About Me

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London, United Kingdom
This blog will contain pictures and information from my everyday encounters with nature in London and the surrounding areas. I will log details of the origin of each photograph thus recording what there is to be seen and where it was seen. I very much welcome anyone else who can upload photos and information about nature in London and the home counties. I work freelance in the film industry so have plenty of days off. I hope to update Monday to Friday and once on the weekend posting at around 19.30, I don't post on bank holidays

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Donkey (Equus asinus)

Dave - Dukes Island Studios

These pictures were taken yesterday while I was filming with Dave and Nugget. Obviously this picture was not taken in the wild but I have decided to post on donkeys as I knew very little about them and they are very interesting. The first domesticated donkeys we know of were used in ancient Egypt over 5000 years ago. Donkeys, like horses and zebras are part of the Equus genus, of which there are many different species. In the wild donkeys may be found in north African desert often living a fairly solitary existence, this make their very loud call/bray and their disproportionately large ears very useful for locating one another. There is a lot to learn about donkeys but this post could not be made without mention of their famed stubbornness. To me this is rooted in intelligence and their sense of self-preservation. Donkeys are one of the ‘beasts of burden’, they may carry up to between 30 or 40% of their own body weight and have powerful digestive systems that enable them to eat plants and foods that me of little use to other grazing animals. There is thought to be approaching 50 million donkeys worldwide with China playing home to upward of 11 million. I could write pages about donkeys, they have a very rich and lengthy history even beyond their relationship with Man. There are numerous references to donkeys in every one of the world's main religions and they still play a large part in societies all over the world.

Many thanks to Kidsrome mobile farm for introducing me to Dave and Nugget.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum)

Stem & Seed- Reculver, Kent

This is an incredible plant, which I’d never heard of before the food foraging course I mentioned in Sundays post. It grows predominantly in coastal areas on cliff tops and nearby where it grows in abundance. This picture was taken near Mondays picture of Coltsfoot. It has largely disappeared from menus but I ate it in several different forms and it was superb. The large thick stems make a substitute for celery, which I found to be sweeter, more tasteful and all together, more agreeable. The seeds, which you can see in the picture, tasted a little like juniper to me and are sometimes used in blended coffee substitutes. The thick stems cut up and cooked in water for 10 minutes were delicious also. The roots can be eaten like parsnip and the leaves may be used in Salads. The plant is said to have come from Macedonia hence the name but we have the Romans to thank for its existence in Britain. Take care when picking and always make sure you have made certain identification of a plant before eating it.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Monkey-puzzle (Araucaria araucana)

Dulwich rd, SE24
  One of the best things about observing nature in the midst of London is the opportunity to see species that are unlikely to be seen in rural areas. The Monkey puzzle also known as Chile pine is another tree that was brought to Britain around the end of the 18th century for its ornamental appeal and it’s an individual looking tree with a long straight trunk and a mess of branches. It’s native to South America specifically, Chile and Argentina. It is one of the hardiest species of conifer and enjoys plenty of rainfall and can live comfortably down to about -20C. The tree can be harvested for seeds very similar to pine nuts and it’s thought may live up to 1000years. The tree is no longer harvested for its wood as it’s status is vulnerable in this country.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

Coltsfoot- Reculver Kent
Coltsfoot is usually found on wasteland, by roads or on disturbed ground. It has a bright yellow flower and is in the daisy family. It usually flowers in early February/ beginning of spring at about the same tie as the crocus. Notably the leaves come after the flower dies around May time. This plant has lots of uses, it has long association with respiratory benefits and may be used by herbalists to help asthma and bronchitis. It often crops up in herbal cigarettes and was being prescribed for chest complaints as far back as ancient Greece. It should be known that this plant contains alkaloids that can cause liver damage but in minute quantities. Many of the foods you buy from supermarkets also contain alkaloids but are provided with no warning. The flowers can be infused with water or in brewing.   

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Wild food foraging

I'm not posting this weekend on one specific item. I spent yesterday on an excellent foraging course with Fergus Drennan. I would highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in the outdoors. This week I’ll be writing about a few of the things I learnt on the course, there are a huge number of plants which are very common and also very enjoyable. Whether you live in London or in deep countryside there is plenty of healthy, tasty food to either supplement or base your entire diet on.


Something interesting...there are over 700 species of Sea weed in the UK, about 50% of which you'll find above sea level at least when the tide has gone out, many of these are abundant and edible. 

