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Humboldt, the father of environmentalism. Interview with his biographer

The best book I received last Christmas was Andrea Wulf’s biography The Invention of Nature giving the account of the man who inspired Charles Darwin , John Muir and many others.

Having been Green almost as long I can remember but have now been cast into outer darkness by Green fanatics and become an Ecomodernist, who would say I am no longer Green this look back into the past is worth reading.

The problem today for many Greens is to lose the big picture and see everything in terms of Climate Change (worst case, of course) Divestment, demonising fossil fuels, GMOs etc.

I recommend this blog and also Wulf’s book. Also we need a love of the natural world for its own sake rather than breast-beating about the sins of humans

The 19th-century German scientist Alexander von Humboldt popularized the concept that the natural world is interconnected. In a Yale e360 interview, biographer Andrea Wulf explains how Humboldt’s vision helped create modern environmentalism.

Source: The Legacy of the Man Who Changed Our View of Nature by Diane Toomey: Yale Environment 360

The Legacy of the Man Who
Changed Our View of Nature

The 19th-century German scientist Alexander von Humboldt popularized the concept that the natural world is interconnected. In a Yale e360 interview, biographer Andrea Wulf explains how Humboldt’s vision helped create modern environmentalism.

by diane toomey

He was a fearless world traveler, a polymath whose expertise included botany, geography, geology, and more. He viewed nature as a web of life, and, in a conclusion stunning in its prescience, he named deforestation and “the great masses of steam and gas produced by industry” as the causes of climate change.

The name of the 19th-century Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt has remained largely unknown in the English-speaking world in the modern era.

Antonina Gern
Andrea Wulf

But historian Andrea Wulf, in her best-selling book The Invention of Nature, aims to return Humboldt to his rightful place as, in her words, “the father of environmentalism.”

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Wulf explains what enabled Humboldt to arrive at conclusions that were astonishing for his time. “Most scientists who looked at climate then, looked at weather… But Humboldt very much sees climate as an interconnection of landmass, of altitude, of weather, of oceans. He puts all of this together.” Humboldt, she says, originated an entirely new genre of writing that made science accessible to the masses, combining empirical observations with soaring language. “He is completely unafraid of saying, ‘We have to use our imagination and our feelings to understand nature.’ No other scientist was doing that at that time.”

Today’s environmentalists, Wulf says, can find inspiration in Humboldt’s work. “When I look at today’s environmental debate in the political arena, I’m really missing this sense of awe for nature, this recognition that we are only going to protect what we love.”


Yale Environment 360: We learn in your book that Humboldt’s purpose in his epic journey to Latin America was to discover how, in his words, “All forces of nature are interlaced and interwoven.” How radical was that way of thinking, in 1799?

Andrea Wulf: Very radical. Basically, Humboldt comes up with this idea that nature is a web of life, that it’s almost like a tapestry. He describes Earth as a living organism, and that’s something completely new, in the sense that, until then, nature was really much more seen as a more mechanical system.

At that time, scientists were looking into the difference between organic and inorganic matter, but he’s really the one who is talking different disciplines, and he puts them together and creates this new concept or vision of nature that is very different. You do have scientists in Europe then thinking about the vital force in organisms. But Humboldt is taking this concept and he is applying it to the whole of nature, and that was really what was so new, because he sees global connections. For example, he is the first to define global vegetation and climate zones.

e360: He also perceives the effect of deforestation on climate. He would eventually point to other causes of environmental degradation, including monoculture, and in his words, “the great masses of steam and gas produced by industry.”

Oil painting by Eduard Ender, 1856
Alexander von Humboldt and French botanist Aimé Bonpland in the Amazon rainforest.

He writes, “Everything is interaction and reciprocal.” Was it the fact that he was a polymath that allowed for these stunning insights?

Wulf: I think there are several things. Because he is a polymath and he does not stick to one discipline, he can look across these boundaries. For example, most scientists who looked at climate then looked at weather. You have, for example, Thomas Jefferson, who was obsessed with it, who measured the temperature every day, and the wind, and the humidity. But Humboldt very much sees climate as an interconnection of landmass, of altitude, of weather, of oceans. He puts all of this together. And he can do that because he is interested in the weather, but he is also interested in plants and in soil. He brings all of these disciplines together.

Quite a lot of his contemporaries remarked upon his incredible memory. He could remember the shape of a leaf 40 years later. He could remember exact layers, rocks strata decades later. When he was standing, for example, in the Altai Mountains in Russia, his mind would race back to what he had seen in the Andes. Or when he was standing in the Andes, his mind would race back to what he had seen in the Alps. So he can make these connections. And then I think there’s one thing we tend to forget: At that time, not a lot of scientists actually saw as much of the world as Humboldt did. They were basically stuck to the place where they were brought up, and maybe they moved around a little bit, but there were very few trained scientists who were traveling the world.

e360: Humboldt’s book, Views of Nature, was a roaring bestseller. It combined science and beautiful prose. You call it a blueprint for nature writing today. Why was it so revolutionary?

Wulf: He is completely unafraid of lyricism. He is completely unafraid of saying, “We have to use our imagination and our feelings to understand nature.” No other scientist was doing that at that time. Scientists were writing these very specialized books for their colleagues basically. But Humboldt, because he believed that knowledge should be accessible for everybody, he was democratizing knowledge. That is one of his greatest achievements. He writes these books for a general audience, not for specialists.

Views of Nature is a beautiful example of that. In each chapter, he describes nature in very poetic ways. He is talking about “leaves that unfurl and greet the morning sun.” That’s not how a scientist would have written about nature. But then, at the same time, at the end of each chapter, he has these very long endnotes, which include the latest scientific results and discoveries. So if you were a layperson you could just skip over those. But if you were a scientist and you are really interested in the detail, you would also read them.

A botantical drawing by Humboldt of a plant in Cuba.

e360: You talk about his democratization of science. He also went on lecture tours and spoke to packed crowds that included women.

Wulf: Humboldt basically took his audiences on these incredible journeys from Earth to outer space, from the tiniest insect to the tallest trees. He talks about human migration, he talks about the Northern Lights. He never read from his notes — he just kind of talked, so he was very, very lively. And he did not charge anything for these lectures, and that was something no one else was really doing. The audience consisted of students, and artists, and carpenters, but also servants and kings. And many of them were women, so he made the knowledge available to everybody.

He uses uncomplicated language, and he uses these kind of poetic, evocative landscape descriptions. He wanted to make people excited about science and nature, and he had this sense of wonder for nature. I think that’s why I say it’s a blueprint for nature writing today. John Muir, for example, was very much doing the same thing as Humboldt in the sense that he would take readers from the East Coast and literally grab and take them into Yosemite with his descriptions. And nature writers today do that – having scientific observations in there, but also the sheer joy of, say, walking through nature.

e360: You mention John Muir, and you go into some detail regarding this American environmental lineage that originates with Humboldt. Speak a bit about that.

Wulf: I think that was for me one of the greatest surprises when I was doing this book, because when I got interested in Humboldt and I was talking to people about it, the most common reaction I got, “Who is this?” Then I started the research, and I realized just how unbelievably famous he was or used to be in America and the huge impact he had on people like John Muir. Muir, for example, as a young man said, “How intensely I want to be a Humboldt.” He read Humboldt’s books with pencil in hand, and amazingly these books still exist at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, so we can look at Muir’s library, at his copies of Humboldt’s books.

It’s very often through examples, through being in nature, that we realize the threat to nature.’

