The world’s loneliest tree… and its ironic fate

A recent post on Damn Interesting drew the Ranger’s attention to a tree he’d vaguely heard of, but of which he never really knew the story.

Arbre du Ténéré in 1961. (c) Michel MazeauThe Tree of Ténéré in 1961

The Tree of Ténéré (or l’Arbre du Ténéré) was an acacia in the Ténéré desert, an area of the Sahara in Niger. It was the very last of a once-great forest, and towards the end of its life it was in fact the only tree in a 400 kilometre (250 mile) radius. This made it an important landmark, one which was marked with respect and affection by travellers in the great desert. Continue reading The world’s loneliest tree… and its ironic fate

Having a Barclays

By guest contributor HM the Cat mu·se·um feet The feeling of prostration you get having walked gently through a whole museum.

Barclay's Bike Hire map © William Hook


Jostling through crowds, gesticulating at palaces and monuments then gawping wide-eyed at fabulous art can bring on a fatigue which can make even the most ardent tourist feel wobbly and exhausted. If there’s no chance of a sit down and a nice cup of tea then an emergency banana can temporarily alleviate this sudden onset of tiredness or’museum feet’, triggered by overstimulated eyes and vigorous pointing.

London is a fantastic city and, with so much point at and photograph, it is easy to be overwhelmed and use up your energy resources. The organised visitor may plan a manageable itinerary but I tend to be a bit more free-range; a glimpse of a statue can cause a major deviation to the best laid plans and the banana stash can soon be as depleted as my energy reserves. However, the cure to museum feet is at hand! Continue reading Having a Barclays

The vexed question of memorials… and an alternative suggestion

Roadside memorials… it’s a complicated subject which causes some awkward conflicts of interest. In summary, bereaved relatives want to have a memorial to their loved one at the place they died: but not everyone else does. It’s quite hard to tell that to a mourning family and so it’s often left to ‘the authorities’ to do so. In most, if not all, cases, those authorities which have made rules seem to have found other excuses for them – health and safety, usually. But let’s be frank – a soggy teddy isn’t that dangerous. People just don’t want everywhere to look like a graveyard. That’s why we have special places for graves and memorials. If everywhere someone died was commemorated with a shrine within a decade or so there would not be anywhere left unadorned. If everywhere is special then it ends up with nowhere being special. It is only because most people choose not to commemorate their loss this way that we can presently allow those who wish to do so to erect memorials. But it isn’t fair for them to assume this indulgence is a right or even a duty.

A typical roadside memorial in West Sussex recently, looking a bit faded. Is this always a suitable commemoration for a tragic loss?

There are some who’d like to support the establishment of more memorials. The UK charity RoadPeace says:

Shrines are a visible and poignant focus of grief for families and friends of victims. Importantly, they also provide a unique and effective warning to motorists, pedestrians and cyclists of the dangers that exist on even the most unremarkable of streets. However, flowers wither and die and road users have no lasting reminder of the dangers at the location. Brigitte Chaudhry, National Secretary of RoadPeace, said: “We would like to see the ‘Remember Me’ sign erected automatically wherever someone is killed or seriously injured in a road crash – to highlight the scale, remember victims and prevent future tragedies.”

Campaigning charity BRAKE goes further:

Bereaved families should have the default right to lay flowers or other small items at any time… …grass cutting staff should be advised to lift the items with care and then replace them once the grass underneath has been cut. [Complaints] should result in a period of mediation between the member of the public and the bereaved family… This mediation should take the form of phone calls or meetings, not impersonal letters, which should always be undertaken by a trained bereavement officer, and not by… a highways officer.

They also go on draw parallels between roadside shrines and war memorials, and the permanent memorial erected after the Kings Cross disaster. It’s clear what side of this debate BRAKE is on. The Ranger would be interested to know if local authorities have actually adopted policies anything close to this aspiration. Whilst one can strongly sympathise with the idea, it seems pretty impractical and costly, and fails to address the basic issue – unlike war memorials, these are monuments to private, not public, grief, so if people don’t want to look at such memorials, should they be obliged to? This is an issue away from the roadside and in the countryside too -and there may be a useful lesson to be learnt about one way to tackle it. Many people want to leave memorials to loved ones in the countryside, and similar issues arise to the roadside debate. The Ranger is variously responsible for many hundreds of memorial trees and benches across the Isle of Wight. Most are entirely satisfactory, and there’s no need for ‘a trained bereavement officer’ to deal with the bereaved families who The Ranger’s colleagues regularly deal with. However the issue of the impact on the landscape is an important one, both visually and in wildlife terms. Tennyson Down on the Isle of Wight is a spectacular landscape, utterly smooth and green and with stunning views. Apart from the eponymous memorial there is nothing to break the stark beauty of this hillside… except one municipal memorial bench. Sometimes a memorial is just in the wrong place. This one’s been there for decades so it’s almost become a feature in itself. But what if everyone wanted one? Doubtless the National Trust (who manage the site) are constantly offered memorial benches for this iconic site, and obviously they quite rightly have decided that one is enough. But what is the alternative? Surely a mourning family intent on donation shouldn’t just be turned away? Of course not – and there is a very good alternative. Look at this:

Gate in memory of Brian Evans

Kissing gate in memory of Brian Evans

We don’t usually need any more benches, and we don’t need any more trees – we can’t even manage the ones we’ve got. Why don’t we follow the example (above) of Wight Nature Fund at their Alverstone Mead nature reserve, who ask for memorials to be things of use. The wording is large, and visible from a long way off – and yet nobody would suggest that this memorial was in any way obtrusive or inappropriate. It’s right next to the road, too, as it happens. The solid and useful gate is surely a more fitting and long-lasting memorial to anyone than a faded bunch of plastic flowers taped to a lamp-post?

Thoughts on Falling Off a Bike

By The Hampshire Ponderer Not much of a machine by modern standards; only four Sturmey-Archer gears modestly tucked away in the rear hub rather than eighteen whizzing cogs and yards of chain. In an age of petite chubby wheels and buxom tyres, these are large and thin. Modern riders accustomed to having their bums higher than their hands (while riding of course, The Ponderer doesn’t presume to contemplate bum/hand relationships at other times) would feel uncomfortable with the almost vertical riding posture required by the lofty handlebars which, and I scarcely like to mention this in an article for a sober and educative site such as Naturenet, are beyond question bent.

The Bike

Acquired in Sandown over thirty years ago from a gentleman who’d reached an age when his leg would no longer arc gracefully over the saddle when dismounting, The Bike has served The Ponderer loyally ever since and there is no suggestion that The Fall mentioned above was The Bike’s fault. Rather that The Ponderer’s graceful leg arcing capability may also now be diminished so that he pitched sideways on to a smooth section of local pavement when attempting to get off the bike. As a matter of general interest he reports the following :

  • Newton’s law of gravitation still applies in Mid Hants. A falling body accelerates at 32 feet per second squared until it hits something.
  • A friend much experienced in falling ” he’s suffered from MS for many years ” confirmed the strange phenomenon that while the body accelerates, time decelerates so that for instance while proceeding downwards at 32 feet per second squared the falling person has bags of time to think “I’m going to hit that object” before the collision actually happens.
  • Surrounding people are extremely kind and present the faller with a range of options – ranging from A & E at once, through tea with three spoons of sugar, sticking on plasters magicked from a lady’s handbag and dabs of soothing cream – which is confusing at a time when thought processes are not very clear.

During the time of recuperation The Ponderer, realising that lots of folk fall over for lots of reasons, came to wonder why more people don’t fall off bikes and concluded first, bikes are a remarkable safe means of getting around and then there are only a relatively small number of them off which to fall. Think about it. Everyone knows someone who’s been hit by a car and probably, and tragically, knows someone who has been killed by a car but the likelihood of knowing someone hurt in a bike crash (unless they’ve been hit by a car) is small. Of the two chief means of wheeled transport in general use bikes have got an awful lot to be said for them. So why not reduce the number of cars and increase the number of bikes? After all it would not only make roads safer but would make us a fitter and leaner people dealing as a by-product with childhood obesity and the school run. Riders would easily be able to stop to chat to a neighbour or post a letter without double parking or hazardous reversing, thus enhancing community solidarity. It would produce cleaner air, the Securicor Van seen this afternoon parked outside a local shop for over fifteen minutes belching out carcinogenic particles as the customers walked in and out through the exhaust would be shamed into carbon consciousness because it would be the only vehicle in a car park with a couple of hundred beautifully crafted bike racks and the rest of the space turned into a real park with flowers, trees and a small bandstand. And ” this is of course the clinching argument – it would save lots and lots of money.

A Future Tesco Car Park

A Future Tesco Car Park (Bike Racks Just Out Of Picture)

It’s unlikely to happen because in our present stage of social development we don’t like making decisions on the basis of benefits for all so much as decisions made, at least apparently, on the basis of benefits for one (i.e. me). So while the residents of Portsmouth for instance and drivers travelling to Bournemouth on the M27 know that total car gridlock is now a standard part of our way of life our response still includes spending several billions on widening the M1 so that gridlock may be experienced by more people rather than one or two millions on providing safe cycle ways so that children can bike to school. It is of course some while since wheels took over from legs as the normal means of travel, and it will take a lot of determination for us humans to celebrate our bipedalism and our bicyclism again, but it will be well worth the effort. At bottom it’s all about vision, seeing now how things might be in the future and recognising that visionaries need a place in our structures alongside managers, lawyers and computer programmers. There’s a definite unrecognised wish for visionaries around ” every other wedding, not to mention the WI and the Last Night of the Proms pay homage to one of the greatest when Jerusalem is sung with real fervour and just for a moment we salute William Blake and think “Yes, it is possible to do away with dark satanic mills, or life destroying and climate changing motorways”. Perhaps a chariot of fire isn’t the best model for a bike but visionaries operate by inviting us to see things beyond the mundane and to hope for things beyond the pragmatic. In the next round of Local Government changes let’s hope that one of the specifications will be for each Authority to establish a Department for Visionaries with a seat in the Cabinet.

