Monthly Archives: March 2017

Reintroducing wolves to England? Not a problem (6)

When people suggest that it would be impossible to introduce a wolf pack to the English countryside, they should be aware of the following story. The usual belief is that:

“The Gray Wolf canis lupus has been extinct in England since 1486, in Scotland since 1743 and in Ireland since about 1770.”

Something strange happened though, in Epping Forest in the late nineteenth century.  Mention of it comes from Beatrix Potter in her Journal from 1881 to 1897:

“Several years ago a gentleman let loose three prairie wolves in Epping Forest. These animals have increased in numbers, and are perfectly wild and shy”.

potter

Talking about what a potential problem the breeding of the American Mink in England might be, in New Scientist for January 18th 1962, Harry V Thompson, Ministry of Agriculture Field Research Station, Worplesdon wrote:

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“Tales of escaped coyotes canis latrans or prairie wolves in Epping Forest in the late nineteenth century may come to mind …”

In Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, George M. Eberhart stated:

“A few Coyote cubs canis latrans are said to have been introduced around 1881 in Epping Forest, Essex, England.”

crypto

A slightly longer version occurs in some documents from Regent’s Park Zoo dating from July 19th, 1884. Here, the animals are said to have been coyotes:

” Some short time since a gentleman called upon me at the gardens and offered to present to the Society an animal that he believed to be a prairie wolf. He mentioned some particulars concerning its history that caused me not at once to accept his offer, fearing that the animal might prove to be a useless mongrel. At the same time I asked his address, and promised to call and see the animal.

Accordingly, I went to Leytonstone and on my arrival I inquired for Mr. R. Payze, and found the gentleman who had so kindly offered the animal in question. He was very pleased to meet me, and introduced me to what I at once pronounced to be a veritable prairie wolf (Canis latrans). The history of this animal I give as near as possible in Mr. Payze’s words. In the month of May last year some men who were on their way to London with cartloads of hay told him, on their coming through some part of Epping Forest (” near Ongar,” is the locality given in some narratives), they had found or caught three fox cubs, and they had them in a sack tied to the tail of the cart:

Foret-cinglais1xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Believing them to be fox cubs, he bought one of them for a few shillings, and the men went on their way towards London. The animal was at that time so small that it could be put into a pint pot, and I have every reason to believe the following narrative will fully explain what otherwise would appear a mystery. Mr. Payze introduced me to Mr. Swan (who was formerly a servant to Colonel Howard), and he told me that some few years ago four cubs were brought to England in a ship belonging to Mr. J. R. Fletcher, of the Union Docks, and were turned loose (supposed to be fox cubs) in Ongar Wood, which adjoins Epping Forest. These cubs were brought home in a box and kept for a few days at Colonel Howard’s, Goldings, Loughton. They were then taken to Mr. Arkwright’s, formerly master of the Essex Hunt, and were turned out at Marl’s Farm, and the man Swan was present when they were turned out. I have also been informed that from time to time an animal, supposed to be a large gray fox, has been hunted, but never caught, always escaping into the forest.

single wolf

I think it highly probable that some of the same kind as the animal now in the gardens still exist in the forest, as this species of wolf is not much larger than a large male fox, and not having any scent like the fox, would not be likely to get killed by foxhounds or followed any great distance by them.”

The editor of  Land and Water magazine supplemented this account as follows :

” Subsequently, in company with Mr. Bartlett, we visited Epping Forest ; and from the inquiries made we have little doubt as to the fact of the animal in question having been born in the forest. Swan and other persons who have been acquainted with the forest for many years told us they well recollect the circumstance of the ‘strange animals from foreign parts’ being turned down, and we expect shortly to have further confirmatory evidence from others who were present on the occasion. When first born, the prairie wolf might readily be mistaken for a cub fox. Mr. Payze, who is a lover of animals, and has from time to time kept many tame foxes, was under the impression until quite
recently that ‘ Charlie,’ as the animal is called, was a fox.

foxes

As it developed, however, he noticed several points quite distinct from the common fox, and as, moreover, the animal (although quite quiet with his children) showed unmistakable snappish tendencies towards strangers, he decided to consult Mr. Bartlett, with the result that the superintendent declared that the creature was a Prairie Wolf canis latrans.
(This determination was not correct, see post.—Editor.”

Whatever the animals were, they seem to have persisted until the beginning of the 20th century. The previous article from the Regent’s Park Zoo was criticised for its naivety, Henry Foster sarcastically stating that “his dog was recently killed and proclaimed to be a wolf”.

wolves 2

On October 23rd 1884, however, Henry Ffennell, however, contradicted Mr Foster. Ffennell  had some connection with Regent’s Park and stated that

“the animal was definitely a wolf, bred and captured in the forest. It could be viewed at the gardens.”

