Thursday, 13 December 2012

Ice Crystals

It was minus seven this morning when I headed out and while walking along the Pennine Way footpath I spotted these beautiful ice crystals forming on the river Tees. 

05D-8579 Ice crystals forming on the river Tees in Upper Teesdale County Durham
Nature really is wonderful at creating beautiful abstracts

05D-8692 Ice crystals forming on the river Tees in Upper Teesdale County Durham
Beautiful, fragile and transient

05D-8713 Ice crystals forming on the river Tees in Upper Teesdale County Durham
Ice butterfly resting on an icicle

At full size the pattern and detail is stunning.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Cronkley Sunrise

I had a quick trip up to the summit of Cronkley Fell last week to catch a sunrise for the "Valley of the Ice Flowers" project.

It has to be said that I always feel a bit uneasy walking across the fields from the Hanging Shaw parking area in the early morning darkness. The path passes close to a couple of farms and despite how carefully I open the gate that lets you access the field leading to Cronkley bridge, I always seem to set the dogs barking. This morning it has to be said was no different, but as I dropped down to the river the pre-dawn darkness silence returned.

With cheeks burning from the frosty air and the exertion of trying to push on past the farm as quickly as possible I stopped briefly to take in the scene. Downstream to the southeast the sky was beginning to lighten producing a silver glow that added to the already icy atmosphere of the valley. Ahead the river itself trapped in the shadow of the fells took on a metallic sheen as it slid like mercury under the bridge. Upstream and despite the brightening sky a pearl coloured moon sat above the shadowy cliffs of Cronkley Fell. Despite wanting to enjoy the situation and perhaps stop for a while I was late and had no choice but to push on as quickly as possible. This haste was the price I had to pay for the extra five minutes in a warm bed - five short minutes that unfortunately turned into half an hour.

Once beyond the second farm and onto the moor properly I relaxed and began to really enjoy the exertion as I raced the rising sun up the Green Trod footpath. Not surprisingly the sun easily beat me and I stopped a couple of hundred metres short of the summit to catch the first rays as they crept over the hills.

Cronkley Sunrise
Still from the Video

Sunrises are hauntingly beautiful, yet despite the years of trying I have never ever managed to capture an image that I feel can portray just how spiritually uplifting it is to simply gaze upon the first rays of a new day. To observe the change in the landscape as the light washes over it, to actually feel the release of tension in the air as it does so - and as I did this morning, listen to the sound of grouse noisily celebrating a new day. Such a spectacle is beyond any form of words, or indeed pictures I could ever create.

Once I had completed the video sequences I wanted it was time to head off towards the summit area where I spent the next hour or so focussing on still images around the trig point and nearby tarn.

05D-8395 Walker Enjoying the View on the Summit of Cronkley Fell Upper Teesdale County Durham
Approaching the summit trig point with cracking views towards Cross Fell and its neighbours

05D-8331 Cross Fell Great Dun and Little Dun Fell From the Summit Tarn on Cronkley Fell Upper Teesdale County Durham England UK.
Frozen summit tarn

The air clarity was incredible and across to the west Cross Fell and the Dun Fells stood out clearly with their skullcaps of new snow, contrasting sharply with the autumnal glow of the lower fells. Beyond the tarn and covered by a dusting of snow stood the low bulk of Mickle Fell on whose slopes I could just pick out the old mine buildings of the Silver Band Mine - now used as a shooting hut.

05D-8337 Frozen Tarn on the Summit of Cronkley Fell with the View South to Mickle Fell Upper Teesdale County Durham England UK.
Mickle Fell

Across these fells there are many human stories that can be observed in a single sweep of the eye, or hidden within the folds of the land. Everything from the tragedy of lost aircraft high up on Cross Fell, Mickle Fell and Knock Fell, to the destruction wrought by humans in the form of mining and infrastructure projects such as the Cow Green reservoir. There is also hope in the form of the Moorhouse National Nature Reserve which covers much of this landscape, and will I hope protect the area from the relentless march of wind turbines and the sticky fingers of big corporations such as those who currently want to exploit some parts of the dales for mining and shale gas extraction, aka "Fracking" (Teesdale Mercury 05/12/12). Fracking incidentally is the highly controversial process that has been causing minor earthquakes around Blackpool and carries some very serious pollution fears.

Despite the hand of man it is as wild a place as any in England, yet it is certainly not a landscape locked solely in the past that does little for the economy as some would wish to portray. On the contrary, this is still a working landscape providing work for many people, either directly or indirectly, in areas such as grouse shooting, quarrying, conservation, farming, forestry and increasingly, tourism in all its forms. The latter is something that few truly realised the full value of until the foot and mouth epidemic closed the countryside and many businesses struggled, or even went under.

05D-8376 The Summit Trig Point on Cronkley Fell With the High Pennine Mountains of Cross Fell and the Dun Fells Behind Upper Teesdale County Durham England UK

It is a wonderful landscape and one worth fighting the greedy corporations for.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

National Geographic - Iceland

The National Geographic have used one of my images to illustrate an article on their website about the Laugavegurinn hiking trail (also known as the Laugavegur trail) in Iceland.

National Geographic

If you are thinking about Iceland as a walking destination or perhaps are even thinking about doing the actual Laugavegurinn hiking trail you can read a little about my own experiences on the trail here.