They are heavily underlined. It’s almost like listening to Muir having a conversation with Humboldt. And we can see through this how much he was influenced by Humboldt in his ecological thinking. For example, he underlines basically everything that Humboldt says about deforestation and the destructive effect of agriculture, but also this idea of nature as a web of life. There is this very famous Muir quote, which is basically, “If you pull at something in the universe, you’ll find it hitched to everything else.” That’s … pure Humboldt. This idea that everything is connected, and only if you understand that everything is connected can you really understand how we are threatening nature. That’s the bit that Muir takes from Humboldt. And the other thing that he takes from Humboldt is this sheer joy of nature.

e360: You write that the connection between knowledge, art, and poetry, between science and emotions – Humboldt called it “the deeply-seated bond” – is more important than ever. How so?

Wulf: When I wrote this book, at first what was most important for me, was to say he is the forgotten father of environmentalism, and I still think that is incredibly important. But the more I researched him, the more I thought the most important thing is that he does not draw a sharp distinction between the arts and the sciences. I think that’s something that we are really lacking at, and it’s a quite new, sharp line we are drawing. It starts really in the mid-19th century with the specializations of the sciences, but think that when I look at today’s environmental debate in the political arena, I’m really missing this sense of awe for nature, this recognition that we are only going to protect what we love.

I think Humboldt is so amazing in that he is so utterly unafraid of embracing that [sense of wonder], while at the same time he is utterly obsessed with scientific measurement. He schlepped 42 scientific instruments across Latin America, so he was not a misty-eyed romantic. He believed, on the one hand, in the hard facts of science. But he also believed in wonder.

I think that is something I feel in the whole climate change debate that’s really missing. Because we can throw numbers forever at people, you know, this is what’s going to happen if the temperatures rise 2 degrees. But it’s very often through examples, through being in nature, that we realize the threat to nature. I think we can’t just leave climate change to scientists alone; I think it’s something that has to work on many levels, not just on the scientific level, if we want to do something about our planet.

e360: You anticipated my next question. I was going to ask you about the 800 or so scientists who recently signed an open letter to President-elect Trump, calling on him to take the threat of climate change seriously.


The Moth Snowstorm: Finding True Value in Nature’s Riches

Moth Snowstorm

Journalist Michael McCarthy has chronicled the loss of wildlife in his native Britain and globally. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talks about why he believes a new defense of the natural world is needed – one based on the joy and spiritual connection it provides for humans.

I was wondering if Humboldt were around today, as those scientists continue to press the Trump administration, what would Humboldt’s words of wisdom be to them?

Wulf: I try to avoid to put words or thoughts into Humboldt’s head, because I really don’t know. I think he definitely would have been one of those scientists signing that letter, but I don’t know. I’m as flabbergasted about the Trump election as everybody else, I think. I’m terrified to have a climate change denier as the next president of the United States, if I’m honest.

e360: You’ve said that if you could invite someone from history to a dinner party, it would be Humboldt. I’m wondering what would be one of your questions for him?

Wulf: My question would absolutely be, “What are we going to do about climate change?” That’d be my question, and I’d be desperately hoping that he had a very smart and brilliant answer. The one thing I think Humboldt would say is he would be pretty shocked at what stage we are at now. Consider the fact that he warned us more than 200 years ago about harmful, human-induced climate change.




Darwin concluded The Origin of Species with this magnificent paragraph;

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.


This makes me think of the narrow country roads in Shropshire, which were sunken by cart traffic over hundreds of years leaving high banks on either side. These banks became entangled with plants (hawthorn, brambles, hazel, campanula, primroses, snowdrops etc.) and colonised by various animals (insects, butterflies, lizards, rabbits, polecats etc) and host to birds.

The entangled bank was an integrated ecological web.

As Darwin rode round these lanes on his horse Dobbin, whether en route to his girlfriend, Fanny, or to shoot, he would have passed many entangled banks and observed the wildlife. From so small a beginning of a teenage horse rider and amateur naturalist came the most profound of scientific theories.

The Skills Darwin learnt before sailing on the Beagle

Outdoor skills from hunting and shooting and exploring.

Navigation, use of maps

Travelling through rough country, which still can be dangerous.

A wide range of naturalists skills, observation of plants and animals, habitats, specimen collection and preservation.

A good basic geology.


This is why when he boarded the Beagle in December 1831 he was one of the most proficient young naturalists of his day.


The influences on Darwin. (1809-1882)

He was born at The Mount on 12 th February 1809


and went to Shrewsbury School under Dr Butlet but was taught little but Greek and Latin and no science


His father was a doctor with a good knowledge of science (and less on dietetics) and his grandfather, Erasmus, even more so. So from home he learnt much.


His older brother, Erasmus, built a very good chemistry lab in a shed


He collected eggs etc from an early age.

He was keen on hunting thus observed the behaviour of foxes and birds.

From his late teens he collected beetles by the thousand!


1825-27. He studied at Edinburgh for medicine and also learnt some geology and also marine invertebrates from Robert Grant

1827-1831. He studied theology and philosophy at Christ’s College, Cambridge and intended to get ordained. There was no official science teaching but John Henslow gave unofficial classes and field trips.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA180px-John_Stevens_Henslow


1824-30 He did much naturalising around Shropshire and visited North Wales most years either to Snowdonia itself or to Barmouth. He climbed most of the mountains


He went on great hikes and observed all he saw on the wildlife and a little on the rocks. His favourites were beetles, but also fungi and birds (which he shot to collect specimens)


His favourite mountain was Cadair Idris and he shot birds for specimens at Bird Rock

cadairbird rock

He explored the rugged Rhinogau with epic hikes and explored the Mawddach estuary


He stayed at Barmouth supposedly being tutored in the binomial theorem but preferred other things!


He left Cambridge in June 1831 and as he was planning an expedition to Tenerife he did geology around Shrewsbury and in July 1831 tried to make a geological map and visited the limestone hill of Llanymynech.




The last of the four photos is from Nesscliff where he studied a Permo-Trias outcrop. The view is of the volcanic Breidden Hills and to the left is Long Mountain which is capped by Old red Sandstone. Darwin and Sedgwick got within a mile of an exposure but turned back, thus making Sedgwick miss a vital exposure.


The Sedgwick–Darwin Tour 3 to 20 August 1831

I present this more fully here


To the West of Shrewsbury 3-4 August

Shrewsbury to Denbigh, 5 to 7 August

Alone to Conwy, 8 to 9 August

Conwy to Bethesda, 10 to 11 August

To Anglesey and Dublin? 12 to 20 August

Separate Ways, 20 August

Caernarvon to Barmouth via Cwm Idwal 20-24th August

This map shows the route


They both had a copy of Greenhough’s map. They new that the Orange rock in the south was Old Red sandstone (later Devonian) and it was younger than the older strata (later Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian) which he wanted to study. The aim was to find the ORS and then older rocks below it. Murchison who went to South Wales was guided to the contact by Rev Thomas Lewis and sorted it all out. Sedgwick’s aim was to follow the arc of ORS (orange rocks) along the North Wales coast and Llangollen and then find the older rocks below. That determined Sedgwick’s route  and his pupil Darwin just tagged along. as it turned out Sedgwick just missed ORS at Long mountain while at Shrewsbury  and then discovered there was no ORS in North Wales so he lost his stratigraphic marker! So when he started on 21st August 1831 on his own, he bagan in Llanberis which was not the best place to start, but that is another story.


They travelled by gig with a driver. this picture is of one of Dr Robert Darwin’s patients -Mad Jack Mytton who though affluent died in a debtors jail.



In August 1831 Adam Sedgwick (geology professor at Cambridge) came to Shrewsbury after looking at strata in DudleyBRESSAN_2013_Geologizing_-Darwin_Map1


and after a few days of geologising near the town they travelled to North Wales by gig (2 –wheeled carriage pulled by a horse) trying to work out what strata there were below the Devonian.Their first stop was up Castell Dinas Bran (silurian) and then to the Carboniferous Limestone of the Eglwsyeg cliffs. There is a fault between the two hills and no Devonian.



