The Monkey Selfie Farce

The ongoing saga of the copyright of the famous monkey selfie has probably filtered into your consciousness at some point in the last few years but been dismissed as “some nonsense.”

Yet the case drags on and the photographer’s career – and life – has been basically ruined.

David J Slater self-funded a month-long trip around Indonesia to photograph the rare and endangered crested black macaque monkeys to draw attention to their dwindling numbers so that the world might take notice. And so it did – because the monkeys liked the shutter sound on his camera and one accidentally ended up taking a photograph of itself.

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Despite the fairly modest income the photo was going to make him, Wikipedia decided to reproduce the image, making it free for all and it has been shared over 50 million times.

The photographer became embroiled in a 6 year legal battle over the copyright and more recently in the last two years PETA has sued him, claiming that the copyright belongs to Naruto the monkey, and they have demanded to manage the funds on the monkey’s behalf. Last year, a US judge ruled against the suit, as animals are not covered by the Copyright Act, but PETA has appealed the decision.

The saddest thing about this bizarre story is that not only has a man lost his career, he has also lost his love of photography – the magic has gone. PETA has made its point and should end the stalemate – even if the monkey’s right to the image could be asserted in law, it cannot prove which monkey took the photo. Dave Slater even claims PETA is championing the wrong monkey!

Doesn’t PETA have anything else to spend its money on?

One good thing has come out of the monkey selfie image: Dave has achieved his aim and the local people no longer hunt the macaques; instead they love their ‘selfie monkeys’.

 

Suffolk Glamping Trip

Hello! I’ve had a week off from blogging as I’ve been living in a forest. Sorry if I’ve missed any of your posts – I’ll spend some time catching up.

I didn’t want a “big” holiday this year, after having gone to the south of France last year (that’s big for me!) So we looked for something fairly local that involved very little driving or stress or planning, and would still provide lots of nature-based things to do. We booked some camping pods in West Stow (a tiny village near Bury St Edmunds, famous for its Anglo Saxon village) but when we arrived we actually got upgraded to the lodge because some other guests changed their mind. So that worked out well for us and we had a bit more space than we were expecting.

The lodge was quite posh by my standards – nice furniture, massive telly, all mod cons. We used the BBQ most nights and by the final night we were utterly sick of veggie burgers so went into Bury St Edmunds for dinner. I don’t know if you’ve ever been a vegetarian in Bury but no amount of googling yielded any decent veggie options so we went to good old Prezzo, where you know what you’re getting.

On the first day we visited Weeting Heath, which is back over the border in Norfolk. They are known for their stone curlews and we were lucky enough to see one perched on its nest. We also saw a yellowhammer and chiffchaff. Best of all were the swallows that had decided to nest in the visitor centre and were very obliging and must have been a thrill for the staff working there. Somehow I totally forgot to go back and get a photo of them!

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Spot the stone curlew!
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Yellowhammer taking a drink
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Pines near Weeting Heath

Afterwards we popped into Brandon and had a delicious cream tea at Tilly’s tearoom. Very quaint and quirky place and really good, strong tea.

Next day we went to Ickworth House, which is a very impressive country house with a huge parkland. Some Bishop who spent a lot of time living it up in Italy came back to England and built his stately home in an Italian style. The “downstairs” was probably more interesting that the “upstairs” as they had more artifacts to look at. The Victorian owners created stumperies in the garden (they used stumps of trees to create strange and gothic shapes, a sort of fairy garden) and the modern gardening team recreated them at Ickworth. I didn’t manage to spot any fairies but I did see a green woodpecker.

On our final day we stayed local and went to Lackford Lakes, which is famous for its kingfishers (again, didn’t see one, and even if we did it would only have been a flash of electric blue). We spent some time in Bess’ hide watching a reed warbler hopping in and out after a tip off from another birder.

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The evolution of bird

In the afternoon we went for a local walk around the Culford estate – a huge estate that’s now part of a school, but the lake has public access. A very pleasant walk.

 

My cat’s a murderer

It’s an ethical dilemma for conservation – you take in a rescue cat but it kills birds and mammals. Now there’s no way I’m getting rid of my baby girl Lyra and I’m not suggesting anyone does, but we should acknowledge that our domestic cats are predators and they kill birds.

The Mammal Society reports that cats kill around 275 million animals a year. There are around 8 million domestic cats in the UK, along with a further 1 million feral cats, and their kills break down as such:

  • 200 million mammals
  • 55 million birds
  • 10 million reptiles and amphibians

That’s an animal every 10 days per cat.

Don’t forget that this is just the number of dead creatures the cats brought home to their owners or were discovered within their patrol during the time the survey took place; the figures could be higher. However, judging by my cat’s attitude I doubt it’s much higher – she wants me to see her prize kills. She shows off about it.

