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|Greetings||Midwintersong||Lambing||Back to this month's diary|
|Lambing in the snow at Cobnor..||
Diana Beale reports
|At Cobnor, four of our ewes had already lambed over the last 10 days, and we have 7 gorgeous black lambs as a result.|
|This morning, before breakfast, I saw the skies getting greyer and rushed out to feed the flock and check for new lambs before the weather broke ... too late! By the time I got out of the door it was first freezing sleet, then fine hail, then snow ... all whipping horizontally under the fresh Northerly. One ewe had gone off on her own and was clearly close to giving birth, but, thankfully, no tiny lambs had come yet.|
|The blizzard has subsided and the ewes are glum and puzzled about the disappearance of all that nice green grass...|
|An hour later the first lamb has been born, straight into the snow!||Just as I am standing there with my camera, and while the mother is licking the first lamb clean, the second lamb is born!|
|Both are good-sized ewe-lambs and within a short period of time they are both cleaned up by their mother and are on their feet and feeding. I return with hay (to make a warm covering over the snow) and to dip the twins' umbilical cords in iodine to prevent infection. Later, we'll put them in a cosy pen to keep them warm, and safe for a couple of days, specially with this cold weather.|
|Trees and flowers in the snow....|
|White cherry blossom laden with snow|
A Country Diary poem to bring you all cheer through the gloom, rainy days
and grey skies of January ...
|Grey day lowers down formless ragged clouds,
Reaching to merge with the breathing air.
Grey-green shades of wet tree-shapes loom and fade in the drifting mist.
Damp black dog slow and plodding,
Debouches from dripping tunnel track,
To moist wet steaming tarmac lane.
Enveloping gloom here and ahead,
How much longer to endure?
Blatting the dampening film of shrouded stillness,
A vital voice of life shouting,
Yes, shouting at me,
So fast and furious a cascading code,
|But silence does not close down.
A new rally call high to the left,
Chink clinks through the tree weft,
Specially for me and I know ,
Who has put on this show,
A tom-tit titting in a bare-branched tree.
Bobbing about this way that way,
Peering at me looking at him
Making me laugh on this cold grey day.
|What was the message in the bright bird-song?
I thought I knew as we plodded on,
Along the track by the deep ditch,
Roaring storm-water tumbling through.
Care now, slow along sloppy-slip stretch,
But springy-step Scipio trotted right through;
He'd got the message and picked up pace ,
Life is much brighter in this soaking wet place.
Up the slide slope - a special nook,
|Where wooden homes of little horned beasts,
Lie piled in a stook.
Swing along the ploughed field edge,
Beside the flailed bramble hedge,
Where fat black berries sat in late summer.
Fine vista of Downland hidden today,
By curtains of greyness drifting away,
To south-east and followed by more,
From north-west - the outlook is poor.
|But we are buoyed up by our little friends song,|
| And hum my own tune as we swing along.
Then stop as we climb down to the lane,
'Cause the wonderful message is repeated again!
The king of the song-birds really let go,
Yellow-fluting along in melodious flow.
Oh blackbird, brave blackbird, what a wonderful thing,
To deal with life-problems and still laugh and sing.
|Country Diary on a frosty morning at the turning of the year ... with warm wishes to all in Chidham and Hambrook and beyond....|
Chilly Cobnor Point
Frosted sea-spinach on the sea-bank
Brambles and bracken
|The Jacobs sheep with Victor, the white ram|
Peace and hope to you all for the New Year
Piggy Lane looking east
Piggy Lane, looking west
"Piggy Lane " explained .....
Where is it? It runs East - West, starting by the telephone kiosk on the bend of Chidham Lane, and finishing beside Woodstock Farmhouse, just north of Chidmere.
Is that its real name? No, someone called it that because it ran alongside a smallholding where Vera and Rosemary raised pigs for many years after the second world war. The pigsties have long since disappeared, though are still visible on aerial survey according to the Ordinance Survey.
I take Scipio along the lane as part of a routine walk. Like all dogs, he likes new exciting places to explore, but also enjoys regular walks in his ‘patch', where everything is carefully inspected and markings renewed. Yes he is black, has brown eyes, and goes ahead when let off the lead.
"Speckled wood" is a pretty brown and white butterfly which displays in its territory.
The narrow lane is hedged on the south from the meadow where many birds can be seen including, memorably, a young hen-harrier - the rare ring-tailed raptor - which visited briefly last year. The north side of the lane has tall apple and wild plum trees [bullous], up which grow brambles laden with fat blackberries this summer. And bands of sparrows and finches along the hedges after the breeding season, in autumn.
So this short straight track contains much magic of the country side if one takes the time to linger , look and listen.
A BRIEF ENCOUNTER.
The desperate cry cut through my preoccupation, bringing me back to the world of 'now'. 'oh, no, no, NO !', I thought it screeched. Then I realised that the voice was not human but avian, and very close. There on the ground outside the morning-room window was a scene of intimate savagery. Crouched with brown wings and tail fanned out in an umbrella, feather-tips lightly feeling the ground, was a young female sparrow-hawk. Her yellow talons gripped a starling, lying on his back and head jerking with each strident cry. The hawk shifted to get a better grip, one talon across throat and breast, the other clutching the lower body and pinioning the legs. The victim wriggled and struggled in short bursts but the hawk responded by bowing her head closer and spreading her wings forward and round to complete the circle. She seemed to be cradling the starling and even comforting it. .'Hush little bird', it seemed to mime as it gently rocked - in fact gripping rhythmically with those terrible talons, her creamy barred breast puffing over the gaping orange uplifted bill of the dying bird.
|Then she looked up and around with great glowing eyes, checking and challenging the world - more apparent mime - 'This is how I live and why not? Who are you to question my ways?'|
|The starling became quiet, the hawk observed and a stillness descended. I thought how small the group was and yet the scene was big, drawing in the eye and the imagination. Here was a metaphor for survival, life and death, stripped of philosophical frills.|
|The hawk looked down and inspected her prey carefully, almost lovingly like a mother contemplating her child. She nudged the gleaming black breast gently with her curved yellow bill and, getting only a faint response, began to pluck away the downy feathers very carefully, revealing purple-pink heaving flesh.|
| She relaxed her grip in the process and the starling half woke-up. He lifted his head to see what was happening, and then began to assist in the plucking of his own breast. This was a new meaning to collaboration! I was reminded of reports that some victims of torture allegedly assisted their aggressors upon reaching a certain state of subjugation and this is used to gain information. Apparently most of us have a breaking point.
|Now at last the starling's head fell back and all movement diminished to a final quiver. The sparrow-hawk began to nibble quickly but delicately at the breast meat, spilling not a morsel or a drop of blood.
