Photographer stops time to snap butterflies and birds

Glanville fritillary
Image caption,The take-off of a Glanville fritillary butterfly is shown in one frame by Andrew Fusek Peters

By Vanessa Pearce

BBC News, West Midlands

A wildlife photographer has revealed how living with a cancer diagnosis led him to develop techniques to “make time stop” as he captures stunning images of butterflies and birds.

Andrew Fusek Peters, from Shropshire, said he had taken up photography as a hobby after his work as a children’s author had become very stressful.

“I got very, very ill – mentally – and I burned,” he explained, “coming through that very dark period in my life I knew I had to do something else.”

“Dipping into nature” had prompted a love of photography, he said.

“That was 10 years ago and I was hooked, and I’m still utterly addicted.

“I hope that there is no rehab in the world that will cure me of this because going out to nature has been phenomenal for my mental health,” he added.

Image caption,The photographer captured this greenfinch in a neighbour’s garden

Surgery following a diagnosis of bowel cancer in 2018 found the photographer forced to stay at home.

“I was terrified, I was scared and I didn’t really know what was happening,” he said.

“I was looking at the commas and the red admirals and the painted ladies – all these butterflies in the garden.

“I was watching them nectaring and taking off and wondering why we were not seeing photographs of butterflies in flight.

“And that’s because it’s really difficult.”

Image caption,The photographer has been capturing wildlife in his Shropshire home for a decade

He started working with a high-speed photography system that allowed him to do “this amazing time travel thing”.

“The camera is constantly saving photos as you half press on your shutter button, and then when the butterfly or the bird takes off you fully press and it’s saved all those photos,” he said.

“It all sounds a bit geeky but it means that it travels back in time.”

Blue tit
Image caption,A shot showing light refracting through a blue tit’s wings was “ultra rare” said the photographer

He typically takes between 10,000 and 15,000 shots to get one butterfly take-off sequence in focus.

“There are no short cuts. I’m really putting a lot of hours in,” he said.

“The first time I photographed a butterfly in flight in focus I just went ‘wow, that will do nicely’, and that was the trigger.”

Image caption,All of Britain’s native butterflies are documented in his book – Butterfly Safari

Capturing butterflies is “such a moment of intensity and intimacy that I must never, ever take it for granted”, he added.

Following his illness, he explained he had started to send his photographs to press agencies “and a lot of them got into the national papers”.

A book – Butterfly Safari – containing pictures of all the UK’s native species followed, “which had a phenomenal response from throughout the world”.

Collecting those pictures was “probably the most fun I’ve ever had in my life”, he explained.

“I completely went for it and just drove up and down the country.

“You bring home treasure in your memory card, what’s not to like about that?”

Image caption,A wagtail is pictured with what was about to become dinner

He is now working on a book documenting garden wildlife, including birds, foxes and badgers, which is due to be published in 2025.

“What I’m excited about once again is a celebration of what’s here and under my nose, what’s in the garden and what’s in the local lake,” he said.

Highlights of 2023 included capturing images of the aurora on the Long Mynd in Shropshire and photographing a breeding kingfisher in a local river.

He said: “I was able to sit on the bank watching it go in and out of its nest, then watch it dive into the water to clean itself up; that for me was like my lion or tiger moment.”

Another picture showing early morning light refracting through the wings of a blue tit created an “aerial rainbow, he said.

The shot was “ultra rare and almost never captured,” he added.

Image caption,A highlight of his year was capturing a meteor and the aurora reflected on a pond on the Long Mynd

Pictures showing wild ponies fighting in the same area were also featured in the national press.

“I was driving past and I just jumped out of the car to get those shots,” he said.

“So the thing that took 10 minutes went in six national papers, I’ve never had that before.”

Fighting ponies
Image caption,Wild stallions are pictured fighting in a display of dominance

He said spending so much time with wildlife, he had grown “increasingly concerned” about the state of conservation in the UK.

“It’s hard when I’m out and I get a joyful moment with a rare species, or just a beautiful moment with a common species, and then suddenly this gloom descends,” he said.

