Author Archives: Natalie Bennett

Notes from An Oakwoods Almanac by Gerry Loose

p. 37 “the story is told of a fox trotting down the hillside here and along the road past the house over by. The man of the house sees the fox, bold as brass, and fearing for the hens, runs into the housefor maybe a gun, but comes out only with a hearth brush, which he lobs anyway at the fox.The fox, nonchalant, turns, throws a look, grabs the brush in his smirking teeth and trots on his way. When the farm is having a new shed built, two-three years later,a fallen trunk needs to be moved,in a den underneath, dry and in good condition, is the red hearth brush. I think it is in use to this day.”

p. 52 “the naming of animals can have unsettling effects. A ewe by here …. with black and white markings has only an unofficial descriptive name. To burst into the bar to announce’the badger’s had a lamb’ can be the occasion for some perplexed looks among tourists. Likewise, to encounter a man as it’s getting dark, slamming the door behind him and setting off down the road yelling ‘Whisky’ is something summer visitors find only too believable of west-Highland men. They don’t stop long enough to learn it’s his dog’s name.”

p.66 “Frances Pitt, writing in 1946, had seen the last nesting place of the sea eagle in Britain, the west cliffs of North Roe in Shetland. A pair nested there every year until 1908, when a local farmer shot the male. The female, a partial albino,returned each spring until 1918, after which she was seen no more….on Rum, sea eagles were reintroduced in 1975, breeding from 1985. … there’s still only about 200 individuals across the Small Isles, Mull and thereabouts.”

p.73 “At Ardoe, what I took to be a fish hatchery (it’s that too) turns out to be breeding sea urchines… The plan, with the aid of the millions of eggs these urchins produce, is to stock the waters around farmed salmon cages, where they will eat particles of fish food which escaped the salmon in such large quantities, that together with their excreta, make the seas murky for divers. The urchins will also be fed seaweed … bred specifically for the purpose. … the urchins(and seaweed) … can be eaten by us (and in harder times were) where mightthat leave the salmon and the farmers if we all took to eating them. How would Tesco market small purple spiny creatures and sea vegetables that would be pungent in a very short time from harvest?”

p. 89 “Juniper … In the 19th century it was so common here that sacks of berries were sent to market in Inverness and Abedeen, where they were bought by merchants to send to Holland to make their gin, jenever….This plant, to thrive, needs a certain lack of competition from heathers and grasses when seeds set; a controlled grazing provides that; but latterly the glens and corries have suffered from the sheep and are very much overgrazed, meaning the sheep (and deer) will eat the seedlings as soon as they appear. The fact that this has happened for more than one generation means that all the juniper is old and making little, if any seed. The future may only hold extinction; juniper might only be found in captivity – churchyards, botanic gardens.”

p.112 Brecht also wrote: You can’t write poems about trees when the woods are full of policemen.
Fences are absentee policemen.

p. 142 oak trees seem now to need a great deal of light if they are to grow from acorns which fall from trees onto the woodland floor. Sometimes around 1900 there was an accidental introduction into Europe of American oak mildew, which spread to every deciduous oak in Europe. While not deadly in itself, its effect is to add to the burden of oak saplings attempting to grow under a heavy canopy; the combination of mildrew and absence of light does mean death to the saplings … Acorns carried by jays or squirrels outside the woodland, buried and forgotten, grow percectly well. Oaklings now grow happily anywhere except in oakwoods.”

Notes from The Soil, By N.K. Davis, N. Walker, D.F. Ball and A.H. Fitter

p. 49 A mycorrhiza is a root infested with a particular type of generally beneficially fungus … The most widespread and ancient type, although not the most familiar, bears the cumbersome name of vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhiza (VAM)… form no visible external structures, so it is impossible to tell if a plant has the association without microscopic examination of stained roots. VAM are formed by a small group of fungi… can only survive in association with the roots of a plant. Their principal distinction is the size of their spores, which are quite enormous by fungal standards – in one species of Gigaspora they are over half a millimetre across, compared to a typical figure for most fungi of around 1/100th of a mm. … most plants that can form VAM do so nuder natural conditions because the fungus appears to offer a solution to an otherwise sever problem – the acquisition of the essential nutrient phosphorus… occurs in soil as phosphate ions which are so sparingly soluble that they move only very slowly through the soil… normally less than a millimetre through soil in a day … Remarkably, fossils of one of the first land plants Rhynia, about 400 million years old, have fungi associated with their rhizomes that appear almost identical to modern VAM fundgi.

