3 May 2010

York

We spent a brief, but fantastic weekend in York. Though we left only 24 hours after we arrived we managed to fit so much in. Our plan was to begin by visiting my favourite nature reserve Askham Bog, but upon our arrival in the car park it began to rain heavily. After sitting in the car for 10 minutes hoping that it would ease (it didn't) we decided to have a drive around town instead.

We visited all the houses that we used to live in during our university days.

Halifax Court - student halls where I lived in my first year:

Alcuin College E block - student halls where Ian lived in his first year:

Bishopthorpe Road - a house I shared with 4 friends in second year:

Siward Street - Ian lived here in his second year with some friends from Alcuin college:

Dove Street - I lived here with my friend Liz (see below) during the summer of 2000 and then with 3 of my flatmates from Bishopthorpe Road for the academic year 2000/2001:

Back then the house was the ugliest in the street - painted white and fading with a blue door. It now has a brick front like the other houses in the row and there is not only a new front door, but a new door on the cellar, suggesting that someone has converted it into rooms - I was always dismayed that the cellar contained three rooms that were not in use.

Carlton Avenue - where Ian lived in his third year:

Brunswick Street - this was a home and not just a house to me. I lived there during my Masters and my PhD and have many happy memories. It's also the only house in York that all my family and most of my friends have visited. The milkman 'milky Dave' lived next door and his milk truck is obscuring the view of the door:

Wentworth College A block - where Ian lived during our Masters course:

This is the computer science building at the University where Ian spent most of his undergraduate days:

and this is the biology department where I did my PhD:

My office was in the older grey building to the right.

By the time we had visited all these old haunts the rain had slowed to a drizzle so we returned to Askham Bog. As usual we had a walk around the boardwalk to the smaller of the two main ponds. Afterwards, rather than following my usual route of heading to Near Wood and the other pond we decided to explore Far Wood.

The bridge over the dyke and into Far Wood was in disrepair:

Far wood:

Far Wood is not THAT large, but still I have always managed to lose my sense of direction there. On the far side of the wood is Gilson's Bog that I had not previously managed to find (for some reason when trying to head west, one always veers north, but when returning and trying to head east one always veers south - and no my left leg is not longer than my right!). Luckily, Ian is a better navigator than I and he managed to get us to the Bog. Unfortunately the dyke between the two was more than "welly deep" so I had to admire the bog from the wood. I shall have to purchase some waders if I'm to reach it in the future.

Gilson's Bog:

The dyke to the North of far wood:


We saw a total of nine roe deer and a fox that we probably wouldn't have seen if we'd come earlier in the day as planned. Ian also saw a little mammal scurry and jump into a wood pile. We suspect that it was a weasel, but will never know.

We completed the evening with a walk around town and dinner at Oscars. Oscars was our favourite eatery during our time in York and again most of my friends and family have eaten with me there at one point. Unfortunately the lovely building and courtyard they used to occupy was only rented and they were unable to renew their lease. However, they moved to a building only just around the corner and the food was as fantastic as ever.

On Sunday, after checking out of our B&B we popped into town and had a stroll through museum gardens followed by a look in my favourite picture shop on Petergate. We then drove North to Easingwold and had a little wander before heading to St Johns the Evangelist Church for a christening.

Isaac William and his parents, my friends Andrew and Liz (Liz and I studied maths together at university and lived together at Dove Street) in the centre, with his godparents (I believe also Andrew and Lizzie) on the outside:

After the christening we went to Liz and Andrews house in Shipton by Beningborough for a lovely buffet and a brief catch up on news before we headed back home to Devon.

4 April 2010

Random things I've learnt

I decided a few weeks ago to make this blog a bit more general, thus the change of name. Until now I've not had a chance to post anything other than the usual blogs about the house and visits to family. I've decided to post a few things that I've learnt this week and to do so on a regular, though not necessarily weekly, basis. Nor will I restrict myself to a fixed number of things as it will depend entirely on what has caught my eye.

