Friday, 1 October 2010

Signs of the times: Summer #18

More comparisons between the British countryside of today and that from 1959-1961 in the paintings of Charles Tunnicliffe in the Ladybird "What to look for..." series of books.

“The swallow of summer, the barbed harpoon,
She flings from the furnace, a rainbow of purples,
Dips her glow in the pond and is perfect.”

Ted Hughes, from: "Work and Play"

(Copyright: Ladybird Books)

Summer Picture 18
Och, a wee holiday away for two weeks and summer seems to have fled by our return at the weekend. I’d better press on! Fortunately, the main subjects of Summer picture 18 are still here in central Scotland, with the swallows and swifts still winging their way around. In the foreground, the seed heads of bulrushes (or reed-mace) from last year have burst to release their downy seeds, while this year’s new seed heads are still forming. A flock of Canada geese is swimming in the background.

Swallows and swifts have already featured in this blog series, where I looked at how they have fared here for the swallow and here, the swift. Although swifts may begin leaving for their African winter haunts much earlier in the summer, the swallow is one of the latest species to depart, mostly by late September. The gathering of noisy flocks on telephone wires is a sure sign of the impending end of the summer season and then, one day, they have mostly all gone, other than the odd straggler, perhaps the product of a later second brood.

Canada geese are not a native species to Britain. In fact, although they have been here for several hundred years and were introduced deliberately (Giant Hogweed, anyone?), they are now regarded as an invasive non-native species. The introduction must have been for ornamental reasons as Canada Geese are reputedly amongst the most inedible of birds (Move along! Move along – there’s no wild food story ‘ere”).

You can find out more about the Canada Goose problem and what is being done about it here, on an advisory site run by the Non-Native Species Secretariat for Great Britain, where you can pick Canada Goose from the list. This site characterises the problem of Canada Geese in Britain as follows:

Ecosystem Impact: Introduced geese are heavy grazers of aquatic and waterside vegetation, and their droppings can increase nutrient levels in water bodies and soils. Trampling and the addition of nutrients can change the composition of plant communities, especially where grazing is intense.

Health and Social Impact: There is considerable concern that the presence of so many large birds in close association with people, for example in urban parks, may be a health hazard. Canada geese are suspected of transmitting salmonella to cattle. The presence of slippery droppings can be a nuisance, especially on paths, playing fields or golf courses, as can possible aggression from nesting adults. Bird strikes involving Canada geese have caused human deaths and injury as well as damage to the environment and loss of or damage to aircraft.

Economic Impact:Canada geese may graze on farmland at any season, occur very widely, and may feed in areas that would be shunned by wild geese. Their grazing and trampling may cause major damage to grassland and crops. Birds climbing out from the water to graze make shallow, well-trodden paths that can damage flood defences and accelerate bankside erosion.

The British Trust for Ornithology reports, of this species: “Canada Geese were first introduced to English parkland around 1665 but have expanded hugely in range and numbers following translocations in the 1950s and 1960s. They increased rapidly, at a rate estimated at 9.3% per annum in Britain between the 1988–91 Atlas period and 2000, with no sign of any slowing in the rate of increase”. That rate of growth looks something like this:

The BTO concludes that: “The economic, social and environmental impacts of rapidly expanding, non-native Canada Goose populations are of growing conservation concern across Europe” [see above!].

On a happier note, the bulrush or reedmace (Typha latifolia) in the front of the picture is a native plant, which the New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora (2002) says is: “an emergent in shallow water or on exposed mud at the edge of lakes, ponds, canals and ditches and (less frequently) by streams and rivers. It favours nutrient-rich sites. It spreads by wind-dispersed fruits, often colonising newly excavated ponds and ditches and subsequently spreading by vegetative growth”. In terms of its success, the New Atlas says of this species that there is some evidence that it increased in frequency in the 20th century in many areas, for reasons that are not entirely clear. It is now much more frequently recorded in Wales, northern England and Scotland than it was in the 1962 Atlas. Richard Mabey, in his Flora Britannica, reports that surprisingly little use has been made of Typha in Britain, confirmed by the only entry for the species in Tess Darwin’s “The Scots Herbal”, where it is reported from an early 19th century account from Orkney which reports that it was added to some poor hay mixture of local plants, of which it was said: “None but the half-starved beasts of Orkney would eat such fodder”!


  1. Glad to see you back an these continue. I've been missing them.......

  2. Thanks Al, for your ongoing interest!- I need to press on and complete Summer - a few more to go, another one nearly completed! cheers, SNB

  3. Hey Scotty! You have been tagged, follow me to find out more:


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