p. 51 The best-known nonVAM mycorrhiza “is the ectomycorrhizal or sheathing mycorrhiza, characteristic of many forest trees, especially the Pinacae (pines, spruces, larchs firs), the Betlaceae (birches, alders) and the Fagacae (oaks, beeches).. almost all are toadstools, members of the Basidiomycetes. Some are well known and distinctive, such as fly agaric which forms a mycorrhiza with birch…. Ectomycorrhizal roots are stubby and often fork dichotomously, giving dense clusters. Each root tip is surrounded by a sheath of tightly woven fungal hyphae and other hyphae radiate away from this int the soil… The fine fungal threads penetrate the soil, picking up the immobile phosphate ions and transporting them back to the sheath. Meanwhile the fungal hyphae beneath the sheath, which are in contact with the root cells, obtain sugar from them to feed the fungal tissues.”

p. 52 It does seem that extomycorrhizal trees are better able to colonize poor soils than VAM trees, and this is probably because the former get more benefit from the more active fungi. Of course there is a cost to this: the ectomycorrhizal tree probably has to give up more of the carbon that it fixes than does the VAM tree so the latter may be at an advantage on better soils.
Another remarkable feature of mycorrhizas that has recently come to light is their ability to link plants together. .. BY labelling trees with radioactive isotopes, it has been found that materials can pass from plant to plant by means of these links… there is intriguing evidence that seedlings establish in swards more readily if they become mycorrhizal than if they remain uninfected… If this turns out to be widespread and important phenomenon t may force us to rethink our view of plant communities: ecologists have in the past tended to view them as dominated by intense competition between plants; it may be there is more cooperation than we thought.”

p. 57 Soil fauna – flatworms, rotifers or wheel animalcules, hairy backs, land nemerteans, eelworms, earthworms, bear animalcules (Tardigrada), woodlice, terrestrial sand-hopppers, mites, spiders, millipedes, centipedes.

pp. 158 Like an unpredictable genie, pesticides have proved to be a somewhat mixed blessing, for their overall effects can seldom be fully predicted. There are few if any pesticides that are completely specific to their target organisms: discrimination between harmful and harmless organisms is rarely adequate.

Notes from The Running Hare: The Secret of Farmland by John Lewis-Stempel

p. 25 All farms used to have an untidy corner where machinery went to die, and where thistles and nettles grew. Intensive farming has all but done away with these little no-man’s-land nature reserves; modern farms are as obsessively tidy as showroom Hygena kitchens.”

p. 26 “The Romans, who may well have introduced the hare to Britain, were keen hare-eaters. … Pliny the Elder advocated a diet of hare as a means of increasing sexual attractiveness…. Pliny’s ther proposition concerning hares was almost entirely contradictory: he declared the animals were hermaphrodites – a belief which eventually got worked into Christianity. Hares are a recurrent motif in British church architecture, standing for reproduction without loss of virginity .. p105 As with many animals sacred to older religions, medieval Christians changed the hair into an animal f ill-omen, saying witches shape-shifted into hare form to suck cows dry. Sailors considered hares so unlucky they could not be mentioned at sea. And not just sailors; country folk refused to call the hare by its name. p. 227 Hares have large hearts to enable them to achieve such speed. Up to 1.8% of body weight, compared to 0.3% for a rabbit.”

p. 56 “how ploughmen used to tell whether the earth was warm enough to sow (they’d drop their trousers and sit on the ground: if the bare bottom could bare the earth it was warm enough.”

