Thursday, 26 June 2014


A break from rants for a picture of one of my favourite British wildflowers, Gladdon (Iris foetidissima, also known as Wild Iris or Stinking Iris).   Unlike may of its garden cousins the flowers have such subtle colours, a real beauty.

The plant itself is common and easily found along the North Downs but seeing it in flower is more difficult.  It usually has three or four flowers on a stem but usually each only opens for a day especially in hot weather.  I noticed this particular plant growing in dense scrub on Park Downs on Monday with the first bud just opening, by today all but one flower was going over. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

What makes me angry, I - Beans!

Not beans as in food but their cultivation, at least in the Banstead area which I suspect is pretty representative of most farms elsewhere.

The picture above shows a growing crop of Broad Beans.  The average gardener would be doing well to have such weed- (and insect-) free rows of plants.  These are however not in a garden or allotment but are part of a large field of the crop in Banstead.  I have been walking the edge of this field for years and this is the culmination of many years application of herbicides to the field until they have successfully eliminated the vast majority of weeds,  the second picture show what is probably the weediest area with just a few plants of a Fumaria sp.

I have addressed this subject before in this blog and expressed my sadness that agricultural success is associated with the loss of all ground cover and my anger that the associated pollution is largely uncontrolled. Such conditions obviously has an impact on the insect population and for those that survive, the recent insecticide application has probably done for them.  It is noticeable that there are few bees pollinating the flowers in this field today.

Of course the response is that we need our farmers to be as efficient as possible in order to produce cheap food for the supermarket or for cattle feed.  I suspect that the majority of the population would agree, again something that saddens me but then I am biased.

BUT this is not enough for farmers and politicians.

A couple of weeks ago the BBC ran this story, it beggars belief!!!  Giving them wildlife conservation grants to allow them to kill plant and insect life destabilize the soil all because the unwitting plants provide a bit of nitrogen into the ground that will save the farmers money on fertilizer.
To requote from the BBC:  "We think including this measure is very positive for the environment" Andrew Clark, NFU.  Well they would wouldn't they?

The whole thing is made worse when you read this sort of report.  Angry, moi?

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

What we have lost, I - House Martins

I live in a bog-standard semi-detached house in the middle of a long row of similar houses in the centre of Banstead, when we moved in thirty years ago I was chuffed to find that our house was blessed with several House Martin nests.  Not only that but most houses in the street had nests and although a few misguided homeowners seemed to enjoy knocking down the nests as the birds were building (they make such a mess you know) most appreciated their presence.   One of the highlights of the year was the anticipation of their reappearance in the spring and summer evenings sitting in the garden were enhanced by watching these birds together with Swifts hawking insects overhead.

Alas no more, the number of nests dwindled over our first ten years here until one spring none appeared, a sad year (around 1992).  I also witnessed a similar pattern around my parents home in south London. Apparently this was a reflection of a much wider decline across much of northern and central Europe since the 70s.

Obviously one wondered why!  To quote from the RSPB page devoted to the species and addressing the decline: "They require rain to produce wet mud for nest building and for encouraging the abundance of insect prey, but cold weather prevents them feeding  Large-scale mortality is regularly recorded during and after periods of bad weather, during both breeding and migration.  On the other hand, hot and dry weather can result in mortality though dehydration and heat stress."  This seems to suggest that climate change may be the important factor.

I had always wondered where they found mud for their nests locally because there was/is precious little surface water or muddy ponds locally but I am not aware that anything has changed there.  In addition, at spring and autumn migration there are still plenty of birds passing through, just not stopping!

My opinion (of course I have to have one) is that their food source (flying insects) has dried up.  Bats, Swifts and Spotted Flycatchers have all shown a similar decline in this area, is it just coincidence that they all have the same diet?

Of course you have to then address the disappearance of insects:  climate change or farming practice? Watch this space!

Can we come out yet?

I had to include a picture of a nest, unfortunately not taken locally but in the Mediterranean where thankfully, there are still large numbers of House Martin and their presence on buildings are more than tolerated and there are still a lot of insects (although that is changing year by year in many places). 

A long time in anger

It is two and a half years since I posted anything here (should remove blog from title).  This is not because I have not been out and about, not because I have had nothing to say but because each time I sat down to write a new entry I became angry!   

I know I have I have reached the age where grumpy is an apt if inadequate description of my state of mind (I find that I can hardly pick up a newspaper without wanting to scream) and so I felt my anger was perhaps a little unjustified and my entries did little to help my condition or anyone who read them and I therefore stopped.

In the intervening period my condition has not changed and my "therapist" tells me that the best way to treat my condition is by expressing the anger and its cause. I have lived in Banstead for over thirty years and in that time much has changed regarding the local wildlife, some things for the better but mostly for the worst.  In addition certain news items recently have really made my blood boil and are so relevant to the title of my blog. Therefore I have decided to use the blog to try and explain my anger and highlight what I think is wrong with the world (especially around Banstead) in the context of natural history!!!  I know there are people out there much more capable than me to do this but who cares.  

I apologise in advance to anyone fed up with rants especially since what follows is likely to be full of ill-informed, poorly-researched personal opinion and hypocrisy.  However it may help my anger and enable me to die a happy man!!