Archive | Richard’s Ramblings

18 October 2012 ~ 0 Comments

From Field to Fork at St. Ermin’s Hotel

beehivesDazzling it is, but London’s St. Ermin’s Hotel doesn’t just pour all its efforts into looking good; its management and staff are keen to push the hotel’s green credentials and make the most of its location in the centre of London.

While the hotel’s interior design and exterior architecture is stunning, not so many guests realise that hidden on the hotel’s roof, far above the city streets, thrive an ever-growing colony of 200,000 Buckfast bees. Hus Vedat, the head chef at St. Ermin’s, is very proud of the fact that the hard working insect army store up enough nectar to provide his restaurant – the Caxton Grill – with enough honey for a variety of their most popular dishes, such as a starter of Bosworth Ash goats cheese, St Ermin’s honey, beetroot and raisin oil and crushed walnuts. Delicious!

And with the hotel’s position near the capital’s three biggest central parks, there is plenty of green space in which the bees can gather nectar and guests can also find tranquillity in the middle of this vast city. Take a walk to Buckingham Palace through Green Park, perhaps feed the ducks in St. James’s, or wander a little further to circle the Serpentine in Hyde Park.

Bee populations in Britain and elsewhere in the world are in a dramatic but largely inexplicable decline dubbed ‘colony collapse disorder’, in which bees are dying prematurely and in large numbers.

The continuing loss of meadows and green land, as well as the increased use of chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides are likely to be a big part of the problem. Experts have also pinned the blame on the spread of the varroa mite and other viruses.

However, even some of the world’s biggest cities, including London, are capable of supporting bees in their urban environments. St Ermin’s is pleased to be doing its bit to help support this vital part of our ecosystem.

As well as playing an important role in the food chain, bees are even thought to contribute to the reduction of exhaust fumes in cities like London by helping filter tem out of the atmosphere – amazing!

The bee project is just part of the hotel restaurant’s dedication to ‘eating local’. The Caxton Grill’s menu lists organic beef, salad leaves from Secretts Farm – a short distance south-east of the capital – and Label Anglais Chicken from Temple Farm in Essex. Head chef Hus is passionate about the ‘field to fork’ movement and selects every single ingredient for not only its quality but its sustainability.

St. Ermin’s hotel can be found at 2 Caxton Street, London, SW1H 0QW. 020 7222 7888

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08 September 2012 ~ 0 Comments

How British Trees Affect Planning Regulations

ecological surveysGetting planning permission from local authorities  is one of the hardest parts of constructing or modifying UK property.

In many ways planning regulations represent a seemingly never-ending process of red tape and dealing with the authorites. Such is the difficulty of obtaining planning permission that the value of land can as much as double when permission to build on it has actually been secured.

Of course, while obtaining planning permission can be a frustrating process, it does serve a purpose. Most notably planning regulations are in place to ensure that buildings are erected or modified in a way that doesn’t cause undue damage to either the natural environment or the surrounding community. Whether they actually achieve that goal or not is of course up for debate.

Whatever your personal opinions of building regulations, they are a legal necessity so let’s take a close look at exactly what they entail, including the specific information you may have to provide together with the benefits to the environment.

First, to be allowed to proceed with any construction process, we are always required by our local authorities to hand in a valid planning tree survey report, including a Tree Survey and Tree Constraints Plan, an Arboricultural Impact and Method Assessment Statement, and a Tree Protection Plan.

We are also obliged to provide an ecological survey report, and both of which must be conducted in line with the BS 5837: 2012 protocols. What then are tree surveys and BS 5837: 2012 protocols? How important are they?

Tree Surveys, for that matter, are studies carried out by trained professionals (e.g. Arbtech Tree Surveys) to establish the pros and cons of designing, demolishing and putting up new structures with an aim of providing a harmonious relationship between trees and neighboring structures.

