Wednesday 30 March 2011

Feature on chef Tom Kitchen shows why 'The Woman Who Ate a Cow' will be firmly on-trend

Full Story - The Herald

Pale Barnacle Goose

This bird was feeding in a field just south of Bowmore yesterday - the poles and red-and-white tape are meant to scare the geese off the field and stop them feeding there!The goose lacks a lot, but not all, of its black pigment, melanin, and is therefore called 'leucistic' as opposed to 'albino' in which there would be no black at all, even on the bill and legs. Barnacle Geese lacking some black pigment have turned up before on Islay, but I've never seen one which was as white as this one. Such plumage variations are usually carried on a recessive gene and it requires both parents to carry it in order that one or more of the young also show the variation. Obviously in a population of 60,000-70,000, the chances of a male and a female, each with the same gene, pairing and breeding are quite small, hence its rarity. The fact that such a conspicuous bird has not been seen earlier this winter suggests it is a fairly recent arrival, perhaps having come from Ireland as we know that some geese do move here before the proper migration to Iceland next month.
The photograph is as good as I could manage on a cloudy day and at some distance. Someone may get a better one if it stays around.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Another gatepost ...........

.............. not mine this time! Martin Armstrong sent me this photo of a splendid gatepost near Loch Ballygrant. I love its Marge Simpson mossy hair do! Thanks Martin!


Monday 28 March 2011

'Splendours of the Serengeti' - Peter Roberts at the Centre tomorrow evening

Female Impala

Please vote for Vanessa's idea...

Islay High School teacher Vanessa Fuery has entered an idea to win some books for her class - and needs our votes.  Please simply follow the link below and vote by commenting...  We suggest voting for Idea 6....!

Orange sunrise

Loch Indaal was a sort of violet orange this morning.

Sunday 27 March 2011

Am Boireannach a Dh'ith Bò (The Woman Who Ate A Cow)

 Shorefield Project to appear on TV....
The Caledonia TV director Les Wilson is pictured at Octomore Farm above Port Charlotte checking out some candidates to star in his new TV programme for BBC Alba.  The production will feature one of the bullocks from the Shorefield Project.
Heather Dewar

A documentary about how to cook and eat an entire cow is Caledonia's latest commission for BBC ALBA. 'Am Boireannach a Dh'ith Bò' (The Woman Who Ate A Cow) will feature Islay born artist and cook, Heather Dewar, as she reveals how previous generations ate animals from head to tail, never wasting a scrap of meat. Today, only half the meat from a carcass ends up on the supermarket counter - but not so long ago meals made of offal were welcomed by hungry families. The programme will follow Heather as she selects and buys a Highland bull, sees it slaughtered and butchered, and cooks all the parts that modern diners turn their noses up at.

A Jurach joins the Shorefield Project

This rather magnificent bullock from Jura has arrived at Octomore.  He will join the Shorefield project at some point...

Hebridean sheep

Hebridean sheep feeding on cattle nuts on Lorgba croft above Port Charlotte yesterday.

Saturday 26 March 2011

Ground Beetle - Carabus granulatus?

This lively chap(ette?) was at Lorgba this morning.  Approx 30mm long.


These photographed this morning looking east from Bruichladdich are for Becky to identify!

Friday 25 March 2011

Wednesday 23 March 2011

A juvenile Oryctolagus cuniculus. Or cute baby bunny rabbit.

This is one of a litter of 4 very young baby rabbits (kits?) that my dog found earlier today at Aoradh. At least I think they are rabbits, there has been some debate. These were completely blind and in a small straw and fur nest in a very shallow scrape in a recently ploughed field. My slightly less than top-quality field guide to the animals of Britain says that kits are blind for the first week and leave the nest after 3 weeks. You learn something every day.



This is the vernacular name of this seaweed (Halidrys siliquosa) which was washed up on the Strand today. At least I am fairly sure it is this species - seaweed identification is not always easy!

