Thursday, 30 July 2009


Max has just finished his A-levels, which is - I suppose - a perfectly valid reason for him not having done any bloggo stuff for yonks. However he has managed to sneak out a few times to sit in his car and listen to Tarkus with a peculiar look on his face, and occasionall to do a little bit of bird watching. He usually takes his camera with him, and over the last few months has built up a fantastic library of images of the wildlife of the Wells region of Somerset. Here are some of them...

Bitterns are very strange birds. Being a heron they have the families typical features of a long bill, long legs and a fondness for fishing. My two local nature reserves, Shapwick Heath and Ham Wall, have been given large grants in order to attract bitterns. They need extensive reed beds, but with water levels such that they can build a nest which is at ground level, but not in danger of any flooding. The two nature reserves are at such an altitude that they are not in risk of flooding from global warming, even if the estimate of 17ft higher sea levels (the last interglacial period had sea levels 22ft higher than today, so this figure is not really, in a long term view, anything to worry about) is found to be too small, then the bitterns will be fine as they are well above sea level. This makes the colony sustainable in the long term.

Anyway, bitterns are now breeding at Ham Wall, which is great news. I went down there a few weeks ago to see what I could see, and I saw 7 episodes of flight from the bitterns, plus 3 lots of booming from the males. The photos from this trip are shown below. At Shapwick Heath I have seen 3 bittern flights, but they are not currently known to be breeding.

As an interesting postscript, there is a Little Bittern at Ham Wall at the moment. This is a rare bird indeed, not currently breeding in Britain. They are found all over Europe, apart from Britain. It would not surprise me if within 20 years they begin to breed in Britain. At the bottom of this page is some footage of it being bitterny.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


Hopefully most of you will have read the initial Gurt Dog story from yesterday, plus Dan Holdsworth’s posting this morning. To answer his question, posted as a comment on the original story, in a public way, the sighting occurred somewhere to the North East of Westbury Sub-Mendip along one of the country lanes. Looking on Google Earth, you can find the rough area by searching the above village and moving up the hill to the North East, moving to an eye altitude of 12000ft, with Priddy toward the top right of the image, Westbury down the left hand side about halfway up, and Ebbor Gorge and Wookey Hole Caves in the bottom right of the image. From this position, you can pan to the East until you reach a village called Rookham. This village marks the easterly border of the sighting area. This should give you a good view of the area, mostly of fields and a small wooded gorge. The sighting would thus have been at quite a high elevation, between 700-900ft above sea level. A rough set of coordinates is: 51º14’10 to 51º15’00 North, and 2º42’17 to 2º39’00 West.

For those without Google Earth, Google Maps will work fine. In fact, it is probably best to look at both Earth and Maps to get a good feel for the area, only Maps shows the roads along which the sighting must have occurred. Just follow the above directions with this URL:,+Wells,+Somerset,+UK&geocode=CUqSmQK1JgThFVreDQMdz4vW_w&dirflg=&saddr=wells&f=d&hl=en&sll=51.246283,-2.716713&sspn=0.022458,0.055017&ie=UTF8&ll=51.23043,-2.669334&spn=0.044932,0.110035&z=13

The village of Priddy has always had an association with big cat stories and sightings, most of which are in the roads toward the South East of the village. They pop up from time to time in the local paper, along with the occasional livestock kill. Now, I am sure that some big cat sightings are spectral in origin, but the vast majority are of flesh and blood animals in the way we understand it. Other than the generalised Black/Gurt/spectral Dog stories, I was unaware of any sightings of the fellow around the North of Wells, until now of course.

Looking at the website that Dan Holdsworth posted up earlier, if you match up the images of North Somerset, then click on “view layers”, and tick the box on Europe marked “Europe BRGM 1:1.5M Faults”, you will see a series of black lines, along which faults lie. If you match the One Geology map up with either Google Earth or Maps, it can be seen that Westbury Sub-Mendip lies very very close to the most northern fault in Somerset. However, if you match up the coordinates on the One Geology with those obtained from Google Earth, the village ends up being much further inland than it actually is. If the position of the fault is correct, then the village of Westbury Sub-Mendip lies close enough to the fault for this sighting to provide evidence for Dan’s theory about faults and zooforms being linked, but I cannot find if the fault is still active. I have found a list of earthquakes in Somerset, but this is unfortunately only dates, not locations.

However, my computer decided to restart, and for the life of me I cannot find the webpage again! So, instead we have some details of earthquakes that have occurred in the Wells area. Mathew of Paris recorded the effects of the Wells' earthquake on December 21, 1248:

“ earthquake occurred in England, by which (as told to the writer of this work by the Bishop of Bath in whose diocese it occurred) the walls of the buildings were burst asunder, the stones were torn from their places, and gaps appeared in the ruined walls. The vaulted roof which has been placed on the top of the church of Wells by the great efforts of the builder, a mass of great size and weight, was hurled so as to strike great terror into all who heard it....”

The Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries for 1895 gives details about a number of shocks around Priddy, Wells, Shepton Mallet and Glastonbury on December 30, 1893. At Wookey it seemed as if the earth was assuming an undulating motion, such as is observed on the waves of the sea. The first of the shocks, for there were several, was preceded by what seemed to be 'a terrific explosion' (Anon, 1895). This explosion is the noise that the fault made as it slipped, thus showing that the fault was close by.

Ahah! My efforts have been rewarded! Anyone seriously interested in researching zooforms and faults will enjoy this groovy tool. Follow the link below and hover over the “Earthquakes” tab at the top. Move the mouse down to “Interactive UK Earthquakes Map”. In the new window you can select the area you want to look at, then fiddle around with the tabs on the left hand side. Zooming in on the sighting area there are 5 earthquakes occurring within 10kms of the rough sighting area. One occurred 8kms away, one 4kms, one 7kms and 2 10kms away. Evidence? I should say so!