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Content Updated: 5th December 2017

SEASONAL UPDATE: December 2017

Frosted pony in New Forest

The start of November gave most of Britain its first taste of winter, with the country waking up to a widespread frost on several mornings. Nonetheless, we spent most of the month on the boundary between a large mass of mild air in the north Atlantic and a cold air mass over the North Pole and northern Europe. The result was that mild air was never far away and there was a tendency to flip- flop between mild and cold conditions. During the middle week, for example, even here in Southampton, Monday morning was cold, with overnight lows in the city of about 3C (37F). By Wednesday night, however, overnight temperatures were up at 11C (52F) and later that week Cheshire hit a daytime high of 16.6C (62F), well above the seasonal average of about 9C (48F). In the north of the UK, this colder air mass brought the first snow of the season to the higher ground and a considerable amount of wet and windy weather. By the end of the month we were back into a cold Arctic airflow, with overnight temperatures around 0C even in towns and cities on the south coast.

November is typically the stormiest month of the year in Britain, although this year autumn has been generally rather benign. We did see the arrival of ex-tropical storm “Nina” over the second weekend of last month, bringing some heavy rain and 60mph winds to western and south-western coasts, and just over a week later another low brought a Met Office yellow warning for wind and rain.

Weather forecasting has never been a particularly precise science, but as our climate changes it appears to be increasingly unpredictable. Last month, several of the tabloids ran stories suggesting that we were in for a cold winter and a white Christmas. Some of the models are suggesting a cold, dry December, but then some predicted the same for November. Personally, I much prefer a cold dry winter to a mild and damp one, not least because mild weather in the autumn and winter involves a lot of thick grey cloud. More importantly, though, another mild and damp autumn is likely to further exacerbate problems we’re already seeing with increasing numbers of slugs, snails and ticks, which are normally killed off in cold weather.

If you want to get out and about this month, as usual, the Wildlife Trusts have a series of nature-themed events up and down the country, as do the RSPB. If you feel like being proactive and live near the coast, Surfers Against Sewage is looking for people to organise cleans of their local beaches – details here. The Forestry Commission is also running a series of events this month, details of which can be found here.

Chinese water deerMammals: Being the start of winter, December is a month in which many mammals venture out less, with some choosing to opt out of the season altogether. Bats, dormice and hedgehogs are the only British mammals that truly hibernate. If you’re wonder what makes hibernation “true”, it’s all to do with lowering body temperature and reducing biochemical processes (read more here). With hibernation in mind, please check any piles of garden rubbish before having a bonfire, because these spots make ideal hibernation venues for hedgehogs; an untold number are killed in bonfires every year. Furthermore, please keep an eye out for hedgehogs visiting your garden this month. Every autumn, late litters of hoglets are born and these youngsters don’t have sufficient time to reach the minimum weight of 700g needed to see them through hibernation. If you find a hedgehog in your garden, particularly if it is small or out during the day, please get in touch with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (Tel: 01584 890801) Check out my Caring for Hedgehogs article for more information.

Hedgehogs perhaps take things to extremes by skipping winter altogether, but many other mammals are much less active than usual. Badgers, for example, venture out of the sett much less often during the winter than other seasons, although they don’t hibernate. Similarly, the rutting action has died down among deer and the males are now rather more sociable as they spend the winter feeding together in bachelor groups. Roe deer will soon start to cast and re-grow their antlers and can often be seen feeding out in the open in large groups during December.

The fact that some mammals are slowing down doesn’t mean that all are. Indeed, we’re now arriving at the busiest time of year for our foxes - busiest in the sense of the greatest fluidity in the UK fox population, with animals moving around more than in any other season. Winter is the fox mating season and this month you’ll start seeing foxes moving around in pairs. The dog fox doesn’t leave his vixen’s side as he waits for her to come into season. Once she has finished her estrus and he has mated with her he’s off, ranging widely to look for other receptive females. During this period, foxes are very vocal, and there are fewer leaves on the trees and bushes to muffle the sound as both sexes call to attract mates and the males fight amongst each other as they trespass on each other’s territory trying to get at vixens.

