Archive for the ‘Background’ Category

We’re jamming
I wanna jam it with you,
We’re jamming, jamming
And I hope you like jamming too
(Bob Marley)

Making Raspberry Jam

Making Raspberry Jam

OK, this is another one of those diary posts.  Over the last week my wife and I have picked 2.6kg of blackcurrants.  After freezing some this left a nice, round 2kg for making jam.

I didn’t really understand jam until a couple of years ago when we started getting a surplus of fruit from the garden.  Rather than buying fruit at any time of the year from the supermarket, we now get more than we can possibly eat for a month and then nothing for the other 11 months of the year.  We need to find a way to preserve it.

Being interested in the idea of primitive living I like to use good, old fashioned methods.  I live in a Victorian farm workers’ cottage and I like to try to carry on the old ways as much as I can.  We’ve tried all sorts of ways of bottling, pickling and drying the produce from the garden.

Raspberry Jam 2Hence the jam.  Proper home-made blackcurrant jam is a real treat.  Unlike shop-bought jam that tastes of nothing but sugar and something vaguely synthetic, our jam has a really intense fruit flavour.  It tastes like the very essence of the fruit itself.  I love it.  Unknown to my wife I have a jar in the fridge and I eat a spoonful every now and then when I fancy something sweet.  It’s nicer than anything from the sweet shop.

Anyway, enough rambling.  I’ve made raspberry jam and blackcurrant jam, to say nothing of the cherries in syrup.  It’ll be time for the blackberries soon…

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Getting even further away from badgers, but another date for the diary.  I left my job today.  I’d been there nearly ten years, so it was a wrench to go.  They are good people.

On Monday I start a new job as Director of Talent Management for a well-respected firm of business psychologists in London.

Busy, busy, busy, as we Bokononists say…

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I came across this site the other day, and I think that it’s definitely worthy of  a mention.

Ampthill Wild

Steve writes about the local wildlife here in Bedfordshire, backed up with some great pictures.  More importantly, he’s out there getting people interested in the animals on their doorstep.   You don’t have to be in Bedfordshire to enjoy it.

Check out his site.  In particular, check out the excellent pictures of the College Lake polecats – probably the most famous polecats in the country since they were featured on Springwatch!

Well worth a look…

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Having watched badgers for a few years now, I’ve decided that I want to do my bit for the badgers in my area.  I am pleased to say that I have joined the Bedfordshire Badger Network.

Affiliated to the Bedfordshire Natural History Society, the Network is run by volunteers who give up their time to monitor and help conserve badgers in the county. As well as dealing with day-to-day badger-related matters such as giving advice to on what to about badgers in their garden, the Network has a history of research, including some fascinating (and very broad-ranging) bait marking studies.

I will be helping to check and map setts in my local area, helping to maintain the already impressive register of badger activity.  This is pretty much what I’ve been doing already, but now my badger watching will be contributing in a small way to the overall body of knowledge.  The added benefit for me is that I’ll be able to learn from people far more experienced than me.

I’ll still be the same rough, tough independent badger watcher, but it’s good to know that I’m doing something to help out.

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I picked up a book in a charity shop the other day (I’m a cheapskate!) and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in the same sort of things as me.

The book is Simon King’s Wildguide, published by the BBC in 1994.  This is the same Simon King off the TV, the star of Springwatch and similar.

Now I’m not as a rule impressed by people just because they’re celebrities, and normally I stay clear of TV tie-in books as they are usually nice and glossy but light on content, but this one really is excellent.  It is basically a practical guide to observing, photographing and filming British Wildlife.  It’s packed full of useful information, from how to camouflage yourself with mud (and why you shouldn’t go to the shops afterwards) to equipment and techniques.

The book covers a wide range of species, from mammals to birds, with details of how to find, track and watch them.  All of these are brought to life with refreshingly honest stories and examples.

You can get it from Amazon at an exorbitant price, or check out your local library, but it’s worth the effort to track down a copy if you can get it at a decent price.  It’s certainly earned a place on my crowded bookshelves.

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I’ve just come across badgerpics.org.uk, and a great site it is too.

John has got some truly excellent badger pictures in his gallery (they put my efforts to shame!) and he shares my fascination with badger watching.  It’s obvious that he’s spent some time inside a camouflage jacket staring intently at holes in the ground while being bitten by midges.  I can relate to that!

Overall it’s an excellent site, and well worth visiting for information on badgers and their habits, and a treasure trove of details on how to watch and photograph these elusive animals.

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I’ve said it before.  Badgers are fascinating creatures.  Almost everyone who comes into contact with them finds them compelling and slightly addictive.  Our countryside is certainly a better and richer place for having badgers.

And yet surely there are many perils in the world for badgers.  They are affected by development and loss of habitat.  They are killed on the roads in large numbers.  Most sickeningly, there is still a small minority of people who set out to deliberately harm them.

This is why anyone who gives up their time and energy protecting badgers is worthy of support.

The Kirklees Badger Protection Group are just such people.  Like many groups, they work hard behind the scenes to help the badgers in their local area, and their passion for the animals is obvious.

What is even better is that you too can get involved.  The KBPG is looking for volunteers to help monitor setts.  If you live in the West Yorkshire area and you’ve ever fancied the idea of getting out and watching badgers, then this is a great opportunity.

Don’t worry if you’ve never been badger watching before and you’re not sure what to do – everything will be explained.  Not only will you get an introduction to these wonderful animals, but you’ll be helping to protect them too.

Check out the website for more details – Kirklees Badger Protection Group

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Catkins - spring is coming!