Friday, 25 March 2011

Red dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Southbank - 24/03/11
Also known as Purple dead-nettle which seems like a more appropriate name as the flowers are purple. It is a brilliant bee friendly plant, which provides a source of nectar for bees during mild weather in winter when little else is flowering. With a cursory glance it may be mistaken for the stinging nettle when it is not flowering, hence the name but there is no relation whatsoever.
Like many plants the fresh young leaves and shoots maybe eaten but I've read that they're not particularly palatable. 

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Cowslip (Primula veris)

Cowslip - Brixton Water Lane
Closely related to the primrose the cowslip also has two types of flower, which produce seeds when pollen is transferred between flowers by insects. Each stem on a cowslip can produce up to thirty flowers per head. There are lots of legends about cowslips that crop up through history. Possibly the most famous is the first cowslip springing from where St Peter dropped the keys to heaven. More importantly than legend are all the uses of cowslip, it can be made into wine or used in salads. Herbalists use the plant to help with chest problems such as bronchitis or whooping cough, it can also be used to treat sleeping problems, headaches and as a diuretic. If you are going to use the roots you must make sure there is an abundance of the plants present in the area before picking. Roots are best harvested in early autumn.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

Grey Heron- Brockwell Park

The grey heron is the most common large British bird. They stand around one meter tall and have a wingspan approaching  double that. Herons are wading birds and they may stand still for hours at a time waiting for prey (usually fish and amphibians, occasionally small mammals and birds) to come close enough to strike. They may also actively hunt prey. They’re easy to spot in flight as they move quite slowly and keep their necks bent in a contorted s shape. They usually nest in large colonies called heronries, which are established in tall trees and made out of twigs.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion- Dulwich rd - Today
Dandelion from the French ‘dent de lion’, ‘lion’s tooth’ which refers to the leaf shape,  is often maligned as an intrusive weed especially by gardeners. In its defense the dandelions sizable flowering heads provide fiery dashes of yellow all across the countryside from spring right through the summer. Furthermore they are very useful plants for the leaf can be infused with warm water and drunk several times a day to make a herbalist treatment to reduce blood pressure and the root can be ground and used to make dandelion and burdock. Do not confuse with ‘false dandelion’ aka ‘Cat’s ear’, which has similar flowers and leaves. The can be differentiated as its flower sits singly on branchless, hollow, leafless stems.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Willow (Salix)

Amwell Nature reserve, Herts - yesterday
This is a general introduction to Willow of which there are a huge number of species, running into the hundreds. Both trees and shrubs make up the genus Salix. They are some of my favorite trees as they are often incredibly aesthetically pleasing as well as multi purpose in usage. Possibly the two most famous uses for willow are in the making of aspirin and cricket bats (lets not forget wicker weaving). Willow is incredibly rich in salicylic acid, which is the constituent element of aspirin. If you take a willow shoot and chew on it you’ll notice the same taste as that which an aspirin gives if it comes into contact with your tongue before you swallow it. Cricket bats are predominantly made from White Willow, which grows long and straight. Willow will usually be found near damp lowlands often by rivers etc. Generally if Willow is growing it’s a very good indication that there’s a good source of water present. Goat Willow is a notable exception to this rule and is often found in woods where there may not be an abundance of water. The Shrubs and climbers are usually found more northerly and on uplands. As this year continues I’ll be trying to identify individual species of Willow around London.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Daily Posts

I've decided to post Monday to Friday and once per weekend so there will not be a blog post today. I will be posting about Willow tomorrow.

Tip for the week: 'The Wave of Destruction'; a free talk by a seismologist about what caused the earthquake in Japan and the subsequent tsunami. Wednesday 23rd of March at the Natural History Museum. 14.30 in the Attenborough studio.   

Saturday, 19 March 2011


Male and female Mallards need little introduction. One of the most common British birds, they can be found on almost any pond in the UK. The male is distinctive but there are at least half a dozen other species of duck which share similar looks with the female in the foreground of this picture, The Gadwall and Pintail to name two. These ducks frequently interbreed with other species of duck from the same genus which is leading to genetic dilution and posing a threat to the existence of other rarer ducks. There are over sixty species of duck that Mallards may breed with. Mallards are common in  many parts of the world including China, North America, Siberia and North Africa to name a few.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Robin (Erithacus modularis)

Robin- Dulwich rd
I thought I'd blog on a Robin today as one conveniently landed on the tree outside my living room window this morning. One of the most recognisable British birds and a favorite on Christmas decorations and greeting cards a tradition that dates back to the middle of the 19th century when postmen wore red tunics. They are quite cheeky bold little birds and are very territorial. Adults have the very recognisable red face, throat and belly. They can live 10 years although due to traffic and domestic cats a huge percentage die before reaching 1. The male is very aggressive protector of his territory and will go after pretty much anything that flashes red. Fights between males are fierce and may result in death. The eat mostly insects but will also eat fruit and seeds.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Tufted Duck - Brockwell Park

