Tuesday 31 October 2017

Common Land

The part of the Cotswolds that I call home is almost completely surrounded by what is known as Common Land.

During the Medieval era of the Middle Ages, the use of land was governed by a manorial system. All land remained in the ownership of the local Lord of the Manor, a term which originated with the emergence of feudalism. The feudal system was established in England by the Normans following their victory at the Battle of Hastings. At that time all land in England was claimed by William the Conqueror which he then distributed amongst his Norman followers as their reward. Food was grown, animals grazed and fuel was gathered, but over time some local people were given rights of use over the poorer areas of land which became known as 'Common Land'. This historic feudal system has thus ensured that these areas of Common Land have remained much as they have always been down the centuries. The land has never been ploughed or fertilised only grazed naturally by free roaming cows, sheep and horses. The present day consquences for the Commons are that they are a haven for animals, trees, shrubs and flowers.

As I walked over the Common this past week I came across the dead body of a lovely fox
Judging by his fine bushy tail and small size he appeared to be a juvenile.
Sadly this handsome fox must have been hit by a passing vehicle not long before I stumbled across him. 

These Commons are some of the few remaining areas of the country that are registered common land and which still remain unenclosed. Many people enjoy walking, cycling, horse riding, having a picnic or relaxing and just enjoying the views. The Commons are within the Coswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and parts are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Area of Conservation and an Ancient Monument. 
There are many rare and diverse species of butterfly to be found such as the Adonis Blue, which favours these limestone grasslands. There are 13 species of wild orchids thriving on the Commons along with the rare Pasque Flower which can be spotted growing on the Common around Easter. There are small Juniper trees, a slow-growing native conifer whose berries are used in gin, and which can live for up to 200 years. 
Grazing animals are an intrinsic part of this ancient grassland management. Without grazing, the Commons would soon become dense, scrubby woodland and the rich limstone grasslands would not exist, the consquence of which would be a loss of views and wildlife habitats. 
The people who are able to exercise the rights of grazing their cattle today are known as 'commoners'. These rights are afforded to them because they own property within the historic Manor. The rights are recorded in the deeds of their residential properties, and in the Commons Register held by the local County Council. 
  There is significant archaeology on the Commons, the most prominent being a defensive earth works running for over a mile across the Common, and forming the remains of a possible Iron Age settlement of the Belgic Dobunni tribe. There is a neothlithic long barrow, and indeed our own home sits on what was once a Roman Military Camp.

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Island in the Sun

 Just returned from the Italian island of Sardinia where every day, dawn to dusk, the sun shone brightly. Landing home again on terra firma, and confronted by a very green rain soaked land, we joked to one another about taking the return flight back!!!  However, there is no place quite like home.
  We in this northern hemisphere are programmed into our seasons. Imagine a world without Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter. No snowdrops to watch magically shooting out of the ground during January or evenings spent sitting around a cosy fireside. What would it be like without the riot of russet leaves now beginning to crown our tree tops which will eventually swirl to the ground leaving us with carpets of gold for young and old alike to trample beneath their feet?

We did very little sight seeing
Simply relaxed -
swam, walked, and read lots of books beneath the dappled shade of an old Olive Tree

Saturday 14 October 2017

Nelson Mandela

Whilst I am away from the computer here are
five quotes from Nelson Mandela

"Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world"

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear"

"It always seems impossible until it's done"

"Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again"

and finally

"No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite" 
 This huge bronze statue of a young Nelson Mandela stands in the gardens of the Union Building, Pretoria - seat of government, and the building where he was sworn into office in 1994 - the first black president. The statue was dedicated one day after the former president was buried in his ancestral village of Qunu, following 10 days of mourning.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

On Safari in Kruger National Park

where shrubs have thorns resembling daggers, teeth are pointed and sharp, and claws can rip flesh wide open.

