Doing the dirty on Daphne

It has such an innocent sounding name. After all, the original Daphne was, so mythology tells us, a beautiful water nymph who was chased by randy Apollo and to escape his clutches was transformed into a laurel. 

In the woodlands of Europe, Daphne, the Spurge Laurel, Daphne laureola, has its natural place in local environments. However in North America, it is a vigorous invasive, overcrowding and choking native vegetation. Fittingly, it isn’t actually a laurel! 

Daphne is one of the nuisance invasive on Vancouver Island that I’ve been trained both to spot and to remove. When the ground is soft it is usually pretty easy simply to pull up, preferably before it has flowered or produced seeds that are spread by birds. It has a characteristic smell.

Here are couple of before and after examples of my efforts:

Daphne creeping up the hill into Thetis Lake park, ironically not far from CRD headquarters!

Removal of Daphne reveals a rather bare forest floor. Hopefully, now that sunlight can reach the leaf litter and soil surface, native vegetation will recover.

Daphne blanketing an area in Nursery Hill park.

Removing the Daphne reveals Oregon Grape and other species that had been hidden.

Park Patrol #2

As I’m also Park Steward for Thetis Lake Regional Park , which is immediately west of Francis/King, this morning I followed the Panhandle Trail, passed beneath the power line and crossed Highland Road, to join the McKenzie Trail, heading west.

The blaze along the power line has recently been mowed, if that’s the right word, to lessen the amount of very mature Scotch Broom that has invaded this corridor. They’ve obviously used a crude slasher. The resulting scene is a mess — the ground is covered with a mass of shredded vegetation, the torn stems pale agains the ground. The sad thing is that despite the destruction, the broom will come back stronger than ever. 

As I crossed from park to park I noticed a change in background noise, from the quiet of Francis/King to the sounds of construction work in Langford — the thud of rock blasting, the rattle of jack hammers and the rumble of trucks. I guess the sound will slowly lessen as construction moves elsewhere in a year or two, but it is disturbing nevertheless. At least the Langford speedway is no longer there; it’s being tied into housing.

All was well along the McKenzie Trail, but I had to reroute a couple who had discovered, as I did, that the bridge linking it with the Seaborn trail had been displaced by recent floodwater. I met a man whose dog had run off into the forest. Not much I could do to help other than be hopeful. Fingers crossed it reappeared. 

I took the narrow and winding alternative route to the Seaborn trail, back onto wide, hard-surfaced Trillium Trail. Crossed Highland Road again and then dived into the narrow trails that meet and follow the Craigflower Creek. The creek was in spate, much too lively and deep to even think about crossing it, so I looped back to the road again, and followed it back to the Panhandle Trail, and then the High Ridge Trail. 

I found a tree that had fallen across the trail but had ended up jammed at an angle against a much smaller upright tree. I reported this as it might eventually come free of the small tree and land on the trail (or on a hiker!).

Park Patrol #1

Since moving to Vancouver Island I’ve been volunteering with several habitat restoration organizations -View Royal Parks, Peninsula Streams Society and Capital Regional District Parks. It’s been great fun, and it has been good to get outdoors, mix with other human beings and achieve something tangible. I’ve bashed brambles (Himalayan Blackberry), pulled up lots of Scotch Broom, hauled out English Ivy from amongst the trees, tugged up Daphne and various other invasive plants. I’ve also learned a lot, and become familiar with some of the island’s parks.

So it seemed natural to volunteer to become a Park Steward with CRD Parks. Although the new intake of stewards was inducted a couple of months ago it has taken a while to go through the background checking process. But at last my innocence has been confirmed, and I could be unleashed on Francis /King and Thetis Lake Regional Parks. It was time for my first Park Patrol!

On Saturday 15th January I spent the misty, moisty morning wandering about 13km of trails in Francis/King Park. This is a densely forested park, with small areas of old-growth trees. It has a wheelchair-accessible trail, and some 15 other shortish paths winding amongst the trees. I followed the Centennial, High Ridge, Shooting Star, Grand Fir, Marsh and Panhandle trails, looking out for anything amiss, such as fallen or dangerous trees, garbage – basically anything that might impact the forest and/or its visitors.

