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The Society Indoor meetings are held on alternate Thursdays
between September and March at 7.30pm
in the Crosthwaite Parish Room in Keswick.
Field outings are organised at various times through the year.
Visitors are always welcome to the Society's events
for which there is a small charge

Meeting Report for 18th February 2021

Keswick Natural History Society

18th February 2021

The talk on Thursday 18th February was delivered via Zoom by Tanya St Pierre who works for Cumbria Wildlife Trust as the “Get Cumbria Buzzing” project manager. Over the last fifty years there has been a more than 50% decline of wild pollinating insects, (bees, butterflies, moths and beetles for example), in the UK including 30 species of Bee currently at risk of extinction. This is predominantly a consequence of habitat loss; over the last 75 years we have lost 97% of our flower rich meadows, 50% of our hedgerows and 60% of flowering plants are in decline. “Get Cumbria Buzzing” is an ambitious and innovative £1.7 million three-year project (2019-2022), funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Highways England together with a range of other partners and is designed to locally reverse the trend of pollinator decline but also to work within relatively deprived West Cumbrian communities to increase awareness and knowledge especially in schools. So far 652 children have taken part in pollinator related events and 12 schools have created pollinator-friendly gardens in their grounds. A further outcome is to encourage the recording of sightings of pollinating insects with a view to the Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre, (CBDC), based at Tullie House Museum, developing an online pollinator atlas for Cumbria.

Much of the practical work has involved taking an innovative approach on the managing of road verges especially along the A66 from Penrith to Workington and the A595 in West Cumbria. This has involved a cycle of cutting and removal of the cuttings, intense harrowing to expose at least 50% of the bare earth and then sowing with a variety of wild flower seed mixes, customized for each site. Readers may have seen some of this going on alongside the A66 over the past two years. The end result is planned to be about 40 Hectares of “corridors” of flower rich road verges along which pollinating insects can travel and connect the few existing flower rich areas identified by a survey in 2018. Aligned to this are 29 new and existing “Community Restoration Sites” amounting to about 100 Hectares in total. A recent well publicised example of this is The Swifts in Carlisle where a former Golf Range is being adapted into a haven for Bees as well as being used as flood meadows. Finally, a wild flower nursery has been established at the Wildlife Trust’s base at Gosling Syke in Houghton, near Carlisle, again with significant community involvement.

Some areas of verge need to be seeded with low growing pollen rich plants both to provide clear sightlines at junctions for example, and to provide a safe area for drivers to pull over off the road in an emergency. There is, however, opportunity towards the fence line for a variety of taller species to be established. Removal of the cuttings is helps stop an intense thatch and increasing spoil fertility developing which tends to discourage all species other than coarse grasses. The results so far have been a welcome increase of bio-diversity of flowers with, encouragingly, the appearance of species like Orchids which were not included in the seeds sown as well as strong populations of a large variety of wild flowers that were. Now there is a need to monitor the presence of the pollinating insects themselves and members of the society were encouraged to be involved by identifying insects and sending their records into the CBDC.

This was an entertaining and informative presentation on an important subject, human life depends on pollination of food crops just as much as wildlife does. On a more local note, readers may remember that Elizabeth Barraclough is planning to convert areas within Keswick into wild-flower patches, anybody who would like to help with seed sowing, plug planting or ongoing management will be very welcome. You may send a message to her via the sustainablekeswick.org.uk  website.

The next (Zoom) meeting of the society is on March 4th and will consist of our AGM followed by an illustrated talk by the Chair, Tony Marsh, on wildlife seen on our local streams, rivers and lakes during the last year.
Red-tailed Bumble Bee on Scabious (1 of 1) (368K)
Red Tailed Bumble Bee on Scabious

Meeting Report for 4th February 2021


Around The Edge was the title of the latest talk for Keswick Natural History Society, by Mandy Redburn, who took most of the pictures, and David Thomason, who gave the talk. The area stretches along the Cumbrian coast from Silverdale in the south to Burgh by Sands in the north, showing a compilation of wild life pictures taken with patience, insight and devotion to their subject over many visits.

Starting at Silverdale, what promised to be an interesting cave turned out to be an 8 feet deep rain shelter in the endless mud but at Arnside, fossils which looked to be of fish, were identified as being from the sea lily. The knotted tree at Arnside Knott was shown and there are several stories in folklore about its origin. One was that when smugglers saw the tree, they knew it was safe to land.

There was plenty to see at Foulshaw Moss: lizards, dragonflies, adder, a white hart hind, skipper butterflies and though at Humphrey Head, peregrines abound, it is not always easy to spot wild life apart from on the east coast salt marsh. Here, big bush crickets, speckled yellow moths and once, a holly blue butterfly was seen. Black bryony is in abundance.

Walney Island is always good for birdspotting but it is also the home to many wild flowers like vipers bugloss, houndstongue, seaside centaury and horned poppy. At Sandscale Haws, looking to Black Combe, the route cocklers take, there is an abundance of sea holly which is evident throughout the coast, tassel hyacinth, dune pansy, round leaved wintergreen and pyramid, bee and coral root orchids. An amazing shot showed the famous natterjack toads in spring, huddled and squirming together in the mud, highly camouflaged. Many frogs live there too.

At Hodbarrow in the Duddon Estuary, the lagoon is a prominent feature, nurturing nesting sites for many birds. In particular, a shot of the sandwich tern was shown. St Bees Head is full of gorse and many other flowers but the presentation concentrated on spectacular pictures of the birds: stonechat, linnet, wheatear, meadow pipit, raven, herring gull, black guillemot, razor bill and a few puffins.

An artificial black woodpecker was shown on an electric pole at Workington! Nearby were rough seas, skylarks and meadow pipits. The ‘Tesco’ kingfisher featured, named because he was often seen in that vicinity. Siddick Pond was another popular venue where otters, teal and whooper swans were photographed.

Many fungi like waxcap and spindle were seen at Oldside, growing on slagheaps but a great variety of wild flowers can also be seen there: wild mignonette, orchids, rosa rugosa, wild carrot, wild parsnip and butterflies: gatekeeper, small copper, common blue, small blue, probably because the habitat is being improved by West Coast Conservation.

An amazing picture of a herring gull trying to swallow a large (to him) flat fish, without success, was shown at Maryport, where the birds also devour the crabs lurking among the colourful seaweeds. Further up the coast at Allonby Bay, there were pictures of goosander, great crested grebe sanderling, white wagtail, oystercatchers then cuttlefish, moon jellyfish and sand eel.

Silloth was where a harbour porpoise could even be heard breathing even though there were also shots of the ever present different species of gulls, turnstones and starlings. At nearby Grune Point, well known for its wild life were shots of barnacle geese, a cormorant, red breasted merganser, and a longtailed duck. There were lichens, clouded yellow and painted lady butterflies too.

Barnacle geese and little egrets flew in from the Anthorn salt marsh but at the Solway Viaduct an unusual incident was captured. A sailing boat, The Jolly Roger, flying a French flag came by and fired a cannon. Smuggler? A film set? No, it was for a project on Pirates organised for the delighted pupils of Bowness on Solway School. (pictures of a dunlin, shoveller, whimbrel and golden plover were also shown)

A presentation about the Cumbrian coast would not be complete without sight of the Haaf Netters – and there they were, one netting a salmon and slinging it over his shoulder into the bag. A ringed plover, lapwing and wigeon were shown at Bowness Railings but another unusual incident was captured. Along came 2 men in a punt gun canoe. They had obviously shot wigeon and piled them up in the boat and looked rather suspicious. Checking with the police, the sport is still legal.

The talk ended with a shot of the monument to Edward 1 at Burgh by Sands, a reminder that the area is steeped in history as well as wildlife. As a result of sharing Mandy’s and David’s experiences and enthusiasm, it is certain many of the members will be inspired to explore more of the region.

Meeting Report for 4th February 2021

Stephen Westerberg, Site Manager at Geltsdale RSPB Nature Reserve, enlightened Keswick Natural History Society members with an illustrated talk about Whinchats, a bird which migrates to open, upland areas of the UK each summer to breed.

These small birds, fly from west Africa south of the Sahara, to raise their young and then return to Africa for the winter. They choose damp, open grassland and meadows and conceal their nests in the ground often in a tussock of grass. RSPB Geltsdale is an upland reserve with a large expanse of blanket bog, the edges of which appear to be perfect areas for Whinchats.

Stephen explained that volunteers and staff had, since 2011, undertaken a detailed study of the population of Whinchats at the reserve, carrying out colour-ringing of juvenile and adults using national research methods overseen by the British Trust for Ornithology. Like many birds Whinchats will feed and breed in set territories and the colour rings can be observed during breeding and all sightings recorded. The Whinchats behaviour of singing and feeding by using conspicuous posts and bushes also help with resighting the colour rings.

Nationally Whinchats are in serious decline and Stephen explained that the Geltsdale study can help identify reasons for the loss of breeding sites and also help confirm any land management measures that have helped to increase breeding sites or nesting density. As well as habitat being important the study has shown that weather and abundance of predators affects how successful breeding is for the Geltsdale Whinchat population in any year.

The ringing has provided information on movements within the breeding season between nesting areas and feeding areas, movements during the migration between the UK and sub-Saharan Africa, and also which ringed adults return each year. The study suggests that the males are more likely to return to their natal site to breed whereas females are more likely to disperse to new areas, a common strategy in birds to help maintain diversity of the gene pool. Information from the Geltsdale study can now inform other sites and land managers on how to encourage breeding success of Whinchats, and encourage protection of important wintering areas in Africa.

We may not be able to venture far at present but when we can Geltsdale RSPB reserve is a great place to see Whinchats as well as other iconic upland species and in the meantime the BTO website and its birdfacts pages can provide more details of the status and ecology of these intrepid summer visitors.

KNHS welcomes new members to enjoy talks and summer outings; details are on the Society's website and Facebook.

Meeting Report for 7th January 2021


Martin Gilbert began his Zoom talk to the Keswick Natural History Society last week by explaining how important it was to him 30 years ago when he was a junior member. Attending the meetings and field outings helped to instil a love of wildlife and led him to a veterinary degree and a vocation in conservation.

After university, in the last 20 years he has travelled the world researching into fish eagles in Madagascar, investigating vulture die off in Pakistan, wildlife trade in Cambodia, and avian flu in Mongolia.

However, during the last 10 years or so he has focused on infectious diseases of wild carnivores in Asia, and how their health affects conservation.

His PhD work was based on tigers in the Russian far east.

In the early 20th century the world's tiger population was estimated at 100,000 and the distribution ranged from Turkey in the west, across Asia to the Sea of Japan in the east. This figure has dropped to just 7% of this total, and the distribution is very fragmented. This is caused mainly by human interference, but recently also by disease.

Martin's work was centred in the Russian far east where there is a tiger population of around 500 to the east and north of Vladivostok and from the Sea of Japan to the Chinese border. The subspecies there are Amur tigers and they roam an area about twice the size of Scotland. For some of the time he was based in a small camp in a restricted area of the Taiga forest with a single ranger who only spoke Russian! Martin was very much reminded of the countryside around Keswick as the Taiga lower slopes are deciduous forest with an oak similar to ours, and the higher ground has Korean pine. Even the birds reminded him of home, with similar species of nuthatch, jay, redstart and woodpecker. There are also red fox, a badger similar to ours and squirrels.

Threats to Siberian tigers are mainly from human poaching for Chinese medicines and roadkill. Also locals hunt deer and wild boar which are tiger prey. However, since 2003 there have been a few tigers in this area who have been found ill with neurological symptoms and have been diagnosed after death as cases of canine distemper. This virus is found in a wide number of animals and had also killed a number of lions in Africa in the recent past. The affected tigers in Russia were far apart and as they are solitary, it was felt that the disease seemed to be picked up from another source, either domestic dogs or wild animals.

Martin travelled around towns and villages, sampling domestic dogs to look for distemper virus and antibodies. He could also check samples from tigers collected in the past from dead animals or ones who had been anaesthetised for research purposes. During his time in the Taiga forest he set traps to catch wild carnivores such as sables, an animal similar to mink and racoon dogs which are related to foxes. These animals are common in tiger territory and could well harbour the virus and infect the tigers. Samples from these trapped animals showed that a large proportion had been exposed to distemper and could well be the source of infection.

The final results showed that domestic dogs had had less exposure to distemper, and were at low density in areas where affected tigers lived. As the opposite was the case with the wildlife results, the sables and racoon dogs were the main problem.

Vaccination of rescue tigers in the US with dog distemper vaccine, has been shown to protect them from the Russian virus type. As widespread immunisation of the small carnivores would be impossible, scientists next step would be to look at vaccinating enough of the Amur tigers to develop a herd immunity and thus protect the species in future.

When restrictions are relaxed in the human covid pandemic, Martin hopes to continue his research with the tigers in Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal and India.

The talk was a fascinating glimpse into how conservationists look into health problems in wildlife.

After answering questions, Martin was thanked by Tony Marsh, Chairman of Keswick Natural History Society, for giving the society such an enjoyable and informative talk.
Amur Tiger (1429K)

Meeting Report for 10th December 2020

Keswick Natural History Society are still conducting their meetings by Zoom, and they were delighted to welcome Wild Intrigue to speak on 10th December. The rather mystifying title of the talk was ‘Rewilding people with Pizza'.

Heather Devey an ecologist and Cain Scrimgeour wildlife filmmaker are passionate about sharing nature and enticing people away from their usual routines. Their ambition, to inspire and engage people in all aspects of wildlife conservation. After graduating they started nature tours to the Scottish islands, this was successful, but they quickly realised that their clients were wildlife enthusiasts like themselves. They wanted to share the enchantment with those who had failed to notice it before, designing ways for everyone to connect directly with nature. So, the ‘Rewilding with Pizza’ idea was born.

Bats and Pizza nights is a communal dining experience, where families make their own pizza and bake them in an outdoor pizza oven. A nature walk with some foraging follows, then everyone is given a bat detector and the excitement of discovery begins. Hot chocolate back at the barn finishes off this enchanted evening. Unfortunately, lockdown put a stop to this just as it got going. But once it was lifted, and they got their ‘good to go’ covid secure certification, the idea took off and they found they had a waiting list. Heather felt this idea had fulfilled its brief when she was told some of the children had asked for bat detectors for Christmas instead of video games!

They then turned their attention to urban areas. ‘Kittiwakes and Doughnuts’ introduced groups to the world’s largest inland breeding colony of kittiwakes, 17 miles up the Tyne in Newcastle. These birds breed on the famous Baltic building and on the Tyne bridge. Getting people to engage with these birds is a way of protecting the future of this unique breeding site. Far from being a nuisance their presence should be celebrated. The viewing platform on the Baltic building allows close up views of the birds, as well as stunning views across the Tyne. The experience includes a talk by an ornithologist, and of course ‘doughnuts’. A percentage of the takings from this venture go to the Baltic, as it takes £50 per kittiwake to clear up after the breeding season!

The juxtaposition between urban areas and wildlife has surprised a lot of their guests on wildlife safaris around Ouseburn near Newcastle. Their theory is that educating people in this way, helping them to see what is all around them, will help to protect the countryside for future generations.

Wild Intrigue have spent the last four years working with nature friendly farmers. With Brexit, and the change in the agricultural policy, a lot of farmers are worried about their income streams. Diversifying into nature-based tourism can be part of the answer. James Rebanks, the Herdwick shepherd and author, is a champion of this approach. They have surveyed his land for insects and moths, and now run ‘Moths and Muffins’ and ‘Bats and Brownies’ tours at the farm. Working with the eco tourism sector, in conjunction with the Wild Hawswater initiative, they have set up a photography hide in the forest. This is mainly for photographing woodland birds, and of course the iconic red squirrel, which is still there in good numbers. The hide can be booked through Wild Intrigue. This inspirational young couple are getting people excited about wildlife, encouraging families away from the TV, and designing new ways for everyone to connect with nature.

The next Zoom lecture is 7th January. Tigers of taiga forest – Martin Gilbert.

To join the society contact Jean Gilbert – keswickvets@aol.com

Meeting Report for 12th November 2020

Keswick Natural History Society's latest meeting held on Thursday 12th November 2020 via Zoom was an illustrated presentation by Philip Munro, Community Outreach Worker of The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project. Philip's talk centred on the reintroduction of Golden Eagles to The South of Scotland. This was a fascinating insight into how these iconic birds, once prevalent, are now being translocated to the hills and forests in the southern area of Scotland.

Golden Eagles nest mainly of rocky crags, but also in trees, the nest can be between four to ten feet in diameter and two to eight feet high, therefore the trees are not always the best place with the British weather! They are made up of sticks, moss, grass and other vegetation, a cup is made for the eggs, where they can safely nestle until hatched. Eagles are tagged with a rucksack type of locater which does not harm the bird as it grows and is extremely useful for the project officers as the all the data is recorded for future reference.

The first translocation took place in 2018, four birds have been released, but unfortunately one did not survive, therefore there are now three eagles flying free around the South of Scotland. The aim of the project is to reinforce the small, isolated and vulnerable population of Golden Eagles from the North to the South of the country. Most eagles have a single chick or twins, however with twins the survival rate is low as the dominant chick will kill its sibling to ensure its own survival. The Eagle Project Team monitor known eagle nests, known as Eyries, and monitor the eggs up until hatching. Once hatched the twin chicks are checked and where possible and appropriate one will be taken from the nest at approximately 5 to 8 weeks old. The Eaglet is then health checked and tagged before being translocated to a secret area in Southern Scotland, where it is reared in a purpose built eyrie. Feeding takes place through a hatch at the rear of the eyrie using roadkill or carrion, this being the staple diet of Golden Eagles in the wild, it is very rare for an eagle to take live prey. The project officers are very careful not to be seen by the eagle so that they do not become reliant on humans for food. The eyries are open fronted to allow the birds to come and go as they please, getting them used to the locality. Feeding stations are also set up around the area to ensure the birds have enough food for the first stages of release before being left to their own devices.

The project is progressing slowly due to the lack of twin chicks and their survival rate. However since the start of the project there is good news. Three released birds are enjoying life in Southern Scotland, one of which was recently in the news having been spotted flying as far south as The Pennine Hills. The results are encouraging, but the greatest worry is persecution by humans. This is not only a great danger to the eagle as other birds of prey are also victims.

Philip explained how to spot this iconic bird and how to differentiate it from other birds of prey. The wingspan of a Golden Eagle is approximately 190-225cm, compared to one of our more common birds The Buzzard with a wingspan of 115-130cm.

Eagle or Buzzard (1484K)
Comparison between Buzzard (top) and Golden Eagle (bottom)
The future hope for the team members is that Golden Eagles will once again thrive in the South of Scotland and new generation will have the opportunity to find a place in their homeland.

Meeting Report for 25th January

Keswick Natural History Society
Last Thursday's talk to the society was given by Ed Mills who is a chartered forester and since 2014 a woodland advisor. His talk "Cumbrian Woodlands Past, Present and Future" covered many aspects of the woodlands that we all see every day and which Ed has the good fortune to be able to wander through as part of his job. From the Atlantic rainforest woods that spread along the lower fellside slopes, through commercial, planted, conifer forests by way of the now rare wet willow and alder carr woodlands to the newly planted or sometimes replanted small woodlands in outlying areas of the county, Ed has been there, his comment that he'd probably been in more of Cumbria's woods than anyone else is almost certainly true. He showed us woodland history including woodland archaeology, explaining about ancient wood boundaries such as wood banks, old potash and charcoal kilns, ancient and veteran trees of amazing ages and the remains of charcoal-burners and/or bark-peelers huts.
Up until the early 1900s, lots of everyday items were made of wood, a lot of them made by hand within the woodland by craftsmen who mostly made their lathes and benches from the trees cut down for their products. Rakes, shovels, swill baskets, fencing, gates and shelters were all constructed by them on site within their patch of woodland, Hazel was coppiced on rotation and the workers moved from arear to area as needed. Large trees were felled using nothing but saws and axes and were split using wedges and hammers.
Things have moved on and Ed showed examples of modern tree felling using large, expensive machines where one or two machine operators can do the work that formerly would have been done by a large gang of foresters. Since the 1800s conifer trees have been planted on former native broad-leaved woodland sites and this has mostly removed the ecologically important plants, mosses, fungi and shrubs and the wildlife that were formerly a key part of the Cumbrian ecosystem. However, Ed also showed us a conifer wood that had been neglected and was gradually reverting back to broad-leaved woodland, some of the original flora and fauna had survived and is re-colonising the area.
Ed finished off by showing some of the diseases and other problems that forest managers have to cope with and queried who was going to fence, plant and manage all the millions of trees promised by government and councils and where were they going to get the young trees from? Nurseries in the UK have sold all their stock and trees sourced from abroad could harbour more diseases so where do we go from here.
At our next talk we look at a success story, where the disaster of Foot and Mouth disease has been turned into a thriving Nature Reserve. Come along and see the story of Watchtree N.R. on Thursday 6th February at 7.30 pm at the Crosthwaite Parish Rooms (next to the Co-op). Non-members are welcome

Meeting Report for 9th January

The topic of last Thursday's talk, given by John Martin, was Pine Martens. John explained that Pine Marten were once widespread in Cumbria but had since disappeared, with the last confirmed sightings in Thirlmere around 1973/74. The good news is that they are spreading south from their ancient stronghold in Scotland into Northumbria and Kielder Forest and in 2018 into North-East Cumbria with martens being sighted on trail cameras in Kershope Forest.

Pine Marten have what John described as a 3D habitat, preferring areas of extensive woodland with high mountains, valleys and waterways. They prefer old-growth hardwood trees with lots of holes which they can use as dens in which the females can rear their young. Dense conifer forests are not ideal unless they contain some areas of these old hardwoods. Martens have home ranges from 2 to 33 square miles in extent depending on food supply with their favoured prey being field voles although their diet is quite wide and includes mice, voles, moles, frogs and fledgling birds. They are extremely agile and are capable of catching Red Squirrels during a chase through the tree canopy although they find the larger Grey Squirrel easier to catch. There is some evidence from Scotland that the presence of martens in a wood will reduce the populations of Greys while the resident Red Squirrel numbers appear to be unaffected.

Martens will readily use den boxes, which are made with two entry holes leading via tunnels up into a central chamber where the martens will sleep and where the kits are born in March/early April. The females leave scats (droppings) on the lid of the box when they are raising their young and the piles of scats can be quite large by the time the kits leave the box in June/July. This can be a useful indicator for wildlife workers that the box is being used without having to disturb the martens inside.

With Pine Marten now in Cumbria again maybe we will see individuals getting into the local woods again in the future, I certainly hope so. The next talk is "Cumbria Woods and Forests, Past, Present and Future" on Thursday 23rd January at Crosthwaite Parish Rooms (near the Co-op) at 7.30 pm so come along and see if our woods are suitable for Pine Marten. Non-members are always welcome.

Keswick Natural History Society

Lecture Report: February 8th
The speaker at the society's latest meeting was Stephen Hewitt who formerly worked at Tullie House Museum at Carlisle and is now a freelance entomologist doing survey work for various bodies around the country. Steve is well-known and respected for his wide knowledge and enthusiasm for insect life of all kinds and he demonstrated this expertise to the society's members during his wide-ranging talk.

To most people insects are either a buzzing or crawling nuisance or a completely closed book (or both), but Steve showed us many interesting and unusual insects and discussed their (sometimes bizarre and often gruesome) behaviour. From hoverflies that look like wasps or sometimes bees and flies that eat other insects and some whose larvae eat snails, to beetles who eat the roots of reeds and wasp beetles who predate other insects there seem to be insects for every niche food source. An interesting insect is the Scorpion fly, the male of which has what appears to be a stinger at the tip of its body which it can tilt up to resemble a scorpion's stinger. Although it looks dangerous it is harmless and the female does not have this tip.

scorpion fly (1544K)
Scorpion Fly (by Mandy Redburn)

Steve looked at the changes in insect communities in several locations in Cumbria using records from entomologists dating back to Victorian times and comparing them with modern records from the same locations. A lot of the changes are not for the better, species have either declined or are no longer present but some of these changes will be due to the habitat changing with time i.e. woodland now encroaching previously open areas and the draining of wetlands to improve farmland but some changes are for the better, with global warming possibly benefitting some southern species which can now exist far further north than in the past.

The lengths that Steve and his companions go to investigate habitats which might contain insects or their larvae were indicated by pictures of Steve up in a large beech tree searching in the trapped water in the forks of the tree for the larvae of certain insect species. This is dedication to your subject. From the banks of the River Caldew at Carlisle to the summit ridge of Skiddaw Steve was able to demonstrate the wide range of insects and their habitats and the complexity of their interactions with other insects and plant species. His close-up pictures of some weird and wonderful insects were an eye-opener to those of us who know little about what is happening in the undergrowth around us.

We look forward to the next meeting of the Society on Thursday 22nd February at Crosthwaite Parish Room (near The Co-op) at 7.30 pm when Keeley Spate will give a talk on the restoration of Cumbrian bogs

Meeting Report. January 25th 2018

UK Butterflies not (yet!) in Cumbria

Keswick Natural History Society 25th Jan 2018 This week's talk 'UK Butterflies not (yet!) in Cumbria' was delivered by Steve Doyle, an amazingly knowledgeable lepidopterist and the person who almost single handedly initiated the reintroduction of the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly to Cumbria after near extinction in the county in 2004. This project involved building up the stocks in captivity in Steve's back garden and then establishment of 6 separate colonies. After subsequent careful land management there has been a spontaneous expansion to 18 distinct colonies by last year and it is this success in carefully planned and monitored reintroduction of species, as well as the natural movement of species further North with climate change that informed Steve's talk as he told us about most of the species that do not, yet, appear regularly in our County. There are 59 species on the British list and already there are 41 species that have been recorded in our county, but some of these only very rarely. It is a high number for a county this far north though, which reflects the great variety of habitats within Cumbria's borders.

In his talk Steve took us on a virtual journey around the UK from Western Scotland to see the delightful Chequered Skipper, down to the very South East of England to catch sight of the Essex Kipper, the Isle of Wight for the Glanville Fritillary and the Devon/Cornwall border for the Heath Fritillary with numerous other places and butterflies in between. (Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire seem to be particularly well blessed). It is apparent that there are some butterfly enthusiasts who will journey around the UK each year in order to see each of the 59 UK species, and to do so they must have the detailed knowledge that Steve shared with us as to which specific wood, quarry, heath or nature reserve holds each particular species together with which weeks of the year is their flight period. Although, the timing can be different following an unusually warm or cold Spring and Steve himself has been caught out after a long journey to find that his target species stopped appearing the week before. Steve's abundant knowledge and enthusiasm shone out as he described each of the species discussed and some of his encounters with them, being hit on the forehead by a huge, (by UK butterfly norms), flying Purple Emperor, (apparently this hurt!), to rushing from work on the chance of seeing a Camberwell Beauty in a stranger's garden , (which after the use of a neighbour's step ladder, a cup of tea and a long wait resulted in perhaps the only photograph of one in Cumbria). All of the species were illustrated by excellent photos taken by Steve himself and with which he was not only able to point out the salient identification points but also to marvel, as we did, how beautiful these small creatures are.

Our next meeting will be on 8th February when Steve Hewitt will talk on 'Recent Studies on Cumbrian Insects'. Steve was formerly Keeper of Natural Sciences at Tullie House but latterly he has been Research Fellow in Entomology at the National Museums of Scotland. He will tell us about his recent investigations into some of the fascinating insects of Cumbria, from mountain species on the summit of Skiddaw to tiger beetles among the sand dunes of Ravenglass and will include the consequence of climate changes.

We meet at 7.30pm in the Crosthwaite Rooms, next to the Coop car park, and all are very welcome.

Glanville Fritillary (1199K)

Glanville Fritillary

Meeting Report. October 5th 2017

Where Griffons Soar by Keith Offord

The first talk of the new season at Keswick Natural History Society was delivered by Keith Offord, a longstanding friend of the Society who was talking to us for the eighth time. This popularity reflects on his natural history expertise, but also the pleasant chatty style with which he delivers a whole load of fascinating information. Keith is primarily an excellent ornithologist and nature tour leader who takes photographs, but what photographs!

Montague's Harrier

The subject of "Where Griffons Soar" was the wildlife of Spain, mostly the birdlife but not forgetting some of the mammals and the flora. He took us to three remarkable areas of bio diversity starting with the Spanish Pyrenees where he leads tours based in the delightful town of Jaca. Even the town has fascinating bird life with Rock Sparrows around the Citadel and Scops Owls, whose sonar like night calls are a classic sound of Southern Europe, in a town park. Keith took us from the unspoilt farmland in the foothills where Black and Red Kites are commonly seen together and the jingling call of Corn Buntings seems to be everywhere, up through copious forests with huge Black Woodpeckers and tiny Crested Tits, and finally right up to the high rock faces where the iconic Wallcreeper flutters around at incredible altitudes, Golden Eagles look out for live Chamois and Alpine Marmots and Lammergeiers look out for their carcasses. The latter is a species of vulture and known as "Bone Breaker" (quebrantahuesos) in Spanish after its habit of picking up bones and then dropping them from a height onto rocks in order to access the bone marrow inside.

Next stop was down in the Extramadura; a wonderful area of expansive grasslands and dehesas adjacent to Portugal where Cork Oak trees and Olive Groves provide areas of light grazing for both sheep, goats and and cattle. The low intensity chemical-free farming hosts a rich display of classic Mediterranean wildlife from Calandra Larks and Bee-Eaters to the huge and beautiful Great Bustard. Here the Great-Spotted Cuckoo parasitizes the nests of Azure-winged Magpies and Keith discussed the odd world-distribution of this magpie which is also found close to China but nowhere in between: how did they get here and why did the Cuckoo turn to this species to look after their eggs? It is not only the farming that is wildlife friendly, churches and other historic buildings host colonies of Lesser Kestrels and massive White Stork nests, bridges have Alpine Swifts and Red-Rumped Swallows nesting underneath and there are boxes erected upon telegraph poles alongside roads which have become popular with European Rollers. The area is perhaps best known in the birding world for the variety of raptors to be found there from the delicate and beautiful Black-Shouldered Kite, the snake eating Short-Toed Eagle, Montagu's Harrier, (like an even more elegant version of our Hen Harrier) to Spanish Imperial Eagles and Europe's largest raptor, the Black Vulture.

Speaking of raptors, their mass migration across the Straits of Gibraltar was witnessed from Keith's third destination of Tarifa at the southernmost tip of Spain. Here birds like White Storks, Honey Buzzards and Marsh Harriers glide over to Morocco in huge numbers, a true wildlife extravaganza.

Every bird Keith mentioned, (and I have only mentioned a small proportion) was illustrated with brilliant photographs. His flight shots were especially impressive: it is incredibly difficult to get Swallows and Swifts within the photographic frame never mind as crisply sharp as Keith's shots. We keenly look forward to his ninth visit to the Society.

Meeting Report. Nov 26th An Introduction to the World of Moths focussing on the Moths of Keswick and its Environs

Peter McQueen

Someone probably better known locally for his acting skills at The Theatre by the Lake or for his regular column as 'Scrooge' in The Reminder, Peter Macqueen shared his expertise on natural history, as the latest speaker at the Keswick Natural History meeting, with his talk on 'Moths in Cumbria'. Delivered in a modest and of course humorous way, Peter recounted his early days in Leicester, where alongside his father and brother, a homemade moth trap was constructed from a wooden box and a domestic light bulb. Although he has an interest in natural history as a whole, his first passion is for the moths. Having progressed to a more professional moth trap, lined with egg trays, which enables the moths to settle down comfortably, having been attracted into the trap by a sodium light bulb. There they wait patiently while Peter identifies and records the different species before returning them to their natural habitat unharmed. Peter covers several sites within the Keswick locality, including his own garden in Braithwaite. His records are used by the recorders at Tullie House in Carlisle to build up a full picture of the moths species found within the area. The UK is now seeing more species of moths coming in from the Continent, probably due to global warming, this also means that some species from the south are now moving further north.

The United Kingdom boasts 2,500 species of moth, these are split into two groups, macro-moths and micro-moths, part of the Lepidoptera family. 1,600 of the species are micro, with 900 macros. Although as Peter explained some of the micro species are bigger than the macros and visa-versa! Despite some people's fear of moths eating our clothes and carpets, there are only three species of micro-moth that we actually need to be aware of.

The name moth is an old English name for a maggot or grub, which again does not make it any more attractive, or does it? Peter started his visual presentation with: 'Are moths brown and boring?' As the next 30-40 minutes proved, no they definitely are not! The images shown were many and varied, some highly coloured, looking more like butterflies, others possibly brown and boring! Some of the highly coloured moths can be mistaken for butterflies as there are day flying species as well as the night flyers.

Moths are fascinating when examined closely, their wings being covered with tiny scales, which if not handled with care can be rubbed off. The scales are like tiles laid on top of one another to give the superbly detailed colours and patterns. Some moths are simply named to reflect their colouring or pattern. Some outstanding examples are Burnished Brass, named because of its colouring looking like polished brass, this species dates back to the 18th Century. The Elephant Hawk Moth is so called as the caterpillar can scrunch up its body, but if threatened will extend itself, looking like an elephant's trunk. The hawk part being due to the speed this moth can attain in flight, it also has the ability to take off vertically. The Elephant Hawk Moth's main food source is Rosebay Willowherb. The majority of moths have specific food sources therefore habitat control is essential for their survival.

As stated earlier moths are fascinating creatures and please remember 'They do not eat your clothes'.

Meeting Report.

