Easter, bunnies and eggs – rewriting history and fake news

In light of the almighty fuss about Easter, The Church of England, Cadburys, The National Trust and chocolate eggs which erupted yesterday (see here) I thought I should re-visit a story I learnt about a few years ago – the derivation of Easter, bunnies and eggs.

There is a ‘boss’ on the roof in Chagford church depicting three rabbits which was the symbol used by the people involved with tin mining on Dartmoor who in the Middle Ages were wealthy people and funded the building of the church. There are 28 churches on Dartmoor and in Devon where this symbol is found – it is known as the ‘Tinners’ Rabbits’.

The image / logo is a clever illusion – each of the three animals has two ears but there are only three ears and  these animals are not rabbits – they are hares.  It emerges that this ‘logo’ was not created by Dartmoor Tinners but has a lineage which dates back at least 1600 years to pagan times and is not just found in Devon but also in China, Afghanistan and elsewhere in Europe ……

If we step back to Pagan times the hare was a magical / mystical beast. It was associated with female fertility – hares have a gestation period of 28 days – the same length as the cycle of the female period which also coincided with the lunar cycle of 28 days. In Saxon times there was a cult of  the hare and there was a Goddess Oestara (thus the oestrous cycle)  or Eostre (Easter) who was said to rule over spring and the dawn.

With the coming of Christianity to England, Paganism declined and was suppressed – the cult of the hare became known as Easter and the hare transformed into a rabbit  – the Easter Bunny was born and the Easter Egg was created.

The fortunes of the hare also took a downturn – it was not longer portrayed as a magical beast – instead it became a partner of the devil. This was all driven by the early Christians who wanted to eradicate Paganism. There are many Dartmoor legends which tell that witches could transform themselves into hares: Bowerman’ Nosethe Witch Hare and the Witch of Dendles Wood.

The ‘Three Hares’ is the logo of Chagford today

Just for the record – here is how the National Trust airbrushed Easter out of their Egg Hunts ……

(Thanks to Legendary Dartmoor for the legwork- a great web site for all things Dartmoor – check it out)

Trevose Head acquired by the National Trust along with a very personal story

Environmentalists and conservationists haven’t had much to be pleased about in the last few weeks but at last some really good news has been announced. The National Trust has managed to acquire 220 acres of Trevose Head on the north Cornwall coast near to Padstow.

Trevose Head
By Franzfoto [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)  via Wikimedia Commons

Trevose Head Lighthouse
By Herry Lawford f[CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The National Trust has acquired the site for over £3m and are now aiming to raise £250,000 as an endowment to ensure its future management. The story featured in the Guardian this morning – see here.

This is an area of Cornwall I know very well, for around a decade my family used to holiday in the area, camping at Treyarnon and Harlyn. We used to walk Trevose Head where I used to see Corn Buntings on the farmland and dolphins and seals around the coast.

Six years ago my wife Francesca Smart died suddenly and tragically of a brain haemorrhage. She was head of the Sixth Form at the Maynard School and was a very popular person. Over 750 people attended her funeral which was held in Exeter Cathedral. After her death we set up a little Trust Fund to raise money to support environmental and education projects in the south west.

Many of her friends and mine did sponsored events to raise money. I remember well some of the teachers at the Maynard School did a mini 10 Tors event (Cesca helped the Maynard girls train for 10 Tors), Exeter Triathlon Club raised funds at their Exe Valley Triathlon and some of us ran the Great West Run and the Plymouth Half Marathon. We raised a little over £8000. This money has been split three ways

  • A third to the Maynard to support conservation / environmental projects at the School
  • A third to the Devon Wildlife Trust to support wildlife awareness projects in Exeter
  • A third to the National Trust for wildlife conservation projects in North Cornwall

I am delighted to be about to say that the National Trust money has been allocated to the Trevose Head Appeal

Cesca and I on the Lizard Peninsula in 2007

I am as certain as I can be that she would entirely approve of this.

You can support the appeal by clicking here.



Hatfield Forest

“Hatfield is of supreme interest in that all the elements of a medieval Forest survive: deer, cattle, coppice woods, pollards, scrub, timber trees, grassland and fen …. As such it is almost certainly unique in England and possibly in the world. Hatfield is the only place where one can step back into the Middle Ages to see, with only a small effort of the imagination, what a Forest looked like in use.”

Oliver Rackham in ‘The Last Forest’

I visited Hatfield Forest in Essex the other day – it is one of my favourite places and the quote above by Britain’s greatest historical ecologist and woodland expert, the late and greatly missed Dr Oliver Rackham explains why.

The Last Forest - Rackham
His monograph on the site will never be bettered – it is a masterpiece of research and insight.

Hatfield Forest 1The main public entrance – the start of the magic

Hatfield Forest 2The wood pasture – shimmering with buttercups and ancient trees

Hatfield Forest 3Old fallen oaks left as dead wood habitats

Hatfield Forest 4Magnificent spreading oaks

Hatfield Forest 5Recently pollarded young trees which will make up the next generation

Hatfield Forest 6Cattle grazing the lawns

Hatfield Forest 7Oak veterans everywhere

HornbeamA place of hornbeams – one of Britain’s rarer trees

Hatfield Forest 8Of coppice

Hatfield Forest 9Of even more huge spreading trees

I never tire of visiting Hatfield Forest – one of the National Trust’s greatest places. I was lucky enough to visit Hatfield in 1985 with Oliver Rackham and I will never forget that day. Hatfield Forest is near Stanstead Airport just off the M11 – if you are in the area I suggest you pay a visit – you won’t regret it.

