Build It And They Will Come – New Homes For Wildlife

As someone born and bred in rural Devon, I find it  shocking to read articles like this one that appeared in the Daily Telegraph recently:

It outlined how out of touch adults have become with nature and the countryside, with more than a third of parents admitting they could not teach their own children about British wildlife. Have we really turned into a nation so significantly removed from its land and nature, where people have little knowledge of the wildlife that surrounds them?

 It seems so, as in the survey carried out for the Jordans Farm Partnership showed that large numbers of people could not identify an oak tree or even a barn owl. Only 20% of people surveyed could identify a chaffinch, while 69% of people questioned felt they were losing touch with nature, and 37% of parents confessed they did not have sufficient knowledge to teach their children.

 Another survey, supported by the RSPB back in April found that out of the 2,000 adults who took part, more than a quarter could not say for sure they had seen a blue tit, and a fifth did not know that a red kite was a bird. Wow!

 Reading this  article has served as something of an inspiration for me, encouraging me to make some additions to my own garden nature reserve. 25 years ago, I planted a four acre woodland on my property, and I have recently installed some new features to encourage wildlife.




 In an attempt to attract a variety of insects I have constructed a number of ‘bug hotels’ in spaces and clearings within the woodland. The one pictured above is the ‘Hilton’ or ‘Savoy’ version, made out of an old wine rack that became redundant when we installed a new kitchen. With a bit of added weatherproofing, the individual compartments were then filled with straws, tubes, old carpet, broken tiles, sticks, pipes, rolls of old carpet and felt etc to provide the cracks, holes and crevasses needed by visiting insects.

The version below is more of a ‘Premier inn’ version, made out of old wooden pallets. The pallets provide a real sturdy structure to work with, and can support heavier items like holed bricks and drilled logs, as well as similar contents to the wine rack hotel. This one might take a bit more time to complete though!



I have added a range of different types of nest boxes to the wood over the past few years, and many have been occupied by robins, tits, woodpeckers and the like. I make sure they are cleaned out at the end of each season, and replaced when the weather (or the woodpeckers!) get the better of them. Some of the boxes have been constructed from old waste timber found at home, but the more professional ones have been made by one of my ex-students, who has started up a successful little business of his own.



In the undergrowth surrounding the ponds and ditches, I have built a number of ‘toad abodes’. These consist of some old clay pipes I found in one of my hedgerows, protected and insulated by a mound of earth:


I have also made some smaller ones from upturned clay and plastic flower pots, with a small entrance hole cut out of the side. However, my favourite is this one made by my 4 year old Grandson – although I had to give him a hand with the hammer and nails!



I always save any storm-blown branches along with thinnings from autumn hedging to construct log piles around the woodland. It is always frustrating when these are pulled apart by visiting badgers in search of insects, but at least it proves that things are living there in the rotting wood!


Following the death of our last dogs, we were left with a collection of large plastic dog beds (big enough to bed a Bull Mastiff and a Rottweiller). These have been turned upside-down, filled with straw bedding, and placed at strategic points to encourage hibernating hedgehogs:


Hopefully, all of these new additions will provide some interesting photographs from the infra-red night camera I leave out over night. We have managed to catch a lot of different visitors – but no doubt, there is a lot more that come and go without our knowledge at all.



The camera also works well during the daytime to catch (unwelcome) visitors to the bird feeding stations:


Next on the drawing board is a permanent hide to get closer to the badgers and foxes that make regular visits throughout the year. I will keep you posted!






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Making Classroom Displays With ‘Photo Mapo’ App

cSAYzO-c_400x400This is the time of the year when teachers begin to think about getting their classroom ready for the new term. Here is a useful app that I have discovered that might be helpful with class displays – as well as be a new tool to use with students in lessons.

It is called ‘Photo Mapo’, and is free to use. All you have to do is select a photograph, and the app will tag it to a variety of maps and add location information such as latitude and longitude. You can add a brief descriptive note, and there are a number of different templates to choose from to help you make an interesting display.

Here are a few examples:

Wookey Hole - a series of limestone caverns on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills near Wells in Somerset. The River Axe flows through the cave.

Sugar Loaf Mountain - Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). Nervy cable car ride to the top, but wonderful views of the city.

