Friday, 7 August 2015

Green Woodpeckers And Wild Rabbits

I've never been a city boy. I grew up first in a small town called Snodland surrounded by lakes and, at the time, disused quarries that were teeming with life. I then moved to the village of Sellindge, living away from the main road near a large but secluded pond full of spawning toads and an imposing sentinel-like heron. I spent my teenage years in the larger town of Folkestone where the closest to wildlife one got was some seagulls and ducks, followed by a spell in Greenwich and then Folkestone again.

Nothing prepared me for the last year though. My love of nature from my early days had never left me but I'd been starved of contact with anything more than some urban foxes (gorgeous and beguiling though they were!). The fauna I've encountered in the first few months of living in Eastry rival all the British wildlife I'd seen before put together. We've a rabbit warren on one side of our drive. Pheasants, hares and very rarely seen partridges live in the large orchards behind our house. I've seen little egrets, ring-necked parakeets, a swarm of bees, flocks of house martins swooping low over the fields (and into the rafters of our home when escaping our cat and dog's eager eyes!) and last summer there was a common lizard burrow just across the road from the end of our lane (plus a toad that lived in our shed!). I'm in paradise.  

But there is a new love in my life... the green woodpecker. They spend almost all their time just out of eye sight in the orchards, but their unmistakable laugh echoes through the apple trees constantly. Occasionally one or two will alight upon the apple tree's support poles or our fence and their gorgeous green colours shine like some tropical bird. And, very rarely, I'll look down on the grass by our driveway and see one, two, sometimes three of them foraging through the ant hills (of which there seems no limit here!). They are extremely welcome and delightful birds which I've never had the pleasure to see before let alone be neighbours with.

When our new cat, a Maine Coon called Jeff, killed one and left its carcass on our patio I felt real pain unlike that when he kills a rat or a rabbit.

One day we will need to leave this place. But my heart will never leave this land of natural beauty.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

BP Oil Slick: I Have No Words

I've not seen any video quite as disturbing as this, outside the context of war. 

More coverage can be found here

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Warning: Extinction Event In Progress

Eminent Australian scientist Professor Frank Fenner, who helped to wipe out smallpox, predicts humans will probably be extinct within 100 years, because of overpopulation, environmental destruction and climate change. Source
Whilst I think the time frame might be a little too pessimistic (I believe humans are numerous enough and inventive enough to keep going a little bit more than another 100 years, which might not be such a good thing for planet Earth but there you go), I think Frank Fenner is bang on in pointing out the obvious; we are in the middle of an extinction event of our own making.

We continue to have children when we are constantly involved in making their lives even harder through our consumption rates. It's illogical and simple logic dictates it can't go on. Species are dying out constantly thanks to our need to exploit our world, and we shall reap the costs of that upon on our descendants.

Sadly few seem to understand this and, I suspect, even fewer care. They don't care about their children's future and they don't care about our planet's near future (I have no doubt once we are gone, the planet will "quickly" (in geological terms) repopulate itself). Alas.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Nature Facts For The Lazy Journalist

A Coati Is Not A Sort Of Brazilian Aardvark

Coati's are known as Brazilian aardvarks. This does not mean they are a type of aardvark that lives in Brazil. I know, it's complicated but think of it as an inappropriate nickname if that makes it easier for you. (this one is mainly aimed at the staff *cough* of the Metro). Aardvark's come from Africa and are extremely interesting animals as no one can quite decide what they evolved from...

Dolphin's Are Not Fish

Nope. Dolphin's are, like us, mammals. But they look like fish?! I hear you screech. Yes, but bats can be mistaken for birds, so it's easy to get confused sometimes. Pardon? No, bats aren't birds! They are mammals too! Yes I know they can fly. But they don't have feathers, just like dolphins don't have gills. (this one is aimed at everyone)

And on a related note, Killer Whales (or as I prefer Orca's) are NOT actually whales. But they do kill whales. Orcas are, in fact, dolphins. (this one is mainly aimed at the BBC who keep referring to news stories about Orcas as "Whales...." Wrong.)

Chimpanzees Are Not Monkeys

This is difficult one. Are you a monkey? No. Well neither is a chimpanzee. Is this a simple enough explanation? Chimpanzees are apes, more closely related to us than to monkeys. They, like all us apes, are rather intelligent creatures and deserve a lot more credit than you are giving them. Not that there's anything wrong with a monkey.

More to follow on this one, but don't want to overload those tiny little brains just yet...

Monday, 21 June 2010

Fantastic Mr Fox

We have no real megafauna left alive on these beautiful islands of ours, and thus we must take whatever small pleasures we can from the remaining wildlife. Foxes provide some of the most amazing nature experiences one can have in this country.

My first encounter with a fox was when I was very young, walking with an uncle towards the River Medway for some fishing we rounded a bend in some long grass we were walking through and there was a vixen. Beautifully orangey coloured, and alert, she was gone in just a second but it thrilled me no end. From then on I savoured every glimpse of these amazing animals I was afforded. Their beauty, stealth and obvious intelligence were things to appreciate, respect and cherish. I'm glad to have grown up in a town surrounded by lakes and the Downs, because I was brought up to understand that you don't get too close to wild animals, for the benefit of them and you (a lesson well learnt when my young uncle thought it'd be funny to put three adders in the bath, I knew not to go anywhere near them even at 3/4 years old).

Sadly it's seems nature is now not something to embrace, but to fear in this modern world. Only on Saturday I wrote about yet more anti-gull nonsense here in my adopted home town of Folkestone. But the nation's media are currently in the middle of a moral panic... over foxes. On Saturday a child was, regrettably, bitten by a fox after he pulled it's tail in Brighton. A few weeks ago two babies were "attacked" in their home and seriously injured by another fox.

These cases are saddening, but not indicative of a greatly increased risk of fox attacks. Foxes are wild animals. Wild animals are unpredictable, defensive and opportunists. They are not evil or menacing. This is why humans need to make sensible decisions to secure their property and learn about the natural world around them (even in urban spaces, just because you build a bunch of houses in one place, it doesn't mean nature will just suddenly give up and go away). Urban foxes are a problem created by ourselves. If you read my comments on the seagull "problem" in the article I linked to above, the solutions proposed there in are just as applicable to any other urban pest. Don't blame the foxes for making good use of the rubbish we provide them.

And the media needs to get some perspective. They will report seagull attacks on just about any scale ("seagull dive bombs postman") and will demonise foxes on just about any matter (the insistence of rural communties that foxes are evil because they "kill more chickens than necessary" seems to ascribe to the fox more intelligence even than us humans who like to kill way more marine life than needed to get our fish. Solution, TAKE BETTER CARE OF YOUR CHICKENS). Here's the thing; people seem to appreciate our wild life but can't quite deal with fact that it is WILD. Red in tooth and claw.

The media seems reluctant to report on dog attacks unless they involve serious injury to a child. In reality domestic dog attack statistics dwarf wild animal attacks in this country. Is that something to be concerned about? Yes. Is the solution a cull of domestic dogs? No. As with wild animals it's all about increased education. That's the real solution, if not the easy one. I just wish the general public, the media and farmers would get a perspective on things. I know, shockingly, farmers (and as I recently found, fisherman) are actually not all-knowing sages when it comes to rural matters. The recent story about the cancelling of a project to introduce sea eagles to East Anglia serves to show this quite clearly. The farmers were against the idea because they might scare their pigs. True story.

It's time the media took responsibility for it's reporting of our natural environment, otherwise we might just destroy it rather than learn to live with it.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

SeaWorld Aquatic Circus

Let us remember... keeping animals just for entertainment purposes is cruel.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist