Ian Short


International Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion’s International Rebellion begins today in London. Please support them! I will join them later in the week.

You can support them financially too. E and I have committed to £50 per month.

Extinction Rebellion

The future of the planet is bleak. The Earth and its environment are like a body suffering multiple organ failure, and the brain is pretending that it isn’t happening.

The only hope is for immediate, radical action. I urge you to back Extinction Rebellion. No other group offers a response appropriate to the circumstances. Extinction Rebellion needs your support – money and action.

E and I have just donated £500.


Swifts return

Swifts returned to Woburn Sands today, just two so far. One house martin flying around as well.

Wilding, by Isabella Tree

This is a wonderful, inspiring book of wilding at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex. The author and her husband own a few thousand of acres of land around Knepp Castle, which until twenty years ago was heavily farmed. In the early 2000s, however, they began giving up parts of the land to wildlife. Following the example of successful wilding projects in the Netherlands, they applied a policy of minimal intervention, introducing some select large herbivores and leaving them to it (subject to legal restraints and various other complications).

The results have been astounding.

Today the land is a haven for a huge variety of wildlife, plants and animals. A few highlights are purple emperor butterflies, turtle doves, nightingales, 13 bat species, and all 5 of the UK’s owl species. The story demonstrates the richness of life that we could have in this country if we stopped farming so intensively, cutting, burning, spraying with deadly chemicals, building on ancient woodland, removing scrub, and tidying the countryside.

Towards the end the author quotes the American conservationist Aldo Leopold, who wrote almost a century ago: ‘One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.’ I encourage you to read this book, learn a little ecology, and help to bring life back to this sorely damaged country. And join Rewilding Britain!


UK-wide climate emergency

Caroline Lucas (MP for the Green Party) tabled a motion to the UK parliament on the 13 March to recognise that the world has a climate emergency. The motion proposes that the government introduces a new green deal to radically reduce the production of greenhouse gases. The motion is here –

UK-wide climate emergency.

It has been signed by politicians from across the political spectrum. You can

write to your MP

to encourage her or him to sign the motion. I wrote to Nadine Dorries; she has yet to sign up to it.

Red admiral

First butterfly of the year, by the River Ouzel. Apparently small tortoiseshell, brimstone, and painted lady are also out in places (they all hibernate).

Song thrushes are singing at the OU, which seems odd, early.

RSPB Minsmere

Over new year we visited RSPB Minsmere, one of the finest bird reserves in England. North and south of it are other outstanding reserves, owned by the National Trust, Natural England, and EDF Energy (Sizewell nuclear power plants are nearby). A highlight for me was a group of bearded tits, plucking at reed heads, in Tinker’s Marshes near Southwold. I can’t photograph birds, so here’s one from Wikipedia

Panurus biarmicus -Oare Marshes, Kent, England -male-8 (3)

Another highlight was a flock of Barnacle Geese, also on Tinker’s Marshes. I haven’t seen these birds before; they are more commonly found on the west of Scotland, exclusively in winter. During spring they fly off north somewhere, to Scandinavia I suppose.

We saw starling murmurations over Dunwich Forest. Apparently about 10, 000 starlings. And there was an avocet at Minsmere. (Lots of avocets at Minsmere in the spring and summer, but they head further south in Winter.) What else… marsh harriers aplenty, widgeon, teal, shovellers, and a marsh tit. Oh, and loads of curlews; I’ve never seen so many before.

M337 Complex analysis finished

In my pigeon-hole this morning were printed copies of the final three books of  the Open University module M337 Complex analysis. They look beautiful, and I am delighted. It has required a huge amount of effort over the past couple of years. I look forward to moving down a gear, and perhaps even doing some research.

Quotation of Paul Painlevé

For production of an Open University text, I have spent a long time researching the origin of a quotation of Paul Painlevé. I include the details here in case they are of use to others. Some of the information about the quotation that I can find elsewhere on-line is incomplete or incorrect.

The quotation is

entre deux vérités du domaine réel, le chemin le plus facile et le plus court passe bien souvent par le domaine complexe,

which translates as

between two truths of the real domain, the easiest and shortest path quite often passes through the complex domain.

This quotation is taken from a document written by Painlevé around 1900 that was distributed to various scientists to determine whether Painlevé should be admitted to l’Académie des Sciences, Paris. Much later, after Painlevé’s death, it was discovered by his son, and then republished as the following book.

