"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Sunday, 26 April 2015

A Trip to Oxford and a Talk on Bees and Pesticides

I'd been invited to a talk on bees and pesticides last Friday evening in Oxford and D and I decided to drive down in the afternoon so we could have a walk and look at some of the colleges and buildings beforehand.

I managed to park the car in Parks Road outside Wadham College. Impossible to get a photo of anything in Oxford without including people and/or bikes!

Museum of History and Science

The Sheldonian Theatre - built from 1664 to 1668 after a design by Sir Christopher Wren and the official Ceremony Hall of the University of Oxford. A Grade 1 listed building.

I rather liked this owl mask in one of the Shops.

While David was looking round a newsagents I spotted this churchyard opposite full of wildflowers - a wonderful sight in a city centre. The church is Saint Mary Magdalen. Would have liked to go in and explore but I was supposed to be waiting outside the shop and had he come out and wandered off I would never have found him (he's one of the few twenty somethings in this country who does not possess a mobile phone!)

Dandelions in flower behind the railings.

I think this might be corydalis finding a foothold in a wall.

Magnolia flowers

No chance of exploring the churchyard when D re-appeared as I'd promised him we'd go and have a look at Radcliffe Square

Hertford Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Sighs, connecting two parts of Hertford College over New College Lane.

Radcliffe Square is the historic heart of University of Oxford. Created by the University authorities, after they had demolished medieval houses in the 1730's, to make a University forum. The Square is dominated by the central Radcliffe Camera (constructed 1737-1748). Its a classical building - "camera" means "room" in Italian. The square was the idea of Architect Nicholas Hawksmoor but the project only took off after the death of a Dr John Radcliffe in 1714. He had studied at University College and became a doctor to the wealthy including King William III, Queen Mary and Queen Anne. He donated £40,000 towards the building of a library in the centre of the square and another £100 per year towards the purchase of books. Hawksmoor provided designs but died before completion and the project was taken over by the Italian trained James Gibbs who is most famous for St Martins-in-the-Field, London.

St Mary the Virgin - I so wish we had had time to look round this church.

Academic meetings and ceremonies were held in the church from around 1200 onwards. All Souls College once bought a cherry orchard which had belonged to the Parish of St Mary the Virgin and once a year the congregation mark the boundaries of their parish by "beating the bounds" i.e. they draw chalk marks on the boundary and then hit them with sticks. After partaking of this activity for a whole morning they are rewarded with cherry cake in remembrance of the orchard! Fascinating place Oxford!

This is Brasenose College built 1509 to 1518. It gets its name from a "brazen-nosed" bronze door knocker which once hung on its gate. Former students include Michael Palin, David Cameron and highwayman John Clavell! I shall refrain from further comment!!!!

The Bodleian Library was built 1509-18 - a few photos of the Quadrangle - Sorry some of the photos in this post are not good. For some reason the automatic focusing on the camera was really playing up. Am just hoping it rights itself and I don't have to send it off for repair!

This would be a good way to see Oxford.

Time to move the car - I was lucky enough to get a space just opposite the bookshop where the talk was being held. We had a meal in the White Horse just visible in the photo to the left of Blackwells. Great pub and atmosphere, excellent service and food - highly recommended :) - good value too :)

Then off to attend the talk arranged by Pale Blue Dot. The talk was being given by Professor Dave Goulson on his research into the impacts of pesticides (Neonicotinoids in particular) on the UK Countryside and our systems of food production. I am sure many of you know of Dave Goulson who is a Professor of Biology specialising in the ecology and conservation of bumble bees. He founded the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust and has also written several rather good books.

The talk and presentation were excellent and exceedingly interesting.

I won't go into too much detail as I am likely to go into rant mode over the use of neonics but research has shown that these pesticides are linked to a decline in honey bees and affect the foraging behaviour and efficiency of bumble bees. It really does make me wonder if we have learnt anything at all since Rachel Carson wrote "Silent Spring".