Catkins - spring is coming!

Well, it seems that spring is here at last.  I’ve been keeping busy travelling the world with work lately.  When I went away everything was frozen solid, and now that I’m back it’s thawed out, and allowed the first signs of spring to peep through.

Snowdrops are flowering down the lane, and the hazel catkins are out.  The hawthorns in the hedgerows have the first small buds.  In the vegetable garden I’ve finished the first planting of the year, so the potatoes, onions and beans have all gone in.  Unfortunately one of my chickens (Clarissa) escaped and ate my winter cabbage.  Frustrating, but a fairly regular occurrence in my kitchen garden.

The badgers and the foxes must be busy with young at the moment.  I’ll wait until the end of the month and then I’ll see what they’re up to.  The badger cubs won’t appear above ground until towards the end of April, but it will be good to get out and get up a tree again.

On a sadder note, there has been another badger killed on the roads.  This makes it three that I’m aware of in the last year around our village.  This latest casualty occurred in exactly the same place as the one in October (see The Grim Tithe Part 2).  There’s been some discussion on the Wild About Britain forum on the subject of badger road deaths, and it seems that there is a peak at this time of year.  I wonder if I can get the council to put up a sign?  Given the speed that people drive down this particular road it probably wouldn’t do any good, but you never know.

Siskins on the niger seed feeder

Siskins on the niger seed feeder

To end on a happier subject, my garden bird twitching list has increased slightly.  For the last month or so a woodpecker has been hammering on an oak tree just down the road.  I guess he’s getting territorial for spring.  I can hear him well enough, but I’m damned if I can spot him.  There’s been a fieldfare hanging about recently, and my niger seed feeder has been taken over by a gang of siskins.  Not particularly rare, but good-looking birds and new for me.

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Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, had a pet badger called Josiah.

Apparently, Josiah was given to the president as a cub in 1903 by a little girl in Kansas.  Roosevelt was on a tour of the country at the time, and when his train stopped and he stepped out of the carriage the girl literally thrust the baby badger into his hands, saying that it was called Josiah.

I can’t imagine this sort of thing happening to a president today, but Roosevelt was made of sterner stuff.  A rugged outdoorsman in his day, he took the event in his stride and adopted the badger.   He had many pets, including a guinea pig called Fighting Bob Evans, which gives you a clue to his character.

His family kept Josiah in the White House and fed him on milk, and as soon as he was old enough he would run around the building, biting the legs of passers-by.

Sadly, although Roosevelt went on to become the only president to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, it seems that Josiah’s fate was less noble.  He was eventually sent to live in the Bronx Zoo on account of his habit of “hissing like a tea kettle” and biting guests on the ankle. 

Despite Josiah’s ignominious retirement, he did set the standard for badgers in the White House.  Barack Obama, take note – if you want to get ahead, get a badger…

Thanks to Louise for alerting me to this story.

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The Grim Tithe

Newborough Forest, Anglesey

Newborough Forest, Anglesey

As I write this it’s blowing a gale outside, with squalls of cold rain gusting about.  I was supposed to be harvesting the last of my potatoes today, but I’ve retreated in the face of the weather and the hope that tomorrow will be better.

It is odd to think that two weeks ago I was sitting on a beach basking in the sunshine, and even more remarkable when that beach was in North Wales.  It was a very pleasant holiday – lots of fishing, walking and generally taking things easy.

The elusive red squirrels, alas, eluded me.  I spent a couple of days walking around Newborough forest, and though there was plenty of sign in the form of gnawed pine cones, the squirrels themselves were nowhere to be seen.  Still, it gives me an excuse to go back there.

Back home, there’s sad news for me.  A badger was killed this week on the main road, about a quarter of a mile from my house.  This is not one of ‘my’ badgers, or at least it isn’t from the sett that I watch – that’s on the other side of the village.  It is however in the area where I take my regular tracking walks, and may even be the badger that I’ve tracked in the field behind my house.

Road accidents account for a large proportion of badger deaths; they are possibly the biggest cause of death.  Every year there is a grim toll of casualties.  Unfortunately, badgers seem to have little road sense.  I’ve twice had badgers run across the road in front of my car, and both times they’ve dashed across without even seeming to look.

Since I moved here five years ago I’ve seen three dead badgers by the side of the roads in this area.  The accidents all seem to occur at this time of year.  I think that as the nights get longer, the badger’s routines come into conflict with those of humans.  During the summer, it gets light before anyone is up and about, so the badgers are safely home before the morning traffic starts.  Now the mornings are getting darker their paths are more likely to cross ours, with tragic results.

I took a walk down the road to have a look.  I get particularly annoyed when I walk along road verges, as they always seem to be littered with crisp packets, fast food wrappers and plastic bottles thrown away by the ignorant and vulgar motorists.  I can’t understand what makes people drive through the countryside tossing out crap from their car windows.  If I could only catch them in the act I’d learn them a lesson, believe me.

A sad end

A sad end

The dead badger was on the verge.  It is a sad end for such a creature, but then I can’t really blame anyone.  I drive a car and I drive down this road, so it could well have been me.  There was a badger path a little way off, so it seems like the badger was returning home after foraging when the accident happened.

I walked home along the route I use on my regular tracking walks, hoping to see fresh badger tracks that would prove that it wasn’t the badger I have been tracking lying there.  Unfortunately the wind and the rain had polished the sandy ground smooth, so there were no tracks at all to be seen.  I’ll have a look tomorrow, weather permitting, and see if any animals have been down there overnight.

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