I didn’t come across anything significant during my first patrol other than an area scattered with tissues, visual evidence of its use as a lavatory. This is infuriating, because there are two public toilets just five minutes walk away! The morning was useful in my getting to know some of the trails and the various habitats in the park. I also greeted quite a few visitors, and chatted briefly with some. It was a good feeling to be part of something valuable.

Francis/King is separated from Thetis Lake Park by a line of electricity pylons and its associated clearing. Here, Scotch Broom is well established, and on Saturday the power line was a torn-up mess, as BC Hydro has been using a thrasher to cut down some of the bushes. I have a feeling that the broom will simply quickly grow back .

Bashing Broom and Brambles

Of late I have become an enemy of Scotch Broom…a broom basher, broom beater.  What has Cytisus scoparius done to earn my belligerence? On Vancouver Island it has established itself as an invasive species, displacing and smothering native vegetation. Introduced in the mid nineteenth century, an initial three seeds (so the story goes) resulted in a vigorous plant without natural enemies rapidly spreading over all the south of the island, and onto the mainland. 

At first its yellow blooms and benefits to soil stability and nitrogen content meant that it was often planted alongside roads and as a decorative shrub. Soon however it began to be recognized as a nuisance. Each plant produces thousands of seeds that spread widely and remain viable for decades. Local authorities lack the resources to tackle a problem that demands efforts spread over years. Mowing simply creates a carpet of low-spreading plants, and for herb iciness to work they have to be applied to each individual plant, rather thanks simply spraying the area. So removing Broom and other invasive plants has mostly become a volunteer activity.

I learned of the threats to Vancouver Island’s ever-shrinking natural habitats from Scotch Broom, Himalayan Blackberry and Daphne (Spurge Laurel) when I signed up as a volunteer with Greater Victoria Green Team and View Royal Parks Habitat Restoration Team, and most recently CRD Regional Parks Volunteers.. Having since wrestled with a bunch of blackberry thickets and tugged many a Broom seedling from the soil I now can’t go for a hike without wincing whenever I come across these plants, and despite being a peaceable kind of chap, my fingers itch to attack them.

I have learned the hard way that pulling Broom seedlings with (gloved) hands is hard on the fingers. So I’ve adopted the pliers method borrowed from Marg and Simon of the View Royal team. One grips the seedling with a good pair of pliers and pulls directly upwards, and with any luck the tough seedling will come out along with all its roots. 

A break from bashing brambles, with an almost-destroyed Scotch Broom plant at my feet.

In England I helped to restore canals with the Waterway Recovery Group. However there are no canals on Vancouver Island, and only a few diverted rivers in British Columbia, so I had to seek a meaningful alternative to absorb my spare energies. It looks as though habitat restoration is going to fill that gap.

A half century…

Me, in my tiny basement laboratory (not much bigger than this photo) in 1970. My yellow fever mosquitoes lived in the gauze cage behind my right shoulder. I still had hair in those days, but it was already thinning!

Fifty years ago today I graduated from Imperial College, London with a BSc degree in zoology. I also became an Associate of the Royal College of Science, which sounds rather grand, and provided the most impressive certificate! 

In the late 1960s the zoology department was located on the west side of the Beit Quadrangle, off Prince Consort Road. I spent two years perched on the same bench at the back of the second floor Forbes laboratory, sitting below a glassy-eyed stuffed fish collected in some C19th expedition, peering at, drawing and dissecting specimens of most groups of animals, under the strict mentorship of the lovely, endlessly patient Mrs Dowson. I also studied in a gloomy botany laboratory that had a view of the steps leading up to the Royal Albert Hall, and where we were often entertained my musicians warming up before rehearsals. Then followed a final year studying entomology. 

