20. June 2014 · 1 comment · Categories: News

If you’re in the vicinity, why not check out the Sussex Festival of Nature on Sunday (22 June 2014) at Stanmer Park. It’s a free, family friendly event, but they’re keen for you not to arrive by car.

06. May 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: News

Did you notice the redesign?

It’s actually somewhat forced, courtesy of a move from Typepad hosting, to a self-hosted WordPress system. However it should give more control and scope for improvement in the future. Let me know if you spot anything that’s broken or annoying!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a National Trust 'Uncovered' weekend at Sheringham Park in Norfolk. They have two more coming up at different locations, which sound like they're very worth attending if you're anywhere nearby.

In their own words:

  • At the Wimpole Estate near Cambridge – on 5-6 October – we'll be holding a weekend to help visitors discover how the farming of our land for food has over time shaped the landscape. Farming and nature are obviously very closely related, and walks/talks during the weekend will cover lots of wildlife-friendly traditional farming practices, like hedge-laying and organic soil management.
    See the full programme for events that weekend.
  • At Northey Island in Essex – on 12-13 October – visitors will have the opportunity to discover how the influence of man and the forces of nature are changing the coastline and seascape. Amongst other activities, there will be a 'saltmarsh safari' (where you can find out what’s so special about this rare habitat and the wildlife that depends on it) and lectures on how climate change is affecting the coast.
    See the full programme for events that weekend.

HouseSpider

The Society of Biology is recruiting you (yes you) to help research the lives of UK spiders around the home. You can record sightings online, and there's even an app available for iPhone and Android to make it easy to send in reports and identify species.

This is the time of year when male house spiders typically come inside our homes, looking for love. But surprisingly little is known about them. That's where you can help!

The BBC also has a great article about the survey, including a quick rundown of common species. It alerted me to the Cardinal spider, the UK's largest house spider, which can have a leg span up to 14cm according to Wikipedia, brilliantly illustrated with one comfortably straddling a floppy disk. Remember floppy disks?

Woodland

The National Trust is in my opinion a national gem. I'm a card carrying member and regularly visit their properties for long family days out in the great outdoors. This coming weekend (14th and 15th September 2013) they are holding a big event at Sheringham Park, near Cromer in Norfolk. It focuses on wildlife, ancient trees and biodiversity within the landscape – and some of their top nature experts will be giving talks and leading walks. Take a look at the full activity schedule.

One of the National Trust's experts, Brian Muelaner (Ancient Tree Adviser – I think that's the trees, not Brian) has put together a short article about his subject, which I've included below.

Ancient and Remarkable Trees

Brian Muelaner – Ancient Tree Adviser, National Trust

I’m really pleased to be involved with the Sheringham Uncovered weekend which offers a fantastic opportunity to discover the wonders of Britain’s unique landscape using one property as a case study.

I travel to Trust properties across England, Wales and Northern Ireland running courses on recording our remarkable trees and how best to manage them.  To date we’ve recorded 26,000 ancient and notable trees and have many more yet to be discovered.

Britain has a phenomenal number of Europe’s oldest trees, about 60% of all of the ancient trees within northern Europe are in the UK!  The Trust has the largest number of these remarkable trees apart from the Crown Estate, which makes our trees of great international significance.  

They are important culturally, the most famous would be Newton’s apple tree at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, this is the very tree Newton sat beneath when developing his theory on gravity

Another fine example is the Tolpuddle Martyr’s tree, beneath which the first ever trade union was created by a small group of farm labourers who were later tried for treason and deported to Australia.  After a massive public outcry they were returned to Britain as national heroes. Today Tolpuddle, a small village in Wiltshire is the focus for an annual festival celebrating trade unionism.  

These trees are also incredibly important for the wildlife they support, much of which is specific to very old trees. As trees age their heartwood begins to decay, which is part of the aging process for old trees.  This decaying wood then supports specialist deadwood invertebrates, which live on the decaying wood.

As the wood decays the tree then grows roots into its own belly to reabsorb the nutrients which have been locked up in their heartwood for many centuries.  This acts as a vital slow release fertiliser for these ancient trees.

Very old trees develop their own character over centuries or even millennium creating trees of remarkable aesthetic beauty. Each one becomes a living sculpture defying time itself.  The oldest tree on Trust land is thought to be the Ankerwycke yew near Runneymede and is between 2000 to 2500 years old!

The oldest oak is at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire and is around 1200 years old, the stories these trees could tell.

If you are interested in learning more about the Trust’s remarkable ancient trees then come to Sheringham and be prepared to be amazed.

