Sunday, 21 July 2019

The bullshit shitstorm and something to help you deal with it.

"Bullshit" and it's synonym "bollocks" are common English expletives regularly used in response to  nonsensical or misleading statements which have no concern for reality or the truth. Next week we in the UK will have a new Prime Minister, Alexander Boris Pfeffel Johnson, who has built his whole career in journalism and the pursuit of political power on bullshit. If bullshit was an Olympic event Johnson would win silver, we all know who would win gold, after a photo finish. If you want to know more about Johnson go to this link in today's Observer newspaper. The 10 ages of Boris Johnston

Why am I concerned about bullshit? If you read my previous post you see that those who do not want action on climate change have made strategic use of bullshit to refute the claims of climate scientists with great success over the last 30 years and now we are about to be confronted by a shitstorm of bullshit once Johnston is in office and I want to be able to refute it.Oligarchs, think tanks and global warming

If I am honest I only tell you what I believe to be true. If I tell you an outright lie I am aware of the truth but have chosen to ignore it. The Bullshitter  however isn't at all concerned about the true facts, he doesn't care because he only wants to persuade you to accept his point of view. And sometimes to entertain you because comedians are thought to be harmless.

When I Googled bullshit  I discovered a really useful bullshit refutation toolkit. Calling Bullshit.
It discusses the principles and philosophy of bullshit, how to spot it in the misuse of correlation, the making of unfair comparisons, deliberate misuse of statistics, dodgy graphs and fake news stories.

That's it folks..... it's up to you now to look at the, "Calling Bullshit" website by following the link above and equip yourself to identify and deal with bullshit in all of it's many forms.



Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Oligarchs, think tanks, marketing and global warming

Somewhere near you?
Sixty five years ago I had my first school chemistry lesson  with, "Doggy Collins"  a scary old Welshman. I clearly remember two topics that are relevant today, the gases comprising the earth's atmosphere and the, "scientific method".

The air we breathed then contained approximately 300 ppm of carbon dioxide it now contains 400 ppm, a 25 per cent increase in 65 years. This is a scientific fact, in other words there is a very strong probability that it is true. Doggy's scientific method involved three steps;

  • Observe the situation
  • Formulate a hypothesis 
  • Test your hypothesis by experimentation 
I should add a fourth....... present your methods, results, discussion and conclusions to the scientific community to seek consensus by peer review.

Scientific consensus about climate change has strengthened considerably since 1990, ninety seven per cent of published climate scientists  now agree that climate change is being driven by human activity ( Anthropogenic Global Warming).

Meanwhile there is a vociferous minority, in the USA  and UK denying that this is the case. They  are presumably happy to accept scientific consensus if it benefits their health or wealth but not if it means radical lifestyle change and inconvenience. People on every continent are experiencing the effects of climate change; from wildfires in California, to drought in Somalia and melting ice at the poles.

Closer to home; in the 1950s Crofters in this village made hay and grew oats, the climate was good enough at the appropriate time to make hay and harvest oats. Now it could not be done, the summers are too wet for haymaking and September too wet for harvesting cereals. Our annual rainfall in the W. Highlands has increased by 45 per cent in the last 20 years. We don't have significantly more wet days but when it does rain the rainfall is much heavier. 

Who are the deniers?....... and why do they do it?

In the USA and the UK anthropogenic global warming denial is generated and lead by right wing  think tanks and media funded by oligarchs and business corporations who have a vested interest in avoiding any mediation, it would lower their income and increase their costs. So, the "think tanks" churn out misinformation ( fake news) to create doubt about the science. This benefits their owners by decreasing support for mediation measures. The myths and misinformation are readily adopted by populist right wing politicians..... you know who they are!

The think tanks, right wing media and their supporters use the same tactics that gave us consumerism.... marketing!. They influence public support by casting doubt on the consensus among scientists. In the UK it has been found that only 11% of voters believed that the scientific consensus was 90% or more....... very effective marketing.  The gap generated between the public perception of scientific consensus and it's reality has delayed effective action to mitigate climate change.

