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We work in an old building at Lancaster University.  One of the other teams that work in our building are the Cumbria and Lancashire Online Education team. They set up a webcam inside a bird’s nesting box earlier in the year and now a couple of blue tits have taken residence and are busy feeding their 5 chicks.  The BBC have reported on it and you can see the amazing live images from the link here. Thanks Kev for the information.

Back in May last year, I posted an item on the proposed Encyclopedia of Life.  I was interested to hear that the first 30,000 species were to be launched yesterday.  Unfortuately, the servers hosting the site couldn’t cope and it was down on the first day.  The entries are all written by scientists but it will eventually take contributions from the public – like wikipedia.  So despite my efforts I still haven’t managed to see the site as it is still down though most reports say this is a temporary problem – see if you are more successful than I have been www.eol.org.

There is a report on the BBC website today on the effect of the film Miss Potter starring Renee Zellweger on tourists numbers.  Apparently visitors to the ‘World of Beatrix Potter’ were up by 35% and Mountain Goat tours had a 40% increase in taking their tours.

At the risk of sounding like an old cynic this is just depressing to me.  The numbers of visitors are now so great that paths down the fells are more like 6 lane motorways and some of the once beautiful villages are more like a Peter Rabbit theme park.  If anyone can remember the Lake District of 30 years ago, the place is now a cartoon of itself.  I know this isn’t particularly inclusive but I for one agree with Mr McGregor, Peter Rabbit should have gone into the pie!

A great story was reported in New Scientist yesterday about crocodiles swimming long distances. They are normally seen basking on river banks and only showing short bursts of energy as they lurch into the water to grab some unfortunate for dinner. However, in 2004 the University of Queensland, with the help of the late Steve Irwin captured 3 large saltwater crocs from the coastal areas. They were then transported by helicopter 56, 99 or 126 Km away and after being fitted with a satellite tracking device, released. They all behaved in much the same way, exploring their new habitats for a few weeks, then having looked around, decided that there was no place like home. They took between 5 and 20 days to swim back to where they had been initially captured. Even the scientists were astonished that they were able to swim for days at a time. How they navigated is also a mystery. The policy of rehoming ‘rogue crocs’ is now being revised.

I’ve just come across this blog – and it made me laugh out loud.

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It’s been a busy week so I haven’t been able to post much but this caught my eye. A report in Scientific American claims that a farmer in Washington State in the US was bitten by a snake despite having hacked its head off with a shovel. Danny Anderson thought he had the whole situation under control when a snake slithered onto his farm and he de-capitated it. The severed head then ‘did a back flip’ and bit his finger causing him to go to the Emergency Room as the venom made his tongue swell. Not as hideous as headless eels doing stuff independently but pretty weird. Apparently, a viper’s severed head is dangerous for up to 20 to 60 minutes after decapitation.

I was dismayed to hear that Foot and Mouth has been detected on a farm in Surrey. Lets just hope the authorities do something quickly about it. I was living in Cumbria in 2001 when there was the last outbreak. We lived near to the small town of Longtown where the infected sheep had been sent to market.

The Ministry of Agriculture as it was then couldn’t cope and there were rotting carcasses lying bloated in fields. These were replaced by huge pyres of burning animals.

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At one point we could see 6 seperate fires from our house and I never want to experience that smell ever again. They soon realised that burning was a very inefficient way of dealing with the carcasses and then brought in the Army to help dispose of the vast numbers being slaughtered on a daily basis. Lets hope things don’t get so bad in Surrey.

It seems that the plastic ducks that fell into the Pacific ocean about 15 years ago are to eventually land on our shores.  I first heard about these ducks (and beavers, turtles and frogs) a few years ago.  They began life in a Chinese factory and were being shipped to the United States in 1992 when the containers they were in fell into the sea during a storm.  Two thirds of them floated south towards Indonesia, Australia and South America but about 10,000 headed north.  An American oceanographer Curtis Ebesmeyer has been charting their progress.  Some of the ducks, known as Friendly Floatees, are expected to reach Britain after a journey of nearly 17,000 miles, having crossed the Arctic Ocean frozen into pack ice, bobbed the length of Greenland and been carried down the eastern seaboard of the United States.

They are now completely white having been bleached by the sun and seawater and they fetch a reward of £50 from the American distributors.  Any lucky beachcomber though, would be better off just selling them – they are currently changing hands at £500 each.

What started as a freak accident has offered the opportunity for studying climate change, ocean currents and carbon cycle.

The post of Appleby Horse Fair has been one of the most popular I’ve done, well apart from the pitta bread one so I thought I’d find some pictures. It finishes today but some horse drawn caravans are already on the road. The BBC Cumbria website has over 50 pictures of the fun and games in the water but I’ve pinched a few which I thought were rather special.

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Look at these two little chaps, one with his Mum and one holding her lead rope.

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Two of them enjoying a swim in the river. Yes the horses do swim and enjoy it too. Well if they didn’t you couldn’t make them do it.

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The caravans are really quite magnificent, if rather small, no wonder most of the families have extra large conventional caravans also to take all the extra stuff.

At this time of year we have numerous horse drawn caravans and their supporting vehicles camped on our village green. From late April till June they make their way slowly to Appleby In Westmoreland (yes it is always referred to as Westmoreland even though it’s been part of Cumbria since 1974) for the annual Horse Fair. The Fair has existed since 1685 when King James II granted a charter permitting a fair ‘near the river Eden’. At one point last week there were 15 horses tethered on and around the green. Driving at this time of year is also hazardous as you suddenly hit a long stream of traffic going at 2 miles an hour as they try to pass one of these caravans. The owners do not sit and drive them but tend to lead the horses that are pulling them – it’s a long way to walk to Cumbria. It doesn’t always end in a good time though as the following picture from the Cumberland News shows.

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They look lovely but they tend not to be solo, as I said they have their support vehicles which can include horse boxes, large vans, cars and of course ordinary caravans. These aren’t allowed to camp on the green but they do pull up by the side of the road. It isn’t for long and they do look picturesque. It seems in most cases to be a whole family occasion and one yesterday not only had the dogs with them but a large African Grey Parrot in a splendid ornate cage! Whether these are ‘real gypsies’ or Irish travellers, doesn’t really matter, they all seem to be having a great time – I think it’s a sort of annual holiday. All along the A65 will be caravans and horses tethered – and the Fair at Appleby is a sight to be seen, hundreds of horses are bought and sold, trotting races along the roads and horses swimming in the river.

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