The debate about Badgers

footprints

badger footprints

The trial badger cull ended yesterday after Natural England decided that the numbers culled did not achieve those required to test if culling would prevent the spread of Bovine TB in cattle.  We won’t know whether it has had an impact (positive or otherwise) for quite some time to come I expect but I think we do know that the killing of badgers during the licensed period was a complete waste of wild life.

Whatever your feelings about what the solution is to this particular problem, there is no doubt that the british cattle farmer is facing a difficult road ahead because there is a very definite affect on farmers from Bovine TB throughout the British Countryside.

badger sett

badger sett

Where we walk there is lots of evidence of Badger activity. We never see the badgers themselves but it is lovely to know that they have been about their business before we arrived.

The same badgers that leave the tell tale signs are hidden away in their cosy setts when we go out and we would need to sit in a hide (I am very tempted to camp out one night to be able to watch them) for long hours to stand any chance of catching them when they did venture out.

clearing mounds around the sett

clearing mounds around the sett

We know they are there though. We see their footprints, their scrapings from food foraging, their numerous territory markers (where they dig a hole and leave their droppings) and there are lots of entrances to their setts along the dike sides.

badger toilet

badger toilet

They are interesting and odd looking burrowing creatures when compared to lots of our british wildlife. They are nocturnal, strangely coloured (for our environment) and are seemingly related to weasels and wolverines.

They look like they should be carnivores but they are omnivores and so are as happy eating roots as worms. Bizarre when you consider how viciously well equipped they are for the life of a carnivore.

They are incredibly strong, make good parents and although they can be solitary, they mostly live communally. We’ve all seen the cute footage on wildlife programmes where they are filmed socialising and playing in mixed family groups at the neck of their setts..

main entrance to the sett

main entrance to the sett

They are a ferocious creature with the capability of inflicting a lot of damage with their might and their mouths.  These qualities and their fight to the death defence strategy have very sadly meant they have been used to fight dogs. This, thankfully for both dog and badger, has been illegal for some time now (though I suspect this horrible activity still goes on somewhere).

Because Badgers are complex and look a little out of place; they fascinate me and I would love to be able to observe our local population one day.

The thought of this peculiar shaped, omnivorous mammal with mad markings being eradicated or driven out of farming areas entirely because a sensible solution to address the issue of Bovine TB can’t be found, doesn’t sit well with me.

I do not know what the solution is but I do know that we need to stop bulldozing problems and find a much more inclusive way to balance these things out. I really hope that there is an effective, none invasive way forward that deals with the problem both the badgers and the farmers of the UK face.

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foraging for fungi

field mushroom harvest

field mushroom harvest

I have expressed my desire to learn more about identifying fungi before and I still haven’t done the course that was a present from hubby christmas 2011. I really must! If only to broaden our menu and save us from inevitable tummy ache.

freshly cut with ring in tact

freshly cut horse mushroom with ring in tact

It hasn’t, however, stopped my foraging this week. There is a field where we walk at the weekends that has a small but productive crop of enormous and delicious horse mushrooms. I haven’t seen them there before but they are certainly there now and boy are they tasty looking.

The fields are still very green and the bright white beacon of deliciousness that these wonderful wild food sources are is clear to see in the middle of the field.

bright edible domes amongst the grass

bright edible domes amongst the grass

I couldn’t help but notice them and after clearing it with the farm I collected only those that had been knocked off their stems by the ponies in the field.  Each morning, though, the ones that were tiny the day before had become monsters and so I couldn’t resist and picked some of those still growing.

the smallest of these is about 100mm across

the smallest of these is about 100mm across

Picking them properly is important (always use a sharp knife and cut off at stem, never pull them out with the whole stem) and you should never harvest an entire field.

Always leave plenty behind. There may be others who want to enjoy natures larder too but it is also important to maintain the crop to ensure they grow another year.

shades of pink and brown gills

shades of pink and brown gills

There are lots and lots left that will come to maturity over the next few weeks so we should see them again next year.

cider vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper

cider vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper

Preparing them is nearly as important.  Never wash them. Clean off any dirt or insects and then brush the outside clean. I’m a great believer that a bit of muck and interest adds to the flavour but if you prefer, the skins can be peeled to remove any possibility of unwanted flavourings (whatever form that might take!!).