Suddenly, for no apparent reason, she raised her head and stretched her neck
to gaze at the sky, adjusted her feet close together and with a spread and clap of wings, lifted vertically to fly away in a flash, carrying the limp body half as big as herself. Never have I seen such strength so deftly demonstrated by such a small creature; a female sparrow-hawk measures twelve inches, a starling eight and a half.
All that was left was a tiny pile of curly charcoal feathers. They had lost
all gloss. They twitched in the fitful breeze and twirled away one by one.
Soon nothing was left in evidence of this brief encounter, which separated
being from non-being for one creature, and ensured the continuing existence
of another, at least for another day.
|I wrote the notes above some time ago and was reminded of that happening by a similar event which Penny and I witnessed a few days ago. We were returning home down a narrow drive with dark woods all around when I spotted a tableau in the centre of the road ahead. Another very fierce looking female sparrow-hawk was standing with talons gripping in the breast of a large wood-pigeon. There was no struggle, the pigeon being minus a head, knocked off in the strike which must have just occurred. The drama was in what the hawk would do next. She was obviously reluctant to abandon such a great prize. I stopped the car and we waited. The hawk waited too, very still and sizing up the situation. Birds of prey often take advantage of road kills and some have learnt to drag these offerings, when large, into the verges and so away from the passing traffic. Incredibly, after one false effort, this bird managed to airlift the pigeon which looked twice its size, over the hedge and into the bushes for a leisurely lunch.|
|Do I approve of these savage creatures? Absolutely - they have a very important role in the balance of nature, truly helping to keep it in balance, and they are interesting intelligent creatures, and they are just sublimely beautiful. I hope you agree||.|
|Thanks to John Cummins|
|Late Sept 2007
Its raining. September 20th, and the season of summer seems to have slipped away so suddenly. The skies have darkened, the wind has got up and we are all inside with the lights on. Now I'm thinking that I should have been gathering firewood last month!
|Only last week we were all out on a little boat, swimming in the sea, and pulling lovely mackerel out by the bar beacon ( the water is still very warm at 18 degrees ). Everyone says what a poor summer we have had, but flicking through several hundred pictures I have taken this summer they show scenes of bright sunshine and warmth - maybe that's when I get the camera out!|
|Autumn is such a lovely time of year, all of the suns energy, the food in our rich soil and the care of the farmers has given us another harvest. The grain harvest has not been that good, too dry in April/May and too wet and lacking in sunshine for the end of the growth period to July. That is all in now, being sold and transported to the mills for next years flour and animal feed.|
|I went to see Charlie Foot at Easton farm yesterday, looking as healthy as ever, one month off his 70th birthday and "working harder now than when I was a youngster". He and his sons were getting the potatoes into the barn to store to keep them dry and frost free over the winter. Their potato harvest has been good, the spuds are large and clean.|
|Our fruit harvest at home has been very heavy with quite a bit of propping up of branches and pruning to reduce the weight of fruit. I now wish I had more places to store the fruit for longer and the skills to do it more efficiently. We tend to have a bit of a caveman diet at home, ie we eat loads of what there is at the time.|
|This time of year I feel very healthy as we gorge ourselves on fruit from so many trees around the village.
Maybe we will get another blast of warmth before settling into winter, and who knows what the winter will bring - enjoy the seasons.
|Country Diary for August 07||(Thanks to John Cummins)|
| Water Voles at Cobnor.
Out of the corner of my eye I detected a purposeful movement on the edge of
the shining still water. I stopped and looked and, yes! It was a water
vole - and there was another! They circled round each other like a pair of
amphibious dodgem cars with no obvious signs of propulsion, riding high in
the water. Who was chasing who? They seemed to be playing a game, but as I crept up trying to get a closer look, their beady little black eyes spotted
me and they vanished like a mirage, diving and then possibly finding refuge
in one of the bank-side tunnels, some of which open under water. I could see
some of these tunnel entrances just above the water line as I came closer.
That means the little creatures are established as those tunnels lead in and
up through the bank to a nest. Perhaps there will be a family! But they will
need to maintain their vigilance as there are many predators of these
delightful furry dark brown herbivores - foxes ,cats, escaped mink and
sometimes certain dogs, so take care with your pets when visiting Ratty's
This was at Cobnor in March. I hope the bank-side vegetation will grow down
to cover the tunnel entrances and that thought reminds me of my first
sighting as a school-boy fishing for silver dace on the lovely little river
Vere in St. Albans [from whence Verulamiun]. I watched an ancestor of this
pair trundling along in the protection of the overhang of the luxuriant
green bank - real Kenneth Graham country. Since those far off days there has
been a dramatic decline in the population of these, our biggest voles -
over 90% by some estimates. This is due to several factors, the predators
mentioned but particularly loss of habitat over the last fifty years as
small rivers have been tidied up and lost [ oh where is my beloved Mimram
where crayfish abounded? ] and wetlands drained for farming. Wetlands are
now being restored in many areas, thanks to good work by such as the Sussex Wildlife Association, which is good news for Ratty and other denizens of these places, such as the bittern - once seen at Thorney - and the otter -
alas still extinct in Sussex to my knowledge. But numbers are still low and
water voles are still not found in many parts of Englands countryside.
Photos of water voles (not taken locally) by Simon Booth Photography. see more of Simon's amazing pictures
|We are lucky here south of the Downs with our streams, lavants and waterways
which form ideal habitat for these charming little creatures, though on the
Continent , they are not always found near water, so maybe an English
sub-species is evolving. This luck means we have a responsibility to protect
and learn to live with the water vole and not eliminate him through
ignorance. So they are about, being seen at Fishbourne, Thorney, up the
canal in Westbourne and I suspect in other places too. Look for signs -
holes in banks just above the water-line, a closely grazed patch of
bank-side herbage or cropped water plants. If lucky, you may hear a 'plop'
as Ratty dives into the water. If you go quietly, you may be rewarded by
one of nature's simple but memorable sights.
|July 2007: The annual visit of the shearers to the sheep at Cobnor|
| It may not have been a long hot summer, but even so, the sheep at Cobnor were starting to suffer from their over-heavy fleeces, making them sweaty and itchy.