If you are part of the consensus and recognise the global climate crisis you can outwit the  deniers by countering myths and misinformation, but more effectively by inoculating people against new myths......... explain how science works!  here is some ammunition  .....The effects of climate change NASA















Friday, 5 July 2019

Members of Parliament debate the potential extinction of red squirrels

At the end of February the UK experienced it's hottest ever winter day. On the same day there was a debate in Parliament on the climate change emergency.

I counted 35  of our 650 MPs in the photograph of the debating chamber. The other 625 were probably too busy having lunch with lobbyists or filling in their expense claims; the best part of their week.
Westminster Debate on Climate Change, The Guardian.

Earlier this week there was a briefing for MPs on the potential extinction of Red Squirrels in England, I can't find out how many attended but you can find a transcript of the debate on line at;  Debate on potential red squirrel extinction . Transcript of debate on potential red squirrel extinction

In the one and a half hours available there were over thirty contributions from the politicians present. They concluded that the threat to our iconic red squirrel population from the invasive, alien greys must be removed.

Invasive alien grey squirrel
If you write a blog,  each day you get a summary of how many people have read posts in the last 24 hours and which posts they have read. Since the first of three posts about the red squirrels in the Coquet Valley and their potential extinction was written in October last year; someone, somewhere in the world has read about them every day.

It seems that people find it easier to identify and engage  with, small, furry, bushy tailed little mammals and their plight than with the human existential problem of climate change. Politicians certainly do.

For a really accurate, concise and readable account of the grey squirrel problem and possible solutions you can read the MPs briefing paper yourself.Briefing paper on the extinction threat to red squirrels









Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Wild flowers, insects and birds return to traditionally managed grassland



Colourful pre-industrial diversity surrounded by deep green desert
Industrialised agriculture in the UK began after WW2, until then we had traditional low input, low output farming, a time when farmers didn't have to keep accounts or pay income tax, yields were low, machines were powered by horses, weeds were removed with a hoe and wildlife generally flourished.

My childhood saw the horses replaced by tractors ( small grey ones mostly with motor car engines), combine harvesters replaced binders and threshers, this "mechanisation"  led to loss of habitat and enabled intensification. Then the widespread adoption of
High energy input........ no diversity
fungicides, insecticides, herbicides and intensive use of nitrogen fertiliser on grass and arable crops in the late 60's led to widespread loss of birds, insects and flowers.

Even in the remoter livestock farming areas of the north and west intensification has resulted in a landscape of dark green fields ( because of high nitrogen fertiliser use)..... a deep green desert dominated by grass, cow parsley, stinging nettles and low diversity.

Low energy input .......... high diversity
High diversity needs low soil fertility. When fertilisers are applied the more vigorous crop species and weeds out compete everything else..... result ......... loss of species.

But this week, in the Coquet Valley in North Northumberland we visited an island of colourful diversity in the sea of green..... Burradon Windyside Farm near Thropton. Here  Kevin Wharf has transformed what were once intensively managed barley fields into floristically rich meadows.



The change has been achieved quickly and effectively by using traditional grazing management, haymaking and broadcasting wild flower seeds. Sheep graze the fields during and immediately after lambing in the Spring. The fields are then shut up until late June  early July when a small scale seed harvester collects the flower seed then this is followed by making hay.

Why is this interesting?................. well you may have noticed that the UK is about to commit economic suicide by leaving the European Union. We farmers and Crofters are unlikely to get the level of subsidy enjoyed by farmers in member countries but our Minister for the environment has promised enhanced incentives for biodiversity creation and sustainable farming.  Kevin has shown how this could be done.

No!......  I don't believe the promises of politicians ......... But!..........along with climate change they are going to have to take biodiversity loss seriously and it might just happen.







Monday, 3 June 2019

Hen egg laying rituals and broken eggs

The goats don't seem to mind the squatters
 My brown egg laying hybrid hens lay an egg a day at the moment, there's over 14 hrs of daylight and it's warmer. So each day they go looking for a nest site for an hour or so then end up in the one they used yesterday.

Research shows that hens learn the best places to nest by mimicry. In this case the later laying pullets saw those that started to lay earlier using the hay racks and decided to use them themselves even if very over crowded.

