August Bank Holiday Birding

Yesterday we took a trip out to Cley marshes, a Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve on the Norfolk coast. We’ve been before so quickly cottoned on to the fact that it was way too hot to wander round a completely featureless, shade-less landscape on such a hot day, so made straight for the hides instead.

Here are a few photos of the birds we saw. There were the usual waders and also a spoonbill, green sandpiper, and a curlew. (Nope, didn’t get a photo of any of the good ‘uns – they were too far away.)

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A helicopter flew overhead and it frightened the geese and they took flight. Suddenly hundreds of birds were flying at the hide and squawking like mad until eventually they settled down. It was quite handy though as they all did a reshuffle and we got to see birds that had previously been hiding at the back.

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We also heard but didn’t see bearded tits and there were a pair of marsh harriers circling in the distance. If you’ve never been it is certainly worth a trip as there are always lots of birds to see, especially during the winter migration, and the visitor centre is really impressive.

Then it was off to Wells Next the Sea for chips.

 

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This is a post about Tea.

Being a tea drinker is an unavoidable part of being British, we know this, but we’re not very good at drinking herbal or fruit teas in this country. It’s more of a social occassion than something we do for our health. I’ve managed to get in the habit in recent years of (usually) not drinking any caffeine after 6pm – that includes “normal” tea so I’ve been drinking the fruity or relaxing herbals kinds instead.

I’ve been interested recently in exactly how healthy or not tea is for us, in any of its delicious varieties. If you want a more detailed look at how different types of tea are harvested, click here but basically there are 4 types: black tea, white tea, green tea, and oolong tea. Remember that all tea hydrates, is warm, cosy and edifying, and performs a social bonding function that does more good than chucking down vitamin tablets could ever achieve.

Here we have 10 teas and how they can help your health.

  1. Green Tea – the Messiah of the Teas. Green tea has an antioxidant called catechin and some studies suggest that drinking one cup of green tea per day can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 10%.
  2. Chamomile Tea – the ultimate relaxer and my personal favourite, it also helps with a range of ailments including hay fever, muscle pain, insomnia, inflammation, and menstrual disorders.
  3. Echinacea – often overlooked, echinacea tea can help prevent commons colds and reduces the risk of infection.
  4. Lemon & Ginger tea – not my favourite but again, another tea that fights bacterial infections.
  5. Oolong tea – the fat burner. Can help you to burn fat faster than you might otherwise as it stimulates an enzyme that prompts weight loss.
  6. Black tea – has the highest caffeine content and can lower cholesterol levels. Crucially, drinking 4 cups of tea a day can cut the risk of stroke by over 20%.
  7. Blueberry tea – now we enter the realms of flavoured tea. If you choose a tea flavoured with a superfood like blueberries you get a double whammy of antioxidants (but avoid the nonsense sweetened versions.)
  8. Peppermint tea – does wonders. Aids digestion, cures bad breath, boosts the immune system. Smells delightfully minty.
  9. Rosehip tea – this is a new one on me. Apparently a great plant source of vitamin C, so it helps skin and tissue health.
  10. Rooibos – 50 times more antioxidants that green tea! Thwarts those free radicals like a mother. Good for digestion and lowers blood pressure.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about tea. I hope you enjoy all aspects of tea.

Here are some photos off tea.

 

Time for the National Trust to change its position on grouse shooting

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In 2016 a man was secretly filmed with a gun and a hen harrier decoy on National Trust land in the Peak District. Consequently, the Trust served notice to the shooting tenant that managed its land for grouse management, claiming it no longer had confidence that the tenant fitted with their vision for the Peaks.

Local residents and NT members started a petition to ask the Trust not to fill the position when the current tenant vacates, hoping it would instead move towards a wilder vision for its estates in the Peak District, the first National Park.

Grouse shooting drives wildlife crime and it is very difficult to catch the perpetrators. Grouse moors are managed to benefit grouse only, and that means that heather is burnt to provide food for grouse, mountain hares are killed as they carry ticks, foxes and other predators are killed, and, importantly rare birds of prey are illegally killed.

Last year, another hen harrier went missing over a grouse moor. There is definite link between grouse shooting and the disappearance or killing of raptors; a recent study showed that in Scotland:

“tagging data for 44 golden eagles, eight hen harriers and 25 red kites that had disappeared or been deliberately killed since 2009… displayed on a map of Scotland… the distribution of illegally killed or suspiciously disappeared satellite-tagged red kites and hen harriers is far from random, and shows clear clusters in some upland areas. As with the hotspots for eagles, these clusters are almost entirely coincident with land dominated by driven grouse shooting management.”

