Saturday 30 May 2009

A couple of hours in the sun

Today we went to the wood and helped Butterfly Conservation in their survey of this year's migration of Painted Lady butterflies, which is the biggest for many years.
This involved sitting at the edge of the wayleave from 11:00-13:00
and counting all the Painted Ladies that flew across in front of us - they're going the same way, as they migrate North.
In all, we saw 77 in the two hours! We saw other cool insects as well, such as this damselfly:
and various dragonflies:
The other thing we were doing in the wood was checking the trail camera we'd left by the badger sett last night, but there was nothing apart from a video of me walking away from the camera and coming back to it! We've set it up again in a different place and with different sensitivity settings, so we'll see what we get... Anyway, I did at least get a nice photo of the moon last night:

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Friday 29 May 2009

Ashden Awards Imperial College conference - 10 June 2009

There are still a few spaces available at this event (which I'm in charge of), so if you'd like to come, please send your name, organisation and email address to me at:

Local solutions to climate change
The Ashden Awards Imperial College Conference

10 June 2009

The conference will bring the achievements of the 2009 International and UK Ashden Awards finalists to a specialist audience of practitioners, academics and students with a practical interest in sustainable energy. We will show short films about each finalist’s work, and then you will hear from them in person, talking about what has made their work so successful. With Q&As built into each session, and time during breaks to meet the finalists, there are ample opportunities to find out what you really want to know.

The Ashden Awards promote the widespread use of local, sustainable energy which can address climate change, alleviate poverty and improve quality of life. Find out more about us and our work at

We are delighted to be running this conference in partnership with Imperial College, London, and we are most grateful for significant support from the Faculty of Natural Sciences.

There is no charge for the conference or lunch, but numbers are limited, so please confirm names, positions and email addresses of people attending, by email to If you subsequently find that you are unable to attend, please let us know so that your place can be offered to someone else. The lunch provided will cater for vegetarians; if you have any other dietary requirements, please mention them when you confirm attendance.


09:30 Registration and refreshments

10:00 Welcome and introduction to the day
Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College

10:10 Session 1: Buildings for the future

  • Jonathan Hines (Architype, UK) Reducing energy demand through people-focused building design
  • Vincent Stauffer (GERES, India) Solar greenhouses producing fresh vegetables in the Himalayan winter
  • Questions

10:50 Session 2: Green energy businesses
  • Max Lacayo Cortes (ECAMI, Nicaragua) Supporting rural development with photovoltaic power systems
  • Abasi Kazibwe Musisi (Kampala Jellitone Suppliers, Uganda) Agricultural residues fuelling industries and institutions
  • Patrick Sherriff (Geothermal International, UK) Design and installation of ground source heating and cooling systems for the commercial sector
  • Questions
  • Refreshments

12:15 Session 3: Mobilising communities
  • Samson Tsegeye (Solar Energy Foundation, Ethiopia) Bringing affordable photovoltaic lighting to communities
  • Melanie Sealey (Devon County Council, UK) Renewable Energy 4 Devon: generating employment by supporting renewable energy businesses and customers
  • Richard Davies (MEA, UK) Motivating communities to reduce carbon emissions
  • Questions
  • Lunch

14:00 Session 4: Radical carbon cuts
  • John Doggart (Sustainable Energy Academy, UK) Old Home Superhome: Inspiring people to retrofit through practical exemplars
  • Vivek Gupta (Saran Renewable Energy, India) Replacing diesel generators with biomass gasification systems
  • Richard Dunne (Ashley C of E Primary School, UK) Antarctic expedition inspires carbon saving at a primary school
  • Questions
  • Refreshments

15:30 Session 5: Scaling up
  • Phil Webber (Kirklees Council, UK) Rolling out insulation across a large metropolitan borough
  • Dean Still (Aprovecho Research Center and Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer, USA/China) Mass production of efficient fuelwood stoves
  • Amitabha Sadangi (IDEI, India) Treadle pumps increasing income and quality of life for poor farmers
  • Questions
  • Closing presentation and networking time

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Thursday 28 May 2009

A new badger sett

Tracy was up in the woods today with a friend, and in Sweep Wood they found what appears to be a new badger sett:
Seeing as our shiny new infra-red trail camera has arrived this week, we're hoping to go and set it up tomorrow night to watch this location and see if we can get some pictures.


