IT SOUNDS pretty obvious that time spent outdoors can be good for our mental health as well as our physical wellbeing.
But a variety of different bodies have been quick to promote the wonders of the natural world to mark the start of the fifth year of Children’s Mental Health Week.
From the Woodland Trust to local wildlife trusts, forest schools and activity weeks, the message has been simple – that climbing trees, building dens and playing in the woods can all help youngsters learn valuable life skills, as well as reconnecting with nature.
On Sunday it was worrying to read in The Observer that emergency talks were being held over the future of children’s adventure playgrounds amid concerns that funding cuts are making some popular sites too dangerous to insure.
“Too many children are living a ‘battery hen’ existence, spending more and more time sitting in front of screens and less time outside playing. I want to see more playgrounds across the country, not fewer,” said England’s children’s commissioner Anne Longfield, who has championed play as a weapon against child obesity and poor mental health.
Mental health and the natural world was also under the spotlight last week in an emotional interview on Winterwatch between Chris Packham and Bird Therapyauthor Joe Harness.
Viewers were quick to phone, Tweet and email with their thoughts on the subject, pointing out how much pleasure even the housebound could obtain from watching garden birds at their kitchen window.
Certainly our own garden guests have been giving us great joy during the recent snowfall, with the tits, robins, blackbirds and pigeons being joined by curious moorhens, affable ducks and boisterous squirrels.
In America, a survey of managers of assisted living and nursing home institutions all agreed that watching garden birds had a positive effect on their residents’ morale, and that feeding and watching birds gives housebound residents a connection with the outside world and reduces isolation and depression.
Braving the wintry weather has allowed eagle-eyed youngsters to pick out the tracks of some of the more unfamiliar guests, while budding photographers have also been out and about, discovering that finding beauty in nature can help to ease the February blues.
Laura Howard, digital producer for The Watches, points out: “During the colder months, when the sun is low in the sky the world seems to slow right down. A sleepy darkness creeps in and colours often mute to greys.
“However if conditions are right, this season can also show nature at its most inspiring as precious winter light illuminates the world. Due to its low profile on the horizon and its distance from the earth, winter sun has a quality all of its own as evidenced by these terrific photos.”
It’s got to make sense – and on recent trips to Black Park, Burnham Beeches and Langley Park, it has been a delight to see people of all ages braving the sub-zero temperatures to make the most of the natural world in all its winter glory.
OUT WITH the old, in with the new. After the sombre removal of the Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night, January 6 sees a distinct change of mood with the celebrations marking the feast of the Epiphany.
And anyone feeling a little sad at the lights and tinsel disappearing for another year can always look forward to Candlemas Day on February 2, which since pre-Christian times has been a feast of lights celebrating the increasing strength of the sun as winter gives way to spring.
Epiphany, also known as Three Kings’ Day, originated in the East with Christians celebrating the birth and baptism of Jesus. The Western Church began following it in the 4th century as the day the wise men were led by the star to visit baby Jesus, according to the story of the Nativity.
THREE KINGS: Christians mark Epiphany on January 6 [PICTURE: Inbal Malca, Unsplash]
The traditional English Christmas has its origins in the ninth century, when King Alfred the Great enshrined in law the importance of keeping the church’s feasts. He commanded that there should be a holiday on Christmas Day and the 12 days that followed, for it was believed that the Magi had journeyed for 12 days to see the infant Jesus.
The twelve days of Christmas would have been a most welcome break for the workers on the land, which in Tudor times would have been the majority of the people. All work, except for looking after the animals, would stop, restarting again on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Night, as Ben Johnson explains.
As with all good traditions, there’s no universal agreement over the exact timing of Twelfth Night, since some regard Christmas Day as being the first day of Christmas, while others believe the 12 days begin on Boxing Day.
But the Victorians began the tradition that it should be the night that Christmas trees and decorations should be taken down, to avoid bad luck after the season of merriment (and to encourage everybody to get back to work).