p. 84 To walk behind a horse and harrow is to bring one into accord with all the ages. .. In harrowing half an acre Willow [Shetland pony] and I walk five miles. No one except kings and clergy was fat in the time of the horse… I am happy harrowing, an emotional state which may, according to scientists at the University of Bristol, be enhanced by soil itself. A specific soil bacterium, Mycobacteriyum vaccae, activates a set of serotonin-releasing neurons in the dorsal raphe nucles of the brain, the same ones targeted by Prozac. You can get an effective dose of Mycobacterim by walking in the wild, or gardening. “
p. 126 “The first wildflowers in my personal ploughland … are scarlet pimpernel, and common field speedwell, both delicate bejewelled creepers over ground, one red, the other blue. Their seed has been harboured safe in the earth for years: common field speedwell can germinate after 20 years. … as common on roadside verges as it is in arable fields, and travellers in years gone by sewed the flower into the lining of their coats as a charm.”

p. 137 Corn marigold is as old as British agriculture itself, since it was probably brought here by the Neolithic people. Arable farmers, however, have never warmed to its sunny splendour, since the fleshy leaves impeded the harvest reaping. Henry II issued an ordinance against “a certain plant called Gold”, requiring tenants t uproot it, which was probably the earliest enactment demanding the destruction of a weed. In A Boke of Husbandry, 1523, John Fitzherbert included ‘Gouldes’ in his blacklist of plants that ‘doe muche harme’.”
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Notes from Women and Political Insurgency: France in the Mid-Nineteenth Century by David Barry

p. 51 “The evidence about women arrested in June 1848 confirms in detail what contemporary writers say in general terms about accessory roles, but also reveals that some female participants plated a determined and assertive role … Forty of the 118 women convicted on the list in register F 2585 are known to have plated what may be termed a primary role in the June Days: specifically they built barricades, appeared armed on them, fired on troops from barricades or windows, sounded the alarm by ringing the local steeple bell, and organised the defence of their own quarter, including inciting men to battle. Undoubtedly some of these militant women were acting on political motives, and a few had a past history of insurgency. A 76-year-old veteran of previous revolutions, Veuve Anne-Marie Henry, a retired dressmaker, led women in the fighting on the barricade of Rue des Trois-Couronnes in Belleville. Described by the historian Pierre Dominique as ‘an old virago’, Veuve Henry demanded arms at the Mairie de Belleville with the dry ‘Kill and assassinate’. She threatened to stab those who dismantled the barricades, exclaiming ‘There they are, the brigands who took down the barricade, kill them.’ And declared that, had she had her knife to hand, she would have plunged it into their stomachs. In particular, she designated the home of a chandler named Lhomme for attack. A wood-carver, Elisabeth Guibal, of the Faubourg St Antoine, who had been wonded in the shooting on the Boulevard des Capucines on 23 February, lost her claim to a state pension when it was discovered that during the June Days she had run around the streets carrying a sabre, smashing gunshop windows in order to steal arms. Arrested on 25 June, Guibal was denounced by her whole neighbourhood for being constantly at the barricades of the Faubourg St Antoine, and attempting to terrorize the tenants of the quarter into joining the rebellion by threatening to set their houses on fire. … Augstine Falaise, a young piano-teacher of the Place des Vosges, (then still referred to as the Place Royale) tore up a pavement in the Rue du Temple with her two cousins, in Febrary 1848, for which action they earned the nickname Depauvesues; in June the three women helped erect barricades in the Rue Jarente and Rue du Val Ste Catherine, their radical affiliations leading many later to testify against them. Another woman with a revolutionary past who may well have participated in the June Days before evading arrest and disappearing for two years was Louise Bretagne, the veteran of 1830 and 1832. In 1848 she was living in the Rue Mouffetard and working as a washerwoman and was reported to be very poor and frequently drunk.
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Notes from Ancestral Journeys: The Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to the Vikings by Jean Manco

p. 129 China also gained domesticated sheep, horses and wheeled vehicles via this trail across the steppe. … A team investigated sheep DNA from four Bronze Age archaeological sites in nothern China. All but one of their camples carried mtDNA A, the most common today in all Chinese sheep and most Mongolian sheep. This haplogroup is found in the Near East and seems to have undergone an expansion around the time of domestication there. It is common in the North Caucasuses and middle Volga region. So it would appear that long-wool sheep arrived in the Far East in the Bronze Age via the nomads of the Eurasian steppe. Wool was to come a staple of nomadic life.”

