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Emperor_of_Exmoor_(red_stag)

“It is very strange, and very melancholy, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them.”
Samuel Johnson (1709-84), Anecdotes of Samuel Johnson

In October 2010, reports appeared in UK newspapers proclaiming that the Emperor of Exmoor, a giant stag given his name by photographer Richard Austin, had been shot. The red deer stag is the largest indigenous mammal in the British Isles and at almost nine feet tall, and weighing 300 pounds, the Emperor was a magnificent example of its kind. The Guardian reported that he was shot and killed close to the Tiverton to Barnstaple road at the height of the mating season and quoted Peter Donnelly, an Exmoor-based deer management expert, saying it was a disgrace the animal had been shot during the mating season: “The poor things should be left alone during the rut, not harried from pillar to post. If we care about deer we should maintain a standard and stop all persecution during this important time of the year.” 

I’ve never been an absolutist on hunting. I understand the need for there to be management of herds and for vermin to be controlled. I worry, too, that so many children today have no understanding of where their food comes from. (In one recent study by the British Nutrition Foundation, 18% of primary school children thought fish fingers came from chickens.) However, I have never been able to reconcile myself to the pointless destructiveness of trophy hunting.

It’s more than a vague feeling or an intellectual opinion. It is a very physical and emotional response to the idea that man (and it is usually men, not women) has to prove himself by killing other creatures, for no other reason than the sheer hell of it. I first encountered that response as a child, reading Willard Price’s Safari Adventure, and it has remained with me ever since. To my mind, such testosterone-addled, adrenalised thrill-killing demeans us as human beings.

article-0-1C49273D00000578-824_634x449Fast forward to 15 March 2014 and in today’s Daily Mirror are two stories which reveal that our appetite for momentary glory at the expense of the animal kingdom is as great as ever it was.

First of all, poachers hunting for antlers have killed a New Forest deer known as the Monarch. According to the report, the poachers used a calibre of rifle too low to kill cleanly and instead the deer, badly wounded, drowned as it tried to swim to safety.

Spend a moment imagining the sequence of events. Spend a moment imagining the fear that magnificent creature experienced as the bullet crashed into its flesh. The pain as it tried to get away from violent intruders into its safe space, its fight-or-flight response leading it to crash towards a familiar stretch of water that had been a place of rest and refreshment for sixteen years. Think about its desolate coughing bleat as it limped towards death. And then those last, terrified gasps as it drowned, its exhausted body weakened further by blood loss.

All because greedy, vainglorious men wanted to hang its antlers on a dining room wall.

500-pound-wild-hog-3236934And then, across the Atlantic, the story repeats itself. A different country, yes, a different animal, yes, but once again actions that lead from that same ignorant bravado of inadequate men. Unlike the two deer, the protagonist has been only too happy to be associated with his ‘triumph’. A cretinous redneck who’d not be out of place in a North Carolina remake of Deliverance, Jett Webb is shown posing proudly with his ArmaLite AR-10, resting on his kill – a giant 36-stone wild boar nicknamed ‘Hogzilla’ that had become the stuff of local legend. He shot it in the Indian Woods area of Bertie County, having hid out in the woods at night, but there was no Hemmingway-esque poetic reflection on this particular kill.

Jett’s insightful comment?

“The sweet-tasting corn and a night-hunting light was too much for this oversized heap of pork chops.”

What ignorance. What pointless cruelty.

In the deaths of the Emperor, the Monarch and Hogzilla we have gained nothing and lost much. Gone are the chances for stories that make a place, that lend wonder to those exploring for the first time, the “what if…?” and the “perhaps we might…!”. Gone are the chances for a glimpse of nature’s magnificence made manifest in three animals whose unassuming majesty had the potential to induce wonder in inquisitive young minds.

And, as usual, greed will be excused as endeavour by those that celebrate and justify this pointless pursuit.

Samuel Johnson couldn’t have been more right.

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AS we know, the Polar Vortex brought widespread disruption to North America. We quickly became meteorological experts, even if those of a more pedantic frame of mind attempted in vain to explain that it was a Circumpolar Vortex and that the terminology in the mainstream media was a malign attempt to deceive and spread misinformation (rather than convenient shorthand for a news industry that was already out of its scientific depth).

This post on Scientific American gives a quick run-down of what a Polar Vortex is.

Stunning pictures have emerged from across the US of the consequences of the latest big freeze. The Daily Mail had pictures from Reuters of Niagra freezing over, whilst the Guardian showcased amazing snow scenes from across the US:

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At the same time that America was freezing, parts of Scandinavia were enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures. Which makes what happened in Norway all the more interesting. NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Company, carried reports this week of a sudden fall in temperature, combined with freezing winds, that led to the instant freezing of a vast school of herring that were fleeing cormorants.