I love mushrooms. I love their meatiness which makes them a great substitute for meat in a vegetarian dish. I especially love risotto, chicken and mushroom pie and I particularly love fried mushrooms on a thick slice of thoroughly toasted wholemeal or artisan bread.

What a wonderful autumn gift.

We had Chicken and mushroom pie on Saturday night but we ran out of time for any other mushroom dishes this weekend. In order to continue to enjoy the taste and waste nothing, I have gifted some, dried some and preserved some for later when the crop has finished.  Loving them fresh as I do, I have held back a few of today’s harvest to go into a mushroom based dish (whatever it ends up being) that I will conjure up later in the week.

horse mushrooms preserved in oil

horse mushrooms preserved in oil

The dried ones have a much stronger smell now they are jarred and I understand that drying enhances the flavour. I can’t wait to use them in a nice juicy dish in the middle of the winter when they are no longer available.

The others I have preserved in oil and vinegar from a recipe in the preserving book I bought some time ago. The flavours in the oil say to me that they should be eaten straight from the jar  raw but we will see as I have never used mushrooms in oil before. New things are great!!

dried mushrooms

dried mushrooms

The smell of freshly picked wild mushrooms is amazing. It is rich and earthy and reminds me very much of being a child. We always came home with field mushrooms or something edible and free when we had been raking around the open countryside for as much of the day as we could squeeze out of it.

It brings to mind people like my grandparents and my gran particularly who loved a bit of free food and a forage. I’m sure it is her tasks to us kids to bring home something tasty that fuels my interest in hedgerow eating. I realised the other day when I looked at a photo of me holding the mushrooms that I picked that I have her hands…. almost identical!

dried and preserved

dried and preserved

 


a weekend in the Peak District

the view

the view

This weekend of blistering temperatures and the threat of summer actually arriving, has reminded me of a weekend we were lucky enough to disappear on recently.

our acommodation for the weekend

our acommodation for the weekend

It was a gloriously sunny and fun weekend in the peak district to catch up with friends that we haven’t seen in far too long.

Max watching the coffee and cards session

Max watching the coffee and cards session

We booked a cottage that catered for all our needs, that was in a rural location but also close to the amenities of a little market town called Wirkworth.

We did brilliantly well with our choice and the cottage was amazing.  Recently converted from a barn just next to a very pretty public footpath, it afforded us quite a lot of privacy but the occasional distraction from passers by; especially since Max decided to greet each and every one with his big bark!!

Hamlet making the most of it

Hamlet making the most of it

It was just what we all needed. We went with absolutely no expectations and found it completely charming and far better that we could have hoped.

village pond

village pond

We had good weather, gorgeous surroundings, great company and enough beer to kill a man. What else do you need?

Everyone mucked in, there was lots of booze drunk, rubbish spoken and food eaten and it couldn’t have been better.

Matlock Baths - Biker's Paradise

Matlock Baths – Biker’s Paradise

Mostly we just chilled out at the gorgeous, gorgeous and perfectly appointed cottage. We played cards around the garden table or set up tennis (for the more energetic amongst us), we read, we chatted (a lot!!) and thoroughly relaxed.

When we did venture out (we were very tempted to stay put but really felt that we had to see more than the wonderful view from the barn garden), we were just as happy with what we found and some of it came as a complete surprise.

rows and rows of speed machines

rows and rows of speed machines

We had briefly passed through Matlock Baths on the Friday night as we arrived, so we decided to go and wander through this sleepy little ribbon town on Sunday morning. We would grab a coffee, maybe an ice cream and enjoy the peace and quiet of the riverbank walk and it’s pretty shops. It should be pretty quiet leading up to lunchtime.

 

think bike - bit difficult to avoid it really

think bike – bit difficult to avoid it really

I think we were the only people in the whole county who DIDN’T know that every Sunday, Matlock Baths is overrun with bikes and scooters of all shapes and sizes as well as the diverse collection of people that ride them.

