Monday, July 15, 2024
HomeNotes from the SticksNotes from the Sticks: Swanupmanship

Notes from the Sticks: Swanupmanship


DURING a train journey from Preston to London and back last week I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of swans around. In particular a lake north of Rugby had dozens. I think it may have been the Swift Valley Nature Reserve run by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, if you can see that from the train. I thought I would look up the population status of mute swans (Cygnus olor), and sure enough they seem to be on the increase. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says: ‘The population in the UK has increased recently, perhaps due to better protection of this species. The problem of lead poisoning on lowland rivers has also largely been solved by a ban on the sale of lead fishing weights.’ It says there are 6,500 breeding pairs in Britain, with a winter population of more than 50,000. The British Trust for Ornithology says there has been a 277 per cent increase from 1967 to 2020.

The trouble is, how can you believe a word these outfits say? This claptrap is from the RSPB website: ‘We know that climate change is happening faster than expected. The science paints a harrowing picture for both nature and climate, and halting our emissions is the first step in turning the tide. Reaching net zero is essential to a world that’s richer in wildlife.  We support an increase in solar, onshore wind and offshore wind to reach net zero . . . We must rapidly move away from fossil fuel use – if we continue to rely on them, we will exceed the globally-recognised safe limit of warming – 1.5 degrees.’

Of course what this doesn’t mention is the shocking, horrible toll of birds (and bats and insects) killed by wind turbines. I’ve said before that I would love to be a fly on the wall at the meetings where they decide on the wording for this kind of document to avoid saying that their policies are killing the birds they are supposed to be protecting.

Anyway it is good news for swans, and a good opportunity to show some lovely videos.

Here a pair escort their ten cygnets across a road.

Eight cygnets hitch a ride on mum.

And because the sound of swans flying is one of the greatest in nature, here are two videos which have captured it:


Bovine of the Week

We are all familiar with the Jersey cow but perhaps less known is the Guernsey. It is a little bigger than the Jersey and is fawn and white or  red and white, rather than plain red or brown. Like the Jersey, its milk is rich in flavour, high in fat and protein, and has a golden-yellow tinge due to its high beta-carotene content. It is utterly delicious, and Guernsey butter is the very best (though the only chain I know that sells it on the mainland is Waitrose).

Whereas the Jersey cow was documented in the 17th century, little is known about the Guernsey before the 19th.  It is assumed that it derives from French cattle (the Channel Islands are much closer to France than Britain, Guernsey being about 30 miles from the French coast compared with 70 from England) brought across in the tenth and 11th centuries as draught animals.

Originally there was a third Channel Island cow, the Alderney, which was a cross between Guernseys and Jerseys, similar in colour to the Guernsey and the size of the Jersey. During the Second World War, when the Channel Islands were occupied by the Germans, most of the Alderney residents were evacuated, and 374 cows were sent to Guernsey. There they interbred with the Guernseys and by the end of the war there were no distinguishable Alderneys.

Here is a video from Texas. I was particularly impressed by the tractor driver who looks about eight years old. When a caption came on near the end saying ‘All gone in an afternoon’ I thought the cows must have gone for slaughter, but to my relief it referred to the grass.


Not all cows are docile, as I have written before, and they are back in the fields round here after a winter indoors (even though it is still like winter – we still have the heating and vests on). My husband Alan has already had one or two alarming encounters with them, and a friend’s labrador was tossed into the air by a cow the other day. Fortunately it was not hurt. The best advice is not to enter a field where there are cows, especially if they have calves, but if you must, be very careful and have an escape route planned. They particularly dislike dogs and unless you know the herd to be docile I really would not go near them with a dog.

Last week Alan was out with our lab Teddy and asked a woman approaching him if there were cattle in the next field. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘do you mean cows and that?’


Wheels of the Week

THIS IS a 1967 Riley Elf, 998cc.

This is a 1964 Wolseley Hornet Mk II, 998cc.

These two almost indistinguishable sisters were introduced by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in 1961 as superior versions of the Mini, which had been launched two years earlier. The main changes were a bigger boot accommodated in a longer rear end and the upright front grilles of both marques.  They also had polished wood dashboards. Originally they used an 848 cc engine but in 1963 that changed to a single carburettor version of the Mini Cooper’s 998 cc power unit. I can’t be sure whether Alec Issigonis designed the new models or if others adapted the original.

The website Classic and Sports Car says: ‘Brand loyalty was a significant factor in the 1950s car market – but mass production was essential to keep costs down. Struggling to hold on to faithful customers of its once-proud independent brands, the unwieldy British Motor Corporation resorted to “badge engineering” its volume models as multiple car ownership per household increased, hoping to attract wives, sons and daughters to buy a Riley or Wolseley “like Dad had”.’

Here is an advert – what a contrast from today’s marketing ploy of portraying a sullen youth of indeterminate sex.

The Elf and Hornet did not go down well with critics. Small Car magazine said: ‘We guess it’s no exaggeration to say that the first Issigonis Wolseley Hornet/Riley Elf was among the ugliest, most uncomfortable and least desirable cars ever offered to the great British public. At any rate the one we tested in the winter of 1962 so disappointed us we couldn’t bring ourselves to write a word about it.’ Car magazine wrote: ‘It is to appeal to those small-minded snobs who found the idea of a Mini intriguing but the name of Austin or Morris offensive and the evidence of austerity.’  

Production ceased in late 1969 when British Leyland decided not to use the Riley name any more. By then, 30,912 Elfs (or should that be ‘Elves’?) and 28,455 Hornets had been built.  According to the website How Many Left there are more than four hundred of each still on the road.  

Here is a video showing one which was on the market last year.

There are quite a few on sale, and here is a selection ranging in price from £5k to £28k, the latter being ‘in absolutely time warp condition’ with 20,000 miles on the clock.

And here are umpteen Wolseley Hornets. There is a ‘starter project’ for £2,495, but it looks like a lot of work to me. 

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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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