Male Tufted Duck
Tufted Duck's are easy to identify and they are the second most common duck after the Mallard. You should see them on most park ponds in London. The only bird you may confuse them with is the Scaup but that is usually only found in marine waters and lacks a tuft. The tufted duck is a diving bird it usually dives in 15-20 second bursts and has been recorded doing up to 100 dives an hour they usually dive to about 8ft. The east some plant mater, insects and molluscs. They are quite social ducks and enjoyable to watch in the daytime as they are usually quite busy. I counted at six pairs in Brockwell Park today.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica)

Excellent walk round the NHM garden today with herbalist Claire Choudry. I think I'll be blogging about plants for the next few days. Photo taken in the gardens there. it's just about the most common plant in patches of untended land and can be of great irritation to the short wearer but this plant has a great deal of uses. It's sting is administered by small hairs found all over the plant which break off when touched. If you're going to pick stinging nettles bare handed, do it with a firm grasp. The young tips that you see at the top of this photo make excellent tea, soup and wine. The plant is rich in formic acid which has a number of uses. The Nettle may be used  by people with rheumatism and arthritis to sting affected areas of the body to alleviate pain. Other uses for this plant that a herbalist may suggest are as antihistamine, to treat migraines, eczema treatment and as a drink for nursing mothers to stimulate milk production.  Infusing the root for some time with hot water can be effective at treating prostrate enlargement. Obviously seek advice before using any plants for remediable properties and using plants for healing will not necessarily negate the need to visit the doctor but can be very effective in treating minor ailments.

Natural History Museum 16/3/11

If you're about...today at 11.30 and again at 14.00 medical herbalist Claire Choudhury guides a tour of the Natural History Museum garden talking about plants and Folklore, I'll be blogging what I learn in the next few days. More information; the NHM website on the left of this page.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

White Primrose

The Primrose is one of the the first spring flower across most of Europe. It's name derives from Latin prima rose; first rose. These are beautiful well known flowers which most people should recognise. Like most plants they have other uses, the leaves can be used to treat some skin irritations and wine can be made from the petals and all parts are edible. It has been popular to take Primroses from the wild to transfer to a garden and because of this practice large wild display of Primroses are now much rarer than they used to be. Please note removal of Primroses from the wild is illegal in the UK and several other countries. Photo take on Dulwich rd SE24.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Cleavers (Galium aparine)

Cleavers - Central London
Also well known as Goosegrass or Sticky weed as well as a variety of other names. I know it best as that sticky weed which I still find quite fun to stick on an unsuspecting friends back.  This sticky characteristic is created by lots of very fine hairs each of which has a hook on the end. This design feature is a very successful way of dispersing the plants seeds with the assistance of passing animals or juvenile spirits. It's medicinal claims are many, cleavers are said to be rich in vitamin c and have diuretic and vulnerary properties. If you research Cleavers, the herbalist claims over the health giving effects of it are extensive. It's used to combat insomnia, eczema, tonsillitis, glandular fever, cystitis even cancer. The seeds can be roasted and used as a 'similar tasting' coffee substitute. I'll probably continue to enjoy using it to stick on peoples backs. Photo taken today on a patch of scrub land of Cornwall rd behind the National theatre and Waterloo.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Bloody-Nosed Beetle

South East London
Bloody-Nosed beetles are quite common in Southern England. These beetles usually come out of hibernation in April but adults may be found in most months of the year. The get their name from a secretion produced when they are under threat; a red bloody fluid that is said to be both foul tasting and a visual deterrent for predators. They live mostly on grasslands and feed mainly on leaves. They are flightless beetles and the one the one I photographed was just over two centimeters in length. 

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Herring Gull (Larus Argentatus)

Herring Gull - Dawlish, Devon
I confess to not actually being in London this weekend. I am in Devon and the picture of this Herring Gull was taken in Dawlish. I thought I'd blog on this bird as it is frequently seen in London as well as the coast. Do not confuse it with the Yellow-Legged Gull which is virtually identical in every respect apart from, obviously, yellow legs. You may see up to 15 different species of Gull in the UK and to my eye many are very similar. Worldwide there are 50 plus. That's before you factor in Terns, Fulmers and Kittiwakes, of which there are a further 10 or so birds in the UK, which to the untrained eye are very difficult to tell apart from species of gull. Herring Gull's are scavengers and like most scavengers they are intelligent having adapted similar means as the crow for opening hard food. They will drop crustaceans from great height to crack them open. They will often hang around heavily inhabited areas for edible rubbish or scraps from 'kind' people. I like their propensity to often pose quite close to human contact on pillars and general high points as if they were treasured sculptures.   