I was sent this book to review and was very glad to do so, as it promised to neatly solve a common class of problem. Often I'll be walking in the countryside and see a field of some unusual crop. Is it peas, or beans of some sort? Is it grown for animal feed or human plates? This slim volume promises to be your guide to all such countryside conundrums, crops being just one small part.

It covers a wide array of topics, all well presented with good photographs and brief descriptions containing interesting tidbits, which makes it lively, engaging and informative. It's quite good to just sit and read in the comfort of your home frankly.

With 96 narrow-format pages it really is quite slim, which is great for tucking into an already over-burdened bag, but I felt that its compactness is also its biggest problem. There is just one page on crops (so no help at all really for my problem above) and if you want to look up badgers, bats, kingfishers, or any owl other than the little owl, you're out of luck. It's ironic that there's a picture of a barn owl on the back cover, but nothing about them within.

I presume that the authors were forced by size-constraints to concentrate on common daytime species, but when we saw what might have been a badger's sett and I opened the book with my young daughter, we were disappointed to find nothing. Similarly as we watched a bat skimming over a canal in the afternoon, or a kingfisher dipping into the river – surely one of the most iconic and treasured birds to spot on a walk?

I think I (or perhaps it) got a bit unlucky with the things I saw on my walks, and realistically it's pretty good for identifying common plants and animals and learning more about the terrain itself. Its breadth is admirable, covering ancient monuments, waterways, boundaries, clouds, village life and more. It's already a decent book for the keen novice that wants to get out and about, but will hopefully be much improved if a second edition comes along with 50-100% more content for the areas that are weak. Maybe based on feedback they could find some relatively unpopular sections to cut entirely, to enable the rest to really shine without becoming a weighty tome.

You may recall a previous post about an ambitious, crowd-funded nature documentary project. The project is alive and well but has morphed slightly and is now seeking funding through a different site. They have also got Biologist Simon Watt (Inside Nature's Giants) on board as a presenter.

OddStone2 
OddStone1

As you may or may not know, cricket umpires traditionally keep six small stones in the pockets of their big white coat. They pass these from the pocket on one side to the other with each ball bowled, to keep track of the six balls of each over.

During a spot of umpiring my father noticed one of the stones was a bit unusual – as per his pictures above. But what is it exactly? Hopefully somebody out there has seen something like this before and can enlighten us. Please add a comment or send a tweet (@UKNatureBlog) if you have an idea. My best guesses, without having seen it in person, are as follows.

  • A stone with a bizarre, ancient inscription or pattern – perhaps of archaeological significance – but probably not. The (fairly) regular pattern looks like it's natural in origin to me.
  • A worn piece of antler, perhaps from the base.
  • Similarly, bone or tooth.
  • Some fossilized thing, perhaps from the sea?

Update: my friendly local archaeologist Claire tells me that it's almost certainly a fossilised sponge – so my last guess above was correct, albeit inspecific!

04. June 2013 · 1 comment · Categories: Birds, News

CraneWickenFen
I recently enjoyed a wonderful day at Wicken Fen, a National Trust nature reserve in Cambridgeshire. I saw lots of wonderful things (many pictures stacked up for posting here soon) but one of the biggest highlights was to see a common crane flying overhead.

Given there are just a few breeding pairs in the UK this is quite a sight and apparently all the more exciting to see just one. We were on a boat trip down the lode at the time and our guide explained that there was a local pair, usually seen flying together, but to see only one aloft might indicate that they had settled on a nest successfully, with eggs to be cared for. That said, a recent update of the Wicken Fen sightings blog suggests that the pair may have moved on and this is just a lonesome crane. Either way it's great to see such a big bird in our skies.

23. May 2013 · Write a comment · Categories: News

Graeme Rycyk got in touch to promote his really rather wonderful project. For just £2,500 of your Kickstarter backing he will produce a 6 part documentary filmed in Ultra HD on the UK's urban nature.

A particular interesting twist is his intention to cover urban hunters and poachers – those people who are out to bag our city wildlife for their own pot. I can't say I'd even heard of that as a concept but I suppose it makes sense and it would be interesting to hear their perspective on our urban wildlife. If they're trying to catch these animals, they probably know them and their habits inside out.

I'll be honest, it seems like a massive challenge, especially given the budget and timescale, but the teaser video suggests he's serious and knows what he's doing.

I see foxes and hedgehogs in my backgarden as well as Muntjac deer in the town very occasionally (not running down the street or chowing down in Nandos, but in the wilder more natural spots). I'd love to find out a bit more about what they're up to, beyond the fleeting glimpses.