 

Every single parking space along the length of the village has 2 wheels parked in it and even the station car park was struggling to accommodate the 4 wheels that had chosen to visit at the same time.

 

hamlet enjoying a cooling roll in the grass

hamlet enjoying a cooling roll on the grass

JC got some cracking shots of some of the bikes (clearly someone’s pride and joy) and the irony of the huge, seemingly out of place, ‘think bike’ sign wasn’t missed on us – you really couldn’t help thinking about bikes since it was practically all there was as far as the eye could see.

 

some of the lovely little stairways in town

some of the lovely little stairways in town

Once we thought about it, it made sense that this funny little place couldn’t sustain about 8 fish and chip shops a greater number of cafes and 2 bike wear shops without something spectacular like the sunday pilgrimage to contribute to the coffers.

 

rambling pond side properties

rambling pond side properties

Everyone was clearly happy and there was a nice vibe.

Not remotely what we had expected but quite wonderful all the same.

 

village waterwheel

village waterwheel

We eaked out as much of the weekend as we could and didn’t leave until the latest possible (our booking was until monday am but we all had to get back for work!! boohoo) with another walk to check out the local station of Wirkworth and the sweet town centre itself.

 

dry stone walls

dry stone walls

These small towns are clearly affected by the out of town supermarkets and the change in our shopping habits but it is hanging on in there. Like all small market towns, it has it’s problems but it is surviving. It has retained its charm and there are a handful of brilliant little retailers as well as decent pubs and I hope it lasts.

 

lovely hilly meadows

lovely hilly meadows

We are going to make this little weekend an annual event now because we were so taken by the place and the surroundings. We’ll be booking it well in advance so we aren’t disappointed.

I’m looking forward to it already!!


Horse Boarding

The Dead Pigeons in Round 1 time trials

The Dead Pigeons in Round 1 time trials

Unlike the title might suggest, Horse Boarding is NOT a form of torture.

It is an equestrian sport and it is tremendous fun!!

And what’s more, I can’t believe I have been in the dark about this fantastic sport for the 5 years since it was originated in the UK.

The Dedicated Drinkers

The Dedicated Drinkers

There is a horse boarding association.

They have a Facebook page.

There are national horse boarding championships.

Do or die

Do or die

There is membership, a magazine, courses and endless videos but I still didn’t know about it until yesterday!!

We went to Burghley Game and Country Fair which we have done for a couple of years now.  It is a good opportunity to stock up on all things country and country sports. There is more camo and green clothing than you can shake a stick at but there are also great fun demonstrations and competitions.

Kauldren

Kauldren

We always watch whatever is on in the main ring as we shop, we always check out the dog agility and terrier classes, the birds of prey and we always check out the food village.

We went a lot earlier today than normal and I think that may be why we caught the fly fishing demonstration, bought some (more) green clothing and most importantly managed to catch the Horse Boarding spectacle!!

Do or Die were flying in the time trials

Do or Die were flying in the time trials

I love horses and spent a lot of time around them as a kid. I wasn’t always involved in the proceedings but I was an enthusiastic spectator and helper. As a result of my close dealings with them, I love them, their smell and a lot of horsey sports are of interest to me. I don’t ride anymore, if I could do it all the time, I would take it up again (I really don’t fancy walking like a gun toting cowboy every few months because my thigh muscles have ‘forgotten’ what they are for between times!!) but I don’t have enough time for less demanding things so taking up horses again would be impossible right now.

Anyway, yesterday was soooo much fun to watch. One of the team horses is Lord Atterbury whoh is a retired race horse who was one of only 13 finishers about 4 years ago in the Grand National.

Ross of the Dead Pigeons uses a decoy for streamlining his helmet

Ross of the Dead Pigeons uses a decoy for streamlining his helmet

Apart from Burghley being just lovely as a venue, we already enjoy the horse trials in september and will continue to go for years to come, this country fair and the sandringham one are a great way to get close to the country sports that both JC and I have been involved with since we were kids.

We live in the city now but our weekend jaunts to the countryside allow us to dip into these lovely pass times every now and again.