Friday, 11 March 2011

Ornamental Cherry Trees

I thought I'd end the week with what in my opinion is one of the best natural sights in London at this time of year, Cherry blossom. There are upward of 40 species of Cherry Tree. The species that actually  produce fruit are very limited and usually derive from wild cherry. The trees you see all over London at the moment with white or pink/white flowers are ornamental only. The Cherry Tree is a very important symbol in Japanese culture akin to the British relationship with Oak or Roses. The trees play a part in art, music, film even religion. The bark on Cherries varies a lot but usually contains horizontal lines/markings called lenticels.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Ring-Necked Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)

Ring-Necked Parakeet. Dulwich Park.

I thought as it's been a grey day in London I'd upload something colourful. Taken at about 5pm today in Dulwich very near to the large Turkey Oak just as the evening sun came out. These birds are obviously not indigenous to the UK. According to the RSPB they started breeding in Britain in 1969. And their wild existence is as a result of escaping from captivity. They're pretty easy to spot in London, I've seen them in most of the main parks and commons, especially in SW and SE London. Despite being so brightly marked they are fairly well camouflaged when still in a tree you'll probably hear there loud squawks before you see them. They are often in large groups. I've seen them being quite territorial and very aggressive toward a pair of squirrels in a Horse Chestnut in Richmond Park. Their effect on the ecosystem in this country has not yet been quantified but their numbers are growing rapidly and there is surely a price to pay.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

King Alfred’s Cake (Daldinia Concentrica)

Found in Brockwell Park Log circle
The first fungi I've written about is very common. Also known as cramp balls and coal fungus it usually grows on dead logs or branches, predominantly Ash or Beech but you may also see them growing on living trees. They are quite easy to spot. They are very hard and inedible but useful in the decaying process of dead branches or logs. When you cut them open they have rather attractive concentric rings. They are usually black or dark brown. There great use is for fire lighting. They make excellent tinder. An ember may be created from one flash of a fire steel and can stay burning slowly within the fungus for a considerable time.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Carrion Crow

Carrion Crow
Leading on from yesterdays topic; the Blackbird, another black bird, the Carrion Crow. This crow is the same species as the Hooded Crow, indeed they breed with one another and produce fertile offspring but the Hooded Crow is usually found far north. Distinguishable from the Raven because it's smaller and more common and from the Rook which has a white face patch and is much more social, usually seen in large groups. The Crow receives a lot of bad press. It has an unmelodious call and is famed for scavenging and egg stealing from gamebirds. I admire its pragmatism, they are incredibly successful mainly because their omnivorousness knows virtually no bounds. They will eat from insects, fruit, rubbish they have been known to pressurise birds of prey, even foxes into relinquishing their kills but this is rare. They are adaptable and  intelligent birds. One of the most cunning ways they have found to feed is dropping hard nuts from great heights onto roads to open them.

Monday, 7 March 2011


Male Blackbird- Brixton Water Lane
I've often wondered why the Blackbird is named so when there are other British birds more deserving of the title like the Carrion crow or Raven. Indeed the female is actually brown and the male has very noticeable orange beak and eye ring. I've read that until C18th larger birds like the Carrion Crow and the Raven were referred to as fowl, where as the smaller species were called birds this may be how the Blackbird got its name. I enjoy watching them tilt their heads to one side as if listening for worms in fact I think they are looking for food. Males may be seen performing quite fancy displays to attract a female. Once they do they will usually mate in their pair for life. Many are resident all year through but in late autumn and through winter numbers swell as migratory birds visit.

Sunday, 6 March 2011


Common Gorse - Epping Forest
I saw lots of common gorse when walking through Epping Forest this morning. It's a really pleasant plant to see in the winter when the woods are looking bare as it flowers all winter long. The flowers which are tricky to pick due to the prickly nature of the bush are very tasty in salads. I have seen recipes for gorse wine and it can be added to drinks like tea or beer for extra flavor. Traditionally it has been  used as an ingredient in a variety of medicines and to dye linen and wool. It may stop flowering in summer  until late autumn but usually you can find it in flower somewhere hence the old saying,  'when gorse is out of flower, kissing is out of season'.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Birds - Great Tit