So here goes...
  1. Before I could even write the title I had to look up the difference between learnt and learned - something I've not managed to remember in the past. Learnt is common British English, whereas learned is US English.
  2. Aeshna, the genus of the hawker dragonflies is pronounced eesh-na. Source: a wonderful website (even if they did use the word 'Latin' instead of 'scientific' to describe the words) containing information on the pronunciation of dragonfly-related things.
  3. Drinking chocolate was discovered by Hans Sloane while on a trip to Jamaica. Sloane was a physician and botanist who succeeded Sir Isaac Newton as president of the Royal Society. In addition to being a great collector of plants, he acquired a number of natural history collections and an extensive library on natural history. He bequeathed his collection to the British public and this went on to become the foundation for the British Museum. Source: wikipedia.
  4. Adult newts may eat frogspawn. Source: the garden pond blog.
  5. The name of the control centre for the Goldeneye in the James Bond film of the same name - Severnaya means northern in Russian.
  6. In addition to fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh meat can also prevent scurvy. Source: Rayner Unwin - A winter away from home: William Barents and the North-east Passage.
  7. Polar bears livers should not be eaten. They contain such a high concentration of vitamin A that this can cause terrible stomach pains, eyesight to dim and skin to blister and peel off. Source: Rayner Unwin - A winter away from home: William Barents and the North-east Passage.
  8. If the top or sides of a loaf of bread cave in during baking then this is probably a result of there being too much liquid compared with dry ingredients. Source: our new breadmaker's manual.

2 April 2010

In the greenhouse

Last weekend we spent some time in the new greenhouse assembling some new shelving. Despite being rather awkward to assemble and the fact that the manufacturers didn't take into account the existence of the sliding doors in the centre of the greenhouse (which meant that Ian had to cut two of the shelves) we're both really pleased. It's doubled the amount of space we have to store our collection of little trees and they're now organised in alphabetical order along the length of the cooler half of the greenhouse.



Opposite the trees is a raised bed in which I intend to grow our herbs (except for mint which I'm only growing in pots because it likes to take over)


The warmer half of the greenhouse has four currant bushes, a grape vine and a blueberry in, which will be joined by more exotic fruit and vegetables such as marrows, aubergines and melons in the summer.


7 March 2010

Quite a day!

Today is my fiancee Ian's 30th birthday. Due to work commitments we've decided to celebrate fully with a holiday next month, but we still managed to take the day off work today and have a wonderful time.

One of Ian's presents was an adoption of the European otter Imogen at the Buckfast otters and owls center so we decided to go see her and the other otters this morning. Imogen is naturally nocturnal and was asleep in the 'otter cottage', but the other otters were all out and about.

This is their oldest otter: Ontario, a 22 year-old female:



These are Toronto and his sons Winni and Peg:



Winni, Peg and Rocky - one of Ontario's sons are due to be released in a wildlife refuge in Canada later this year.

We decided to stop at Trago Mills leisure park for lunch - a place we've passed a hundred times on the A38, but had never been to. It wasn't really what either of us expected. We thought that it would be a shopping center with leisure facilities such as a swimming pool and possibly a cinema. Instead it turned out to be one massive store - I can't describe how big it was. This discouraged us from actually buying anything because there were only a few exits with checkouts and very long queues. Nor could we find where everyone ate until we'd been the length and breadth of the store. All the food outlets turned out to be outside the main shop next to a small lake. Luckily we managed to find a table at one of the only two indoor eateries as it was a very cold day today. The 'leisure' facilities were also located outside and consisted of a small model railway and some rides for very young children. What did impress us was the scale of the place and the buildings themselves. The shopping area is one large structure that looks like a fairy-tale castle from the outside.



