A butterfly in the hand is worth…? Dandelions?!

Small White rescued from drowning in a plant trough!
Small White rescued from drowning in a plant trough!

I had spent the morning finishing a book about Forest Church and connecting more consciously with God through nature, and the idea of natural theology where we actually come to understand God directly through his creation.

I went into the garden to have lunch on the bench in the sun and spotted a butterfly, apparently dead, floating in the water trough under our raspberry plant (itself rescued from the compost heap last year). I fished the Small White butterfly out to get a close up of it’s wings – at which it promptly struggled feebly in my hands.

Minutes later, sat in the sun and with the heat from my hands, it was much revived and posing for photographs, some of which are here. A real resurrection moment!

Peacock butterfly on a Dandelion.
Peacock butterfly on a Dandelion.

I had already planned to take a walk in the sun – the forecast telling me this was the best day of the week to do so (Wednesday) – and spend some time with God. I also consciously broke one of the rules of Forest Church, which is not to be too attached to your camera!

On my usual walking route through which I watch the seasons and wildlife, I notched up a further species of butterfly: Green Veined White, Peacock, Tortoiseshell and Brimstone. I also found the Common Lizards, Graham and I had found about ten days previously basking back on their piece of car part on Blackbushe.

Male Common Lizard on some car refuse up on Blackbushe
Male Common Lizard on some car refuse up on Blackbushe

To my utter delight, I also found two species that have been missing from my usual route since the filming of Rush. There were three Stonechats present, and a pair of Schedule 1 species I’m not naming! Time to start being even more careful not to disturb those nesting in the Gorse and Bramble bushes methinks.

So what among this wealth of wildlife did God say to me? Well it involves Dandelions. As a gardener I loath them, far, far more than Daisies which I’m more than happy to live with. In fact as I finished my butterfly rescue I picked all the Dandelion heads I could in the garden.

Female Brimstone on a Dandelion.
Female Brimstone on a Dandelion.

Once outside though, all down the verge, across the public field that is not longer cut regularly (which I claim as a blogging success story because they only stopped mowing after I got my Councillor friends to look at the issue), there were literally thousands of these bright yellow heads, or their seeds blowing everywhere in the breeze. For starters I though they’d make great evangelists, noticeable, prolific and seed well into the surrounding community! Then I realised what all the butterflies I photographed were feeding on,… Dandelions! So they’re full of nectar too, obviously a good source of nourishment to our little winged friends.

So, there’s a challenge or two:

  • should I stop dead-heading the Dandelions in the garden, or see if I can at least put them to good use – Dandelion tea anyone?
  • should we try to be like Dandelions in our ministry; bright and noticeable, providing refreshment, prolific and sowing seeds everywhere?

Roe Buck and other spring evening delights

Peacock Butterfly on Gorse
Peacock Butterfly on Gorse

Very quick post with a record of our evening stroll. The venue was Blackbushe and it’s surroundings again as usual.

This Peacock Butterfly looks like it overwintered – though how any butterfly can survive the winter we’ve had, I really don’t know.

Whitethroat, Blackbushe, Yateley
Whitethroat, Blackbushe, Yateley


The Whitethroats are still showing well, and with patience, I’m getting closer!

The Roe Buck was the star of the evening though, he was in the bottom corner of my favourite field, not far from the gate. I got close enough to lean the camera on the gatepost, and took loads of photos, until a couple who had entered the top of the field and walked round to the gate, disturbed it and it headed back into the copse. We were surprised, they never even paused to watch, even though they can’t have failed to see it!

Roe Buck, Yateley 1st May 2013 - looking slightly moth-eaten because it's starting to moult into its' summer coat (which is a much more glossy chestnut)
Roe Buck, Yateley 1st May 2013 – looking slightly moth-eaten because it’s starting to moult into its’ summer coat (which is a much more glossy chestnut)

There are more photo’s on my Flickr site, including a couple taken yesterday in the old chapel at college. They’ve kept the ‘chancel’ area round the altar for quiet prayer meetings, but the rest is now a quiet space to work in – by far the most comfortable and now my favourite place in college.

In case you’re wondering, the walks are an attempt to keep me sane when I’ve got lots of stuff to think through, and the fresh air and exercise are good for me too!

Well finally – Spring is here!

College House, Ripon College Cuddesdon, in the sunshine on a spring day (20th April 2013)
College House, Ripon College Cuddesdon, in the sunshine on a spring day (20th April 2013)

Yes, I know the forecast is for it to leave again later this week, but at least for the last few days, spring has definitely sprung.