Next day they drove to Ruthin and looked first at Silurian strata by Vallee Crucis abbey, which shows the difference between bedding and cleavage.



On to the top of the Horseshoe pass (my first big hill on a cycle) looking over to the grey limestone cliffs. The road was built in the 1810s to service the slate quarry


Glancing over to Snowdonia behind the sheep they descended to Dafarn Dowarch, then made out of turf. Sedgwick stayed here in the 1840s.


Past some limestone then descended to the complex Clywd basin of the Vale of Clwyd going past more Transition/silurian slate. This windy road is Nant y Garth, which I once cycled up in a thunderstorm doing field work for this. That was memorable.



Darwin walked the last 6 miles to Ruthin where they stayed at the Castle Hotel.


At Lanfwrog to the west Darwin found some red sandstone lying topographically  below Carboniferous Limestone 50 yards away. In fact, it was New Red Sandstone, not Old Red/Devonian which had been downthrown to the east. Alas there was no basin analysis to help them!!



And then down some lovely lanes which would have been muddy! they visited the Ogof caves and found some rhino fossils – teeth.




They took the road west of St Asaph and near Glascoed Darwin was dropped off to do a 20 mile traverse and Sedgwick carried straight on to Conwy.

Darwin’s brief was to find ORS below the Carboniferous and above the Silurian/Transition. The second photo is taken a few miles west looking north towards Abergele. The hills are Carb limestone and and the foreground is Silurian. Darwin must have been miffed not to find any ORS.


He stayed at Abergelle and the next day walked to the Ormes and Llandudno chasing the non-existent ORS


He left the Great Orme behind and crossed the brand-new bridge to Conwy and met Sedgwick near the castle.


The next day, after Darwinstopped Sedgwick arguing with a waiter, they went up the Conwy valley to Cannovium and over the 2100ft Tal y Fan and dropped down to Aber for the night. They visited Aber Falls the next day and then went to the Bethesda Slate Quarries




Here is the major problem I encountered in this study. Darwin’s notes on Cwm Idwal – 5 miles from the quarries – follw straight on from his notes on Bethesda. further in his Autobiography Darwn states he went round Cwm Idwal with Sedgwick. HE DID NOT. This is countered by the letters between D and S in September 1831 when Darwin told Sedgwick what he saw on his own and then Sedgwick corrected him after visiting Cwm Idwal a fortnight later.

Instead the went across Anglesey, as Sedgwick had Henslow’s wonderful 1822 geological map to guide him, but the ORS was still elusive and this supposed outcrop of ORS later turned out to be Ordovician. Later at Cape Verde Darwin described some recent conglomerates by the shore as hard as this. I can assure that the rock is very painful to hit with a hammer.



And so the crossed the Menai Straits and shot down the newish London-Holyhead road, which had just been replaced by a dual carriageway when I visited there.



From Holyhead they took a steam-packet to Dublin for the weekend as Sedgwick wished to meet some geologists. On their return they went to look at the precambrian rocks at north Stack and then went across Anglesey with Henslow to guide them.


They found what Henslow’s incredibly hard ORS on which I nearly broke my arm. And so to the old Copper Mine at Parys Mountain. It dates back to the Bronze Age and I think it is still being mined


And so they arrived at Caernarfon, when Darwin wanted to go home for the start of the shooting season. Sedgwick went to Llanberis and started in ernest and found it hard.

On his own from Caernarfon to Barmouth 20th to 24th August

Darwin left Sedgwick at Caernarfon and then visited Cwm Idwal on his own. He reckoned that the Devil’s Kitchen was a volcanic plug, but Sedgwick put him right a little later, explaining it was a syncline.


A sketch to show what Darwin thought about Cwm Idwal and how Sedgwick corrected him.



He found the geology difficult as I did when I tried to do my undergraduate mapping there. (I gave up and mapped a layered intrusion in Northern Canada instead!!). He was oblivious of any glacial features.  He must have found some predators – sundew.


view of Cwm Idwal from Glyder Fawr 2000 ft above the Lake


From Cwm Idwal it was 6 miles to Plas y Brenin, the coach inn at Capel Curig, where he spent two nights. The next day he climbed Moel Siabod and made more notes . After that he walked to Dolwyddelan and over the moors to Ffestiniog for the night. The next day he cross the Rhinogau by the the Bwlch Drws Ardudwy


An early morning view from Plas Y Brenin

In his autobiography Darwin claimed to follow a compass bearing to Barmouth. I do not believe him! First, the route would be an utter killerwading through boulders and 3 foot heather. Secondly his geological notes describe the localities OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAi

visited and I mark these on the sketchmap.


Moel Siabod and the moorland south of Dolwyddelan


My key outcrop to determine his route was Carreg y Fran, which I located. Darwin said the rocks at the base of the cliff were conglomerate. They were in fact agglomerate.


From there he cross the remote and rugged Rhinogau and made his way to Barmouth.


After a few days at Barmouth Darwin returned home for the shooting season. Instead he accepted an invitation to travel on the Beagle

Here is Topper (1992-1994) my faithful field assistant, navigator and mountain climber, taken near the summit of Glyder Fawr.


He took a stagecoach back to Shrewsbury and found a letter inviting him to join the Beagle!

In the summers of 1837 and 1838 he spent a few weeks while staying with his father in Shrewsbury looking at glacial deposits (c18000 years old around the town and by the field centre)

At this time he was very ill and only walked short distances.

In June 1842 he felt better and wrote the first half of a draft on evolution and went to Snowdonia and went home to finish it. It as not published.

Darwin spent two weeks in Snowdonia, staying at Plas y Brennin and other inns.

He looked for evidence of glaciation especially in Cwm Idwal and was convinced that Snowdonia used to have glaciers. He could only walk five kilometres.

But this will be my next installment



 Along with many earlier visits to Snowdonia, the mountainous region of North Wales, in the 1820s to study natural history and to “climb every mountain”,

Darwin made two important visits to study the geology. In 1831 he spent nearly four weeks studying the geology of Shropshire and North Wales, mostly under the tutelage of Adam Sedgwick of Cambridge and then in 1842 to see whether there had been “former glaciations2 in Snowdonia. In 1831 he was a “learner” and made no contribution to geology[1], but his work on glaciations was highly significant[2].

My purpose here is to put Darwin’s two visits into the whole context of geology as a developing science. I give it in note form as a developing historical theme.

  1. 1660-1700. Earliest geology beginning with Nils Steno in Italy. Little grasp of an ancient earth
  2. 1690s E Lhwyd (born near Oswestry – 20 miles from Shrewsbury) and John Ray (the English Linnaeus) noted the boulders in Nant Peris a valley below Snowdon. As there were lots of boulders and only one or two fell down in a lifetime, they suggested that the earth must be much older that the biblical 6000 years. These were in fact glacial erratic transported there by glaciers.
  3. 1700- 1800 more evidence for an ancient earth and beginnings of working out the order of strata
  4. 1788 Rev John Michell, prof of geology at Cambridge worked out an order of strata;

Chalk                                                         Upper Cretaceous                                           120ft

Golt                                                            (Gault   Lower Cretaceous                              50ft

Sand of Bedford                                        Lower Greensand  – lwr Cret                          10-20ft

Northamptan andPortland lime                      (Jurassic)                                                        100ft

Lyas strata                                                       (Lias –Lower Jurassic)                                   100ft

Sand of Newark                                              (Triassic)                                                          30ft

Sherwood Forest pebbles and gravel              Permo-triassic sandstones                               50ft

Very fine white sand                                      uncertain

Roche Abbey and Brotherton Lime               (Permian Magnesium lst)                                100ft

Coal Strata of Yorkshire                                 Upper Carboniferous

This gives a good summary of strata from Upper Carboniferous to Upper Cretaceous

  • Smith developed this with use of fossils and then Geology map of England and Wales 1815.
  • untitled

6 Cuvier worked on Cretaceous strata around Paris

  1. By 1820s strata reasonably well-known down to Old Red Sandstone/ Devonian. What lay below was totally unknown and refered to Killas. This was classically put in The Outline of the Geology of England and Wales by Conybeare and Phillips (1822)

Below are a series of geological columns and the final development for today is the right hand column. What is crystal clear is that the order has not changed since Michell made his preliminary one in 1788. After the publication in 1822 there was an immense amount of geological fieldwork all over Europe but only the British work concern us.