Tuesday 22 March 2011

New guide for farmers managing nature conservation sites

Farmers managing protected nature conservation areas can now access a new online guide to their responsibilities and funding sources
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) produced the guide, entitled 'Farming, SSSIs and Natura sites', in collaboration with the National Farmers’ Union of Scotland (NFUS). It is now available on both the SNH and NFUS websites.
The guide is for farmers in Scotland who own, tenant or manage land that is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) or Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
It summarises the requirements of farmers in relation to protected areas as well as sources of funding for conservation management.
Stewart Pritchard, policy and advice manager with SNH, said: “Many farmers across Scotland are keenly involved and take pride in managing important nature conservation sites. It is important that they have access to the right information and that the right help is available to them to do this effectively. That is what this new guide is there for. We hope many farmers will find it useful in making them aware of the expectations associated with managing these sites. Equally it lets them know about funding that may be available to help cover the costs of any additional conservation management.”
The new guide is available here:

Argyll and Bute Council sign up for WWF's Earth Hour

Argyll and Bute Council has signed up for the World Wide Fund for Nature's (WWF) Earth Hour 2011, which takes place at 8.30pm on Saturday 26 March 2011.
Switching your lights off for Earth Hour shows your support for people and wildlife across the globe affected by climate change. Last year millions of people in 128 countries took part in Earth Hour, and WWF are aiming at making this year’s event even bigger.
The council has signed up, but is also asking local residents, schools, businesses and other organisations to do the same and register at to show their support for this cause.
Councillor Bruce Marshall, spokesperson for the environment, said: “It is great news that the council is supporting WWF’s Earth Hour 2011. Climate change affects people across the globe, and hopefully this will inspire people to think more about what they can do as individuals to help tackle climate change. I would encourage residents of Argyll and Bute to get involved by switching off their lights for Earth Hour, and by taking actions to reduce their own carbon footprints.”

For more information on how the council is promoting Earth Hour 2011, please visit

Progress for sea eagles in Scotland

Photo: James Deane
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) today confirmed it will work up a three-year
scheme to help sea eagles throughout their breeding range in Scotland.
The initiative will encourage farmers, crofters and others to further bolster
Scotland’s biodiversity and tourism benefits.
Following advice from a 10-member sea eagle management group, comprising key
stakeholders from land management and nature conservation bodies, SNH will
continue to support existing management agreements covering sea eagl
conservation and management measures.
Later this spring a series of local workshops will be held to explain the
detail of the new scheme which will become operational in late spring or early
summer. A particularly novel part of this will be the establishment of an
advisory panel to guide SNH on key priorities for action and distribute a
portion of the scheme budget.
Panel members will be drawn from the key stakeholder groups who contributed to
the design of the new management scheme.
Andrew Thin, the SNH chairman, said: “The local sea eagle management schemes
are recognised success stories. I am delighted to see progress towards a
national scheme which will provide help and support for those managing the land
which is so important to these birds.
"This is the product of hard work and determination by agency, conservation and
land management bodies, and will build on the success of earlier schemes. We
have real opportunities to strengthen Scotland’s place in Europe as a prime
destination for enjoying special birds of prey.”
The scheme looks to develop tourism initiatives benefiting from the many
visitors eager to see the birds in some of Europe’s finest landscapes.
Jonnie Hall, head of rural policy for NFU Scotland, said: "The aims and
measures of the new scheme clearly reflect the interdependence of conservation
and farming interests. The continuity that the new scheme should provide will
ensure that the efforts of active farmers and crofters will continue to underpin
Scotland's thriving sea eagle population and so reap a range of other rural
development benefits.
"The vital role that farming and crofting play in this conservation success
story cannot be ignored, and so the new scheme rightly recognises and rewards
appropriate management. NFU Scotland looks forward to playing its part in
rolling out the new scheme.”
And Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, added: “We warmly welcome the
announcement of progress in developing a scheme for farmers and crofters hosting
sea eagles. We are really pleased to have been involved in the development of
workable measures that help support the conservation and management of these
magnificent birds.
"The prize for us all is to reap the much wider benefits from tourism as a
result of the harmonious coexistence between the birds and land management
Dr Ron Macdonald, head of policy and advice in SNH and chairman of the sea
eagle management group, noted: “I am extremely pleased that we are moving
towards a forward-looking, national scheme which will benefit the sea eagles and
assist land managers, crofters, and those who wish to see them do well in
Scotland. We look forward to holding local workshops to explain the detail in
the months ahead.”
And Donald MacDonald of the Scottish Crofting Federation commented: “I am
pleased that a new and updated management scheme will become available, and our
federation is looking forward to helping deliver the work locally because both
active crofters and sea eagles will benefit.”
Sea eagles are being reintroduced to Scotland under the Species Action
Framework launched by the Environment Minister in 2007. The framework sets out a
strategic approach to conservation and management of 32 species in Scotland
including the sea eagle. A range of partners is involved in developing this
work and further information can be found at