Last weekend, we dashed down to the New Forest and after a rainsoaked abortive trip to see the sea on Saturday, finally managed a walk on Sunday 14th, one of the highlights of which was sighting the first to Swallows of our spring.

Fox Moth Caterpillar 22nd April 2013 Blackbushe
Fox Moth Caterpillar 22nd April 2013 Blackbushe

I sighted another in Garsington (Oxon) on the way to college on Tuesday 16th, and avoided running over a Toad on the lane to College Field on the way home. I spent most of the glorious weekend weather in college too, with another Swallow gracing my walk up the path to All Saints Church, Cuddesdon for a rehearsal on Saturday 20th. As you can see (above) college is such a hardship when the sun is out and there’s a few moments to stand and stare. There were even butterflies – Brimstone in particular.

Whitethroat (male I think) 21st April 2013
Whitethroat (male I think) 21st April 2013

When I got home yesterday we walked up on Blackbushe to discover the Whitethroats (small summer migrant) are back, and the Gorse is finally in full flower. When I returned today, I confirmed there are at least two Whitethroats (a pair I think), and also that caterpillars are beginning to emerge – though I very nearly stood on this one as I was watching the birds! No Swallows here, nor our more usual House Martins, and I reckon it’s too early for our Swifts yet. I also saw a young second year Roe Buck in the fields looking like it’s beginning to moult, but I couldn’t get close enough for a decent photo.

But it is coming, spring really is here… more or less! Hopefully it will really get it’s act in gear in early May when I get to spend a whole week doing Rural Theology field visits in the villages around college – hope they don’t mind me taking the camera!

Unusual Autumn

Young Swallows at Perriswood on The Gower in August

This morning, in GU46 (that’s in Hampshire) I walked the dog in a snow flurry!! We’re still in October for goodness sake!!!

Between, or in fact sometimes because of, the journeys to and from college in Oxfordshire, I’ve been trying to keep track of some of my autumn sightings this year, and it’s been unusual.

The most noticeable oddity of the autumn for me was the Swallows and House Martins. They left for their migration to Africa incredibly late this year with my last sightings being

  • Farley Mount near Winchester on 6th Oct
  • Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire on 8th Oct
  • Blackbushe, Yateley on 9th Oct

All of which is noticably later than the date I recorded last year of 21st September!

But apparently that wasn’t the half of it, as the BTO reported migration to be late, with their e-news talking about some Swallow chicks still on the nest in early October, and  Going Birding Hants still showing Swallows leaving the coast on 24th October!!

The dragonflies also flew late this autumn. The last one I spotted at college was on 15th October, and the following day the last one here in my favourite field near Yateley, where it rose from the damp grass into the sunlight a bit like Tinkerbell after she was poisoned!

Buckthorn berries

The Spindle trees at Farley Mount started the autumn colour, which given the damp weather bringing the leaves down whilst still partly green, may be all over before we return after half-term. The little black beauties we found on 20th October initially had me completely puzzled, probably because it’s years since I’ve seen any.

Sadly the autumn colours going over the Ridgeway to college have been somewhat dulled by the misty weather. However, I’ve a trip to the New Forest to look forward to late next week, so shouldn’t go completely without the golden autumn palette I love.

The Red Kites still regularly delight me on the way to college, even in the mist. It’s been particularly interesting to watch their behaviour: swooping low over the road, presumably looking for carrion, or following the plough on it’s autumn rounds, in groups of up to a dozen. On one occasion I spotted three sat in a fresh ploughed field, presumably feeding on the worms, whilst others circled overhead.

Still no decent photo’s of them though! The best views are in the car when I’m driving, or as I dash into college with no time to spare, and no camera to hand.

This garden visitor doesn’t make the dog bark! Greater Spotted Woodpecker

Exhaustion overcame amazement when we received repeated visits from a local vagrant. One night the dog repeatedly, and energetically (to the point of hysteria) barked in our kitchen/diner on and off throughout the night. Irritated, on the second night I visited her distracted activity with vengeance in my heart, but happened to peak through the curtains of the french window; to find a fox standing less than 3m away, feeding its face on… fallen Conference pears!!!!

So, I can confirm foxes are not totally carnivorous, and can easily bank a 5′ fence to gain entry and exit to a tasty morsel. I can also confirm that we are now very careful to pick up all fallen pears as soon as we see them, and that as a result, we’ve all slept better the last few nights 😉

I’m not great at fungi identification but at least they are static organisms that can’t run or fly away (like the fox did) when you try and photograph them!