1799, 1812, 1815






1860 US



London Clay



Purbeck, Portland
Coral Rag, Cornbr.
Upper Oolite
Under Oolite

Magnesian Ls

Coal Measures

Mountain Ls

Red and Dunstone

Killas and Slate

Granite, Sien

Upper Marine(Freshwater: London Clay, Plastic Clay)SUPERMEDIAL ORDER
Chalk Marle
Green Sand
Iron Sand
Oolitic Series
Purbeck, Portland
Coral Rag, Oxford
Inferior Oolite-
New Red SandstoneMagnesian Limestone
Coal Measures
Carboniferous or
Mountain Limestone
Old Red SandstoneSUBMEDIAL ORDERTransition LimestoneSerpentine

Modern Group

Erratic Block Gr.

Cretaceous Group

Oolitic Group

Red Sandst. Gr.
Red Marl
Red Sandstone

Carboniferous Gr.
Coal Measures

Carboniferous Ls

Old Red Sandst

Grauwacke Group

(Inferior Strati.
Serpentine, Trap
Granite, Volcan.

Newer Pliocene
Older Pliocene
CretaceousWealdonOolite or JuraLias
Trias or New Red
SandstoneMagnesian LsCarboniferous
Coal Measures
Millstone Grit
Mountain LsOld Red Standst.
or DevonianPRIMARY
Coal Meas.
Millstone Grit
Mountain LsDevonian
LowerUpper Silurain
(9 units)Lower Silurian
(4 units)




1830s. After the publication in 1822 there was an immense amount of geological fieldwork all over Europe but only the British work concern us. By 1830 British geologists had felt clear on the geology from the Old Red Sandstone to the top of the Cretaceous, but what lay above and below was still to be discovered. Lyell was instrumental in bringing order to the Tertiary, but in 1830 Sedgwick and Murchison decided to tackle what lay below the ORS in Wales, in preparation for a second volume continuing Coneybeare and Phillip’s work. They had described what lay below the ORS as SUBMEDIAL ORDER; Transition Limestone, Serpentine, Sienite,  Greywacke and  Clay Slate, indicating that it was scarcely elucidated. All this later came to be termed Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian, but in 1830 it was simply unknown strata.
(Shrewsbury is just north of the Long Mynd on the map, and Cwm Idwal is slighty above the letter “N” of Snowdonia)

The map above is a sketch map fo the geology of North Wales marking all strata older than the Devonian, i.e. all the shaded area on the map. In 1830 the weather was so bad that neither geologist went to Wales, but both went in the Summer of 1831. Murchison went to Southern Wales about 25 miles southwest of the Longmynd and was guided to an excellent downward succession from ORS to what was to be called Silurian by the Rev Thomas Lewis. Sedgwick went to Northern Wales and his aim was to find the ORS (marked on geological maps as lying below Carboniferous Limestone from Llangollen to Conway. When he found the ORS he hoped to find it going down conformably into Killas/grauwacke (now Silurian). This did not happen and he and Darwin concluded that there was no ORS from Llangollen to Conway, thus frustrating his intentions. Ironically at over 300 metres on top of the Long Mountain between Welshpool and Shrewsbury , there is a capping of ORS/Devonian strata but Sedgwick and Darwin did not go up the steep hill in their gig, thus missing the solution to the puzzle by two miles!

In early August Sedgwick and Darwin left Shrewsbury for North Wales to  look at the base of the Carboniferous Limestone hoping to find first ORS and then “Silurian” below it. They failed as there was no ORS. After that they went round Anglesea and found that no more helpful, though they found some ORS identified by Henslow in 1822, though some of that was mis-identified and turned out to be far older.  On 20th August Darwin left Sedgwick to go home via Cwm Idwal and Barmouth.  Sedgwick started working on strata by Llanberis, but had no stratigraphic markers or fossils to guide him. After a few years he managed to make sense of the geology.  Sedgwick called all these Cambrian and Murchison called southern Wales strata Silurian. It took another 50 years to sort them out properly into Cambrian Ordovician and Silurian.


After leaving Sedgwick at Caernarfon, he took a coach to Cwm Idwal, not knowing anything about the geology, except that it was older than the ORS. He had no geological guides to help him, so simply made notes. Cwm Idwal is a glacial cirque carved out of Ordovician Volcanics. Darwin gave brief descriptions regarding most as “altered slate” with some resembling basalt.

He also note volcanic rocks at Devil’s Kitchen which he considered  the Volcanic rocks at Devils Kitchen to be  “Basalt protruded out of the slate” as an “inverted cone”. In fact, they were laid flat  and then gently folded into a syncline, as Sedgwick pointed out to Darwin in a later letter after .

1842 Glacier visit

In 1842 Darwin returned to Snowdonia, having travelled round the world in the Beagle. His purpose was to see whether the Glacial Theories of Agassiz and Buckland were correct. In 1838 he had been to Glen Roy and in 1838 and 1839 had looked at the gravels around Shrewsbury and concluded that “glaciers” has some influence. Initially he was wary of Agassiz’s ideas of a continental ice age and after Buckland visited Snowdonia in October 1842, when he demonstrated glaciations, Darwin went to Snowdonia for 10days in June 1842. (In fact he had half written his first manuscript[1842] on Natural Selection before he went and finished it on return.)

He confirmed the terrestrial glaciations in Snowdonia and confirmed Buckland’s identification of glacial troughs. The highlight was his visit to Cwm Idwal where he identified the remains of an icefall by Ogwen cottage, ice-scoured rocks and moraines. Most interesting are two boulders he described, now known as Darwin’s boulders. After visiting Moel Tryfan, which he realised was sea-ice he returned to Nant Peris near Llanberis and made more observations.

Darwin had confirmed that these deep valleys were not formed by rivers………



Darwin at Llanymynech; British Journal for the History of Science, 1996, Vol 29, pp469-78

Darwin’s Dog-leg ; Archives of the History of Natural History, 1998, Vol 25, p59-73

I   coloured a map ; Archives of the History of Natural History, 2000, Vol 27,p69-79

Charles Darwin’s 1831 notes of Shropshire,Archives of the History of Natural History 2002,Vol 29 , p 27-9; co-authored  with Prof.S.Herbert (University of Maryland)

Darwin’s Welsh Geology, 1831,  Endeavour  Spring 2001, 25, p33-37


Charles Darwin’s 1831 notes of Shropshire,Archives of the History of Natural History 2002,Vol 29 , p 27-9; co-authored  with Prof.S.Herbert (University of Maryland)

Darwin’s Welsh Geology, 1831,  Endeavour  Spring 2001, 25, p33-37

Darwin, Buckland and the Welsh Ice Age, 1837 – 1842, accepted for publication in Proceedings of the Geological Association 2012


Sandra Herbert; Charles Darwin;geologist 2005

And an account of the 2018 field trip with pictures









bowland brewery subjected to hate campaign for supporting hen harriers

Are the comments an admission of guilt that Hen Harriers are being exterminated in the Bowland Fells

I haven’t seen Harriers in the Bowland Fells for nearly 10 years and want to know why. The fewer raptors I see in the fells convinces me that something is going on 

bowland brewery subjected to hate campaign for supporting hen harriers

Bowland brewery HHEarlier this year, the Bowland Brewery in Lancashire committed to donate a proportion of the proceeds from the sale of its Hen Harrier beer to the RSPB’s hen harrier conservation projects (see press statement here).