What a scary place for this petite adult Sharpe's Grysbok! - agile but very timid - his defence is to retreat into an aardvark burrow or similar when threatened. 
A Lion lying hidden in the undergrowth with his Lioness

However, little does he know that this younger, powerful, male has also appeared on the scene, and just a few metres away
  He looks around, takes in the scene, then lies down, and is completely hidden

Southern Ground Hornbills are typically seen marching along in small family parties probing the ground for insects. They are on the endangered list, but despite their terrestrial habits, are strong fliers.

This was a close encounter - an elephant charging towards me - a great photo opportunity whilst sitting in our open top jeep, fortunately our ever alert competent ranger moved off quickly.
On a far distant escarpment we spotted a solitary White Rhinoceros complete with his precious horn. South Africa is at the forefront of rhino conservation; some 75% of the world's surviving rhinos live within its borders. It is a continual battle protecting them from the poachers and the rangers latest weaponry is making use of drones.
 A keen eyed Vulture can soar on thermals for hours on end with a vision that is practically unmatched in the annimal kingdom

Yellow-billed Hornbill - nests in holes in the trees. During incubation the female plasters up the entrance to seal herself in; the male feeds her through a slit until the eggs are hatched. 
 During a break for lunch these keen eyed Cape Glossy Starlings were after our food.
We needed this lunchtime to relax a little as we had been up and on the go before daybreak.

The area is suffering a severe drought and is desperate for the rains to arrive. However, these Zebras, for example, don't look under nourished so there must still be plenty of nourishment in the vegetation even though it appears to be dry and parched.

Mum with her two young warthogs - in family groups they are a regular sight trotting briskly across the savannah with their long, thin tails held aloft.

Giraffes are the world's heaviest ruminants and the tallest land mammals which feed from the canopy. They can be found in groups of around 15 and a herd may be all male, all female, or mixed. This male appeared to be travelling alone, but suddenly we spotted a much smaller female following in his wake.

Kori Bustard - loosely related to cranes but more sturdily built. It is the world's heaviest flying bird, weighing up to 28lbs.
The African Buffalo is a powerful animal - they like to wallow in muddy water even more so than elephants or rhinos, and seldom stray more than a few miles from a reliable water source.  The birds that can just be made out on the tree behind the buffaloes are oxpeckers. They feed exclusively on the backs of large mammals eating the ticks and parasites. Sometimes large prides of lions attempt to prey on buffaloes but with very mixed success.

Saw several species of antelope, much revered by the San, the hunter gatherers who once inhabited South Africa - the antelope is the animal most commonly depicted on their ancient rock paintings.
Growing in Kruger Park I saw this wonderous

  Kigelia africana - sausage tree with its voluptuous red velvet flowers but also sausage like gourds up to a metre long As daylight falls it becomes a hive of activity when bats and night insects arrive to drink nectar from the flowers.
The sausage tree has been used by indigenous people and traditional African healers for hundreds of years to treat all manner of skin complaints from ulcers and sores to serious conditions such as leprosy and skin cancer. As well as anecdotal evidence from traditional use, there now exists a significant body of scientific research supporting its efficacy. 

Monday 9 October 2017

Blyde River Canyon

 Even though our flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg lasted for 2½ hours our road travels were again suddenly accompanied by the Drakensberg Mountain range. This huge escarpment stretches for 700 miles eventually forming a natural border with Lesotho.
We had no idea what we were about to see as we walked across the top of this escarpment on our journey travelling to the dry bushveld plains of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The panoramic route we travelled passed by the fissured ridges of the Drakensberg Mountains - the most spectacular section of the Canyon. 
 The fast flowing Blyde River, has over the centuries, carved its way though 700m of shale and quartzite to create a scenic jumble of cliffs, islands, plateaus and bush-covered slopes that form a 20 km canyon. To give some scale to the canyon the turquoise dot just visible in the river on the left is a pleasure cruiser boat, and notably the river is home to crocodiles and hippopotamus.
The Three Rondavels
Rondavels are traditional cylindrical Zulu huts with conical thatched roofs - these rock formations were shaped by the erosion of soft rock beneath a harder rock cap that eroded more slowly. 
The final leg of our journey is now less than two hours away