There’s similar disagreement over the precise details of the story of the Magi: how many wise men actually visited, for example? And when was this? Some theologians argue that Christ would have been around two years old, since the wise men followed the star for two years and King Herod had all children two years and under massacred; by that time the Holy Family would also have moved out of the stables and into more permanent accommodation.
TIMELESS TALE: the story of the Nativity [PICTURE:Dan Kiefer, Unsplash]
Maybe the precise details don’t matter too much – after all, it was Pope Julius I who had the bright idea of adopting 25th December as the actual date of the Nativity, helpfully blurring religion with existing feast days and celebrations.
By Shakespeare’s day, as well as the carols and church-going, Twelfth Night would have been marked by music, masked balls and feasting – and it was in this context that he wrote his raucous comedy Twelfth Night (or What You Will), as fitting entertainment to close the Christmas season.
The first record of its performance comes from Candlemas of 1602 to bring down the curtain on Tudor festive celebration which used to last throughout the month of January.
In fact, many of our favourite Christmas traditions date back to the Tudor period, it seems, including carol-singing, present-giving, mulled wine and mince pies, as the BBC’s History Extra magazine explains with the help of Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke – authors of the 2018 book A Tudor Christmas.
So if the sight of those bedraggled Christmas trees got you feeling a little down, don’t despair – the spirit of Epiphany is upon us, and Candlemas is just around the corner!
WINTERWATCH will return to BBC Two next year, broadcasting live from a new location in the wildest landscape of the UK – the Cairngorms National Park – which is to be the new, year-round home for The Watches.
Presenters Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Gillian Burke will host the wildlife extravaganza, kicking off the year in the depths of winter in one of the toughest places in the country for our animals.
The freezing temperatures and blanket of snow make this an extreme environment to call home, and the team will explore how the local wildlife adapts to get through this toughest of seasons.
Winterwatch will only be the start though, as The Watches will come back throughout the year to cover the changing seasons in Springwatch and Autumnwatch, keeping up with some of the key year-round residents such as golden and white-tailed eagles, red squirrels and pine martens, as well as meeting the seasonal arrivals as they flock to this wild landscape in spring and summer.
By staying for a full year, the team will get to know the area like never before, exploring the snow-capped mountains, ancient forests, raging rivers and deep, silent lochs in intimate detail. The Cairngorms are home to some of the most revered and rare wildlife in the UK – and The Watches will follow that life as the seasons change, unravelling exactly what it takes to survive in this great Scottish wilderness.
The Winterwatch studio will be based at The Dell of Abernethy, a lodge built in 1780 which sits on the edge of the Abernethy Caledonian pine forest and is perfectly placed to link viewers to the whole of the Cairngorms. From here, the team will be able to showcase the whole region, seeking out the wildlife that thrives in this challenging habitat, and looking at the people and projects working to conserve it; including the UK’s largest landscape-scale conservation project, Cairngorms Connect.
As ever, the Watches will also reflect the wildlife issues and spectacles across the UK in a series of pre-recorded films for each series – showcasing the diversity of habitats and species that make this group of islands a truly unique place for wildlife.
Michaela Strachan said: “I’m so excited to be going to the Cairngorms for Winterwatch. It’s such a stunning place. Full of wildlife, dramatic, wild and very, very cold! The wildlife always delivers from Golden Eagles to Mountain Hares, Wild Cats to Black Grouse, Ptarmigan, Pine Marten, Red Squirrel, Water Vole, Otter. The Highlands have a wonderful diversity of wildlife and habitats. It’s one of those places in the UK where you can really connect with the natural environment.”
Chris Packham said: “Scotland – land of the brave, home of the wild and hope for the UK’s wildlife. This is the happening zone in conservation and home to the most amazing diversity of sexy species. I can’t wait.”
Winterwatch will return to BBC Two in January 2019. The Watches are produced by the BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit.
BUCKINGHAMSHIRE is stepping up its war against fly-tipping with a new campaign targeting selfish dumpers prepared to ruin the countryside in an effort to make a fast buck.