These surveys must always be conducted in line with the BS 5837: 2012 protocols. For clarity, BS 5837: 2012 are standards designed to protect trees from being destroyed by either builders, engineers, landscape architects, contractors or planners. They actually guarantee safety to trees. They address several issues such as drainage mechanisms, proximity of buildings to trees, topography and soil erosion, use of mulch and implications of using herbicides with the aim of protecting trees from possible harm.

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08 January 2012 ~ 1 Comment

Great Mullein And The Mullein Moth

Great Mullein

Despite spending much of my free time out in the countryside observing nature for as long as I can remember I recently stumbled across a new find in the form of a plant I’d never seen before.

Whilst it isn’t rare it is most exotic-looking and my first thought when I saw it was that this plant had blown in as a seed from a nearby garden. After some research I managed to identify the plant as a mullein. Whilst there are a number of different mulleins in the UK it seems from my research that the plant I found was the largest (and seemingly commonest) of the group – known as Great Mullein.

Great or Common Mullein, latin name Verbascum thapsus, is an impressive plant that can reach over 6 feet in height with rosettes of large leaves each one cloaked in bristly white hairs giving it a Mediterranean look and the appearance of greyish foliage thanks to the combination of the white hairs on the green leaves.

Great Mullein plant


Just as interestingly while trying to get a number of photos of the plant to help me identify it I stumbled across a number of large, brightly-coloured caterpillars feeding on the plant.

The combination of a minty green background together with the yellow and black spots gives it a most attractive and indeed impressive appearance. It turns out that these are the caterpillars of the mullein moth though I was somewhat disappointed that the adult moth itself is far less impressive in appearance that the larvae.

If you’re out and about in the late spring and early summer keep an eye out for mullein which thanks to it’s size and shape is easy to identify – and watch for caterpillars feeding on it.


Mullein moth caterpillar

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06 July 2011 ~ 0 Comments

Where To See Adders

Creative Commons License photo credit: Danny Chapman

Adders (or vipers) are the UK’s only venomous snake and whilst quite a degree of fear still surrounds them from people who picture deadly cobras hiding in their garden these snakes are generally shy and retiring. Indeed if adders were easy to find then we wouldn’t need an article like this – we’d all be tripping over them and instead visitors to this site would be more likely to ask how to avoid adders :-)

Like all reptiles, adders are fans of warm, dry weather where they can bask in the heat of the sun before hunting for prey. Cool, damp, grey weather tends not to suit them as well and they may well hide away out of view or – in the winter months – even aestivate to conserve vital energy.

Equally so, the warmer a snake gets the more active it becomes – and as it becomes more active so it also becomes faster moving and so harder to spot. The ideal situation to see adders is therefore early on in the morning of a warm, sunny day in summer. The early hours before the snakes get too active and before they get annoyed by dogs and their owners can be the best time so if you’re serious about seeing adders your best bet is to set your alarm and get up bright and early.

As for habitat, adders tend to prefer dry environments such as heathland and gorse-filled grassland. My latest siting of an adder was one hiding just under a gorse bush up ontop of Cissbury Ring in Sussex a short while ago.

Like most snakes, Adders are very sensitive to vibrations through the ground and so it is best to walk as lightly as possible if you’d like to see them – stomping around in heavy walking boots won’t do you any favours – and I prefer to walk slowly and deliberately in flexible trainers so I step as lightly as possible on the ground.

When seen in photographs adders appear to be quite obvious snakes with a background colour varying from olive green through brown to the common silver or grey over-laced with a dark black zigzag pattern down it’s back. However in the wild these markings can make it surprisingly difficult to see and in the right habitat on the right day you may well pass numerous specimens without even realizing it.

While adders can and do climb, they are most often seen on the ground and in the spring time males can sometimes be seen “fighting” for mates as they stand up high and attempt to “wrestle” other males to the ground.

The other British snakes are the smooth snake and the grass snake. Smooth snakes are now very rare indeed so it is highly unlikely you will encounter one while grass snakes tend to prefer damper habitats such as those with ponds and streams.