A trip to Poole and the RNLI

I went to the National Trust’s Leaders Day in the South West yesterday – we were hosted by the RNLI in Poole. We work closely across the country with the RNLI – we are a major coastal landowners and we encourage millions of people to come and enjoy the coast. Along with the RNLI we ensure they are safe whether they are paddling, kayaking, surfing or sailing.

Poole is the national HQ for the RNLI and their complex is large and impressive – it is the place where they train all their volunteer lifeboat crews.

Lots of lifeboats to assist with the training

Set in a beautiful harbour

Scilly 14
I know a couple of RNLI lifeboats well – this is the Severn Class ‘The Whitesands’ at St Marys on the Isles of Scilly – that is the Exmouth Gig boat Rodney Bey racing in this year’s World Pilot Gig Championships

And here we are again, now in Exmouth with the Shannon Class ‘R&J Welburn’ in the background.


Forecast changeable – whatever the weather

Yesterday evening I was one of a couple of hundred guests invited to the launch of the RAMM’s new exhibition in Exeter ‘Whatever the Weather’. It is a collaboration between the museum, The National Trust and the Met Office funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art’s Council and Artfund.

The National Trust is involved as the weather and climate change affect our work and our places every day. As our Director General says ‘The impacts of climate change are clear to see at Trust places, whether from increasingly erratic weather events or from long-term changes in temperature and rainfall distribution affecting countryside and buildings, gardens and collections. The risk of permanent damage to landscape and heritage as a result of not planning for a future with a radically different climate is ever increasing’.

We have just published a report ‘Forecast Changeable’ on the impacts of climate change on the National Trust and what we are going to do to adapt to it. Click here to download the report

We are also involved as the exhibition features and celebrates 50 years of our coastal acquisition campaign Nepture. See here and here for more details.

Details of the exhibition which runs until April 2016

The event included a live weather forecast by the BBC’s David Braine on BBC Spotlight

Well worth a visit – entry is free and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter is open Tuesdays to Sundays.



A waterfall at Finch Foundry

I was at Finch Foundry a couple of days ago helping with the interviewing of some potential staff for the coming season. We had a break in between interviews so I popped out to take some pictures of the waterfall at the top of the launder at Finch.

Foundry Waterfall 2Every now and again I like taking long exposure photos!

Foundry Waterfall 3Ditto


Foundry Waterfall 4Back through the launder – I like the chocolate brown and copper light under the timbers

Parke’s winter thrushes

I was out and about around Parke yesterday and tried to photograph some of the winter thrushes there. Parke has good populations of blackbird,  song and mistle thrushes as well as the winter migrant redwings.

BlackbirdHere is a female blackbird

Mistle thrushA beautifully marked mistle thrush

Song thurshA song thrush in the mud

RedwingA distant redwing – a poor photo but the white eye stripe and the red flanks are clearly visible

Redwing1Here is a better redwing – photographed on the Isles of Scilly. Redwings will leave Parke in March and head north to breed in  northern Europe’s conifer and birch forests.

The other winter thrush is the fieldfare but I have failed to photograph one yet. They particularly like hawthorn berries – I will keep my eyes open and hopefully will snap one soon!

Parke Walled Garden – some old photos

It is less than a decade ago that we started to restore Parke’s Walled Garden – here are a few photographs showing some of that work.

Parke WG7The walls are being ‘repainted’ with lime wash – the garden is still a jungle and the capping wall tins have yet to be replaced

Parke WG6Repairing the main wall

Parke WG3An old photo from the early 1900s – note the glass house and the box hedges around the beds

Parke WG2Major Hole’s gardener

Parke WG4This pit outside the Walled Garden used to house the boiler for the glass house – you can still see some of the pipework

It is good to see the Walled Garden now back in use and we hope that as the years go by and more money becomes available we will be able to restore some of the other older features that were once in the garden.

Parke WG1And finally the sunset over the Walled Garden yesterday evening

The last few days of sunshine

The weather is forecast to change over the weekend but before then are still quite a few ‘summer’ insects on the wing. Here are a few from Parke yesterday.

Cicadella viridisThis is the green leafhopper Cicadella viridian which is a pretty common and attractive bug which lives in wet meadows

Small copperA small copper butterfly sunning itself – 3rd brood this year

Common darterA common darter dragonfly – these insects will keep going until the first frosts

Drone flyA drone fly which is mimicking a honeybee. These insects get sustenance from ivy  which is coming into flower right now – an important autumn source of nectar

Cant imagine I’ll be taking many more insect pictures this year ….


Around Sharp Tor in the autumn – a great walk

Sharp Tor in the Teign Valley near to Castle Drogo is a popular and well visited Tor. It is easy to get to and find as it is not on the high moor in the middle of nowhere! It is on the route of one of Dartmoor’s most popular walks ‘The Teign Valley Classic‘. This walk starts at Castle Drogo and heads towards Fingle Bridge and then loops back along the river and up to Drogo again. It is around 5-6 miles long and does involve going up and down at bit but it is a brilliant walk giving some of the best views in England. Highly recommended and perfect as an autumn walk.

Sharp TorSharp Tor from Hunter’s Path

BirchThe birch leaves are turning brown and beginning to fall


It’s a good sloe year