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Monday, July 31, 2006

Generally I don't do War...

but the news today is so shocking I feel obliged to comment. Sadly the Lebanese government seems incapable of dissuading the Hezbollah from their cowardly actions, but my government and that of the US, connive with Israel.
The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said this evening that Israel is not ready to stop its offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Israeli air strike on the southern Lebanese village of Qana on Sunday killed at least 54 Lebanese civilians, mostly children and despite some hopes of a ceasefire following international outrage, fighting has continued today.
Appealing to residents of southern Lebanon to distance themselves from terrorists, as Maj Gen Gadi Eizenkot of the Israeli army has done, is just empty words. In the villages of the area there are women, children and elderly, even able bodied men who just cannot get out of their homes, there is nowhere for many to go and it seems, few know the terrorists of Hezbollah who hide themselves within their communities.
The talking has to go on, and the rockets and the bombings must stop before this war spreads to other parts of the Middle East. Haaretz in Israel has stated: "The unfortunate bombing in Qana is not just "another bombing"... Hopefully, this event will not stop the process of forging a diplomatic arrangement for ending the war." Other Israeli newspapers have also sounded dovelike today, but are the world leaders really listening?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Overlooking the Old Place

Work on my parents' former home is nearing completion. I had a tour of the buildings yesterday and can honestly say that the work being done by the new owners is going to make a magnificent home for them. A home quite different and more modern than ever envisaged by our family, but one that proves their commitment and love for the surroundings. The south wall of the imposing old barn is the most striking change. Gone is the plain stone face with vertical air vents and now a full height window divided horizontally for the master bedroom at top and main living room below. This takes full advantage of the outstanding view to the south. I will take more photos at a later date, but for now a 2003 view of the barn and one from yesterday together with a photo of a humble bee from today's visit to the nature reserve at Sweeney Fen a few miles away from the cottage.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Punkah Wallah

Here in UK it is [for us] very hot again today. Temperatures of 30C and more. In the office without air conditioning and no siesta in the heat of the day we are suffering the heat. I mentioned to some of my younger colleagues that we should have a Punkah Wallah but was met with blank looks - What's one of them John? So I thought I would share the information.
Punkah Wallahs were low caste Indian servants, who, in the days of the British Raj sat all day long, pulling on the strings of a cloth awning, thus creating a breeze allowing his master some comfort in which to rest or enjoy his gin and tonic. Can we have a punkah wallah each I was asked! THis one has fallen asleep on the job. Punkah = Fan; Wallah = Doer.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Endangered Species

The threat of extinction is hanging over some 12% of mammals, 23% of birds and 32% of amphibians. "Virtually all aspects of biodiversity are in steep decline." [Bob Watson, chief scientist at the World Bank.
A group of scientists from 13 countries is trying again to raise awareness and encourage preventative meassures.
I am acutely aware of the difficulties that such a body will face. Apathy, scepticism and commercial interests being the stumbling blocks that occur to me. Brazil and Indonesia have shown little interest in joining discussions and, because of their huge rainforest biodiversities, their input would be crucial to have effect.
It is so sad to think that most of us will have seen species in our lifetimes that people in the following generations will never see alive due to extinctions.
BBC Link

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Nature Trivia and an Iron Age fort

Have a look at some wierd and wonderful nature facts - I found this while looking up Emperor Moth details.
The Photo is of Cow Castle, an Iron Age fortification above the River Barle in West Somerset. The earthworks of the fort are very clear from the upper path which is approximately where I found the caterpillar.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Colourful Caterpillar

I had to look this one up! It's an Emperor Moth caterpillar we found on Exmoor. It feeds on the heather. I've had a really good four day walking holiday with several old friends that I used to work with. Exmoor is an upland National Park in West Somerset.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Bristol Old Vic Theatre

There is good news from Bristol today. Bristol City Council in their wisdom have granted £1 million and the Arts Council £2 million towards the £7 million needed to improve the oldest working theatre in the country. The Theatre Royal – popularly known as the Bristol Old Vic started in 1766 and was granted Royal licence in 1778 by George III. The theatre thrives today with professional productions and can claim many now famous actors who have trained at the associated Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.
We are assured that the wonderful auditorium will not be changed but it all will be made more comfortable. Nowadays the seats creak and some of them are behind pillars that obstruct the view and much needs to be done behind the scenes to improve and preserve the Grade 1 listed building.
I have fond memories of going “back stage” over the years. The following link is to the Bristol University Theatre Collection's listing of plays acted in by My father. [pictured (right) above with John Neville in The Lady's Not for Burning at Bristol in 1950]

He was an actor who was at Bristol Old Vic regularly in the years after the Second World War and then several times up to his last appearance there in 1982. I still go to the theatre when I can, which is not often enough.
I am going to place several links into this post as I know that some of my visitors will be interested.I wish good luck to the BOV in raising the rest of the money needed and hope to see works start before too long.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


Is froglets a word? I haven't checked. Anyway it's only Saturday evening and so far,a busy weekend for me. After work on Friday I joined the Bristol Ornithologists Club visit to Stockhill on the Mendips where we hoped to see nightjars as it got dark. We did, but before then we walked through a marshy area where reed warblers were calling and I was amazed to see, hundreds of little froglets crossing our path. No longer tadpoles, these tiny frogs were making their way from the ponds to other places in the marsh. Because it was getting dark I hadn't taken my camera and so today, I went back again and spent the first part of the afternoon enjoying music, dance and ambiance at the Priddy Folk Festival then a short drive to Stockhill to photograph the frogs. First picture a group of "Appalacian Line Dancers" from Worcester, next the froglets, then the sign explaining the 2000 year history of lead mining on the Mendips and finally a Cinnabar moth caterpillar on Ragwort.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Bushmeat Trade in our Cities

I was shocked to read this article in this week's edition of New Scientist. Apparently many african citizens who have become successful in our large western cities pay more than one would pay for fillet steak in order to obtain bushmeat, often primate, at illegal markets. Read on unless you are squeamish!