Consequently a useful tip for getting an idea of whether there are adders in your local area is to keep an eye out for shed skins in the types of habitats mentioned as these will almost certainly belong to an adder and show some recent activity. To slough a skin an adder will normally rub against a rough object such as an old tree stump or sharp bush so keeping your eyes peeled for these signs can be a good indicator that you are searching in the right area.

Have you seen an adder recently? If so please leave a comment below to let us know when, where and how – we’d love to hear from you!

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18 October 2010 ~ 0 Comments


Common Vetch
Creative Commons License photo credit: Dawn Endico

Of all the British wild flowers, Vetch is one of the easiest to identify. Whilst there are numerous species within the UK, each slightly different, the general form of all the British Vetches is similar allowing simple identification.

And once you have spotted a vetch, 90% of the job is done. It’s then just a matter of sitting down with your wild flower book to identify it down to species level.

Vetches are common and wide spread wild plants which can be found in many different habitats around the country. They are arguably most common in wild flower meadows and ungrazed grassland though it is possible to see them even in some woodlands given enough light.

There are two main charateristics of Vetch. They are the flowers – which look almost like Birds Foot Trefoil in shape – and the leaves which are fine, pinnate leaves looking almost like a Sensitive Mimosa.

Below are photos of both the leaves and flowers of the Common Vetch so you know roughly what to look for when you’re next out on a nature walk. If you find any, why not leave me a comment here and tell me what species you found and in what habitat?

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05 September 2010 ~ 0 Comments

The Nature Photography Cookbook Review

The Nature Photography Cookbook

Esther Beaton is an Australia-based professional nature photographer with 25 years of experience and in The Nature Photography Cookbook the author aims to help those of us (including me) who are keen to take better wildlife photos to do just that.

This attractively produced ebook contains an impressive 153 pages of detailed yet easy-to-follow instructions to help you learn how to take pictures you can be proud of.

Whilst this ebook isn’t specifically designed for total newbies, anyone who has a little experience of taking wildlife photos (no matter how badly!) can benefit from Esther’s clear instructions.

Unlike the majority of nature photography books which focus primarily on technical aspects and contain almost too much information for the beginner to intermediate level of photographer, Esther has applied a “cookbook” style to this guide which really makes it very simple and clear to use, whilst being easy to dip into and use as a reference guide.

The Nature Photography Cookbook includes 60 “recipes” – or different suggestions for taking better wildlife photographs. Each one is presented in a very clear manner including information on subject or location, time of day or desirable weather and lastly the equipment you will need (nothing expensive is required).

Each recipe then includes detailed, step-by-step instruction on what to do in order to achieve the effect desired including advice on using your preview screen if you are using a digital camera and making minor adjustments to get the perfect photo. It should be mentioned though that these techniques are not confined to digital photographers and most if not all will work just as well for good old-fashioned film cameras.

Each recipe ends with a sample photograph showing the effect you are trying to capture together with an analysis of why the particular example works and I found it interesting to not only admire Esthers photographs but this small summary at the end of each chapter was also very useful for “getting my eye in” and developing a deeper understanding of what the technique discussed is trying to accomplish.

Esther has carefully arranged each of the 60 odd recipes in order of difficulty so that each technique builds on what you learned in the last. This greatly cuts down on the learning curve, allows one to follow a natural progression through the tuition and, for me at least, made the learning experience far easier and more enjoyable.

Any technical terms used in the book that the beginner may not be familiar with are carefully explained in detail in the glossary at the end of the book and indeed individual words are linked to the glossary throughout the book so you need only click the word and you will be taken straight to the exact definition before you continue reading which makes this a very accessible and user-friendly way to get started on improving your nature photography.

