Police Hunt For Lion In English Countryside (And Fail To Find One)

cat, lion
A mysterious beast stalks the fields of Essex, England.

Over the weekend local police received calls from a number of eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen a lion in the fields near the village of St. Osyth. One person even snapped a predictably blurry and inconclusive picture of the beast. I’m not a wildlife expert but it looks like a house cat to me.

Police took the sightings seriously enough to scramble two helicopters and a team of officers and wildlife experts. They also checked with a local zoo and circus but neither reported a missing feline. After a long search they found … nothing.

A police spokesman said the sightings were probably due to “a large domestic cat or a wildcat,” the BBC reports. Police have called off the search and told people to enjoy themselves outdoors while remaining cautious. They should also have told them to stop overfeeding their pets with chips and kebabs and wasting police time.

This odd incident is actually part of a much bigger trend in the UK. Alien Big Cats, as they’re called, are giant felines not native to the area where they are spotted. Of course they’re never actually found. That would ruin the fun. We reported on one jaguar-like creature in Scotland three years ago and that’s just a drop in the Alien Big Cat bucket. The Big Cats in Britain research group has collected 240 different reports so far this year.

So why do Brits see lions and pumas in their fields while Americans get buzzed by UFOs? I guess it’s just one of those cultural differences we should all celebrate and not analyze too much. So next time you’re hiking in the UK, be sure to keep your camera out of focus. You might just start the next wave of Alien Big Cat sightings.

Don’t scoff too much, though. One woman said she was attacked by an Alien Big Cat. I’ve hiked a lot in England and Scotland and while I’ve never been attacked by an ABC (yes, that’s what they call them), I did nearly get attacked by cows.

[Photo courtesy Jennifer Barnard. As far as I know, this particular cat has never been the cause of a lion sighting]

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.

Falconry and foraging in England’s National Forest

As someone who has actually spent a night beneath a bush in London’s Hyde Park in a poor effort to save money on a hotel (not recommended), the concept of being taught how to properly forage for food in England‘s public forests strikes particularly close to home.

With autumn rapidly approaching and the harvest season in full swing, the folks in charge of England’s National Forest have begun implementing survival school programs which aim to educate hikers on which shrubs, fruits, and fungi they can–and cannot–rely upon for survival in the wilderness.

But wait, there’s more. In addition to learning how to identify and prepare wild growing foliage, participants are also given lessons in the ancient art of falconry by learning how to not only fly, but also hunt with real Harris hawks.

Available in day, weekend, or weeklong courses, the foraging takes place in a 200 square mile area of central England where the National Forest is attempting to create multi-purpose woodland in one of the nation’s least forested areas. To date, over 7.8 million trees have been planted as part of the effort.

It’s nice to see programs like these taking place seeing as it wasn’t too long ago that England implemented a plan to sell off the nation’s public forests, only to see them rapidly rescind the move a month later.

[Image by Rennett Stowe on Flickr]