p. 197 The estimate of the total number of Roman slaves over the 1,000 years of the rise and fall of the empire is over 100 million people. The majority were born into slavery.This limits the use of isotope analysis to identify the origins of Roman slaves, for it can only tell us whether an individual had travelled to the place where they were buried. An isotope study of the cemetery at the imperial estate of Vagnari in Iralty did tease out a few foreigners. Their mtDNA haploagroups were not particularly informative … the sample did contain at least one far-travelled individual from East Asia.”

Notes from The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910-2010 by Selina Todd

p. 23 “Employers portrayed service as being distinct from other forms of wage labour, though, in reality, servants entered the labour market for the same reason as all other workers; they needed the money. In 1911 The Times published a flurry of letters opposing the Act, penned by such dignitaries as Lady Portsmouth, Lady Stanley and Sir William and Lady Bull. They declared that national insurance would “weaken the kindly ties between masters and servants” yet also that the Act would “place… a premium on malingering.”. They suggested that “the splendid record of health and reluctance to give in which our maidservants have established” was only down to their harsh working conditions and lack of benefits. Give these young working women any licence and they were likely to become feckless and irresponsible… Until 1911 the law agreed that employers’ needs should come first: the only legal obligations that a servant’s employer had to fulfil were the provision ‘of necessary food, clothing’ and lodging’; they were also prohibited from inflicting ‘any bodily harm’ on servants sufficient to endanger life or permanently damage their health. servants’ working hours and conditions were unregulated; many endured 12-hour days and few holidays (typically a Sunday once a week, a half day once a fortnight, and a week’s unpaid annual leave.”

p. 36 “In the month between the fall of Lloyd George’s post-war coalition and the general election, Bonar Law appointed Arthur Griffith-Boascawen, the 57-year-old son of a Denbighshire landowner, as minister of health. His brief included that nagging post-war problem: housing. … Life was hard in [overcrowded] conditions, particularly for women who struggled to keep their homes clean. Winifred Foley gret up in a ‘two-up, two-down miner’s cottage in the Forest of Dean, which housed her family of six until Winifred left to enter service in 1928. In her village, as in many others, overcrowding was made worse by the fact that there were ‘no drains and no dustmen’ and no electricity… Boscawen was … an experienced Conservative politician, well respected in the senior ranks of the party. … Yet he began his new role by refusing to honour the promise of the wartime coalition to build more homes. Boscawen dismissed the notion that working class voters required better housing, and advised young couples to continue sharing their parents’ cottages and tenements rather than seeking a home of their own. “In China and the East generally,” he declared, “they continue tolive under the parental roof quite contentedly.” … Unfortunately for Boscawen, many of his voters disagreed with his assessment. In the general election of November 1922 he lost his seat, after just one month in post.”

p. 48 “At a time when the vast majority of British people were working class, Baldwin’s presentation of trade unionists as a ‘minority’ committed to ‘anarchy was curious to say the last. … Like Baldwin, Britain’s press represented the country’s workers as a stubborn minority whose aims were beyond comprehension. Many liberal and left-leaning middle-class people simply took for granted that they represented the mainstream of British society and that their opinions were common sense, while those of the unionists were either radical or irrational.”

p. 74 (In the early 30s) “Young workers were cheap. Employers justified paying them low wages by claiming that they were ‘pin money workers’, who only worked for spending money. Yet the reality, as Winifred Holtiby observed, was that young wage-earners bore heavy responsibilities. Norman Savage grew up in Manchester. His father’s long-term unemployment led Norman to take casual jobs through his schooldays; he worked in a shop before and after school, and as a delivery boy in the school holidays. When he left school in the early 1930s, he and his oldest sister became responsible for keeping their family of six. … Peggy Few, who grew up in Nottingham, felt fortunate to find work at the city’s Players cigarette factory when she left school in the early 1930s. The factory paid good wages and conditions were reasonable .. in the mid-1930s, hoever, Peggy learned that this could be a mixed blessing. The day after she received a wage rise, her father’s unemployment assistance was stopped: ‘he cried like a baby and so did I’.”