This pre-laying behaviour can last for up to a couple of hours. Then having selected the nest they settle in to the nesting material and squirm about to make a comfortable bowl shape in the hay. The problem with this site is that the eggs sometimes roll through the bars and break.






I did make a lid to keep them out but they were so frustrated I relented and let them in again. I just have to collect the eggs quickly.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

It's the broody season....... time to spend three weeks sitting on eggs in a dark box

Day 2 of sitting on the nest and not moving.... definitely broody!
It's the end of May....... the start of the "broody" season....   Hens now want to sit on a clutch of eggs and hatch them. The don't all go "broody" or start "clocking" some are keener than others but it can become contagious. First sign that one of your hens is clocking is that you are likely to find her sitting on the nest over a few eggs or no eggs at all at night when you lock up.

When you put your hand under her she stays there, pecks your hand and / or protests  by squawking. Looking down on the clocker she looks flattened and spread out over the nest, not quite as flat as roadkill.

If you want her to hatch a clutch of eggs you will need to move her out of the hen house nest box into a purpose made sitting box or even a large cardboard box in a shed safe from predators. Move your hen gently, at night when she is a bit dozy and place her in the sitting box with a few dummy eggs for 24 rs to see if she is going to sit tight.

Keep the eggs to be hatched in the kitchen for 24 hrs to gently warm them. 10 or 12 eggs for a heavy breed hen, then gently replace the dummy eggs after dark. Next morning she should still be sitting scatter some grain on the ground in front of her and make sure there is water available. She will probably not leave the nest for a day or two, this is normal, when she does it will be for 10 or 15 minutes to eat, drink and dump.

Time off.....20 minutes each day

Best to feed her whole grain this keeps the excrement firm, layers pellets will make her a bit skittery. Skitter is an agricultural term for diarrhoea. After 20 to 21 days you should have eight or nine chicks from your setting of 12 eggs. Clockers are cheaper than incubators, more reliable and you don't need a brooder the old hen will look after them.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Goats are friendly, charming and intelligent..... don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Humans domesticated by goats 11,000 years ago 
Estimates vary but it seems that humans were first domesticated by goats between eight thousand and eleven thousand years ago in the mountains of Iran. Being sociable, adaptable, intelligent and able to eat almost anything humans were an ideal subject for domestication and have been captivated by goats ever since.

Of course the goats had to learn to handle dogs because they were the very first wild animals to take over human homes ( caves) which were warm, dry and littered with nourishing kitchen scraps. They handle dogs by never turning their backs on them and head butting to keep control. This means that the goats can take their humans  and dogs for country walks and picnics  on fine days as above.

Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton noticed that domesticated animals were only a limited number of species with certain behavioural traits making them suitable for domestication; they should be sociable (herding), the young should bond quickly and strongly with their parent and should be flexible in their dietary requirements. Galton's requirements for domestication.








Shetland ducks....... a rare breed and slightly confused I hope.

I should know better but last month I slipped half a dozen fertile duck eggs under a bantam hen with little hope of any hatching after the long, rough journey by mail from Shetland.

Then, one morning ten days ago there were four black and yellow ducklings under a fiercely protective hen. In the last ten days they seem to have increased in size five-fold on a diet of chick crumbs and fresh grass.

Ten day old Shetland ducks and surrogate mother
I should know better because ducks have always been a lot of trouble, they make a mess around the steading with a mixture of water, mud and excrement everywhere you walk, they have to be herded into their nighttime accommodation safe from mink, pine martens and foxes but on the plus side they do lay lots of eggs that make the best sponge cakes, they eat snails ( intermediate host of liver fluke) and are real characters.

Hopefully these ducklings will be confused by their hen mother, adopt her behaviour, think they are hens and follow her inside at dusk even after she has lost interest in them.

10 day old ducks now think they are hens, emerging from the hen house




Why Shetland ducks? They are a tough, hardy and productive rare breed so it's worth putting in some effort to keep them going..... you never know...... there may be a need for the genes of tough hardy little ducks that lay as many eggs as Khaki Campbells in the future.