James Warburton, owner of Bowland Brewery said: “The hen harrier is a living symbol of Bowland Brewery’s intimate connection with the landscape where we produce our beers.

The very real prospect that this beautiful bird of prey may disappear from the skies above the Forest of Bowland is unthinkable. That’s why we are committing to donate a significant sum of money each year to safeguard the future of one of Bowland’s most iconic residents.

As the harriers return to the Bowland Fells to nest this spring, we hope to see nature-lovers visiting the area to marvel at their amazing skydance and celebrate with a pint of the beer these rare and precious birds inspired.

By buying Hen Harrier by the pint or in bottles, locals and visitors alike will be making a positive contribution to hen harrier conservation in Bowland – and ultimately helping the population to grow.”

bowland breweryRecently, this photograph of Chris Packham and Mark Avery enjoying a pint of Bowland Brewery’s Hen Harrier beer, was posted on the Bowland Brewery’s social media platforms (twitter and facebook). As a result, some individuals from the grouse-shooting industry have launched a hate campaign aimed directly at the Bowland Brewery.

Bowland Brewery’s facebook page was targeted with a torrent of fake reviews, resulting in a drop in their overall review rating. Comments posted on facebook by the grouse-shooting trolls included:

“Get this off tomorrow or we will hound you”.

“They drink with the devil. Destroy the business!”

“Side with Packham and the knife comes out”

“They thought going with Packham was good. Now they must feel the pain”

“Shut them down. Anti shooting”.

“You can run but not hide. Hammer em!”

“Shut down the business. Shut down, boycott, whatever. Get Bowland Brewery outed”.

“Get hold of the boss and tell him to mend his ways. Otherwise we will crush em”.

Nice guys, eh? Wonder how many of them making threats have a shotgun/firearms certificate? There are some known gamekeepers involved in this hate campaign, including the Head Gamekeeper of Millden Estate in the Angus Glens, Bert Burnett from the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (who wrote “Well done everyone”) and some of the comments have been ‘liked’ by the official facebook page of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.

All slightly ironic from an industry that has recently accused Chris Packham of ‘celebrity bullying’ (see here) just because he’s politely asking Marks and Spencer to be transparent about their claims that their red grouse are produced ethically and sustainably (see here).

It’s also ironic that this hate campaign against the brewery comes from an industry that purports to be interested in protecting rural jobs. The Bowland Brewery is a small business, employing local people, in a rural community.

If you want to show your support for the Bowland Brewery and their ethical and charitable support of hen harrier conservation, please consider buying their beer. It’s available in various local outlets (see here) and can also be bought online (see here).

If you want to support the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting, because it’s the only way hen harriers will be allowed to thrive in the English uplands, then please join 65,000 others and sign THIS PETITION.

16 Responses to “Bowland Brewery subjected to hate campaign for supporting hen harriers”

  1. 1peter hatton

    July 27, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    could do with a pint after reading all that I’m spitting feathers!

    • 2Andrea Goddard

      July 27, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      Me too Peter. I’ve just left a 5* review/comment. It seems that Andy Richardson has been stirring again and has initiated the hate-filled posts against the brewery.

      • 3Les Wallace

        July 27, 2016 at 4:09 pm

        Andy Richardson – oh well there’s a surprise. Not so long ago a wildlife rescue centre in Wales posted a picture of a juvenile cucloo that had come in misidentifying it as a kestrel. He had a field day mocking them for that, people who donate time, effort and money helping injured wildlife being ridiculed for a not so bad and probably temporary mistake. One of Richardson’s charming buddies added the lovely comment F***wits (they didn’t use asterisks mind). Richardson wasn’t quite so hard himself though when he posted one of his narcisstic videos in which he berated the RSPB for its supposed mismanagement of Mar Lodge Estate. A very serious criticism indeed considering Mar Lodge is owned and managed by the National Trust for Scotland. We know who the real bile brigade are.

  2. July 27, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    To the grouse shooting industry – keep giving us the nails and we will happily hammer them in to your coffin.

  3. 5Marco McGinty

    July 27, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Aye, nice people right enough.

    They’re not content with carrying out widespread persecution, trying to get people sacked, or just blatantly lying on the whole, they’re now resorting to acts bordering on terrorism.

    Hopefully the Bowland Brewery have informed the police, and swift action will be taken against those trying to bully and intimidate.

  4. 6Secret Squirrel

    July 27, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    I do hope they have all use dtheir real names, as it makes it so much easier for the Police to identify them. I do hope that Bowland Brewery report each of them

  5. 7Marco McGinty

    July 27, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Forgot to mention that I was reading some nonsense recently on the shooting pages, and apparently there are people going around Scotland reintroducing Goshawks and Pine Martens just for the sake of it.

    A lot of these shooting types really are dim-witted in the extreme!

  6. 8Caro McAdam

    July 27, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    Just bought a case online. Looking forward to it!

  7. 9Peter Shearer

    July 27, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    I will support these and we all need to do the same to help those that make the right decisions. Perhaps at some time we should compile a list of the good and the bad-so that we can at least make an informed choice.The ethical consumer website might help us.

  8. 10Tim Dixon

    July 27, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    Just bought 12 bottles of Hen Harrier. Suggest everyone else does the same.

  9. July 27, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Like Caro, I have just bought a case online and suggest others do likewise. I’ve also posted this story on FB & asked others to follow my example. In addition, I have emailed a message of support to Bowland Brewery. Anyone know who I can email in the CA?

  10. 12Jeff S

    July 27, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    And the shooting folk behind this hate campaign refer to normal, rational people like us as the “bile brigade”…

    I’m teetotal but will buy some anyway.

  11. 14Carole

    July 27, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    Bile; hate; aggression. Maybe these poor people can’t help it? If they are eating lead contaminated game, perhaps they have been affected?

    The evidence does seem to be stacking up. Thank goodness lead has been banned in paint & petrol. I also believe it affects fertility. Several of my male ancestral relatives, who were housepainters in Victorian days when paint was lead based, although married never had any children. Their brother, my ancestor, who was a miner, had a large family.

    Anyway, lets all support Bowland Brewery and hope the extra publicity, far from being damaging, results in improved sales of Hen Harrier beer. My husband likes it anyway!

  12. 15Mr Greer Hart, senior

    July 27, 2016 at 3:53 pm

    For the first time in human history, there has arisen a part of humanity, represented world wide and across many cultures, that shows a deep and committed concern to save the other life forms with which humanity shares the Earth, from cruelty and death from many forms of abuse. Arraigned against that force of compassion, there are many who act harmfully towards animals, and the whole natural world. Shooting game birds on a large scale, poaching and trophy shooting endangered species, using animals in circuses and in certain badly designed and managed zoos, unmonitored slaughterhouses and factory farms, illegal pet trade, blood sports and bullfighting, laboratory experiments, and many more forms of ill-treating other creatures, have brought into existence many organisations to campaign against animal cruelty and the conservation of wild species, along with the protection of essential habitats. Surely some approach by the management of all our charities working to save from pain and from extinction, whereby, in some matter of deep concern, there could be a coming together to get those members who may have an interest in forming a common concern. That common concern would create good Samaratin attitude to epiphanise all, and henceforth, all welfarists and conservationists would coalesce and make the Government see that one area of gross and impertinent criminality requires immediate attention. That corrupting and nullifying of the law by powerful interests, who mock and threaten when some celebrity like Chris Packham or a company such as the Bowland Brewery, make a humane appeal to save our Birds of Prey, and to donate the resources to campaign more effectively. When a man like Donald Trump can become a landowner, as that man once did in Scotland’s Cairngorm area, and use it as a shooting estate, then Scotland does need a more revitalised attitude from its Governments; one that recognises, despite the blusterings that shooting estates contribute so much to our economy, that not just anyone should own or manage integral parts of our natural landscape, and do as they please. The future for any country in this world, is now painfully apparent, is to ban all excessive hunting and to eliminate poaching of wildlife. If not, then we will have created an extinction as bad as any asteroid strike would create.