It was a relief all round when David and Kirsty, shepherds from Arundel, arrived with their mobile shearing unit.
Sally and Sally-Anne Cobden, from Cot Lane, brought their few pet sheep to be sheared along with ours.
We tackled the two rams first, "Victor"and "Raymond Blanc" - it was tough work getting the big fellows on their backs!
Lovely to watch the creamy white fleece slide off - David works quickly and is both strong and skillful.
The rams admire each others' sleek trim bodies at the end.... Then it's the ewes turn - nearly 30 in all to do.
|My nephew, Rory, is given a lesson with the electric shears, and, happily, the ewe (or guinea- pig!) survives....
After the shearing, not only are the sheep more comfortable, they are also free from vulnerability to "fly-strike" for several weeks.
Blow-flies love to find thick warm moist fleeces in which to lay their eggs. The eggs hatch out into maggots and cause all kinds of unmentionable suffering and unpleasantness.
|Country Diary for Late April / Early May
Thanks to Diana Beale
|Of flowers ducklings and lambs.... Here are some of the stunning flowers out and about round Chidham this Spring, with their colours lit up by days of endless sunshine.|
|Up amongst the daffodils in the rough grass in front of our house the snakeshead fritillaries come through - the mauve and purple ones with their snakey skin from which they get their name, and the translucent white ones , which seem like angels of the springtime. This year there are more than ever - wonderful! And under the trees in half-sun, half-shade are sweeps of violets ... mixing in with the bright gold of the celandine , which is every bit as bright, but not as garish, as the oilseed rape flowers which are turning the farmland such an exotic colour at the moment.|
|Everyone loves bluebells - and although we can't compete with the shimmering seas of bluebells up in the woodlands by West Stoke and East Ashling, Chidham has plenty.|
My absolute favourite combination of all time is bluebells with the white stars of stitchwort dancing through them. Magic!
I was walking around the seabank when this huge mallard family came sailing forth. It was impossible not to burst out laughing as different ducklings would suddenly accelerate as if they had tiny outboard motors on their backs! They zipped around so fast I thought they were going to take off into the air.
|I think they were all one family, though I know that shelduck run "creches" for each other, with big numbers of ducklings together from different families. I managed to get 13 in the picture, but there were actually 14, with the last one scurrying off in another direction|
|The next day, in the morning, Mike and were laughing again - this time it was mallard parents being funny. Surely they don't usually perch up on a high roof like pigeons? But there they sat on the top of our house! And as I happen to have a good photo at hand of Mike laughing beside his beloved tractor, I have to include it too...|
|One reason Country Diary is a bit late this month is that it's lambing time. What better than to head out across the fields early on a sunny morning to see how many new lambs there are. We're over halfway now, with 23 lambs, and just 7 more ewes still to produce.
|The first lambs are just reaching that stage when they frisk about, jumping with all 4 feet together - surely one of the best sights of spring?|
| If you want to take a look, follow the coastal footpath round Cobnor and they are in the field just south of our dinghy park.
Here are the first group to be born.
|Actually, we thought this big ewe called Daffodil would be one of the first to lamb as she was huge, with udder so big she looked like a bomb about to explode. The photo only gives a poor impression of the size of her!|
|And then she produced, without any apparent bother at all, a wonderful set of triplets, 2 large white boys and one smaller black girl.|
| As a mother of triplets myself I feel a certain sense of solidarity with Daffodil, especially when they are all trying to feed at once....
This weather has really helped us, and the sheep, but we're starting to get worried by the drought, which is now restricting the rate of growth of the grass.
|There are also lots of flies around much earlier than usual - we had an early case of "fly-strike" which can prove fatal to sheep, if not caught early. All the flock are now treated, and the protection will last a few weeks, hopefully till shearing, when it ceases to be a problem till the fleeces have grown back a bit.|
|Country Diary - early March 2007||
(Thanks to Diana Beale)
|There was a roaring in the wind all night;
The rain came heavily and fell in floods;
But now the sun is rising calm and bright;
The birds are singing in the distant woods;
Over his own sweet voice the Stock-dove broods;
The jay makes answer as the Magpie chatters;
And all the air is filled with pleasant noise of waters.
All things that love the sun are out of doors;
I must have learned this poem over 40 years ago but it suddenly came back to me this morning as I walked back from the seabank across the soaking meadows with the sun starting to light up the total wetness ... and that sense of tranquillity after the battering..... That was quite a storm last night. As long as I can remember I have enjoyed lying in bed listening to the wind shrieking round the window frames and howling in the trees outside. We are exposed to the Souwesterly gales here at Cobnor, and their power is always exciting. But last night the wind was almost scary and I wondered what damage I might find this morning.
Along the seabank I could see where the tide had topped the bank in the middle of the night, leaving a line of reed debris. It was a high Spring tide anyway, with a nearly full moon, and it would have been a dramatic sight at midnight with the waves breaking on the top of the seawall and the spray flying right across the fields. We cannot afford much sea-level rise here without drastic consequences to our low-level communities. Already we are vulnerable to that devilish combination of a high Spring tide coinciding with a steep depression, which would cause a surge far above the predicted tide level. (Keep an eye on this website for news of the recently-launched project to make Chidham a "low-carbon village", joining the world-wide momentum to tackle climate change. And change your light bulbs to low-energy ones today - every little step helps).
Only the day before the storm we had one of our conservation working parties here at Cobnor and, with the help of a couple of rock-wielding Tarzans (Roger Hayles and Peter Langelaan), we managed to replace into the seabank most of the stones that had been dislodged by the last big blow, in late January. Oh well, here we go again ..... it's a job that needs doing twice a year at least. If, as predicted, we get more storms with climate change (is it happening already?) we'll need to be out there more often still..... You can always help, if you are walking round the fore-shore, by replacing dislodged stones, but don't put your back out!