The arguments against grouse shooting come from several parties: the nature conservationists are concerned about the rare birds that are illegally killed; animal welfare activists are horrified by the annual murder of 500,000 grouse birds for fun; environmentalists worry about how management of grouse moors leads to flood risk and leaves no room for species diversity.

‘This petition is not trying to ban shooting, nor is it just about our missing hen harriers. It’s about restoring the balance in favour of biodiversity and removing the drivers for wildlife crimes on National Trust land.

The petition has so far been ignored by the NT but they have coincidentally put out a job advert seeking a new tenant to manage the grouse moors. Can they seriously desire to continue this work when so many of their members and the local community are so disgusted by it? When the land could be put to better use for its members through rewilding – allowing a variety of species to flourish and not jeopardizing our struggling hen harriers?

The NT explain their overall position on shooting on their website:

Peter Nixon, Director of Conservation, said: ‘Our core concern is looking after special places so that they can be enjoyed by everyone for ever.

Grouse shooting could not be a clearer example of an elite few benefiting while the rest of us miss out. Grouse moor estates are private land managed solely for the purpose of making lots of money out of people shooting grouse. Not only is the concept completely out of date and as disgusting as fox hunting is to most people, it is also a wasted opportunity to create a wilder nature reserve in the popular Peaks. It is the loss of an ecosystem.

If you’re interested in signing the petition to end grouse shooting on these two NT sites please follow this link and add you name.

 

New Nature: a quick mention

Hello! I just wanted to give a quick mention and plug to an excellent magazine that I’ve recently been involved with and thought it would be appropriate to share on my blog.

New Nature is a youth nature magazine written by and for young people. There’s a really dedicated, knowledgeable and engaged team behind it and I’ve been lucky enough to have a few submissions accepted recently in the July and August editions.

The writers are young conservationists, ecologists, natural history fanatics and wildlife photographers and you can find articles on nature conservation, opinion pieces on countryside issues, and in depth focus individual species. I’ve learnt so much already and it’s good to keep reading about nature and animals. I hope you’ll give it a read – it is free to download after all!

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Early Grey Tea Cake Recipe

I’ll be honest, I’m a terrible baker. Most of my efforts have resulted in failure. I know even the most proficient bakers are sometimes let down by a bad recipe or ill luck, but in my case, it’s not you it’s definitely me.

It really is my fault. I’m sloppy, I’m messy, I don’t measure things properly, I give up when the mixture doesn’t combine properly and hope that it will just magically heal itself in the oven. My sponges disintegrate. My buttercream still has lumps of flour in it because I forgot to sieve it first.  My batter curdles. I have baked a cake for nearly 2 hours and it was still raw in the middle.

I acknowledge that I do not have the skill, talent nor patience.

Yet still, on a rare free Saturday I might try my hand at baking and today was one of those days. I attempted an Earl Grey Tea Cake and actually it’s kind of, possibly, not all that bad. I mean, it tastes nice and it’s not burnt or raw so I figure I can count that as a success, right?

Well, if you think you can do any better (which I am certain you can) then here’s a decent recipe you could try.

Ingredients

160g butter

250g self-raising flour

150g caster sugar

4 early grey tea bags

105ml milk

Handful of fresh foraged blackberries

2 eggs

A dash of almond essence

And for the buttercream

100g softened butter

175g icing sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Method

Soften the butter and combine gradually with the sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the flour.

Heat the milk in a saucepan on the hob but be careful not to let it boil. Add the earl grey tea bags and turn off the heat. Give the tea bags a good squeeze and cover with lid to let it steep for 10 minutes. Let it cool before adding to the mixture. You can use loose leaves tea bags if you prefer.

Separate the mixture into 2 sandwich tins and cook for 40 minutes in a pre-heated oven on 160 degrees.

In the meantime, we create the buttercream. Soften the butter and gradually add the icing sugar, mixing thoroughly. Add the cocoa powder and stir together into a thick cream. Add a bit of milk if necessary if too dry.

Et voila.

Identifying Woodland Flora

Ever wandered through a woodland glade and thought: what’s that strange flower? What’s that bird chirping away? Identifying flora and fauna is a lost art, one I’m learning to acquire, and luckily there are plenty of apps to use when you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere and desperately want to know what some plant is (though if you can get 4G then you’re probably not remote enough).