    Donald Trump and his ilk have made the USA a horror story for its wildlife, with many species under severe threat, such as the Grizzly, the Wolf, Mountain Lion, Wolverine, from an obsessive hunting lobby that wants all opposition to their killing deer. Our shooting estates are their counterparts here, with pogroms of Mountain Hares and Birds of Prey. Trump was eventually persuaded to sell up through the efforts of Olympic runner and rambler, Chris Brasher, and his former estate is now part of the Cairngorm National Park. Scotland has an opportunity to become the first country in the world to eradicate industrial scale slaughter of game birds, and to effectively reduce in size, if not eliminate, if nonconformity to the law is experienced, the centuries old grip of excessive hunting has had. Our politicians have been woefully lacking, in the main, in seeing the need for the teaching of humane education and respect for life, in our schools and further education. If the Government can attain targets to cover the land and seascapes with wind farms to make Scotland free of fossil fuel use, then surely it can use similar fervour to challenge and overcome the “industry” that appals all humane thinking people, the cruel suppression of our wildlife. Those who support the various political parties should pressure their respective representatives on this subject, as should those of religious persuasion to help save the creatures of God’s wonderful creation. How can all our wonderful conservation charities ask other countries to save their willdlife when we have such an anomaly here in Scotland and the rest of the UK, of our law enforcement not being able to effectively deal with protected species? How can anyone derive pleasure from the mass killing of birds and other animals, without conscience? It exhibits a contempt of Life. The Bushman can hunt to survive, but the trophy hunter kills for perverse pleasure and ego enhancement.

  13. July 27, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Fantastic conservation – ignore the trolls they are the dinosaurs. Keep up the good work – will happily buy your product.

Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth

An excellent book about a wonderful place which Creationists are determined to misunderstand

Age of Rocks

Book Review
Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth
by Carol Hill, Gregg Davidson, Tim Helble, and Wayne Ranney (editors)
(hardback from Amazon or direct from the publisher for under $30)


Prelude to Catastrophe: Why this book is so needed today

When I was 16 years old, I encountered the first book I ever read about geology. It was the first step of many toward a doctorate in the discipline. To this day, I can still praise Steven Austin’s Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe as a simple primer on the processes by which sedimentary rocks form. His explanations of features like cross bedding, faulting, erosion, and layering were clear, accessible, and generally accurate. Yet Austin’s book did not gain popularity for accomplishing what any introductory textbook already had. His provocative message was that the Grand Canyon was laced with fingerprints of a recent global catastrophe, as described in chapters 6-9 of the…

View original post 1,871 more words

Mt St Helens – my ascent in 2009

36 years ago today Mt St Helens exploded and lost the top 1,312feet reducing its height from  9677ft to  8365ft. It was dramatic as it was devastating and some 50 people were killed, including a USGS geologist , who supposedly in a safe place. This USGS url gives some details;

When it exploded I vowed I would climb the mountain and had to wait 29 years to fulfil that vow. We were over there partly on a Geol Soc of America annual conference, where I gave two papers and partly on holiday. October is not the best time, but the forecast seemed good. We booked in at the Lone Fir Resort on the the south side for two nights in a cabin. I got my permit and then we ordered a meal and nearly puked as it was grotty bits of chicken and grotty chips.  We cancelled our breakfast and set of to the trailhead at 4000 ft. My breakfast was two crunchy bars and an apple, which is not enough for a climb of over 4000ft.



View of summit from the trailhead


The day before we wandered around the south side and found this lava flow from 1980

The same flow with some re-growth. The next two slides are two lava tunnels from a much earlier eruption.



And back to the climb. I set off a path in the woods leaving Andrea in the car. (for the next week I had to pay back and go where SHE wanted, but it was worth it!) It was easy to begin with and I found a stick as a walking pole.


After nearly 2000ft of ascent the trees first shrunk and then petered out.


The pine forest gave way to bare rock and the trail picked its way through a boulder field



Views were fantastic.


Onwards and upwards, not helped by an empty stomach. The poles marked the route


Looking down and to the south east.



Mt Hood


A seismic station. I joined up with this young man of 72 whose older brother had turned back. He was from New York State and good company.


Me with Mt Adams behind.114

The final push. These three in their 20s were slightly faster, but kept stopping. That was to get rid of the breakfast they had at the Lone Pine !!! There are times an empty stomach is better than a full stomach! Later, I filled in a Tripadvisor report and said it was the worst motel and eating place in the USA. They changed hands 6 months later.


Nearly there with the rim visible.


At the summit, feeling smug. My hiking pole is in the foreground. and Mt Ranier in the back.


The browness by the lake is where all the forest was burnt to a cinder for about 10 miles.



Another view, with the cone which had only appeared in 2004 i.e 5 years old. It has got more active recently……….


The west side with a new glacier with crevasses.



Looking straight down where the side was blown out in 1980.


walking along the rim.


Some dirty snow and ash is still coming out.


And so to descend!


Nearly there, and Mt Adams beyond.


This was probably the best climb of my life.

We then descended the forest road back to the main road and drove 30 miles to the end of the valley and civilisation. We found a motel at the same price of $60 which was absolutely excellent with a great room and a better bath. I wallowed for over an hour and then we went for a steak meal.

After that we worked our way round to seattle via Port Townsend a delightful place.

We returned to Portland for the conference where we met old friends from Wheaton and the Association of Christian Geologists. In between two days we travelled up the valley on the north side of the volcano.

Here we look down into the valley which was filled with a laher or debris flow shortly after the eruption. Note the lack of vegetation on the valley flor. The forest here was not hit by the pyroclastic flow. The diagrams and photos below show what happened on 18/5/80

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The caldera and side blown out. Note the greening. Near the bottom is a new gorge carved rapidly out of ash dropped at the eruption. Creationist say this shows that the Grand Canyon could be formed quickly as this was carved out in a day or so.


They can’t grasp that unconsolidated sediments erode very rapidly and I demonstrated on the deposits below. I had half a pint of water which I sprayed on the loose material and it eroded rapidly. But then I ran out of water!!!!!!!!.


More from Kevin Nelstead on why creationsits get it so wrong

desolation and regrowth.


The lahar from the volcano



More regrowth and a lupin


Andrea and I


Another view with fallen and charred tree trunks., with the Creationists’ gorge in the background


Most trunks pointed to the mountain due to the force of the volcanioc cloud travelling at great speed


More regrowth

A lake gradually going green.


and so we had our final views




The route is simple, it is a case of following a trail almost straight up for 4500ft. In good weather there are no technicalities, but it took me about 8 hours.

Burning the Pennine moorlands

George Monbiot is often worth reading on re-wilding and the uplands of Britain. As someone who loves the moorlands and peatbogs of the Pennines, especially the Forest of Bowland I enjoyed this article raising questions of simplistic answers.

(I ought to say I don’t agree with Monbiot on energy and related issues.)


The photo below was taken on 25th May above Marshaw. The burning was in the last few months and had wrecked the vegetation AND contributed to erosion.



I would like to see what the peat moors of Bowland would be like if burning was banned


I think the cloughs give us a few clues. Note the more diverse fauna.