Gulfoss - dramatic two-tiered waterfall in south Iceland. One of the classic sites that makes up the popular 'Golden Circle' tourist route.

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Mapping Fieldwork Routes With Phone Apps – Strava and Relive

1200x630bbSome of my cycling friends have persuaded me to make use of the excellent Strava app to record my leisurely trips through the Devon countryside. I have also found it to be a great tool to support fieldwork exercises – enabling me to record routes for students to follow, and provide interesting maps for preparation and follow up resources. Strava produces information about distance travelled, time taken, and elevation covered – all useful for geography trips. It is also possible to tag photographs to the route.

 Web site:

unnamedA great enhancement to Strava is another app called Relive – which allows you to upload your recorded Strava routes (you can also upload from other data gatherers) to produce a snappy 3D video of your journey.

 Web site:


Mouncey Castle1I used the apps last week to record a  lovely walk I completed on Exmoor, from Dulverton to Mouncey Castle and back. It was a beautiful stroll through dense woodland on the banks of the river Barle on a rare sunny summer day. During the walk, I was rewarded with excellent views of Dippers feeding in the river, but imprinted on my memory will be the best view I have ever enjoyed of an otter in the wild. A beautiful specimen came out of the river to feed no more than 8 feet from me, taking quite a while to scent me before returning to the water without a single sound.



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The final ‘Relive’ video can be viewed here:

Here are a couple of screenshots from Relive:




And one from Strava, showing interesting information about the walk:



The walk ended with the obligatory geographer’s reward!

Mouncey Castle5

Rather more impressive in terms of distance travelled is this video of a cycle route completed by my old pal Nick Langmead (Head of Geography at Braunton Academy), who initially alerted me to the Relive app. Cheers, Nick!

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Where Has The Summer Gone? Blame It On The Jet Stream!

Another wet summer – blame it on the jet stream!

After a great spell of sunny weather in late May and June, the summer holidays have been a real disappointment so far. As a geographer, you may be asked to explain why – and to do so, you will need to talk about the jet stream.

The Met Office web site offers this brilliantly concise video explanation:

There is a wealth of other material on the Met Office web site for use in the classroom. Well worth checking out if you have not explored it before:

What is the jet stream?

The location of the jet stream through the summer of 2012

The jet stream consists of ribbons of very strong winds which move weather systems around the globe. Jet streams are found 9-16 km above the surface of the Earth, just below the tropopause, and can reach speeds of 200 mph.



I read today on my Twitter feed that a change in our weather may be on its way! According to @liamdutton, Tropical Storm Gert has formed, and when it bumps into the jet stream in a week, it will cause it to ripple – maybe bringing summer back…


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Iceland – Reaching A Tourism Tipping Point?


Skogafoss – Photo: P Berry

Iceland has become such a popular tourist destination in recent years, a number of tensions are beginning to appear. The exponential rise in visitor numbers is in danger of threatening the very beauty people travel to Iceland to enjoy.

Iceland’s economy all but collapsed following the financial crisis of 2008, and the government looked to attracting more visitors as a way of rebuilding the country. Tourism as an industry had already enjoyed steady growth since 1990, and at the end of this decade the total number of tourists exceeded the number of residents in Iceland for the first time. In 2005, the country received 1.26 million visitors, and since 2010 there has been unprecedented year on year growth in the tourism industry. As Professor Edward Huijbens of the Iceland Tourism Research Centre says: “The graph of tourist numbers is currently almost vertical”. In 2016, Iceland’s tourist numbers rose to 1.77 million – and another record year is expected in 2017, possibly reaching 2.3 million visitors. The greatest number of visitors currently come from the USA and the UK, but now includes growing numbers from Asia – countries like Japan, China and India. While major industries like fishing and aluminium smelting have experienced a pattern of decline in recent times, tourism has gone from strength to strength – generating $3.4 billion for the annual economy while providing one in every three jobs for Icelanders.