The Bucks Waste Partnership’s SCRAP campaign aims to warn householders that THEY could be punished if their rubbish turns up on a back road in Buckinghamshire.
The message is that if it’s your rubbish, it’s your responsibility to dispose of it properly and legally. Otherwise dumpers could face a £400 fixed penalty notice or, if court action is taken, typically fines of several thousands of pounds or even a prison sentence.
The campaign also features advice for householders and businesses to thoroughly check anyone who they use to dispose of waste on their behalf. Failure to do so means people are not complying with duty of care requirements and could face a nasty surprise if their waste is found fly-tipped.
The campaign follows an upsurge of fly-tipping around the county, with more than two dozen serious incidents reported in the past few weeks around the Chalfonts, Denham and Iver, in some cases with back roads being completely blocked.
Last month The Beyonder highlighted the techniques being used to tackle the menace in a feature about the county council team which investigates and prosecutes such cases.
The SCRAP campaign stands for Suspect, Check, Refuse, Ask and Paperwork – a five-point checklist to help people stay on the right side of the law.
Bill Chapple OBE, Bucks Waste Partnership Chairman and County Council cabinet member for planning and environment said any form of fly-tipping was illegal and socially unacceptable.
“Local people tell me they hate fly tipping with a passion. It doesn’t matter if it’s a single bag or a truck load, fly-tipping is disgusting and on average costs our council taxpayers over £750,000 every year in clear up and enforcement costs.
“Fly-tipped material also presents dangers for wildlife, it can pollute local areas and it’s extremely expensive to clear up. People often don’t realise but you could also end up with a criminal record.
“We take a zero-tolerance approach and that tough stance means fly-tippers are around 16 times more likely to be caught and prosecuted in Buckinghamshire compared to the national average. Quite often it’s surveillance camera evidence or an eagle-eyed resident noting down a vehicle number plate that helps bring perpetrators to justice.
“However, going forward we want to do even better and I am determined not to allow the mindless actions of the few, to spoil it for the people that love Buckinghamshire and its beautiful countryside.”
The campaign also reminds people that they can also play their part by reporting suspicious activity or fly tipping in progress. All they need to do is go online to www.fixmystreet.buckscc.gov.uk and select fly-tipping from the drop-down menu.
Bucks Waste Partnership member and cabinet member for environment at South Bucks District Council, Luisa Sullivan said: “Some of the excuses people give are unbelievable, from promising to come back in the morning to collect a fly-tipped bag to needing to tidy out a works van. Listen to your common sense, think before you act and don’t be tempted to fly tip in the first place.
“Even if you can’t dispose of waste yourself, there are many alternatives that won’t land you in trouble. For example, each Buckinghamshire district council offers a bulky waste collection service for larger items or kerbside waste and recycling centres for things like glass, paper and plastic bottles.”
She added: “Alternatively you could consider donating or even selling your unwanted items. You might make a few pounds for yourself rather than having to pay out thousands in fines.”
Well, in truth it has been under attack for years, but it’s only now that we can fully appreciate the scale of the onslaught as dozens of high-rise buildings reach completion.
When architecture critic Rowan Moore highlighted the problem back in 2014, more than 200 towers were being planned across the city, in urban and suburban locations alike.
But it’s telling that today the London Town website actually says that this part of London is “aesthetically defined by its towers” and even suggests venues where high-rise visitors might want to savour a vertigo-inducing glass of bubbly and pricey meal while taking in the view of what remains of our once glorious capital.
Moore discusses the aesthetic dangers and practical drawbacks of this race to look like Dubai, Shanghai or New York, but if you haven’t wandered round the backstreets of the City lately, you could be forgiven for thinking that every cobble, every tiny alleyway, is being transformed – mainly into offices or high-rise luxury penthouse blocks.
Much of that is driven by overseas investment – and a glance in the estate agent’s window quickly establishes that no “normal” rent-payer would find it easy to pick up a bargain around here, even in the few bijou low-rise developments which remain.
