Dear Readers, we had a very close race for the top spot this week, with Fran and Bobby Freelove and Anne both getting 15/15 for getting all the artists right. However, I’m going to hand the top spot to Anne this week, for recognising that the little unicorn horn on the rhino’s withers is an artistic embellishment not present on the real animal. Let’s see what challenge I can come up with tomorrow!
‘Whistlejacket’ by George Stubbs
2. The painting is ‘St Augustine in His Study’ by Vittore Carpaccio. One theory about the pensive expression is that St Augustine has just had a revelation that the friend to whom he is writing, St Jerome, has died.
3. This is by Albrecht Dürer. The little unicorn horn between the rhino’s shoulders doesn’t exist on the real animal, but that didn’t stop artists from including it for the next hundred years.
4. This Portrait of a Stag is by Spanish painter Diego Velásquez
5. ‘The Goldfinch’ was painted by Carel Fabritius, and Donna Tartt (who wrote The Secret History in 1992) followed up with The Goldfinch in 2014.
6. ‘A Horse Frightened by Lightning’ is by Théodore Géricault. His most famous picture is probably ‘The Raft of The Medusa’.
7. Katushika Hokusai is more famous for ‘The Great Wave’ and for ’36 Views of Mount Fuji’, but I love this painting, ‘Tiger in the Snow’. It was painted when the great man was eighty-nine years old.
8. ‘Rocky Mountain Sheep’ was painted by John James Audobon. His master work was ‘Birds of America’, an attempt to paint all the birds of America in life-sized images, hence the enormous size of the pages.
9. ‘Lying Cow’ is by Vincent Van Gogh
10. ‘The Aqueduct of Morro Velho, Brazil, 1873’ was painted by intrepid biologist and explorer Marianne North. There is a gallery dedicated to her work in Kew Gardens, London.
11. This was painted by Paul Gauguin – the picture is called ‘Still Life with Three Puppies’
12. ‘The Foxes’ was painted by Franz Marc. Have a look at his extraordinary images of blue horses and other animals if you get a chance.
13. This painting, ‘Coronation Cockatoo’ is by Stanley Spencer, more famous for his paintings of his home town of Cookham, in particular ‘The Resurrection’.
14. This is by M.C. Escher, famous for his prints of impossible staircases among other things.
15. ‘Rabbit on a Train’ is by Michael Sowa. I think the rabbit has just finished the school term and is happily going home to see his family.
BTW, I also really like the Michael Sowa paintings below. What do you think – enigmatic or just weird?
Dear Readers, there are many iconic buildings in London, but Battersea Power Station has had a more chequered history than most. It was designed as a ‘cathedral of power’, like the building that now houses Tate Modern, and the architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was drafted in in the latter stages of construction to give it an Art Deco feel. Battersea Power Station is actually two power stations housed in the same location – Battersea ‘A’ was built in the 1930s and Battersea ‘B’ in the 1950s.
This was a coal-fired station, with over a million tonnes of coal delivered from Wales and the North East by barge every year, and very dirty and polluting it was too, although it was one of the first power-stations in the world to use ‘scrubbers’ to wash the sulphur dioxide from the flue gases. Alas, the effluent was then washed into the Thames, where it was found to be more polluting to the water than the gases would have been to the atmosphere. At its peak in 1965 Battersea Power Station provided 1500 Gigawatt Hours of energy to London, and the waste heat from the generation was heating homes in the Churchill Gardens Estate in Pimlico that I visited on my Pimlico Tree Walk a few weeks ago. It was strange to see the tower of the old Pimlico District Heating Undertaking from the south side of the river.
The Churchill Gardens Estate from the south bank
In 1977 the building featured on the album cover for Pink Floyd’s ‘Animals’. I had always assumed that the pig suspended between the chimneys was done by some kind of pre-Photoshop trickery, but no, there was an actual inflatable pig who was tethered to the South Chimney. The pig managed to break away in a gust of wind and ‘flew’ into the Heathrow airport flight path, whereupon it was tracked on its journey by police helicopter. The pig eventually landed in Kent, no doubt to everyone’s relief. ‘Animals’ is loosely based on Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, though it’s a critique of Capitalism rather than Stalinism. The shenanigans in the years after the station’s closure make that rather ironic.