It’s not all as bad as it sounds; the RSPB suggest that there is some evidence that cats tackle weak or sickly birds who would not survive another breeding season, and many other birds die through predation by other animals or from other causes, including starvation and disease. The RSPB says there is no evidence to prove that cats killing birds is having a significant effect on bird populations in the UK.

We can, however, make sure we manage things better. The advice:

  • don’t let your cat out at dusk or dawn
  • place bird feeders in high positions that your cat can’t reach
  • get your cat neutered so it doesn’t contribute to the stray cat population
  • place your nesting boxes out of the way of cats
  • keep your cat’s instincts active and satisfied through play with toys
  • attach a collar with a bell to your cat (they won’t be impressed by they won’t mind it and it will warn birds of their presence)

But what about when all your preventative measures fail and your cat’s just too good a hunter and catches a baby bird and tries to bring it indoors as mine did today?

Some advice taken from Help Wildlife:

Tick If the bird has been caught by a cat.
Any bird which has been bitten by a cat, regardless of its age, will need rescue and treatment. There are bacteria on cat’s teeth which will pass into the bird’s bloodstream when it is bitten. Without antibiotics within a few hours of the attack the bird may develop fatal septacaemia. Urgent action is required here.

If, however, it’s a baby you manage to rescue and it doesn’t seem too badly hurt or bitten, hide it away in a bush and keep your cat inside – the baby’s parents will be nearby watching and will keep an eye on it so it can rejoin them when it has recovered from the shock.

 

Enjoying the Durrells

The Durrells is good TV, isn’t it? Easy to watch, funny, feel-good, with beautiful settings and good actors.

I heard it’s not really much like the actual family at all but that’s ok because the TV show has taken on a new life. I’ve been reading a bit about the Durrell Foundation as well, which Gerald set up on the island of Jersey in the 1960s: it aimed to protect endangered species from extinction, recognising the worrying rate at which wild species were dying out in their habitats. It was the first time a zoo took on a significant conservation role.

Some of the species that the foundation focus on can be found here and include the black lion tamarin and the pygmy hog.

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Wildlife in Churchyards

I loathe a tidy churchyard. I hate to see their freshly mown grass and neatly trimmed edges. Give me unkempt, wild and natural graveyards any day.

Churchyards can often be ancient grassland habitats, providing havens for over 100 species of wildflowers, millions of insects, as well as birds and mammals. Bats can still be found in the belfries managed by wildlife-friendly churchyard keepers (sorry, who manages these sites? Does the parish have a gardener? Or does the priest gets his hoe out when he’s not delivering mass?)

The Wildlife Trusts run a Churchyard Conservation Scheme across many of it’s organisations, which aims to support churches to manage their outside space in a wildlife-friendly manner to promote biodiversity and provide vital corridors between habitats in the countryside.

What makes ancient churchyards such great resources for wildlife is that they have escaped the plague of modern pesticides and chemicals that have damaged other parts of the countryside. Lichen love to colonize gravestones, and ferns adore damp church walls, so it’s not just the grassland but also the church buildings themselves that provide homes to plant and insect life.

A secular charity called ‘Caring for God’s Acre‘ launched recently to preserve wildlife in the UK’s 20,000 churchyards, cemeteries and burial grounds. It focuses on the following 6 flagship species:

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Yew trees
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Waxcap fungi
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Bumblebees
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Slow worms
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Swifts
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Hedgehogs

Have you visited any wildlife-rich churchyards recently? I’ll be sharing a few in the followings month of those that I’ve visited in Norfolk.

Fox hunting – still protesting this shit

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2 years ago I wrote THIS blog post about Tory attempts to repeal the Hunting Act and I can’t believe we’re STILL having this argument and I’m STILL having to protest this shit.

It’s illegal. Give it up. Find another hobby. One that doesn’t involve foxes being torn apart and hunting dogs being mistreated and destroyed.

 

Casual cycling

It has been years since I’ve ridden a bike and, wanting to have an alternative to getting around when my car is out of action or I just fancy being in the open air, I decided to a get a bike.

Reader, I bought a girly bike. A vintage bike. A pretty bike.

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Accidental fisheye lens.

I won’t pretend to be some kind of fitness expert or serious cyclist in lycra. I just want to ride a bike into town sometimes or take a trip along the local countryside cycle path on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Today I managed 6 miles! My thighs ache and I will have to spend the rest of the day recovering. But it was worth it because it was enjoyable and easy-going along the cycle path by the river.

It’s a Pendleton Somerby, in case you’re wondering. I’ve since bought a wicker basket to go with it. Just needs a baguette.