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So why has tourism taken off so dramatically? Iceland has always offered the lure of ‘pure nature’ for its visitors – awe and wonder experiences in the land of ice and fire. But recent turmoil in Europe where a number of countries have become regular targets for terrorist attacks, has boosted Iceland’s popularity as a perceived ‘safe’ location to visit. According to the Global Peace Index, Iceland is currently the safest country to visit in the world. Media exposure through Iceland being used as a film set for numerous cinema successes such as ‘Noah’ and ‘The Secret Life of Water Mitty’, along with the mega-successful TV blockbuster ‘Game of Thrones’ has raised the profile of the country, as did Iceland’s success in the recent European football championship, when much to everyone’s surprise they reached the quarter finals, beating England along the way. Growing numbers of cruise ships have recently added Iceland to their itineraries – 155 different floating palaces planning to visit in 2017 alone. But the main factor helping to grow the industry has probably been the growth in availability of cheap flights, particularly from the UK and the USA – where free stop-overs have been offered as part of many European flights. New airlines are adding Iceland to their schedules all the time, notably Iceland’s own cut-price carrier Wow! which began business in 2012.


Gulfoss. Photo: P Berry

So what is the problem with this economic success story? Has tourism not proved to be the saviour of the country following the 2008 crash? The fact is that the recent ‘tourist bomb’ has placed an impossible burden on this small island, and some would say that Iceland is beginning to fall out of love with tourism – as a number of social and environmental consequences become apparent. If growth in tourism in Iceland is to be sustainable in the future, it will need to be strategically planned and carefully managed.

Tourists place demands on infrastructure, and provision of new facilities has not been able to keep pace with the rapid growth in numbers. The Icelandic Government is currently in middle of a nine year tourism strategy that runs until 2020 with a focus on improving infrastructure while also protecting and maintaining tourist sites. However, it is struggling to deal with the enormous growth in visitor numbers that has taken place since 2010 when Eyjafjallajokull erupted and put Iceland on the tourist map. Two thirds of Iceland’s population live in the south west of the country – where more than 90% of tourists spend most of their time – and popular ‘honey pot’ locations in this area (especially on the classic ‘Golden Circle’ route) have become saturated with sightseeers, with some now barely able to cope.

New developments are emerging in an effort to keep pace with the growing mass of visitors. For example, the excellent new ‘Lava Centre’ at Hvolsvollur is providing a much-needed new information and education hub for tourists in south Iceland. There is also a new interpretation centre currently under construction at Thingvellir. On a smaller scale, new toilets have been built at Gulfoss – along with new steps and pathways to improve access between the main viewing platforms. Rather worrying however, is the scale of the proposed new ‘tourist village’ at Geysir which is planned in 4 – 5 years time to provide 76 Hectares of summer house accommodation, a swimming pool, tourist services, and yet another new luxury hotel.


Seljalandfoss. Photo: P Berry

One interesting case study of a site facing tourist pressures is Seljalandfoss, the tall and beautiful waterfall it is possible to walk behind, found right next to R1 ring road – and one of most popular sites in South Iceland. The local landowners that form the government of the local municipality where Seljalandfoss is sited have recently taken the decision to introduce parking charges at the waterfall for the first time. It will now cost K700 (around £5) to park a car here, and K3000 (£22) for a coach. This income will assist with the upkeep of the car park, along with maintaining the many walking paths in the area that connect nearby waterfalls, as well as providing funding for the provision of other services such as toilets.


Seljalandfoss Parking Machine

Parking ticket machine recently installed at Seljalandfoss

Iceland’s existing road system is facing added pressures from growing numbers of car rental vehicles and tourist buses, while the cultural identity of Reykjavik and other settlements is being threatened as local services are overwhelmed by tourist-based shops. Thirty new restaurants have opened in central Reykjavik this year, and new hotels are springing up all the time to provide beds to meet the growing demand. There is already talk amongst residents of the ‘Disneyfication’ of the world’s most northerly capital city. Property prices in Reykjavik are extending beyond the reach of many local people, and the government has had to intervene to limit the availability of Air BnB spaces which have helped to drive prices upwards. However, there may be some clear social benefits for the local population, as the Keflavik airport undergoes massive expansion, and a train link has been proposed to connect it to Reykjavik city centre.

