Archive for the ‘Background’ Category

We had an interesting meeting of the Bedfordshire Badger Network this week.  In addition to the usual badger matters, we were joined by a Police Inspector – the Wildlife Liaison Officer for Bedfordshire.

Police Wildlife Liaison Officers are responsible for all wildlife-related crime, which thankfully is rare in Bedfordshire.  There has been the odd incident of illegal sett blocking or badgers being shot, but no large-scale persecution.  Illegal disturbance during building and development is a far greater threat.  Still, it is good to think that the watchful eye of enthusiastic amateur badger watchers is backed up by a dedicated (in both senses of the word) police officer.

As for myself, I used it as an opportunity to get my excuses in early.  After all, it isn’t every day that I talk to a Police Inspector.  I had a quiet word with her.  “Listen”, I said, “if ever the police get reports of a suspicious character dressed in a camouflage jacket and hanging around the village after dark, it’ll probably be me.  Can you put in a good word for me please?”

Well, you never know when I’ll need a friend who can vouch that “I’m badger watching” isn’t just a lame excuse…

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Village Cider Collective 2011It seems that autumn is here, despite the warm weather of the last few days.  The leaves are turning on the trees and hedgerows, most of the harvest is in (we’ve been gorging on blackberries for weeks!) and there’s a definite chill in the morning air.  The summer seems to have flown by.

But every season has its own special treats.  Autumn, in our village, means cider.  On Sunday the village cider collective convened for the third year of chopping, pulping and pressing and juicing.

The idea of the collective is simple.  Lots of people have apple trees.  Very few eat all the fruit.  Making cider is a good way of using up the surplus, but for most people it isn’t worth buying and storing the kit required.  So what we do is get together and pool apples, equipment, bottles, labour and knowledge – a cider collective.  Everyone who contributes gets a share of the spoils.

We’re getting quite good at it.  The whole thing is run like a well-oiled machine.  But to be honest, apart from the gruelling hard labour, Cider Day is more about getting together with the neighbours for a jolly day out.  The cider is a bonus.

Mostly a bonus.  Sometimes it’s a bit of an acquired taste.  We’re still learning the art of cider making.  This year we produced 20 gallons of apple juice for cider, plus fresh juice for everyone (fresh apple juice is delicious – darker and murkier than anything from the supermarket, but absolutely delicious).  We’ve adopted a scientific approach this time.  The cider has been split into four batches, each of a slightly different recipe and strength.  These range from simple scrumpy (OG 1050) to the sinister and potentially lethal ‘Nick’s Brew’ (OG 1080, plus crab apples for an extra tannin bite).  We’ll see how each brew turns out, and hopefully replicate the good ones in years to come.

I’ll make a note of how it goes.  Right now I need to check the 10 gallons of cider bubbling away under my dining room table…

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Sore Toe Update

Some good news!  Having persisted with my sore toe for a week, in which the antibiotics made no impact whatsoever, I sought a second (and hopefully more competent) medical opinion.

The second doctor sent me for X-rays, so after a fun evening at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital, it was revealed that I have neither gout nor an infection, but a broken toe.  The X-ray showed a fracture on the first joint of the toe.  It wasn’t just a hairline stress fracture, but a significant piece knocked off the end of the bone at the joint.  Hence the pain and swelling.  I’ve broken toes before, but in this case I just woke up one morning in pain – I didn’t fall over or kick anything.  I haven’t even been running for a while.

I’m relieved.  It still hurts to walk, but at least it’s a one-off and explainable event.  I don’t have a long-term problem.

Mostly explainable.  One mystery remains, which has baffled both me and medical science.  How the hell can I break a lump of bone off my toe without even noticing it…???

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The Gout by James Gillray. Published May 14th 1799My attempts to live my life as a Victorian gentleman have taken another step forward this week.  In addition to wearing a tweed waistcoat and a deerstalker hat (plus the mutton-chop whiskers that Mrs BWM won’t let me grow), I now seem to have developed gout.

Gout is a very Victorian illness, but somehow more respectable than cholera or typhoid.  It’s something associated with living a proper, excessive gentleman’s lifestyle.  I really must ask the cook to cut down on the devilled kidneys, and maybe limit myself to no more than two or three chops for breakfast.  And I suppose the large glass of port with each meal will have to go.

Actually, there is still some doubt, so the roast beef and red wine may still be on the menu.  It might be cellulitis (some sort of bacterial infection).  I think the doctor’s approach is to give you antibiotics anyway –  if they solve the problem then it was a cellulitis infection; if they don’t, it’s something else and you’ve endured a week of pain and a £14 prescription charge for nothing.  We’ll have to wait and see.

Fascinating medical information, I’m sure, but to be honest it doesn’t matter whether I’ve got gout or cellulitis.  The practical impact is that it’s damned painful.  And so, gentle reader, I’m afraid I won’t be walking anywhere for a few days at least.  I’m just going to be sitting in the house like a grumpy old man with a sore toe.

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Rattus Norvegicus

As you’ll have gathered, I’m interested in my local wildlife.  This means that I go out and try to find different species.  Sometimes, however, the wildlife comes to me.  And it isn’t always welcome.