In Cwm Idwal in Snowdonia where sheep have been removed the monoculture of grass has been replaced with a great diversity of flora over 20 years. Rowan and Bog asphodel have re-appeared.



Bonfire of the Verities

Academic standards go up in smoke in a wildly biased paper on burning in the British uplands.

By George Monbiot, published on, 10th March 2016

I am supposed to be taking a break from journalism, but several people have asked me to comment on an opinion piece due for publication in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. It is called The role of fire in UK peatland and moorland management; the need for informed, unbiased debate. The paper (by Matt Davies et al) names me, and the associated press release boasts that it contains “criticism of the journalist George Monbiot”. So here, briefly, is my response.

There is certainly a “need for informed, unbiased debate”, but you will not, unfortunately, find it in this paper. It frames the questions it seeks to address so narrowly as to render them meaningless. It fails to acknowledge the fundamental arguments against burning. It treats concepts that are highly charged and contested as if they were uncontroversial.

For example, the authors argue that moorlands in the UK are “cultural landscapes that owe their existence to the use of fire as a management tool”. They appear to be unaware that the concept of cultural landscapes, in the context of the UK’s highly concentrated and class-dominated pattern of landholding, provokes more questions than it settles. Whose culture? Whose landscape? Which history?

The arguments that some of us have made forcefully in recent years – that “cultural landscapes” in the British context are a reflection of cultural hegemony, that they are and should be highly contested, and that the valorisation of certain land uses (and resultant landscapes) is of greater benefit to particular interests (such as grouse moor owners) than to the nation as a whole – are unacknowledged by this paper. Whether this is the result of ignorance or discomfort, I cannot tell.

just imagine these fells with a variety of flora and thus fauna instead of the scorched earth


The same applies to conservation designations. Underlying my critique of burning as a land management tool is the belief that our conservation priorities are misplaced and mistaken, that they privilege and preserve highly degraded and impoverished ecosystems, and that heather moorland in particular has been fetishised at the expense of much richer habitats. I have drawn attention, for example, to a study in the Cairngorms which shows that wooded habitats are 13 times richer in nationally important species than moorland*. There are 223 species on the massif which are found nowhere else in Britain. Of these, 100 are associated with woodland or trees. But just one – a fungus that lives on bilberry leaves – is believed to require moorland for its survival (and even this turns out to thrive in forests in Norway).

Yet the paper by Davies et al starts with the assumption that our conservation priorities are correct and that heather moorland (which is maintained by burning) is the desirable state of much of our uplands. If you begin with that assumption, your conclusions are pre-determined. Is fire good for “landscapes that owe their existence to the use of fire as a management tool”? Er, let me get back to you on that.

The article of mine they purport to criticise opens up these questions. Yet their critique is confined – wait for it – to the headline. They do not address, attempt to answer or even acknowledge the arguments it contains or the facts it puts forward. This leads me to the extraordinary conclusion that they have either failed to read it, failed to understand it, or ignored it because they have no answer. I find it remarkable that a paper to be published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society appears to be ignorant of the arguments it purports to address. Was it peer reviewed? If so, were the reviewers fast asleep?

The way you frame your question determines the answer it produces. In this case, the principal issues that should inform this debate have been left outside the frame, and the answer it produces is an artefact of this restriction. So much for “informed, unbiased debate”.

I knew that standards were slipping. I hadn’t realised that they had fallen so far.

* P.Shaw and DBA Thompson, 2006. The nature of the Cairngorms: diversity in a changing environment. TSO: Edinburgh. 444 pp. ISBN: 9780114973261



Source: Bonfire of the Verities

this what I want to see on the pennine moorlands


Damaged peat bogs in the Forest of Bowland

Yesterday afternoon I went up Hawthornthwaite Fell in the Forest of bowalnd some miles from Garstang. I cannot give the exact height of the hill as the Trig  point at 478m has fallen over and it is now about two metres lower as so much peat has been lost in a century. I walked about five miles with about 1000ft of climbing up the side of the fell. At first I followed a shooters road (poor things they can’t walk). amd then a vague peaty path by the side of an incised stream. The strata were basically Pendle Grit, the same age as Millstone Grit.001

At last on to the ridge! Note the clarity of the path. those with good eyesight will see the fence at the top. Much of the ridge is/was covered with a few metres of peat, which here has been eroded in a gully. Peat is incredible at storing carbon and one of the unique features of British hills, where so often one has to bog trot.


Along the ridge the path was boggy and liable to trap the unwary. Shortly before I had almost gone up to my knee!! Not the sphagnum forming the basis of peat.


Looking west towards Heysham, the Irish Sea and the Isle of Man.


The peat loss at the top of Hawthornthwaite Fell, Note the dark brown scars of eroded peat. The grasses are growing where the peat has gone leaving a mineral base of fragments of Pendle Grit. The “missile” is the toppled Trig Point


a close up of the trig Point, which had a 6 ft base sunk into peat, which has gone.


The late Trig Point showing Grit exposed.009

The same again showing an eroded gully going down the fell


Another view of the gully. Imagine how much peat has been lost.011

(For Americans, a Trig point is this “vertical” stone to assist map-makers from the Orndnance Survey. It is one thing the Brits do bigger than americans.) This photo shows the point which need 7 feet of rock and cement foundation. When I first came here in 2003 it was vertical but precarious. (Walking poles for scale)


The view eastwards of the trig point. Note the peat hags indicating how much peat has been lost. Grasses are now growing on the mineral base of grit exposed by the loss of peat.



From the same place looking the other way. Note chunks of grit lying around. The red are my gloves on the trig point.


The top of the trig point showing where theodolite would have gone!


Another gully washing peat away.


Heading back east along the ridge. The path is visible!


Looking back on the nice easy terrain 🙂


A pool with fresh green sphagnum. I will never forget my daughter at seven walking on what she thought was lovely green grass…………….


More erosion down to the mineral base.


This shows both the erosion and the delightfully easy nature of the terrain for walking………… Bog trotting is an acquired taste and requires waterproof boots and gaiters. The rewards are immense; total solitude as no one else is mad enough to go there; and wildlife – in summer cotton grass and dragon flies. Sadly no raptors for reasons I can’t spell out…


On my descent I hit burnt heather just before getting to the shooters road. Note the erosion into the peat. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

In a few yards I hit the road and it was a 200 metre descent back to the car. I had met no one on my walk and never do on those fells.


I hope this photo-log shows the remote beauty of the peaty moors, the damage to the peat  – often caused by heather burning and the need for peat restoration.


Seeing rocks slant; Unconformities; old and new


One of the most telling of all geological structures are Unconformities where new rocks lie on older ones , often at an angle as this diagram shows;


The most famous is Siccar Point which James Hutton discovered in  the 18th century and described here by Paul Braterman;

I have never been to Siccar Point but have seen many other unconformities and here are some I have seen recently. I conclude with layers of sand deposited in the December floods.

Steamboat Unconformity, Black Hills SD.


This unconformity lies in the northern Black Hills about 25 miles from Rapid City and suffers from a surfeit of students. The steeply dipping beds are 1,500 my Precambrian phyllites  and above are the almost horizontal Cambrian sandstones of the Deadwood formation  in the order of 500 my. A friend Mike often goes there and has a hand on each series and says “There is a billion years between my hands”, no doubt upsetting his creationist students, as I did.

Grand Canyon


This is almost the CLASSIC unconformity in the USA of almost horizontal Cambrian lying on older Precambrian of the Vishnu series – over 1,500 my. Above that is the long, almost horizontal sequence up to the Kaibab, which is Permian (280 my). It is an incredible walk down to the bottom of the Canyon to the Colorado River and then ascending again.The shortest route is the Bright Angel Trail from the south side. as you see in the picture below it is a long way down and the dry river bed in the centre is only half-way down. The Colorado River is hidden from view.  Guidebooks advise against walking it in a day but some do just that in August in temperatures of 115 degrees plus in less than nine hours.