Steve Boyle, Butterfly Conservation (Press release 10th October 2014)

Cumbrian Butterflies

Members of Keswick Natural History Society, attending the first of the winter indoor programme, were treated to a superb talk delivered by Steve Doyle of Butterfly Conservation - Cumbria, entitled Cumbrian Butterflies. Steve was instrumental in reviving the Butterfly Conservation Trust in Cumbria on his return to the area in 1990.
He explained how Cumbria is home to 41 of the 59 species of butterfly to be found in the United Kingdom and talking through a typical butterfly season. Commencing with the spring emerging species, taking the audience through the life cycle and how temperature and plant life have an influence on this. The male butterfly establishes its territory on a suitable habitat for egg laying and waits for the females to arrive.
The butterfly season is from late March to October. The first species to emerge is the Orange Tip in early spring, with the last of the season being the Clouded Yellow. One of Steve's personal favourites is the Camberwell Beauty, which is very rare in Cumbria. He was able to photograph one in Arnside following a phone call to alert him of its presence.
The evening was interspersed with tips on how to photograph butterflies, the plants which attract the different species and where the eggs are likely to be found. One interesting fact revealed was that some female species have six legs with the males only having four. The example, from a fantastic selection of photographs, was of a Green Veined White which lays its eggs on the buckthorn plant.
Worryingly, some species are in steep decline, however through the work of the Butterfly Conservation some of the near extinct species are being re-established within Cumbria, the Duke of Burgundy was used as a case in point, classed as a very special butterfly. 25 years ago there were 24 known colonies, to date this is down to just two. The Butterfly Conservation is working to establish suitable habitats and to halt the decline, hopefully the work being carried out will be successful.
One major success was with the Marsh Fritillary. In 2004, eggs were taken from the last know colony in Cumbria. Between 2004 and 2007, 6,000 caterpillars were bred and crossed with Scottish species, 42,000 caterpillars were successfully released on three sites in Cumbria and are now no longer classified as in danger.
The evening ended with questions from the floor being expertly answered, with Steve enlarging on what type of plants to grow in your garden to attract the butterflies.
Leaflets explaining more are available on line from Butterfly Conservation at www.cumbria-butterflies.org.uk. (Or use the 'links' button on this site)

Meeting Report

Flowers of the Yorkshire Dales was the title of the most recent presentation given by Tony Woods who had lived in the Richmond area for a number of years and has a lifetime’s devotion to the subject. He took us on a journey round the parts he knew well, with excellent slides taken at just the right time to show the flowers at their best in their natural surroundings. He has an eye for spotting rare specimens as well as the more common and well known species

Near Richmond itself we saw the celandine, wood anemone, cuckoo pint, toothwort parasitic on hazel, blackthorn, crab-apple whereas at the base of Richmond Castle wild wallflowers, common mallow and rosebay willow herb thrive .Unfortunately, the dreaded Himalayan balsam is present which as well as the Japanese knotweed, they are hoping to control. In the limestone cliffs, west of Richmond pictures of cowslips. hybrid cowslips/primroses , orchids, wild angelica, rock rose, marjoram, thistle, lesser teasel, ragged robin and autumn crocus were shown as typical of the area.

Nearby River Tees on a May morning, it is possible to see the heath spotted orchid, gentian, bird’s eye primrose, glow flower, arctic alpine, cinquefoil and the bistort plants which adapt to reproducing without the help of insects.

Moving on to Wensleydale and Aysgarth Falls, the River Ure flows over limestone rocks gauging out circular depressions. Neighbouring woods are up to 800 years old. Early purple orchids are seen after coppicing, then bluebells and bird cherry which is visited by the bird cherry moth whose larvae can occur in pest numbers completely stripping the plant.

At Gunnerside Ghyll, scene of the old lead mines, we saw plants which tolerate lead in the soil like the tormentil, foxglove, harebell, small white orchid, saxifrage, chickweed, cloud berry, northern marsh orchid, heath spotted orchid, butterwort and the ‘mickey mouse’ mountain pansy

Next, it was over to Semerwater, again in Wensleydale where the globe flower, bird’s eye primrose and grass of Parnassus can be found. At Malham Cove. Source of the River Aire, where there is layer on layer of limestone rocks (and incidentally was also the setting for Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies) the bloody cranesbill, dark red orchid and lady’s slipper nestle in the crevices.

The presentation finished, not with the expected sunset, but with a most brilliant pink sunrise taken over the Dales from Tony’s bedroom window.

The next meeting of the Society is on Thursday December 2 and is to be ‘Landscape and Natural History of the Inner Hebrides by the popular local lecturer, Alan Smith. Everyone is most welcome. Telephone Pat White for details 017687 74705 or visit the website www.keswicknathist.co.uk

Wildlife Summary 2012

David Thomason's Report

As we all know now 2012 was the wettest year since records began and I'm sure everyone remembers the awful wet spring and summer. Butterflies, Damselflies, Dragonflies and most other insects were very late emerging if they emerged at all and this has had a knock-on effect right up the food chain It had a marked effect on the breeding success of most if not all our birds. It has been noticeable that with the poor survival rates of nestlings due to a lack of insects for food, fewer birds are about. Wrens, most of the tit family (except Coal Tits for some reason) and Grey Wagtails seem to be some of the worst affected in my patch.

Waterfowl have been less affected, the ducks and geese seem to be as numerous as ever but poor breeding success in their northern breeding grounds has reduced the numbers of juvenile Whooper Swans and some wintering geese being seen on the Solway Coast, though strangely, the number of adult Whoopers seems to be a lot greater than normal. (Possibly due to the wet weather preventing the harvesting of grain crops, leading to a lot of food for the swans and geese left lying in the fields).

After a poor year last year when there were very few Waxwings about the, last few months of this year have seen a widespread influx of the birds across the county. However, because of the wet spring there are fewer berries for them to feed on, with the result that they are having to move about a lot and so are more difficult to find.

Trees have been very much in the news during 2012 for all the wrong reasons. Tree disease seems to be much more prevalent nowadays, Chestnut Canker, Larch die-back, Sudden Oak die back and lately the major problems with Ash all seem to be linked, but to what? We can only hope that 2013 is kinder to our flora and fauna than 2012 has been.