Porcelain fungus (Dudemansiella mucida)

Thanks to the ‘Fungi Name Trail’ guide from the wonderful Field Studies Council, I have discovered this week that the glistening fungi we found on a Beech tree in Farley Mount is called the Porcelain Fungus. I suspect we will photograph other such beauties in the New Forest if the weather is clear – being married to a micro-biologist tends to mean we stop at every new specimen.

Small Heath butterfly finds an Early Marsh orchid

Small Heath (female I think)

I remembered the camera when out walking the dog today. After a little incident with a young Roe buck (when I didn’t have anything except my phone) a few days ago, this was a major step forward.

There are often plenty of these Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) butteflies up on the disused part of Blackbushe airport at this time of year, but rarely do we get close enough for a half decent photo, which is what this is; it’s not as well in focus as I would like.

But whilst trying to get that shot, I found this little beauty disguised among the Red Clover. I think, that with the kink at the end of the leaves, and the lack of spots it is an Early Marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza incarnata), but I’m more than willing to stand corrected. There is a close-up of the flowerhead on my Flickr account here if it’s any help with the ID.

Such is the joy of the countryside; sometimes you just have to look really closely to find the hidden gems!

By the way, despite comments I’ve seen from people saying this isn’t a good thing, I think it’s wonderful to see the fields still haven’t been mown at the Red Cross Centre!

…and ACTION! Filming starts on the F1 RUSH job

The cry of “…and ACTION” accompanied my extended walk around the airport at Blackbushe today, as filming finally started on RUSH, the new Ron Howard film celebrating the F1 season of 1976.

Fake or real? F1 cars at the RUSH film set at Blackbushe, 5th March 2012


Now I remember 1976 as being a long hot summer here in England, but today they were obviously filming scenes set at other Grand Prix around the world because the grandstand of “extras” have been deluged in rain – applied under pressure from the top of a very long pole and sprayed across their faces. Sadly with the dog I couldn’t get close enough to take a photo, but given the brisk biting wind today, I reckon every extra has earnt their £100 pay packet as they’ll be frozen!

The other things we’ve noticed as we’ve walked the set on recent weekends are

  •  the quality of the painting on the sets for the pit garages – we know they’re chipboard because we’ve watched them being built, but you’d be hard pressed now to know that!
  • the lines painted for the ‘starting grid’ show that in the 1970’s the F1 cars were really no bigger than a Mini – at least in ‘footprint’ if not in engine capacity 🙂 I don’t know much about F1 racing, but the cars always seem huge when you see it on the telly!

Although, as I expected, the film company have not kept strictly within the detail of the planning application they made before Christmas (there are significantly more than 15 large vehicles up there, and I don’t think the 3 vaste marquees were mentioned), they have been very good at staying off the grass and heathland areas. I really hope this continues as we’re now in March, the migrants will be arriving and of course we’re entering the nesting season for the ground and heathland birds.

I’ve also been really impressed with the ‘crew’. The staff who guided me across the edges of the tarmac sections well out ‘shot’ were very polite, and last week it was great to see Yateley Manor School using the site – partly for an orienteering exercise but also up on the set itself being talk to by members of the film company.

So, all is well so far, and I hope it continues that way – though I’ll be fitter by the end of filming as the set has added at least an extra half mile to my usual walk!

RUSH film set at Blackbushe, 5th March 2012

RUSH to build film set ignores planning conditions

Set construction for RUSH at Blackbushe 17th Jan 2012

Well the news that I outlined in my morning addenda to yesterday’s post are confirmed by the photograph’s I took an hour ago.

Work is progressing fast on construction of the film set for the feature film RUSH. It would appear from the photograph’s that they are constructing the “72m run of pit garages”.

Are security and safety measures properly observed at construction of the RUSH set at Blackbushe?

This would appear to be in direct contravention of the conditions of the planning decision issued by the case officer on 12th January, where it stated

no development could take place for a p21 day period commencing the date that this permission is issued, to comply with Section 28l of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended

With this in mind, I have made Natural England (the relevant statutory authority who raised the need to issue this legal requirement when they objected to the planning proposal) aware that the planning conditions have been broken. I am awaiting their response.