The power station was closed in 1986 – it was too expensive to run, and the building was falling into disrepair. There then followed nearly forty years of disputes about what was to be done with it. It was Grade II listed in 1980 by the Environment Minister, Michael Heseltine, but I remember passing the power station on the way from Waterloo for many years, watching as it looked more and more decrepit. At one point it was going to be a theme park, then various property companies considered developing the site, but realised that it would be too expensive. The chimneys in particular were a problem – years of toxic, corrosive smoke had damaged them, but Battersea without its chimneys was just not going to be accepted by Londoners.
At various points, Battersea Power Station was going to be turned into a theme park, a shopping mall, a biomass generator and energy museum, an urban park and a football stadium for Chelsea F.C. Companies pulled out, companies went into liquidation, and things looked pretty bleak. However, in 2012 the site was purchased by a Malaysian consortium. The plans include:
‘…. the restoration of the historic Power Station itself, the creation of a new riverside park to the north of the Power Station and the creation of a new High Street which is designed to link the future entrance to Battersea Power Station tube station with the Power Station’ (Wikipedia)
And so, when I heard that the new Northern Line extension to Battersea Power Station was opening this week, I decided to go along, just to make sure that they were doing everything properly.
The new station is what you might call ‘neo-industrial’ if you wanted to invent a whole new school of architecture. It reminds me of some of the Jubilee Line stations, but these were designed when there was a lot more money about for flourishes and inventiveness.
There is one piece of art above the ticket machines that changes colour.
Outside there’s an interesting roof and a view of the power station.
Battersea Power Station Station 🙂
No inflatable pigs today!
Incidentally, the chimneys are like-for-like replacements after the originals were found to be beyond repair. Two huge cranes that used to move the coal from the barges, and the Art Deco interior of the power station will be restored.
There is lots of quasi-Piet Oudolf prairie planting about.
And there also seems to be a liking for corten steel, which is already rusted. I rather like it too, mainly because I love the deep orange and chestnut colour.
It also blends beautifully with the colour of the Power Station bricks.
Opposite there is another suite of apartment buildings that remind me a little of the Fred and Ginger building in Prague, though without the same degree of quirkiness.
There was some more prairie-planting here, and also a group of blonde women with a photographer – I wondered if this was for some images of the flats with attractive people sipping wine, knocking up a salad, looking wistfully out of their full-length windows at the view of London etc etc.
Apparently this is the first time that you’ve been able to walk down to the Thames from the Power Station site as a member of the public since the Power Station was commissioned. You can get an Uber Boat along the river for a mere £7.30 per person ahem. It seems a shame that it isn’t on the main TFL River Boat network. Another piece of shenanigans is that the whole site is in Zone 1 on the tube network, whereas other places which are actually closer to the centre are in Zone 2. One wonders if a deal was done with the property developers to make their homes more desirable.
There are various restaurants and coffee bars on what’s described as . The one that we chose was obviously not geared up for the increase in traffic since the tube station opened, as it was one of the Fawlty-Toweresque occasions when getting a Flat White takes longer than going to Brazil and actually picking the beans, but as all restaurants are facing such challenges with staffing at the moment I shall not name and shame them. Hopefully things will get better over time.
There used to be peregrines nesting at here, and I do believe that I caught a glimpse of one. Fingers crossed! There’s also a thriving colony of starlings on one of the gantries.
Yet more prairie-planting! It’s obviously all the rage!
So it’s nice to be able to get close to Battersea Power Station and admire it from close up. What I’m really looking forward to is getting a look at the inside of the building – it appears that there will be retail outlets inside, so presumably they’ll let the public in to spend their hard-earned dosh. There will also be a riverside park, and it will be interesting to see what they do with that. There’s a new theatre in the railway arches next to the site, and I hope there will be room for some quirky shops and restaurants, not just chains. Let’s see what happens next.
