New Forest Wildlife Park.

While we where in the New Forest we decided to go visit the Wildlife Park near Ashurst. If you are looking for a chilled out way to spend an afternoon, then this is a great place to go see. The staff really know about the animals in the Park, and are so willing to share information. And if you really fancy getting up close and personal with the animals there is the ‘Keepers Experience’.

For us, the first stop was in the Butterfly house. The house is kept at quite a high temperature and humidity, and it played havoc with my camera…. the lens kept fogging over. Added to the speed that the butterflies were moving, so the photos are a little blurry.

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The otters were next. These guys are so much fun to watch. There were Giant, Eurasian and Asian otters. The funniest guys were the Asian otters. They live in family groups and chatter constantly to each other – especially at feeding time.

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The Eurasian otter (that’s the European one) apparently is a much more solitary animal. They are mostly active at twilight and in darkness, but you can see them here in the park at feeding time. They survive mainly on fish and small rodents and birds. In the UK numbers declined but are now on the increase due to protection and improvement in water quality.

Eurasian Otter.Also in the park are a pair of Giant otters. Akuri and Simuni (both male) are part of an international breeding programme for this endangered otter whose numbers are still decreasing in the wild. Giant otters are the largest and rarest of all the otters in the world found only in the Amazon, Orinoco and La Plata rivers of South America. These large animals can eat up to 4 kg of fish each per day, they also eat crustacean, snakes and other small river animals.

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We followed the path through the park. It’s well sign posted and on thing I noticed was the number of owls here, of all breeds and sizes. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of them. Good reason to go back!

The next residents we met up with were the fallow deer in the deer enclosure.

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The little doe, Dottie, was a real little dote. Apparently had been raised and bottle fed as a fawn, so she was particularly attached to humans. She followed us around like a little pet, and got very friendly with Bob; if you visit, be aware she has a tendency to try to suck your clothes though (and shoe laces, camera straps, shirt ends……….)!

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And then the highlight of the day for us – the European Bison. These huge bison, also called the Wisent, are the largest and one of the rarest land mammals in Europe. The bison once roamed in millions, from Spain all the way to the Ural Mountains and the Caucasus, and as far north as Sweden. They had an important role in the formation of the prehistoric European broad-leaved and forested steppe ecosystems. However, by the end of the 19th century, there were only two populations of European bison left in the wild: in Bialowieza Forest (B.b bonasus) and in the West-Caucasus Mountains (B.b.caucasicus). The last European bison in Bialowieza forest died in 1919 and the last bison in the wild in Europe died in the Caucasus in 1927.
They are now being introduced back into the wild through the Rewilding Europe Programme.The wildlife park has three bison bulls that are part of the Rewilding project. Incidentally these guys came from Fota Island Wildlife Park‎ near Cork in Ireland. I have to say we had met one of the keepers during the otter feeding, and after a wonderfully informative conversation with him (Jason), we met again at the bison/red deer pen and he really added to the whole experience. Huge thanks!!!!

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In the same enclosure as the bison are the Red Deer.

European Bison and Red Deer.I have always loved this regal animal. They truly are the Monarch of the Glen…….. or in this case the Monarch of the Park. The Red Deer are the largest land animal in the UK. They are social animals living in male or female groups coming together for breeding during the annual rut. A stag can weigh between 160 – 240kg and the hind weighs around 120 to 170kg.
The male’s magnificent antlers grow in spring each year only to be shed during the following winter. Apparently you can put an age on the stag by counting the points on an antler.

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I have to say the Red Deer and European Bison were the highlight of our visits, but there was much more to see. Among this were wallabies, wild cats, lynx, wild cats and wolves on sight, but the park has many more animals to see – but seeing them depends on the time of the day/year you visit. When you go to a wildlife park like this, you always have to remember that animals don’t appear on demand…….. they are naturally scared of people – even if they are in a wildlife park. A full list of the animals on the site can be found on the Park website.
Here are a few of the photos of the other animals we saw.

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If you happen to find yourself anywhere near the New Forest, The Wildlife Park is well worth a visit. And for the kids it has probably the best adventure playground I have ever seen! The park is not a charity and depends on the entrance fees for day to day running. Money well spent! And if you fancy it, you can adopt an animal and help with the upkeep of your chosen animal for six months or a year!! Now that would be a great present to the other half………………


New Forest and Pony Drifts

During a recent trip to England we stopped off in The New Forest on the south coast of England. It was originally developed as a hunting forest by William I in about 1079, and remains as one of the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and forest in the south east of England.

New Forest Heath.I love autumn; and autumn in the New Forest is a wonderful sight. The gorse, trees, bushes and bracken are changing colours.

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As you drive around the forest, there are animals everywhere. During the autumn the pigs are allowed  to forage. The green immature acorns are not suitable for the ponies and cattle to eat, but the pigs love them. This tradition of grazing pigs in the forest is known as ‘pannage’.

Domestic pigs grazing in the New Forest.There are also cattle, donkeys and wild deer to be seen. Some of the animals wear reflective collars to make them more visible to road traffic in poor visibility. You can see them on the donkeys below.