Yesterday, our cat, Mayfield, caught a young rat.  This is fine – this is part of her job, keeping the vermin under control.  However, instead of killing it she brought it alive and kicking into the house.  There followed 24 hours of the most relentless battle between man and beast since Ahab vowed vengeance on Moby Dick.  After moving countless pieces of furniture and several near misses (rats can jump surprisingly high when pressed) I managed to finally corner and trap the little horror.  The damned cat was no help whatsoever.

Normally, any rat caught on the property would be summarily despatched – no last meal, no final cigarette, nothing.  Unfortunately they are vermin and they need to be controlled.  But after chasing this one for so long I’d built up a grudging respect for it and in a fit of sentiment I took it outside and let it go.

So here you are, a new species for the blog – Rattus Norvegicus – the Brown Rat.

Rattus Norvegicus - the Brown Rat

Rattus Norvegicus - the Brown Rat

They’d be an interesting species, if it wasn’t for the fact that a) rats are nasty, disease-carrying beasts (leptospirosis anyone?), b) I don’t want them anywhere near me or my chickens, and c) I certainly don’t want one living with me in my house.  But any amateur naturalists should make a point of reading Rats: A Year with New York’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan, which describes how he studied the rats in a single alley in Manhattan.  If you ever feel that there’s no wildlife where you live, this book is an inspiration.  But I still don’t want one in the house.

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The Handbook

Mammals of the British Isles Handbook.jpgChristmas may seem a long time ago as I sit writing this in late January, but I bring it up because my Christmas present has arrived.  After some amalgamation of gifts from various people over the last few years I have bought myself a copy of Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook by S. Harris and D.W. Yalden.

And I want to share the moment with you.

Published by the Mammal Society, the Handbook is the guide to all the mammal species of Britain, from the Pygmy Shrew up to the Blue Whale.

In its 799 luxuriously glossy pages it details each species, including recognition, signs, measurements, distribution, history, social organisation, feeding, breeding, mortality and even parasites; all with copious references to the scientific literature.  This really is the definitive guide.  There is now nothing that I won’t know about any UK mammal species.

It’s gorgeous too.  If you’re going to be an armchair naturalist, this is the book to have by your side.  It comes with a hefty price tag (£76.99) which makes it the second most expensive book I’ve ever bought*, but like I say, Christmas presents made it possible.Mammals of the British Isles Handbook - Badgers

So, I may not be getting outside much, but at least in the meantime I can sit at home with my book, caressing its pages and whispering “my precious…” over and over.

A big ‘thanks’ to Paul and Joan for their kindness..


(*the most expensive was a good copy of the rare 1937 edition of the RCAHMW An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Anglesey, but that’s another story)

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It’s a belated Happy New Year actually, as we’re three days into 2011 already.  I’ve had a great time with friends and family over Christmas and the New Year and things are settling back into a more normal routine.

The cold weather broke a couple of days after Christmas.  Christmas day was on Saturday; by Monday the temperature had risen above freezing for the first time in weeks, and by Wednesday the fields were clear of snow.  It was a relief (not least to my heating bills) but after a thaw everything is muddy, damp, foggy and just dirty.  Part of me misses the crisp cleanness of the ice.

I have been even quieter than usual in terms of getting out and about in the countryside.  This isn’t just laziness, it’s the way my life is organised at the moment.  Mrs BWM works a shift pattern that includes weekends, so as often as not I look after Scarlett at the weekend.  Scarlett gets up at 7.30am or so, has lunch at 12.30, an afternoon nap between 2.00 and 4.00pm, and then off to bed at 7.00 or 7.30pm.  This means I have two ‘windows’ to go out with her during the day, one in the morning and one after 4.00pm.  Unfortunately, at this time of year, it is too dark to go wandering around with a small child at 4.00pm, hence we haven’t been out much.  Besides, it really has been too cold for a toddler.  Much better to stay in and watch In the Night Garden on TV.

We had a little stroll today though, just around the local fields in expectation of the longer and warmer days to come.  The local birds seem to be waking up after the cold.  We saw thrushes, finches, blackbirds and tits.  I always think of blue tits in particular as garden birds, so much so that it seems odd to see them in the wild.  At one point I swear I heard a green woodpecker ‘yaffling’ in the trees, but this may have been just wishful thinking.

Badger tracks - front and hind feet

Badger tracks - front (with claws) and hind feet

The damp, muddy ground was ideal for tracks.  Not as good as snow, but I was able to get a good idea of the animals that had been about.  The fallow deer had passed through, plus the normal muntjac.  There were many rabbit tracks – these look quite different in sand to the way they do in snow.  Often all you will see is the clawmarks, quite unlike the broad pads that show up in snow.

Encouragingly, the badgers are still present in this field.  I followed the tracks of a fairly small badger for half a mile or so along the path.  It’s sort of comforting to know that they’re still out there, even when I’m too busy to get out and see them.

It was only a short stroll, but it’s given me the impetus to try to get out more.  My family takes priority, of course, but I need to find a way to make time to get outside.  My interest in the local wildlife was originally stimulated by the desire to get outside and experience the countryside on my doorstep.  I think I need to re-discover that.

This being New Year, what I think I will do is to put together a list of  wildlife ‘resolutions’ that I want to achieve over the coming year.  I’ll need to give these some thought, because I need to be realistic (let’s face it, I’m not going to see a Golden Eagle or a Scottish Wildcat here in Mid-Bedfordshire), but at the same time I think it would be good to have a goal.

Let me ponder this for a while, and then I’ll come back with my list.  Let’s see what I can come up with.

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