Tag Archives: nature is a hero

Back when the birds spoke Gaelic

Species: A tawny owl (Strix aluco) and magpie (Pica pica) have a battle of wits and it gets UGLY. An ambiguous grey bird is the judge.

Source: ‘Dàn mu Chonaltradh’ (English title: The Colloquy of the Birds).

Date: Modern! First published 1798, and written a few years before.

Highlights: Once upon a time, long ago, birds could speak Gaelic. Here’s the most famous example.

Magpies from Addition MS 26968 fol.282v. Owl from Harley 2887, fol.29. Both images are in the public domain because of their age.

Magpies from Addition MS 26968 fol.282v. Owl from Harley 2887, fol.29. Both images are in the public domain because of their age.

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How a Pig discovered Glastonbury

Species: Semi-domestic wild sow (Sus scrofa).

Source: ‘De Antiquitate Glastone Ecclesie’ (The Early History of Glastonbury), originally by William of Malmesbury but heavily edited by monks at Glastonbury Abbey.

Date: Originally composed c.1129 A.D., but earliest extant version mid twelfth century.

Highlights: One day an old pig was so fed up it went exploring in a marsh, and sat under an apple tree on an island. When Farmer Glateing found it, he liked the place so much he named it Glastonbury. Aww, cute.

If you believe that, it’s because you aren’t used to the politically cut-throat, properganda-filled world of the medieval church!

Wild boar (Sus scrofa, probably male) from Additional 42130  f. 19v. Public domain from age of work.

Wild boar (Sus scrofa, probably male) from Additional 42130 f. 19v. Public domain from age of work.

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Guest Blog Post – Vote for Bobbe!

Species: Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris); oak (Quercus robur); crow (Corvus corone) ; tawny owl (Strix aluco); wild cat (Felis sylvestris).

Source: ‘Coed Marchan’ by Robin Clidro.

Date: Around 1580 A.D.

Highlights: After Marchan Wood was cut down, a delegation of red squirrels went to Parliament in London to request no more deforestation. They begged this on behalf of the wild animals mentioned above, but also mentioned the poor domestic stock and humans that were suffering. Sadly they weren’t listened to.

This week's blog post is on the RSPB web site, see it here. Image from British Library Additional Manuscript 18852, a red squirrel from c.1500 AD. Image in the public domain.

This week’s blog post is on the RSPB web site. Click here to see it.
Image from British Library Additional Manuscript 18852, a red squirrel from c.1500 AD. Image in the public domain.

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The Hierarchy of Birds

Species: The 35 most popular types of bird.

Source: ‘The Parliament of Fowls’ by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Date: c.1380-82.

Highlights: Considering Chaucer had no idea what he was talking about, his categorisation of birds into four categories was perhaps the best we could hope for.

Parliament of Birds

Public domain woodcut from another text (‘The Woody Choristers’).

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Speaking Starlings

Here are three things you should know about starlings: (i) They have cool little stars all over their feathers. (ii) Boring people get very excited watching them gather together in clouds. (iii) They can learn to speak medieval Welsh, unlike most undergrads.

Species: The common but surprisingly cool starling (Sturnus vulgaris).

Source: ‘Branwen’, second of the ‘Mabinogi’ stories.

Date: 1000-1250 A.D.

Highlights: If you are ever a victim of domestic abuse, our text suggests that your best option is to train a starling to talk, and send it to your brother with orders to summon his army and invade.

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Salmon, Sea Eagles and the earliest Welsh story

Atlantic Salmon photo

Atlantic Salmon (S. salar) photographed by Hans-Petter Fjeld, licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.5.

Species: Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and white-tailed sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) AT WAR.

Source: ‘Culhwch ac Olwen’ the oldest native (not imported) Welsh prose story.

Date: The version we have most probably c.1100 A.D., but some plot lines of the story also found mentioned in text from 828 A.D.

Highlights: The supposedly pointless oldest animals episode in Culhwch actually makes perfect sense, if you read it like a medieval person, with a knowledge of the species being discussed.

Click the “more” button below to read this post…

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Mystical Apple Trees in the Black Book of Carmarthen

Photograph of crab apple tree (Malus sylvestris)

Photograph of crab apple tree (Malus sylvestris) by Katy Wrathall licensed under CC-BY-SA-ND.

 Species Mentioned: A series of crab apple trees (Malus sylvestris).

Source: ‘Yr Afallenau’, a series of  Old Welsh prophetic verses found in the Black Book of Carmarthen and Peniarth 3.

Date: Pre-1138. Suggested earliest form c.800-899 A.D., but little evidence for this.

Highlights: Myrddin the Mad is the literary inspiration for THE Merlin you’ve heard about. He goes to live in the woods and gives prophecies to a series of apple trees. He believes some of these are magic and they hide him from “his enemies” (possibly just friends trying to get him to come down from that tree and put some clothes on.)

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