For more information on Shetland ducks  see... Rare Breeds Survival Trust

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Another generation of goats and goat keepers.


I have worked with all types of farm animals  during the last 60 years and the most attractive are goats, they  are intelligent, clean, efficient milk producers, small, friendly, affectionate and safe around small children.  Milking twice a day got too much for me in my seventies so the three milkers were re-homed. Now the next generation are keen to keep them.

My daughter has just bought a two year  old Toggenburg x British Toggenburg goatling for mating this Autumn and milking next Spring. Goats do need companions but until we find another kid in late Spring this one will have to make do with the horse, Arran.

The work can be minimised by once a day milking .Kids are separated from their mother at night but can still see and nuzzle her through the bars of the pen. Mother is then milked in the morning and the kids can suckle her all day out on the hill. Milking is easier and so is the kid rearing.






There should be just enough milk for the family's day to day needs and occasional cheese making and of course the grand children grow up with a sense of responsibility for their animals. Most importantly we now have three experienced volunteer adult relief milkers for occasional weekends and holidays.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

A very rough guide to Alpine mountain hut etiquette in France

Twenty years ago we were staying in a Canadian Alpine Club hut in the Rocky Mountains, the occupants were international but all European. The log hut was situated in a alpine meadow, there were vast supplies of firewood for the stove, rocking chairs and rough hewn tables, it was perfect. Then came a knock at the door as we were eating, the knockers were Canadian," what is this place?" they wanted to know. They didn't know about this amazing resource although it was in their own country and perhaps you aren't aware of what is available on our European doorstep.


Pyrenean hut
French mountain huts are open to all not just grizzled, ultra hard core mountaineers, families and children are welcome. You could have some spectacular encounters with wild nature, congenial company and walking adventures.

Most French huts are operational from June to September and demand is high so book ahead.  Phone the Guardian at your chosen hut, it is appreciated.

Guardians can be grannies with their grand children, fit young people or hard bitten veterans of this business who have seen everything, be polite, speak French. Pay cash, be aware; "la carte bleu n'est pas toujours acceptee !" Take your boots off at the door, wear hut shoes or the Crocs that are provided.

You will be allotted a sleeping space with mattress, pillow and blanket in a dormitory, carry your own sheet sleeping bag. Even over 2,000 m in the Pyrenees you won't need a sleeping bag. If you are old and need to inspect the loos at night ask for a space near the door, you don't want to disturb the others. You might find flushing toilets indoors near the dormitory or you may need to go outside to find hole in the floor that you squat over, it varies. Get used to shaving in the dark with cold water or grow a beard.

There is a three course meal at 7.00 pm; soup, main,regional cheese Angel Delight. Although France is the home of great cuisine most guardians in the Pyrenees use a Russian soup recipe from the Gulag system and I remember Angel Delight from the 50's but thought it had been banned in the UN Declaration on Human Rights, apparently not. Order your wine before the meal.

You will meet a lot of cows, don't be afraid , talk to them..."bonjour madame, ca va bien?" it works every time.

Travel as light as possible these are mountain huts! For a good night's sleep take ear plugs, headlamp, sheet sleeping bag and toilet kit. Don't expect a cell phone signal, wi-fi, Instagram, TV or lighting after 10 pm. Take your garbage away with you.

In France the refuges are referred colloquially to as " Les Refuges CAFF"  the CAF is the Club Alpin Francais , there's lots more information on the web.




You don't have to stay overnight. In the Alps you can walk up or in some cases take a ski lift to a refuge for a very nice lunch and congenial company.







Monday, 4 March 2019

Ghostly apparition or pine marten..... can you help to identify this animal?

These blog posts flit between North Northumberland and Kilchoan. Today it's a possible pine marten sighting .  Elliot the Red Squirrel Group trapper and ecologist has a blurred image on one of his camera traps, it might just be a pine marten.

Two years ago my friend Bob Burston saw a pine marten at the side of the road by the wood. He's a witness of impeachable integrity, a retired Anglican clergyman. Then I found what might have been pine marten scat in the wood last Autumn. Elliot's image is small and blurred, you have to scrutinise the image carefully to find it. Here it is:

At the foot of the tree trunk on the right you can see a pair of eyes and ears

Here it is again slightly enlarged , what is it?

