Saturday, 17 February 2018

The precautionary principle...... Brexit........ and swivel eyed free trade economic illiterates in the UK government. .....I feel a rant coming on...

Back in the 1950s the near extinction of many raptor species was due to the widespread and indiscriminate use of DDT in farming. It worked it's way up the food chain from earthworms through song birds to peregrine falcons. no one had thought through the ecological implications of DDT use, it hadn't been adequately tested;  poisoning of peregrines was an unforeseen side effect of the introduction of DDT.

The precautionary principle
I have said it and written it before and I am unapologetic about saying it again, you cannot show me an environmental problem that isn't an unforeseen side effect of new technology. The link between new tech and environmental damage has long been recognised by the European Union and the , " precautionary principle" underpins environmental legislation just as it does for the testing of new drugs for human health.

Today it has been revealed how ultra right wing free trade think tanks here in the UK together with their US counterparts are lobbying for the end to the precautionary principle when the UK leaves the EU so that the lower food quality standards in the USA will be part of any new bi-lateral trade agreements. Campaign to water down food quality and environmental protection

Brexit isn't just an act of idiotic economic self-harm it is potentially a direct  danger to human health and environmental protection. Then of course there is poultry meat washed in chlorine because the processing plants are so unclean and beef packed with growth hormones. .........

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Lunch with a roman god and some other stone work

The Cheviot hills with their wide horizons and old roads from holloways, through Roman military roads to more recent droving routes are wonderful walking country, these landscapes are also littered with stone artefacts from 2,000 years ago to more recent times.

Holloways pre-date the romans they are sunken paths  that tend to follow lines of least resistance between ancient settlements their surfaces worn down by centuries of travel on foot, by wheeled carts, the hooves of livestock and throughout their time by the erosive force of water. Some are so deep you can't see over the edges. They are still footpaths and rights of way in 2018.

Yesterday after a holloway and above a secondary Roman road branching off from Dere Street ( A highway from York into Scotland for the Romans) we had lunch in a rocky depression on the edge of moorland beside a stone image of Cocidius a roman warrior deity.

On the lower slopes of the moor there was a broken water trough hewn more recently from a huge block of sandstone. The rectangular block had to be quarried, dressed to about 1.5 m  x 60 cm x 60 cm then excavated and transported without power tools or a fork lift truck.

A "hogg hole " is more stonework. A hogg is a young female sheep and smaller than it's parent  Hogg holes were deliberately built into dry stone walls to allow sheep to shift themselves from one field to another. They are easily closed with a slab of stone or a hurdle.

Normally they are fairly simple structures with a flat lintel but this one is arched, a work of art really.

The Old Tracks through the Cheviots : Discovering the Archaeology of the Border Roads, David Jones with Coquetdale Community Archaeology, 2017, is available from £14.99p. There is also a walking guide in preparation.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Sea eagles, golden eagles, buzzards and a hen harrier in a twenty minute walk

Last week in a twenty minute walk to the top of the road above my house, "Raptor" the village's other wildlife photographer watched a pair of sea eagles, a pair of golden eagles ,two buzzards and a female hen harrier. It seems that Ormsaigbeg is rapidly becoming Lochaber's top eagle  watching site.

Sea eagles probably from Mull (Raptor)
The sea eagles ( cousins of the American bald eagle) are hard to miss as they are Europe's biggest eagle and fourth largest in the world. They were soaring and diving but not yet doing their aerial mating display, diving to earth with locked talons.

Golden eagles do spectacular aerial display too, diving, dropping sticks and then catching them but it's a bit early for that as egg laying for both species starts around the end of March. This pair bred here in 2017, their wing tags were clearly visible.

Golden eagle harassed by a buzzard (Raptor)
There has been a female hen harrier and a male around for some time and as we don't have grouse moors here our population is free from persecution and hopefully they will breed in 2018.

I didn't see any of this as I am in Northumberland house sitting for friends but I was once told that Northumberland has the greatest bird diversity of any county in England because of it's diverse landscapes, the coast and the Farne Islands. In one day this week I listed 21 species in, around or flying over the garden.

To verify this claim that Northumberland has the greatest diversity of breeding bird species I would have to trawl through the list for every county. I will leave it to you and then you can add a comment!

Friday, 26 January 2018

Do you know the difference between your dacha and your croft?

I have been asked to give a talk to the "Acharacle Winter Group" and have been given the title, Do you know the difference between your croft and your dacha?  

If you want to give it a more serious title it might be, The social, cultural and economic role of the Russian dacha, sounds a bit pompous, but never mind.

So,..... how to do this? well I have some really nice images of dachas and I have some personal experience of them after nearly four years living in Russia but I decided to get an authentic Russian voice to comment.I asked my friend and one time colleague Tatiana Petrovna, "what does your dacha mean to you Tanya? "this was her response;

My dacha is important to me as it feeds us nearly the whole year
It pleases my eye as I have beautiful flowers and dwarf conifers
It keeps me in good physical shape with digging which is sometimes very hard
I like to sunbathe on a bright summer day.

The dacha is a place to meet friends, to relax, talk, listen to music, drink tea and wine.
When it is raining it is a pleasure to sit by the fire among people dear to you.
Or just to sit in silence with my own thoughts.
Much depends on my mood

Tanya on her dacha

The dacha as you can see is close to the heart of Russians as it has been since Tsarist times when they were largely the prerogative of the upper middle classes. During the Soviet era people were allowed small plots for recreation and  food production. Since then, after the middle of May each year there is a mass exodus from the towns and cities on Friday to the dacha in the countryside.