The "Friends of Chichester Harbour" also had a working party here recently, clearing and opening up the amenity car park at the North end of Cobnor - in the pouring rain as usual! It looks so much nicer and lighter now, with a lot of overhanging growth removed and young trees coppiced. The very next day I spotted a distinguished visitor in the car park.... Can you guess who owns this remarkable car?
|Yes, none other than "the county's favourite writer", the Country Diarist to beat all country diarists, Richard Williamson himself! He was here to walk the Chidham footpaths and research an article featuring my father - so check out the Chichester Observer magazine section next week (March 15th). This beautiful pussy willow is just at that magic point when the tight grey buds suddenly break out into bright golden pompoms all covered in pollen. You can break a twig off and use it as a paint brush to paint your skin gold! This particular pussy willow tree is a terrific symbol of survival and rebirth. It was a fine adult tree when the hurricane of '87 hit it and brought it down and we thought that was the end of it. Not a bit of it - it grew right back to full size and splendour again. Six years ago I was showing it to a visiting group and telling the story of the hurricane. The very next morning it was struck by a mini-tornado which whistled through past our house and threw some sailing dinghies in the air as it tore through the dinghy park on a narrow track of destruction! Once again it started from scratch and regrew itself, and now delights us again each year.
Blossom and daffodils everywhere now ... which brings another poem to mind - this one pops into my head every Spring without fail!
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
|Country Diary - February 2007||
(Thanks to Gilian Edom)
|Everyone is doing it. Phenology, that is. There are even websites dedicated to it ( http://www.naturescalendar.org.uk/ ).
Phenology is the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena especially in relation to climate. It is making a record of the first time you hear a particular birdsong or see a flowering plant in the calendar of natural events. Records are then compared to see if there are any variations in relation to climate change. But is it important that a bee decides to crawl out of its nest in the middle of January? It's not a matter of the greatest consequence, though the bee may come to regret it after a week or so. The small changes in the life of a small insect are the tip of the iceberg and we all know what happened to the titanic!
These small changes are merely the consequences of much larger and less visible changes. For example, we live in a temperate climate. This normally means that nothing much changes as far as the weather is concerned during the winter, except for maybe a few cold snaps and a general feeling of dampness. The winter we have just been experienced has become more than temperate. Temperamental and tempestuous might be better words to describe it at times. Records show that during the last 30 to 40 years our summers have got drier and our winters wetter. It is thought that changes in our climate are causing a shift in temperature and rainfall, and consequently the natural world as a whole.
This has implications for the timing of the seasons and growth cycles. Farming patterns may need to change as well as crops that are currently grown. There are varying theories as to why these changes are taking place. Some say that the earth has always gone through such changeable cycles, resulting in several periods of rising sea levels or ice ages. Others say that humankind are creating problems by our lifestyles and actions. These are hardly reassuring thoughts. The fact is that we will all ultimately be affected, as will the generations that follow us.
Whether our changing climate is due to natural forces that are beyond our control that will continue throughout the whole lifecycle of the earth, or is the result of the way humans have treated the planet, the fact is that we are going to somehow have to adapt. In which case, if the level of rainfall we have experienced this winter continues, this may just mean that we will have to grow fins… In the meantime, some of the classical indicators of Spring that you could be on the lookout for in Chidham are flowering Primrose, Hawthorn Blossom, Cuckoo, Swallow, Swift, Bumble and Honey bees, Brimstone and Orange Tip butterflies and Frog spawn. If several people in the Parish could record their first sightings, this information could be very useful.
|Country Diary - Late January 2007|
| January has seen all kinds of extreme weather here in Chidham - days of high winds with branches and trees across the lanes (particularly dead hedgerow trees choked by ivy) , lashing rain, chill grey skies and ice, sudden rare snatches of warmth and sunshine, a morning "white-out" of beautiful fresh snow ... yes, we've had it all! The weather can change so rapidly sometimes ... it's hard to keep up.
Last Tuesday night the sky was clear as a bell with stars strewn right across it and not a cloud in sight. We got up in the dark at 6.30am the next morning - then came the squeals from our household (me, more than the children, it has to be said!) when we realised that all was white outside, and it was still snowing. Fabulous! It was the proper soft crunchy stuff, and every branch and twig gracefully covered. But such grey skies and a strange grey light over the harbour.... I was the first on the seabank, with just the geese chattering in their bass voices and swirling back and forth. Some of the flooded dykes inside the seabank were frozen, and, with the marshy land covered in snow, it looked more like tundra or somewhere up on the east coast....
These photos are my walk around Cobnor, some along the footpath and some in our private areas, finishing with the first camellias peaking out from behind the snow in our garden
|Only about 5 hours later the scene was completely transformed again. All the snow had melted away and, in the early afternoon, the sun started to come out. Look at these pine trees - you would never have guessed that they were white with snow in the morning!|
|And here are the snowdrops showing their heads - first, the simple beauty of the "single" flowers, and the second photo showing the broader "blousier"heads of the "double" flowers.
By mid-February we shall have carpets of them here, as more and more come through.
And can you spot the very first nettles coming up among the snowdrops? Between now and Easter is the best time to pick nettles for soup as they are at their most sweet and tender.
|Suddenly there are willow catkins out all over the hedgerows - a lovely sight in the winter, with their dancing golden lambs-tails. When lambing is early, then they come together, but we won't be lambing till April this year - we like to make life as easy as possible for ourselves and the ewes!|
|Keep a look out for 2 majestic birds that have been seen at least twice each in the last couple of days from Cobnor ... First, the osprey - an amazing sea-eagle that can be seen fishing across the harbour (if you are very lucky) on its way back from Africa. Pale, with a huge wingspan - unmistakeable!|
|Secondly, we have been graced by the presence of a barn owl, who has roosted in our playbarn by the holiday cottages here. Usually we just have the little owls in residence. But this time it's the far bigger white barn owl - again, pale, with a huge wingspan and unmistakeable! I haven't had the luck to see them yet, but those who did told me about their sightings with a look of wonder on their faces. So don't go out without your binoculars!|
|Country Diary in mid-December 2006 (Thanks to Diana Beale for this contribution)|
After a warm and remarkably benign Autumn, December has shaken us up with some wild winds, driving rain and darker days. But yesterday the sun came out and the pink blossom on the viburnum looked stunning against a clear blue sky.