MEAT from wild primates killed in Africa is landing on dinner plates in North America and western Europe. Offered for sale in clandestine markets from Los Angeles to Paris, primates make up nearly a third of the illegal international trade in bushmeat, according to a survey of markets in seven cities.
Rumours of the existence of such markets have floated around for years, says wildlife biologist Justin Brashares of the University of California, Berkeley. Confirmation came from a chance encounter with a taxi driver from Ghana two years ago. When asked if he missed eating bushmeat, the driver said, "I don't, really." He then offered to show Brashares a market in a warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, where bushmeat is sold.
"I was shocked that open markets sell large quantities of African bushmeat in major cities outside of Africa," Brashares says.
Starting with his initial contact, Brashares has recruited 15 volunteers, expatriates from west Africa to visit illegal markets in Paris, Brussels, London, New York, Montreal, Toronto and Chicago. A market in Los Angeles has just been added to the list.
Two volunteers separately recorded the amount of bushmeat for sale at one sample location in each city. Just over 6000 kilograms of meat moves through these seven markets each month, Brashares told the Society for Conservation Biology when it met in San Jose, California, on 28 June. This probably underestimates the international trade, itself only a tiny fraction of the wild meat hunted in Africa, most of which is eaten locally. Primate meat makes up a larger share of what is sold overseas compared with markets in west and central Africa.
"I have 27 records of chimpanzee and gorilla parts being sold in the markets," Brashares told New Scientist. "In each case it was not a complete body, but a hand, leg or, in two cases, a head." Guenon monkeys and baboon species appear to be a big part of the trade, he says. Small antelopes called duikers are the most commonly sold animal, and the rest of the trade is made up of rodents, reptiles and birds.
“Bushmeat is part of a luxury trade. African nationals could buy a filet mignon in London for the price of a baboon”
Bushmeat is often concealed beneath legal shipments of smoked or dried fish, but it is difficult to say how much is imported because customs officials in the US and the UK lump all illegal meat together in their reports. The sellers don't distinguish between different species, even in the markets in Africa, and there is a good proportion that Brashare's volunteers can't identify.
"The bushmeat trade is huge and supports thousands of people in Africa," says Glyn Davies, director of conservation for the Zoological Society of London, who pointed out that bushmeat traders are occasionally arrested in London. He suggests that cane rats and duikers, for example, which live near farms, could possibly be harvested sustainably to support local people. "But that is very different to harvesting large mammals such as great apes and elephants," he says. "It would be very hard for that to be sustainable."
Davies says that central governments in Africa need to be made aware of the millions of dollars being spent on the parallel economy of the bushmeat trade, and they need to work with the forestry industry to regulate hunting at the critical forest frontier. People in the know keep the international markets relatively buoyant, but the demand isn't driven by need. Prices for bushmeat are higher than for legal meat.
"It's part of what is clearly a luxury trade," says Brashares. "They could go and buy a filet mignon in London for what they're paying for baboon."
From issue 2559 of New Scientist magazine, 08 July 2006, page 8

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Stone Runs

Just e-published - My article on the Stone Runs of the Falklands Islands.
Thank you Graeme and thanks to "Polar" Dick who mentored me when I was on the MS Andrea last November.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Missing Husbands

BBC News Item - No further comment from me! - read on

Cells full after football trouble
Police cells across Bristol and Somerset were completely filled overnight when trouble broke out after England's World Cup defeat.
Avon and Somerset Police said the force had brought in extra manpower to deal with any potential clashes. But, despite the number of officers on duty, they admitted struggling to cope with twice as much trouble as would be expected on a normal Saturday night. Minor scuffles and drink-related problems were reported across the area. A force spokesman said they had been inundated with calls on Sunday morning from women saying their husbands were 'missing' when in fact the men had been taken into custody.
No figures for the number of arrests made were immediately available.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

I'm back

Hottest day of the year so far and very humid. It's thundering in the distance now. Good walk and glass of cider at the Nova Scotia Hotel after. Here is the Colliter's Brook outfall at the upper part of the walk and a view of Clifton Suspension Bridge from near the River Avon outfall.
The red brick building on the right is one of the old Tobacco Bond warehouses. Bristol was the major import dock for tobacco in the last century.

Bristol's Rivers

Here in Bristol the centre of the city grew up in medieval times around the docks which in those days was tidal. We have one of the greatest tide ranges in the world. The River Avon (which is the Welsh Celtic word for river - so "River River") was diverted along the New Cut in 1804 when the Floating Harbour was created. There are several smaller rivers and streams that flow into the Avon and an enterprising lady on Bristol City Council has arranged an interesting series of walks to trace the various rivers from mouth to source. Today I'm joining the Colliter's Brook walk and hope to be looking at some of the industrial archaeology of that area of the city and other aspects of urban geography not usually seen as one drives around. Have a look at my links, I'll post a photo or two later. For now, this photo taken from our famous Suspension Bridge shows the New Cut bending off to the right. Colliter's Brook runs into the Cut on the far side of the fly-over.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Roman Steps

The "Roman" Steps through the Cambrian rocks of the Harlech Dome. UK Grid Ref SH655301. Also here on Geograph.