After its appearance last week on the latest Royal Mail mammal stamps the Scottish Wildcat, commonly known as the Highland Tiger, is again in the news.

The Cairngorms Wildcat Project is aiming to get a better understanding of these secretive wildcats and a number of cameras have been installed in the Cairngorms National Park to help conservationists do so. By making use of motion detectors and infra-red technology they are able to capture pictures of the wildcats, and any other passing mammals, over periods of up to months in length.

Despite only being in the early stages the project has already been successful in capturing pictures of the wildcats, as well as some of golden eagles.

There is concern that the Scottish Wildcat population has fallen to about 400, and there is a real risk that the species could become extinct. One of the biggest problems is that the wildcats are genetically quite close to domestic cats and hence they can inter-breed resulting in the loss of the pure-wildcat. It is thought that this is the last feline predator in the British Isles so no wonder conservationists are keen to protect it.

If you're interested in following how the project is going then take a look at their blog for regular updates. 

Laura writes in with an unusual wildlife sighting and associated question:

I am a reader of your blog and wondered if you or your readers have any advice they could offer me regarding an unusual thing I saw today. We went for a walk this morning along a stretch of (non-navigable) canal not far from our home in Nottingham. We saw the usual wildlife we often see along there – ducks, swans, coots and moorhens – but we also saw a turtle in the water. It swam up to the surface, where we saw it for a few seconds, and then it swam back down in the water and out of sight. We assume that it was perhaps once someone's pet and that they decided they no longer wanted to keep it, perhaps releasing it into the water. I have no idea how long it's been living there, or if it's in good shape. What I'm wondering is if I should report it to anyone – the local council, the RSPCA, the local Wildlife Trust? It's probably not the best place for a turtle to be living, and equally the other native species may not benefit from its presence. Any suggestions or advice would be appreciated!

Actually Laura, sightings such as this seem to be surprisingly common. A Red-eared terrapin was found in my local nature reserve a couple of years back and this was swiftly whisked away by the RSPCA. However in that case it was easily caught by the reserve wardens just after being sighted, whereas your example could be anywhere in the canal!

I suspect that it's perfectly healthy and happy apart from a lack of company. That said, maybe it does have company as Googling for "turtles in British rivers" throws up a number of stories of turtles living for decades in British waterways. Apparently lots were discarded after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze in the early 90s. Given that, the RSPCA might well just have to shrug their collective shoulders and explain the same tale to you, but it's as well to mention it to the local wildlife trust to ensure they're aware of their presence.

Apparently it's too cold in this country for them to breed successfully by the way, so the turtles people see in the wild in the UK are almost certainly those that have been dumped and lived on for years.

And finally (in the style of Trevor McDonald) Laura also mentions that she's seen Housemartins for the first time this year. And I don't think she was talking about a reunion gig.


Typically the first butterfly seen in the spring is the Brimstone. I saw and photographed one today, though I had seen a Comma (I think) a few days earlier, and a couple of other species today – one small blue thing fluttering past and a very large dark brown thing. Both were moving too fast to identify!

The adult Brimstone butterfly hibernates over winter so the ones that you see now are those that have awakened from their slumber. This is also the reason they are often the first and last to be seen. The name Brimstone refers to the yellow colour – brimstone being an old term for sulphur, a bright yellow chemical element.

A great day for butterflies today, being sunny and still. In fact it was a truly glorious day, blue skies accentuated by the lack of aircraft con-trails due to the Icelandic volcano ash cloud keeping them grounded.

16. April 2010 · 3 comments · Categories: Plants

Before dusting off the mower for the first cut of spring, I took out a camera and recorded the wide variety of things that were patently not grass in my lawn – i.e. weeds. Here's what I found, with my best attempts at identification. I used this handy page from and the fantastic book The Lawn Expert as my primary reference sources. Comments welcome to identify them properly.

There were so many that this is just part 1, with more to come soon.

Starting off with an easy one – White clover. I know this flowers with white heads from last year and of course the leaf is unmistakable, though there are related trefoils.


I'm not sure what this one is, not quite matching the leaf shape and texture of any of my book examples.


Next up, a Dandelion, though that shape of leaf could also be Smooth hawk's-beard which has a slightly different flower that's less open. I won't be finding out which it is as it's currently buried in my compost bin. The yellow flower at the bottom is just a dropped Jasmine flower by the way.


I'm not sure about this next one, with Dove's-foot cranesbill being my best guess, as the only thing with a similar shaped leaf in my book. It's not quite conclusive though, and as is the case with most of these the lack of a flower makes it a lot less certain.


Quite a shapely glossy leaf on this next one, which I think must be Lesser celandine (Figwort). As usual, the leaf shape doesn't quite match my references but I don't know if that's because I've got the wrong plant or if it's just natural variation.


Best guess for these three part leaves is Creeping buttercup, but I'm not completely convinced.


Finally another easy one – moss, amongst the grass. Nice and springy to walk on, but not traditionally a sign of a quality lawn. I blame the neutral soil and shade in my case.



A crowded island of Cormorants nesting on a lake at the RSPB's Dungeness reserve taken nearly a month ago. Perhaps they've got young hatching by now. Click for the bigger picture.


The BBC reports that ten new first class stamps are available picturing UK mammals that are struggling for survival. Included are Humpback Whale, Wildcat, Brown Long-eared Bat, Polecat, Sperm Whale, Water Vole, Greater Horseshoe Bat, Otter, Dormouse and Hedgehog.


According to the BBC, the late spring means hayfever is only just becoming a problem, and that it will be a shorter sneezing season than usual.

The picture is catkins on a Pussy willow, as tree pollen is a problem as well as grass pollen. Bumble bees have been busy collecting the pollen from these catkins for the last couple of weeks.


Look carefully at your feet as your walk through the woods, or even across your own lawn at this time of year and you might see a tiny purple flower that almost looks like a miniature orchid. If it looks anything like that above then it is a Violet, sometimes alternatively known as Viola. It's even edible and sometimes used to decorate salads and posh sorbets.


I found tens of these tiny millipedes in a rotting apple amongst a pile of damp leaf litter on the ground. This picture of one on my thumb shows just how small it is – only about 15mm long. You can tell it's a millipede because it has two pairs of legs per body segment. Centipedes have just one – and are generally much flatter.

I initially assumed that this was a baby and would grow into a larger, darker millipede, having not seen this cream with red spots version before. However a bit of internet research shows that this is the full-size Spotted snake millipede (Blaniulus guttulatus) which is apparently very common but not often seen since it's small and lives in the soil.