The 'teddy bear deer', more decorously known as Chinese water deer, are also breeding during this month, and if you live in eastern England - particularly in the vicinity of the Woburn Estate, near the Broads of Norfolk or Suffolk, or in the East Midlands and Home Counties where small populations have become established following escapes from Whipsnade Zoo - you may be fortunate enough to see these fascinating little deer rut. Unlike all our other cervids (deer), Chinese water deer do not have antlers. Instead, the males possess impressive canine teeth (right), up to 8cm (3 in.) long, which they use to fight each other for access to females. This species makes an interesting barking noise when disturbed that, to my ear at least, sounds very fox-like.

Birds: Our lakes and estuaries are busy at this time of year with flocks of waders and ducks, many having arrived from the Arctic or northern Europe to overwinter in the milder climes of the UK. Keep an eye out for gadwall, teal, lapwings, snipe, and large flocks of dunlin. Estuaries and reservoirs are also good spots for swan-watching, with large aggregations of mute swans to be found as well as some immigrant yellow-beaked Bewick and whooper swans. There are an estimated 7,000 avocets that also overwinter in Britain, with Brownsea Island and Poole Harbour being among the best spots to watch them. Similarly, our resident populations of garden birds like robins, starlings and blackbirds are augmented with migrants from continental Europe. One of my local nature reserves has been host to almost 4,000 starlings in previous winters. In the fields, keep an eye out for large mixed flocks of buntings and finches, including reed buntings, yellowhammers and chaffinches as well as the odd hawfinch and brambling. Winter also sees flocks of snow buntings venturing along the coastline as they spread out from their normal haunts of the Cairngorm slopes.

Raptors and owls are also prominent at this time of year. The hen harrier is a winter visitor to the West Country, southern and eastern England, central and western Wales and western Ireland. There are some resident birds, but our population is joined by immigrants from the continent during late autumn, making the chance of spotting one higher. This species can be found inhabiting lowland farmland, heathland, coastal marshes, fenland and river valleys. Here in the New Forest, the birds roost among gorse and heather stands before moving off to feed in nearby farmland. Marsh harriers, short-eared owls and long-eared owls are also more likely to be spotted during the winter. Tawny owls are frequently heard through winter and now’s the time people start posting on Facebook asking if anyone can identify the owl that’s keeping them awake at night. With this in mind, I will put the tawny calls up again this month to help folks out a bit. Click to listen to a clip of a calling tawny male, tawny female, and a female tawny making the 'hoo-hooo' type call as evidence that it’s not as simple as you might think to tell the sexes apart based solely on their calls. The reason tawnies are very vocal at this time of year is that they’re re-establishing both pair-bonds and territories after the breeding season.

Wall lizardReptiles and amphibians: With the current Arctic airflow you’re unlikely to see any but the hardiest of herps out and about this month. Wall lizards tend to fit this bill, being seen on the south coast even in snowy weather if there’s a decent patch of sunshine in which to bask. Frogs, toads and newts will spend the winter in torpor. Being cold-bodied animals, reptiles and amphibians are what we call “facultative hibernators” – when the air temperature drops too low, their muscles simply cannot function because the rate of chemical reactions in their tissues drops too low. Consequently, most spend the winter under logs, among dense vegetation or in leaf litter where they try to avoid the frost and wait for temperatures to rise in the spring.

Some frogs and toads may spend winter hibernating at the bottom of ponds. The low temperature of the water during the winter has two benefits. Firstly, it’s pretty stable, meaning that they are less likely to rouse mid-winter than when hibernating on land. Secondly, the combination of the cold water (which holds more oxygen than warm water) and their lower metabolism in cold conditions means that they can stay submerged for the whole winter, surviving on the gasses that diffuse through their skin, without the risk of drowning. In the summer, the water’s oxygen content is lower and their metabolism too high to be sustained by diffusion alone. Hence, they drown if prevented from surfacing.