You can see from the figures above what an important contribution dachas make to Russian food production. The gardening is largely organic, highly sustainable and provides food security, something we no longer have in the UK.,

Thursday, 25 January 2018

"Magic" eggs go on sale the days lengthen, the temperature rises and visitors arrive.

Inspecting the new sign
My poultry always look their best in January, they renewed their plumage before the turn of the year and short days together with  low temperatures have minimised egg laying.  The number of eggs laid peaks as the days lengthen and get warmer around April / May hopefully coinciding with the influx of visitors at Easter.

Regular visitors make straight for the farm gate retail park, they can't get as good eggs at home or anywhere else. They've been "magic" eggs for years, since my daughter first painted the sign, "Magic eggs from happy French hens". It's a regular feature of holiday photos as are the hens as most people never see a live hen. These have always been dual purpose , laying eggs and calming traffic.

Apart from the layers I have three Silkie x Light Sussex hens , their main job is to incubate the fertile french eggs and rear the chicks to about 6 or 7 weeks of age.I used to have a high-tec all singing, all dancing electrically heated incubator but the broody hen is much more reliable and so much easier.

 The red hens are modern, scientifically bred hybrids, they produce large numbers of big brown eggs, over 300 a year, until they die of exhaustion or go off to ,"Mrs Cheadle's Twilight Home for Chickens" at Sanna to end their days.

Happy French hens

If you select a population of hens for large numbers of eggs, generation after generation they lose the ability to go broody, hence the Silkies which have lots of feathers and have not been subject to selection for egg production.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Red kites above the M40 and a speed trap

In medieval England red kites scavenged in towns for waste food and on battlefields human cadavers they were even reputed to steal clothing from washing lines to decorate their nests and steal bones from dogs.

Wheeling, diving and gliding
Then in the nineteenth century landowners exterminated them. The birds were thought to kill lambs ( they didn't they are scavengers) and they were easy to shoot, poison or trap. By the 1980s there was a small breeding population in a remote valley in Wales. Then the 1990s saw the start of one of Britain's most successful conservation projects.

Breeding red kites were re-introduced from Spain to the Chiltern hills in southern England between 1989 and 94. As I was driving north on the M40 motorway this week through Buckinghamshire I counted 17 kites on a twenty mile stretch of road. They were wheeling, diving, gliding above the six lanes of commuter traffic looking for the previous night's roadkill, foxes, badgers, pheasants the usual victims.more on red kites in the Chilterns

They seemed to be spaced out fairly evenly along the road and this led me to wonder if they have their own territories. Or a they are performing  the role that vultures do in other places, perhaps one spots a carcass and then signals this in some way to the others who then fly in to join the feast.

Since the first re-introductions twenty years ago we now have healthy breeding populations throughout Scotland, Wales and England. Red kites are even repopulating the towns and cities having been seen in N. London and Reading. Are people in the suburbs feeding them on tinned dog food I wonder.

Bird watching while driving isn't a great idea, as I rolled into Fort William yesterday afternoon I was caught in a police speed trap for the momentary lapse in concentration, 3 points on my licence and £100 fine I guess.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Do you remember an inn Miranda .........And the fleas that tease in the high Pyrenees

One hundred and fifty years ago Robert Louis Stevenson (according to me) started the adventure / travel  writing business with.... Travels with a donkey in the CĂ©vennes. When, fifteen years ago we followed his route from Le Puy to Florac, I carried a copy with me that could still be used as a trail guide.

In the early 20 th century the Anglo-French writer, historian and traveller Hilaire Belloc set the pattern for future trail guides with his publication of, The Pyrenees, in 1909. Last night I sat down to read it.

I couldn't help but compare it with, Trekking the GR 10 Trail, Le Sentier des Pyrenees published 100 years later in 2009. Both volumes include; how to get there, when to go, the weather, accommodation and walking routes with maps. But perhaps most interesting is Belloc's advice on what to take.

Belloc is an advocate of lightweight trekking and the bivouac rather than a tent where a bothy ( cabane) is not available. His kit list includes; a well designed backpack that hoists the weight high on your shoulders, a  gourd for wine, a blanket, matches wrapped in a waterproof pouch, a spirit stove and billy can. Enough food should be carried for at least three days, one and a half pounds of bread per person per day (French army rations at the time) and saucisson, two litres of wine in the gourd and that's it!

Pyrenean inn, Andorra
Clothing should be of wool, all of it! Walking on mule tracks in the mountains is much more comfortable according to Belloc when wearing rope soled sandals rather than leather boots, carry a stick, map and compass. We've gone back to wool, at least for a base layer now just about every corner of the world is mapped if only by Google.

Despite being an advocate of lightweight trekking Belloc includes a chapter on inns in the Pyrenees, one of which is also the subject of his best known poem.....Tarantella. The story of a wild night dancing and drinking at an inn during a festival at Canfranc in northern Spain. On the Tarantella Trail, Oli Foster, Times Literary Supplement

Do you remember an inn
Do you remember an inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding
And the fleas that tease in the high Pyrenees
And the wine that tasted like tar?
And the cheers and jeers of the young muleteers....