Posted in Environment, Environmental issues

Our World: Watership Down

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Many, many years ago, I started to watch a film called Watership Down. It was a cartoon and, as a child, I assumed it was a children’s film. But I found the beginning traumatic and subsequently didn’t watch the rest of the film. I’m sure it featured rabbits being killed and, as an eight year old with rabbits of my own, it wasn’t what I particularly wanted to watch.

Fast-forward many years later and I bought the book in a charity shop. It’s about a group of rabbits whose home is lost because of, you guessed it, humans and their ‘need’ to develop fields.

Now I find Watership Down a sad book in a different way. Whenever I see the countryside being built on, I wonder about the wildlife that may have used that land to live, feed…

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And yes, before I am called a ‘nimby’, I accept that we all live in a house once built on green land and people need houses to live in.

My issue is not the building on some green fields but the extent of which it seems to be taking place today.

There are so many brown field sites, once built on and now standing as an eyesore, and empty, derelict buildings. These could be revamped, making our towns and cities a more vibrant and pleasant place. Win win for humans – and wildlife. 

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If I had power, when it came to building on green belt land and rural areas, I would make it a law that housing developers would have to set aside, not just an recreational open green space for people, but a sizeable additional area as a nature reserve. Why take away homes for wildlife when creating houses for people?

Why does it have to be an either/or scenario with wildlife inevitably losing out? It’s well known that much of Britain’s wildlife is decreasing because of habitat loss.

Living in a greener, more natural environment is good for people’s mental health too.

Yet another win/win!

And as for Watership Down? I haven’t finished the novel yet, but I’m hoping there is a happy ending and the rabbits do find a new home, away from the threat of the bulldozer.

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Posted in Environment, Gardens, Gardens, lifestyle, self-sufficiency, environmental issues, adventure

A robin’s nest

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Earlier this year, a couple of robins – who usually wouldn’t go anywhere near each other – decided to set up home together and raise a family in a bird box in my garden.

It was a rather attractive abode, hand-made by Simon and painted a duck blue by myself. Last year, great tits lived in a different nest box in Cosy Garden but this was the first time The Blue Cottage would come into use.

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I noticed one, if not two, of the robins every day it seemed. They were very busy, flying, eating from the feeder, perching on a garden table, surveying their territory.

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And then one day, silence.

I didn’t notice right away. I assumed they must have been doing their business when I was out at work or somewhere else. Also I expected the mother to be sitting on the eggs so I didn’t expect to see her.

But still…

I continued to avoid the top part of the garden so I wouldn’t distract the pair.

The days went into a week and then another week passed by. Perhaps the eggs had hatched and the chicks had flown when I wasn’t around?

Eventually, I gave a little peek. Something I avoid doing as new and expectant mums hate being disturbed.

But there was no one there except five tiny eggs.

So what happened? To this day, the robins have not returned. Possible explanations I have heard were the adults were ‘killed by a cat or car’ or ‘the eggs were never going to hatch, they weren’t fertilised in the first place. So they left’.

I hope the robins weren’t killed, hopefully this time it just didn’t work and they will be back with more eggs and a successful outcome.

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Posted in Environment, Environmental issues

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.

Posted in Environment, Walks

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. 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Environment, Walks

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

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

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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Posted in Environment

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.