Invertebrates: As with the herps, in very cold conditions we’re unlikely to see much invertebrate activity. While out walking last weekend there were still clouds of midges around, despite the cold, but most bees, butterflies and beetles will either have died by now, or be in their winter torpor. Butterflies and ladybirds often choose outbuildings or communal stairwells in which to overwinter – the temperature stays quite stable and it’s free from frost. Elsewhere, many insects and spiders will overwinter in the leaf litter.

MistletoePlants and fungi: A walk in the woods to help settle your Christmas lunch is a great idea, and while looking for the usual mammal and bird fauna, keep an eye out for some of the under-appreciated flora around at this time of year. Woodland mosses and lichens can be beautifully elegant, and, especially when tinged with frost, make good photographic subjects. Lichens are a fused partnership of fungus and alga. The alga photosynthesises to produce sugars (food) which the fungus absorbs, while the fungal cell protects the alga from the environment in a charming symbiosis. Also around at this time of year is the seasonally appropriate scarlet elf-cup fungus which grows from rotten wood and is widespread although not abundant in Britain. The fruiting body has a diameter of a few centimetres with a pale pinky-orange outside and a bright red inside to the cup. The velvety-soft Jew’s ear fungus is also around during this month.

With most trees bare at this time of year, keep an eye out for clumps of the evergreen parasitic plant mistletoe among the branches; it’s very obvious and in berry this month. For many of us no house is properly decorated, no office party complete, without a sprig of mistletoe hanging from a doorway or ceiling. In the Middle Ages, though, this poisonous parasitic plant was hung above doors to prevent witches and ghosts from entering. More widely, and largely as a result of Celtic influence, mistletoe is considered a symbol of fertility and a meeting point under which couples kiss at Christmas.

Mistletoe is poisonous to humans, consumption of the fruit leading to gastrointestinal problems, because it deactivates part of our cells’ protein-making machinery. Many species of animal have, nonetheless, evolved mechanisms to cope with mistletoe’s toxic effect with consumption by mistle thrushes, fieldfares and blackcaps being the main means by which mistletoe is spread in the UK. The birds eat the berry, passing the seed in their droppings. When the seed hits a branch its gloopy coating, called viscin, fixes it firmly as it dries. Germination is then triggered by milder weather in the spring. About April-time, the seed sends out a special root called a hypocotyl that punctures the tree’s bark and allows the seed to tap into its circulatory system. The adult plant’s dependency on the host species for water and minerals, while still maintaining some low-level photosynthetic capability through its own leaves, makes mistletoe a hemiparasitic plant.

Mistletoe is dioecious – in other words, a bush is either male or female, unlike most plants that have male and female parts. Flowering usually occurs between February and April, the inconspicuous flowers producing a sweet-smelling nectar that attracts a variety of insects to aid pollination.

A series of factors combined to vastly limit my time this month, so, unfortunately, there’s no discovery of the month nor a profile.  Instead, to offer something festive, I’ve dusted off an article from the archives. I’ve seen a lot of robins about in the last few weeks and, judging by my Facebook newsfeed, so have many of you. So, below is a rerun of the profile of the European robin that was originally published here in December 2013. All that’s left is to thank you, dear reader, for your interest and support over the past year, and wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Feature of the Month – The Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Robins are probably the most readily identifiable of our garden birds and this enigmatic species has held the title of Britain’s national bird since 15th December 1960, following a long correspondence on the subject in The Times. The RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch carried out in the winter of 2012 showed that robins were the seventh most frequently recorded garden bird. The number seen visiting gardens was at that time at its highest in more than 20 years.