Great Tit calling. Perched on a London Plane. Herne Hill
I thought I would blog my first bird and the Great Tit was the first one I saw as I left my flat this morning. I was alerted as they have distinctive loud calls that to me sound a bit like the famous soundtrack; Norman Bates Killing in Psycho (That may just be my odd description). Great Tits are famed for having a large variety of calls around 50, so don't be too surprised if you don't experience my Hitchcock reference.  A lot of their calls, you can listen to by clicking on the RSPB link to the left of this page.
         Great Tits are the hard men of the Tit family, they can be very aggressive and territorial especially when feeding. They have occasionally been known to kill other birds. One was recorded killing a goldcrest and carrying it off in its feet like a hawk. This is unusual behavior, they do not normally commit extreme violence. The nest in holes often unusual ones like letter boxes or drain pipes. They predominantly feed on insects, fruits and nuts Females may lay between 5-12 eggs.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Birch (Betula)

Birch has quite an easy Latin name (Betula) if you're into remembering that sort of thing. There are two main species found in Britain; Silver & Downy. They are fantastic trees that our ancestors would have relied heavily on in their day to day lives. The bark (picture below right) is brilliant for fire lighting and remains long after the tree is dead. Where you see it coming away from the tree, this is fine to take and will not harm the tree. Due to the betulin oil in the bark it makes and excellent FREE and ECO FRIENDLY alternative to buying man made firelighters.
      There are so many uses for birch. The leaves crushed in your hands with a little water create a natural soap which is a mild antiseptic. It makes excellent firewood and is terrific for carving.
       It is possible to extract the sap, which is wonderful to drink and can be used to make a wine, by drilling into the tree and entering a snug fitting tube above a receptacle which can collect up to a litre of sap over night. Only do this with a large mature tree and do not do it unless you have the landowners permission first. If you do not fill the hole afterwards the tree will bleed to death so it is important to fill the drill hole with a debarked piece of living birch that fits snugly into the hole. This will stop the tree dying. Ray Mears does a very good demonstration of this or there are plenty of others examples on YouTube. Hugh F-W has a good recipe for the birch sap wine on his website http://www.rivercottage.net/recipes/ben-laws-birch-sap-wine
Enjoy these trees all over London's parks and streets. Pictures above taken today in Brockwell Park.

PLants in the Twilight

Free talk in the NHM today at 14.30 on cave dwelling plants in SE Asia. The talks are half an hour, very interesting and FREE!

Thursday, 3 March 2011


Walham Green Fulham

I expect most people love seeing Crocuses in bloom, they are a sign that spring has arrived or is just about to. The photo above was taken yesterday. There are around 80 species of Crocus. They are part of the Iris family and can be found over large parts of the world including the middle east and China. Saffron which is pound for pound the most expensive spice is extracted from the Saffron Crocus. They are hardy perennial flowers which means they will live for longer than two years. Where as an annual plant seeds perennial plants survive on their root stock.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Hawkmoths & Coevolution

Death's Head Hawk Moth

Hawk Moth Caterpillar
The Death's Head Hawkmoth (to the left) is easy to identify by the skull shape on its thorax. They were made famous by 'The Silence of the Lambs' although it is not the same species talked about in the book. The take honey from beehives by simulating the squeak made by the queen and secreting a smell which mimics that of the bee. They can drink up to 50ml of Honey per night so for a honey producer they can be extreme pests. There are three species of Death's head.
       The picture to the right is of a fully grown Hawk moth caterpillar I took in North Weald Essex. It was on an Ash tree although they will usually be found on Willow or Lime. There is a species called Lime Hawk Moth.
     Hawkmoths became one of the creatures used as evidence in Darwin's theory coevolution. In 1862 Darwin saw a Madagascan Star Orchid that's flower produces nectar at the bottom of a very long thin throat. Darwin predicted the existence of an insect capable of pollinating this flower thus supporting the theory of coevolution. No insect was known of at the time but around 40 years later in 1902 two biologists named a giant Hawkmoth that had an extra long proboscis (tongue) capable of pollinating The Star Orchid. It's Proboscis was around 20cm long and powered by blood being pumped through it. There are 1500 plus species of Hawkmoth and they can be catergorised by the pattern in which veins run through their wings. They may be spotted all over London!

Natural History Museum

If you're not working today, don't miss the talk on Hawk moths in the Natural History Museum; Attenborough Studio at 14.30. You can click on my link to the NHM on the left of this page for more details. I shall be updating my blog later today with information about Hawk Moths and some footage I took of one in North Weald Essex.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Common Frog

I spotted this frog on my doorstep in SE London late at night a few days a go. According to my Reader's Digest 'Britain's Wildlife, Plants and Flowers' 1987 they're found throughout Britain and Ireland...'Found mainly in The New Forest & south east London'
A Few Facts...
-Frogs are amphibians
-Common frogs are known to lighten and darken their skin to suit their surroundings
-Common Frogs have suction pads on their feet enabling them to climb trees
-They feed on insects and hibernate for most of the winter usually