Neonicotinoids can accummulate in the soil where they last for years and spread via ground and surface water (and in dust spread during seed drilling) to rivers, streams and ponds and even into wild plants growing in agricultural field margins and hedgerows. Evidence is gathering that although there are many reasons for the decline in birds, butterflies, moths, fish and small mammals, neonics could also be a contributory factor. Just one maize seed is coated with enough neonic to kill a small bird and seeds are obviously spilled during the sowing operation.

Scientific research in the US and Canada has revealed that plants in some garden centres contain neonics. It is absolutely horrifying to think that the insect-friendly plant you have bought from a nursery to try and help pollinators may actually have the opposite effect. I really must do some research into the latter point and how we stand in the UK on labelling plants and seeds.

We are currently just over half way through an EU-wide 2 year moratorium on the use of 3 neonics on crops considered to be attractive to bees such as oil seed rape, maize and sunflowers. The UK Government is abiding by the ban even though it rejected the science behind it!!It makes you wonder if the Government and DEFRA have even heard of the Precautionary Principle. It all sounds rather familiar, in my view, to their attitude to and interpretation of scientific research when they went ahead with their inhumane, unscientific and unnecessary badger culls.

On a lighter note and before I start to ramble on all night I bought Dave Goulson's latest book which

I was able to get signed!! So looking forward to reading this. "A Sting in the Tale", his last book was just superb and highly recommended.

Finally, sorry another long post!! a few photos D took with the Canon Bridge Camera - partly because his composition is better than mine and also because the Canon deals with grey skies in a much better way than my Olympus. The zoom came in handy again too :)

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Calke Abbey and a Rather Splendid Auricula Theatre

I had a day out today with a friend to celebrate (belatedly) her birthday and we decided to visit Calke Abbey in Derbyshire

The National Trust calls it "the unstately home and country estate". Its unrestored stables, abandoned areas, peeling paint and overgrown courtyards tells a story of a period in the twentieth century when many country houses declined and did not survive.

There were lots of wild flowers on the winding path that leads to the house -


Ground Ivy

Cowslips and Dandelions carpeted grass all over the parkland

Lesser Celandines

Blossom in woodland on the way to the Walled Gardens.

The Walled Gardens were built in 1773 and played an important part in the domestic economy of the household. They were expected to provide the house with cut flowers, fruit, vegetables, herbs and honey from bees.

The scent from the wallflowers hit you as you entered the flower garden.

The North-west corner holds an alcove with tiered shelving to display Auriculas and other potted plants. This was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit the gardens today as I just love Auriculas. It may be the last surviving Auricula Theatre in Britain.

Wisteria was coming into leaf.

Fernery in a Greenhouse

Does anyone have any idea of the names of these climbers? - the first one was particularly lovely and smelt delicious - it was attracting quite a few bees!

Last year this bed was full of dahlias - but the notice explains why they are only growing potatoes in this bed for the time being.

Through to the kitchen garden where

beds are being prepared and seeds sewn.

Cerinthe Major - I once had one of these at home - a plant bees just adore

Grape Hyacinths and Snowflakes

Ivy Leafed Toadflax growing in one of the garden walls.

A lovely display of violas in pots on some old steps.

We sat for a while in the orchard just watching bees and butterflies (mainly Orange Tip) and my first Swallows of the year skimming over the trees.

Some of the parkland on our return to the house

and a horsey poster in the stable yard.

You could spend days exploring Calke and its grounds. The house was once home to an eccentric family who stuffed the house full of treasures, there is a church, ice house, grotto, Lime Avenue and Deer Shelter.

Calke Park itself is a wonderful place for wildlife. Its a Site of Special Scientific Interest and was made a National Nature Reserve because of the high quality wood pasture a rare habitat in Europe. There are many ancient trees, many 400 years old, several 700 years old and a few which are believed to be over 1000 years old. The park has a good bird population and is important for fungi and bats. 9 species of bat are found here including the Serotine bat which is rare in the area. Over 350 species of beetle have been recorded and its the tenth best site in Britain for invertebrates. So all in all a great place to visit :)

Thanks J for sharing a really lovely afternoon out.

Its been hectic here this week and I haven't had much chance to look at Blogger. I'm in Oxford tomorrow for a talk on bees (I shall wear my bee socks!) but hopefully I'll catch up on your lovely blogs over the weekend and early next week.