The pictures are amazing:

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So Charlie Hague’s beautiful eco-home, which wouldn’t be out of place in The Shire, is to be bulldozed within two months on the instructions of Pembrokeshire County Council because:

“”benefits of the development did not outweigh the harm to the character and appearance of the countryside

A lack of affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges for young people today. Local authorities are often reluctant to build or facilitate it, preferring instead to take money from developers to fund future social housing developments. In a different  place, at a different time. In a more ‘appropriate’ development. Rather than now, when people might need them.

We see this locally in Basildon with the proposals to build hundreds of “aspirational” homes on ancient pastures in Dry Street. Essentially, these will be unaffordable, luxury homes with a bare minimum of affordable provision. Neither the local council nor the developers have any interest in providing houses that local people can afford to live in. Instead, they are content to see greater and greater strain placed on local services and infrastructure by encouraging new people to move to the area.

Having been on a downward trend in the UK for years, the number of households in temporary accommodation has started to rise again. The long term impact of poor quality housing on health is well-documented. After four years of living in a damp caravan, Charlie Hague decided to act.

Charlie’s father owned a plot of land next to the pioneering Lammas Ecovillage. For around £15,000 he built a roundhouse out of straw bales, plastered with lime, and covered with a reciprocal roof (self-supporting, essentially). You can watch the story of Charlie’s house below:

I’ve served on local planning committees. The decisions are never easy. But retrospective planning permission is granted up and down the country all the time and for less considerate developments than this.

We should be looking to promote and support inventive and sustainable ways of building and living. This kind of construction should be championed as an example of how a new house can be sympathetic to its environment – not bulldozed out of existence.

Sign the petition to save Charlie and Megan’s house and please like, share and reblog to draw attention to the their plight.

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I’m not exactly the most bug-friendly individual, but I am not so bug-averse that they give me the creeps. Usually.

This critter is a bit different.

The Titan beetle is thought of as the second largest beetle in the world, but, to be honest, it is pretty much the largest as its nearest rival, the Hercules beetle, snaffles the record with the help of an extended horn on its thorax which makes up over half the length.

Thankfully, it is ultra rare. No-one has ever found its larvae, though the suspected boreholes for the grubs suggest a pupa over two inches wide and perhaps as much as a foot long.

Gulp.

As you might expect, this is a South American rain forest-dweller, found in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, the Guianas, and north-central Brazil.

Apparently, although usually placid, the advice is to handle with care as they can cause more than a bit of damage if provoked. All I can say is that these folk are a hell of a lot braver than I am.

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Yes, I know this was from a month ago, but did you ever really get your head around what it was Nik Wallenda did?

Think about it for just a sec. He walked across a wire slung across the Grand Canyon without any safety harness.

He was, apparently, approximately 1,500 feet above the canyon floor. To give you an idea how high that is, it is roughly 1.5 times the height of The Shard. Without any safety harness.

And how long did he take to walk quarter of a mile like this? 22 minutes and 54 seconds.

Lots of people will say he’s mad and it was very silly. I say hats off to him – I think it’s brilliant. He strikes me as being an adventurer in the mould of Felix Baumgartner.

For those with vertigo, it could probably be the ultimate in aversion therapy. I suspect, however, that with a family history of circus performers that stretches all the way back to the Old Bohemia of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, vertigo is not a common trait in the Wallenda family. And Nik Wallenda already had form, having already broken various daredevil records and walked across Niagra Falls on a tightrope just last year.

If you missed it, take a look at the short video below.

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A couple of weekends ago I decided to get up early on a Saturday morning and, with Farming Today on my headphones, take a walk around the Langdon Hills Ridge.

Occasional readers of Fragments and Reflections will have seen similar pictures before. However, no matter how many times I make this particular walk, and no matter how many times I photograph the hills, fields and footpaths, it looks different every time.

Some of these reveal just how beautiful the landscape is in our neck of the woods – and how vital initiatives such as Langdon Hills Living Landscapes and the campaign to protect Dry Street are.

I finished my walk at “Hillcroft”. My parents’ garden is as fine an example of an English country garden as you can find. And I am not sure you can get much more English – and welcome – a breakfast than toast and Marmite. There is a real sense of satisfaction in walking such a distance before 9am. I heartily recommend it.

I hope you enjoy these photographs as much as I enjoyed taking them.

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Every now and then in this digital age we are sent links to videos or articles that make us stop and think about the way we live.

My friend Andy has always been a passionate environmentalist. He posted this on his Facebook.

Please watch it and share.

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