But on a more positive side, he added there were a “huge amount” of volunteers and farmers working to help preserve wildlife habitats.

Image caption,Discovering a kingfisher in local water had been another highlight of the photographer’s year

He had now been cancer-free for four years, he added.

“There’s always the fear there but anybody that has been through it will understand,” he said.

“But I remain hopeful to grow old disgracefully and keep taking lovely photos.”

Black sea water probably rotting seaweed – States

Discoloured water on Havelet Bay, Guernsey
Image caption,Those who saw the water described it as cloudy and smelly

Rotting seaweed was probably the cause of water turning black on a Guernsey beach last month, the States has said.

Pictures showed a discoloured stream emerging around Havelet sea wall.

Islanders raised concerns after the cloudy-looking water was first spotted in October.

Tobin Cook, director of environmental health and pollution regulation, said: “We believe this is most likely to be due to the natural rotting of seaweed beneath the surface of the sand.”

However, he added it had not been possible to “provide a definite answer”, adding: “Havelet sea water is regularly sampled throughout the year as part of our routine sea water monitoring programme and we will continue to review this situation.”

XL bully ban: Dangerous dog reports could double – police

XL bully
Image caption,Reports of dangerous dogs could double after XL bully ban comes into force, police warn

Banning XL bully dogs could cause dangerous dog reports to double, a senior police officer has said.

Gwent Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hobrough said he also appreciated “concern” over irresponsible breeders moving to other dogs.

New laws on XL bullies in England and Wales came into force on 31 December before an outright ban in February.

The UK government said the new legislation would protect the public.

The decision followed a number of high-profile attacks – some fatal – involving the breed.

According to the terms of the ban, dogs will need to be muzzled and kept on a lead in public.

It will also be illegal to re-home, sell, buy or transfer ownership of an XL bully to another person.

Owners who wish to keep their animals must apply to the exemption scheme before 1 February or can choose to have their dog euthanised and apply for compensation.

ACC Hobrough, who is also the dangerous dogs lead for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said he expected the number of reports of dangerous dogs to “double” after the ban takes full effect.

“We have got the ability to be able to cater for that demand, but that is something that we’ve got to stay very dynamic in relation to assessing,” he said.

He said the police were already monitoring what the next so-called “status” dog might be.

ACC Mark Hobrough of Gwent Police
Image caption,ACC Mark Hobrough says police are monitoring what the next “status” dog might be

Research by BBC Wales Investigates suggests offences under the Dangerous Dogs Act, where a dog is found to be dangerously out of control, are rising.

Data from 27 out of 43 police force areas in England and Wales showed there were 15,350 offences in 2022 – up 37% rise since 2019, when there were 11,183.

The UK government previously said it was taking “swift and decisive action to protect the public”.

It also said it was working closely with the police, canine and veterinary experts and animal welfare groups, to implement the legislation.

But the Dog Control Coalition – which includes the Dogs Trust, the British Veterinary Association and Hope Rescue – previously told the BBC breed-specific bans were ineffective.

Vanessa Waddon
Image caption,Vanessa Waddon says dog breeders should be licensed and traceable

Vanessa Waddon from Hope Rescue, a charity based in Llanharan, Rhondda Cynon Taf, said making sure any dog breeder was licensed and “traceable” would have a bigger impact.

She said the exemption certificate would “not address poor ownership”.

“All that’s going to happen is that these those that do want to own a dangerous or intimidating dog, they will still be able to do that – they’re just going to use a different breed,” she said.

“We really do feel that [the ban] is not going to have the impact that the government think it’s going to.

“Some sort of responsible dog ownership test that showed that you were a responsible owner, that you can keep your dog safely under control, I think those type of measures combined really would have an impact on the number of dog bites that we’re seeing.

“But all of that does take money, I think this is where licensing could be useful, but only if we can ringfence the income into enforcement.”

ACC Hobrough said it was “absolutely” a concern that breeders were moving on to other – potentially larger and more powerful – types of dog.

He added: “It’s really important that members of the public who see dogs that they’re concerned about within their own neighbourhoods report them, so that we can undertake assessments on whether the dogs are safe within the community.”