And there are plenty of berries on the holly, which bodes well for Christmas, unless the blackbirds and thrushes step up their berry-guzzling in the next few days....
|Keeping its feet dry at the top of this flooded field is this wonderful old oak tree, one of the oldest at Cobnor. Trees here never grow very tall because of being thrashed by the souwesterly gales every year! But this one has survived at least one hurricane and a couple of mini-tornados.|
|Wildlife adores ancient trees - like ancient hedgerows, they support far more diversity of insect, bird, plant and fungi life than youthful ones. Most striking of all the visitors are the great grey herons and snowy-white egrets that roost in its branches, sometimes in solitary fashion ands sometimes in spectacular groups.|
|It may be the end of the year for most people, but, for shepherds, it's the beginning of the year. The big white chap in the photo is our new Charolais ram - because he's a Franch breed, and white, he had to be called Raymond Blanc - his predecessors were Claude and Victor (all to be pronounced with a strong French accent!).|
|It's the best time of the year for the ram, to be sure, because he now gets to go in for "the tup" with all his girlfriends. In fact, he is having a great time - a ratio of 21 to 1 is not bad. The gestation period for a ewe is 147 days - traditionally the tupping starts on November 5th ready for lambing to begin on April 1st. But we have decided to lamb later this time, partly to have better chance of good weather and better Spring grass, partly so that lambing doesn't start when we're away for a week at easter! The ewes have been having good nutrition from the lush Autumn grass this year, but the quality is going right down now so we need to boost their energy intake by giving them hay as well, bought from Roy Cobden up the lane here. Roy has the big double-lorry for transporting livestock that you have probably seen on the roads here.|
|By the way, it was a pleasure to see Lynn Wallace's display of knitted toys, bags, socks, jumpers and other great designs at her Christmas sale at her home in Harbour Way last weekend. All the wool comes from our Jacobs Sheep, so if you want a seriously high quality local product, Lynn's business is called "Woolly Wonders" and her email is email@example.com . I am the proud owner of a jacket, woolly hat and mitts!
|Phil has been "berry-ing" like mad for the last few weeks - here is a sample basket of his pickings. Yesterday we picked the last lot of sloes, which were boiled up on the Aga and then strained through a huge jelly bag over night. Phil takes the resulting liqour in plastic bottles in his cycle bags, by bike and train to his restaurant in Brighton, where it then gets transformed into gorgeous jars with exotic names. Visit his restaurant "Terre a Terre" in East Street, or check out the website www.terreaterrre.co.uk where you can buy jars, hampers and other goodies on line, many with Chidham ingredients! We'll feature other "local produce to be proud of" in future Country diary entries.|
|October 2006 (Thanks to Robin Yeld for this contribution)|
| According to the calendar we should be in Autumn now. Apart from some sharp, blustery showers there is little evidence of the summer wanting to end. The recent record temperatures have given us a great opportunity to use and enjoy the outside more then usual.
From nature's point of view the recent rains seem to have unlocked much natural fertility in the ground. this has made the grass grow more in the past six weeks than it did throughout the whole summer. Many trees seem to be looking very lush and nowhere near wanting to put on their golden autumn coats.
Autumn will come and the leaves will drop and this brings me to my
little community message. Please do clear away leaves from any road
gullies that you see covered and ditches that are blocked by debris.
The leaves can be thrown under a hedge or composted. If we all do this so many little floods and inconveniences can be avoided. Our rainfall patterns do seem to have changed, we appear to get more concentrated showers, this coupled with a few blocked drains and our inability to drain at low tide makes it so important to keep our drains and ditches clear.
This photo shows so well our relationship to the sea level at high tide. The catchpond on the left holds much of the peninsulas ditch water and can only drain at low tide.
|Whilst camping up at East Dean a couple of weekends ago we found this fabulous caterpillar, complete with vertical hazard sign on its back - can anyone name it?
| The woods at the moment are full of wildlife busying itself filling larders for the winter. Whilst on this walk yesterday to show a Bulgarian friend of mine our 'mountain' (Kingly Vale 180 meters, his mountain is called Todorka at 2500 meters ), we came across three stags, one with good sized antlers around 3 ft high. we could also hear stags barking at each other, they were followed by three females a bit later.
The photo does not show them! The crops of berries, hips and larger fruit have been very good, there should be much sloe gin and vodka made this winter!
Bird life around the village is abundant, especially with the parrot still at large and very vocal most days. The indigenous ones are busy picking up spilt grains and fruit ready for a winter here or a flight to warmer climes.
The sea is still very warm and if enthusiastic very swimmable, today it is still 16 degrees.
My daughter and friend dived in down at East Head last weekend, and on the way home we we treated to a summer sunset.
Hardly an autumn view. One view that can be seen is the expanding area of cultivated land being made ready for the winter crops to be planted. The gold of harvest turns slowly to a grey beige colour then the soil is turned, the potatoes lifted and that fabulous smell of freshly ploughed ground can be had on still days.
| Bright September mornings with the sunshine lighting up the fantastic array of fruit and berries around the hedgerows here ....
Have you seen these dark dusky blue berries? They are sloes, from the blackthorn shrub (which always gives us our first cascades of white blossom in the early spring). It's very bitter to eat raw, but great for jelly and even better for sloe gin (the only snag with the latter is that you have to buy a bottle of gin to start with, in which to steep the sloes!). The tradition is that they should not be picked till after the first frost, to get their full flavour, so no picking just yet.
Make the most of the blackberry season instead. It's lovely seeing people out blackberrying all round the village, young and old. We were always sent out in welly boots and with walking sticks so that we could pull down the higher branches. How bright is that!
These are hawthorn berries and they are just starting to look stunning on trees and in hedges. Farmers are being encouraged now to leave hedge-cutting to late winter so that the birds and insects get the full benefit of all the hedgerow fruit through the Autumn. It's great to see hedges which are being allowed to grow thick and lush - they are an amazing food source as well as being a safe corridor, nesting place and sanctuary for all kinds of wildlife.
Once you start to have an eye for a happy healthy hedge it makes you wince to see the miserable skinny massacred apologies-for-hedges that we have accepted as the norm for too long.! Happily, government policy has shifted and good conservation by farmers is now being encouraged and rewarded. Hooray!
These are quinces, like large nobbly yellow pears. My grandmother used to make quince jelly which was a wonderful translucent bright pink colour. My father found a secret recipe for quince vodka which he used to make any year which was poor for sloes (=no sloe gin), so that he could offer tots round to warm people up when he staged his "Cobnor shoots". He enjoyed getting them to guess what it was - they never did, but it was delicious and very strong. And now we gather them and Phil stays up late at night by the aga brewing up quinces or crab-apples to make exquisite jar-fulls, which are then on sale at his restaurant, "Terre-a-terre" in Brighton.