I am also aware that Yateley Town Council are aware of the situation and have alerted Hart District Council’s Enforcement Officers to this breach of planning conditions. Town Councillors have told me by email that they were assured by the Case Officer at Hart District Council that

should planning officers use delegated powers and decide to grant permission to the film company, no work could be started for 21 days

Film set construction viewed from the Public Right of Way (RUSH on Blackbushe 17th Jan 2012)

These photo’s increasingly question the integrity of the film maker Ron Howard and his team, and their stated intention to (and I quote from their mailshot through my door this morning)

establish relationships with people in the nearby community such that we can respond to an particular needs or wishes.

If the obvious planning condition breaches are not enforced I believe this also brings into severe question the processes and integrity of our local planning department, their paid officials, and elected officers. Already I have seen first hand accounts of people who have contacted the Planning Department at Hart District Council and been treated rudely and with distrust.

Does this lighting protect nocturnal wildlife? (RUSH 17th Jan 2012)

Two additional issues spring to mind from the photographs that I’ve taken:

  • I could not see any visible site security or safety precautions in place – not an inch of red tape anywhere;
  • I wondered whether the lights shown in the photo (left) comply with Hampshire County Council’s Senior Ecologist’s wish that

in order to protect nocturnal life, I advise that any nocturnal lighting used, during both the proposed construction and filming, is directional and uses hooded lamps in order to prevent light spillage into the habitats adjacent to the runway

Hart District Council rush through the RUSH job at Blackbushe!

Unusual measuring activities on the old tarmac crossing of Blackbushe Airport 13th Jan 2012

Well, it seems I thought wrong. Apparently you don’t need an accurate proposal to get a planning application granted.

On Thursday 12th January Hart District Council enabled its planning officer to approve ‘on the nod’ (without the matter going to a full planning meeting of local councillors) plans to film RUSH on the disused areas of Blackbushe Airport.

This appeared to ignore the objections of statutory authorities like Natural England and Hampshire CC Rights of Way, who outlined the ways in which the application had not met with the basic requirements of any application to use the site.

My understanding is that work on construction of the set cannot start until 21 days from 12th January, during which time it is possible for Natural England (or another interested party) to lodge an objection with the Secretary of State for the Environment on the grounds that the applicant has not carried out the necessary environmental surveys, and is intent on constructing things (however temporarily) on common land.

The sort of bush I find fascinating. There's a bird there, but you can't see it as my camera isn't that good!

Presumably, unless this happens, work on building the RUSH set will commence on or after 2nd February 2012 (assuming I’ve counted to 21 accurately).

However, on Friday 13th January I saw people appearing to measure out the 300m length of tarmac that the set is proposed to cover (see photo above), so it would seem that all possible preparations are being made in advance. But I also saw a rare heathland bird (not visible in the photo, left), keeping up appearances as it were!

Perhaps, if you’re a film company wanting to spend significant money in the local economy, the legal niceties of sticking to rules are more easily navigated than you or I might experience in our own lives. Or perhaps, there is some other over-riding reason for ignoring the objections of statutory authorities and laws.

Or perhaps I’m just becoming cynical in my old age?!


Tues 17th Jan 11:26am: Reports by email that set construction started yesterday with lorries unloading significant equipment – I will take camera and check later. What happened to the condition of planning permission dated 12th January that

“no development could take place for a p21 day period commencing the date that this permission is issued, to comply with Section 28l of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended”

Tues 17th Jan 9am: Rush Films Ltd are obviously assuming (or know) that no further objections will be lodged as today they have hand delivered information leaflets to houses on the local Wordsworth estate (at least) explaining the film and filming process, and asking for those interested in being Extras on the set to contact them. Those wanting to take part will be expected to supply photographs of themselves and if successful grow their hair to fit better with the period (1976).

The Location Management team can be contacted regarding all matters relating to the set construction, filming, access and local environment and by potential supporting artists on blackbusherush@hotmail.com

Don’t RUSH – proper planning proposal might have prevented a poor performance!

The disused airport crossing, showing the grass where it was hoped to construct a grandstand

Well, people’s hopes and fears have been raised.

Yet it seems that it’s actually going to be poor planning, or more accurately a poorly prepared planning proposal, that may actually be the ultimate cause of the failure of the application to film scenes for the Ron Howard film RUSH on Blackbushe Airport.

This morning I attended the (made public at the last minute) public meeting with members of the Rush Films Ltd, production company, representatives of the British Film Commission and Screen South, local Town, District and County Councillors and other interested parties, including local residents and members of The Yateley Society and Hampshire Ornithological Society.

The meeting itself was a pretty good natured affair, with most people agreeing that it would good for the town in many ways if the proposal was to go ahead.

