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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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HomeNewsNotes from the Sticks: A few foam truths

Notes from the Sticks: A few foam truths

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I NEVER forget for a minute how fortunate we are to live by a stream (or brook, as they are called in Lancashire). I am not so sure if everyone with access to a watercourse is aware of their privilege and their responsibility.

Quite often I see froth or foam on the surface of our brook and on the main river Ribble. I took this picture on Thursday at another brook. There’s a chunk of foam about 3ft long clinging to the rocks at the side.

Now if you consult the Environment Agency, they will tell you that the foam is almost always perfectly natural and harmless. You really don’t need to worry about pollution.

However, knowing what I know now, and having witnessed Whitty, Vallance and the rest of them in action, I am not inclined to believe a word that issues from an official mouth.

As if to confirm my suspicions, a recent report showed that in contrast to the government’s target for 75 per cent of rivers to have ‘good ecological status’ by 2027 (why not 100 per cent?), the 2021 figure was a pathetic 16 per cent, with no improvement over the previous five years. In fact not one river in England passes tests for both ecological and chemical health as a result of a cocktail of pollution from sewage, agricultural runoff and industry. The response of the head of the Environment Agency, James Bevan, was brilliant. He said the testing regime should be relaxed so that more rivers get good results. 

Where I live I think agriculture is more or less in the clear, as the land is all used for livestock so presumably the farmers don’t use fertiliser (they certainly do a lot of muck-spreading). I don’t think it can be industry either. However there are quite a few houses near the stream and a mobile home park further up, and I suspect that people don’t realise that if they pressure wash their patios or pour dirty water down the drain it goes straight into the water. A couple of times there have been dozens of small dead fish in the brook, which presumably knocks out a year’s generation of trout, and once it went a strange milky colour for an hour. I did suggest to the Ribble Valley Rivers Trust that distributing leaflets in the area might be a good idea. I offered to write one. Obviously nothing happened.

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Now that we are into November, I was surprised on Thursday to see these begonias still going strong.

I also saw this tree laden with yellow fruits – is it an ornamental crab apple?

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Sheep of the Week

By Acabashi – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

THE Portland is one of the very few sheep that breeds all year round, so it is popular with smallholders. The lambs (nearly always just one) are born a reddish colour, which fades to a cream fleece and a tan face. The rams have long spiral horns, the ewes just a half circle. Here is a newborn and mum.

The breed is ancient and may have been brought from Europe in Neolithic times when we were still linked to the continent. It is named for the Isle of Portland in Dorset where the soil is thin and the vegetation scrubby, so the breed remained small, hardy and agile. Since medieval times the meat has been noted for its fine texture and excellent flavour. The Portland Sheep Breeders’ Group says it is ‘delicate, leaner meat with the hint of gaminess alluding to the early ancestry of sheep’. The wool is also considered to be top-class. The group says it is a ‘lovely hand spinning fleece, easy to open and comb, absorbing dyes easily . . . for new crafters the wool is gentle on the hands, soft and with a soothing feel’.

Portlands were once common all over Dorset, and in the 1840s there were 4,000 on Portland. However they fell from favour with the move towards larger carcases and the last Portlands left the island in 1920 to be sold in Dorchester, where the auctioneer had difficulty in getting a bid.

The breed was almost extinct when the Rare Breeds Survival Trust stepped in. A total of 86 breeding ewes were traced and recorded in 1974, and a rescue programme was started. The Portland Sheep Breeders Group was established in 1993 and has about 140 members. The breed is still classed as ‘at risk’ by the Rare Breeds people, but numbers are growing with up to 1,500 breeding ewes, and it is now established in Scotland and the Netherlands. There is also a flock back on Portland, at Fancy’s Family Farm.

Here is a charming film made by some visitors to the farm.

Here are some rams with nothing better to do than squabble. It is a mystery to me how they don’t carve each other up with their formidable horns.

You can find out more at the Portland Sheep Breeders’ Group, one of the best sheep breed websites I have seen so far.

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Wheels of the Week

THIS is a 1960 Standard Ensign, 1670cc. It was announced in 1957 as a lower specification version of the Vanguard. A total of 18,852 were made in Coventry before production ended in 1961. It was followed in 1962-3 by a De Luxe version with a larger 2138cc engine.

A 1670 cc Ensign tested by Motor in 1958 had a top speed of 77.6 mph, acceleration from 0 – 60 mph in 24.4 seconds and fuel consumption of 28.5 mpg. It cost £899 which the Bank of England inflation calculator says is £16,680 now.

The government vehicle website says this car was white when it was registered, and it still seems to be described as white (I found it on another website), but my eyes must have gone off because it looks green to me.  

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FINALLY, a reminder that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address: missingcritters@yahoo.com. If you leave a comment below the line, we need a geographical location to be able to use it.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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