Iceland - Landmannalaugar to Skogar

It's a wonderful country with some fantastic natural sights, lovely people, excellent trekking and some great light for photography. If you love the outdoors and haven't been it is worth some serious consideration. I know I am going back ASAP.

Apologies for pixelating some parts of the website out, but I don't want to create any copyright issues relating to the writers and advertisers

Monday, 3 December 2012

Outdoor Photography Magazine - Sheffield Pike

An image I captured a year ago on Sheffield Pike in the Lake District has appeared in the November issue of Outdoor Photography Magazine.

Outdoor Photography Magazine November 2012

If you are interested you can read the blog entry I made about capturing the sunrise here.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Canoeing Over Low Force Waterfall

 With the recent rains the upper reaches of the river Tees have provided some great conditions for experienced canoeists. This was Low Force Waterfall on Saturday.

05D-8278 Canoeist Tackling Low Force Waterfall in High Flow Conditions River Tees Bowlees Upper Teesdale County Durham UK

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Autumn Colours are Fading Fast

With the high Pennine hills sporting a covering of snow autumn certainly seems to be giving way to winter. Last week I spent a pleasant morning near Low Force capturing a few images of the remaining beech trees that still had some colour. Yesterday I visited Gibson's Cave and it was clear that the recent wind and rain has stripped most of the trees of their leaves. A cloudy sky and flat light however made it ideal for capturing some long exposure shots of the various waterfalls on the beck. The fallen leaves giving just a hint of autumn and adding just enough colour to transform an otherwise bleak scene.

05D-8176 Ferns (possibly Male Fern Dryopteris felix-mas) Growing Beside Woodland Stream Teesdale County Durham UK
Ferns (possibly the Male Fern Dryopteris felix-mas) growing beside the beck just downstream from Gibsons Cave

05D-7971 Autumn Leaves and Waterfall on Bow Lee Beck Downstream of Gibsons Cave, Bowlees, Upper Teesdale, County Durham UK
The dead leaves provide a little colour but autumn is certainly giving way to winter.

05D-8133 Summerhill Force Waterfall and Gibson's Cave Bowlees Upper Teesdale County Durham UK
Most of the trees have lost their leaves. Summerhill Force with Gibson's Cave behind.

05D-8119 Summerhill Force Waterfall and Gibson's Cave Bowlees Upper Teesdale County Durham UK

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Autumn Colours

A few autumnal shots of the beech trees on the banks of the Tees near Low Force Waterfall in Upper Teesdale. No Photoshop jiggery pokery has been used with the colours, neither was any used to create the abstract, which was simply done using a longish exposure while pulling zoom at the same time. In fact nothing much more than the effort of an early start, some low autumnal sun and those wonderful autumn beech trees - Mother Nature really is something special.

05D-7838 Beech Fagus sylvatica Leaves Catching the Morning Sun in Autumn Near Bowlees in Upper Teesdale County Durham

05D-7751 Autumn Beech Trees on the Banks of the River Tees Near Low Force and Wynch Bridge Bowlees Upper Teesdale County Durham UK

05D-7755 Autumn Beech Trees on the Banks of the River Tees Near Low Force and Wynch Bridge Bowlees Upper Teesdale County Durham UK.

05D-7798 Abstract of Autumn Beach Tree Leaves with Rays of Light Passing Through Them Teesdale County Durham UK.
Thanks for the visit

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Little Gentleman in Black Velvet

The poor summer weather in the northeast of England certainly seems to be affecting some animals and plants in a negative way. This year many Horse Chestnut trees as well as others such Rowan and Beech are failing to produce much in the way of fruit and animals such as the European Common Mole Talpa europaea are having large areas of their usual habitat flooded by rising water levels. With significant areas of farmland and woodland becoming waterlogged you are much more likely to see moles on the surface as they try to avoid the flooding. Surprisingly they are excellent swimmers and will if necessary swim in order to reach higher ground. This movement however can create conflict with other moles if they enter an established territory. In such circumstances they will fight each other and may even fight to the death. Despite these natural hardships the greatest threat still comes from humans in the shape of farmers and gardeners who spend considerable time effort and it has to me said money trying to control their numbers.

05D-6376 Close Up View of the Front Feet and Nose of a Live Common Mole Talpa europaea Held in a Gardeners Hand UK.

Until recently I didn't have any mole pics in my portfolio at all, but fortunately the other day I got an opportunity to photograph one that had just been captured on the surface in a wooded area maintained for wildlife. The mole incidentally was not destroyed and after grabbing half a dozen images continued on its way.

05D-6384 Close Up View of a Live Common Mole Talpa europaea Eating a Worm While Being Picked up by a Gardener UK
Hungry and happy to eat while being handled

There are many stories and myths surrounding the mole but my favourite has to be the role they played in the demise of King William III in 1702.

It is said that Stuarts in exile toasted "the little gentleman in black velvet" after the horse of King William III stumbled on a molehill and he was thrown. He died shortly after in 1702 from complications caused by the injuries he sustained. I quite like the fact that a thug hell bent on power and using religion as an excuse to destroy lives, actually met his end as a result of such a tiny animal.

A Few Mole Facts
Colour black although there is some variation from brown through to silver. Lives in an underground tunnel system. Male 11-16cm with females slightly smaller. Weight between 65g and 130g. They have 44 teeth and will bite if handled roughly.