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Perhaps the most well known inhabitants of the forest are the New Forest Ponies, one of the native British breeds. These ponies can grow up to 14.2hh (148cms) and there is no lower height limit. New Forest ponies can be any colour except piebald, skewbald, spotted or blue-eyed cream. The most common colours are bay and chestnut. A combination of colour and ‘markings’, such as the owner’s brand, make each pony easily recognisable, particularly to the practised eye. For the everyday visitor you can rest assured  that the ponies you see on the forest are pure New Forest breeds.

Ponies on the New Forest Heath. Ponies on the New Forest Heath.The animals have right of way on the roads; you often find them in the road and you just have to wait for them to move out of the way.

Traffic jam in the New Forest. Traffic jam in the New Forest.To keep the forest-bred stock healthy, stallions are moved every three to four years. The stallions are let out onto the forest between April and July to breed with the mares. The Verderers decide which registered stallions are allowed on to the forest to breed. In-foal mares and mares with foals at foot are a common sight throughout the year.

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Round ups of the ponies take place throughout the year and are known as ‘drifts’. These round ups are used as a form of stock management; to check the health of the ponies,to allow owners to remove young colts (breed management) and identify any stock that needs to be sold on. Sales for the Forest are held at the Beaulieu Road Sales Yard.

Beaulieu Road Sale Yard.Details of forthcoming sales are also posted here. We managed to arrive between the September and October sales.

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The sale yard is an open air complex of pens that connect to the main sales ring. It must be quite an impressive sight when the pens are full and the auctioneer is in full flow!

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Hrafnslith and the ATC

Sunset over the viking longhouse at the ATCWe spent a lovely weekend at the end of September with our viking friends (old and new) at a training weekend at the Ancient Technology Centre (ATC) in Cranbourne, Dorset. The weekend was organised by Hrafnslith; remember them from the event at the beginning of the summer at Corfe Castle?

Sunset over the viking longhouse at the ATCThe ATC is a great spot. It began over 25 years ago as a school project.  Jake Keen, a teacher working at Cranborne Middle School, designed and led the building of an Iron Age roundhouse based on archaeological evidence. Uniquely, Jake’s ethos demanded the construction and material gathering to be undertaken by school children.

There are a variety of buildings there, including the iron age roundhouse, viking longhouses, and roman style buildings.

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From the outside, the roundhouse looks like a hobbit house; a mound of earth with doors that seem to lead into the hill. But when inside, it’s a circular tiered area around a firepit that becomes the social centre for the evenings. Many a tall tale was told saga style in the evening.

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The longhouse provided a sleeping option. There are raised platforms here along the walls, and the fire in the centre of the house ensured that there was some warmth from the cold autumn nights. There are even runic carvings on the sleeping platforms.

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The outside walls of the longhouse have some wonderful mouldings.

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The roman house also has a garden outside.

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And there are even pigs and sheep. The pigs are very friendly ladies, and have their own enclosure. The sheep roam free……. and they go everywhere! I caught one of them trying to get into our van!!

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Hrafnslith provide viking based shows for the ATC during the season, and in return the ATC allow them to host training weekends for their group and other viking groups. It’s a chance to get some sword/spear/axe practice in and also catch up with a few friends! So here are a few photos of the lads and lasses having fun……….

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Buddleia and Butterflies.

When I was growing up, there was a bush that grew below my bedroom window. I had no idea about proper botanical names; in our garden many of the plants where called by the town they came from, the person that gave it to us or what it was used for.
Anyway, this bush was known in our house (and in many others) as the butterfly bush. I since discovered that it’s called Buddleia Davidii.

Buddleia - Menai Straits in the backgroundIn some areas Buddleia is considered an invasive plant. It often self-sows on waste ground or old masonry, where it grows into a dense thicket. It is frequently seen beside railway lines, on derelict sites and, in the aftermath of World War II, on urban bomb sites. This earned it the popular nickname of ‘the bombsite plant’ among the war-time generation.

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When we were coming back through Wales we stopped in Caernarvon for a couple of nights. To get to the town itself, we walked along the Lon Eifion pathway which runs alongside the Menai Straits. There were loads of Buddleia along the path, and true to the bush’s name, there were loads of butterflies.

It took me a few goes to photo some of these guys, but I spotted at least four different types. I have to admit that we had to go and buy a Butterfly book so we could check the names of these, so if we have called then incorrectly please let me know. We did have a rather pleasant afternoon in a pub in Caernarvon reading the book though………

There was a Large Tortoiseshell butterfly that stopped to feed.

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Another that I spotted was a Red Admiral.

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There was a Large White Butterfly as well.

Large White on Buddleia flowersAnd the one that really caught my eye was the Peacock Butterfly. He was pretty hard to photo as he kept flying off as I pressed the button! I loved the eyes on the wings.

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I have to say it was so peaceful there watching them feed; another escape from the maddening crowd.

When I got home I discovered that my own Buddleias had flowered as well. However I was in for a surprise though. One of them flowered yellow! After a bit of investigating I discovered that it is  hybrid variety called Buddleia x Weyeriana or Golden Glow. The bees  in our garden seem to really like it.

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Swimming with the Horses.