Oops, I accidentally posted this again, readers! I wish WordPress would make it a bit more difficult to publish. Anyhoo, here’s the complete post, and sorry for any confusion…
Dear Readers, we have certainly picked a good couple of weeks for our holiday – after a damp day on Sunday the weather looks pretty good for the rest of the time, so today we took a bus trip to the Sunshine Garden Centre in Bounds Green, North London. I really love this place – the staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and it always has a great range of plants. Today I was really looking for plant supports for my hemp agrimony, but as usual I couldn’t resist some of the other plants. Just as well we were travelling on the bus, which meant there was a limit to what I could buy. When I visit with my friend J, who has a people-mover with plenty of room for plant passengers it’s very easy to get carried away.
Just look at this lot! What looks like rows of lettuce is in fact a fine array of different Heuchera cultivars, some in dark purple, some in lime green, some bright yellow and some with coral-coloured leaves. They don’t have enough pollinator-appeal for my small garden, where every plant needs to punch above its weight, but they looked very pretty nonetheless, and are very versatile.
We sat outside the café with a cup of coffee and a scone (just one between us in a rare display of self-control). The waitress is a nurse in her other life, and is currently working at a flu-jab clinic. Everyone is apparently asking what is happening with the covid boosters, but of course the people who have to administer them are the ones who are the last to know when the vaccine is arriving and what the procedure is meant to be.
‘If only I had Boris’s private number’, she said. ‘I’d get them all to ring him up’.
And what a fine solution that would be.
In the end I bought three white hellebores, which will hopefully be happy under the lilac tree.
And a giant Japanese anemone, as the small ones don’t seem to be able to cope under the whitebeam, so hopefully this one will be a bit more robust and live up to its invasive nature. So many of the plants that other people refer to as thugs become delicate in my garden and gradually fade away. Fingers crossed!
Dear Readers, I confess a great liking for the sweet chestnut tree. It was introduced to the UK by the Romans, who loved its sweet, mealy fruit, and grew it not only for this purpose but also for its timber and perceived medicinal benefits (its Latin name sativa means ‘cultivated by humans’). I love it for its furry fruits, and for those shiny serrated green leaves. The tree can live for several thousand years, and can reach a height of 35 metres.
Sweet chestnut is not closely related to horse chestnut, although the fruits do resemble conkers – sweet chestnuts are members of the Beech family (Fagaceae), while horse chestnuts and buckeyes belong to the soapberry and lychee family Sapindaceae. It just goes to show that superficial differences, such as the ‘hairy’ nut cases and the leaves which spray out like fingers from a central point, do not indicate an actual family relationship.
The bark has a characteristic spiral pattern, which I noted on another sweet chestnut that I saw on Hampstead Heath, and the flowers are in long sprays that are said to smell strongly of frying mushrooms.
Spiral bark on the Hampstead Heath sweet chestnut
Sweet chestnut flowers (Photo One)
Incidentally, the sweet chestnut catkins bear both male and female parts, with the female flowers at the bottom and the male flowers at the top. It’s the female flowers that will turn into chestnuts if pollinated. The tree is self-incompatible, which means that it can’t fertilise itself – the tree somehow recognises that the pollen grain from the male part of the plant is of the same genetic make-up as that of the stigma (female organ) of the receiving plant, and stops the process of fertilization. This prevents inbreeding, and is considered one of the most important mechanisms for ensuring the genetic diversity and health of a population. Who knew? Certainly not me. I am astonished pretty much every day.
Now, back to the sweet chestnut fruit itself. This is the quintessential chestnut that you smell cooking on braziers all over London at Christmas time, and very tasty the nuts are too. Apparently Roman soldiers were given chestnut porridge before going into battle, and look how successful they were! The French have a particular fondness for chestnuts (marrons) – they turn up as sweets (marrons glacé) and in Mont Blanc, a dish made from chestnut puree fashioned into vermicelli with whipped cream. Italy and Switzerland both claim the Mont Blanc as ‘their’ dessert, in much the same way that hummous is claimed by at least eight different Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern countries. I think that travelling the countries involved and sampling the dish in each region could easily be turned into a gastronomic travel book and if anyone wants to offer me a book deal to do such a thing I am open to offers once the pandemic is over.