Sea eagle nests in Scotland are mostly built in trees, but crags and cliffs are
also used in successive years or alternated with other sites in the territory.
Two or occasionally three eggs are laid in March though sometimes as late as
April with chicks fledging in late July or August. Breeding usually occurs from
four or five years. Territory establishment may be earlier.
Studies have examined the effects of sea eagles on lambs. The Food and
Environment Research Agency (FERA) report published in 2010 looked at the causes
of lamb mortality in the North West Highlands. This study monitored the activity
of predators and the well-being and mortality of lambs in an area where a
significant number of lambs had been lost in earlier years. The report found
little evidence of sea eagles killing lambs.
The sea eagle management scheme was developed by a group comprising SNH
(chair); Scottish Government; Forestry Commission Scotland; British Association
for Shooting and Conservation; Scottish Crofting Federation; National Farmers
Union for Scotland; RSPB Scotland; Scottish Wildlife Trust; Scottish Rural
Professional Business Association; and Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association. The
scheme will cost £80,000 a year over three years. Most of the funding will go
towards management agreements with farmers and crofters, and support for local
initiatives to promote the tourism benefits of sea eagles.
Scottish Natural Heritage is the Government’s adviser on all aspects of
nature and landscape across Scotland. SNH’s role is to help everyone
understand, value and enjoy Scotland’s nature now and in the future. For
further information on SNH, please visit our website at

Snakes on a plain

Saw my first adder of the year today, in the Glen Astle area. The adder was a young one, and probably a female according to my colleague Mary, who pointed out that I'd just trodden on its tail without noticing. It was quite warm this afternoon down at The Oa, but it's still the earliest I've seen an adder. The picture below is of a much larger specimen, taken by Gordon Yates last year down on the Rhinns. I'm glad I didn't step on this one...


First moth catch of the year

I've run the moth trap a few times this year but, until the night before last, with nil results. I've also commented in the past about the suitability or otherwise of the vernacular names of moths. This one is called the Clouded Drab. Seems about right to me!

Monday 21 March 2011

Please visit Islay Natural History Trust on Facebook

Perhaps you would like to leave something on our wall?

The Uiskentuie spit

As seen from the seaward end.
I've often wondered why 200-300 metres of shingle stays in place jutting out into bay. Is there a rock core which helps keep it in place?

Sunday 20 March 2011

Alien invasion!

Over on Jura a week ago to check on the very small (13 birds) Greenland White-fronted Goose flock north of Craighhouse, we found pairs of large Canada Geese in several places, including in the same field as the Whitefronts. Also present there were two pairs of Greylags. The latter have been steadily colonising Jura in recent years just as they have Islay. Canada Geese (introduced to Britain from North America in the 17th century and now widespread and numerous - over 200,000) have been breeding along the coast of mainland Argyll for several years (and on Colonsay), so perhaps it was only a matter of time before they crossed over to Jura. It was though a surprise to find them scattered from Ardfin to Knockrome as if there had been a small influx perhaps in the earlier hard weather. If they stay and breed, which seems very likely, it will only be a matter of time before they do the same on Islay and the farmers here will have to cope with a second resident goose which instead of migrating away in April stays to feed on the crops throughout the summer!

The photograph shows the Canadas and the Greylags in the foreground, while the five birds behind them are Greenland Whitefronts. The photograph isn't, I acknowledge, of top quality, but you should note the numerous small diagonal white streaks - it was snowing quite hard at the time!

Saturday 19 March 2011

Deer beach

On the shore on the Jura side of the Sound where they were browsing the seaweed.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Buzzard on Jura - James Deane

Another lovely raptor shot from James...

Spring really is on its way - oh, and another gatepost!

Fiona told me she saw Wheatear yesterday at Persabus and today's goose counting was wonderful with a pair of Golden Eagles soaring on the Oa and a pair of Peregrines sitting on one of the stacks at Lower Killeyan, Lapwings wheedling (is that a word?) and doing their thing on the high road, daffodils blowing ever so gently in the breeze . . . lots of Pied Wagtails about and I've seen lots of hares around recently. I love it here!

There were also a lot of gates on today's rounds, so I took the opportunity to photograph another of my favourites (it's usually open so I don't have to get out to open it, but it wasn't today). It's got delightful bits of moss growing on the top and in the centre.