However it also became apparent that the film company, or their agent who submitted the planning application, had done themselves no favours at all, given the lack of integrity between the application itself and the increasingly accommodating supporting material provided in written and verbal form by the Location Manager, Jonah Coombes.

Mr Coombes, along with others present, made it clear that the film company were willing to accommodate in a variety of ways, the needs of their proposal for things like 24hr security at the set, and flexible access for local users during filming days. He said that “the more we are able to learn the more we can understand the needs and requirements” of both the site itself and the local community for whom it is valuable access land.

Another of the production team admitted however that she had nick-named the film “Rash”! This certainly seems to have been the case with their original plan to start work on set construction this coming Monday 9th Jan, which they admitted was obviously not possible given the constraints of the normal planning procedures.

The most obvious flaws however were highlighted by the fact that the application had not acknowledged the fact that

Grayling butterfly on Blackbushe 2011

The production team seemed utterly surprised when they were told by a commoner that yesterday Natural England had posted a four page objection to their application on the planning portal, that could see the application being referred to the Secretary of State, causing several months delay to filming.

It rapidly became apparent that the ‘rush’ to complete filming to schedule would make such a delay a difficult hurdle to overcome, and that the filming of sequences proposed for Blackbushe may end up being transferred to Germany.

Since listening to all this, and meeting some lovely local people, I’ve inadvertently found myself talking about all this to both BBC Radio Solent (who recorded a short interview clip) and BBC Radio Surrey who want me to talk live on tomorrow morning’s Surrey Breakfast!

The BBC even got me to give them some of my photographs for their web article, in which it is obvious from Natural England’s press statement that if the proposal fails and film production goes elsewhere, it is the film company’s omissions and inaccuracies in their planning application that caused their own poor performance.

RUSH filming on Blackbushe – PUBLIC MEETING Fri 6th Jan 10am

The crossing of the old runways at Blackbushe where it is proposed that RUSH will be filmed

The debate about the planning proposal for the filming of scenes for the feature film RUSH is becoming more public now that the Christmas holidays are over.

At the suggestion of County Councillor, David Simpson, a ‘stakeholder’ meeting with the film’s Location Manager (who commented on my previous post), planned for tomorrow morning, Friday 6th January 2012 has now been made a PUBLIC MEETING. It will be held at The Tythings by Yateley Town Council offices, at 10am.

Obviously he is aware this is very short notice, but in his email to me this afternoon suggesting I spread the word, Cllr Simpson said “I do think the more people [come] the better, as it will allow concerns to be solidified or overcome.”

So, if you can make it, I look forward to seeing you there.

Would you mate here? Glow-worms do!

I was in fact up on the airport this afternoon walking the dog as normal, talking to a friend who last year registered an unusually high density of Glow-worms on the site with the Glow Worm Society. It was fascinating to discover that the female Glow-worms live in very cracks that the makers of RUSH wish to tarmac over for the purposes of filming (especially on the western run of the tarmac crossing).

As I understand it, the “weeds, leaves and detritus” to be cleared from the runway according to the Planning Application Proposal Document, to make way for “localised spot repairs to the surface of the tarmac… to create a uniform surface” are in fact the very habitat used by both the females and the larvae, both of whom are flightless and will be active during the lifetime of the proposed set.

Thus once again (as with the issue of Schedule 1 bird species likely to nest within feet of the proposed set) I feel that the applicant’s agent has been less than honest in their statement that there are no “important habitats or other biodiversity features” being affected by the proposal.

IF it becomes necessary to clear away the sort of habitats shown in these photographs, I hope Hart District Council will insist that what the application describes as “detritus” can be moved to other areas of the old tarmac which they will NOT be using for the film set, so that any hidden Glow-worm lavae will at least be able to colonise other areas of the old airstrip, rather than being killed or dump in an inappropriate place.

Where Glow-worms like to feed - if the film-makers "improve" the tarmac they won't be!

Despite the fact that the supplier of the ‘grandstand’ would appear to have already been booked according to item 7 of the new document mentioned by the location manager  (and I would suggest this isn’t a local firm, though I will check tomorrow),  I fully agree that it would be lovely to have the economic benefits of a film location in Yateley, and the opportunities to take part or watch a film being made (especially for F1 fans).

However, partly on the evidence of the inaccurate statements made on the planning application, and partly from my family’s previous experience of working with feature film crews in important wildlife habitats, I feel that enabling these opportunities without putting in place careful constraints on what the film makers can and can’t do, will be to the long-term detriment of the wealth of wildlife that Yateley people also value for having on their doorstep.