Lord Atterbury doing his thing

Lord Atterbury doing his thing

We didn’t stay for the 3pm final as the sun had brought a lot of visitors out and it was getting very crowded by lunchtime but we will be looking out for it again and the teams that entertained us so well yesterday.

Good luck in the championships Do or Die, The Dead Pigeons, Kauldren & Designated Drinkers!


Bug Hotel

comfort bug style

comfort bug style

I was reading the UK handmade magazine summer 2013 (which I would highly recommend – you can read the online magazine or you can buy the download pdf)

And as I came to the end and page 81 presented me with a lovely image of a bug hotel project for your garden, I suddenly realised that our recent DIY project (more to come about that) had unwittingly provided us with the building blocks of the bug house and we pretty much had everything we needed around and about.

bamboo, loo roll tubes, twigs, logs and cardboard

bamboo, loo roll tubes, twigs, logs and cardboard

After a riffle through the recycling, chopping some lengths of bamboo up, selecting some nice short logs from the log pile and steeling a length of waste pipe from the garage I was all set to assemble them along with the slate and bricks into our own recycled version.

tada!!

tada!!

It won’t pass the inspection of even the most laid back structural engineer and the hotel inspector would be aghast but as Bug Hotels go, I think it is pretty fantabulous.

I’m very pleased with it and have stuck it in a little corner that does’t have much happening in it but it has been earmarked as our wild corner so couldn’t be better sited.

Fingers crossed for some creepy crawly guests :o)


There’s Magic Everywhere

bunty and her baby

bunty and her baby

Spring has definitely sprung.

In the last couple of days, the world has changed and there is new life and wonderful stuff everywhere.

It fair lifts the soul.

genevieve and gabriel

genevieve and gabriel

We have seen so many different birds that seem to have been hiding until now; yellow hammers, hobbies, shelducks and lapwings to name but a few. The crops are visibly growing overnight and before too long the oil seed and beans will be waist height.

There are blooms and butterflies everywhere and I could not love this time of year more.

The loveliest thing we have seen though was the arrival of 2 foals on the nearby farm and both at the same time.

some of gabriel's first steps as he warms up in the morning sun

some of gabriel’s first steps as he warms up in the morning sun

They are simply gorgeous and it is such a privilege to catch them within hours of arriving in this world. This little colt and filly arrived in glorious sunshine on Monday and we have watched their gangly little legs get stronger by the day as they feed and get used to this strange & noisy place.

confidence comes with each step and each minute

confidence comes with each step and each minute

Imagine the challenge when all those inches of leg and neck have been folded tightly in a warm dark are suddenly sped into this bright frightening world.

The first day, the mares were a bit spaced out from the delivery and you could do just about anything you wanted with them and their offspring. But as they regain their strength and the bond between the dam and foal develops, the mare will more often than not put herself squarely between you and her precious little one.

gabriel sticks by mum's side

gabriel sticks by mum’s side

They are getting bold and confident even after just 2 days and when they aren’t gambling about between feeds they are laid out enjoying the warming sun.

what's that?

what’s that?

I could watch them all day and their smell is completely addictive (anyone who has spent time around our equine lovelies will know exactly what I mean).

24 hours later gabriel is already steadier on his feet

24 hours later gabriel is already steadier on his feet

 


Jenny Wren

watching out

watching out

One of my favourite birds is the Wren.

This gloriously sunny weekend was very welcome and so was the sight of a Wren while we were out on a walk.

dotting around near her nest site

dotting around near her nest site

We were severely chastised by this particular Wren who I suspect is trying to build a nest near to where I had chosen to sit.

I love these pretty and perky little birds, not just for their size but how their size is completely disproportionate to their bravery.

We are vast mountainous creatures compared to a Wren but there is little, if any hesitation when it comes to telling us off .

If we have had the temerity to step over the invisible line that surrounds and protects her little haven, we will be subjected to a barage of chipping and chatting that comes with an urgency and tone that leave little doubt that she is cross!

I wasn’t disappointed.

It is completely hilarious and quite disarming. I hope she settled back to the job in hand none the worse for having to stop what she was doing to tick us off for getting too close.

on the look out again

on the look out again