Wednesday 16 March 2011

The GRAB Trust

The GRAB Trust

Next Talk - Peter Roberts on the Serengeti Ecosystem

The Trust is delighted to welcome back Peter Roberts for our next talk at the Centre - on 29th March 2011.  Peter tells us he will be: "illustrating how wonderful the place is - a large, easily understood ecosystem that still has all essential bits in place - all the big game including the centrepiece of the wildebeest migration, plus all the other big game animals.  There are lots of bright and wonderful birds and of course the "Cradle of Mankind" with the Olduvai Gorge and Leakey's early hominids."

Peter has visited Tanzania 25 times, including 21 trips to the Serengeti conducting wildlife safaris.  It promises to be a great evening...

The talk will be preceded by our AGM, (which we have traditionally kept as short as possible!).  This will include a concise overview of the year, and giving members an opportunity to raise any pertinent issues.  Looking forward to seeing you there.

Violet Ground Beetle (Carabus violaceus)

Nocturnal and flightless.  Eats most of the pests that gardeners would like eaten...

It's amazing what two days of sunshine produces...

The first Lesser celandine flower of the year at Lorgba.

Monday 14 March 2011

Barnacle geese


Up in the old distillery pond behind Port Charlotte
Developing nicely...

Late Daffodils

These wild daffodils (well, wild-ish, they came from Jura House Gardens and are planted at Lorgba but they are wild-type...) have finally struggled into bloom

The majority of our domestic daffodils are still some way off however...

Rat tailed maggot (Eristalis tenax)

Rat tailed maggot - found today up at the old distillery pond behind Port Charlotte.  Probably the larvae of the Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax).  It uses the long tail-like appendage as a breathing tube. 
An adult Drone fly

Atlas of the seas: a first for Scotland

Marine Atlas created for marine planners and schools across the country

An atlas of Scotland’s seas – with visual representation of its competing uses, productivity and health – has been compiled for the first time.
The Marine Atlas will inform key planning decisions in Scottish waters while providing everyone with an accessible and detailed insight into the geography and vast richness of Scotland’s seas. The Marine Atlas has been developed by a wide range of partners and provides an unparalleled level of analysis of a country’s marine environment.
This unique resource is being made freely available online so that anyone with an interest in the varied waters around Scotland’s shores can find out more. In addition, school packs have been developed, including two hard copies of the atlas for every secondary school, colourful posters and an accompanying DVD.
Launching the new resource aboard marine protection vessel MPV Hirta in Leith Harbour, Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Scotland’s seas are a precious resource that, as a nation, we must treasure. That’s why we have developed the Marine Atlas, a world-leading resource that draws together a vast array of information to enable an accurate picture to be built up of the complex interactions taking place, region by region, throughout Scottish waters.
“The Atlas explores the state of marine life and biodiversity; how competing pressures on an area have an impact; the economic contributions of fishing, marine energy, telecommunications and leisure activities; the effects of climate change; and the environmental legacy of Scotland’s industrial past.
“The uses of the Marine Atlas are as diverse as its contents. It will ensure that informed marine management decisions can be made by planners. It gives pupils a fantastic tool for growing their knowledge of ours seas and the rich contribution – environmental and economic – they make to Scotland. And as an easily accessed and free website, many people in this country and beyond can explore the wonders of Scotland’s seas.”
Renowned meteorologist, Heather Reid OBE, said: 'Scotland's Marine Atlas is an excellent new educational resource for use in the classroom. The Atlas will help young people develop a deeper understanding of the crucial role played by our seas and oceans in a wide range of environmental contexts, including climate change, renewables and biodiversity. I'm sure it will also inspire young people to find out more about marine science and conservation.”
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) worked with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) to contribute key information on the biodiversity of Scotland’s seas. Susan Davies, SNH director of policy and advice, said: “SNH and the JNCC welcome the publication of the Atlas of Scotland's Seas. It highlights the diversity and richness of the seas around Scotland and their importance at both the national and international levels. But crucially it also draws attention to the challenges that we face to keep them healthy.
“We look forward to continuing to work with government, other agencies and those who use the sea to develop marine planning and management measures that will make sure our remarkable biodiversity is looked after for future generations to enjoy.”
Professor David Paterson, Executive Chair of Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS), added: “The MASTS community was proud to help in the production of this excellent and novel Marine Atlas, the first governmental publication of its kind in Scotland. The Atlas amalgamates many sources of expert knowledge and presents the information in a straightforward way, outlining the status and recent challenges to marine systems.
“The Atlas will be an invaluable source of information for the public, commercial, governmental and private sectors and a valuable educational tool for the next generation of marine scientists and managers.”
James Curran, Director of Science and Strategy, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), said:
“Monitoring of our seas and pollution control has been very effective in reducing the discharge of damaging pollutants around our coastline. Our seas are now generally clean and healthy, an asset for all of us, but there are some areas where further reductions are needed and where our country’s industrial past has left a legacy of contaminated sediments.
“With such a beautiful marine environment it is really important we stay vigilant and continue to monitor for possible damage by any new contaminants. This Atlas gives us a baseline of the current state of our seas and SEPA looks forward to working with others to ensure our seas improve further, and remain healthy for generations to come.”
Scottish Marine Atlas