The robin goes by many names: Bobby (here in New Forest, Hampshire); Ploughman’s bird (Yorkshire); reddock (Dorset); and ruddock (northern England) to name a few. Ruddock appears to have been the first name for this species in the literature, appearing early in the 12th Century (probably even earlier) and derived from the Old English ruddy, meaning “red”. (Orange, as a word, didn’t appear in the English language until the 14th Century.)

Redbreast as a name for the robin appeared towards the end of the 14th Century, with the popular Christian name Robin appended during the mid-16th Century. The name ‘Cock Robin’, according to Stefan Buczacki’s Fauna Britannica, can be traced back some 300 years and indicates that this little bird was a familiar sight by then. For centuries the robin has been deeply rooted in our culture and religion. One Just So story about the origin of the red breast tells that the bird became stained with Christ’s blood as it ministered to him on the way to Calvary.

The first Christmas card was designed by John Horsley and sent by wealthy British businessman Sir Henry Cole in 1843. Victorian postmen were nicknamed “robins” because they wore red; they also delivered Christmas cards on Christmas morning. Consequently, Victorian Christmas cards often depicted robins delivering Christmas post. This Victorian notion has stuck and robins still feature on Christmas cards today.  Robins are also close to the heart of many gardeners - those turning over soil this winter are almost guaranteed to attract the attention of a robin, keen to pick off any invertebrates turned up in the process - and one of my first animal behaviour studies, while I was at the University of Essex, involved assessing robin territory sizes. How much, however, do we really know about this most familiar of garden visitors?

RobinLinnaeus’ redbreasted tail-mover
Carl von Linné was the first to formally describe and classify the robin in his 1758 Systema Naturae, in which he named it Motacilla rubecula. The genus Motacilla comes from the Latin meaning ‘tail mover’ and is now reserved for the wagtails. Not everybody agreed with Linnaeus that robins were most closely allied with the wagtails and some four decades later, in 1800, French naturalist Georges Cuvier published the first volume of his Leçons d'anatomie comparée (Lessons from Comparative Anatomy). In this volume, Cuvier reassessed the anatomy of the robin and considered it sufficiently distinct to warrant reclassification, distinct from the other tail movers. Consequently, Cuvier created the genus Erithacus (from the Greek erithakos, meaning 'solitary') and here the robin sits today, with its currently accepted scientific name, Erithacus rubecula (rubecula from the Latin ruber, meaning 'red').

The species does vary slightly across its range and has been divided into as many as nine subspecies. The subspecies common to the UK and Ireland is Erithacus rubecula melophilus, translating roughly to ‘solitary red lover of song’ (from the Greek melos, ‘song’, and phileo, ‘to love’). At this point, it is worth mentioning that the larger American robin (Turdus migratorius) is named for its similarity to the European robin, but is actually a type of thrush and the two are not closely related.

So, what actually is a robin? Robins are insectivorous (insect-eating, favouring caterpillars, spiders, small flies, etc.) birds common in deciduous and mixed woodland, open parkland, mixed farmland and gardens of all sizes (where feeding opportunities exist). Robins are small birds, with adults standing 12–14 cm (5–5.5 in.) tall, with a wingspan of about 21cm (8.5 in.), and weighing in at 16–22 g (0.5-0.78 oz.).

Adult birds have a buff brown/grey cap and back plumage, with striking orange face, ‘cheeks’ and breast plumage that highlight a pair of small, round black eyes. The orange plumage is the result of carotenoid pigments laid down in the feathers and are derived from the diet (carotenoids cannot be produced by the birds and so must be eaten); its extent varies slightly with individuals, but typically extends no further down than the ‘waist’ of the bird; the remaining underside is off-white or pale grey in colour. Robins have reddish-pink legs.

The sexes are largely indistinguishable, although males and females do apparently vary in the shape of the boundary between the orange and grey plumage on the brow. In 2011, a team of Spanish researchers studying robins in a pine plantation in Barcelona reported that the size of the orange breast and grey fringe bordering it on three sides varied according to age and sex of the bird. The biologists also noted that the grey fringe also appeared to draw attention to the red in poor light, making it more noticeable to potential rivals.

