolium only grows to 100-200cm tall (3-6ft).
  4. As well as being a striking, colourful beauty in the garden, it’s a productive shrub. Its flowers provides nectar to bees; its berries can be eaten by birds; and its evergreen leaves can shelter birds, especially in winter.
  5. The plant is originally from Asia and America.

Posted in Environment, Environmental issues, Nature

Our World: Plastic pollution

Photo by Catherine Sheila on Pexels.com

I walked to a local nature reserve recently and decided to have lunch at its cafe. Until very recently it had just been serving takeaways (because of Covid and the restrictions) but now we could sit inside to eat. I ordered a large cup of tea and was directed to a basket containing tiny plastic cartons of milk.

Plastic cartons

I’ve seen these containers before, usually for takeaway drinks which makes sense. They’re handy and easily portable after all. But surely when sitting indoors an individual reusable, rewashable milk jug would be more eco-friendly, especially at a nature reserve?

Over the years there has been an increase in plastic use. Sometimes there is no alternative (PPE for health workers) but, too often, it is used as a lazy option that is not really needed. Too often I see fruit and vegetables – even bananas! – in supermarkets in plastic bags. Why not have them loose and consumers could pick them up and put them in paper bags? I see tea bags in cardboard boxes which are, in turn, wrapped in plastic.

I don’t doubt that plastic has its place, it’s an incredibly useful material, but I think it’s overused. Maybe the decision-makers think it makes the products fresher or more hygienic, but at what cost to nature? What cost to ourselves?

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Plastic pollution is a massive environmental problem. A lot of plastic ends up in our oceans. Sea creatures such as dolphins, turtles and birds can become injured or entangled by plastic. Or they might mistake it for food – obviously this can have tragic circumstances. Unfortunately these chunks of litter don’t just break down and disappear. When plastic does start breaking down, they end up as microplastics and, as Greenpeace says, “impossible to filter from waste water, they end up in our oceans.” These microscopic pieces of plastic end up in our food chain so we too can become unwitting victims of this pollution.

These miniscule particles are swallowed by tiny creatures such as zooplankton which end up getting eaten by larger animals such as whales. And guess who eats the fish in the oceans – which may also have digested microplastics at some point? That’s right, we humans. It can’t be good for wildlife. It can’t be good for us.

Photo by Catherine Sheila on Pexels.com

As I’ve said I have nothing against plastic itself as a material but I am against its overuse. If less plastic and more sustainable materials were used, I believe the world would be a healthier place. And a healthier world for animals always translates into a healthier world for humans too.

Happily, change can be done. A few years ago, every time I went to a supermarket or any other type of shop, I was automatically given plastic carrier bags, even when I brought my own. Then the Government banned free plastic carrier bags (a rare environmentally friendly decision by political leaders) and it now costs 5p to buy a bag (since raised to 10p). The use of carrier bags has been cut by 95 per cent. I see far fewer plastic bags littering the streets these days. I can only assume the oceans are seeing less of these bags too.

Another victory in the war against plastic pollution is that two charities of which I am a member of (Woodland Trust and RSPB), which once used plastic as magazine wrappers, have swapped to paper and a compostable potato starch product. The latter is a handy bag for my teabags for when they go into the compost heap.

So what can we do individually? On a personal level, I have decided to think twice before buying anything that seems to be needlessly wrapped in plastic. Of course, I can’t escape it but I can ask myself do I really need this? (The fact that this approach will also save me money is a win win for me!) On occasions when I think the company involved really doesn’t need to use plastic, I will send them a polite email. Maybe now is the time to start tweeting them? In fact, I have emailed the charity running the nature reserve and will wait to see what their answer is.

I have included a couple of video links about the issue below.

Vast quantities (of plastic) pollute our world. Much of it flows into the oceans, turning them into a plastic soup. A truckload of plastic enters the ocean every single minute.

Greenpeace