Here’s a short guide focusing on what flora to look out for in woodlands and how to identify common species. Let’s do this by season.

Spring: the best time to be in a woodland. Bluebells, birds building nests, everything growing green again after the cold months. The first pilgrims are the bluebells, which emerge and carpet ancient woodlands between late April and throughout May. Swiftly following the bluebell comes the early purple orchid, usually between April and June. Also look out for wood anemone, foxglove and, of course, nettles.

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Native or Spanish bluebells? Native ones have droopy stems, Spanish ones have flowers all around the stem.

Summer: as the Spring bulbs and flowers die down they are overcome by honeysuckle, dog rose, and enchanter’s nightshade.

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Honeysuckle: a climbing plant, it entwines itself in hedgerows and bushes. Flowers look like little trumpets and it has red berries in Autumn.

 

 

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Dog-rose: most abundant wild rose. Pink or white flowers with 5 petals.

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Enchanter’s nightshade: small white or pink flowers. Not deadly, not even related to deadly nightshade; actually related to willowherb.

Autumn: my favourite season because of the colour, because of the dying. The leaves of trees take on red, orange and brown shades and slowly drop, covering the ground in those crisp leaves that we all love to walk through. I get all cosy just thinking about it! In woodlands some flowers like honeysuckle continue to bloom through the autumn, but also we see ivy flowers, providing one last drink of nectar for all those bees entering their hibernation.

Winter: the holly berries and mistletoe of Christmas time are so evocative and familiar but actually most of us probably don’t go for enough walks in woodlands in the winter to notice them. In January, snowdrops are the first to rear their tentative heads, and snow leads to gold as the lesser celandine emerge with their bright gold star-shaped flowers.

 

There’s so much happening out there if you just stop and look but it’s so difficult to identify flora if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Here are some of the apps I find helpful in getting me to know my local woodland patch. I could do a whole other post on useful apps for nature lovers so maybe I just might do that.

Woodland Trust tree ID app

Plantifier: upload a photo and the community will identify

NatureGate: and all rounder for flora and fauna in nature

iPlfanzen: rather than photos, you describe a plant according to their options.

CCTV in Slaughterhouses – at last

This news has been a long time coming. Animal welfare activists have been campaigning for CCTV in all UK slaughterhouses since CCTV was invented.

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Animal Aid secretly filmed in 13 slaughterhouses between 2009 and 2014 and found evidence of animal cruelty and lawbreaking in 12 of them. Such evidence includes animals being beaten and punched and cigarettes being stubbed out in pigs’ faces. You can find more details if you wish to educate yourself but I don’t really want to dwell on it.

The new environment secretary Michael Gove will be introducing mandatory CCTV in all slaughterhouses in England as part of a focus on animal welfare and environment protection during Brexit. Animal Aid has, of course, welcomed the news, given that they have campaigned for this for so long, but they stressed that the CCTV must be independently monitored and spot checks should be carried out to ensure that the new measure is effective. Little detail has so far been announced but we do know that vets from the FSA will be able to access footage from CCTV used in all areas where animals are handled, kept and killed.

Some abattoirs already have CCTV as a voluntary measure and to comply with requests from supermarkets to ensure compassionate standards are met. Compulsory CCTV should prevent millions of animals suffering such horrifying cruelty behind closed doors as perpetrators of abuse can now be prosecuted.

HOWEVER.

I have some minor points to make about the ethics.

  • Animals are still being murdered so people can eat them.
  • Animals still undergo a long journey in cramped conditions, without food or water, so that people can murder them and other people can eat them.
  • Animals are still being reared in unpleasant and sometimes cruel conditions, subject to cruel practices, so that people can murder then eat them.

Compulsory CCTV will not prevent abuse and cruelty at the other stages of this long and complicated chain. It will not prevent the murdering for food. It is the absolute barest minimum we can do so that these animals don’t suffer in their final moments.

It feels strangely uncomfortable to be pleased about this. Is this really the best we can do? Is this what it means to have the highest welfare standards in the world? That we should feel satisfied that a long, long campaign for the barest minimum protection of animals has finally been granted (under the true motivation of sticking it to the EU.)

I’ll end this confusing post – confusing because of my conflicting emotions of relief and contempt – with some words from Isobel Hutchinson of Animal Aid:

“Although this development is undoubtedly a huge step forward, we urge the public to remember that even when the law is followed to the letter, slaughter is a brutal and pitiless business that can never be cruelty-free.

 

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