Just back from another wonderful week at Moesgard Viking Market near Arhus in Denmark.

The weather was wonderful; glorious sunshine for the week. So the horse girls took the Icelandic Horses for a swim to cool down and relax, and asked me along.
It was great. We walked through the forests to get to a beach that the horses were permitted on, and in they went.

Some of the horses just decided they were seahorses……

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And some were a bit more hesitant….

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Before long they had all dipped their hooves into the water. I can’t explain how much fun this was, so I hope the photos give some idea of the fun we had!

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And after there was the obligatory roll in the sand………

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Stinging Nettles.

Stinging nettles; I have spent years pulling these out of my garden, and now I find I have a little patch of ground saved where I grow them for plant dyes. Strange how things work out!

NettlesNettles are a common weed, found in moist areas in Europe, Asia and North America. The plants  are perennial, and can grow up to four feet in height. The leaves and stems are very hairy, and are covered in both stinging and non-stinging hairs. The stinging hairs break off in the skin when touched, and inject a variety of chemicals into the skin which cause a painful reaction. Traditionally the sap from a dock leaf will ease the pain form a nettle sting.

‘Dock in, Nettle out,
Dock rub nettle out’

Nettle can be used to make a soup. It also can be used as a plant fertiliser.
But for me, nettle leaves make a lovely green dye. With  an iron mordant, the dye supposedly  turns black; copper produces a lovely grey-green (like for camouflage), and the roots can be boiled with alum for a nice yellow dye.

I had run out of green wool, so I decided that I’d use the nettle in the garden to make some dye up. I gathered 900g of nettles. I tried to use mainly the leaves and non-woody stems. One tip here; wear long sleeves and gloves. They sting like crazy, and the stinging sensation seems to remain, even after using dock leaves!

I chopped the nettles up quite so they fitted better into the pot, added rainwater, and left to soak for several days.

NettlesTo help break down the plant fibres, and to extract more dye, I simmered the pot each day for about 20 minutes. I drained the dye from the pot and re-covered the nettles ( I was trying to get as much dye from the crop as possible). This new batch of nettle dye-stuff I left for another day and then I drained that dye into the original batch.

As usual I had mordanted my wool with alum. I added 200g of the mordanted wool to the pot. This was a ratio of 4:1. dye stuff to wool.

Nettles added to dye potIt appeared to turn a yellow/green colour. To be honest, it didn’t look very promising. Anyway I brought the pot to the boil and simmered it for an hour. The resultant wool was green/yellow in appearance.

Nettle with Alum MordantIt was actually a pretty nice colour, but I wanted a green; full on, in your face green! So I added two teaspoons copper sulphate to the dye bath. And got……….

Nettle with Alum and Copper Mordant - 1st dye bathGreen!!!! Lovely colour, just what I wanted, and very like the colour from last year. And just to use the last of the dye bath, I added another 200g of alum mordanted wool and a teaspoon of copper to the bath. This is the result from that bath.

Nettle with Alum and Copper Mordant - 2nd dye bathThis wool is more of a brown/green, and again is like the colours from the dye last year.

Have fun with the nettles; just be careful of the stings!

Garden Delights

For years I loved gardening. I was really into the whole planting thing, and then watching the plants as they grew and flowered. I guess I got the bug from my mum; she always loved to potter round the garden at home. She was almost the most expert ‘slipper’ of plants; the smallest twig taken from a plant would become a focal part of her garden. Those plants weren’t known by any botanical names, but rather were known as the places they camme from. The one that sticks most in my mind was the Bundoran bush (it was a Hebe!). I followed her almost puppy like. Mind you, as a child I hated the weeding, but as I grew older I came to realise that it was all part and parcel of growing plants and maintaining your garden.

I became adapt at slipping the plants in my mums garden and growing them on. When I bought my own home, these plants became the start of my own garden; the cottage roses and shrubs. And I loved it; my own patch of earth to grow my own shrubs and flowers.

But somewhere along the line I lost it. The garden changed from a refuge from the stresses of the world and became a chore. I could see it happening to me, but for some reason I felt unable to tackle the smallest task. My beautiful garden became a semi wilderness.

Somehow this year something has changed. Perhaps it’s the beautiful summer weather we have had for the past few weeks. Perhaps it was the natural dyes I had started to make in the last couple of years as part of the viking re-enactment, and the curiosity of what I could use to create plane dyes. Spring came late, but when it arrived it seemed to breathe new life into me and my garden.

I went to a garden centre; once a place I would spend hours wandering around, and spent quite a lot of cash on bedding plants and seeds.

I came home and planted them. It felt so good!

That was over a month ago. As the days passed I watched the seedlings struggle up from the earth, and the bedding plants open their faces to the sun. And finally they bloomed.Not all at once; one by one they looked to the sun and smiled at me. And I felt like I had come home again.

So tonight, after drenching them with water to ease their thirst, I took my camera for a walk among their smiling colourful faces. Some of them have been with me for years, like the beautiful cottage garden rose I inherited as a slip from my mum. Others are new like the marigolds and pansies.
And I would like to share them with you. I hope they bring you as much joy from their pictures that they have brought me.

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