It is certainly the case that tourist-related ‘incidents’ are on the increase – some causing justifiable outrage amongst the local population. Are these an inevitable social consequence of tourist growth that must be accepted hand in hand with any associated benefits? Stealing road signs for souvenirs has been a long-term problem in Iceland, but has reached epidemic proportions in recent years. In the Harpa, Reykjavik’s concert hall and cultural centre, staff have been instructed to police the public spaces of the building to rid it of tourists using it as a base for picnics or even sleeping. A recent wild fire outbreak in the lava field of Snaefellsnes in west Iceland was attributed to a discarded cigarette butt, and areas of blanket moss at Nesjavellaleio have been destroyed when giant messages such as ‘send nudes’ were torn out of the vegetation, requiring decades to recover. Thoughtless tourists have been caught defacating in farm driveways and by the side of busy roads, while in east Iceland a group of tourists stole a lamb from a field to be cooked on their camp fire barbecue.



Thingvellir. Photo: P Berry

The ecological consequences of tourism growth are easy to understand. Footfall pressures at honey pot sites threaten the very fabric of the nature that attracts visitors in the first place – parts of Iceland are literally being loved to death. The central highlands of the country support an extremely low population density, and could be considered to be only untouched area left in Europe – but even this wilderness is under threat as new locations are sought out by adventurous visitors.

Geographers could approach studies of Iceland’s tourism dilemma by considering where the country currently sits within the framework of Doxey’s Irritation Index or ‘Irridex’, created in 1975. This measure is based on the understanding of local residents’ change in attitude towards tourists and tourism developments over time. It consists of different phases of social, economic and environmental impacts on a place, and how these can lead to irritation in the local community.

Doxeys irridex irritation Index

During the first ‘euphoria’ stage, the number of tourists is small and the local community welcomes tourism. In the next phase of ‘apathy’, the number of tourists increases, and the relationship between tourists and residents becomes formalised as contact with tourists begins to be seen as a source of income and investment. Annoyance or ‘irritation’ is the next phase when residents become concerned about tourism due to significant growth of arrivals and increased external investment in infrastructure. The final phase is titled ‘antagonism’, and is where irritations are expressed verbally and physically, while tourists are seen as the cause of the problem.

Doxeys Index 2

Interestingly, Doxey’s Index can be overlaid with the classic old favourite of the Butler Model (1980) to determine community responses at specific destination changes –
Sources: Doxey (1975); Butler (1980).

ScreenHunter_01 Jul. 29 17.22The many social and environmental tensions created by growth in tourism seem to already be leading to some resistance of locals to tourists (following increasing incidents of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour), resistance of tourists to other tourists (as identified by Paul Fontaine – news editor of the Reykjavik Grapevine – who has stated: “Its got to the point where even the tourists are complaining about too many tourists”. In addition, there is some resistance from local residents to their government for selling out for the growth in income that has been generated.

Last summer a survey of 900 residents asked how Icelanders viewed foreign tourists visiting their country – and just 67.7% expressed some kind of positive response as compared to 80% the previous year.

So, where should we place Iceland within this framework today? Perhaps the first phase began in the 1990s, and shifted on to phase two with the rapid growth in the industry from around 2010. Has Iceland now reached phase three with all of the recent issues outlined earlier? How long will it be before phase four becomes apparent – or is the country already there?

So, what of the future? The United Nations has adopted 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, and as the tourist genie cannot be forced back into the bottle, what management policies are required to promote sustainable growth in this key component of Iceland’s economy? A ‘tourist cap’ – a quota restriction on visitor numbers at selected locations – is one solution that could be easily enforced, although the idea of ‘turnstile entry’ does not fit well with the natural attractions of Iceland’s wild landscape. A ‘Nature Pass’ costing $14 per person to allow access to key sites was rejected by Parliament in 2015, but may well be considered again in the future. Some form of ‘tourist tax’ has been adopted in other countries as a way of raising revenue to pay for new infrastructure, and such a charge could easily be added to visitors’ air fares.

A more structured marketing strategy could help to dilute some tourist-related problems by improving advertising of lesser known regions in the country. Tour companies are now beginning to develop itineraries based in the east of the country, including direct flights from European airports. More incoming flights are also becoming available to Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest settlement on the north coast – and this is helping to reduce pressure on the main international airport at Keflavik (which is undergoing an extensive expansion programme at present).

new_music_happenings_in_iceland_0_1One interesting recent development has been the creation of the ‘Icelandic Pledge’ by, an agreement tourists can sign to make a number of commitments (see below) to help them travel safely and act responsibly towards the delicate natural environment of the country. Iceland is the first country to introduce such an initiative aimed at affecting a positive behaviour change, and developing a more informed tourist community.