Property agents confirmed this month that overseas investors had shrugged off Brexit worries to invest nearly £7bn in London property in 2018 – ahead of Hong Kong and Paris.
The only consolation is in tiny alleys and hidden squares there are a few remnants of the old city for the wanderer to stumble upon.
The main tourist attractions like St Paul’s still provide visitors with a focal point, of course. Sadly Hitler’s sustained bombing campaign during the Blitz saw swathes of central London flattened in 1940 and 1941, leaving only blue plaques to remind us of some of the buildings which had graced the historic square mile since that other great London disaster, the Great Fire of 1666.
The Museum of London is a great place to start an exploration of London’s past – and when it moves to its new home beside Smithfield Market it should be an even more fascinating attraction.
But what remains of that historic capital, the Roman and medieval city largely hidden under our feet? There are still glimpses of London’s history down dark alleys and quaintly named closes, although it has to be said much of it is masked by traffic fumes and the detritus of modern living.
Between the high-rise blocks, London’s financial heart has become relentlessly hipster in mood and appearance, although the obsession with quality coffee is nothing new. London’s coffee houses were famed across the centuries, even if Samuel Johnson declared himself ‘a hardened and shameless tea drinker’.
But where to start after you emerge from the overheated hubbub of the Central Line in rush hour and step aside from the frantic City hordes to take your breath outstide St Paul’s?
Down on Ludgate Hill it’s reassuring to see an old Routemaster bus struggling to make any progress down towards Ludgate Circus and Fleet Street, but this throwback to the past is something of a sop to the tourists.
The vehicle itself is authentic enough, now more than 50 years old, having been originally delivered to London Transport in July 1964.
But it was withdrawn from service in the 1980s and spent time in Hampshire, Perth and Glasgow before being selected as one of a handful of buses to operate “heritage routes” through London – in this case from St Paul’s down to Trafalgar Square.
More authentic, perhaps – and a lot less well known – is a small park round the corner from St Paul’s which provides a welcome splash of green among the concrete.
Postman’s Park has an intriguing history in its own right, occupying an amalgamation of three burial grounds and taking its name from the fact that when it opened in 1880 it became a popular haunt with postal workers from the nearby General Post Office.
Efforts to resist the attention of Victorian property developers in the 1890s ensured that the park was saved for posterity and when it reopened in 1900 it incorporated an extraordinary and moving memorial to self-sacrifice, remembering ordinary “humble heroes” who had lost their lives endeavouring to save the lives of others.
Chief proponents of the scheme to remember the extraordinary actions performed by everyday men, women and children were the artist George Frederic Watts (1817 – 1904) and his wife, Mary (1849 – 1938).
The Watts Memorial contains 54 memorial tablets commemorating 62 individuals. The earliest case featured is that of Sarah Smith, a pantomime artist who died in 1863 and the latest is Leigh Pitt who drowned in 2007.
A short walk from the park is a somewhat grimmer memorial on the outer wall of St Bartholomew Hospital in Smithfield paying tribute to Sir William Wallace, one of the main leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence – most famously portrayed by Mel Gibson in the film “Braveheart” – who was executed nearby on August 23, 1305.
Wallace was charged with treason, to which he responded that he could not be guilty, for he had never sworn fealty to Edward I. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to the traitor’s death, one of the most vicious punishments devised during the medieval era.
He was taken to the Tower of London where he was stripped naked and dragged behind horses to the scaffold at Smithfield. He was first hung by the neck and then cut down while still alive. He was then eviscerated and castrated, and eventually beheaded. His body was cut into four parts, and his limbs sent to the corners of Scotland as a warning to the rebellious country. His head was set on London Bridge, where it was soon joined by other Scottish rebels.
Hidden away from the main tourist thoroughfares, Wallace’s monument is a place of pilgrimage for Scottish visitors to London, while round the corner Sherlock Holmes buffs gather to see the vacant pathology block where Benedict Cumberbatch took his famed mystery plunge in the BBC series reimagining Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective novels.