A print of the “English Wolf” is widely available to buy on the Internet. It has this caption alongside it:

“Concerning the animal depicted in our engraving which has aroused much interest among naturalists and others, Mr AD Bartlett, the Superintendent of the Zoological Society’s Gardens , Regent’s Park, writes thus:-

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“The prairie wolf now being exhibited in these gardens was presented by Mr K Payne, of Leytonstone, who says he bought the animal about a year ago. it was one of three that had been taken in Epping Forest by some farm labourers, Mr Payne believing at the time that it was a fox cub. Its subsequent growth, however, caused him to suspect that it was not a fox. As it became troublesome on account of its destructive habits, notwithstanding that it had been reared perfectly tame, he decided to get rid of it, and accordingly presented it to this Society. Inquiry is now being initiated with a view to ascertain, if possible, the manner in which the parents had been introduced into that part of the country. It is said that, some years ago, some foreign cubs, supposed to be foxes, were turned out in  the neighbourhood of Epping Forest.”

epping wolf print

No problem, then. Find a forest. Tell people your wolves are just Grey Foxes, and take it from there.

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Bygone football clubs (1)

Over the years, the Forest Recreation Ground has been used for many, very varied, sporting activities. Here is a modern map:

forest

In the medieval period, bear baiting had been probably the first activity on the Forest, with a horse racing course eventually being constructed on the very same site.

Originally the racecourse measured four miles long, but in the early 1700s, this was shortened to two miles. In 1797 a new track in the form of a figure-of-eight was laid out. Unfortunately, this rather strange layout was not successful, and another more conventional course, therefore, oval in shape, was constructed soon afterwards

By the 1860s though, the racecourse was in decline, offering only small prizes, and attracting only second rate horses.  The last race meeting took place on September 29th-30th 1890, and Nottingham’s horse racing subsequently moved to Colwick.

Around 1800, the centre of the racecourse had been used as a place of exercise by the many officers of the cavalry who lived in a distinctive Georgian building on Forest Road. Familiar to all High School pupils, it played host to a tiny sweet shop originally called “Baldry’s” and, more recently, “Dicko’s”. It is now a bakery. Most of those cavalry officers were destined to charge at the Battle of Waterloo:

Scotland_Forever

By 1849, cricketers were using the western end of the Forest for practice, and they soon moved to the centre of the racecourse to play professional games for large sums of money.

It is not really known when football was first played on the Forest. A group of young men regularly met there in the early 1860s, to play a primitive kind of field hockey called “shinney”. They soon thought of giving this up to play the new sport of football.

An initial meeting was convened therefore in the upstairs room of the then Clinton Arms in Shakespeare Street, and the “Forest Foot Ball Club” was duly formed in 1865.

Their first fixture on the Forest was on Thursday, March 22nd 1866, a friendly game between Fifteen of the Forest, and Thirteen of the Notts Club. The game was eventually played between Seventeen of the Forest and Eleven of the Notts, and, according to some sources, was goalless, Nottingham Forest’s first ever goal being scored in their third game, another friendly on the Forest against Notts County, which finished as a 1-1 draw.

Other contradictory sources say, however, that the initial game finished as a 1-0 victory for Nottingham Forest, with Old Nottinghamian, William Henry Revis, providing the decisive score.

One early newspaper article, described how:

“When the men were spread out, the field looked exceedingly picturesque, with the orange and black stripes of the Notts, and the red and white of the Foresters.”

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One of Nottinghamshire’s greatest early footballers, E.H.Greenhalgh, who played for England in the first ever international match against Scotland in 1872, was to write, of football on the Forest:

“The first set of players who came out were regarded as a company of harmless
lunatics who amused themselves by kicking one another’s shins, but did no great harm to the public at large, although in earlier days they would have been put in the stocks.”

Richard Daft, wrote in similar vein…

“When a young man I played regularly with the Notts County Football Club when it was first formed. I believe I played centre forward, but I am not quite sure about this as we were never very particular in those days about keeping in one place. Charging and dribbling were the chief features of the game at that time, and often very rough play was indulged in.”

The exact location of Nottingham Forest’s pitches has never been ascertained for certain. My own researches have led me to believe that they must have been immediately to the east of what is now the “Park-and-ride” car park, at the bottom of the slight slope, but I have no way of being totally sure about this. Look for the orange arrow:

Untitled forest

Forest certainly had major problems with their location, however, when they entered the F.A.Cup from 1878 onwards. The Forest was common land, with free access for all, but the regulations of the F.A.Cup stipulated that an admission charge had to be levied. For this reason, “Forest Foot Ball Club” had to move to the Meadows area for the 1879-1880 cup campaign.