The ears are rather long and erect so it could be a fox, it's unlikely to be a cat and pine marten is definitely a possibility. The image at the top left is for reference and a fox cub below.










Sunday, 24 February 2019

An encounter with elderly pines and black grouse

Some few thousands of years after the end of the last ice age (10,000 bp) a great wood extended across Scotland from the valleys of the Cairngorm plateau to glens of Lochaber in the west. The climate was warmer and drier, soils were better drained and less acid. Pine trees thrived.

Trees of many ages and open spaces
As the current inter-glacial period progressed precipitation increased, soils became more acid and peat began to form. The pines retreated, neolithic farmers used fire and stone then iron axes to clear the forest. More recently two world wars took more of the pines.

Today we have about ninety remnants of the great wood scattered from Glen Nevis and Ardgour in the west to Glen Tanar in the eastern Cairngorms. Among the biggest and the best remnants are Rothiemurchus and Abernethy where I've been today. This a favourite walk of mine from Loch Morlich over the pass of Ryvoan to the valley of the river Spey it's an encounter with the, "Great Wood" it's trees, shrubs , birds and some of it's mammals, no wolves or lynx unfortunately.

Huge, gnarled ,elderly heavy limbed  "Granny Pines" 300 - 400 years old and their offspring of many ages predominate mixed with birch and alder in the wetter places. In the absence of sheep and with  deer control the forest seems to be self-sustaining, a microcosm of the Great Wood.

Loch an Uaine (The green loch)




Apart from this encounter with the old trees I had a second reason to visit. I wanted to see if a black grouse lekking site that I first discovered about twelve years ago was still in use.Black grouse are very loyal to these places.

The grass was short and green, beaten down and fertilised by the grouse. I found black body feathers in the longer grass to windward and grouse scat on the ground. The site is still in use between dusk and dawn.


Black grouse conservation in the Alps


Friday, 22 February 2019

Woodland free range eggs

The earliest ancestors of my hens were domesticated in S.E.Asia over 5,000 years ago, these Red Jungle fowl lived in the jungle undergrowth and woody scrub that provided food, shade and shelter. Watch your hens and you will see many behaviours that originated in woodland.

Woodland hens in the new plantation
Under summer sun and heat mine head straight for the hazel scrub on the hillside where they dust bathe, feed, socialise and occasionally roost. Despite the 5,000 years of domestication they still seem to prefer their ancestral habitat to climate controlled intensive housing. One tenet of the poultry welfare code is that they should be able to exhibit, "natural behaviour" access to woodland must surely provide for this; shelter, shade, food, water (my hens prefer to drink from puddles rather than metal or plastic drinkers).

In 2018 the last of my sheep were sold. They were becoming heavier and stronger as I got older and of course I could not see a profitable future for upland sheep after we leave the European Union. The hens stayed and this year there will be more of them. Some of the sheep pasture has already been planted with a mixture of native broad leaved species and Arran the highland pony grazes the in-bye field. Marketed as "Woodland Eggs" they must be even more attractive to visitors.

At the moment there is only tree cover from the hedgerow trees and hazel scrub, it will be some time before the former pasture becomes woodland, but there are environmental benefits; carbon sequestration, control of  water run off, increased biodiversity and wildlife habitat.




Thursday, 21 February 2019

Pine martens kill and eat red squirrels too!

Many thanks to those of you who voted in support of the Coquetdale Red Squirrel Group funding bid with the AVIVA Community Fund ( 25/10/ 2018). Your votes got us through to the final but we failed to win the £10,000 needed.

Feedback from the AVIVA judging panel said that the project was innovative and well presented. However it was too short ( 6 months) there were concerns over sustainability and ability to measure the impact. The proposals did not impact people and community directly! This is fair enough it is a "Community Fund" after all and AVIVA kindly gave us a £500 consolation prize. What next?