Food - Insectivorous and feeds mainly on worms and slugs as well as small insects such as beetles, centipedes, millipedes etc.

Habitat - Woodland, fields, gardens and high ground up to around 1000m in the UK. In the Alps they have been found up to 2000m. They are capable of digging up to 20 metres of tunnel in a single day.

Average lifespan - around 3 years (can live as long as 7 years)

Mating/breeding - takes place from February - June, although there are variations due to latitude and animals in the north will mate around a month later than in the south.

Litter Size - around 3 or 4 young but can be as many as 7.

Predators - Humans are the main predators (there is some suggestion that their pest status is probably exaggerated). Natural predators are Fox, Weasel, birds of prey such as Kestrel, Buzzard and Owl and Heron.

There are also high mortality rates as a result of environmental factors such as drought, flooding and a lack of food which leads to starvation.

Further reading
Macdonald D. and Barret P. 1993. Mammals of Britain and Europe, Pub Collins.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


Staithes really does fit into the classic image of a quaint fishing village. Pretty, steeped in history and something that is becoming increasingly under threat, is still actually involved in fishing, albeit in a small way with only one full time boat as well as a few part-time ones. Today in the sunshine the village was bustling with visitors of all ages. Some were sitting enjoying the view or wandering around the harbour, others were looking at the quaint houses, or simply sitting chatting in the warmth of the autumn sun. Some brave kids were even swimming in the sea.

05D-5550 The Small Fishing Village of Staithes and its Harbour at Low Tide North Yorkshire UK.
Staithes. Copyright David Forster

Being on the Cleveland way footpath the village also quite popular with walkers as well and there were plenty folk with rucksacs wandering around, or puffing their way up the steep hill leading out of town towards Runswick Bay.

Our plan was to walk over to Runswick bay and back but we started off by having a gentle wander around town and to have a look at what photo opportunities there might be for later on in the evening. As soon as I stood on the bridge over Staithes beck I knew I had found the first.

05D-5575 The Small Fishing Village of Staithes and its Harbour at Low Tide North Yorkshire UK.
Staithes beck at low tide. Copyright David Forster

A wander over to the rocks below Cow Bar Nab and I spotted this large anchor chain. The light was getting a bit too harsh but it did help with the detail. I decided not to correct the barrel distortion created by the wide-angle lens as I felt it added to the overall effect of space.

Rusting Anchor Chain on the Rocky Beach Below Cow Bar Nab Staithes North Yorkshire UK
Copyright David Forster

We then headed off for our walk over to Runswick Bay but by now the light was really too harsh for anything particularly creative so I stuck to record shots.

Returning from Runswick Bay later in the day we had a pint at the pub while waiting for sun drop to give us some more dramatic lighting. We then headed back to the bridge but noted that the light was still quite harsh. Unfortunately waiting for more diffused light was not an option as the hill behind would soon begin to cast its shadow over the scene and it was a case of trying to get the best from what light is available.

05D-5859 The Fishing Village of Staithes and its Harbour at High Tide Viewed from the Bridge Over Staithes Beck North Yorkshire UK
Staithes beck at high tide. Copyright David Forster

All in all I was fairly happy with the images but I think on a return visit I will have a look at producing some images from higher up the hill and will try for some night shots of the harbour itself.

All images and text copyright David Forster

Monday, 1 October 2012

Taster Video - Valley of the Ice Flowers

This is a short taster video using some of the footage I made during the spring and early summer. This area of upper Teesdale has been scientifically classified as a sub arctic region and is recognised worldwide as a European and Global Geopark. All of the footage has been taken from the upper tees valley, from Bowlees upstream along the Pennine Way and Green Trod to the Widdybank Fell Nature Reserve.  The valley of the Ice Flowers refers to the rare plants that have grown in this valley since the end of the last ice age.  As it is just a taster I have only included a few plants such as the Spring Gentian, Mountain Pansy and Globe Flower. I have also added a few of our more common plants such as Betony, Bluebell and Celandine.

Please feel free to embed the video in your own site. If possible a link back to would be great.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Summerhill Force (Gibson's Cave) in Flood

After the torrential rain of the last twenty four hours my initial plan was to head up to High Force Waterfall. On the way I noticed that the Tees was certainly very high, but it did not look to be higher than the 28th June 2012 flood level. Instead I headed to Bowlees and had a walk up to Summerhill Force (also known as Gibson's Cave). The dripping foliage and dark, dank and misty conditions gave the place a jungle atmosphere.

05D-6148 Summerhill Force (Gibson's Cave) in Flood Conditions Caused by Heavy Rain on the 24th and 25th September 2012 Bowlees Upper Teesdale County Durham
Summerhill Force. Gibson's Cave is behind the waterfall

Spray form the falls was a major problem and I had a frustrating time trying to capture a few long exposures without the lens getting covered. It was a case of fire the shutter, clean the lens, fire the shutter and clean the lens. Time after time I did this until I eventually managed to capture a handful of images where the spray did not ruin the shot.

05D-6175 Summerhill Force (Gibson's Cave) in Flood Conditions Caused by Heavy Rain on the 24th and 25th September 2012 Bowlees Upper Teesdale County Durham

Compare this to the one below in normal conditions.