This part of one of Britain’s oldest hospitals is being redeveloped into a private healthcare facility. But opposite it is a reminder that this was once a rather seedy corner of medieval London where the Great Fire of London – ‘occasion’d by the sin of gluttony’ – finally stopped, as commemorated in a statue of the Golden Boy of Pye Corner.
The fire which broke out in in the early hours of Sunday, 2 September 1666 swept across London from the Thames to Smithfield, destroying thousands of houses and more than 80 churches over five days.
Initially blamed as part of a treasonous plot by Roman Catholics, the 18th-century monument credited an alternative culprit in the shame of the extravagant feasting of well-off 17th-century Londoners.
At this corner of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street also stood The Fortune of War pub, a rather unsavoury drinking den where in the early 1800s corpses provided by body snatchers used to be held in a backroom for surgeons at the nearby hospital to view and purchase.
The high-rise office blocks haven’t quite obliterated this part of London yet, although they are certainly encroaching from all sides.
Not that anyone is suggesting that the medieval brothels of Cock Lane or nearby Victorian gin palaces provided a vision of London which tourists would enjoy today.
But between the soaring office blocks there are those glimpses of a different London skyline – like the distinctive dome of the Old Bailey, where the gleaming statue of Lady Justice, erected in October 1906, has long been used to sum up anything to do with the criminal justice system.
But that, as they say, another story…
See the Further Afield section of The Beyonder for additional snippets about London’s history.
NEVER pay a man in cash to take your household rubbish away – it could cost you a fortune (and a criminal record).
That’s the message from Buckinghamshire waste enforcement officer David Rounding after an upsurge in fly-tipping incidents across the county.
COSTLY CRIME: David Rounding probes a dumping incident near Burnham
He believes many householders still don’t realise the consequences of allowing rogue waste collectors to dispose of their rubbish.
More than a third of those prosecuted in the county over fly-tipped waste are people who claim to have paid someone else to get rid of their unwanted household items. But David warns that cash payments to strangers are a recipe for disaster.
It’s a trend that has been fuelled in the past couple of years by so-called “Facebook fly- tippers” offering cheap waste collection services.
“People don’t seem to realise they could face a substantial fine and end up with a criminal record because they have allowed someone to get rid of their waste without checking them out,” he said.
WASTE DETECTIVE: enforcement officer David Rounding
The legislation makes it a crime not only to actually dump waste but also to fail to show a “duty of care” in arranging for waste to be disposed of.
So if your property ends up being dumped in a country layby and can be traced back to you, it’s you who could end up in court.
The surge in rubbish dumping across the country cost taxpayers £57m in 2017-18, a rise of 13 per cent on the previous year.
Local authorities in England deal with a million fly-tipping incidents a year – and in Buckinghamshire that translates to six a day on average, costing £500,000 in clean-up costs.
Much of the rubbish comes from households in nearby London boroughs like Hillingdon or local conurbations like Slough and Uxbridge – and since 2015, there has been a growing industry of criminal rubbish collectors advertising their services via social media sites like Facebook.
In May the Local Government Association highlighted the problem was on the increase. A spokesman said: “Small-scale criminals are attempting to undercut legitimate services by offering to take household rubbish away cheaply. But often they are just dumping items on other people’s land or in public. People should avoid using these services as they are driving the problem.”
David Rounding says a further irony is that many of the criminals are not even charging “cheap” rates.
“We have seen householders being charged hundreds of pounds for someone to take their rubbish away – sometimes two or three times the market rate. But in Buckinghamshire the ten recycling centres are free to use for household waste,” he said.
Families moving to new-build homes may be easy targets if they don’t know the area or how easy it is to dispose of their rubbish. They can also be targeted by fly-tippers on the look-out for bulkier items like sofas or beds which can be easily loaded into a Transit-style van or pick-up.
As many as half of local residents are thought to be unaware that they have a duty of care to dispose of their unwanted stuff correctly and can be fined or prosecuted if their rubbish is subsequently fly-tipped.