David Thomason 27th Jan 2013
Meeting Reports


The first meeting of the 2010-2011 session got off to an excellent start with a good turnout to hear Keith Offord,, a well known and popular lecturer whose subject was 'Life over 1000 feet.' Part of Keith's occupation is to look after a specially protected upland in North East Wales which is one of the least cultivated areas in the country, where the vegetation gives rise to species not found elsewhere. He is also a professional ornithologist, photographer and tutor. At 1000 feet, there is a drop of around 3 degrees C and wild life evolves to adapt to this. In NE Wales, the landscape consists of deep heather moorland which thrives in the acid soil, but there is also limestone rock where the soil is alkaline, giving rise, for example, to orchids and grass. Wildlife is therefore related to the geology of the area. Migratory birds like the pied flycatcher arrive in April. They enjoy the long daylight hours for breeding which they do not get at the equator. The wood warbler and redstart are also seen at this height and other birds like the tree pipit, black grouse and coal tit thrive on thinned out forest or conifer saplings merging on to moorland which give them cover but plenty of light though the siskin, red poll and sparrowhawk like the densely packed conifers. The goshawk eats pheasants and so is detested by gamekeepers, resulting in conflict with wildlife lovers. Honey buzzards are also seen in these uplands.
As we all know, sheep transform the landscape and there is a danger of overgrazing. Some birds, like the meadow pipit and skylark can exist happily alongside sheep. Drystone walls provide valuable shelter for the wheatear, little owl, wren, stoats and weasels.
Other birds mentioned as existing in a semi grazed habitat are the lapwing (though numbers in Wales have decreased from 7000 to 3000 in the last 3 years), snipe, redshank, common buzzard, red kite and raven (numbers escalating). There is a decrease in the numbers of red grouse, which may be due to climate change, not necessarily from overshooting. They are now only to be seen on the highest part of the hills as they prefer the colder temperature. This of course has put an end to grouse shooting so heather covered moors are no longer relevant but landowners are encouraged still to manage their moors so the landscape remains as it was.
Keith went on to show slides of caterpillars, dragonflies, acidic pools and an adder, explaining that all forms of wildlife are dependant on one another. The dipper feeds on the caddis fly. The conifer needles drop into pools and becks making the water acidic. We saw slides of the golden plover ,dunlin, curlew, whinchat, merlin, hen harrier, kestrel, buzzard, peregrine, goosander and osprey, all to found in the uplands, many of which are to be found in Cumbria. His final message was that conservation is crucial to maintain the rich environment and that includes burning of heather for regeneration.
Keith's pictures were sharp and thoughtfully captured and with his clear, fluent and articulate delivery, laced with good humour, this was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative evening. Keswick Natural History Society meets fortnightly on Thursdays at 7-30pm at Southey Street Methodist Church. New members and visitors are given a warm welcome.
To find out more, contact the Secretary Pat White on 017687 74705 or visit the website www.keswicknathist.co.uk

The illustrated talk last week was given by Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These are areas of countryside considered to have significant landscape value in England, Wales and Northern Ireland whose purpose is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape, with two secondary aims: to meet the need for quiet enjoyment of the countryside and to have regard for the interests of those who live and work there. The North Pennines Area lies between Carlisle to the west and Darlington to the east, bounded to the north by the Tyne Valley and to the south by Stainmore Gap.
It was obvious from the start that it was to be an evening full of humour, but at the same time there was no doubt about the seriousness and commitment Chris brings to his work.
The area has special qualities: hay meadows, grasslands, peatlands, interesting geology, lead mining, upland birds like snipe, curlew and golden plover and has world famous rivers, the Tyne and the Tees. There are few trees per hectare but the terrain is remote, wild, tranquil and free from light pollution where the skies are dark.
Nature Conservation Programmes are important and working in partnership with other bodies like the M.O.D. at Warcop for the creation of new woodland or with landowners to restore hay meadows. They have produced a book on the oral history of workers from the past full of local vocabulary and descriptions of the equipment which was once used. They work on projects with children, linked to the National Curriculum. Conferences for sixth formers are organised on subjects like climate change where the students have a chance to ask 'Why?' Adventures are arranged such as gorge scrambling, canoeing, cycling and scrambling. A group of Year 9 pupils were taught how to film a landscape, which as well as teaching skills, was useful in understanding relationships. The sound policy is that children are our future.
It is an area where grips or small trenches are a problem, often starting as one metre deep and one metre across then developing into huge chasms. These affect the peat beds which are crucial for the storage of carbon in the atmosphere. However a successful solution to the problem is to block the drain with a one metre cube of peat before it has chance to increase.
Archaeology is another aspect of their work. There are 400 volunteers working throughout the area, discovering their past community. At almost 2000 square kilometres, it is the second largest of the 49 AONBs in the UK. They restore buildings, teach walling skills to create real jobs and have devised a new kit to take flower seeds for spreading on adjacent meadows, plan the remediation of spoil heaps as well as keeping an eye on the South Tyneside Railway.
It came across strongly that these many and diverse activities took place because of Chris' enthusiasm and dedication as Director. Both he and our Chairman urged us to visit the North Pennines as it is a most stunning area and deserves its designation.
The next meeting of the Society is on Thursday February 9 at 7-30p.m in the Parish Room and is about The Vendace - the UK's Rarest Fish. New members and visitors are most welcome.

Telephone David Thomason for details 017687 73319 or visit the website www.keswicknathist.co.uk


When someone has a passion for their subject, it is such a privilege when thei enthusiasm is shared. At the most recent meeting of the society, Brian and Sophia Fuller took us on an Island Hopping trip, starting with the Farne Islands, home to a wide variety of nesting seabirds e.g. puffins, shags, terns, kittiwakes. Travelling on to Scotland, we saw thousands of gannets on Bass Rock whose population had increased from 5000 to 35000 between 1936 and 2001. Next to the Shetland Isles, which is nearer the Arctic Circle than it is to London and though treeless, the birds use the many fences to land. Here, we saw redshanks, ravens, wheatears, Shetland starlings, whimbrels, golden plovers, arctic skua, dunlins, red throated divers, curlews, auks, black guillemots, hooded crows and the Shetland wrens. The latter tiny bird has a very loud song, probably to be heard over the sound of the sea.
Though the talk concentrated mainly on birds, we were also shown throughout, pictures of the typical vegetation and other wildlife. Hedgehogs and rabbits are in abundance. Grey seals and common seals survive on North Rona in spite of ferocious winds. The greater black backed gull lives here as well as numerous gannets whose nests, amazingly, contain on average at least a pound of plastic which does not seem to harm the birds. Gannets too, inhabit St Kilda's where the fulmar population has also increased because of changes in fishing customs.
40% of the world's population of grey seals live in the British Isles and many in the Monach Isles which has shell beaches and where marram grass stabilises the dunes. Eiders, turnstones, fulmars and lapwings also live here. Finally, we travelled to Coll and Tiree, often called the bread basket of Scotland. There is at least one cow per hectare. We saw a brown hare feeding on seaweed. Wild flowers abound like cranesbill, orchids, oysterplants, and bog bean. There are damp pools, lily ponds, dragonflies as well as birds such as sandlings, gulls and redshanks.
The talk was illustrated by stunning photography with attention to colourful, interesting backgrounds and clear graphs and diagrams. For people new to bird identification this was an excellent introduction. Brian conveyed his enthusiasm for a most absorbing pastime as he remembered his experiences.
The next meeting of the Society will be the AGM followed by an illustrated talk by Carol Minks on Mar 22 in the Crosthwaite Parish Room at 7-30 pm.


