Tag Archives: wetland

The Early Extinction Date of the Beaver (Castor fiber) in Britain: paper now available

Species: Beaver (Castor fiber)

Source: My paper looks at an exhaustive list of reliable historical documents, selected depending on their reference to other wild species of mammal.

Date: The texts range from  c.1200-1607 in south Britain and 1526-1684 in Scotland. Beavers are only found in those at the start of each period.

Highlights: If beavers were still around in south Britain after 1300 and Scotland after 1600 they must have suddenly started hiding-out.

beaver by river

Photograph of European beaver by Harald Olsen, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

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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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What is a sea swallow? (morwennawl, morwennol)

Species: ‘Swallow’ (Hirunda sp.); ‘Sea-swallow’ (=tern, Sterna sp.)

Source: ‘Culhwch ac Olwen’, the earliest Welsh prose tale.

Date: c.1100 A.D., but from the oldest-seeing part of a story with a known ninth century version.

Highlights: Our story pauses mid-way through to admire the figure of Culhwch, boy-hero. He’s so fly, even the mud off his horse’s hooves come out like swallows, and his hounds are as agile as terns.

Common tern (Stena hirundo) photographed by Tony Hisgett.

Common tern (Stena hirundo) photographed by Tony Hisgett.

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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.

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Toads, newts and snakes in ‘A Bawd’

toad

Photograph of a toad (B. bufo) by JKL-Foto, Licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0. Is this water clean or dirty?

Species mentioned: toads (?B. bufo; E. calamita?) snakes (?N. natrix?) and newts (?T. cristatus, L. vulgaris, L. helveticus?).

Source: ‘A Bawd’, a mock-sermon discussing bawdy (rude) people.

Date: 1630. Late for this blog but still centuries ahead of its time.

Highlights: John Taylor does not describe toads, newts and snakes as polluting the water they are in but rather as only being found in clean water. It is centuries before this fact is generally accepted, and even longer before the significance of amphibians and reptiles as bio-indicators is appreciated.

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