Tuesday, 9 February 2016


Blue sky makes all the difference
The sky was blue today after yet another storm hit the UK. This was the 9th storm this winter which is more than the average.

Rain approaching
Storms in the UK are certainly not international news, no twisters or snowmaggedons. Just rather dull and continuous rain, accompanied by howling winds. There hasn't even been thunder and lightening to add some excitement. Some areas have experienced flooding or downed power lines, yet it is theunusual pattern of weather that makes it news-worthy for me.

Very wet and muddy dog walks
It is an El Nino year, which has spread a mixed bag of extreme weather across the world. Even so, I can't just shrug it off and expect next year to be 'normal' again. Have we had a 'normal' year in the last decade? A year when rainfall or temperature  records haven't been broken?

I wish rainbows were the only thing coming from this coal-fired power station.
The climate change predictions for the UK (that I read a good few years ago now), indicated that winters would be milder and wetter, with much less frequency of snow. Summers would also be milder and wetter, except for in the Southeast. This describes 2015 pretty well. Last summer was warm, but can anybody remember a day that was actually hot, like sunbathing-on-the-beach hot? We kept wondering when summer would start. And this winter has been exceptionally mild so far, though very wet and stormy.

Are we moving to a 'season-less' climate in the UK, with far less definition between spring and summer or autumn and winter? That is not to say that every year will be like that, just that a trend may be emerging. I mean we can't expect to ignore all the danger signs about climate change and not have to face the consequences.

Lovely traditional stone terraced housing
The good news is that buildings in the UK are built to withstand this kind of weather, at least most of the dwellings are. The majority of dwellings are built of brick or stone, and feel solid and secure whilst the wind is howling round them. The style is for low-rise, compact and often terraced dwellings. Even hurricane strength winds only result in a few chimney pots being toppled, trees falling and power lines being damaged. Watch the scenes in other areas of the world and whole streets of homes get reduced to matchsticks.
Old brick built factory still looking amazing
This is also why we have some of the oldest housing stock - brick houses are expensive and slow to build (compared to timber) and as they last well and are expensive to replace, we keep them. Even more so with stone dwellings. My friend's cottage is over 300 years old, and the thick stone walls would have taken an enormous amount of energy to demolish.

Any excuse for more nice photos
Now I know that old houses get a bad name for not being energy efficient, but that is not entirely true. They tend to be small, so have less volume to heat, and if they are terraced they reduce heat loss by having less external wall area. Houses were built with good natural light in all rooms, before we had electricity and had a cellar and a pantry instead of a fridge or freezer.

That is not to say that older buildings don't feel cold and draughty, but it is worth bearing in mind that a new efficient double-glazed window provides no more insulation than an old solid brick wall. Modern buildings with vast glazed areas are really not a great idea if you wish to reduce your heating bills. You will find that there is more focus on building houses airtight these days, to reduce unwanted draughts, and adding additional insulation to any building will always improve the thermal comfort and efficiency.
Survived since 1483
Other bloggers have noticed changes in their weather patterns too, sometimes major scary events like the forest fires and drought in Tasmania that Jo mentioned, or even small signs of change such as still picking raspberries in November as Mrs Thrift noted. I would love to hear of any changes that you may have noticed, wherever you are. It may be plants flowering earlier or areas flooding that have never been flooded before. It all helps to build up a picture of how the climate is changing and prepare us for what might come next.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Night walk discoveries

One of the changes with going to work each day, is that I can no longer walk the dog whenever I feel like it. Popping out at lunchtime or in between rain showers has been replaced with a walk after dinner, in the dark, whatever the weather. This seems like a bit of a disadvantage in winter, when it is mainly cold, wet and very muddy.

Where daytime walks offer the opportunity for foraging, photos, ball throwing and chatting with other dog walkers, dark evening walks are....well dark....though somehow still very lovely.

To start with I tried my normal walk through the muddy woods, but slipping and sliding through the mud and tripping over roots that I couldn't see was downright dangerous. I could have taken a torch, but it only lights a short distance and spoils my night vision. After a spectacular fall off a wet slippery stile, I headed for more open spaces, where on a cloudy night or with the moon out, visibility is fair.

And now the cold crisp evenings are wonderful, and blissfully quiet with all the people tucked up in their cosy warm houses. Even rainy evenings are really not that bad, but the best are when the stars come out.

The bright stars at Orion's belt are easy to spot
My knowledge of stars is rubbish, but I really wanted to know if what I thought was Orion's belt really was. So I got a stargazing app, and I'm loving it. Yes, if you ever see the silhouette of a woman stood out in the dark staring up at her mobile held above her head - it's me :-) Of course it is easier to just lay in bed and aim it at the ceiling and the app still shows you the stars, but I like standing alone on the hill overlooking all the twinkly lights from the town and feeling like a speck in this vast universe.

I could always find the saucepan shape but didn't know it was Ursa Major, the Great Bear

Another night-walk discovery is that all the trees have dog tags. On a windy night they jingle at you as you walk past. It did take me a while to realise that we were not being followed everywhere by a cat with a bell on its collar.

I have known for a while that the bigger, older trees, that maybe need protecting have numbered tags, and I am sure this must help to keep track of which tree is which, and find them when they get lost. But all the trees? Right down to the scrawny little things, that are more of a large shrub? Surely not!

If anyone knows the purpose then please do share it, as I am sure there must be some good intentions somewhere behind this madness? Is someone watching and recording all the trees being wiped out by climate change? Or maybe it is just part of the council's maintenance program? It just seems a waste to me. The time and money spent hammering tags into trees and recording them all, could surely have been better spent on planting new trees, to help our degraded landscape heal.

Next time you listen to the wind whispering through the trees, don't be surprised to find that they jingle now instead!