p. 87-91 “In 1938 the work of the Women’s Health Committee culminated in the publication of working Class Wives. Margery Spring wrote up this study, which was based on interviews with 1,250 working-class women. They included the wives of wage-earners as well as women married to unemployed men, and country-dwellers as well as those living in inner-city slums. The voices of such a broad sample helped make Spring Rice’s most powerful argument that a rise in maternal mortality testified to widespread illness caused by poverty.” [Between 1923 nd 1933 the maternal mortality rate rose by 23%.].. She pointed out that a national health service, better unemployment benefit and state intervention to create work would result in ‘an incalculable saving in expenditure in the cure of disease and the tinkering with destitution.’ While voluntary and charitable organisations had done a great deal of good, they necessarily focused on those in most dire need of help; what was required was a new emphasis on prevention.”

p. 93 “The sight of dole queues filled with miners, craftsmen and clerks – the so-called ‘respectable’ working class and even the lower middle class – made many middle-class opinion-formers realise that hardship was arbitrary. Means-testing added to people’s indignities at a time of great stress, and for little gain: punitive welfare did nothing to reduce the number of those who were unemployed, and could severely damage the health of women and children, as well as that of unemployed men. The means test was designed to limit welfare provision but its implementation assisted a campaign to make social welfare a universal entitlement.”

p. 138 IN March 1941, at Bevin’s bequest, the government quietly abolished the household means test.”

p. 142 “Beveridge’s proposals aimed to free all Britons from want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. The state would be responsible for ensuring that its citizens had the basic means to live (a ‘national minimum’) though workers had to contribute to this through insurance payments. This element of the scheme was necessary, he said, so that workers would experience ‘the duty and pleasure of thrift’ underpinning the scheme, he stressed, must be a government commitment to full employment… Beveridge’s stress on self-help and his assumption that ‘free donations’ would lead to idleness indicated that older suspicions about the moral fibre of the working class hadn’t disappeared. Nevertheless, by arguing for universal welfare provision that wasn’t policed by the means test, Beveridge had destroyed the distinction between the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’ that had penalized so many needy people before the war.”

p. 162 “The government refused to address the needs of women workers both because of the potential expense and because of their short-sighted belief that most working women would eventually be replaced by men… Britain’s economic recovery depended on mass-production and domestic consumption of cars, domestic appliances, electrical goods and clothing … employers in these industries preferred to employ cheap, unskilled and semi-skilled workers, primarily juveniles and women, rather than more expensive adult men. But Attlee’s Cabinet clung to the notion, lond enshrined in the labour movement’s campaigns, that the ideal family was one that could be kept by a single male breadwinner. Women’s pay and conditions were treated as matters of secondary importance. In 1946 the government pleaded financial pressure as a reason to ignore the recommendations of a Royal Commission on Equal Pay, which advocated equal pay for men and women in teaching and the higher grades of the civil services. In 1948 female factory workers eared, on average, 74s 6d a week – about half the average male wage.”

p. 202 “In the late 1850s the number of people with consumer goods like televisions increased, but their insecurity remained, especially in those areas of northern England and Scotland’s industrial belt that had been hardest-hit bay inter-war depression. In the early 1960s sociologists studied 500 households in inner-city Liverpool and a more prosperous southern suburb of Woolton. They found that more than 80 per cent of these families relied on some form of credit. Among them was Joan Hicks, a 41-year-old housewife who lived in Woolton with her husband Bill, an engineer, and their two teenaged children. The Hicks family owned their small terraced house and Bill was in skilled work. Nevertheless, when Joan was asked if she had trouble making ends meet, she answered ‘yes’ without hesitation. ‘Have to go without to keep up mortgage payments and pay for groceries and TV,’ she said.”