04D-1051 Summerhill Force and Gibsons Cave Bowlees Teesdale County Durham UK.
Summerhill Force and Bowlees Beck in normal conditions. Copyright David Forster

Text/Images Copyright David Forster

Friday, 21 September 2012

Badger Cull

Mark Cawardine, Simon King, Bill Oddie, Chris Packam, Charlie -Hamilton James and David Attenborough, all intelligent individuals who are experts in their field and have a good understanding of the natural world.  Each one is passionately opposed to the badger cull.  These are not individuals who don't understand the realities of the countryside, or who are blinded by the cute and fluffy, they are well known, knowledgeable and well respected individuals.  Why then does the government insist on going ahead and killing thousands of animals when common sense and scientific evidence indicates it is wrong?   Well the quote below is by Professor John Bourne who was the Chair of the Independent Scientific Group on TB, it should give you some idea of the thinking that drives politicians.

‘I think the most interesting observation was made to me by a senior politician who said, “fine John we accept your science, but we have to offer the farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers”.
Professor John Bourne (Chair of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on TB

One thing I have noticed is that of the few farmers I have spoken to about the cull none have actually sought out any independent information themselves, or for that matter have even read the ISG report.  Instead they have taken at face value everything the National Farmers Union (NFU) has said.  Anyone with an ounce of sense who has bothered to do even a small amount of research can clearly see that it is complete folly, (both as a means of preventing TB as well as financially) to consider a cull. 

If you care in the slightest about wild animals and their welfare I urge you to follow the link below, watch the video, listen to the argument and then sign the petition to stop the badger cull. 

Or simply go direct and sign the petition;

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Review - Rab Alpine Trek Pant (Colour Dark Shark)

I purchased these trousers from George Fishers in Keswick in June  The trousers were well designed with articulated knees and a double thickness area around the ankle.  The material felt really soft against the skin and wicks moisture away very effectively.  Another area that appealed to me was the cut which is quite generous allowing for plenty of movement when photographing, hiking, scrambling about etc.  They were also understated enough for use around town as well.

I have to be honest here and say that I have always found the kit from this company to be fairly durable and of good quality and currently use the Rab Generator Jacket and Vest, both of which are my favourite buys of 2011/12.

My experience with these trousers however was extremely disappointing.  When I first got them home and had a good look at them I noticed that in some areas around the seams they looked to have faults where the material was thinning.  This was also apparent in other places such as the crotch area and appeared to me to be damage perhaps caused by the machine during stitching.

These thin areas were present from new.

I decided to give them a try and wore them for a couple of weeks while in the Pyrenees.  Within a few days I noticed that they had begun to thin quite alarmingly in any areas where minor abrasion could occur such as the seat and where the rucsack touches.


The material soon began to wear on the seat
Much more worrying though was the crotch area which had worn completely through.  On my return from the Pyrenees I contacted Fishers and they replaced them immediately - excellent customer service.



I wore the replacement pair on two photo trips covering a total of around fifteen miles worth of hill walking only to find they had begun to wear through between the legs. 


 Wear after only 2 days use!

A quick check on the web and the first review that came up also highlighted issues with wear in the same area.  I contacted George Fishers again, but this time to request a refund.  Again their customer service was excellent and I was offered a refund straight away.

In such situations you cannot help but make comparisons with other manufacturers.  For example I have a pair of North Face trousers that are at least eighteen months old and get worn every week, yet they show little significant wear anywhere. 

I don't know if they test each batch of material, or whether they bother to get real people to test this sort of kit regularly, but I have to say I am pretty shocked at the quality of these trousers and cannot believe such a well known, and it has to be said trusted brand, could produce such a poor quality product.

What I do know though, is that I have ended up out of pocket in terms of postage and time, simply to try a pair of trousers. 

Verdict - Very disappointed to say the least 0/5

Saturday, 8 September 2012


The mountain of Ingleborough is one of my favourite mountains. Aside from the great views and the range of possible approaches to the summit, I think part of the reason is the geology and the fact it still clearly carries the scars of its glacial past. From many viewpoints you can clearly see the valleys surrounding the hill have been deeply scoured revealing the underlying bands of limestone rock, atop of which sits Ingleborough with its cap of Millstone Grit. It is as if the glaciers have only just receded and the booming sounds of falling seracs and the strange bangs and cracks that anyone who has spent time on a glacier will recognise have only just fallen silent - in effect a visual echo of the past.  Of course when taking about geological time these glaciers really have only just receded and even now the landscape is still slowly springing back from the great weight of ice placed upon it.

Parking the car in the small parking area on the edge of Storrs Common I made my way up the rough Fell Lane track, stopping every now and again to look at the sky. It has to be said that it did not look too promising for photographs due to a milky band of cloud that sat stubbornly over the western horizon. In such situations it is very easy to feel that photographically it may be a waste of time, but then again if you don't at least try you are guaranteed to fail. Getting onto the scar well before sunset gave me plenty of time to explore the area and identify a few locations. In such surroundings the time raced by and encouraged by a few breaks in the cloud to the west I made a mental note of several possible compositions. Then as the light began to develop I set up several shots using both the still and video cameras. As is typical for me I found it difficult not to rush each shot and had to force myself to slow down and concentrate on only a handful of the myriad of possibilities that presented themselves.

Initially I focussed on the view west across the valley towards Twistleton Scar End and then later Whernside further to the north.

