English wildlife and nature to get more protection

nature
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–on a good day there’s no country more beautiful than England. Fans of hiking, nature, and wildlife have a real treat with England’s wild places, and those places just got a boost to the tune of £7.5 million ($12 million) in additional funding.

The government has selected twelve Nature Improvement Areas where nature will be protected and improved. Some spots like the salt marches along the Thames need cleaning up, while peat bogs will be restored after the recent drought in order to preserve their unique habitat and keep them from emitting their locked-up carbon if they dry out. Threatened wildlife such as the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and farmland birds will see their habitats improved under the new scheme, which will be a plus for the many wildlife enthusiasts who journey out into the English countryside every year.

These regions will not be fenced off from visitors. In fact, the improvements will encourage sustainable public use. It’s certainly a nice change in attitude from this time last year, when the government proposed selling off the nation’s forests to private investors, only to be forced to back down after a massive public outcry.

I love hiking in England. From the Oxfordshire countryside to the Yorkshire Moors up to Hadrian’s Wall on the border with Scotland, it’s my number one choice for an outdoor ramble. Look for more reports from the English countryside when I return this summer!

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Scotland tells collector: stop stealing our eggs!

Scotland
An obsessive collector of rare birds’ eggs has been banned from visiting Scotland during nesting season. The ban was slapped on Matthew Gonshaw, 49, and lasts from February 1 to August 31 of every year for the ten years. He’s also banned from visiting land owned by the Wildlife Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Gonshaw has been repeatedly arrested for stealing the eggs of rare birds and is currently serving his fourth prison term for the offense.

The ban came as an ASBO, an Anti-Social Behaviour Order. ASBOs ban individuals from certain activities that are annoying or potentially criminal. Public drunkenness, playing football in the street, and other minor offenses are often stopped through ASBOs. Some ASBOs are a bit odd, like banning a sixty year-old man from dressing as a schoolgirl, complete with plaid skirt. This guy was hanging around schools and making parents nervous. BBC has a list of some of the weirder ones here.

In Gonshaw’s case, the ASBO will hopefully keep him away from the rare bird’s eggs he’d rather stick on a shelf than let hatch. Scotland is one of the top destinations for bird watchers and if “collectors” like Gonshaw are allowed to steal eggs with impunity, Scotland’s wildlife could be seriously affected.

Photo courtesy Mr. T in DC via flickr.

Exploring the Welsh coast: Aberaeron and New Quay

Welsh coast, New Quay
Yesterday I mentioned that Aberystwyth is a good base from which to explore western Wales. On our second day in Wales my wife, son, and I hopped on a local bus and went south down the Welsh coast to the ports of Aberaeron and New Quay. Aberaeron is about 40 minutes from Aberystwyth and New Quay is only about 20 minutes further south from Aberaeron.

While we didn’t have long in Aberaeron, we liked this tidy little Welsh town with its brightly painted houses and fine view of the sea. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, and pubs and we got the impression that it might be a better place to stay than Aberystwyth. Like in Aberystwyth, we heard a lot of people speaking Welsh. Most signs are in both languages. It’s nice to know that the language is surviving in the age of globalized English.

At New Quay we stopped for lunch at a pub on a cliff overlooking a sandy beach and broad harbor. The view was nice but service was slow and the food substandard. Sadly, this was the case with all too many of our meals in Wales, even though we usually followed local advice as to where to eat.

%Gallery-129265%The famous writer Dylan Thomas lived here for a time and New Quay was the inspiration for his fictional town of Llareggub (“bugger all” spelled backwards). Visitors interested in literary tourism can follow the Dylan Thomas Trail.

We’d come to take a boat trip instead. My five-year-old had never been out to sea so we decided to remedy that by going on one of New Quay’s many dolphin tours. Dolphins are abundant in these waters; we’d seen several from the window of the Seabrin Guest House in Aberystwyth. We chose a tour run by the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre, which uses its profits to fund research into the sea life on this part of the Welsh coast. The sea was calm and the sun shone fine so we weren’t worried as we stepped aboard an inflatable motorboat with a half dozen other people.

This good weather was our undoing. The calm conditions had made the fish move further out to sea, and the dolphins had followed them. As we made our way down the coast on our one-hour ride we saw exactly none. Oh well. It’s best to remember that nature isn’t there for our amusement.

This stretch of Welsh coastline is beautiful, with jagged rocks rising high out of the sea. The strata of the rocks is clearly visible, which allowed me to give the kid a lesson in geology, and the cliffs are dotted with numerous caves that smugglers (our boat captain called them “pirates”) used to elude the customs agents. My son was more disappointed about there being no pirates than he was about the lack of dolphins! All was made better when he got to sit in the captain’s chair.

One local told me that New Quay isn’t the most pleasant place to be at night in the summertime. A lot of rough people come into town to get drunk and start fights, and two of his friends got knifed in one incident. We saw a big fight in Aberystwyth too. This isn’t unusual in the UK. When I lived in London, I regularly saw fights on the street on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s just a sad fact of life in this part of the world.

Still, we had a nice day and the kid had a great time and got to experience something new, which is what really matters. Tomorrow I’ll be blogging about a steam train we took through some beautiful Welsh countryside. Unlike my last two posts on Wales, this one will be entirely positive!

Scottish island reaps financial reward protecting birds

The Isle of Mull in the Scottish Inner Hebrides is making millions by protecting the white-tailed eagle and other birds.

This small island, home to about 2,700 people and 250 bird species, gets 6,000 visitors a year who spend £2 million ($3.3 million). That’s 2.2 tourists and £741 ($1,211) per person.

Well, the people of Mull only get half that; the other half goes to the Mull Eagle Watch, the organization that monitors and helps the birds. I doubt the locals begrudge this ecological sugar daddy a bit of support.

The local community uses the money for education, youth groups, and other initiatives. The folks at Treehugger say this environmental/tourist model works so well in Mull because the community is small and relatively autonomous, so the money doesn’t get lost in some vast, corrupt bureaucracy.

While most visitors come to Mull for its rugged scenery and abundant wildlife, there are also castles, prehistoric ruins, a stone circle, and a local whiskey distillery. As residents celebrate ten years of the eagle project, they can look forward to a strong tourist industry to showcase all of their island’s natural and historic heritage.