Winter’s Decorations

Dried-up fern makes curly patterns

The bright city lights have little appeal for me this year. Nature leaves out decorations for those who look – and the human imagination has all the tools needed to play along.

A dried-up fern provides row after row of Christmas trees, viewed one way; party streamers or garlands of tinsel, another.  I could contend that the plant had just taken a deep breath and puffed out a whole load of party blowers, captured here at peak toot, but you don’t need me to labour the point.

I’ll just share one more picture, with your blessing…
Continue reading “Winter’s Decorations”

Bramble or Blackberry: Would a Fruit by Any Name Taste as Sweet?

Bramble leaves can turn red in autumn

If you want to know the difference between a bramble and a blackberry, you’ll find various definitions online:

  • A bramble is a blackberry and vice versa.
  • Blackberry is the fruit and bramble the bush.
  • Bramble is wild (Rubus vulgaris) and blackberry (Rubus fruiticosus) is cultivated.
  • Bramble is the northern name and blackberry the southern.
  • A bramble is any rough, tangled, prickly shrub, usually in the genus Rubus.
  • Some people combine the two to specify the type of fruit: blackberry bramble, raspberry bramble, loganberry bramble.

Continue reading “Bramble or Blackberry: Would a Fruit by Any Name Taste as Sweet?”

Two Types of Fly Agaric Toadstools

Brown Amanita toadstool (Brown fly agaric)
Brown fly agaric toadstool

I’ve been wistfully liking other bloggers’ pictures of the type of toadstool you see in fairy tale illustrations (orangey-red fly agarics with white spots) while wishing my woodland searches had uncovered one.

The woods are rich in fungi: pale, greyish, beige, brown, pinkish, purplish and black ones growing singly, clustered in their hundreds along fallen logs or running the whole height of dying trees. I’d seen alarmingly slimy ones, shiny ones, pert ones, shelf types, toadstools like pontefract cakes and a lot that looked like small potatoes but any flashes of orange or red had turned out to be berries cast down from trees.

At one point I discovered the brown form of fly agaric toadstool pictured above. You can’t take my word for this as I am no expert, but I suspect it may be the deadly poisonous Amanita pantherina, the panther cap or false blusher. Another possibility is the similar-looking blusher, Amanita rubescens, named because the white flesh turns pink where bruised. An interesting find, but not half as exciting to me as seeing a red one. Continue reading “Two Types of Fly Agaric Toadstools”

Manx Loaghtan Rare Breed Sheep at Cregneash, Isle of Man

Manx Loaghtan sheep grazing on a croft preserved at Cregneash village
The crofting way of life: Manx Loaghtan sheep grazing

The Isle of Man seems to live in more than one dimension of time: history and mythology naturally co-exist with everyday life. This is an island, you may remember, protected from its enemies by a magical mist where bus announcements reference the local fairies.

Cregneash living croft  is one of many sites that raise awareness of their proudly independent national heritage. It’s home for some of the island’s special breeds of animals, such as tailless Manx cats.

At first glance, visitors might overlook the small, hardy, naturally short-tailed Manx Loaghtan sheep farmed there.

Manx Loaghtan with tall horns
This small, hardy breed of sheep has long legs and up to six horns

Until they raise their heads, that is, and those heavy horns are on display. While four horns are the norm, some Loaghtans have two or six. Loaghtan is an adaption of the Manx lugh dhoan (mouse brown) in celebration of their soft, hard-wearing, brown wool. The upper layers lighten in the sun, but near their bodies it is darker, like their legs and faces.

Manx Loaghtan sheep with four horns
Rams have bigger horns than ewes

I recently read Tamed: Ten Species That Changed Our World by Alice Roberts. She points out that in our dealings with plants and animals, as in so many aspects of life, our goal is efficiency. We chase the fastest way to more.

We’ve narrowly focused on a few varieties of fruit, animals and birds, selecting the most amenable to satisfying our needs, then have multiplied them to millions or billions. It’s a dangerous way to go.

Manx Loaghtan ram with four horns

We’re belatedly starting to realise that diversity is not just a feel-good catchphrase. Some farmers cottoned on early and have been determined to keep our rare breeds of pigs, sheep, cattle, poultry and horses going, despite the pressure mass farming brings.

While the small, long-legged Loaghtans lived on the Isle of Man’s misty uplands for a thousand years, at one point in the 1950s only 43 survived. Since then, enthusiasts have increased their numbers until they are merely ‘at risk’, with around 1,500 breeding females.

You can find out more about the work of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust here. Even if you have no interest in conservation, there are some animals that will raise a smile, such as sheep with ears like rabbits or coats like Dougal from The Magic Roundabout or with names like Whitefaced Woodland, Castlemilk Moorit and Lonk.

Sheep with four horns and brown faces on the Isle of Man
Manx Loaghtan have brown faces and soft, highly prized wool

But the trust is unable to report all good news. Some of our most magnificent and iconic horses are in danger.  A post explains that ‘just 240 Shire, 199 Clydesdale and 25 Suffolk pedigree foals were registered last year’, which seems to have been 2017.

I try to educate myself about the way we are heading, but that shocked me. I thought back to the few times I’ve been in the gentle presence of a shire horse, marvelling at its high, nodding head and the feathering on its feet – fleeting moments that thrill and calm at the same time.

Four years on, are we headed in the right direction, I wonder?

Shared for PastSquares