05D-4787 The View West over Twistleton Scar End from White Scars Ingleborough Yorkshire Dales UK
Twistleton Scar End and the view west towards Morecambe bay

05D-4765 Whernside from White Scars on the Lower Slopes of Ingleborough Yorkshire Dales UK
Whernside across the Valley to the north

A little later as the sun continued to penetrate the cloud and Ingleborough became bathed in soft golden light I set up a few more shots.

05D-5448 Ingleborough From White Scars in Late Evening Light Yorkshire Dales National Park UK

05D-5441 Ingleborough From White Scars in Late Evening Light Yorkshire Dales National Park UK

Finally the sun began to drop behind the band of cloud just above the horizon and I changed my focus to the view west towards to the coast and Morecambe Bay.

05D-5481 Sunset from White Scars on the Lower Slopes of Ingleborough Yorkshire Dales UK
Sunset over Morecambe Bay

In what seemed like minutes the light show began to subside and darkness came on very quickly. Despite knowing it would be a descent over rough ground in the dark I found I couldn't drag myself away until every vestige of colour had left the sky.

Eventually I began to make my way slowly back very conscious of the fact that it would be easy to come a cropper while crossing the karst with its deep fissures and loose boulders. To avoid the worst I was careful to circumnavigate as much of the karst I had quite happily skipped across on the way in as possible. So instead of walking on a fixed compass bearing I detoured to the west slightly and then headed south to pick up the wall which would lead more easily to the Fell Lane track. It was no distance at all really, but in the darkness illuminated only by the small pool of light cast by my head torch it somehow felt a bigger undertaking. Making steady progress I reached a small scar across my path. While working out the best way to get around it a low growling noise to my left had the hair standing up on the back of my neck. I am not easily spooked in the mountains but even so I quickly switched the video camera to infrared and pointed it towards the sound. In the now digitised monochrome landscape of the camera screen two sheep stared impassively back. A growling baaaa interrupted by a deep hacking cough confirmed which one was the culprit.

Having switched to infrared I was amazed to see just how much landscape the camera could still portray and I now used it intermittently to help guide me through the scars and boulders back to the gate on Fell Lane. Forty minutes later I was back at the car.

As I arrived I noticed a campervan parked close by and heard the central locking go on the vehicle. Assuming they had locked the doors because a strange bloke had turned up, I was pleasantly surprised to see the door open and the lady inside enquire if I was ok and did I want them to switch on the outside light so that I could see better. A nice gesture to end a cracking day on the hill.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Short Pyrenees Timelapse

Unfortunately despite my best intentions time restraints are preventing me from producing a detailed write up of my trip to the Pyrenees at the beginning of July. This lack of time has been due in part to the amount of work I have been putting into developing the video production element of the business. In addition I am also developing a video library so that other video producers and stock clients can license sequences to add into their own projects. As with my stills photography some video sequences will also be available via my agents.

With that in mind if you are an individual, organisation, or business that relies on the wonderful landscape of the UK to help promote their product or services please feel free to get in touch without obligation. Equally if you are another professional videographer/photographer/producer who requires someone to collaborate with footage on a landscape, or wildlife project, again please feel free to get in touch without obligation.

Anyway enough of the promotional speak. With some of the footage I took in the Pyrenees I have found time to produce a short timelapse test to compare different techniques using the Canon 5Dmk2 for the first two sequences and a Canon XA10 for the final Vignemale sequence. Overall two different techniques were used, with the first two being true timelapse sequences and the final one is a cheat as it is simply speeded up. Wind movement has distorted the final scene as well, which may not have been particularly noticeable with a true time-lapse technique.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Pathogenic Fungi

In the rain forest there is a fungi that has a life cycle straight out of a science fiction horror movie. It is called Cordyceps and once the minute spores are ingested by an invertebrate, such as an insect the fungi slowly begins to grow inside it.

This infection eventually kills the host, but then as the fungi continues to grow it bursts out of the body of the victim creating a macabre sculpture like growth from between the body segments, the antenna and even the eyes. This is the fruiting body of the fungi and it is from this that the spores will disperse to infect other unwitting victims.

What is also interesting about some types of fungi is that they also produce toxins that affect the brain of the animal causing the infected insect such as an ant for example to climb up a stem and attach itself there before dying. This elevated position is a perfect place for Cordyceps to spread its spores.

In a dark damp jungle on the other side of the world you could perhaps expect such a parasitic organism to be common, but in Britain surely not? Well believe it or not there are several species and the last few damp and humid weeks have created perfect conditions for them. While raking about in the undergrowth the other day I was fortunate to spot this infected fly. I think this fungi may be one of the Entomophthora species, possibly Entomophthora muscae. That said I am far from an expert and would welcome a more accurate ID if anyone can help.

05D-4599 Fly Infected by Fungi, Possibly Entomophthora muscae

The fungi is growing between the segments of the flies abdomen, the spores of which will then infect other flies. Copyright David Forster

05D-4599 Close up of the abdomen
Close up of the abdomen. The growth looks a bit like the expanding foam you get from builders merchants. Copyright David Forster

Click here to see Cordyceps in action in this short BBC video, narrated by David Attenborough.

