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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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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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

http://www.woodlandtrust.co.uk

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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Early spring flowers

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One Sunday in early March, Simon and I went for a countryside wander and it was cheering, after the winter, to see the early spring flowers starting to bloom. We saw snowdrops (above), which start to flower from February, and daffodils (below).

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A flowering elm tree was also spotted. This was an interesting find as many of Britain’s elm trees were wiped out by a strain of Dutch Elm Disease, caused by bark beetles. In 1967, Rock elm logs were imported from the USA. No one knew the timber harboured the virus caused by bark beetles. By the mid-1980s, 25 million elms had died. So an elm tree these days is a much rarer sight than it once was although, over the years, there have been attempts to repopulate the elms.

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Periwinkle (above) and common dog-violets were also spotted. Dog-violets flower from March to May and sometimes from July to September. They are seen in woods, hedgerows (where we saw it), and heaths in Britain.

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Fact of the Day

Did you know that there is an area and tube station called Seven Sisters in London? It derives its name from seven elm trees which were once planted in a circle in that area.

Our World: The Road to a Healthier Earth

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I was at my book club a few months ago and they had a charity book sale. Amongst the books, I picked up The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I had watched the dystopian film some years ago and fancied reading the novel.

And I picked up Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo by Michael McCarthy.

It was only later I thought, oh, how strange, two books by two authors with the same surname. It was much later when I realised that the apocalyptic novel and the nature book had something else in common.

The Road, in my view, is a great novel.

Although if you suffer from depression or anxiety, then it’s best to avoid.

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It is grim.

But it is hauntingly beautiful at the same time.

It tells the story of a father and son who are trying to survive a post-apocalyptic world. There are blood-thirsty cannibals (some of the scenes made me squirm in horror), there are remnants of meat or drinks in scavanged tins or cans or long abandoned kitchen cupboards.

There is no nature.

All the trees are dead.

It isn’t clear what caused this miserable world, a nuclear incident is my imagined belief, judging by what is said.

But whatever happened, there is now no nature – nothing to grow, nothing, it seems, to hope for.

I had given Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo to Simon, but from what I gather, that too is about the threat to the natural world.

So maybe the surname isn’t the only thing thing these books together?

The environment isn’t a particularly ‘trendy’ issue but it’s an important one. It affects us all, our planet is our home and every time we mess about with Mother Nature, we increasingly make life more difficult, if not for ourselves, for the future generations.

Even if we don’t believe in climate change being affected by humans, the evidence is there that humans are cutting down rainforests, driving other animals to near extinction and destroying wildlife habitat. We are to blame for plastic pollution, air pollution, water pollution…

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And I believe that all this vandalism of Planet Earth will impact on our health, mentally and physically.

Personally, I don’t feel as if I am doing enough for nature. I need to do more, much more, such as looking for palm oil ingredients, stop buying so many unnecessary items, stop driving so much, making my garden more wildlife friendly… The list goes on.

But politicians and big businesses are the ones who really could make a difference.

Oh, how I wish the powers-to-be in this world were wiser and thought more of the long-term, of nature, wellbeing and health, rather than worshipping at the altar of Profit.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

Meet the neighbours at Cosy Cottage Garden Cafe

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Long-tailed tit. Photo by Michel Berube on Pexels.com

I often have neighbours popping into Cosy Cottage Garden Cafe. It is a self-service restaurant where customers can just help themselves to the regularly replenished supplies.

Fat balls are supplied, a delicacy favoured by the tits. The long-tailed tits come as a large close-knit family, the blue tits and great tits venture in by themselves or in pairs.

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Blue tit. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Robin is a regular, a nosy fellow, he likes to keep an eye on any gardening being done. Unfortunately, he is a jealous loner too, and doesn’t like to see others in his café.

There’s plenty of room for you all, I say, keeping the peace as cafe proprietor.

But he ignores me and shouts abuse at a larger blue tit.

Luckily, when the argumentative Robin flies on to another cafe, my customers come back. But despite his bad behaviour to other clients, he is a favourite regular and is always welcome here.