With all the details contained in the 150+ pages of the book it’s only fair that I end this Nature Photography Cookbook review with a complete rundown of the various chapter titles to “tickle your tastebuds” and give you a better idea of the topics you can look forward to discovering from it or you can click here to visit Esther’s site and find out more about the ebook

1) Change Your Viewpoint – Look Down
2) The Effect Of Fog
3) Flower Close Up
4) Make A Diagonal Composition
5) Using Midday Sun
6) Shoot Close Up To Tell A Story
7) Good Exposure With Flash
8) Using Fog For Easy Atmosphere
9) Making Captive Birds Look Wild
10) Making Captive Mammals Look Wild
11) Waiting For The Action
12) Eliminating Busy Backgrounds
13) Can’t Get Close? Use Composition
14) Balancing The Composition
15) At The Porpoise Pool
16) Adding Foreground Interest
17) Using Elements Of A Scene
18) How To Create Silhouettes
19) Simple Backlighting
20) Seascapes At Dawn
21) Silky Water
22) Composing Reflections
23) Harmonious Colors
24) Wildflowers In Meadow Close Up
25) Wildflowers In Meadow Landscape
26) Composing With Clouds
27) Perennially Good Subjects
28) Change Your Viewpoint – Look Up
29) Forest Landscape Vertical Composition
30) Forest Landscape Horizontal Composition
31) Vanishing Hills
32) Complementary Colors
33) Backlit Macro Shot
34) Wide Angle To Create Vanishing Point
35) Radiating Lines To Overcome Lack Of Color
36) Deliberate Over-Exposure
37) Fill-Flash And Macro – Motionless Subject
38) Fill-Flash And Macro – Moving Subject
39) Moving The Subject
40) Stalking Animals In The Wild
41) Panning Over Water With Reflections
42) Basic Fill Flash For Portraits
43) Pre-Set Controls To Shoot Fast
44) Trompe L’oeil – Trick Of The Eye
45) Long Exposure After Sunset
46) Background Halo To Vignette Subject
47) Integrating A Surprise Element
48) Incorporating Shadows As Patterns
49) Using White Balance To Add Missing Color
50) Using Wide Angle Lens To Add Full Depth Of Field
51) Using Fisheye To Create Pattern
52) Using Graduated Filter In Dull Light
53) Depth Of Field With A Telephoto Lens
54) Wide Angle Lens Classic Composition
55) Candid Portrait Daring Composition
56) Framing With Silhouetted Branches
57) Posed Three-Quarter Portrait
58) Posed Head-And-Shoulders Portrait
59) Using Sun To Create Hotspot Vignette
60) Experiment And Have Fun!

Click here to visit the official Nature Photography Cookbook website for complete details on this impressive guide.

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01 September 2010 ~ 0 Comments

The Difference Between Grasshoppers And Crickets

Piccola & Mostruosa
Creative Commons License photo credit: Luca 4891

One of the perennial problems of naturalists is how to tell the difference between crickets and grasshoppers. Whilst superficially these two groups of insects seem almost identical with their long back legs, ability to jump long distances and habitat preferences when you actually “get your eye in” these two groups can be surprisingly easy to tell apart.

If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between grasshoppers and crickets then you’re about to discover a few simple ways that will let you tell them apart with ease.


Possibly the quickest and easiest way to tell a grasshopper from a cricket is by taking a look at the antennae. In grasshoppers these tend to be short and sticking out infront of the head, whilst in crickets these are normally very long indeed – sometimes as long as the insect – and are often swept back along the body though they may be waved about in the air.

Body Shape

Grasshoppers typically have a far longer, thinner, more “aerodynamic” body shape to crickets, which are typically far more rounded in shape.

Time Of Day

When it comes to the chirping song of these two similar groups of insects they will normally sing at different times of day. You’re most likely to hear grasshoppers calling during the day while crickets are the likely culprit if you hear the noise later on in the day and during the evening.


Whilst grasshoppers and crickets both seem to like wild, grassy areas there are often subtle differences between their habitat choice. Grasshoppers favour short, tussocky grassland where they can climb to the top to sun themselves while I tend to find crickets far more often in longer grass or even on the leaves of bushes and trees where grasshoppers are seldom seen.