Cllr Martin Tett, the LGA’s environment spokesman, told the Telegraph in May: “Fly-tipping is unsightly and unacceptable environmental vandalism. It’s an absolute disgrace for anyone to think that they can use the environments in which our residents live as a repository for litter.”
David Rounding believes a simple ban on cash payments would go a long way to solving the problem and keeping law-abiding residents out of trouble: “If your rubbish ends up in a layby in Buckinghamshire, we will be asking you how it got there. We suffer from more fly-tipping than many councils and we will prosecute.”
He points out that the council has saved £3m over the past decade through its zero-tolerance approach, because the cost of clearing fly-tipped waste is so high.
“People using someone they have only met through Facebook face a much greater risk,” he warned. “Don’t pay cash – pay online or with a cheque. Ask to see the firm’s waste carrier permit. Legitimate companies won’t mind giving you’re their name or registration number.”
What is fly-tipping?
Fly-tipping is the illegal disposal of household, industrial, commercial or other ‘controlled’ waste without a waste management licence. The waste includes garden refuse and larger domestic items such as fridges and mattresses.
What are the penalties?
Fly-tipping is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £50,000 or 12 months’ imprisonment if convicted in a magistrates’ court. The offence can attract an unlimited fine and up to five years’ imprisonment if convicted in a crown court. There are also a number of other possible penalties, including fixed penalty notices of up to £400 and seizing a vehicle and/or its contents because of suspected involvement in fly-tipping.
To report a fly-tipping incident to David and his colleagues, visit the county council’s web page or the Fix My Street website.
INTO THE NIGHT: Jay Nolan-Latchford creates a mystical mood
SOME 300 artists and craftspeople across Buckinghamshire open their doors to the public today for the last day of this year’s Bucks Art Weeks displays.
The three-week programme began on June 9 and features open studios and displays from across the county, ranging from north of Milton Keynes to Maidenhead and Henley in Berkshire.
Many of the artists have joined forces to create local art trials around key centres like Princes Risborough, Amersham and Chesham.
In the Chalfonts, seven artists and makers have been featuring their work over three venues. Working from her gorgeous garden studio in Chalfont St Giles, Julie Rumseyhas branched out into mixed media work using acrylic as well as her eye-catching collagraphs, many of which have been inspired by ancient naïve artefacts.
SENSE OF HISTORY: An Epsiode of Sparrows by Julie Rumsey
She exhibits alongside contemporary fine artist E J England, who often uses damaged vintage books as a canvas.
Her works are inspired by the landscapes, cityscapes, flora and fauna of the British Isles and this year her collection also features large, mixed-media paintings alongside her more intimate Lost Books collection.
LARGE SCALE: a mixed-media work by E J England
Not all venues are still open for the final weekend, but many local artists have their work featured at other events in the run-up to Christmas.Jay Nolan-Latchford, for example, only exhibited during the first half of the Art Weeks event, her eclectic body of art and home decor ranging from watercolour illustrations with embellishments (see above) through to large mixed media canvases.
Her website name, Johnny Johnstone Art, is in memory of her grandfather who, like herself, was “an avid collector of intriguing things, a lover of rare orchids and a huge influence in my formative years”.
But if you missed Jay’s display this time round, her work will be on show at a number of shows and fairs in the run-up to Christmas at Thame Town Hall and Broadmoor Farm, Haddenham.
Over in Amersham at St Michael & All Angels Church, the Simpatico art group have been delighted to be doing a flourishing trade during the three-week event, selling many of their original works.
STORMY WATERS: a seascape by Jenny Thompson
Simpatico is a group of self-taught artists living in the Chilterns who paint in a variety of mediums and styles. The amateurs all belong to the Beechwood Artists Groupand paint together on a regular basis whenever they can.
Cecile Gallina, Liz Grammenos, Beverley Parkin and Jenny Thompson joined forces with Candida Hackney to host this year’s exhibition at the church, running daily throughout the whole three weeks and forming part of a larger Amersham Art Trail featuring 20 exhibitors.