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Monday 25 May 2009

Nesting Great Tits, a singing Robin and a foraging Blackbird

The highlight of this weekend was on Saturday, when we found a family of Great Tits using the nesting box we'd put up in late February. The disappointment was going back on Sunday with the camera tripod to try and get some better pictures and finding that the youngsters had all left the nest! We weren't too surprised though, as looking back at the pictures it was clear that the chicks already had all their feathers - here's one poking his head out of the box:
and here's a parent checking it's safe before revealing the location of the nest (though the box kind of gives it away to humans...):
Baby says "hurry up with my food!":
And here it is in four quick photos: arrive, in, out, and away:And if you'd rather see it in video...

While I was waiting to get video of the Great Tits, I also got a little bit of a blackbird foraging:

These weren't the only birds in the wood though. Our little friendly Robin (we call him Rob, predictably) was guarding our camp as usual:
But he was very obliging and also sang for us:
here's a video of him alternately singing and preening:

Last but not least, we saw where a woodpecker has been working at a dead branch in an oak near the entrance to our wood (this is why dead wood up a tree is important!):As you can see, they're not big enough holes to nest in yet, but we'll see how they develop over the years...


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Woodgas camp stove demo

You may have noticed in some recent posts that we've got a fancy new stove to use at the wood - well, here's a demo video of how it works. (Still pictures and a text explanation are below)

It's a WoodGas CampStove XL. What it does is "gasify" the wood, burning the gas produced in an efficient manner right under the cooking pot. Basically there's a cylinder inside it that you fill with small sticks:
If you look carefully you'll see some small holes at the base of this cylinder - these allow in a small amount of air to gasify the wood. Gasification means allowing the wood to partially burn, resulting in a mixture of gases, including hydrogen, methane and carbon monoxide (so don't use it indoors). These are all flammable gases, and as they rise up the inside of the stove they meet with more air injected through a ring of holes at the top of it:
The gas mixes with this additional air and burns. Right above it sits your cooking pot, resting on a simple but effective pot stand:
The air is drawn in through holes around the the outside of the base of the stove, which encloses a small fan. In the picture below you can see the two power sockets for the fan (high and low speed), and the air inlet holes:
The battery pack contains two AA rechargeable batteries (I reckon my 3200mAh batteries will run it for over 15 hours), and you plug it into the high or low speed socket depending on how much heat you want out of the stove:


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Sunday 24 May 2009

More bats in the wood

Earlier this week we went up to the wood for dinner with our friends John and Helen, who live just opposite us. After dinner we settled round the camp fire and once it was dark got the bat detector out. We heard and saw far more bats than last time, we think there were at least three at once feeding in the coupe we cut two years ago. Perhaps there are more insects there than in other parts of the wood? Or maybe it's just easier to hunt there, with fewer large trees in the way at the moment?

Anyway, here's a video. You might want to watch it in high quality mode, so it will take a bit longer to download, but if you look carefully you'll see the bats silhouetted against the fading light in the sky - watch out for them when the bat box is making more noise.

Talking of night-flying creatures, we also saw three Puss Moths outside our front door, two of them mating:

That's all for now, but we have some exciting news about the bird box we put up coming shortly...


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Saturday 23 May 2009

King Canute of Camber

You may have heard of the (mythical?) story of King Canute (or Cnut), who had his throne set on the beach and commanded the tide to stop where it was - he got wet. Well, we have a similar thing going on in Camber. Between the village and the sea are large sand dunes, which keep the sea out but are also hard work to walk over. Because the beach is popular, the council uses diggers to clear sand out of the paths over the dunes:
The only problem is that as soon as they've done it, the wind picks up and literally within 24-48 hours the sand is all back where it started! You can see the wind carrying it over the dunes here (that's not mist, it's airborne sand):
So they expend lots of money and fossil fuels moving the the sand back onto the beach, and the wind moves it back onto the dunes for free! Isn't nature great, and people stupid?