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Tourism is currently booming, but is it a bubble due to burst in the near future? It is possible that the whole character of Icelandic tourism will continue to evolve. Once a wilderness area for only the more adventurous traveller, it has more recently shifted to the mass tourism of bucket list tickers, wanting a quick look at a volcano, a glacier, or a whale before moving on to the next location. The future may see further change towards more exclusive ecotourism or academic study tours as the strong Icelandic Krona makes trips to the country very expensive, threatening the stability of the industry. There is a danger that if present trends continue, there will be a repeat of the patterns of the herring fishing industry – which boomed in the 1960s to become responsible for half of the country’s export income, before over-exploitation lead to an inevitable rapid decline. One thing is sure, and that is if the stream of visitors to Iceland does continue to grow, there will be need to be some thoughtful choices made to shape the future direction of growth of this wonderful place.


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Wallpaper For A Classroom Makeover

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If I had discovered this web site while I was still teaching, I would certainly have given my classroom a serious makeover.

 ScreenHunter_05 Jul. 14 13.58I love the different map collections you can choose from to select wallpapers that all geographers surely dream of! Imagine a classroom decorated from floor to ceiling with an OS map of the local area, or if you prefer, a detailed world map …..



It is possible to choose from:

·         OS map centred on a post code (perhaps of the school, or a favourite fieldwork site)

·         Post code centred vintage map

·         Vintage UK county map

·         Vintage map of London

·         UK map

·         World map

ScreenHunter_04 Jul. 14 13.58You can ring for a quote of a particular size, or choose from a list of standard dimensions.

The web site also offers a number of other map products, such as framed prints, canvas prints, posters, prints for ceramic tiles and splash backs, notepads, cushion covers, place mats and coasters. A huge map collection includes world maps, designer maps, antique maps, art maps, and globes.

Wouldn’t the students just love this?

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Disappearing Coastlines



Photo: Mercury Press – drone image from James Loveridge

I recently played golf at Bridport, and clearly remember the 15th hole which flirts very close to the cliff edge. This week, a significant cliff collapse (of 2000 tonnes of rock) added an extra hazard to this hole, and caused the coast path to be closed to walkers.


 It was a clear demonstration of how transient and temporary our coastal landscape is, and led me to re-read this article I recently saved:




The article reflects on the recent loss of the Azure Window, a beautiful arch in Malta which suddenly collapsed into the sea. It goes on to outline some of the recent major changes to our own coastline here in the UK, making reference to Arch Rock in the Isle of Wight, that collapsed in 1992, Lulworth cliff collapse in 2013, and the recreation of a sandy beach at Dooagh in Ireland earlier this year.



The article also examines some UK coastal landscape attractions that are under serious risk from sea level rise and aggressive coastal processes – so much so that they will probably not be around for much longer for us to enjoy. A kind of ‘endangered species’ list for coastal features:




1.       The Old Man of Hoy – Britain’s tallest stack made up from Devonian sandstone and located in the Orkney Islands. Over a hundred years ago, this stack looked very different indeed, with an arch running through a much wider base. Now, this narrow chimney of rock faces constant erosion from gale force winds and high energy waves, and currently has a 40 metre vertical crack in the top of its south face.


2.       Bow Fiddle Rock – a sea arch located near Portknockie on the north eastern coast of Scotland.

3.       Durdle Door – possibly the most famous English sea arch in Dorset.

4.       Chesil Beach – a 29 kilometre shingle spit in Dorset.

5.       The Green Bridge – an arch in Pembrokeshire well on its way to collapse to form a new stack.





Do you have any coastal landforms near you that could be added to this list? Perhaps an arch ready to collapse, a stack being undercut, or a stretch of coast threatened by flooding following sea level rise?

 As geographers, we can reflect in our lessons on coastal landshaping processes, rising sea levels, and human interference – but should also recognise the emotional attachment people can develop to special coastal features, and how much of a shock it can be for them when they suddenly disappear. At least we know that the natural cycle of processes will inevitably create new wonders to take the place of those that will become lost.

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