So what is the purpose of such a fungi? Well it is all about the natural balance and as many of these fungi are actually species specific, it prevents a particular species becoming too dominant. It has to be said however, that humans are not in any danger from these fungi, in fact they are used to our benefit in drugs, food supplements and as a form of biological pest control.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Common Lizard Lacerta (Zootoca) vivipara in Upper Teesdale

It has to be said that sunshine has been hard to come by of late and half an hour after capturing this image I was forced to don my waterproofs yet again when a really heavy rain shower managed to sneak up on me while I was filming. One minute I was wearing a T shirt and the next I am soaked to the skin in the time it takes to stash the camera kit in a drybag and open the rucksac to get my waterproofs out - some summer this has turned out to be. There is lots of wildlife about though.

I spotted this Common Lizard Lacerta (Zootoca) vivipara basking on a Bilberry covered fence post in Upper Teesdale yesterday. One of the survival strategies for this species is to shed their tail when attacked by a predator. This one looks as if it has survived such an encounter and appears to be growing a new one. Frustratingly I only had landscape kit with me and was disappointed not to be able to get up close with a macro lens.

05D-3427 Common Lizard Lacerta vivipara Basking Teesdale County Durham UK
Copyright David Forster

I think? it's a female and if so will soon be ready to produce young. Interestingly in warmer climates they do lay eggs, but in the cooler northern climate rather than produce eggs these lizards actually incubate the eggs internally and then give birth to live young.

Lizard Info
· The Common Lizard is the only native species of reptile in Ireland

· Lizards are cold-blooded and hibernate, or perhaps more accurately "Brumate" during the colder months.

· They feed on invertebrates such as woodlice, spiders, insects, worms and slugs.

· Like all of our other reptiles they are under threat from habitat loss and are a protected species under the wildlife and countryside act of 1981

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

In the News

I don't usually highlight which images have been licensed to newspapers as the delay between publication and notification can be considerable, however as I mentioned in my previous post when the storms hit the North East of England I headed up to High Force to try a capture a few images and shoot some video.  I knew I had some good footage and perhaps a few newsworthy images and uploaded three of them to the live news feed.  While up at High Force we had no idea of the drama being played out further north and that homes schools and businesses were being inundated by floodwater.  Seeing the destruction later I had assumed that the human story would have eclipsed my images as far as news goes, however this one was picked up by the Telegraph who used it as a part of their coverage of the story. 

Friday, 29 June 2012

High Force Waterfall in Flood

We had some pretty intense thunderstorms and flash flooding yesterday so we battled our way up Teesdale to have a look at High Force Waterfall. Unfortunately the pathway down to the waterfall on the easier north side was closed so we had to walk around to the south side. The Tees rises and falls very quickly and even in the short time we were there had dropped well over a foot. One thing for certain had it still been rising we would certainly not have crossed the footbridge below High Force. We then headed back down the dale to Barnard Castle.

Three Images from the Evening.
Also notice the difference between the first pic and the last one captured 30 minutes apart. You can see by the small central waterfall that the main flood pulse has passed through and the river level is starting to recede.

05D-1687 High Force Waterfall on the River Tees After Thunderstorms and Heavy Rain Caused Flash Flooding on 28.06.12
High Force in Flood

05D-1761 High Force Waterfall on the River Tees After Thunderstorms and Heavy Rain Caused Flash Flooding on 28.06.12
High Force in Flood

05D-1927 High Force Waterfall on the River Tees After Thunderstorms and Heavy Rain Caused Flash Flooding on 28 June 2012
Watching the Spectacle of High Force in Flood.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Red Fox

I have been watching BBC's Springwatch over the last couple of weeks and was interested to see the fox family with eleven cubs living in an urban garden. It turned out they were the young of two vixens who lived together in the same earth and shared the feeding. To help the foxes the owners of the garden also put out food ensuring the cubs were well fed. With this approach it is hardly surprising that the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) have been so successful living alongside us. Nurturing this synurbic relationship (synurbian animals are animals that as a result of living closely with humans actually do better than those same animals would do in the wild) does seem to divide opinion along the lines of a love them, or hate them.

01D-5789 Red Fox Vulpes vulpes
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) a beautiful animal. Copyright David Forster

Without a doubt there are those who are affected by these animals in a negative way be it economically when animals such as chickens or pheasants are taken, or as an inconvenience when they dig up lawns, leave smelly scat just where you don't want it, or more seriously though thankfully extremely rarely harm us physically.

The debate since the well publicised (some would say near hysterical) coverage by a significant proportion of the popular media regarding the alleged mauling of two children in 2010 has meant foxes have been in the spotlight a great deal.

This attack increased calls for a major cull and has even led to calls for the fox hunting act to be repealed, although doing so would not make the slightest difference to the fox population in our urban areas. Just because the killing of foxes using dogs as a part of a horse based pursuit has been banned it does not mean foxes in the countryside are no longer killed. On the contrary nothing at all has changed here and foxes just as they were before the ban are still regularly killed using trapping and shooting. The linking therefore of the increase in urban foxes with the foxhunting ban is completely inaccurate.

11-0353 Red Fox Vulpes Vulpes Eating Bread Left in a Picnic Area. It is NOT showing Aggression.
This fox is eating bread discarded on the ground in a picnic area. Despite how it appears it is not showing aggression. Copyright David Forster

As well as such misinformation there are also several inaccurate myths surrounding the Fox. For example some people think that the urban fox is a bigger subspecies of the red fox. It isn't - an urban fox is simply a red fox that shares our urban habitat - or perhaps just as accurately we share their habitat?