This was not, of course, before the club had introduced various innovations. Samuel Weller Widdowson had invented the shin guard, which was first worn on the Forest in 1874. In 1878, the first ever referee’s whistle in the world was heard on the Forest, most probably in a game between Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Norfolk. It was blown by Mr C.J.Spencer, and marked the first step in a long, long journey of what shall we say, talking points?

zid

The club’s departure however, did not mean that the Forest itself was suddenly devoid of football clubs. Throughout the Victorian era, football was always to remain the main sport, played by scores of different local teams, all wearing their own unique and brightly coloured shirts and shorts.

Indeed, at this time, there were so many local teams using the pitches that the High School were frequently unable to fulfil their own fixtures on Saturdays, but instead had to play on Wednesdays, occasionally Thursdays, or even Tuesdays. At the time, of course, Wednesday was half day closing for shops and businesses in Nottingham, and Thursday was half day closing in Sherwood.

On these half days, it was by no means unusual to see footballers on buses and trams, travelling to their game, already changed into their kit. A newspaper at the time wrote of

“persons hurrying to the Forest football grounds, and dozens of players in full
rig making their way in the same direction,”

Notts County wore black and orange hoops, and at least three other kits:

notts county

Nottingham Forest had always worn their famous “Garibaldi Red”. Here are some of their oldest kits, with only minor changes from year to year, and those sexy shorts getting shorter and shorter:

forest 1868 zzzzzz

By the way, all the illustrations of old football kits came from the best ever website for the soccer nerd and all those boys who had more than twenty different Subbuteo teams. New Brighton Tower 1898? Oh, yes.

Forest and County were not the only football clubs in Nottingham.  Next time I will look at some of the less well known local teams in the area at the end of the Victorian era and before the First World War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Twitch to Kent : Day One

Friday, October 14th, 1988
This is a new venture for me. A minibus trip, to Kent for a whole weekend. Surely we’ll get to see something. I am looking forward to a chance to see the famous Glossy Ibis:

Glossy_Ibis_1700_e

I may possibly get a glimpse of Ring-necked Parakeet, if we’re lucky:

flock parakeete

They’re a lot better close up:

parak

There’s also a fair number of other birds scattered around the country and I start an exciting war of nerves in the minibus, trying to persuade everybody that it would be an extremely good idea to call in and see them all.

I have taken the unpardonable sin of producing a dozen photocopies of an article about the habits of the Stodmarsh Glossy Ibis. A lot of people who had up to now never heard of the bird, are soon warming to the idea of going to see it. A mention of the Isabelline Shrike however, is not quite as successful, since almost all my fellow passengers have a very accurate idea of just how far away Dorset is.

On the Saturday afternoon we move over to Stodmarsh, where by now, we all expect to see the Glossy Ibis, flying over our heads on its way to roost, as it is supposed to do every single night. It can be seen flying in over the Lampen Wall. But just what is a Lampen, and why do we need to be protected from it?

view from lampen wall

In the late afternoon, the reserve doesn’t really have a lot on show. I wait in vain for a Cetti’s Warbler, a bird, that to my eternal shame, I have yet to see, although I have heard a lot singing in Norfolk.
The Stodmarsh logbook by the car park says that the Ibis came in to roost at 4 o’clock the previous evening. That’s a bit of a frightening thought, because we don’t manage to get there until 4.15 and I have the horrible nagging feeling that we have all missed it .
The minutes tick by as we wait for the bird. We get more and more worried. At least, the
serious birdwatchers do. Some of our fellow travellers act as if there is a Glossy Ibis resident in every county in the British Isles, instead of just one single, lost, bird in the whole country.

4.45. Nothing

5.00. Nothing
We get so desperate that Paul puts into operation the ultimate birdwatching spell. He inserts his index finger into the handle of his tripod, followed by the whispered recital of the bird’s Latin name. The spell works a lot better if you haven’t looked up the Latin beforehand, but actually know it anyway.
And of course it works. Within a few short minutes, Wayne is shouting, “I think I’ve got it.”

And just for once, he is actually right.

gloucsglossyibis

The bird flies over, circles a few times, and finally drops down into the reeds, presumably into its roosting place.