The when, where and how
Aggressive robinsEuropean robins are widespread across Europe and Asia, from the UK and Ireland east to western Siberia and south to Algeria, with birds found on Atlantic Islands as far west as Madeira. Within Europe the breeding population is huge, with some estimates suggesting more than 43 million pairs. In the UK, there is fossil evidence placing robins here back during the last (Devensian) glaciations, some 10,000 to 120,000 years ago. In 2009, the RSPB estimated that Britain held almost six million robin territories and, each winter, our resident birds are joined by individuals from Scandinavia and Russia, recognised by their duller orange plumage.

On average, these birds live for just over one year, owing to high juvenile mortality; if the bird makes it to its second birthday life expectancy is greater, increasing to an average of five years, with the oldest ringed bird (in 1977) reaching almost eight-and-a-half years old.

Despite their demure appearance, robins are territorial birds and can be highly aggressive, with an estimated 10% killed each year in fights with other robins. Male birds maintain the same territory throughout the year, while females tend to have separate nesting (summer) and feeding (winter) territories. Territories are marked by singing and posturing to rivals; if these actions fail to dissuade intruders, fighting may ensue, following highly stereotyped behaviours.

Robins sing throughout the year, except in late summer when they’re moulting. Their spring (breeding) song is louder and more forceful than the melancholier autumn song. In urban areas there has been a relatively recent increase in nighttime singing. For several years we thought that light pollution in cities means it never gets fully dark in some gardens, triggering birds to continue singing after the sun goes down. More recently, however, data have been collected suggesting it may be more to do with the noise of the city – it’s quieter at night, so it’s easier for birds to make themselves heard. Indeed, a study by researchers at Sheffield University found that daytime noise was a better predictor of nocturnal singing in robins than artificial light intensity, suggesting that it’s not the building and street lights that are tricking the birds into thinking it’s dawn. Similarly, in 2013, researchers at Queens University Belfast found that, as noise levels increased, male robins were more likely to move away and change their songs - the louder the noise, the less elaborate the robin’s song. So, living in towns affects the singing behaviour of this species, both in its timing and the complexity of the song.

In the event that singing doesn’t dissuade an intruder from entering the territory, and the two birds meet, a fight may ensue. The resident bird will begin by ruffling its feathers, craning its head and dropping its wings (above, right), and then strike at the intruder with single blows from the feet and wings. If the intruder doesn’t back down, both birds may roll around kicking and wing-beating each other. They may also jump and flutter up in front of each other, striking out with their legs. Each bird attempts to pin its rival to the ground in what may be a prolonged and violent clash; fights have been recorded to last anywhere from a few seconds to well over an hour. Tracy Ruck filmed two robins fighting in London’s Greenwich Park in February 2009 – the 40 second clip is on her YouTube page and nicely illustrates the ferocity.

Fledgling robinSeeing red
Much of what we know about the territoriality and fight triggers of the robin comes from the meticulous work of the late London-born evolutionary biologist David Lack, most of which was published in his seminal 50 page paper to the Proceedings of the Zoological Society in 1939 and subsequently in his first book, The Life of the Robin, published four years later. Lack studied robins in Devon between 1934 and 1938 and observed that breeding pairs had territories of between 2,000 and more than 10,000 square yards in size. These territories were defended from intruders, although all robins frequently trespassed while feeding. Lack noticed that the robins would chase any flying birds passing through their territory, whether they sported a red breast or not (wrens were frequently targeted and juvenile robins were sometimes also attacked); he could also elicit attack behaviour in robin models with and without the red breast.