The kids who grew up with chimps, leopards and a bear

Eighteen month old girl drinking milk with a monkey
Image caption,Tracey pictured in 1969 with an orangutan rescued by the family after being smuggled to Birmingham

Drinking tea with chimpanzees and taking a pet leopard for a walk was part of everyday life for the Clews family, who had so many animals they opened a zoo at their home.

Almost 40 years after it closed, they take the BBC through their extraordinary collection of family photographs.

Graham Clews points out the corner of his kitchen where a cage for baby chimps once sat.

“This was a complete mad house,” he smiles.

Now 75, he still lives in the family house at Grandborough Farm in Warwickshire, where Southam Zoo operated for around 15 years.

He is regularly pestered in the local pub for stories of his wild upbringing surrounded by lions and baboons in the middle of the English countryside.

With tales of leopards relaxing in the living room and monkeys with a penchant for tobacco, the truth is often stranger than the rumours that circulate to this day.

Boy and chimp drinking tea
Image caption,Graham Clews drinks tea with Mickey at the Southam farm in 1962

Graham moved to the farm, near Rugby, when he was 18 months old with his father Leslie and animal-loving mum Pauline.

The couple, who later had two more children, started out with a milking herd and pigs. But one Christmas, Pauline started thinking bigger.

She spotted a picture of an air hostess with a baby chimpanzee in a copy of the Daily Mirror.

When her husband asked what she wanted for a present that year, she told him: “I’d love that chimp,” Graham recalls.

A few days later a baby chimp arrived, followed by a bear from a touring circus, then a raccoon.

As the private collection snowballed, locals became accustomed to the roars of big cats carrying across the fields.

“Slowly it just got bigger and bigger until it was too big to be private,” says Graham.

“You couldn’t afford to keep it as just your pets because of the food bills. So we opened it as a zoo.”

A chimp and its owner in the 1960s
Image caption,Zoo co-founder Pauline Clews with chimpanzee Mickey on a shopping trip to Coventry in 1968
A Jack Russell terrier and a 12-month-old lioness at Southam Zoo
Image caption,The family remembers multiple species living like “one big family” at the zoo

In 1966 a café was built and the first visitors to the eight-acre site saw a collection of exotic birds, big cats and monkeys.

But a bigger draw was the extraordinary bonds between the animals and their keepers.

In his teens, Graham acquired a pet leopard, Charlie, which wandered freely and slept on the farmhouse sofa.

Its best friend was a penguin named Wobbly Willy.

“As long as you could see one you knew where they were,” Graham says.

Berkshire tropical animal park calls fuel scheme ‘false promise’

Blue poison dart frogIMAGE SOURCE,ELLIE PINCHESImage caption,
The Living Rainforest hosts more than 850 species of animals and plantsA tropical animal centre has said it is struggling to pay its “crippling” energy bills after failing to qualify for government support.
The Living Rainforest, in Hampstead Norreys, Berkshire, said fuel costs had more than doubled since June 2022.It said the government’s Energy Bills Discount Scheme set high thresholds for help and “felt like a false promise”.The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) said it was offering “unprecedented” support.

The 12-month discount scheme, introduced in April, is designed to help businesses and other organisations.Karl HansenIMAGE SOURCE,KARL HANSENImage caption,

The centre’s chief executive Karl Hansen said the government scheme was “not very generous”
Mr Hansen said: “Since the Ukraine war, our energy costs have gone through the roof.

“It took us months to jump through all the application hoops and we were finally informed that we were eligible for the scheme in September 2023 and given a certificate to prove it.”Despite our electricity charge… having risen by two to three times, our electricity supplier recently informed us that we’re still below the government-mandated threshold above which an energy discount actually becomes payable.”So despite being eligible, it looks like we won’t get any energy bill discount from the scheme.”It just feels like a false promise, really. I guess it’s not very generous.”Mr Hansen said the visitor attraction was paying £9,000 a month for electricity on a three-year contract.The centre, which hosts more than 850 species of animals and plants, has appealed for donations from supporters.