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Robin. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Blackbird prefers the ground seating to upstairs. As well as scatterings from the bird table, he may be lucky enough to catch a juicy worm for dessert. He too comes by himself, but is happy enough to share the edibles with the other birds.

Pigeon too, is a regular customer, sometimes he brings his mate and they munch on tasty leftovers, dropped by messy eaters from above.

Fat balls aren’t the only item on offer. There are coconut feeders and an array of healthier seed is also available, although the fat balls are the most popular. A drinking area with water is also set aside for my clients.

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As well as regulars, there are the more flamboyant visitors. A bullfinch and his mate have hovered in the nearby trees, a nuthatch paid a visit on a couple of occasions, sampling the goods, and a Jay has also been a colourful client, staying a short while. Sparrows, starlings, a coal tit and a shy little dunnock, who prefers not to be noticed, have all sampled the delights of Cosy Cottage café.

It is a pleasure to serve such a diversity of characters. Do you have a ‘cafe’ in your garden?

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Bullfinch. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Facts of the Day

1. The tail of the long-tailed tit is more than half the bird’s total length.

2. The great tit is the largest member of the tit family in Britain. More than 50 distinct calls and songs have been identified.

3. Coal tits are the smallest tit in Britain. Its favourite habitat is coniferous woodland.

Information from Reader’s Digest The
Best of Wild Britain.  

Our World: Being green in 2019

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How easy is it to be green? I think it’s about being organised and consuming less and being more aware of what we buy.

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I’m not a militant green who has forgone all unethical goods. I’m just me, who can only do a little at a time. Maybe it’s not enough. It probably isn’t. And maybe I’ll get judged for still doing this or that or the other.

But surely it’s better to do something, no matter how small?

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Every year I come up with new year resolutions, usually broken by the middle of the year. But what if this year, 2019, was different? What if that was the year in which I kept my environmental resolution?

So here goes, five green resolutions.

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1. Check for palm oil in ingredients. Making palm oil as commonplace as it is these days has unfortunately come at a high cost to the rainforests – and to animals such as orangutans who live there.

For more information: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/surprising-everyday-palm-oil-products-13588303

2. Cut down on plastic. This may mean buying fewer bottles of water and Irn-Bru. One thing I did this year was drink water from a cup at work, rather than getting plastic cups from the water machine. There is so much plastic in our seas that the less we use the better for the planet.

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3. Drive less. Get the bus, train or walk. Might do my waistline some good too!

4. Renew my membership of The Woodland Trust. They create and maintain woodland habitats for wildlife, vitally important at a time when we humans are destroying their places to live at an increasingly rapid place.

http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk

5. Start writing to MPs about green issues such as loss of wildlife habitat.

Are you doing anything green for 2019? 🙂

The world’s first Naturalist?

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Have you heard of Alexander Von Humboldt? I hadn’t until I read Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature – The Adventures of Alexander Von Homboldt, The Lost Hero of Science. Long subtitle aside, the biography opened my eyes to this scientist who really was born before his time.

How did I never hear of him despite all the places, plants and animals named after him – the Humboldt Glacier, Humboldt penguin, Humboldt squid, Humboldt Current…?

Or the fact that he influenced notable scientists and thinkers of the day including Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir…?

Or that his many travels – including climbing Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador – experiments, learning, studying and immense memory brought so much information about the environment to us.

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Or his view of nature, combining poetry and emotion with science, focused on the interconnectedness of the world.

His vision was called Naturgemalde, a ‘painting of nature’, which illustrates nature as being interconnected. When Humboldt learnt a new fact – and he discovered many during his lifetime – he connected it with other aspects of the natural world.

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”Individual phenomena were only important ‘in their relation to the whole” for Humboldt.

Temperature, climate, humidity, atmosphere, animals, plants… instead of focusing on one topic, Humboldt would look at them all. Instead of studying one mountain and that’s it, Humboldt would link any information gained to other mountains across the world. His interdisciplinary scientific logic partnered with an artistic, poetical view of nature, resulting in engravings and artwork to accompany scientific findings.