It is supposed in all the books to be particularly primitive looking, but I think it’s absolutely superb. It has rounded wings which seemed almost transparent against the light of the sky, and its improbably long bill balances perfectly the dangling legs. And it is is nowhere near as awkward in flight as the descriptions would have you believe. It circles around us, light and graceful. It even earns a spontaneous round of applause from its admirers. It is certainly the best bird I’ve seen so far in my very short birdwatching career. Easily.

glos ibis

Nowadays, with the alleged advent of Global Warming, the Glossy Ibis, usually a bird of Southern Europe, is being seen with increased frequency in England. A little while back, one even came to spend a few weeks in a wet field down by the River Trent in Nottinghamshire:

glossyibis2 nottnm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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High School Football Team achieves Perfection on the Forest

Wednesday, January 21st 1981

On a dull, dreary, drizzly day in winter, the author stood with the football team coach, Tony Slack, watching the First XI play a well contested match against High Pavement 2nd XI. We were on the Forest, at the side of a pitch which has now been partially covered by the all-weather facilities. Look for that orange arrow:

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Suddenly, eighteen year old Norman Garden, his sleeves rolled up in determined fashion, won the ball with a strong, vigorous tackle at the edge of his own penalty area:

NORMAN GARDENxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

He came forward with the ball at his feet and set off thoughtfully towards the opposition goal. Looking up, he sent a long, curving, arcing pass out to young Bert Crisp on the left wing. Bert trapped the ball, then ran forward ten yards or so, and looked across at the attacking possibilities:

BERT CRISP the one
Five yards outside the penalty area stood Chris Ingle, the team’s centre forward. He was in his usual pose, apparently disinterested, lacking commitment, without any apparent desire for hard physical involvement, a young man who only came alive when he saw the whites of an opposing goalkeeper’s eyes:

CHRIS INGLE ONE WWWWWWWWWWWWWWW

Chris began to move. He accelerated slowly but purposefully from his standing start as he crossed the white line of the penalty area. Bert Crisp instinctively knew what to do. He clipped in a wickedly curving centre, about four or five feet above the ground. It was timed to arrive at the penalty spot at exactly the same time as the deadly centre forward. Chris Ingle, as the ball flew in front of him, launched himself full length over the cloying mud.
He met the ball hard with his forehead, catching it a blow which rocketed it towards the top corner of the net. “Goal!!” we teachers both yelled in our minds. But it was not quite over. The opposing goalkeeper soared backwards and with a despairing left hand just managed to flick out at the ball. He diverted it upwards, and it flew onto the crossbar and behind the goal for a corner.

Chris Ingle got up and wiped the mud from his hands down the front of his white shirt. Tony Slack turned to me and said, “You wouldn’t see anything better than that in the First Division.” And he was right.

And, in case you missed it, here’s that fabulous save again…

banks defesa

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A scary tale of cemeteries and coffins unearthed by the storm

This strange tale is just one of many which I have found in a little gem of a book entitled “The Date-Book of Remarkable Memorable Events Connected With Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood, 1750-1879”. Its author was  John Frost Sutton, and I have tried to make his account read a little bit more easily for the modern reader:

“December 1792
An extraordinary occurrence is stated to have happened this year at St Mary’s Church.

st mary engrav

It was necessary to improve the passageway at the side of the churchyard leading down towards the County Hall. This could not be done without taking down some houses, and the churchyard wall on the south side of the building; in order to widen the road, it was also necessary to dig away a part of the churchyard. The cemetery was much higher there than the street and when the wall was removed,  one night, a heavy shower of rain, washed away a considerable portion of the earth from the churchyard. In consequence of this, several coffins were left almost completely uncovered, and two or three of them fell out.

Here is a modern cemetery in South Carolina where exactly the same problem has occurred:

washed out graves

Back to the story:

Among these coffins was one which contained the remains of Mr William Moore, for some years landlord of the Black Swan public house, situated near the church. He had been dead for about twelve years.

The Black Swan used to stand in Goosegate. It was closed as a public house, and became a shop. This is the most recent picture of it that I can find:

black swan pub

Here is Goosegate, indicated, as always, by the orange arrow.  St Mary’s Church is indicated as a “Place of Worship” by the letters PW on High Pavement, towards the bottom of the map:

goosgate

And now, back to the shattered coffin:

“The coffin being broken, there was observed in his remains a concretion not unlike a pumice stone, but rather whiter, and as large as the liver of an ox.”

It took me a very long time indeed to find out the weight of a complete ox liver, but I eventually decided that a pound, sixteen ounces or half a kilo would be roughly right:

“Mr William Moore, the landlord of the Black Swan, was a remarkable man for having a very large belly, which projected more on one side than the other:

belly
He had often said to his friends, that he thought a hard substance was beginning to form within him when only 22 years of age, and this continued to grow slowly until the day of his death He died about the age of 70. He had also been heard to say that it gave him little pain, though he found it troublesome; and it is worthy of remark, that the ribs on the side of the concretion bowed very much outwards.