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Wednesday 20 May 2009


... is the name of the mystery flower. Thanks to Sean for the tip. The only puzzling thing is it has too many petals, but the leaves are definitely right. A hybrid perhaps? Here it is again:
I wasn't around last weekend, hence the lack of new photos from the wood. We did pop up briefly on Monday night, but that was just to take some materials for track repair. We'll be doing this again on Thursday I think. We're trying to fill in some of the tractor ruts in the wood so that when we eventually get our land rover we'll be able to drive right through!


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Wednesday 13 May 2009

The weekend's work, and lots of wildlife

The highlight of the weekend for Tracy was that she discovered she can split logs with a maul! I think she'd just assumed she couldn't before - it's one of those things that if you try it in a half-hearted way it doesn't work - you have to really mean it!
While Tracy was splitting logs, I was loading longer ones into drying racks. There's still a few more racks to do, and we want to get them loaded up soon to make the most of the summer weather for drying:There were jobs to do back at camp as well, like making some kindling while dinner was cooking - it's always useful to have a pile of ready-chopped and dry small bits of wood
The summer wildlife is beginning to come out now, like this lizard:
the beetles:
And this hornet. Before you think it's just a wasp, compare it to the size of the dry chestnut leaves, or the honeysuckle leaves!
Despite it's fearsome looks, the European Hornet is apparently quite docile.

There are loads of birds around, but with the leaves on the trees it's much harder to get pictures of them. It took us 10 minutes to get this mediocre picture of a Song Thrush, but I was still pleased as this is the first one we have of this bird in the woods - they're fairly shy.
I managed to get one of a Robin too:One bird that's different is the Blackbird - now that there's some ground cover coming up, he seems happy to roam around the woodland floor near our camp:The trees are growing at an incredible rate. The buds on the coppiced Sweet Chestnut only started opening at the beginning of April, and six weeks on, each bud has become a shoot six inches long or more:
Another tree growing like mad is a Birch in the wildlife corridor that we deliberately ring-barked in the winter to create some standing dead wood. You can see how it has put out new shoots just below where I cut the bark:and the top of the tree has only a few leaves (compare it to the other Birch behind it):
On the other hand, bits are falling out of some trees - this oak branch came down in the wind:
but at other places there are young oak just starting out in life, and we've built little fences round them to hide them from marauding rabbits:
That's all for now. I'm off to Leeds this weekend for a stag party, including outdoor kart racing and clay pigeon shooting! I think Tracy may well go to the woods though.


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Monday 11 May 2009

Attack of the butterflies!

Yes, really, look - here's one going for another!
OK, maybe they were courting, but there was certainly some chasing going on!
It's a Green Veined White (thanks to Steve Wheatley of Butterfly Conservation for help with the ID).

Anyway, the butterfly I was most pleased to see is not rare, it's just one I've never seen before in the wood: the Painted Lady
These were taken out in the wayleave, where there's the combination of lots of sunlight and also Bluebells. I guess when the Bluebells finish soon there'll be other flowers out for them to feed on. Also out there were several Orange Tips. Again not rare, but very striking:
A quick mention must go to the Speckled Yellow Moth - there's lots of these around in the wayleave, but I like this photo as you can see its eyes clearly, and they look different to normal butterfly eyes I think (click on the picture for a larger version):
In the same patch was a Brimstone - I can get pictures of them now I know where they are feeding!
Further down the wayleave were several Small WhitesThey seemed to prefer the Blue Bugle to the Bluebells:
I like the last one, where you can see its proboscis going into the flower to get some nectar.

Here's a couple of pictures of a Large White. They're not particularly good photos, but I wanted to show the different markings to the Small White. They all look very similar from a distance, but once you know what you're looking for you can tell them apart (we're still learning though...).
And finally, the Speckled Wood, which is enjoying flying around the edges of where we coppiced last winter:
Several types of White are also deep inside the wood now, thanks to our wildlife corridor, as is the Brimstone, Comma and Peacock.

That's all for now, another post tomorrow to finish off...


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