Another relates to the countryside and is that farmers don't like foxes because they kill their chickens and take lambs. I have to be honest here and admit that at one time I had a similar perception however my experiences in dealing with farmers over a number of years has made me question this assumption.

A good example of this was when I was given permission by a landowner to carry out some photography at a badger set he had bordering his land. The area of the set was not a particularly good location for photographs as a fence ran next to it which spoiled the background of the photos. It was however a great spot to watch the badgers, one of which passed so close to us it would have been possible to reach out and touch it. On another occasion we were surprised to see a fox with a rabbit in its mouth trotting past us no more than 5 feet away. We then heard the sound of exited fox cubs at the far side of the set and realised the fox was actually living alongside the badgers.

Fast forward the better part of a year and I happened to be chatting to a neighbouring farmer and mentioned I had seen a fox in the field next door. Their reaction was not quite what I expected. Firstly there was a look or horror, followed by, "oh heck it will take our lambs we will have to get rid". It seemed completely lost on them that the fox we had seen had been living there all through the spring and summer and possibly living in the area a lot longer than that and they had not lost any animals. Fortunately I did not mention I actually knew where it had its den. Nor did I mention that I regularly see fox scat while out and about.

In the countryside the fox is mainly nocturnal and as a result is seen less often. Copyright David Forster

This discussion does perhaps suggest that for some people the fox is more of a perceived threat to their lambs rather than a real one. This notion was reinforced few weeks later when I had conversation with the farmer with land on the other side who often stops for a chat about what I have seen wildlife wise. Expecting a similar attitude I cautiously mentioned a fox sighting a while back but his opinion on foxes was the complete opposite and he was very quick to say that he has never had a problem with foxes and enjoyed the few rare sighting he had.

While I am certainly not suggesting foxes don't predate farm animals, or indeed other animals such as pheasants and grouse raised for shooting - or for that matter even the odd pet, such experience does perhaps reinforce the fact that significant domestic predation may well be perceived rather than real. There is certainly some study evidence to support this notion (see further information below).

Food for thought

· It is estimated that as many as 100,000 foxes are killed on our roads each year.

· There is no evidence to suggest that urban areas now hold more foxes than the countryside. It is estimated that only 13% of the British fox population actually lives in urban areas, although in some urban locations the density of foxes per acre is higher than the countryside.

Further Online Information

PDF Information Red Fox in Bristol

A Study of Gamebird Predation by the Red Fox

A Study of Lamb Predation by the Red Fox

Images and text Copyright David Forster

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Vango Force Ten Helium 100 Tent Review

I have had this tent Vango Force Ten Helium 100 2012 Version since its release in early March and have enjoyed several overnight wild camps with it in the Pennines and Lake District.

Weight wise it is certainly not the lightest 3 season tent on the market, but it still comes in at a very respectable 1.19kg which to be fair is not a great deal heavier than the bivi bag I often use.

First impressions of the tent when it arrived were pretty good, as was the quality of the material and its construction. I won't go in to detail about the materials, as this info is readily available from the manufacturer using the above link.

The tent pitches outer first but I simply leave the inner and outer together and pitch it as one. Pitching is quick and easy and it is simply a case of sliding the alloy pre-bend poles into the flat seam of the fly and then adding the short poles to the ends as you peg out - very simple and very quick.

In practice the tent performs well but there are a few niggles worth a mention and yet again we have a mountain tent manufacturer who has skimped on an important element of the tent - the pegs. Frustratingly the short alloy 10cm pegs like many of those supplied by lightweight tent manufacturers are not really up to the job. To be honest they are certainly no worse than their competitors pegs. For example the toothpicks supplied with the Terra Nova Competition, but it really does annoy me that tents such as these are supplied with rubbish pegs. Yes manufacturers such as Vango and Terra Nova for example clearly state that the supplied pegs are for solid ground, but lets face it these tents are portrayed as hill tents and from my own experience it is pretty rare to find the sort of ground these short pegs work well in. It seems to me that in order to satisfy the gram counters, some lightweight tent manufacturers supply pegs that are barely adequate for real life use.  Like a lot of people I tried them and then swapped them for longer pegs. (from one of my old vango tents) before venturing into the mountains. With this in mind if you are considering buying a lightweight tent from this and to be fair some other manufacturers, it is worth taking into consideration the added weight, hassle and expense of having to obtain pegs that are fit for purpose.

04D-4479 Walker Wild Camping in a Woodland Using the Vango Force Ten Helium 100 Tent UK
Low level woodland camp

The living space is quite roomy and at 5'9" I can sit up with my head just touching the inner. Lengthwise there is plenty of space to lie down with plenty of room at the head and foot ends for my rucksack and other kit such as boots, spare clothes or whatever. The porch area is a little on the small side though. At around 35-40cm or so at the widest point it is fine for leaving muddy boots, water and general cooking paraphernalia in, but it is certainly not big enough to store my 35ltr backpack or to cook in safely. There is a simple work around as the inner itself is quite roomy and all you have to do is unclip the inner floor and roll it back. This then creates adequate space for cooking in foul weather and leaves just enough space for the rucksack if it is wet - otherwise I keep the empty rucksack inside and use it as a pillow.