Rose-hips at Cobnor point in the first of the sun. Go out and marvel at all the berries you can see this September.....
Is anyone else being visited by hornets? This week at least one gets into the house every evening. Over the years we've learnt to live with them but there's still a kind of primitive fear reaction that sets in when one of them buzzes angrily at the window or flies towards you.
|Country Diary Late Aug 2006
Contributed by Gillian Edom
The dilemma for those of us who live on or near farms is what to do with all the straw left strewing the fields after harvest? Fortunately for me, the crop in the field next to the house was barley and apparently decomposing barley straw is very good for removing the algal growth on ponds. It does this by exuding a humic substance that inhibits its growth. It is possible to buy special little barley straw sticks to place in your pond. Ok, these aren't very expensive, but why pay anything when you have your own supply of barley straw, a few old tights and some wine corks to keep the stuff floating on the surface for maximum effect?
There is a transient loveliness about dragonflies and damselflies that epitomises the true nature of our natural environment. I have spent some time watching the Emperor and Black-tailed Skimmer Dragonflies and the blue damselflies on the pond. I don't want to capture them, but I want them to stay still long enough and close enough so that I can see what they're up to. Of course they never do and that's what the whole of the natural world is doing – minding it's own business with no regard for any of the demands that we might make of it. This is probably just as well.
As I drove through the village one day at the end of July I suddenly became aware of a feeling of ‘parchedness'. The weeks of hot weather were beginning to take their toll and many plants seem to be coming prematurely to the end of their lifespan. Tall Hogweed stems are looking unusually brown for this time of the year. They don't normally die off until well into the autumn. The rain has been welcome and the hedgerow fruit is hanging very heavily – there will be a bumper harvest for jam and pie makers this year.
Something I've not noticed before is the very strange behaviour of sparrows. When I drive along I frequently see large numbers of them suddenly fly out of the road and into a hedge. It's difficult to work out quite what they are doing. Is there a delicious-tasting insect that lives in the cracks in the road? Are they using the road as a dust bath or are they just playing some sort of game?
Talking of birds, 2 years' ago Chichester Harbour Conservancy, along with the Farlington Ringing Group (bird, not bell!) put leg rings and small radio transmitters on about 50 Greenshank caught on Thorney Island . The purpose of this was to monitor their migration journeys. Earlier in the year one of the ringed Greenshank was spotted on Cobnor Cottage Nature Reserve. This area has also had other Greenshank visiting it. However, I must now make a huge apology to all concerned and to the Greenshanks for ruining their habitat when I propped open the sluice on the other side of the sea wall with bricks to raise the water level on the reedbeds on the land side. This has now been rectified so Greenshanks – you may now return!
Yes, you usually see lambs in the spring, not in July! The old ewe at Cobnor (known as "Glad") didn't produce any lambs in the spring and was apparently barren. So we put her in with Victor, the ram, who likes a bit of female company to stop him fretting. Anyway, a bit of spring grass and Glad obviously started to pick up again, and presented us with this lovely pair of surprises. You can see them from the footpath at Cobnor Point, in the field behind "Angie's memorial bench".
|Parrot (Red?) Alert
We were coming back along Calloway's Lane behind Chidmere this evening (July 31st) when a man with a dog told us to look out for a parrot! We did, and there it was, on the rabbit fence. It has a long tail and squawks. It has obviously been around a day or two as people staying at Canute Cottages on holiday saw it yesterday at the top of Cobnor lane. They took a photo but can't download it till after their holiday. Can anyone else catch it on camera first? We think it's a parakeet.
|Country Diary Late July 2006|
|A walk down from the Dell to the sea.
( Contributed by Robin Yeld)
The Dell as many will know lies behind to the east of the cottages at Hampstead Meadow. Last year Chichester Harbour Trust took over the management of the area to preserve it as a natural wildlife area, but retaining full access to the public. Part of the function of The Dell is that it contains the drainage ditch (which has formed it over hundreds of years ) that carries water starting as far north as The Avenue in Hambrook, draining all of Hambrook to the south and east of The Avenue, and also all of Drift lane on the east side of the lane, to the sea. Walking down it is interesting if habitats are your thing, as it changes quite rapidly from a freshwater habitat to a tidal saltwater habitat.
The water from this large area runs south and collects behind Chidham lodge nurseries, on the north of the main A259, then runs under the road ( in the old days I believe there was a ford or a small bridge that carried the carriageway over the stream ). The next hundred yards is a mystery. The Parish Council has tried to find out exactly what happens under the road as it is not a straight run, but it does come out into the daylight again, just behind Norman and Pauline Hacketts house at the north end of Chidham lane. It then runs down the newly dug out length to the south east along the new area of trees planted by Chidham School last year. sadly many of these are dead, but will be replaced this winter.
|Photo showing the trees planted by Chidham School in the Dell.
||Just after the stream appears again into daylight. It must be partially spring fed as it runs all the year round.|
| Two pictures of the dug out section of the Dell
||The walk now turns to the east and runs along a lovely field of barley.
The ditch is to the left.
|Some common but pretty wild flowers along the way.|
|Here the area begins to change to a more saline habitat as you can see from the different grass over the barbed wire. This is looking north to
the Saab garage.
|These amazing saline oaks have survived for so long sprouting from old
|Does anyone know what this wall was once part of? It is a decently constructed brick wall using lime mortar. It is probably from a
building rather than a boundary or yard wall due to its thickness.
There are many bricks that have been washed downstream by water coming
from the north in the Saab garage area. From here the ditch is fully tidal and runs down to the sea when allowed by the tide.
|looking north again, near to the outflow of the stream||The pretty bridge at the end of the stream.
Something I noticed of incredible foolishness - a small fire or bbq waste on the edge of a field of ripe barley. This field would burn in a just a few minutes.
|The bridge at the outflow.
|| Masses of sea birds on the mudflats looking towards Bosham on this hot
|Two different kinds of sea lavender growing along the sea shore.
|The spring has been a hard time for many plants, with soft fresh leaves being subjected to low hours of sunshine and 10 days of relentless high winds. The roads have been covered with flowers and leaves ripped off by the gales. Rainfall for the area was almost double the average, but surprisingly the temperature was around average for the month ( met. office figures )
Many trees especially the Chestnuts will not recover from the gales and will have to live on a very tattered set of leaves. Many of them are also suffering from salt burn carried by the winds, which in some areas has gone over a mile inland.