French/Italian/Swiss/ Mont Blanc (Photo Two)
I thought that marrons glacé were indisputably French, but apparently Northern Italy, a major sweet chestnut-growing region, also claims them.
Marrons glacés (Photo Three)
Furthermore, in Corsica polenta (or pulenta as it’s called) is made from chestnut flour, and the Corsicans also make sweet chestnut beer. Chestnut flour has no gluten, and so is useful for people suffering from coeliac disease.
Corsican chestnut beer (Photo Four)
Historically, sweet chestnut has also been used for timber – like other trees in the Beech family, such as hornbeam, it responds well to coppicing, and produces a good crop every 12 to 30 years. In his book ‘Woodlands’, Oliver Rackham describes how there are possible remnants of Roman chestnut orchards on the edge of the Forest of Dean, but it seems that in the UK chestnut timber was relegated to uses such as hop poles and included in the wattle-and-daub walls of medieval houses. Nonetheless, as noted earlier, if not coppiced these trees can reach an immense size and age. One ancient sweet tree in South Gloucestershire, the Tortworth Chestnut, was called ‘the old Chestnut of Tortworth’ in records from 1150 AD, indicating that it’s over a thousand years old.
The Tortworth Sweet Chestnut (Photo Five)
Medicinally, it’s the leaves of the sweet chestnut that have been used, in particular to cure whooping cough and other ‘irritable and excitable conditions of the respiratory organs’. The belief in the efficacy of the leaves as a treatment for coughs lasted until at least the Second World War, according to the Plant Lore website. Another use for the leaves, also recorded on Plant Lore, was by children playing at running a home – if you strip away the flesh from the leaves they apparently look exactly like fish bones, just the thing for dinner!
And finally, a poem. This is by Thomas James, who was born in 1946 and committed suicide in 1974, a year after this poem was written. I’ve read it over and over, and I see more with every reading, but it still refuses to be nailed down, which is, I think, how it should be with a poem. See what you think, readers.
“The Chestnut Branch” by Thomas James
There is something to be said for darkness After all. My mother’s hands Have been full of the dark all winter.
They are hollow boats not going anyplace. They only pull the blinds Or gesticulate at some ineradicable star.
Now the backyard unfolds its lacy pleats, And I bring in a white branch Because love is the lesson for tomorrow.
Will nothing cure the brightness in these streets? A million strange petals touch The panes. Is it a gift of snow?
Is it making up for lack of bandages? Is it cold, is it hot– Will it keep, should we put it on ice?
Should my sister sew it into bridal clothes? Is it lingerie, or just a sheet To pull across a used-up face?
Will it brighten up the arms of chairs? It moves. It hurts my eyes. I am not accustomed to so much light.
It is like waking after twenty years To find your wife gone and the trees Too big, strange white growths that flank the street.
Photo One by Viascos, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Dear Readers, we were sitting peaceably in the garden on Sunday, gathering strength for our annual hacking-back of the willowherb and hemp agrimony, when my husband, who is becoming quite the naturalist under my twenty-years of nonstop tuition, noticed a wasp behaving in a quite unusual way.
It seemed to be absolutely fascinated by a crack in the patio. It would go underground for a short distance and emerge with something small and white, before flying off. We watched it several times before realising that it was picking out ant larvae or cocoons – occasionally an adult ant would run around frantically, but generally the wasp went about its task unmolested.
In this photo you can just about see that the wasp has something in its jaws, if you squint. Sorry not to have gotten a better picture, but I was enthralled. The wasp kept visiting the whole time we procrastinated over our tea and toast, flying off with its prey three or four times while we watched. What amazing animals they are. How did it even know that there were ants there, and make the link that there would also be larvae (this wasp didn’t seem at all interested in the adults).
And then a robin started singing its heart out from the hawthorn, as if to tell us to get a move on, and so we did.
Following the undignified collapse of the angelica earlier this year, the hemp agrimony and meadowsweet have grown in a multitude of directions, none of them vertical, and so the pond has become very shaded. The frogs were not unhappy about this.
