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Ask the Ranger!

Well, we answer at least a few dozen of these questions every week - sometimes quite a few more (especially towards the end of term!). It is not very often that we are flummoxed, although it has happened. People ask all sorts of interesting things, and lots of people have helped us to find the answers. Read on for some questions and answers from the past.

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Q. I would like to know if the construction of the Channel Tunnel has damaged nature in some ways, for example at the feet of Shakespeare Cliff, that's because the Channel tunnel is the subject of my degree thesys.

A. I'm not sure about the effect on the cliff itself but I do know that the construction of the High Speed Rail Link to London has had some extremely significant environmental effects including damage to large areas of countryside. Furthermore, where did all the spoil from the tunnel go? It might be interesting to find out. I am unaware of any impact on the French side but I imagine that there must have been something similar.

Q. Can you advise? I've noticed that when I come home late (2-3am) the night is full of birdsong and I thought that they only sang through the day. It's been suggested to me that the streetlighting may have confused them and they think its daytime. Not to be too caustic - I think that they are cleverer than that. Do you have any thoughts on the subject? Does this happen all the time, everywhere? Also, have you noticed how the moles always build their hills in your lawn and not the field opposite? And are those hills their way in or their way out? And where does all the rest of the soil go? You might be glad to know I don't mind their hills and aren't looking for a deterrent.

A. Aren't you the late night reveller? I remember roaming home from some event when I was at university, and standing underneath a lamp-post in the middle of the campus listening to blackbirds twittering at about 3am in the dark. I have also heard that artificial light causes this phenomenon, and it does seem to happen in various situations. I have never experienced it when no artificial light is around and so I have no reason to disbelieve this explanation. As far as cleverness is concerned, most birds are not clever, as a rule. They respond to environmental triggers in very predictable ways - but then, so do we so I suppose I shouldn't feel too superior. Moles, huh? They love your lawn because its easier to dig in it, probably. Most normal molehills are where the tunnelling mole meets a worm or other morsel of food and pushes up the ceiling of its tunnel to get it. The mole doesn't come in or go out. Obviously this does occasionally happen but usually they stay in the tunnel and carry on. The rest of the soil is compacted to the sides by their strong feet and claws -that's why they prefer soft ground. Also, for obvious reasons, they prefer well-drained soil. The process of moles digging is a wonderful natural way to condition the soil and turn it over, releasing seeds long buried and creating wonderful microhabitats of bare earth which are beloved by many unusual animals and plants. This is especially obvious on a chalk downland or other poor soil which has moles in it. Those were great questions - thanks!

Q. Are there any natajack toad colonies left ? ,any thanks Marlon.

A. There are indeed. Have a look at to find out more - or search under the name 'natterjack'. However, they are endangered, and of Europe-wide importance.

Q: I am interested in finding out the best breed of sheep for Coastal North Carolina. I am interested in raising sheep for wool to be used for hand spinning.I am asking this question for a school project not because I really plan to raise sheep. However, my mother does hand spinning and weaving and natural dyeing.

A. I've been looking into it, but I can't find the answer- I'm afraid we don't know much about Carolina, nor agriculture in general, so I have to say sorry, but no idea. However, if you contact a local textile merchant and try to buy a sheep's fleece, you might be able to get in touch with some more local spinners and weavers. They would know the answer. Good luck with the project!

Q. I would like to know what the most important birds and animals in Scotland are? I am Anna and I am in class 4 and 8 years old. I am doing a project about wildlife in Scotland.

A. Hello Anna. Thanks for your enquiry. I am Matthew and I am XX years old, so I don't go to school any more but I do work as a Countryside Ranger. The identity of the most important birds and animals in Scotland would depend on who you asked - some people might say that grouse and salmon are the most important because you can sell them for lots of money. However, because of your project I guess you are interested in the rare birds and animals. There are many of these because Scotland has plenty of unspoiled countryside. Some of the most well known which are found only or mainly in Scotland include the Golden Eagle, the Osprey, the Pine Marten, the Red Squirrel, the Wild Cat, and the Mountain Argus butterfly. There are also many rare and unusual plants in Scotland. I hope this helps in your project. I recommend you have a look at the Scottish Wildlife Trust website - you can find it from You could also look at to find some more useful links.

Q. Congratulations on your web pages - all very interesting and informative, except if you happen to need to know your rights as a dog owner/walker. You must agree that your information regarding dogs - however legally correct - is negative, prohibitive and somewhat threatening, and appears to be written from the landowners' or farmers' point of view. As this is a country where millions of dog walkers use public rights of way on a daily basis, something which explains our rights would be useful. Maybe your page under construction will do this. In the meantime, could you let me have a definitive explanation of what we can do when confronted, for instance, with signs saying "dogs must be on leads at all times" when on a public footpath? What rights to we have when shouted at by a farmer in a similar situation? Could you perhaps arrange for a dog owner to be the person who answers these points? The law in England and Wales clearly protects dog walkers' rights on footpaths, so I hope there may be a sympathetic reply. Many thanks for your time, Stephen