Title: Analyse des travaux scientifiques jusqu’en 1900

Publisher: Librairie Scientifique et Technique Albert Blanchard

Publication year: 1967

Publication location: Paris

Page number of quotation: 2

Here’s a snip of the front of the text.

Here’s a snip of the quote itself.

Here are some words about the origin of the book.

Spring and summer wildlife highlights

For me, the pleasure of seeing wildlife depends heavily on the setting, location, and health of the species. As an example, every so often at College Lake in Tring there turns up an isolated wading bird that should really be with others of its kind in North or South America. Probably it has been blown off course while migrating. It has little chance of ever seeing its fellow species again, and it has a high chance of perishing. Certainly not a wildlife highlight for me; I feel sorry for the lost birds.

For another example, we fairly often see barn owls at wildlife shows. It’s interesting to look at them close up, however, seeing them in captivity doesn’t compare to seeing them alive in the wild. Once while E and I were walking in Parkgate near our house at dusk, still daylight, a barn owl flew overhead, coming close by. Presumably it had left its daytime roosting place and was heading to the marsh for hunting. That was our best sighting of a barn owl: clear view, no car headlights involved, and the owl doing what it should be doing in its natural habitat.

There you have the groundwork for my list of summer wildlife highlights, the top twelve, going from lowest to highest. The list is by no means definitive, or carefully thought out; it’s just what I happen to remember now, written much later.

12. Cinnabar moths appearing out of nowhere

Last year our small back garden had a number of ragwort plants, all covered in cinnabar moth caterpillars. This year we had very few ragworts, but we did have cinnabar moths appearing every few hours on bright sunny days in spring. Presumably they had spent the winter in their pupal stage just underground and were emerging with the heat. They would hang around in our back garden for a bit and then venture off.

11. Military orchids at Homefield Wood

Homefield Wood has a great patch for orchids, with military orchids the stars of the show.

10. Black hairstreaks at Salcey Forest

It was an incredible year for butterflies.  We attended a Butterfly Conservation walk at Salcey Forest and a wealth of black hairstreaks greeted us, flitting around in the trees above.  We saw plenty of other lepidoptera too, including wood white butterflies.

9. Dark green fritillaries at Sharpenhoe Clappers

Dark green fritillaries and six-spot burnet moths in their hundreds. There were moths emerging from blades of grass all over the field, we were surrounded by them. [Insert picture!]

8. Scarlet tiger moths while walking home from school

On one occasion in spring while walking home with the girls from school through the golf course we encountered several scarlet tiger moths flying about. What they were doing, I don’t know; they were just hanging out by some leylandii. The following day they were there again!

Whatever you do, don’t picture some idyllic countryside location – we live on the outskirts of Milton Keynes.

Here’s a shot of some scarlet tiger moths from our back garden from the year before.

7. Frogs and newts in our back garden pond

We have a tiny pond in our back garden. It is surrounded by rocks and overgrown pond-friendly plants. There is a large sprawling compost heap nearby. I spent a long time this summer watching frogs and newts together in the pond. The frogs are easier to photograph as they like to sit on the weeds sticking out above the surface.

6. Common blue damselflies emerging

Our pond is also home to many common blue damselfly nymphs. On one day in spring I counted about twenty nymphs crawling up stalks of flag iris and other plants, ready to transform into damselfies. Here’s my best shot. [Poor quality will update.]

5. Slow worm at the end of our street

I was jogging to fetch the girls from school and this slow worm was wriggling around on the path into the golf course. I got a good view of it for 5 seconds. Rare to see them in the open like that. We do have grass snakes and some say even a few adders around here (I have my doubts about the latter).

4. Field cow wheat

E monitors the plant species on a patch of land for Plantlife. The highlight of this patch is field cow wheat, an extremely rare flower, known only to grow in a few places in England. It was once common in certain spots in the South, but its long-term future is doubtful. (A housing estate is planned for the patch E monitors.)

It was living happily in E’s patch alongside a load of yellow rattle.

3. White letter hairstreak at the OU

I have no idea what this was doing at the OU, but there it is to cap an extraordinary spring and summer for butterflies.

2. Elephant hawk moth in the back garden

They aren’t rare, but they are awesome.

Must finish with my favourite…

1. Return of the swifts

The swifts were late to return this year, and I was worried. But they came, at last, a few weeks later than usual, and for three months of the summer in the skies above Woburn Sands, piecing through the traffic noise, was the screech of swifts.


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