The Hampshire Ponderer

New highway code entry discovered: spider lane!

Check out these great photos from one of the Ranger’s favourite reference sites: Nick’s Spiders:

Spider path (c) Nick Loven

Nick writes:

Lariniodes sclopetarius… is often found in the vicinity of water particularly on man-made objects. There are so many under a bridge in Lincoln that an unknown artist decided to mark out a spider-lane…

Spider path (c) Nick Loven


Roads, damned roads, and statistics

The Weymouth & Portland, Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism has an impressively long name, and the Ranger suspects from their foray into the world of internet campaigning that their name also, not unreasonably, reflects their order of priorities.

Weymouth & Portland Relief Road campaign

Ah, yes, relief roads. Who can argue with the need for relief? And obviously, alliteratively, the natural agent for relief must be a road. It’s rather like safety signs. Everyone wants more signs, surely? They’re for safety, for goodness sake! But back to Weymouth. The Chamber has created a fierce-looking website to campaign for their much-desired road. They are even kind enough to say that:

We appreciate the concerns of environmentalists…

That’s lovely. Probably environmentalists appreciate the concerns of capitalists, too, but it would be even nicer if both parties did not dismiss contrary views quite so casually. The Chamber’s website contains a message from the WPCCIT president; a message from Dorset County Council; and a Relief Road Now poll. If you take the poll – and after reading the stirring messages, there’s little else to do on this website – you are asked three rather pointed questions, including “Is the lack of a relief road seriously affecting the future of Weymouth & Portland?”. It’s a good question, as it doesn’t even say whether the lack of a relief road is positive or negative. The Ranger commends the Chamber for having the sense to ask it. Sadly the other questions are a little less equitably worded, and leave little room for doubt as to what the intended message is. The results of the poll are also shown to participants after they have entered their answers. The Ranger suspects that the answers are not as the Chamber might have hoped. Nevertheless, he trusts that the Chamber will have the courage to publish the results of their survey nonetheless, and perhaps amend their stance accordingly. And even if they don’t, perhaps this humble blog will go a small way towards those aims. The Ranger has no view on this proposed road, and suggests that if you do go to the poll website, you do so with an open mind and carefully read the messages, as he did. You can also see a list of benefits the road could bring, and a list of the likely environmental effects of the road, and the measures proposed to ameliorate them. Take the poll UPDATE NOV 06: The poll on the website has now been closed for about 2 months (Nov 06) with the results promised ‘soon’. We await with bated breath! UPDATE DEC 06: The poll website now says:

With all poll results now available, it is clear that the vast majority of individual voters are in favour of the Weymouth Relief Road being built as soon as possible. Thank you for your interest in this important subject.

That may be clear but oddly, it doesn’t actually say what the results of the poll were. If the results showed “a vast majority” then they are very significantly different to the results shown on the poll website before it was taken down. The Ranger commends the chamber for their courageous attempt to gauge public opinion online. He notes that all campaigners of whatever persuasion would be wise to ensure that any online consultation process remains transparent and appears honest.

Trespass with a Vehicle (Offences) Bill

The Ranger recently revisited Westwood Woodland Park, where his glamourous career began. It was the scene of many struggles with illegal motorcycles and once, even a Reliant Robin.

The presence of powered vehicles in open countryside is forever a source of conflict. It is quite possible to use a motor vehicle responsibily in such areas but the trouble is it only takes one person not doing so to do a great deal of damage. For example on the Isle of Wight, use of the Tennyson Trail by irresponsible off-roaders has led to no end of trouble:

From the Isle of Wight County Press, Friday, December 30, 2005
From the Isle of Wight County Press, Friday, December 30, 2005

Under the 10-minute rule a bill has been introduced to the House of Commons called the Trespass with a Vehicle (Offences) Bill. The bill has no chance of becoming law, and it seems to be mainly aimed at gypsy and traveller encampments. However it also gained support from Island MP Andrew Turner because of its possible relevence to the recreational offroading problem.

There is no doubt that this bill highlights some very important issues for us as countryside managers. At present, the law on vehicle use seems ill-fitted to meet the needs of the majority of those who live, work and play in the countryside, even including those who like to use vehicles to play offroad. Incidents like that highlighted in the cutting above will lead to areas of the countryside being put off-limits, and will reduce access for many people. Any land manager who has an offroad highway on their land will know that this sort of thing is an extreme example of a constant low-level problem.

Today’s law is based on principles of access and use established in a pre-motor car society. Whilst the body of law surrounding motor vehicles is very large, and highly complex, it somehow does not seem adequate to allow those who manage the land from taking sensible and legal measures to prevent the irreversible damage that can be caused by a few daft sods on trials bikes.