Generally, Lack found that there were specific triggers for specific actions: a bird flying away would elicit a chase; a song would trigger a response song; a robin-shaped model would elicit an attack; and a red breast (whether on a robin or not) would cause posturing by the territory holder. These triggers weren’t absolute, however, and a territory holder would sometimes sing at a silent robin, strike at a red breast, etc. Robins were only triggered to attack while in their territory; it seems that the trigger to attack was not simply any other robin, but another robin (excluding their mate, which males seemed to recognise individually) within a specific area. Again, this observation was not absolute and Lack did record that, on occasion, a male without a territory would attack and evict a territory holder. Lack noted that, when posturing, the position of the red breast is relative to the position of the intruder so that the largest possible area of orange is displayed. The aim of all this aggression is to secure a territory that will both attract a female and provide sufficient food resources to raise a brood of chicks.

Robins pair up between mid-December and mid-March, with nest-building taking place toward the end of March. Nests take the form of a neat cup composed of moss, leaves and grass, with finer grass, hair and feathers used as lining, built in a hole or on the ground. The first matings usually occur during April, although there are records as early as January, shortly after which the female will lay five to seven eggs that may be cream, buff, or speckled white (blotched with reddish-brown) in colour. Incubation lasts 11 to 14 days and the female is fed by the male every 20 minutes or so  during this time. The chicks are fed by both parents and fledge about two weeks after hatching; at this stage the young robins have their juvenile brown plumage with pale spots, with orange patches appearing as the bird begins to moult. The juveniles are independent at about three weeks old and become sexually mature at one year old. The female will lay a succession of broods, usually amounting to two or three clutches, until around June, when breeding activity stops and the birds begin to moult.

Winter robin

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As always, I love hearing from readers; any queries or comments regarding the information on the site can be sent in using the addresses on the Contact page. (Note: Some website questions are answered on the FAQ, while many animal-related questions are covered in the Q/A). Photos can be e-mailed to a dedicated e-mail address - please keep them coming and don't forget to check out my Photos Needed page. I'm also interested in hearing any reports of unusual behaviour in any of the animals featured on this site, or interactions between humans and wildlife. Thanks as always for your continued patience and support.

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WildlifeonlineOkay, for those of you that are new to the site, let's take it from the top!

What is Wildlife Online?
Essentially, WLOL is an educational website about British wildlife. The site contains profiles of various British animal species, with new articles in preparation all the time. The site also has articles looking at wildlife-related subjects, including hunting and animal emotions. This site is purely a hobby of mine; it does not generate any money or contain any advertising and, for the time being at least, I am happy for it to stay that way.

What does Wildlife Online aim to achieve?
The ultimate goal of the website is to be useful. My intention has always been to provide un-biased, accurate information that’s accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Increasingly people are coming into contact with their local wildlife and whether such interactions are positive or negative, they generally inspire a desire to learn more about the species. Moreover, there are still a great many misconceptions surrounding our wildlife (fox behaviour springs immediately to mind) and these are brought up time and time again during discussions in the media. Each article aims to provide a reasonably comprehensive overview of the species in question by drawing on information from the media, books, TV programmes and the scientific literature. I feel that this combination of sources, along with my own observations and those of my friends/colleagues/readers provides a unique online resource of British wildlife information. My hope is that the information provided here will go some way to changing people's perceptions of the creatures with which they share their parks and gardens.

Why create a website when there are books and TV programmes about your subjects?
Books can be a fantastic resource and I can't imagine being without my library. Not all libraries are, however, equally well stocked, and not everyone has the funds to splash out on what are often very expensive wildlife books (especially those written by scientists). More importantly, much of the scientific research never makes it out of the journals into books and TV shows. Similarly, many of the early books -- which contain some of the pioneering work on the species -- are now long out of print and can be difficult or expensive to track down. Books have the 'luxury' of being able to devote their entire contents to a particular species, covering all aspects of its life history. Television, by contrast, is a much more limited and variable medium: the programme editor(s) has to create a show that is likely to hold the viewers' attention and appeal to a very wide audience. The result is that, although some reach this compromise very well, many documentaries focus heavily on the 'wow factor' (multitudinous slow motion shots of Great whites leaping out of the water in pursuit of seals, for example) and this often comes at the inevitable expense of the information about the animal. Finally, both books and TV programmes go out of date quite quickly; new research is being conducted all the time. Consequently, a website is an ideal and dynamic intermediate - it offers the opportunity to provide a decent amount of information about the subject that can be updated at the metaphorical drop-of-a-hat as any new research is published.