This year Ian and I are trying to alter our diets to be more healthy and so for once we skipped the birthday cake. It has been a tradition for Ian to have a caterpillar-shaped cake so instead we made a caterpillar shaped main course for dinner. We bought 4 different coloured peppers and stuffed them with rice, cheese and vegetables. Yummy!

Ian making the face:







This evening we went to the cinema to watch the film Invictus with Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela. I had no idea that the film was partly about sport (rugby), but I would highly recommend it to even those like myself who normally avoid films containing a lot of sport.

All in all, a brilliant day!

14 February 2010

A green greenhouse!

Last week we said goodbye to our old greenhouse:


It has served us well, but has been missing several panes of glass since we moved in. Although we've had very warm springs and autumns in 2008 and 2009 the summers have been spectacularly dull and our attempts to grow vegetables out of the greenhouse have been disappointing. Admittedly the baby butternut squashes and baby sweetcorn looked cute, but in reality they were inedible :-(




We have therefore invested in a rather extravagent 20 by 6 foot greenhouse. This will also satisfy our growing needs while we take a pause in our search for some land when Ian moves to Australia to finish his PhD.

8 February 2010

Blackpool

Last weekend we took a day trip to Blackpool with Gary and Dewi. Before going for lunch we drove down the promenade, home to the famous Blackpool illuminations. Some of the displays were lovely:




After lunch Ian and I went to the zoo where we saw

capybaras:


giraffes:




lemurs:


penguins:


and of course otters (Barry & Jasmine):



The penguin pool was remarkably clean and I couldn't resist taking lots of videos:

video

video

I also filmed the world's messiest eater (a cotton top tamarin):

video

21 December 2009

Incorporating ontogenetic dispersal, ecological processes and conservation zoning into reserve design

Our article in Biological Conservation has become available online today. As promised I shall attempt to write a readable summary.

The aim of our paper is to extend existing methods for placing marine reserves to protect habitats by making the methods more realistic and thus hopefully more likely to protect species of importance and be acceptable to fishermen.

Marine reserves are basically areas of the ocean that are closed to extractive activities like fishing and the removal of stone or pharmaceutical products. Selecting locations for reserves is a tricky business as it's difficult to predict how species and habitats will respond to reserves and even more difficult to convince local stakeholders that going another few miles every day to a potentially less-stocked fishing area is a good thing. For example, closing areas to fishing groupers can benefit parrotfish - an ecologically-important family of fish because parrotfish are stupid enough to go and sit in the grouper fish traps (even though they're not targeted by the fishermen). However, closing areas to fishing groupers allows groupers to grow to a larger size before they die and since groupers eat parrotfish that means that they're able to eat the larger parrotfish (the ones more likely to reproduce).

Rather than choosing sites arbitrarily, computer algorithms (lists of instructions followed by the computer) exist to help select locations. These are required because once you start selecting locations from hundreds or thousands of sites it becomes impossible to do it by hand. Basically you divide the seascape up into lots and lots of potential reserve sites - ours were square and made by overlaying a 1km by 1km grid over an aerial map of Belize, and specify roughly what proportion of sites you want to be in your final network of marine reserves (say 20% of the total area of the seascape). The computer selects a random group of sites as your first reserve network and then repeatedly tries making changes to the reserve network by adding or removing a site and seeing if the resulting reserves are 'better'. Better is usually defined as being more likely to protect the species or habitats of interest with minimal cost to fishermen and reserve managers.

Ian and I wrote a new computer algorithm to make this process more realistic by

1) taking into account that some species migrate between habitats (that's the ontogenetic dispersal part),
2) evaluating how important each fish species is ecologically and economically and then using predicted numbers of each species in each habitat to determine how much of each habitat you aim to have in reserves (that's the ecological processes part) and
3) taking into account that areas outside reserves are also important - previous algorithms assessed if a reserve network was 'better' only by looking at what was in the reserve network. We also evaluate what is outside the reserves at the same time (that's the conservation zoning part).

So now you know!!