May is always about the Bluebells

May Day Bank Holiday took us out to Blickling Hall in Norfolk (or Bono’s house, as Alan Partridge once famously claimed), where we witnessed the annual spectacle of the bluebells. I was expecting to be a bit disappointed – so much hype suggested to me that it would not be all that impressive a display after all.

Reader, I was impressed. Exhibit A (mixing metaphors much?)

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It was like venturing into faerie land.

(I think that’s just a labrador left of shot – not a deer, optical illusion, or some kind of Elfin Beast.)

Exhibit B

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And so on…

On the magic of bluebells

The British Isles are a stronghold for bluebells, boasting more than a quarter of the world’s population. They are perennial plants that grow annually to produce dazzling displays of carpets of bluebells and they are an indicator of an ancient woodland. It is a criminal offence to remove common bluebell bulbs as it is a protected species. They also produce certain alkaloids that are similar to compounds used the treatments for HIV and cancer, and they are used in folk medicine as a diuretic.

Non-native threat

The Spanish bluebell has invaded and hybridized and threatens our native common bluebell. You can tell the difference between the common bluebell and the Spanish bluebell from a few distinctive features:

  • the common bluebell has a drooping stem
  • its flowers are narrow and bell-shaped
  • pollen is a creamy white
  • it has a scent

Did you know?

Bees sometimes bite a hole in the bottom of the bell of the flower to steal the nectar without pollinating the plant.

In the Bronze age, people used to use bluebell sap to set feathers on arrows.

 

Wild Camping

You know about camping. It involves pitching up in the falling darkness, carrying your washbag to the nearby smelly toilet block, being kept awake by fellow campers, and trying to dry out your tent before you have to bed down for an uncomfortable night in it.

But have you heard of wild camping?

Wikipedia doesn’t bother to define it. It’s also technically illegal (though widely tolerated) in most of the UK, so I’m obviously not encouraging you…. If you do decide to defy the law, however, you might want to think about where and how to go about wild camping. Do you want to escape into nature for a few days and/or give your children a true adventure?

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There are a few points to remember:

  1. You have to carry the tent and all your equipment. Wild campers often follow a route across the landscape they want to travel in and therefore have to cart all their stuff around between locations, which are often remote and difficult to traverse. You can buy ultra lightweight gear but it’s pricey, so be prepared to travel light and eat all your tinned food on the first night.
  2. Take a trowel. No toilet block means a rudimentary latrine. Dig this far enough from your tent and find an area with some privacy.
  3. Animals will wake you in the night. Strange rustling sounds of mammals attracted by the smell of your stove-cooked dinner of baked beans on toast will disturb your sleep; don’t be alarmed, and don’t leave any food outside for them. The creatively-minded might decide to set up some camera traps near the tents to capture video or photo of the animals that visit them in the night.
  4. Pitch somewhere protected from the wind. Camping with an unobstructed beach view sounds delightful but just remember that that sea wind has not been deadened by any trees or terrains yet so you will feel its full force. Oh, and don’t forget about the tide coming in!
  5. Don’t trespass. It’s not worth the risk – there are plenty of public footpaths across the country.
  6. No electricity means your smartphone will soon run out of charge and you can’t rely on Google maps when you’re lost. Brush up on your map and compass reading skills.
  7. Pay attention to the weather and don’t set off on a mountain hike in fog or poor conditions. You don’t want to be the idiot that has to be rescued because they climbed a mountain in a storm without proper equipment or food.

So if you want to “get back to nature” and have a proper experience of the stars without light pollution, camping without the annoying families, survival by your own skills and no reliance on phones, then wild camping might be for you. There are sanitized versions where you can camp on the edge of the wilderness in a managed site, or there are more adventurous versions that involve climbing a mountain or wandering deep into a forest and pitching up somewhere where no one can find you. Nature is great for your physical and mental health, the perfect antidote to hectic modern lifestyles, and it’s so much more memorable and interesting than lounging by a Spanish hotel pool.

 

 

 

Little garden sink pond

Our little cottage garden is quite small so there’s not much we can do with it. It is mostly paved over with border beds, though they are thriving with greenery, and a large apple tree and several rose bushes. It’s very pretty but it would benefit from a water feature.

So we bought an old Belfast sink through Gumtree, took a bank holiday trip to the local garden centre and bought a variety of pond plants and gravel. First attempt the water was very red and cloudy (from the pre-washed gravel – washed in clay??) so it needed a re fill and now it’s really quite clear.

An old milk bottle top did the trick of blocking the plug hole and the fern and bamboo will provide some shade to keep the water cool.

The RSPB website has a really helpful guide if you want to have a go at creating a little pond in your garden yourself.

And now we just wait for all the amphibians in the neighbourhood to discover it. :)