But if I don’t cut things back and clear them out, the pond will become a bog and I won’t be able to get to the shed, so needs must. Next year I think I’ll buy some plant supports so that the hemp agrimony in particular doesn’t flop so much – any recommendations, readers? The plant grows to about four feet tall and is a bit of a thug, so it needs to be robust.
After about 90 minutes work we could finally see all of the pond, and were feeling very pleased with ourselves. This frog, however, reminded me a bit of those shots of mountain gorillas looking back at their deforested hillsides and wondering what on earth happened. I wonder if s/he’ll notice the snail behind her at some point, and finally prove that frogs are the gardener’s friend, as opposed to just a bunch of freeloaders :-)?
I also love that the seeds from the hemp agrimony make the frog look as if it’s sparkling. I hope that s/he soon gets accustomed to the changed circumstances, and doesn’t sit around looking obvious for too much longer.
Oops! I accidentally published a draft of this post on Saturday 18th, gawd knows how. The full version is below.
Dear Readers, it was an unseasonably hot and humid day today, but never mind, we have thunderstorms and flooding to look forward to tomorrow. I expect that the swamp cypress in the cemetery will be happy. At the moment it’s resplendent in green, but there are the smallest hints of the colour that it will soon be wearing.
Swamp cypresses are unusual in being deciduous conifers – this one will turn the colour of rust and then drop its needles. I will be tracking its progress over the next few weeks.
And after an absence of a month or two I finally caught up with a kestrel. This one looks in perfect condition, and was surveying the mown grass for little critters to eat.
It flew off after a few minutes, having been harassed by a pair of magpies, but I spotted again.
There was something about the wide open plains of the cemetery, the hot weather and the sight of a bird of a prey sitting on top of a tree that reminded me a bit of when I’ve visited South Africa, although of course there were no impala or zebras. The mornings when I’ve been up at 4 a.m. to sit in a jeep and head off to watch the wildlife in India or Africa have been some of the happiest of my life, but actually I get just as big a thrill from spotting animals in the UK.
Elsewhere, the white bryony is still attracting a mass of bees. You can just see one zipping off in the top right hand corner of the photo.
And in the category of ‘once seen, never unseen’, I have decided that some of the ivy-strewn headstones look as if they’re wearing hats. You’re welcome.
Some of the paths are covered with crispy brown leaves, which would be very autumnal except that it’s a month too early. These are the leaves of the horse chestnuts, desiccated by the work of the leaf-miner caterpillars.
But how atmospheric the woodland paths are at this time of year!
And finally, here is an interesting grave.
This is, however, a very confusing grave. What’s with the parachute, and how is it related to Harry Gardner, Lyceum clown? The parachute actually belongs to Captain Alex E Smith, the ‘friend’ whose name is at the bottom of the tombstone – Captain Smith was a pilot and parachutist for the balloon company of C. G Spencer and Sons. However, Smith’s wife, a parachutist known as ‘Countess S’, is also buried in the tomb although by the time she died in 1936 the tombstone was full, and so she is not mentioned. I think that the descending figure looks rather like a young woman, even so (and so does the author of this very informative piece, R. A. Davenport).
But what of Harry Gardner? He was born Edward Gardner, and seems to have specialised in pantomime, in particular being praised for his appearance as a polar bear in Aladdin in 1909-10. The Era, the show business newspaper of the time, notes that ‘‘Mr Harry Gardner’s realistic Polar Bear should be selected for warm praise’. I have some doubts about how realistic the polar bear was, and indeed about what an Arctic animal was doing in Aladdin in the first place, but I am willing, as always, to suspend my disbelief. Gardner went on to appear in Dick Whittington and his Cat (1911-12), The Forty Thieves(1912-13), Babes in the Wood (1913-14), Jack and the Beanstalk (1915-16) and finally Mother Goose (1916-17). Gardner died during the run of the final pantomime in 1917, at an estimated age of 66 years old. The Era noted that he’d died ‘after a short illness’.
I find myself wondering what Gardner did to support himself when he wasn’t appearing in a pantomime. What were the job opportunities for out of work clowns? And what of his wife, Alice Louisa, who seems to have disappeared without trace. Cemeteries can be so enigmatic sometimes, with their hints of lives past and their unanswered questions. Maybe that’s why I love them so much.