By my third year I’d already decided that counting greenflies wasn’t my future, and I had developed an aversion to killing things. So my degree was somewhat mediocre, although I claim, tongue-in-cheek, that a 2:2 from Imperial is worth a 2:1 anywhere else! However I loved both zoology and botany, and came away with an abiding love of both animal and plant kingdoms.  I was less enthusiastic about physiology and those areas that focused on bits of animals rather that the whole beast, be it a protozoan or a primate. I think my only disappointment was the cool reception of my brilliant (to me) third-year research project into Aedes aegypti (the yellow fever mosquito), which I’d proposed to eradicate by adding a harmless pollutant to the drinking water gourds in which it laid its eggs.

My course was a traditional one, with a focus on taxonomy and anatomy, but by my third year some of the old-fashioned-ness of the zoology department had gone: the cozy open-stacks zoology library had been subsumed into the grim closed-stacks main library and the departmental museum in the basement, crammed with taxidermy, skeletons and ghostly-pale specimens floating in glass jars, had also gone, I think to the Natural History Museum just down the road. Ho hum!

I’d also thoroughly enjoyed life in late 1960s London, but that’s another story! 

My cohort was small – a dozen of us. For a few years after graduation we met up at irregular intervals, but then we drifted away in different directions, and sadly several of my contemporaries have died before reaching this 50-year anniversary. And I’m afraid that I have forgotten many of the names of those who attempted to teach me. Yes, I remember the head of department Professor TRE Southwood, Professor Humphrey Hewer taking us birdwatching at Silwood Park, Dr Goto’s Collembola, the tragic Dr “Bill” Hamilton’s impenetrable statistics lectures, but that’s about it.  What was the name of the lecturer who named his daughters after sea-squirts? Who were the entomology lecturers? That lecturer who devised all sorts of Heath-Robinsonish devices that included an aphid wind-tunnel and a harness for testing for how long locusts could fly? All those staff at Silwood Park field station, where my main memories are of playing croquet and applying Day-Glo powder to cabbages (don’t ask)? The Internet so far hasn’t helped me remember… I do remember cycling back and forth to Silwood because I couldn’t afford the bus fare!

I decided during my third year that I’d move on to archaeology, and in the summer of 1970 I began my professional career supervising with the team at Dover, Kent. Sadly, and frighteningly, around the world, about half the animals we studied during those three years have now been wiped out, if not made extinct, and that process doesn’t seem to be slowing.  So although I might recognise a personal half century, the world in general has nothing to celebrate.

Wednesday Walk: 10

[Since I’m not able to ramble as much as I’d like at the moment, I’m remembering some hikes from the past.]

The start, with the Edge in the distance.

Along Stanage Edge

A gloriously sunny day in late summer. This is a splendid walk at any time, but on this day it was spectacular. And although the car park near the end was crowded, we met hardly any other walkers along the trail.

Peaceful, rolling countryside to begin with.
The Edge grows nearer
The climb to the Edge
The view is worth the climb!
Abandoned millstones.
Enjoying the view…
A rest before the descent.

My album is HERE.

My Museum Monday: 10


Barbie, 2010

As someone who researches the phenomenon of miniaturisation, I am fascinated by dolls (see also 18th May). So far my museum only contains a few “modern” dolls – an assemblage recovered from an abandoned and burn-out allotment hut, a single charity-shop Barbie and a lone rummage-sale Bratz doll. All are of course miniature representations of humans, and all are unrealistic to varying degrees, the Bratz doll, with her enormous head, being the most malformed, the 2010 Barbie an example of her most common elongated shape, and the 1996 male doll (the allotment assemblage was all either male or ungendered monsters) exaggeratedly muscular. 

Bratz doll, c 2010

Because miniature people, in the form of figurines but also objects that might be described as “dolls” (figurines that were meant to be handled, played with, dressed/undressed, manipulated and not simply displayed), occur in almost every age and every culture, their modern counterparts, and what they mean to us, are of great interest. Douglass Bailey has thought and written about this, as has Paul Mullins. Several university courses use modern dolls as instigators of research and thinking.