Why include so much information?
I honestly believe that if a job is worth doing, it's worth doing well. There are hundreds of websites with brief species profiles and if that's all WLOL offered there would be little point to it. I understand and appreciate that some people find being confronted with large volumes of text very daunting while others are of the 'too long; didn't read' mind-set and will thus be turned off by the amount of text facing them. I have tried to remedy this as far as possible via two avenues: there is a Speed Read section with a brief profile of each species featured in a main article; and each article has been 'virtually split', with the aid of hyperlinks, into sections that allow people to easily jump to the information they're looking for. Ultimately, I want to provide as much information as is feasible in order to provide the reader with the clearest appraisal of each species or topic; I hope that most readers approve of this approach.

Why haven't you included a complete bibliography?
My intention with WLOL is to provide the information in an accessible format, which means that anyone should be able to read an article and understand the information in it. Consequently, I didn't want to format it as a scientific paper because the current format allows for a much more informal approach and writing style which, I hope, will appeal to a wider audience. Most people should find enough information in the article (I typically provide the name or one or more of the authors and the journal and year) to track down the original scientific paper. When I take information from books, I always give the name of the author(s) and the full title of the book for easy reference. I am also happy to provide full details of any of the references upon request.

Are you really qualified to do this?
I'm certainly not an expert on any of the subjects presented on this site. The articles stem from my varied interests in natural history and biological sciences. In terms of qualifications, I trained as a scientist (studying natural sciences at degree and postgraduate level) and all I really do is interpret information, blend it with associated research and personal observation, and present it in what I hope is an accessible format. Unless specifically stated, I do not claim any of the information on this site to be my own research. I have built relationships with some of the many diligent researchers who have produced the data that I use, and I am happy either to recommend an expert or provide my own opinions on a subject.

As a final note, I want to make a quick reference to the quality of the material on the site. The great French philosopher and mathematician, Rene Descartes, once said: "If you would be a real seeker of truth, you first must be willing to doubt as far as possible all things." This is very sage advice, especially when it comes to believing what you read on the Internet. Most Internet sites (indeed, some books and TV shows too), including this one, have no form of peer-review (i.e. nobody with experience of the topic checks the site for accuracy); consequently pretty much anyone can have their own little corner of cyberspace and information can make it onto websites that is either misguided, or downright false! When creating material for this site I take every care to ensure that the information I present is accurate. Invariably errors will creep in; typos are almost inevitable (although each article goes through several levels of proof reading before it appears online) and research is always underway on the species featured here, so the data can go out of date almost overnight. Each page has regular (ish!) reviews, however, during which I update the information, adding details of new findings and taking out that which is now thought highly unlikely. You can see most of the books I have used in the preparation of this site on the Recommended Reading page and I have provided links to some of the most interesting sites I came across during my research – these can be found under the appropriate sub-heading on the Links page.

Anyway, I digress.... I hope you enjoy looking around the site and I hope equally that you get something worthwhile out of it. Any comments, suggestions or (constructive) criticisms are welcome via e-mail - appropriate addresses can be found on the Contact page.

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DISCLAIMER: All the photographs and artwork on this site are either my own work or have been donated by readers. All images remain property of their authors and, if you wish to reproduce any of the pictures, consent must be granted by the appropriate person - requests can be directed via myself or see FAQ. For more details on the content of this site, please see the full WLOL Disclaimer.

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