In a statement, DESNZ said: “We acted swiftly when energy prices peaked to provide businesses with unprecedented support, saving them £7bn and enabling some to only pay around half of predicted wholesale energy costs.”Our support is continuing through to 31 March 2024 with our Energy Bills Discount Scheme – allowing eligible organisations to get a discount on their energy bills.”

Suspected tornado splits ancient oak tree

Oak tree
Image caption,The tree which has stood for 150 years is now being assessed for safety

A 150-year-old tree has been “split in half” by what was believed to have been a tornado in east Devon.

Simon West, the tree’s owner, said he was inside his house in Tipton St John, near Sidmouth, when he heard rain followed by an “enormous cracking sound” on Saturday evening.

Part of the tree fell on a driveway and knocked down a telegraph pole, which was replaced on Sunday.

A yellow wind warning, external was put in place by the Met Office for Devon and the wider south west region until 23:59 (GMT) on Sunday.

Split oak tree
Image caption,The tree was hit while it was dark

Several other trees reportedly fell in the area at Tipton St John near Sidmouth following the weather event.

The Tornado and Storm Research Organisation (TORRO) posted on X, external on Sunday: “Whilst the maximum intensity is still being assessed TORRO can confirm based on a site investigation that Venn Ottery & Tipton St John were hit by a tornado yesterday afternoon.”

Mr West told the BBC: “It was extremely strong wind… Sufficient to rip a 150-year-old oak tree in half.”

He added: “We heard the enormous creaking and cracking sound of the tree falling apart, followed by taking out all of our electricity.”

Sections of tree trunk on the ground
Image caption,Part of the tree fell on a driveway and had to be chopped up and cleared

Mr West, who set up a reforestation charity, external with his wife in Kenya seven years ago, said the tree supports “over 200 species of animals directly and over 2,000 species indirectly”.

He added: “I understand quite a few have come down, smaller ones, bigger ones, and it’s quite devastating when we lose trees like that.”

The pair vowed to replace the tree and said the charity would also continue to plant more in Kenya.

Walkers urged to protect bluebells

Bluebell Woods
Image caption,The bluebells are due to come into full bloom in April

Walkers are being urged to take care not to trample on the growing shoots in Guernsey’s Bluebell Woods.

Conservationists are reminding islanders it is a “sensitive area” in December and January and urged them to stick to the paths.

Angela Salmon, operations director for the The Guernsey Conservation Volunteers, said it was important people help protect the area so the flowers appear in their full splendour in April.

“At this time of year people might think it’s just covered in dead leaves and there’s nothing really happening, but underneath those dead leaves the bluebells are already starting to grow,” she said.

“So if people walk in those areas where the bluebells are going to grow they could actually snap off an awful lot of those bluebell shoots.”

Bluebell Woods
Image caption,The new bluebell shoots can be hard to spot, conservationists said

She added that the bluebells were already under threat from invasive non-native onions which were “turning bluebell woods white”.

She said groups of volunteers had been targeting several areas to restore the balance in 2024.

Cats make Cambridge garden centre their second home

Fatty the cat
Image caption,Fatty the cat found her special place at the garden centre when she was just a kitten

By Helen Burchell

BBC News, Cambridgeshire

A garden centre and its comfortable patio furniture have become a second home for two cats.

Fatty has been visiting Scotsdales in Horningsea, near Cambridge, for about 15 years and was recently joined by her “brother” George, a handsome tabby.

While both share the same loving owners in the village, they are now “like staff members” at the garden centre.

However, staff have a nightly ritual of finding and putting them out at closing time, as they set off the store alarms.

Fatty – a fluffy black and white moggy – has been visiting the garden centre since she was a kitten, and is a favourite with both staff and regular customers.

George, an equally fluffy tabby, is a relative newcomer, and at about two years of age has only one year’s experience of perusing the store.

Fatty the cat
Image caption,Fatty was named by her owners’ daughter, as apparently she was just a “big ball of fluff” as a kitten
George the cat in a nativity scene
Image caption,George is not particularly keen on the camera and looks more angry than angelic in the centre’s nativity display

Most mornings, both cats greet staff at the door as the garden centre prepares to open to the public, store manager Jeff Hodges said.