On the bird front, children had been eagerly following the progress of four Robin chicks in a plastic container in James Beatty's shed. They hatched and were doing so well. The shed was a perfect home being safe and warm. Unfortunately one day James came home to find all four scattered around the garden. Has anyone any ideas on what killed them? On a more positive note, a large covey of English partridge have been seen at Cobnor, and the Swans are sitting on eggs at the Catchpond. The incubation period for Swans is 31 days and the cygnets should weigh around 200 - 250gms. There has been quite a lot of damage to some of the wooden buildings at Cobnor from woodpeckers, for some strange reason to
the Bosham sailing club toilets and clubhouse only, not to the Cobnor buildings. As ponds dry out due to the general shortage of water some people are moving tadpoles to deeper water which should ensure their
There may be a grant available to help people to construct nestboxes, if anyone is interested can they contact the website. We will gather names and take the idea forward.
The Country Diary team meet once a month, usually over a glass of wine and talk about wildlife and environmental issues that affect the Parish. If anyone wishes to attend, either to join the group or if they
feel they may have something to talk about with the group then please get in touch via the website.
As climate change becomes more and more of a burning (no pun intended ) issue, particularly for those who live so close to the sea, we feel that the Country Diary group would also like to discuss sustainability
issues. Items such as waste management and alternative heating/energy sources and transport seem the most pressing. if anyone in the Parish has any expertise on the subject we would welcome the contact. We could then set up a very simple resource list for people to use and maybe offer talks on this very vital issue.
We have attached some pictures of local blossom this month. See of you can identify each one, answers are at the bottom.
|7||Floral quiz answers
|A strange phenomenon at Cutmill. Very cool air and very hot sunshine
made the mud hot and created this steam which could be seen for quite a
distance. This was taken looking south to Bosham. The Church is on the
|Floral quiz answers||1 Camellia
2 Prunus cherry of unknown variety
3 Japonica - Japanese Quince
4 Prunus Shirotae - Double flowering white cherry
5 Apple blossom
6 Apple blossom
Spring is springing in all directions!
On Easter Monday Mike saw the first swallows swooping overhead, having survived the perilous flight from Africa , across the Sahara .
You don’t expect to see mushrooms at this time of year – they mostly appear in the damp mornings of late summer and autumn. But keep a look out now for St George’s mushrooms which appear for St George’s day – they are white and very good to eat! Last year Phil found some near the church and some at Cobnor – but if you don’t look hard you won’t see them…..
At Eastfield Farm down Chidham Lane it’s a busy time for Charlie Foot and his 3 sons, Charles, Richard and Jim, plus his nephew Peter, who together work the farm and grow the most excellent potatoes and vegetables. The early spuds go in around now and there are special seed beds for starting off beetroot, leeks, calabrese, cauliflower, cabbage and spring onions, until the little seedlings are big enough to plant out in the field.
Have you walked along the newly-restored Calloways Lane lately? It runs behind Chidmere to the back of the vicarage, and is now a lovely green lane bordered by lots of young conker (horse chestnut) trees, all just bursting out with, first, their buds and then their candelabra flowers, white or red. What an improvement on the old narrow overgrown footpath! Also, go and inspect another recent environmental project area at the Dell, behind Hampstead Meadow, and admire the fine old oak trees.
The winter is still very much ongoing, with another week of cold and windy weather predicted for the third week in March. Still no sign of any substantial rainfall though. Despite the absence of rain some of the main ditches in the Parish have been running for nearly three months. The River Lavant has made an appearance in its upper reaches also in the last week or so.
We must however be in for a very dry summer in terms of our gardens and crops. Increasing the organic content of the soil is a sure way to increase its water retention. Strangely it also aids drainage when the
soil is waterlogged. Digging the compost into the soil now is a great way to at last empty that heap that has been there for years! Although not that high in nutrients it is a vital aid to the soil structure. If digging isn't your thing then at least mulch a great pile around each tree and shrub in the garden. I use a large barrow load on every tree. This will help the plant to retain water around its roots. All bare soil can be covered in this way and the worms will pull most of it into the ground by next winter. We seem to have had the winter that was predicted last autumn, and for once we cannot say that spring has come too early.
|Lambing is going well at Cobnor after a poor start. There have been two deaths due to the cold weather and fox attack. There has also been some mismothering. This is when two lambs are born very close to each other both in time and distance. The ewes can then reject their own offspring, leaving one an orphan. So a little black orphan lamb is running around the Cobnor kitchen at the moment with the kids trying to get it to feed properly - with much success. The same lamb (now called ‘Wee Willy’) has been up to Chidham School to help the kids understand more about our surroundings.|
How many times do you hear people who live in the village or those who visit regularly saying how good it is to be here, about how uplifted they feel when they peel off the A259 and head south down Cot or Chidham lane? I have felt this for a long time and talking to the current manager of the Old House at Home gave me a possible reason. Nick has been studying local ley lines, which can be seen as lines of positive energy and areas of well-being. He says that there is a strong link between the village (Hambrook and Chidham ) and the tumuli on the top of Kingley Vale and the Yew forests below - food for thought and discussion.
Mike has spotted 8 buzzards over Cobnor this month all at once, which must be a record for this area. Woodcock have also been seen this month. Woodpeckers, probably greater spotted, and less so the green, can be heard clearly in the mornings, drumming on the trees for mates. Later in the year they will be boring for nests, including no doubt further drilling into the wooden walls of the Bosham Sailing Club lavatory block walls, and I thought it was human vandalism!
Foxes are everywhere again. My chicken run has a track around it every morning where they have patrolled probably at least once a night, just on the off chance that the birds are not securely locked away. I saw one the other night, quite late, standing tall and proud in the middle of Bosham roundabout. Such great animals, but such ruthless killers also.
|Frogs and Toads are reported on the march.
Has it been a good year for spawn?
Birds of prey are often sighted in Chidham. The kestrel is easy to recognise, but there are others that aren’t so easy to identify and recently a Barn owl was seen perched at the end of Cobnor drive near the little car park. I saw another caught in my headlights as I rounded the corner on Cot lane opposite Orchard House. I reversed back and watched it hunting at close range for at least half a minute. Other observations are the pair of jays with their flashes of blue, white and pink colours that have settled near Cobnor House.