Male doll, 1996

This is an area I’ve only touched on so far, so I’ll not dwell on it here. Sufficient to say that I’m determined to explore it further, inspired by these archaeologists and researchers:

Mullins, Paul, 2014. Unapologetic Defiance: the Post-Feminist Barbie .

Mullins, Paul, 2013. Real Girls: Barbies, Role Models, and Play.

Pearson, Marlys, and Paul R. Mullins, 1999. Domesticating Barbie: An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology.  International Journal of Historical Archaeology 3/4, pp 228-29.

Bahr, Sarah (2020). Ms Understood: Barbie turns 50. Indianapolis Monthly.

Van Buskirk, Gregory, 2018. Antithesis to Barbie: Toys for Little Homemakers. American Icons, Temple University.

Russo, Claire, 2007. Bratz Dolls: An Example of Modern Day Figurines? Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World, Brown University.

Bailey, Douglas; 2005. Prehistoric Figurines: Representation and Corporeality in the Neolithic. Routledge. Taylor & Francis.

(More than) four Friday Photos: 9

[Every Friday I’m posting, for the fun of it, four photographs selected pretty much at random from my hard drives. They were captured with a variety of technologies, from analogue through early digital to my latest cameras, so their quality, both artistic and technical, may vary!]

This week my photos are all from the Northumberland coast, a wonderful place that offers great walking, castles, beaches, cliffs, traces of industry and superb geology. This week I couldn’t limit myself to four photos though, just in case you might think I can’t count!

First, the beautiful, abstract patterns on the rocks near Dunstanburgh:

Next, a view of Dustanburgh Castle against a gloomy sky:

Dunstanburgh Castle
WW2 concrete block, with the Farne Islands on the horizon

On some of the beaches there are relics of the second world war, pillboxes and concrete tank traps to ward off an invasion that thankfully never came.

Lots to photograph at Alnmouth:


Berwick upon Tweed is a town full of interest. I took too many photos to even try to share here, but I loved this never-to-be-opened doorway. If you look carefully, at its base is a section across the cut off track of a little narrow gauge railway, which by peering through a gap in the door, I could see continuing on the inside.

“This Door to be Kept Shut by Order” Berwick. Evidence of narrow gauge railway at its base.
Me and L, Warkworth Castle.

Finally, I don’t often appear in my own photographs unless there’s a handy wall on which to rest a camera for a time-release shot.

Wednesday Walk: 9

[Since I’m not able to ramble as much as I’d like at the moment, I’m remembering some hikes from the past.]

Rio Cajula, Spain

Looking back from the start…

This walk was fun, but was a lot longer than our guide book stated. So a certain companion was a little grumpy by the end!

It included lots of ruins, and great views, despite the heat haze (it was December after all)…

A window through which only ghosts look at the view.
The home stretch at last!

My album is HERE.

My Museum Monday: 9

A tragic story

Vest Pocket Kodak camera, 1915-1926

This is my second vest pocket camera. The first, given to me by a long-ago friend in 1972, vanished a couple of decades later in the chaotic aftermath of a suddenly-ended relationship.

So I was excited to find another identical camera in a charity shop  about 10 years later. I think I paid £4 for it. What was  even more exciting was that it contained an exposed film! What magic might that roll of film reveal? Another couple of decades passed before I managed to get the photography technician at Manchester School of Art, where I was studying for my PhD, to develop the film for me.

I wonder what stories were captured by this shutter and lens…

Then, horror of horrors, another, never identified, student stole it from the drying room. So I never got to see what was on it! 

So now I shall have to search for another camera with an exposed film. Ho hum. Actually both my Olypus OM cameras (OM 1  and OM2) still have films in them, left over from my final pre-digital days back in 2002. I can’t for the life of me remember what might be on them!

The hinged flap and stylus allowing the user to write on the back of the film.

The vest pocket camera dates from 1915-1926, and has an opening on the back, with an attached stylus, with which notes could be inscribed on the paper film backing. Because of its small size, the camera was hugely popular with soldiers during the first world war.