Dear Readers, animals have inspired artists since the very first cave paintings, but how much do you know about them? Have a go at the quiz below and see how you do!
Answers in the comments by 5 p.m. UK time on Friday 24th September please, and I’ll post the answers on Saturday 26th September. As usual, I’ll make any answers that I see disappear, but write your answers down before you submit them if you think you might be influenced by what they’ve said (like me).
Who is this magnificent creature, and who painted him?
2. Who painted this adorable little white dog, and who is the man in the picture? Bonus point if you can tell me why the man is looking so pensive.
3. Who created this print of a rhinoceros? Bonus point if you can spot the anatomical mistake, which was copied in images of the animal for years afterwards.
4. Who painted this portrait of a stag?
5. Who painted this goldfinch? A bonus point if you can tell me which American author, who had only one bestselling novel previously, wrote a fictional work based on this picture?
6. Another horse, but who painted him? Bonus point if you know what painting of a marine disaster is probably this artist’s most famous work.
7. Which Japanese artist, more famous for his pictures of great waves and of Mount Fuji, painted this astonishing tiger?
8. Which American artist painted these sheep, and what was his master work, printed in Elephant folio?
9. Which Dutch artist, more famous for his flowers than his animals, painted this cow?
10. Which enterprising female artist painted this image, and what is the country represented? Bonus point if you know where in London you can find a gallery dedicated to her work.
11. Which Post Impressionist with a love for Polynesia painted these puppies?
12. Which German expressionist painter, criticized by the Nazis as an exponent of ‘degenerate art’, painted these extraordinary foxes?
13. Which English artist, more famous for his scenes of people in times of war and peace, painted this cockatoo?
14. Which artist, more famous for his mathematically-inspired geometric patterns, created this image of lizards?
15. And finally, a favourite artist of mine. Which contemporary German surrealist artist painted this small rabbit? And where do you think he’s going (there’s no correct answer to this one, I just wondered where your imagination will take you…)
A Martian in Woking (Photo by Colin Smith ) This is a metal sculpture, based on H G Well’s book ‘The War of the Worlds’
Dear Readers, this week we had Claire with 11 1/2 out of 15 and Fran and Bobby Freelove with 13 1/2 out of 15, so well done to all of you! The next quiz will be tomorrow, and I am wondering why I didn’t have the idea for it ages ago…I hope you enjoy it!
‘Alien’ animals can cause a range of reactions, but the history of how they got to the UK, and what their impact has been, fascinates me. In most cases, they arrived because we wanted them, and didn’t realise quite how keen they’d be to get back to the wild. Sometimes, they were hitchhikers, a result of the international trade in plants and artefacts. Very rarely, they flew here of their own accord and found the conditions to their liking. With climate change, and with our inadequate biosecurity regulations, we are going to have to get used to all manner of plants and animals arriving and setting up home. As always, it will be interesting to see how such encounters play out.
1. Edible dormouse (Glis glis)
This attractive little rodent was deliberately released into the wild in 1902 (it comes originally from southern and central Europe). It is considered a menace because it can wreak havoc in lofts and roof spaces, and damages trees by stripping the bark. The Romans used to have special pots for keeping edible dormice until they were fat enough to eat. I must admit I thought that they had brought them to the UK, but it seems that if so they became extinct, and were re-introduced much more recently.
2. American mink (Neovison vison)
Farmed for their fur, some escaped while others were deliberately released, sometimes by well-meaning animal activists. However, these creatures are efficient predators, and their presence has been linked to the decline of the water vole and various ground-nesting birds. Their numbers might be decreasing slightly as the larger otter becomes more common.
3. Sika deer
Originally introduced to populate the grounds of stately homes and estates, the sika was established in the wild by the 1930’s. It interbreeds with native red deer and can cause serious damage to crops, trees and sensitive habitats. There are lots in Dorset, and on our way back from Dorset last week our train nearly ran over two who were on the tracks.
4. Racoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides)
This animal (which is a canid not a raccoon) was introduced to the UK from East Asia for its fur. it isn’t established in the UK yet, but it is well established in many other parts of Europe so watch this space. Where it has established a foothold, it is a predator of birds and amphibians, and competes with native carnivores such as the fox and badger.
Did Jimi Hendrix release a pair of these while he was on an acid trip, resulting in the many thousands of birds that are now common in London? It’s more likely that there were escapes and releases from multiple sites over a period of years. At any rate, the parrot is now moving north and west at an inexorable rate. It strips orchards and may compete with other hole-nesting birds, but personally I think that it brings a touch of the exotic to North London.
6. Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)
This medium-sized goose has been breeding in the wild after escaping from wild fowl collections since the early 1800’s, but has increased like billy-o since the 1980’s. It is well-established in the wild in Suffolk and Norfolk, and seems to be going west at a rate of knots. It can cause crop damage and pollute water bodies, but to be honest so can most wildfowl at high concentrations. Plus, to be complaining about pollution of water bodies when there’s so much agricultural and industrial run-off seems a bit hypocritical. Interestingly, they often seem to nest in hollow trees, which is quite a feat for a large aquatic bird.
7. Red-eared terrapin (Trachemys scripta elegans)
I was only writing about these animals earlier this week. They can’t breed in the UK (yet) because the winters are still too cold, but individuals can live for up to thirty years, and there seems to be no limit to the number of people prepared to throw their pets into the nearest water body when they get too big. They are voracious predators of amphibians and invertebrates, even taking ducklings when they are tiny.
8. Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus)
Deliberately introduced by the end of the 19th century, this chap is also known as the laughing frog because of his loud call. The frog is now well-established in Romney Marsh in Kent, the Somerset levels and the area around Tamworth. The species is apparently becoming more common, so keep an eye open….
9. Wels catfish (Siluris glanis)
This enormous fish, which can grow to 5 metres long and weigh 300kg, was deliberately introduced as a food fish. Hah! By the 1950’s it was swimming happily in managed stillwaters used by fisheries, and in some deep lowland rivers. It eats anything and everything, from frogs to water voles to ducks, and as you can see, there’s nothing in UK rivers that can outcompete it.
10. Rainbow Trout (Oncorhyncus mykiss)
The trout that made river fish available to the general public when fish farming really took off in the 1970s in the UK, rainbow trout seem to have problems breeding in the wild in the UK, and are still usually out-competed by the local brown trout. However, climate may be a factor in keeping them in check, and this is changing as we know. Again, watch this space.
11. Signal Crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus)
Introduced from North America in the 1970s, this crayfish quickly found its way into the wild, and has caused the rapid decline of the native white-clawed crayfish through competition for food and other resources. It also spreads crayfish plague (who knew there was such a thing?) As if that wasn’t enough, it makes its burrows in the banks of water bodies, causing them to collapse, and eats the eggs and young of fish. There is a move afoot to persuade the UK public to eat more crayfish.
12. Harlequin ladybird
This much-maligned beetle comes originally from Asia, and was deliberately released in Europe as a biological control, presumably against aphids. Sadly, the harlequin ladybird is much more of a generalist predator than that, and when the aphids are gone it will turn its attentions to other insects, including the much smaller native ladybirds. It arrived in the UK in 2004 and made itself very much at home ever since. I think personally that it outcompetes other ladybirds than rather than actually eating them, but that’s anecdotal, based on a couple of years observation of one aphid-infested buddleia.
13. Asian hornet (Vespa volutina)
Oh lord the column inches devoted to this insect! It is true that it eats honeybees, but I suspect that it has been the cause of the death of more European hornets, hoverflies, wasps and native bees than any other creature. It is seen fairly regularly in the Channel Islands now, and I believe it’s also been spotted in Cornwall. It arrived in south-western France in some pots imported from Asia. It’s most likely to be spotted in areas where honeybees are kept, but it is still very unlikely to be seen in most of the UK. It is much darker in colour than our native hornet.
This is the tiny creature responsible for our horse chestnut leaves become dry and crinkly and dropping off early every year. Little is known about it, except that it arrived as recently as 2002 on some imported plants, and has been spreading north and west ever since. Though it makes the trees look ugly, it doesn’t yet appear to affect their long-term health.