Three local Doctors, Dr Hodges, Dr Neville and Dr Ford had examined Mr Moore several times and he had promised that whichever of them survived him should have permission to perform a post mortem on his body. But as Mr Moore survived all three of the doctors, no post mortem examination was ever made. Nothing therefore but an accident could possibly have brought the concretion to light.”

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Deadly Deer (5)

There are apparently 75,000 collisions between cars and deer every year in the UK. This results in 450 injuries and, the latest figures allege, as many as twenty fatalities, both drivers and passengers.
It is not surprising that these traumatic events are so frequent. The United Kingdom has more than two million deer. This represents the highest total since Saxon times:

-fallow-deer-stag-herdxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

A few years ago, there was even a muntjac deer in our staff car park, right in the middle of Nottingham:

8507_Muntjacxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

With over-browsing, deer cause enormous damage to our woodlands, and especially the birds who breed there. Too often deer consume the low vegetation which hides their nests and in general, they have a hugely negative effect on trees, shrubs, plants and flowers. This circular destruction of the bark will kill the tree:

deer-damage

Recently a group of scientists suggested that half of England’s deer should be shot to help preserve our woodland landscape. Several species are actually foreign immigrants to our countryside, namely muntjac and Chinese water deer:

Chinese_water_deer_

Another introduced species are Sika , which manage to get absolutely everywhere:

Sikadeer

Overall, this enormous population of deer causes around £4.5m worth of damage to plantations and woods in Scotland alone. In England, it is not so much the trees which suffer, as the cereal crops, mainly in east and south-west England, where deer cause £4.3m worth of financial loss annually.
I can’t find out the overall cost of deer culling but I suspect, given our successive governments’ ability to spend other people’s money, it will be approximately £14.76 squillion pounds per year.
So let’s do it for free. Here in Nottinghamshire, let’s encourage petty criminals to clear off out of the city and live in groups in the forest, armed only with bows and arrows. They could wear green for camouflage and shoot the King’s deer on a regular basis.  And on Bank Holidays why not have great big barbecues for everybody to go to ?

robin hood- heroes
And bring back the lynx. We could have every single animal sponsored by the aftershave company. Lynxes are so shy you wouldn’t even notice them in our local woodland.

lynx a

You would obviously notice Brown Bears, but so what? They eat deer by the freezer full. And furthermore, it would make enormous financial sense to have a great big bear eating the contents of all the rubbish bins in our country parks, rather than buying gigantic expensive specialised vehicles and paying humans to empty them.

image_encounters

And think of America itself. What do they have in the woods that eats deer? I’ll give you a clue. It’s totally nocturnal. It’s very shy, especially given the fact that it’s nine feet tall. You would never see them and when you did nobody would believe you. All you’d see would be a gradual diminution in the deer population.

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If that’s a step (or should I say, a Big Foot) too far, then let’s look back a little in time to the Middle Ages.
As recently as 1433, Sir Robert Plumpton was granted a piece of land in Nottingham by King Henry VI (Parts 1-3) if he could manage to blow his horn and thereby frighten and chase away all the wolves in Sherwood Forest. The piece of land he held in Nottingham was called “Wolf Hunt Land” (The clue’s in the name). In this way Sir Robert probably helped the wolf towards its eventual extinction which occurred, supposedly, during the reign of Henry VII (or Henry VI Part Four, as he was occasionally called).
At this time, back in early fifteenth century, wolves were limited to just a few areas, anyway. Some forests in Lancashire such as Bowland, the Derbyshire Peak District and the Yorkshire Wolds.
So let’s reintroduce them now. Two million deer to cull. Let Wolfy have a go. We know that they are harmless. Two deaths in North America in 129 years? Negligible!! They’d take care of the deer problem for us:

wolf pack one

And what better sight than watching a pack of wolves  chase down a mountain bike rider over the romantic fells of the Lake District?

wolf baby

Or another pack pursuing quad bike riders in the New Forest? Perhaps a whole wolf family practicing their hunting techniques on somebody else’s badly behaved and loud mouthed kids.

eyes wolf
What’s not to like?

Just watch this video, which comes, literally, from the “HeartOfTheWilderness”:

Or if you are a child, why don’t you let the Smithsonian Channel teach you to howl like a wolf? Ideal for relieving the monotony of those tedious car drives to school. Better even than the counting songs from French lessons:

 

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