And then they have free range of the outdoor plants, indoor displays, the Christmas section and the barbecue display which, situated just beneath one of the heaters, became Fatty’s favourite spot.

She would take long naps on a cushion on her favourite garden bench near the barbecues.

However, when the bench was recently sold, Fatty’s “bed” was no more.

Staff obviously did not sell her fur-strewn cushion, but despite placing it on a new bench – in the same spot – Fatty was not happy.

Cat at a checkout till
Image caption,No, she is not for sale
George the cat wearing a Halloween hat
Image caption,Occasionally George seems happy to pose

Sarah Phipps, seasonal supervisor at the centre, said: “Customers do come in and ask for the cats, because they seem to love them.

“When Fatty got injured and had to be kept at home, people would come in and ask where she was.

“She’s like a member of staff.”

Staff posing with a cat in a garden centre
Image caption,Staff (left to right) Claire Turner, Jeff Hodges, Sara Phipps and front, Chris Compton with Fatty the cat

Claire Turner, who works in the gift and food hall sections, said when Fatty once jumped into a delivery van, everyone rallied round to find her.

“The driver saw her jump out several miles away at his next stop and called us,” she said.

“A few staff drove over to try to find her, and several people from the village also helped bring her safely back home.”

Chris Compton, who works in the horticulture section, is one of Fatty’s favourite humans.

“She often jumps into my car to greet me when I arrive, and spends a lot of time in our shed – which is our office,” he said.

“If we leave the window ajar, she opens it with her paw and comes inside – she’s a real sweetie.”

Fatty the cat
Image caption,Fatty loves to sit among the flowers

Broadcaster and cat expert Roger Tabor told the BBC that cats who sought out other people and enjoyed attention from regular contact with strangers were “in the great minority”.

Fatty and George subscribe to this theory, apparently unfazed by hundreds of customers filing past them, many with dogs – and seem intent on amusing themselves, staff and customers for many years to come.

Brit in Japan describes house shaking in quake

Joseph Tame
Image caption,Joseph Tame felt the earthquake from his home north of Tokyo

By Vanessa Pearce

BBC News, West Midlands

A man living hundreds of miles away from the epicentre of the Japan earthquake has described feeling his house shake and watching a building collapse live on television.

Joseph Tame, originally from Orcop near Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire, felt the quake from his home 320 miles (514 km) away, just north of Tokyo.

“The house that we’re in is about 40 years old and was shaking a fair bit,” he said.

“It was quite a shock,” he added.

“We saw an alert on the TV for what must have been one of the pre-shocks. Then suddenly all the alarms go off to warn you.

“As we were watching the TV the camera above where the epicentre was was shaking violently and then we saw a building collapse on the live report.”

Aftermath of earthquake
Image caption,The quake caused parts of a shrine to collapse

Tsunami warnings have been issued after the 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck the central region of the country.

Residents in the coastal Noto area in Ishikawa prefecture were urged to evacuate to higher ground.

“It’s not really over yet now because the earthquakes are continuing, we’re seeing a lot of aftershocks and who knows what could happen over the next 24 hours,” Mr Tame continued.

The businessman, who moved to Japan in 2008, said he had contacted a friend who lived very near the epicentre.

“He told me he, his partner and their cat first evacuated to the roof of their building because of the tsunami risk,” he said.

“But when they realised the earthquakes were continuing they realised they had to get off their building because it’s not strong enough so they moved to another building.

“He said it was shocking as the shaking is so violent.”

In 2011, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan – with a magnitude of 9.0 – struck off the country’s eastern coast and triggered a tsunami which killed more than 18,000 people and wiped entire towns off the map.

“The thing that struck me watching it on TV is it brings back memories of 2011 when we had the huge tsunami, Mr Tame said.

“As I was watching it I could feel the tears in my eyes just remembering how appalling it was back then.

“We do feel a lot of earthquakes but not quite on this scale.”