494 You can follow the various formations for miles and below is a cross-section of the Canyon.



Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs

Yellowstone is the oldest National Park in the world and is a fascinating place, even though over-commercialised. It is one vast volcano with a ginormous caldera. A future eruption is on the card. Sadly most crawl round in their cars and miss the best of walking away from the crowds. grizzlys, wolves and bisons are common and it is advisable to attach a bear bell to your rucsac and take pepper spray. It is said that you can identify grizzly scat by the presence of bearbells.

There are vast number of hotsprings but fortunately more people go to Old faithful than all the other springs put together. At the north of the park are Mammoth Springs which are highly active and always changing. The most interesting thing at Mammoth Hot Spring are the hot springs with several tiers of springs.



However looking east above the town you can see a fine unconformity of red Mesozoic beds lying unconformably on slightly older grey calcareous ones.This is not a patch on the previous two, but still dramatic – at least by British standards.



And so to England;

Ingleton Falls, Yorkshire

The finest mountain in the Yorkshire Dales is Ingleborough, though it is no great height. This shot taken in january 2015 shows the almost horizontal strata giving a fine succession of lower Carboniferous rocks, starting with limestone and then going to grits and shales (equivalent in age to Bowland shales). The photo is looking south-east from Chapel le Dale but five miles south are the Ingleton Falls ,


where Carboniferous Limestone (~350 my) lies unconformably on tilted Ordovician slates and greywackes of the Ingleton Group  (~420my). All the Devonian is missing!


Anthropocene/Carboniferous Unconformity

Recently, geologists and others reckon we should recognise a new geological sequence in which the main agent is human, and thus call it the Anthropocene. It only includes the last few thousand years lof geological time. Driving to Durham this week as we passed the ruins of Barnard Castle, dating from the latter part of the 12th century, and I thought “That’s an Anthropocene-Carboniferous unconformity”. With 320 million years of time between the strata!

And so we have a horizontal bedded anthropocene deposit of reworked Carboniferous sandstones lying on top of slightly tilted Namurian Millstone Grit (320my ). The castle is made up of reworked Carboniferous sandstone then deposited in a more orderly fashion!!

I have to admit to being slightly flippant, but this does show geological effects of humans and also the disparity of geological time.


Sand Deposits, December 2015

Yes, there is still deposition today and during the floods in Lancashire of December 2015, much sand was laid down. I often stop by a bridge over the River Wyre between Scorton and Dolphinholme while cycling. I see the changing seasons and varying volumes of water in the river. Today it was tranquil,but last month a raging torrent would have been where I stood and probably above my head. As the water receded it left a few inches of sand and silt, as is apparent in this photo. If you dug a trench down you would find a succession of layers of varying thickness  and most would lie horizontal on the lower ones.



In spring there are bluebells and snowdrops here. I was amazed to see one snowdrop just bursting into flower. It seemed to be making a brave statement against the rather torn-up vegetation around it. It is incredible to think that just weeks before water was surging around here and yet this tiny snowdrop survived.



And for all this, nature is never spent;

there lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

Gerard Manley Hopkins, God’s Grandeur



For Peat’s sake!Is the missing peat making floods worse?


A lonely Trig Point has lost her Peat. (see later) 


The floods of the last month have been grim. The aftermath has not been helped by making the causes a political football. This appeals to those enamoured of simple answers, which as Oscar Wilde said are always wrong. To some it is all because of Tory cuts but it is more complex. To others it is the cessation of dredging , bad directives from the EU and the muddle-headedness of greenie advice taken on board.

However part of the problem lies upstream  and for once I find myself in at least partial agreement with George Monbiot. He stresses the need for upland tree-planting and the removal of sheep from our uplands. His argument is at least part of the solution as is the need for peat restoration, which has been carried out in parts of the Pennines in recent years. I am familiar with the restoration in the Forest of Bowland and revisited part on New Year’s Day. My photos are to be found a little later.

Here is a recent blog of Mark Avery’s which summarises aspects including Monbiot’s articles.


We live in Garstang which has the River Wyre flowing through it. In the 80s some flood defenses were built allowing for stopping the river to flood a large basin behind. These photos show the water still pouring over the barrier and how the water backed up, making the rubgy pitch three foot under water.

Even so the Wyre still flooded the Cornmill old peoples’ home, seen here after the river subsided a little. The other two shots are of the footpath leading to the river and then under the bridge. Here it is three feet under water. Five miles downstream the Wyre burst its banks at St Michaels.


Now first some tree planting.


This is on the west slope of Hellvelyn over-looking Thirlmere (where the road has been washed away. Below is a valley on the SE side on Blencathra which has had recent planting but too small to show up on my photo. (I should have taken a recent photo.)


Here we are just above Whitewell on the River Hodder, with some EA planting to control the river. I stopped to look and met the EA employee who planted it, who gave me an enthusiastic lecture about it! Good on the EA!! They get too much stick.


Now to my bog-trotting New Year’s Day walk up Hazlehurst Fell (429m).  This fell forms a horseshoe above Bleasdale and includes Fiendsdale Head, Fairsnape Fell and Parlick, and is the source of the River Brock which flows into the Wyre at St Michaels.

I parked the car at Stang Yule and then followed a good track up the fell


025 026I had good views to the north to the Lakes and more immediately over Garstang to the fllooded Fylde – but only locally by Winmarleigh. Gaining height through the heather I got a good view of Parlick.003

A few days earlier I had cycled through Winmarleigh to Pilling to find the fields flooded on either side of the aptly named Island Lane. The floods here are not that unusual and until a sea dyke was built to the north in the 70s even the seas came to flood the area, or so the farmer told me.


And so to the blocked drainage channels on the moorland.  These are all at about 350 to 410 metres and are straight runnels across the moor. A few years ago the ditches were dammed at intervals and allowed to regrow with a little introduction of sphagnum. (In warmer weather I often fill a plastic bag with sphagnum lower down and put it in the pools but not that day.) As you see the ditches are already being filled with vegetation and in September I found that the surrounding area was far wetter and boggier than it had been before. At present there is only a little sphagnum present.


This is a view of the fell from the track on the north east, with a drainage ditch on the left. That had not been blocked.


A view over Bleasdale and Parlick . It was a nice place to stop for some coffee.


What is often not realised is that not only has peat been washed away, but also disappears into thin air. This can be see by the relative rising of Trig Points. These ubiquitous markers were erected by the Ordnance Survey a century or so ago, and beloved by walkers.

Here is the one on Hazlehurst F3ell (SD563481) . As you appoach you see the plinth is no longer flush were the ground. When you get there you see it is a foot proud of the surroundings. That means that the actual summit is ONE FOOT lower than it was a century ago.

Where has all the peatie gone?

The answer is clear. It has either been eroded, or,more likely, it has dried out and blown away.




If that is not serious consider this poor trig Point on Haythornthwaite Fell (SD578515). The map says it is 428 metres, but that must be past tense. When I first went past it in 2003 in thick mist, it eerily rose above me by 10 feet. It has now been toppled and the base is clear and shows how much peat has disappeared.  The surrounding peat hags show the minimum height of the peat last century.  My photos do niot show how much peat has been lost as for about a square kilometre the peat has gone , exposing the mineral base, i.e. the broken rock lying on top of the Pendle Grit. It is hard not to see this as an environmental disaster as it has not only lost a habitat but loads of CARBON was locked up in that peat.


I had a good short walk, but more important is to consider the seriousness of what has happened to the Pennines. Flooding may be only  one result of it. We have lost peat as a natural way of Carbon Capture, not to mention mountain biodiversity


See also