Sunday 13 March 2011

A short break in the clouds

Yesterday evening there was a short break in the rain and a little colour in the sky for the rooks to admire, but it soon closed in again and rained for most of the night.  It has also rained for most of today.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Has anyone seen any Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)?

I am perhaps being a little impatient expecting Lesser celandines to be flowering by 12th March, but somehow I feel that they OUGHT to be cheering up our island by now.  This photo was actually taken in April 2003 near Bowmore...  Their leaves are just starting to show through in our very soggy garden.  I had hoped to have posted a few shots of daffodils by now too, but it seems we have hardly seen the sun since they swam into bloom a few days ago...

Gilbert White saw Celandines in flower in Selbourne during February - but he was living in Hampshire in 1800, which was before global warming had been invented.   Has anyone seen any on Islay so far this year?

Miserable day....

I has been raining/sleeting solidly all day here.  Our spring seems to have stalled - and my feeling is that it is already very late.  No sign of the celandines in my garden - they would surely normally be well on their way by now.  You can just tell that the higher ground across Loch Indaal has turned white with snow, but it is a grey sort of white.  Everybody seems more than a little shellshocked at what has happened in Japan.  Maybe the Italian's extraordinary victory in Rome will cheer things up a bit.  Unless you happen to be French...

Thursday 10 March 2011

George Orwell - Some Thoughts on the Common Toad

Before the swallow, before the daffodil, and not much later than the snowdrop, the common toad salutes the coming of spring after his own fashion, which is to emerge from a hole in the ground, where he has lain buried since the previous autumn, and crawl as rapidly as possible towards the nearest suitable patch of water. Something--some kind of shudder in the earth, or perhaps merely a rise of a few degrees in the temperature--has told him that it is time to wake up: though a few toads appear to sleep the clock round and miss out a year from time to time-- at any rate, I have more than once dug them up, alive and apparently well, in the middle of the summer.

At this period, after his long fast, the toad has a very spiritual look, like a strict Anglo-Catholic towards the end of Lent. His movements are languid but purposeful, his body is shrunken, and by contrast his eyes look abnormally large. This allows one to notice, what one might not at another time, that a toad has about the most beautiful eye of any living creature. It is like gold, or more exactly it is like the golden-coloured semi-precious stone which one sometimes sees in signet-rings, and which I think is called a chrysoberyl.

For a few days after getting into the water the toad concentrates on building up his strength by eating small insects. Presently he has swollen to his normal size again, and then he goes through a phase of
intense sexiness. All he knows, at least if he is a male toad, is that he wants to get his arms round something, and if you offer him a stick, or even your finger, he will cling to it with surprising strength and take a long time to discover that it is not a female toad. Frequently one comes upon shapeless masses of ten or twenty toads rolling over and over in the water, one clinging to another without distinction of sex. By degrees, however, they sort themselves out into couples, with the male duly sitting on the female's back. You can now distinguish males from females, because the male is smaller, darker and sits on top, with his arms tightly clasped round the female's neck.

After a day or two the spawn is laid in long strings which wind themselves in and out of the reeds and soon become invisible. A few more weeks, and the water is alive with masses of tiny tadpoles which rapidly grow larger, sprout hind-legs, then forelegs, then shed their tails: and finally, about the middle of the summer, the new generation of toads, smaller than one's thumb-nail but perfect in every particular, crawl out of the water to begin the game anew.