15. Oak processionary moth caterpillars (Thaumetopoea processionea)
This little darling appeared in 2006 as a contaminant of imported plants and trees – it’s native to northern France. London appears to be the epicentre of its population at the moment, maybe because of a concentration of oak and hornbeam forest, which it seems to like (our local Coldfall and Cherry Tree woods have both had infestations recently). The insect can be a major defoliator of trees, and its hairs can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation. It can also cause the eradication of populations of innocent caterpillars such as those of the ermine moth (which forms nets in bird cherry and some other trees, but causes no long term harm). Don’t just take a flamethrower to your tree, people!
Dear Readers, here I am back at Walthamstow Wetlands, which is proving to be quite the spot for bird watching and general wonderfulness this year. First of all, have a look at these meandering paths in the water. They were made by these little guys…
This is a Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) and its half-grown offspring. It’s scientific name, loosely translated, means ‘red-necked fast-diver’, and so it seems to be – they disappear under the water for an ordinate amount of time, and you only have to look at them for them to dive. Otherwise known as dabchicks, they are surprisingly fluffy even when adult, but the chicks are particularly endearing.
Little Grebe Chick (Photo One)
Then we crossed a bridge, and I said to my friend, ‘Oh, I thought that was a bird but it’s just a piece of wood’.
‘The piece of wood just moved’, she said, and so it did.
Yep it’s a Grey Heron, and quite a large one at that.
In addition to the giant hogweed and oak processionary moth warning signs by the path, there’s now also a sign warning that there’s a wasps’ nest. ‘Enter at your own risk’, it says, and, judging by the number of stripy insects flying backwards and forwards from the rowan tree that’s good advice. We move smartly on, though I do stop to take a random photo of the electricity pylon, because I think they’re rather splendid.
As are the rosehips.
But then, how about this lovely little family?
This is a Great Crested Grebe, with three striped chicks. What fine birds these are! According to my ‘Birds of London’ by Andrew Self, they have been somewhat in decline in the Capital, but there are several pairs at Walthamstow Wetlands, and at least these are breeding.
Incidentally, one of the reasons that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was created because Great Crested Grebes were almost hunted to extinction in the UK because their attractive plumes were used on hats – ‘Lady Members’ were asked to refrain from wearing the feathers of any bird not killed for purposes of food, the ostrich only excepted. Poor old ostrich you might think, but over 7,000 bird of paradise skins were imported in the first quarter of 1884, along with the feathers from 400,000 West Indian and Brazilian birds, and the remains of 460,000 Indian birds. Some hats were decorated with entire ecosystems of small feathered creatures. It’s rather heartening that most women these days would be horrified at wearing such a thing, and that this type of cruelty at least is a thing of the past.
Victorian hat with small parrot (Photo Two)
So this Great Crested Grebe can rear its chicks in some sort of peace. Long may they thrive.
Dear Readers, I’ve got a break from work for a few weeks after today, so naturally I’m in my usual tearing haste to get all my paperwork done. Fortunately yesterday’s torrential rain has eased up a bit, so I had a quick walk around the garden to see what was going on, and it’s surprising what you can notice in ten minutes.
I’m very pleased with this sedum – the one in the top photo and this one are the same plant. The cerise flowers come first, and then turn to baby pink. It’s very popular with hoverflies, I’ve noticed.
This sedum is just going over, but it’s been a very structural plant. I did hear someone say that to propagate sedums all you have to do is break off a bit and plant it, but surely it can’t be that easy! Let me know, peeps.
This white sedum is just getting going. I love that they’ve conveniently staggered their flowering times, it’s always a bit duller in the garden once the autumn comes. The slugs and snails have clearly been having fun though.
Although the flowers are full and far between, there’s lots of excitement on the berry front. My whitebeam has decided to fruit this year, I don’t remember the berries ever staying on the tree long enough for me to see them!
Then there’s the hawthorn..
And the bittersweet….
And the spindle….
And finally, the rowan…
It will be interesting to see who comes to visit to eat all this bounty, and which plants they prefer!