It looks as if we need to learn about crowd funding and appeal directly to the public with social media as there is the possibility of an apprentice scheme.  the Cumbria Wildlife Trust have two apprentices currently working on red squirrel conservation; doing surveys, data handling etc., this may be a possibility for the future.

In the meantime you may be interested in more stuff on red squirrels and the impact of pine martens in habitats where they co-exist. I may be guilty of over optimism about the positive effect of pine marten predation on grey squirrel populations where reds and greys coexist.

Some recent research indicates that pine martens eat quite a lot of red squirrels can make up 50% of their winter diet in some areas.  see this link..........Why the pine marten is not every red squirrel's best friend               

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Funeral pyres of unsaleable sheep ?

In December 2017 the total number of breeding sheep in the UK was 14.7 million plus 18.6 million other sheep; wether lambs, hoggs, non-breeding ewes and rams. UK farm livestock numbers Dec. 2017
December is when our sheep population is at it's lowest.

"Peak sheep" June 2019
Lambing begins in January and gathers momentum through late Winter and Spring reaching peak sheep population in June.

In June 2018, two months after we leave the European Union there will be between 34 and 35 million sheep in the UK. We are likely to face tariffs on sheep meat exports to the EU which currently takes 94% of sheep meat exports tariff free. There could be some millions of surplus unsaleable sheep running about this summer.Prospects for UK beef and sheep after Brexit

If we have 5 million surplus ewes after March 2019 ( see the link above) what is going to happen to them? Abattoirs are already booked for weeks ahead, domestic sheep meat consumption has been declining steadily for 50 years; the prospects for sheep farmers are grim. There's a possibility we could see the army in action and funeral pyres like those during the Foot and Mouth disease epidemic 18 years ago.

Bear in mind that this will be just one aspect of the economic self-harm inflicted by a "no-deal" exit from the EU.





Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Crispy squirrel with cauliflower and capers at the Roadkill Cafe.

If you have been paying attention you will know that we had a dinner in a "pop-up" restaurant in my workshop (Cafe Atelier) back in October.  Demand for another impromptu meal means that another is on the cards perhaps a, "Post- Brexit Apocalypse Dinner" on 30th March the day after Britain leaves the European Union. It should be an opportunity to get used to being a bunch of poverty stricken barbarians on the edge of the N. Atlantic once more. So this time it could be dinner at the,"Roadkill Cafe".

An alien invasive "crispy"species
Last week I was given three plump grey squirrels which had been humanely trapped and  dispatched by the Coquetdale Red Squirrel Group. Unfortunately I forgot them, they are still in Janet's freezer. Not to worry I have found some recipes for squirrel in Gil Meller's book on foraging and cooking, "Gather" . Crispy squirrel with cauliflower and capers would make an excellent entree.

My other choices for the menu; rabbit, pheasant and pigeon are relatively easy to find but the dessert should be "poverty food" such as coarse oatmeal with boiling water poured on to it. This is "brose" a rather unpleasant peasant breakfast in rural Scotland 50 years ago.

We will need a few malts of course to toast our totally incompetent and dysfunctional Prime Minister, the anarchist  Leader of the Opposition and the idiotic, sad, angry old men of the Conservative Party who got us into this mess.




Friday, 4 January 2019

A stoat in ermine .....caught and released for biological rat control.

Stoat in ermine  mid-winter camouflage
Until the end of November we were plagued by rats. They are always around when you keep hens. I don't like rat poison, it gets in the food chain, the alternative was to bait some of the squirrel traps , catch the rats alive and then deal with them.

In early December there were no rats to be seen and no rats in the traps...... what was happening?

This week we found the answer, I think. There was a stoat in it's winter coat in one of the traps, the stoat in the image above. It must have a territory around the village because the day after I released it we saw it attacking a neighbour's hen. The hen has survived so far, it's in a cardboard box in the kitchen recuperating from head and neck wounds.

Meanwhile another white stoat, probably the same one was caught in another of my traps in the old byre next door, it had been eating partridges hung quite high up on a beam. This one has been released too. It looks as if the rats have been cleaned out by the stoat or stoats and now they are going for hens and anything else they can find. We can put up with them in return for  "biological rat  control".