As far as coping with the weather the tent has performed well even in relatively strong winds (strong enough to blow me around while walking) and pitched side on to the wind with an additional guy line to the windward direction it coped pretty well. Like all tents of the single hoop design it was difficult to get a super taught pitch and flapping fabric did make things fairly noisy. That said this issue is pretty much the norm for most tents with a single hoop design and I was well aware of this before purchase.

04D-7844 Lightweight Backpacking Tent on the Lower Slopes of Dale Head with the Mountain of High Spy Behind Lake District Cumbria UK
A relatively sheltered pitch near Dale Head Tarn with the mountain of High Spy behind. Lake District Cumbria UK.

One area I still have slight reservations about is the inner, which seems to be very loose even when the outer is well tensioned. One issue I did note was that during strong winds as the poles flexed and sprung back, the inner would also flap around and then touch the fly. This meant that even when it was not raining any condensation that has built up on the fly is transferred to the inner and then as a fine spray on me. It has to be said at this point that condensation is not a major issue and all tents experience a little depending on the conditions. To overcome this I shortened the elasticated inner guys to ensure the tension of the inner was greater. On subsequent trips while an improvement and no condensation got to me, I still noticed the fabric was a little saggy. With this in mind I may tighten the elasticated loops at the top a little more.

To help add greater stability in windy conditions the patented Tension Band System(TBS) seems to work very well and adds to the overall stability significantly. It can be a bit of a fiddle as it runs through the living space and inner door and can get in the way at times, however the advantages of the system in strong winds overrides this very minor point. When not required it can be unclipped and coiled out of the way. When in use it does make a handy airing line for socks though.

Verdict - All in all I am pretty happy with this tent so far but the jury is still out as far as the inner tension goes and it will take a few more trips before I can say for sure that it will not affect performance during very wet weather.

· At £170.00 (RRP £220.00) it is certainly an affordable tent and will I am sure hold its own against many of the other more expensive makes of tent.

· The angled poles and the very snug pole sleeve do appear to provide a stable pitch in strongish winds (tested in 25-30mph approx with the odd gust much higher)

· The TBS works well and does help stabilise the tent when it is windy.

· At 1.19kg it will be lightweight enough for most solo outdoor users.

· Has a decent interior living space,

· Has adequate ventilation

Cons (based upon personal preferences as opposed to major design flaws)
· Porch could be bigger to enable a rucksack to be stored in it or for cooking in bad weather.

· The inner is a little too baggy and can flap against the fly in gusty winds.

· The pegs like most other lightweight tents are not really up to the job on the hill.

· The TBS can get in the way and is a bit of a fiddle to remove out of the way when not needed. That said it is handy for hanging stuff on during the night

· Can be noisy in strong winds but then so are most single hoop tents of this design.

· The inner lacks a pocket to place things such as glasses, torch etc.

Finally - it is time for us to replace our two person mountain tent which is an aging Terra Nova Explorer four season mountain tent. We will be going to the Pyrenees over the summer and if anyone has any experience or info that will help us make an informed decision on its replacement it would be great to hear from you.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Video - North Pennines AONB

This is our latest video produced in association with and the North Pennines AONB Partnership


Monday, 23 April 2012


I saw the first Swallow (Hirundo rustica) of the year at the weekend. It is the only one at the moment and sits on the line outside the house chattering away to itself. Where its pals are I don't know, but looking back at my records it is quite common for one to turn up a week or so ahead of the rest. Perhaps this behaviour gives rise to the saying "a single Swallow does not a summer make". One thing for certain summer is going to be a while yet and it must be feeling the cold as the showers of sleet, hail and heavy rain sweep across from the Pennines. It is great to see them back and hopefully they will provide a few photo opportunities like the ones below over the summer.

02D-8737 Adult Swallow Hirundo rustica Feeding its Young at the Nest United Kingdom
Copyright David Forster

I usually avoid photographing birds at the nest for obvious reasons, but this pair were so habituated to humans that disturbance was not an issue. They had set up home in a low roofed passageway leading to a friends house and were quite happy to have people walking within a couple of feet of the nest. In fact the first time I encountered them I met one in the actual passageway and instead of flying away it hovered in front of me until I stepped aside and it could fly past. Before I had reached the end of the passage I heard a "chirrup chirrup" behind me and then felt the sweep of its wings as it flew past my ear on its way back out to collect more food. I know you should not give wild animals human qualities but it really did feel as if it was warning me it was coming past.

02D-8623a Adult Swallow Hirundo rustica Feeding its Young at the Nest United Kingdom
Copyright David Forster

Manmade structures such as barns make excellent nest sites and coupled with the abundance of insects that can be found in the surrounding fields these birds can usually manage to bring up more than one brood over the summer. The nest itself is made from mud collected from puddles and streams and is reinforced with grass and straw and then lined with feathers.

07-9886 Swallow Hirundo rustica Collecting Mud
Collecting mud from a puddle on the nearby farm track. Copyright David Forster

In May/June they lay a clutch of five or six eggs and once these have hatched out and fledged they will often produce a second smaller clutch of two to four eggs which will usually have hatched and fledged by the end of September. The whole family then heads off to make the long migration back to their wintering grounds in Africa. You really have to admire the Swallow.