Monday, 29 April 2013

The Rules of Bird Watching

As you'll know if you've read any of my other blogs, we've been getting to grips with the local bird life over the past year or so, during which time we've learned a lot about birds and bird watching.  Having spent another fabulous day down at Leighton Moss I thought now was a good time to share with you some of the "rules" we've picked up along the way.

  1. If, when you enter a hide, all the "bins" and "scopes" are pointing in different directions, there's probably nothing important to see.
  2. If, when you enter a hide, all the "bins" and "scopes" are pointing in the same direction, whip yours out quickly and join in, nodding sagely whilst desperately scanning the horizon.
  3. The name of the bird often bears little resemblance to their appearance; female Blackbirds are brown and, as we discovered today, Green Winged Teals do not have green wings.
  4. Trying to describe to someone where you've spotted a bird in the distance is the quickest way to start an argument. "No, not *that* tree, the one with the branches, just to the left of the one with the leaves.  Never mind, it's gone now!".
  5. However long your camera lens is, there'll be someone there with a longer one.
  6. The second you look down to take your flask out of your bag a Bittern will tap dance past the hide.
  7. The quieter the hide, the louder the crisps.
  8. Most seasoned birdwatchers don't mind you asking questions and are usually fairly forgiving when you make a mistake.  ("Is that the Bittern?" Long slow intake of breath. "No, that's a Snipe...")
  9. The smaller the bird the prettier the song.  Big birds seem only capable of screeching.  Pheasants in particular will lie in wait behind a bush and time their screech perfectly to scare the bejeebers out of you as you pass by.
  10. DO NOT look on the "Spotted Today" board as you enter the reserve.  These are malevolent works of fiction and serve only to reinforce your feelings of inadequacy when the most exotic things you can come up with are a Lapwing and Shoveler.
Lapwings. Still bonkers, still my favourite bird.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

"Welcome to Lake Districtland"

When many people visit the Lake District they wander around the local villages imagining what it might be like to live here.  They stop and gaze into the window of the local estate agent to see what property prices are like and what they could maybe afford.  They imagine an idyllic life; dropping the kids off at the local village school, chatting to the newsagent as they pick up their paper and passing the time of day with their neighbours when they meet them in the street.  But often this is far from the reality.

The massive rise in second home ownership means that out of season many villages become soulless ghost towns.  Services that require year round demand suffer and close as a result: schools, post offices, shops, bus services etc.  And people who were born and raised in the area simply can't afford to stay and raise their own families in the villages where they themselves grew up.

How bad is the problem? In Elterwater second homes & holiday lets account for 80% of properties in the village, just under 70% of homes in Skelwith Bridge are second homes and in Coniston 50% of all residences are now second homes.  (Information taken from Westmorland Gazette) In the summer months these places are thriving centres of activity but in the winter they are deserted with what few residents remain being surrounded by cold, empty houses. We did our house hunting during January 2011 and it very quickly became apparent which places still had a solid community and which had become little more than holiday villages.

Tourists are the lifeblood of the region and without them what little employment exists in the area would vanish altogether, but we need to find a way to balance the demand for holiday lets with the needs of the local community. One local businessman and holiday home owner quite rightly argues that he provides a lot of employment for local people by way of the trades; housekeepers, window cleaners, gardeners etc.  But the truth is all of those are lowly paid professions and it's unlikely that many of those employees will earn a sufficient salary to be able to afford to buy a property anywhere near to where they're working; the average person on a cleaners wage won't be in a position to outbid a millionaire property developer next time a tiny stone cottage comes onto the market.  

There's a marked difference in property prices as soon as you set foot inside the National Park and the pattern that's emerging is that local people employed to support the tourist industry can only afford to live in the towns around the outside of the park: Kendal, Penrith etc.  Granted there are a number of homes in the region available at a lower price for those who live and work in the area, but this is a tiny proportion of the overall housing available and doesn't even begin to address the demand.  So what's the problem with people having to commute?  Millions do it every day in London.  True, but rural communities simply don't enjoy the same transportation infrastructure as the south east meaning car ownership is pretty much essential; an additional expense on an already tight wage.
Thirlmere - previously the site of Wythborn village.

And anyway, so what if holiday homes make up 80% of Elterwater?  Well the problem is we're losing (already lost!) an entire community.  In 1879 and 1929 when the proposals were made to flood Thirlmere and Haweswater respectively, there was outcry and opposition as it would mean destroying a local community; but isn't that exactly what's happening now?  A community isn't the bricks and mortar, it's the people and without the local communities some villages are in very real danger of becoming little more than a Butlins style holiday park.  

People fight to protect the habitats of different animals around the globe, but what about the habitat of the rural English village?  The reality is that the government has said it has no plans to limit second home ownership or occupation so is it time to give in gracefully, accept that change happens and watch as Lake Districtland evolves - or does the revolution start here?

Monday, 1 April 2013

Impact of Global Warming on Morecambe Bay

Despite the recent arctic conditions we are, as a planet, still in the grip of global warming.  Whatever your belief in the cause of this phenomenon temperatures across the planet are set to rise over coming decades and with that will come a change in local flora and fauna - but what will that mean on a local level?  As followers of this blog will know we have recently taken a keen interest in the local wildlife and have specifically been learning more about local birds so it was with some interest that I learned that the future for Morecambe Bay might look something like this:

Morecambe Bay 2020
Where currently we enjoy watching Oystercatchers and Snipe, by 2020 Flamingos are likely to be a common sight.  Naturally drawn to mudflats the broad bay is wide enough to accommodate their large flocks and the shallow water will suit their feeding habits perfectly.

How will they get here?  Well in much the same way that escaped parakeets formed the basis of the now famous flocks Kingston Parakeets in the South East, experts have suggested that it is only a matter of time before a breeding pair of Flamingos escape captivity from a local reserve, such as Martin Mere, and take up residence in the bay.

The issue of new and exotic species colonising our shores has caused such concern that DEFRA has set up a special sub-committee to monitor developments.  Any sightings of Flamingos in the bay should therefore be reported immediately to the Association for the Protection, Rehabiliation and Integration of Life From Other Overseas Lands. Thank you.