The 2011-2012 season began with a good turnout for the excellent illustrated talk on Watching Whales and Dolphins - from Baja California to the Bay of Biscay by Rob Petley Jones who comes from South Cumbria. First of all he described how in 2001, an 18metre whale had been washed up dead on Greenodd Sands obviously in trouble as it had been sighted cruising around the Cumbrian seas for a few days before. This had been seen by a number of our members who had also been lucky enough to spot whales in the Bay of Biscay while crossing to Spain - another favourite habitat for whales because of the very deep waters.
So began a fascinating pursuit of Rob and his wife and for their Silver Wedding celebrations, they embarked on a cruise starting in San Diego, which took them as far as the Sea of Cortez, between California and Mexico. There they saw long beaked common dolphins, grey whales and a fin whale which at 25 metres is the second largest mammal in the world today. They also saw ocean sun fish - mola mola which look like sheets of white polystyrene on the surface of the sea when they come up to sunbathe. There were stunning pictures of all these creatures in many positions making it a really exciting experience.
Approaching San Benitos Island there were close up shots of elephant seals, Californian sea lions and Guadeloupe fur seals, there because of the abundance of kelp, a good source of the right sort of food for the fish on which they feed. In the harsh rugged desert landscape of the Ignacio Lagoon grey whales come to calf as these are the right conditions.
It is often thought that the spray which spouts upwards from a whale is water but it is damp air released when the whale surfaces. Fortunately whales here are no longer hunted but they are seen as a tourist attraction. They are covered in barnacles and like being caressed by humans. It feels like touching firm latex foam.
In Magdalena Bay where there was plenty of food and about 5000 wild dolphins were spotted as well as 3 blue whales which at 30 metres are the largest creatures ever to have lived on the planet. Their nostrils are a metre and a half across. There were also humpback whales and sperm whales which are adapted to deep sea fishing - they can dive down to 3000 metres for giant squid and store oxygen for half an hour before doing so. This enables them to stay underwater for ninety minutes.
After being treated to these fascinating pictures, some of them action photos, it was easy to see why Rob and his wife had caught the whale watching bug to such an extent that they don't want to spend their holidays in any other way. It is possible to observe whales in Britain - The Moray Firth and the Hebrides for instance. We were also encouraged to support the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society which abhors the slaughter of whales and dolphins and the use of dolphins for entertainment purposes in pools at seaside resorts.
Lastly, after a very interesting and illuminating evening, we were left with the question: 'What will the impact of offshore wind farms have on whales, dolphins and any other sea creature?'
Keswick Natural History Society meets fortnightly on Thursdays at 7-30pm in Crosthwaite Parish Room. New members and visitors are given a warm welcome.
To find out more, contact the Secretary David Thomason on 017687 73319 or visit the website www.keswicknathist.co.uk
The next meeting is on October 13 and is about Golden Eagles in SW Scotland.


The Future's Red was the title of the latest talk by Simon O'Hare from the Red Squirrels North of England Project. The evening was devoted to the comparison between red and grey squirrels and how vital it is to ensure the red squirrel does not die out in our area. 367 species of squirrels are found right across the globe and because the design of the animal is so successful, this has not changed for thousands of years. They range in size from 3 kg downwards, our native red weighing about 300gm. The red squirrel is a popular animal and features as part of our culture e.g. Beatrix Potter tales and Tufty Club. Colours are from dark brown and red to grey under thicker winter coat and can even be black.
The reds eat nuts and pine seeds for example and are able to do so because their incisor teeth grow constantly but whereas the greys can manage acorns, the reds cannot. Consequently reds survive better in conifer woodlands and the greys in broadleaved. In Europe as a whole, reds outnumber greys and the problem of greys taking over is only specific to the UK and Italy. Unfortunately the deadly squirrelpox virus is carried by grey squirrels who are immune to it themselves and this passes to reds and from them to other reds very quickly. Survival after treatment by the Vetinary Laboratory Agency is very low so this leads to the question of whether we should intervene. Should we not just accept the greys - we introduced them into this country and evolution after all if only man made, is survival of the fittest?
However, a new project 'Red Squirrels Northern England' believes something should be done. This is a well financed, scientifically robust project which concentrates on grey control, conservation and education. Local areas under review are at Whinlatter and Thirlmere. Among the things we can do are: join a conservation group, report sightings of greys, raise funds and supply appropriate feeders being careful to disinfect regularly to prevent the spread of disease. Simon's enthusiasm and enlightened talk convinced most members that the red squirrel is definitely worth preserving.
The next meeting of the society is on Thursday February 24 on 'Bees and the Environment.' Everyone is most welcome.

Telephone Pat White for details on 017687 74705 or visit the website www.keswicknathist.co.uk


Flowers of the Yorkshire Dales was the title of the most recent presentation given by Tony Woods who had lived in the Richmond area for a number of years and has a lifetime's devotion to the subject. He took us on a journey round the parts he knew well, with excellent slides taken at just the right time to show the flowers at their best in their natural surroundings. He has an eye for spotting rare specimens as well as the more common and well known species Near Richmond itself we saw the celandine, wood anemone, cuckoo pint, toothwort parasitic on hazel, blackthorn, crab-apple whereas at the base of Richmond Castle wild wallflowers, common mallow and rosebay willow herb thrive .Unfortunately, the dreaded Himalayan balsam is present which as well as the Japanese knotweed, they are hoping to control. In the limestone cliffs, west of Richmond pictures of cowslips. hybrid cowslips/primroses , orchids, wild angelica, rock rose, marjoram, thistle, lesser teasel, ragged robin and autumn crocus were shown as typical of the area.
Nearby River Tees on a May morning, it is possible to see the heath spotted orchid, gentian, bird's eye primrose, glow flower, arctic alpine, cinquefoil and the bistort plants which adapt to reproducing without the help of insects.
Moving on to Wensleydale and Aysgarth Falls, the River Ure flows over limestone rocks gauging out circular depressions. Neighbouring woods are up to 800 years old. Early purple orchids are seen after coppicing, then bluebells and bird cherry which is visited by the bird cherry moth whose larvae can occur in pest numbers completely stripping the plant.
At Gunnerside Ghyll, scene of the old lead mines, we saw plants which tolerate lead in the soil like the tormentil, foxglove, harebell, small white orchid, saxifrage, chickweed, cloud berry, northern marsh orchid, heath spotted orchid, butterwort and the 'mickey mouse' mountain pansy
Next, it was over to Semerwater, again in Wensleydale where the globe flower, bird's eye primrose and grass of Parnassus can be found. At Malham Cove. Source of the River Aire, where there is layer on layer of limestone rocks (and incidentally was also the setting for Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies) the bloody cranesbill, dark red orchid and lady's slipper nestle in the crevices.
The presentation finished, not with the expected sunset, but with a most brilliant pink sunrise taken over the Dales from Tony's bedroom window.
The next meeting of the Society is on Thursday December 2 and is to be 'Landscape and Natural History of the Inner Hebrides by the popular local lecturer, Alan Smith.
Everyone is most welcome.
Telephone Pat White for details 017687 74705 or visit the website www.keswicknathist.co.uk