I mention the spawning of the toads because it is one of the phenomena of spring which most deeply appeal to me, and because the toad, unlike the skylark and the primrose, has never had much of a boost from poets. But I am aware that many people do not like reptiles or amphibians, and I am not suggesting that in order to enjoy the spring you have to take an interest in toads. There are also the crocus, the missel-thrush, the cuckoo, the blackthorn, etc. The point is that the pleasures of spring are available to everybody, and cost nothing. Even in the most sordid street the coming of spring will register itself by some sign or other, if it is only a brighter blue between the chimney pots or the vivid green of an elder sprouting on a blitzed site. Indeed it is remarkable how Nature goes on existing unofficially, as it were, in the very heart of London. I have seen a kestrel flying over the Deptford gasworks, and I have heard a first-rate performance by a blackbird in the Euston Road. There must be some hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of birds living inside the four-mile radius, and it is rather a pleasing thought that none of them pays a halfpenny of rent.

As for spring, not even the narrow and gloomy streets round the Bank of England are quite able to exclude it. It comes seeping in everywhere, like one of those new poison gases which pass through all filters. The spring is commonly referred to as "a miracle", and during the past five or six years this worn-out figure of speech has taken on a new lease of life. After the sorts of winters we have had to endure recently, the spring does seem miraculous, because it has become gradually harder and harder to believe that it is actually going to happen. Every February since 1940 I have found myself thinking that this time winter is going to be permanent. But Persephone, like the toads, always rises from the dead at about the same moment. Suddenly, towards the end of March, the miracle happens and the decaying slum in which I live is transfigured. Down in the square the sooty privets have turned bright green, the leaves are thickening on the chestnut trees, the daffodils are out, the wallflowers are budding, the policeman's tunic looks positively a pleasant shade of blue, the fishmonger greets his customers with a smile, and even the sparrows are quite a different colour, having felt the balminess of the air and nerved themselves to take a bath, their first since last September.
Is it wicked to take a pleasure in spring and other seasonal changes? To put it more precisely, is it politically reprehensible, while we are all groaning, or at any rate ought to be groaning, under the shackles of the capitalist system, to point out that life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird's song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some other natural phenomenon which does not cost money and does not have what the editors of left-wing newspapers call a class angle? There is not doubt that many people think so. I know by experience that a favourable reference to "Nature" in one of my articles is liable to bring me abusive letters, and though the key-word in these letters is usually "sentimental", two ideas seem to be mixed up in them. One is that any pleasure in the actual process of life encourages a sort of political quietism. People, so the thought runs, ought to be discontented, and it is our job to multiply our wants and not simply to increase our enjoyment of the things we have already.

The other idea is that this is the age of machines and that to dislike the machine, or even to want to limit its domination, is backward-looking, reactionary and slightly ridiculous. This is often backed up by the statement that a love of Nature is a foible of urbanized people who have no notion what Nature is really like.Those who really have to deal with the soil, so it is argued, do not love the soil, and do not take the faintest interest in birds or flowers, except from a strictly utilitarian point of view. To love the country one must live in the town, merely taking an occasional week-end ramble at the warmer times of year.

This last idea is demonstrably false. Medieval literature, for instance, including the popular ballads, is full of an almost Georgian enthusiasm for Nature, and the art of agricultural peoples such as the Chinese and Japanese centre always round trees, birds, flowers, rivers, mountains.

The other idea seems to me to be wrong in a subtler way. Certainly we ought to be discontented, we ought not simply to find out ways of making the best of a bad job, and yet if we kill all pleasure in the actual process of life, what sort of future are we preparing for ourselves? If a man cannot enjoy the return of spring, why should he be happy in a labour-saving Utopia? What will he do with the leisure that the machine will give him? I have always suspected that if our economic and political problems are ever really solved, life will become simpler instead of more complex, and that the sort of pleasure one gets from finding the first primrose will loom larger than the sort of pleasure one gets from eating an ice to the tune of a Wurlitzer. I think that by retaining one's childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and--to return to my first instance--toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.

At any rate, spring is here, even in London N.1, and they can't stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, spring is still spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.

(With thanks to Norman Bissell on the Isle of Luing)

They are on their way....

Wheatear, Sand Martin and Little Ringed Plover were all recorded in Surrey yesterday. It's spring - but its a shame its arriving on Islay in gusts of up to 56mph...

British Marine Animals - photography by Paul Naylor