Particular wildlife observations during this winter season are the toads/frogs crossing the road, particularly near Chidmere pond and Chidham Lane approaching the Cobnor drive. As you drive along, please notice what you might be crushing. These creatures insist on stopping for a rest in the middle of the road – they really have no concept of ‘road drill’!
We need to be aware that the seasons are shifting in subtle ways. The season of cold dormancy is relatively short. This has implications for the timing of flowering plants and also the lifespan of invertebrates and other forms of life. It would be interesting to know if anyone has come across mosquitoes later in the season than expected. Someone in the parish was bitten in bed by a mosquito just a few weeks ago. Has this happened to anyone else? Perhaps a record should be kept of any out of season mosquito experiences. It would also be interesting to start a yearly parish record of the earliest sightings of plants, budding trees, insects and birds (cuckoos and swallows for example). Would anyone like to do this? In the meantime please let us know when you see the first flowering snowdrop. As for daffodils and related species, the first miniature jonquil with several heads has been observed in flower at Cobnor Activities Centre.
This is the perfect time to appreciate the wonderful misty sunrises on the Chidham peninsula. Early risers are certainly rewarded if they can summon the courage to brave the early morning cold and experience the exquisite atmosphere.
Winter is the season when birds gather in their hordes on the intertidal area of the harbour. The mudflats are a vital food source for overwintering birds and Cobnor Point is a good viewing platform to watch them at low tide. Look out for Avocets, particularly on the West Chidham side. Their numbers seem to be increasing. Brent Geese have returned to graze on the young crops. Farmers don't tend to be too pleased about this, but it's quite a sight to see such large numbers milling around in the fields. Also large numbers of Lapwing can be seen occasionally, although they don't stick together in such a large group as the Brents.
Brent Geese in a Cobnor field
The Diary group getting stuck in.
Well, getting stuck into a bottle of non alcoholic cowslip cordial, or something similar.
Short-eared Owl at Cobnor (November update)
|Another beautiful owl has been sighted several times in the last few days, by the sea-bank at Cobnor. It's a short-eared owl, a pale sandy-coloured owl which hunts in the day and occasionally visits in the winter. It's not as big or as white as the barn owl, and, anyway, you don't usually see barn owls in the daytime.|
|Learn more about Short-eared Owls|
Recently, Kate, Rosa and Sophie, who were returning from Guides at West Ashling hall, watched 2 deer on Newells Lane and then a barn owl, perched right beside the road. It’s special to see a barn owl - there are little owls living at Cobnor, but only occasionally do we see the majestic ghostly white barn owl gliding past.
Did you see the stunning “African sunset” on Monday 14 th? – the depth of colour was extraordinary. Father Brian, who, until recently, was our vicar, said you could not beat Chidham sunsets ….. so take a stroll as the light starts to fade….
Victor, the ram at Cobnor, is still having a happy time in with 19 ewes, doing the groundwork for lambing in late March! The sheep do a great job in grazing down the fields and keeping scrub at bay, so maintaining a good environment for birds, insects and plant life to flourish. Diana has just returned from a short shepherding course at Plumpton Agricultural College , and can’t wait to practice foot-trimming and suchlike on the flock!
Our Autumn visitors to the harbour, the Brent geese, have been returning from Siberia . Have you heard their guttural, gurgly gaggle as they chatter together and tell of the dramas of their great annual journey south? Or have you seen them on the mud at low tide, or, naughtily, straying on to the bright green fields of winter wheat, where they do no good at all to the young crop, mainly because of their webbed feet paddling the soil? The local farmers are doing their best to keep them off, with guns and scarers.
It’s been getting wetter – the ditches are starting to run. Mike and Kevin (from CYE) had a tricky job clearing a blockage from the sluice gate under the sea bank, which had caused quite a flood inside the bank.
And the new sea bank at West Chidham has been grassing over nicely – the work is not yet finished.
Last week a group of stalwarts defied a wet morning to tackle some serious hedgerow and woodland care at Cobnor. Last year a new hedge was planted, and this badly needed weeding to allow the young plants more of a chance to grow. Also last year, a wonderful group on a chainsaw course at Brinsbury College helped to fell many unwanted sycamore trees (unwanted as they aren’t indigenous, don’t do much for wildlife, and try to take over with seedlings springing up everywhere). Then an equally wonderful team of Southbourne Sea Scouts came to help replant with oak, hazel and field maple (all native species). But the brambles and young sycamores were getting the upperhand, until the conservation group cut or pulled them out.
At Chidmere a new apple orchard is about to be planted opposite Belfry Cottage It’s protected by a tall fence to keep the deer from damaging the young trees.
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Nature and Wildlife
The two buzzards that Steve Tanner has seen over Calloways lane are also being seen over the woods at Cobnor, it will be interesting to see if they nest as we think this will be a first for the Parish.
The season of Autumn seems to still be waiting in the wings as so many plants and animals are really not sure what time of year it is, Mike Bulpetts new puppy, Lucy dug up what Mike thought was a ball of grass only to discover that it was a nest of tiny fieldmice. No real chance of them surviving the winter being born now.
There are also two apple trees in blossom at Cobnor, the frosts of winter will knock them back and it will be interesting to see if they manage to blossom again next year. The gradual climate change occurring here is going to continue to affect all aspects of our environment.
It is sad to see so many puff-eyed Rabbits infected with Myxomatosis. The disease, first discovered in Uruguay, was first used for Rabbit population control in Australia in 1938. It was introduced to France for the same reasons in 1952. From there it crept to UK, where it was never formally released, in 1953 where it spread quickly. By 1955 95% of all UK rabbits were dead. Once infected the animal will die in around 13 days.
The sound of Brent Geese arriving from Siberia has once again been heard, a good sight for many but a nuisance for the growers of winter wheat. The geese eat the tender winter shoots and then trample the remains into the mud. They do leave some fertilizer but often the plant is too damaged to use it to grow back.
The kids have had all the conkers, the hedgerows are starting to wear their Autumn colours. The Glasswort plants in the tidal mud are also starting to turn a vivid red colour.
Last Sunday was seed gathering Sunday, lots of mozzies this year but very few wasps.
Victor the Cobnor ram has been let in with the ewes to start off the cycle of lamb production again (tupping).
He will mate with all 20 ewes and the lambs will arrive in late March.
Victor, the ram, with one of his girlfriends.
Funnily enough, it's the Jacob's ewes which have the horns, and Victor, the big white Charolais ram is without them - just to confuse you!