Cricket Photo

Notice the longer antennae and shorter, rounder-looking body.

hop, hop, hop !
Creative Commons License photo credit: OliBac

Grasshopper Photo

Notice the short antennae and relatively long, thin body of the grasshopper.

Making a difference...
Creative Commons License photo credit: wolfpix

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30 August 2010 ~ 0 Comments

A List Of Native British Reptiles

 Natrix natrix
Creative Commons License photo credit: anabis

Britain is home to an amazing six species of native reptile which for a climate like ours never ceases to amaze me. Note that one can also see the Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis) on the isle of Jersey though it appears to be absent from the rest of the UK.

The general list of British reptiles is:

– The Common (or Viviparous) Lizard (Lacerta vivipara)
– The Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) – now very scarce
– The Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis)
– The Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)
– The Adder (or Viper) (Vipera berus)
– The Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) – also sadly very rarely seen these days

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24 July 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Interesting Jay Behaviour

It's my nut..and your NOT having it...
Creative Commons License photo credit: law_keven

On my visit to Woods Mill Nature Trail, managed by the Sussex Wildlife Trust, I heard a lot of commotion in a small forest area where a Jay was. Creeping forward to see what was going on I observed what I consider to be some fascinating behaviour.

The Jay was standing on the top of a tree stump, picking at something whilst calling at the top of it’s lungs with that strange rattling call that Jays have. But what was it doing?

It turns out that the Jay was flying down to the ground and picking off individual, furled leaves of a Lords And Ladies plant nearby. Then it was taking the still-rolled leaf over to the tree stump and pecking at them with it’s beak.

To my knowledge Jays don’t eat Lords And Ladies so I can only assume that perhaps insects try to hide in the tube created by the new rolled-up leaves and this Jay was trying to remove them.

I’ve never seen anything like this before so if you can shed any light on the situation please leave me a comment by filling in the box at the end of this article.

Below are photos of the tree stump with some leftover leaves, the individual plant that the Jay was plucking leaves from and a close-up of the leftover leaves showing where the Jay had been pecking them.

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09 May 2010 ~ 3 Comments

Websites To Help You Identify British Butterflies

Coral hairstreak, on butterflyweed
Creative Commons License photo credit: Benimoto

Whilst I love to see butterflies, I am far from an expert and so regularly find myself leafing through books and websites to learn more about a species I have seen recently.

During my research I have come across a number of useful online resources for identifying British butterflies and their caterpillars and thought that it might be useful for other readers to gather the best resources into one place.

Possibly the best place to start your identification journey is with a visit to Butterfly Conservation’s UK Butterflies site which has neatly categorized all of the UK butterfly species, with clear photos of each making identification reasonably easy for most species.

As well as the photos, this site also groups butterflies by type, helping to narrow down your search and also has a handy “Flying This Week” chart on the left-hand side of the page which is a great place to start your hunt.

Butterfly Conservation’s main website also has some very useful resources including a complete A to Z listing of UK butterflies and a special “butterfly identifier” where you can select options from a form which will then offer up possible identifications.

Also worth mentioning is UK Leps which has lots of nice photos and information but unfortunately there is no overview feature. Because of this, UK Leps is probably not so useful for identification when compared to the two Butterfly Conservation websites but once you have worked out what your butterfly is, the site provides plenty more useful information on the species.

Whilst the flying adult butterflies are often the most visible form, it is of course not unusual to find caterpillars and these can potentially be even more problematic to identify.

What’s That Caterpillar is a great resource for identification of British caterpillars. To make your identification a little easier, try to identify the actual plant that you find the caterpillar on and then use one of the various lists of larval food plants to narrow down the options.

Some of the best lists of larval food plants I have found are Foremost Butterflies and Over The Garden Gate.

Lastly, if you have some top identification websites that you use for lepidoptera, please leave me a comment so we can all benefit from your knowledge :-)

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