Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Natural History of Upper Teesdale

Durham Wildlife Trust has produced an entirely new edition of The Natural History of Upper Teesdale, perfectly timed to coincide with the blooming of spring gentians, perhaps the dale's most famous wild flower.

The first edition of this indispensable guide (below), with only 70 pages illustrated with line drawings, appeared in 1965 and has run through four editions. The new fifth edition is almost an entirely new book. Financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund has enabled the Trust to expand its size and scope, extend it to 198 pages and print in a larger format with an attractive easy to read layout, with high quality colour photographs and illustrations throughout.

In the new edition (above) nine chapters cover the history of habitation in the dale, its weather and climate, geology, geomorphology and glacial history, its flora and vegetation and the origins of the unique Teesdale assemblage of rare flowers growing alongside more familiar species, its fauna, freshwater life and conservation, all written by outstanding experts in the field. Edited by Trust chair Steve Gater, this is a magnificent achievement by all concerned.

This is a perfect introduction for new visitors to the dale, while those who know it well with find new and fascinating insights. 

The Natural History of Upper Teesdale is available from Durham Wildlife Trust’s Rainton Meadows and Low Barns Visitor Centres, with members able to buy at a specially reduced price of £8 with a £2 postage and packing charge. 

The book can also be purchased by non-members for £10 with a £2 postage and packing charge.

Copies can also be ordered by phone or email from the Trust on or 0191 584 3112. A £2 post and packing charge applies. 

Teesdale based book design company Mosaic (, who worked on the project, will also have copied available for sale.

Sunday, January 14, 2018


There have been bullfinches in the garden almost every day since Christmas. The attraction for them is a winter-flowering cherry Prunus subhirtella autumnalis which produces a continuous supply of flower buds from November until the end of March. The ground underneath the tree is littered with petals that they have torn off while they've been feeding, but the tree just keeps producing more.

Bullfinches are notorious for feeding on pear buds and we have a Concorde pear tree further down the garden that produces a very good crop of fruit every autumn. The bullfinches probably take some blossom but the winter-flowering cherry seems to be a bigger attraction.

They also seem to like hawthorn flower buds. This tree is level with the bedroom window so provides an opportunity to watch the birds feeding at close quarters.

It's often said that bullfinches pair for life, though I didn't know whether there is really any sound evidence for this until today, when it was confirmed in a post on Twitter that highlighted this piece of research. The idea may have arisen because the male, female and juvenile birds stay together in a family group until spring. Now Professor Olav Hogstad at the Norwegian university of Science and Technology Department of Natural History has shown that pairs can stay together for at least three breeding seasons..

 My impression is that bullfinches are doing quite well in my part of County Durham. I've seen more this year than I can ever remember. They stick together in family groups through the winter, which makes them easier to spot.

The Rev. F.O.Morris, in his Morris's British Birds in 1891, had a charming theory as to how the bullfinch got its name. "If I may venture upon a conjecture" he wrote "its name is derived from this circumstance, Bullfinch, if so, being a corruption of Budfinch, the word bud being pronounced in the vulgate of the north of England, as if spelled 'bood' "

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hortus Britannicus

I found this first edition of an amazing work of early 19th. century scholarship in an antiquarian bookshop many years ago. J.C. Loudon's Hortus Britannicus lists all the the plants, native and introduced, known to be growing in Britain in 1830.

This is much more than just a list, though, as becomes evident when you read the title page which describes the full scope of this monumental work of reference. 

It is: 

A Catalogue of all the Plants Indigenous, Cultivated in, or Introduced to Britain with the Systematic Name and Authority, Accentuation,Derivation of Generic names,literal English of specific names,Synonyms Systematic and English of both Genera and Species, Habit, Habitation in the garden, Indigenous Habitation, Popular Character, Height, Time of Flowering, Colour of the Flower, Mode of Propagation, Soil, Native Country,Year of Introduction, and Reference to Figures

All this information, in this masterpiece of early 19th. century information technology, is tabulated under column headings. 

This page is the key to the various categories under each heading. 

If you double click on this image it should enlarge enough for the detail to be readable.

Here is a sample page, for species in the genus Primula, the primroses.

But there is more! 

Here is Loudon's method for producing coded plant labels for the garden that correspond to the species numbers in his catalogue, by cutting grooves in a wooden label.

And here is his advice on drying plants, forming a herbarium and drawing plants, flowers and fruits.

J.C.Loudon was a Scottish botanist who also designed gardens and cemeteries and who is also credited with coining the term 'arboretum'. 

Despite suffering from poor health he travelled widely and seems to have been something of a workaholic. He completed Hortus Britannicus after a botched operation to repair a broken right arm, which led to him having it amputated at the shoulder. Undeterred, he quickly learned to write and draw with his left hand.

He died, penniless, in 1843.

You can read his Wikipedia enrty (the source of this image) by clicking here.

You can download a digital copy of Hortus Britannicus by clicking here