Born in 1769 into a wealthy Prussian family, he lived at a fascinating time in history, of revolutions, war and turmoil. He met most of the most famous people of the time, such as Simon Bolivar and American presidents, and travelled extensively to Russia, South America, Europe and the US. He also managed to fit in writing several influential books.

Despite all this, what I found most impressive about this German scientist was his insight into the ecosystem and how humans were affecting it.

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Alexander Von Humboldt

Wulf writes: ‘Humboldt was the first to explain the fundamental functions of the forest for the ecosystem and climate: the trees’ ability to store water and to enrich the atmosphere with moisture, their protection of the soil, and their cooling effect…He also talked about the impact of trees on the climate through their release of oxygen’.

‘The effects of the human species’intervention were already ‘incalculable’ and could become catastrophic if they continued to disturb the world so ‘brutally”.

As Wulf says later on, ‘Humboldt’s views sound alarmingly prophetic’.

A man ahead of his time indeed.

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The cover of Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature

The Invention of Nature – The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt, The Lost Hero of Science by Andrea Wulf

 

 

 

Flashback: A wildlife garden in August

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Simon’s garden is the opposite of neat and manicured – and this is all for the better as it is a shared garden, used by both locals and residents living further away. And these users – birds, insects, reptiles, butterflies and mammals – appreciate his garden, coming back to feed and drink, or living there quite happily. I’m rather envious of this as my garden doesn’t attract quite as many different species as Simon’s. Woodpeckers, blackcaps, wood warblers, goldfinches, greenfinches, frogs, blackbirds … these are just an example. So he took me on a garden tour and gave me tips along the way. We did this in August so a lot of colour had unfortunately gone, but there were still many good ideas.

The front garden

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Sink pond in the front garden, which is often used by garden birds having a ‘bath’.
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Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece. It is usually used for sleep disorders, such as insomnia.

 

 

The back garden

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Verbena. According to the Wildlife Trust, there are around 250 species of verbena. They are very useful plants providing nectar for butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
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Sink garden. At the top there is a gap caused by a plant dying in the 2018 summer drought, (even rock gardens need watering but due to the high drainage it’s difficult). There is also thrift, small leaves of thyme and a red campion seedling (weed that can be moved). Middle right, are stonecrop and thrift. Dominating slightly are the silvery leaves of dianthus (Latin name) in the middle bottom. There are a few ox eye daisies dotted around.
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Water butts capture rain water which can then be used to water plants. Very handy, especially in a drought. A water butt is something I keep meaning to buy.
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Buddleia, echinacea, crocosmia and evening primrose
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Crocosmia, valerian and red campion
Above left, black Niger seed attracts goldfinches. A plastic bottle prevents rats, mice and squirrels from climbing up. Above right, a plant pot collects leftovers from peanuts. Often birds can be found in the plant pot, enjoying their breakfast leftovers!
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The main pond, with frogbit on the surface and wormwood in the foreground. At the back, behind the stone turtle, is a frog hideaway. Simon has three ponds altogether – two in the back garden and a small sink pond in the front, often used by birds for washing.
A visitor and probable resident – woodpecker and frog. Simon has rescued tadpoles from elsewhere on a couple of occasions, when the water levels have dropped because of the weather or the pond has become stagnant. They lived in a second hand aquarium in his house until ready to move into the garden pond.
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Nest boxes in an old tree. Several birds have lived – and reared their young here – over the years.

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Fig tree
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Flower of Kent apple tree. This is the variety of apple Isaac Newton saw falling to the ground in 1666 – and inspired his theory of gravity.

Facts of the Day

1. The single easiest way to add wildlife value to a garden is to install a pond. It doesn’t matter how small. Consider adding a plank of wood to help any wildlife that might fall in.
2. If you want to grow vegetables, it’s best to stop using chemical pesticides. These upset the natural balance and can be lethal for wildlife (and not just the ‘pests’. 
3. A compost heap is an essential for a wildlife garden. It cuts down the waste sent to landfill and provides a habitat for a number of insects – which can be a good food source for hedgehogs and other animals.
(Facts from The Wildlife Trust: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/gardening)