Wednesday 26 June 2019

Country Matters: Ramble with care through bracken

BRACKEN SPORES: Beware its carcinogenic dangers
BRACKEN SPORES: Beware its carcinogenic dangers

Joe Kennedy

Cut-out silhouettes of birds of prey, flying hawk kites and dummy images of owls on chimney stacks are used to deter rapacious herring gulls from urban nest-building and their fearless pursuit of food in towns.

The gulls have been driven from cliff-tops into exile and banditry by starvation. The few fish in inshore waters are no longer commercially viable: fewer boats cast nets for them, the classic image of returning trawlers - pursued by flocks of seabirds as the catch is gutted - remains only on old John Hinde postcards. Deep-sea vessels working fishing grounds far from land process their catches there.

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The urban public has now come to accept the presence of scavenging gulls zooming from buildings.

Are aerial drones to be the newest objects of interest as we look skywards? Some readers express concern at drone activity in public parks which include songbird enclaves of shrubbery - so far not 'cleansed' by local-authority decree - and that the whirring devices must be the last straw for terrified birds which must see them as the latest, and monstrous, birds of prey moving into their diminishing landscape.

This may not have been obvious to some festive-period parents guiding children in public parks with their new high-tech toy which can perform wonders in the sky with finger-tip control.

One reader suggests that families should take their drones to spacious beaches where the few remaining gulls would be sufficiently comatose as to be indifferent to any new aerial visitors.

Their more active compatriots are off in the towns, street scrambling or brazenly raiding steaming bags of takeaway meals

Would drones be an effective deterrent to the gull terrorists? I somehow doubt it although it may have been tried in some housing estates in seaside towns where dummy owls and hawk kites have been seen from time to time - the gulls become familiar with the images and in some instances have attacked and demolished them!

This is a time for hill walkers who should not be bothered by hungry gulls, or indeed by drone operatives, although some photographic enthusiasts may be active on clear days to capture mountain landscapes and lakes not easily viewed.

Some post-festive ramblers, filled with vigour and exhilarating fresh air, enjoying the underfoot crunch of dead twigs, leaves and perhaps some icy fissures, may not be aware of certain dangers beneath their boots.

This comes from bracken (Pteridium aquiline), a copper-coloured pest, once used to make potash by glass-makers and also known for its toxins which are poisonous.

Its spores are dispersed unseen as one walks through. Shakespeare knew about this (From Henry IV: "We have the receipt of fern seed - we are invisible.").

Ramblers-club enthusiasts are aware of the carcinogenic dangers of these spores. It is best advice to avoid plunging into that particular hillside. Skirt it, though it may lengthen your trek. Leave it to the drones to explore from a height!

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