A. Thanks for your note. You're right - I simply record the legal situation. If you don't like the way the law stands, you are barking up the wrong tree because I have no more or less power to change it than you do. I'm puzzled to think that you think our dog page itself is negative, prohibitive or threatening, but everyone can have a go on Naturenet - we'd love you to rewrite it in a more positive, libertarian and welcoming style - whilst keeping the important information on it intact - and if we like it, I'll happily publish it. Now, to the points you raise. As far as I know, dogs do not have to be on a lead on a public right of way (although on some roads they do) but they do have to be under close control. This magic phrase, often used in bylaws, does not mean that they must be on a lead, but in the case of a dog which will not respond to commands this is what it effectively amounts to. Signs about dogs on leads depend entirely upon where you find them as to whether or not they must be obeyed. If, for example, the path passes through a field of grazing sheep, then be sure to obey the sign or risk facing severe consequences. The landowner has no obligation to warn dog owners of this but many choose to do so. Equally, if the path passes through an area, such as a public park, where by-laws apply, these can often state that dogs must be on a lead. We should therefore obey the sign. In another example, if the path is not a public right of way but a permissive path, the landowner can impose what restrictions they like upon walkers, and their dogs. If they display any sign you should obey it or risk being banned from the path. Unless you have an up to date map it is all but impossible to be sure whether or not you are on such a path. By and large, I think that such signs are best obeyed. However, there is no doubt that dog owners and indeed all walkers will from time to time encounter signs which cannot be enforced - in which case they are free to ignore it if they see fit. If you are shouted at by anyone for any reason, farmers, football hooligans or little old ladies with zimmer frames, the legal position is the same. If you think that the incident amounts to threatening behaviour or even assault, then you should note down details of it and report it to the police as soon as possible. If it happens on a public right of way, and you are using the right of way legally, then you should inform the local rights of way officer - often found in the County Council offices. If the incident is one of many - as is all too often the case - the only way obstructive landowners can be sorted out is if users make sure that complaints are made. I hope this helps. By the way, what makes you think I'm not a dog owner? ;)

NOTE: No reply received yet.

Question: Why is the Islands environment so special ? And why do people want to come and see it?

Answer: I assume you mean the Isle of Wight. Most people come to see it because the weather is nice. However, this also means that the southern part (around Ventnor) has a subtropical microclimate. This means that many plants and animals which are on the extreme northern edge of their ranges flourish there, for example the Glanville Fritillary butterfly, and live nowhere else in the UK (except possibly the channel islands.)

Comment: Why assume the Isle of Wight? Why not. Could have been any Island, really, but the Isle of Wight happens to be one I know.


Answer: This question is too general. It looks suspiciously as if you have just copied it straight from your essay paper. Ask me something more specific. AND DON'T TYPE IN CAPITALS - I CAN HEAR YOU PERFECTLY WELL!

Question: I like to know were we could walk in Northumbria, we are on a holiday and we don't know the environment but we like to get the best out of our holiday. Could you give us information about walkroutes or beautiful places inside the national park?

Answer: There are many such places, it is a delightful park and the most peaceful of them all. I suggest you contact The Tourist Information Centre, Alnwick, Northumberland. Or contact the National Park itself - address and phone number are on Naturenet.

Comment: We are often asked this question, or variations of it. There are tourist information centres in almost every major town in the UK, and they are full of free advice on accommodation, attractions, events and much more. Just write to them before you set off and you will get a lot of help with your holiday. There is a great official UK tourist information website at

Question: Robins have built a nest behind my security light which I have disabled for now. How long before I can safely remove the nest?

Answer: Leave it about another month (assuming you are in the UK), or just watch it for an hour or so about 8am. If the nest is being used you will see plenty of activity. If not, you can safely remove it. If you are in any doubt, put your hand in and feel for life - you will not disturb the nest if you do this carefully. If there are eggs, and they are cold, they are abandoned. If there is nothing, the nest can be removed.

Reply: You are correct I live in Essex in the UK. There are adults around the nest but not much sign of young so I'll leave it off for now to avoid frying them. Many Thanks

Question: I have a friend that was sued for creating a nuisance. He was playing volleyball in a public park with his friends and an adjacent land owner sued them all for creating a nuisance. Do you know of any cases of nuisance and public parks?

Answer: Assuming you are referring to a case under English law, in my opinion, the landowner could sue the owner of the public park, not the volleyball players, as it would normally be reasonable to play volleyball in a public park. But suing would be unlikely to be a very productive process as there would need to be demonstrated some loss or disadvantage - not very easy in that sort of case. Sounds as though your landowner took some very poor legal advice - or maybe he told your friend that he would sue them as a threat rather than a promise.

Comment: It also occurs to me that this might refer to action under a local bye-law. There are other ways in which this could be real, too, although not necessarily involving suing. However, to be honest it all seems just too unlikely to me.

Question: I have discovered a colony of bats (>150) in my roof space. I understand that these are heavily protected and would in any event not wish to harm them (having always enjoyed watching bats) BUT they are becoming very smelly and I would prefer that they do not spread. Who should I contact for advice on conservation / management?

Answer: Oh! Lucky you! There is a link to British bats on Naturenet, or if that fails search the web for bats info in the UK - there are several good sites. Contact your local Wildlife Trust for a local contact - there will be people near you who would be very happy to help. Bats have lots of friends and they will be able to solve your problem, I am sure. Good luck!

Question: Hi, I am looking for information on how to get started in a career in the conservation area/outdoor jobs. I am 28 and have a job in marketing. I am looking at trying to get some more education in the conservation area. One degree I am looking at is a home study degree. If you have any information on this school please let me know: Professional Career Development Institute, The School of Conservation, Atlanta, GA

Answer: Sorry, I know very little about courses on your side of the world. Come to the UK and I can help you lots! I am sure that the basic principle is the same the world over: the three golden rules of getting a job in conservation are:

  1. Volunteer
  2. Volunteer
  3. Volunteer

Try all three of these and you will get there, if its right for you. Good luck!

"That's all, folks!" Ask The Ranger!


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