Just after I’d really given up hope of ever seeing an otter in one of Bedford’s country parks I’ve finally spotted one. I had frankly become fed up of hearing the accounts of others. In was bored by what seemed like faux sympathy that I’d ‘just missed a family of them’. I had tired of the ubiquitous evidence of them (mostly the stench of barely-chewed big carp left to rot around Priory Park). Yet on Sunday 9th December, at dusk which is apparently a great time to spot them, I noticed one just 20 or 30 metres away and making for the southern edge of the lake. Or, more properly, I saw its snout. Moreover it probably saw me first, recognised me as the guy that it and its entire family had been playing hide-and-seek with for years just to wind me up, and dived immediately to reappear a good distance further along the shore. Yet there it was. No mistake. Yay!
For anyone who didn’t know this, the otter is part of a family that includes weasels, badgers and pine martens (all native to the UK), mink (which has effectively become native after a number of American mink escaped from fur-farms in decades past), and honey badgers, polecats and wolverines (none of which are native, though there may be the odd escapee out there in the same way that we in the UK have wild wallabies).
Weasels, badgers and pine martens are all fairly retiring and avoid mankind as a general rule, though some years ago in Switzerland I discovered that pine martens have a love of warm and roomy engine compartments. Finding such an inviting pied-à-terre in my brand new top-of-the-range Land Rover Discovery, one or more of them settled in when I was not around. Then it or they took to chewing the distributor cables, probably to sharpen their teeth, effectively reducing my vehicle from a V6 to a V3 before I realised what it or they were doing. How we laughed when paying the bill for the damage (several hundred Swiss francs). Pine martens are not endangered, and they are apparently even living in Bedfordshire (toward Luton, around The Clappers for instance), though arguably the little critters deserve to be.
Not otters though. They’re a great indication that we’re improving the cleanliness of our waters. But they don’t breed quickly, they have attracted the ire of some fishermen, they get caught in crayfish traps and similar, and they are a little prone to being run over. Please remember this when you’re driving near any of the local parks.
Starting in March 2019 Bedford Beekeepers Association is running two ‘Introduction to Beekeeping’ courses; one in Luton and one in Bedford. Each involves 6 indoor theory sessions followed, when they finish and the days are warming up, by outdoor practical sessions.
The cost is £60 a course. But all equipment, including protective clothing, is provided.
Bedford’s theory sessions will be held indoors at Moggerhanger Village Hall for six Tuesday evenings starting on 5th March 2019 and lasting from 7.30pm to 10pm. These will be followed by practical sessions outdoors at Priory Country Park Training Apiary on Sunday mornings from April to September.
Meanwhile Luton’s theory sessions will be held indoors at Stockwood Park Discovery Centre for six Sunday mornings starting on 3rd March 2019 and lasting from 10.30am to 12.30pm. These will be followed by practical sessions outdoors at Stockwood Park Training Apiary on Sunday mornings from April to September.
This course is suitable for complete beginners and new beekeepers who need help. Bedford Beekeepers Association invite anyone interested to book a place on the course by visiting their website at www.bedsbka.org.uk
They meanwhile recommend that newcomers to the course prepare themselves by reading ‘Is Beekeeping for You?’ That’s also on their site.
You’ll have to hunt for it. But you can find mistletoe in the Bedford area. Robins too. And even mistletoe. Though, if you want the full Christmas experience, reindeer are woefully thin on the ground.
Like anything else you shouldn’t take all of it if you find some. Just sufficient for your own (non-commercial) needs.
With midwinter fast approaching (the winter solstice is on 21st December) now is one of the times when you’re liable to see Bedford’s morris men out and about. Does knee-slapping together with the waving of handkerchiefs, pigs’ bladders and clubs hold an appeal to you? If it doesn’t then apparently there is a 2009 mockumentary starring Sir Derek Jacobi and called ‘A Life with Bells On’ that has a cult following. Maybe you should watch it. Then you can get in touch with these guys via their website at www.bedfordmorrismen.com.
From what I gather the motivation is to keep alive a tradition that’s already endured for 400 years or so. That’s if we’re talking about the dancing. The drinking, which likewise seems to be an intrinsic part of these good-natured get-togethers, dates back to pre-history.
Anyone who regularly visits Bedford’s parks will realise that they’re treasure-troves for those who like to pick fruit, and that’s something which families love to do together.
Anyone foraging in Bedford’s country parks, or anywhere else where it’s legal, should remember some simple rules:
Remember that what looks like an edible mushroom may be poisonous. You need to be an expert to be able to make a positive identification. But avoid those below for starters.
Jon Bishop (Bedford’s Country Park Warden and a man who’s responsible for several sites in the region) is always looking for help from capable volunteers.
Expect hard work that’s certain to burn thousands of calories. So this is a marvellous way to tone up whilst losing some weight. But it’s a bit of a social event too. And it will get you out of the house to make new friends.
If you’re interested in being a Priory Country Park Volunteer (you’ll be paid in drinks and biscuits) then you can get hold of Jon Bishop by emailing him using email@example.com. Sessions are usually on either the first or the last Sunday of the month (yet are subject to change, so check first) and the meeting-point is the park ranger’s compound behind the Cloverdale Retreat café. But the next session is due on Sunday 23rd December. Volunteers will meet at 9.30am for a 10.00am start. And, if you cannot get away on a Sunday or you’re a glutton for punishment, other opportunities are available during the week.