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Gordon Hensman's Weatherview

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: May 10, 2014

  • The famous grouse in his heathland. But grouse shooting and the upkeep of the moors is not good news for the environment

  • The hawthorn, with its red berries in evidence

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THE BLACK COUNTRY

Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution

Weather in Dudley 20th – 30th April

SUMMARY

This was a very wet spell following a rainless ten days in mid-month. Temperatures continued to climb as the sun's altitude increased. Daytime maxima however, were a little below average due to cloudy skies, but the cloud helped to keep up night temperatures.

TEMPERATURE

1. Mean maximum 13.1, 55.5F

2. Anomaly -0.3

3. Mean minimum 7.5, 45.5F

4. Anomaly +1.9

5. Average of max. & min. 10.3, 50.5F

6. Anomaly +0.8

7. Highest/date 18.4, 65F 30th

8. Lowest/date 2.0, 35.5F 21st

9. Lowest grass/date 0, 32F 21st

10. Mean 30 cm soil depth 10.4, 51F

RAINFALL

11. Days with rain 7

12. Total fall 47.9mm

13. Wettest day – incomplete data

HUMIDITY

14. Mean relative humidity 9h 90%

AIR PRESSURE

15. Average at 9h 1011mb

16. Highest/date 1023mb 30th

17. Lowest/date 1000mb 23rd

WIND DIRECTIONS

18. N 0, NE 0, E 2, SE 4, S 3, SW 1, W 0, NW 0, CALM 0

PRESERVING OUR COUNTRYSIDE?

I once had a strong intuition that the gods intended that I was really to live in one of the Great Houses on this blessed island, enjoying my rightful status and position in society, bolstered by great wealth against the privations suffered by lesser breeds. Maybe a distant relative of royalty – after all, I believe that most of us have some of William the Conquerer's genes. Well, put up your hands if you have ever felt the same. There must be many who have shared such fantasies.

With this in mind, and being very much aware of the present cuts in welfare payments to the least wealthy in our country, I was astounded to learn of the present increases in subsidies being paid to wealthy landowners.

BURN, LET IT BURN!

If you own a Grouse Moor, the subsidy the government pays you has been increased from £30 per hectare to £56. Now, the statistics show that only 1% of the richest 1% in the population own a grouse moor. Furthermore, the people who shoot grouse tend to be not short of a bob or two – as we put it in this marvellous Black Country.

If you examine the way the grouse moors are managed, then it can be seen that they cause a great deal of environmental damage as they are regularly burnt to provide new heather shoots for the birds. This burning sends incalculable amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as well as soot and other pollutants. This can cause floods downstream as the rainfall is not stored in the soils and vegetation of the moors. To protect the grouse many birds of prey and other predators are poisoned or shot.

Without the luxury enjoyed by the very rich, of shooting grouse, the moors could be allowed to revert to the woodland cover they enjoyed before the medieval monks removed it to provide grazing for sheep, providing wool and riches for the Abbeys.

BY GAD, SIR – I MUST HAVE ME GUN!

The police reckon that it costs them £196 to conduct the background checks needed to ensure shotguns are issued to responsible owners. However, the government has refused to increase the license fee from the present £50 to £196 to cover administrative costs. I believe that motorists have to pay the full cost of obtaining a driving licence, and as far as I know this is the general principal adhered to for other licences. Why the exception for shotguns?

MAY

The first day of May for the Celts was the second most important night of the year after Hallowe'en at the end of October. It was a livestock festival marking the start of the pastoral season when cattle were led from the winter pastures to the summer pastures on the hills. It was signalled by the flowering of hawthorn – or in the Black Country, May blossom.

In Ireland and Scotland it was called Beltane, Calan Mai in Wales and Roodmass in England. This festival was characterised by the marriage of the Green man symbolising growth, and the May Queen representing fertility.

Although not practised much nowadays, it was always a celebration around the village Maypole. I would think that it is only practised in the Black Country in schools at present. If readers have information about this, please let us know.

Hawthorn (craetaegus oxyacantha), is the most widely-used hedgerow plant, often planted with Blackthorn. It was the most widely planted hedgerow tree as a result of the Parliamentary Enclosure Acts which sold off common land in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, impoverishing poor people even more and making landowners rich. In pagan times it was a symbol of fertility.

GLASTONBURY THORN

This is a 16th century legend telling of a visit by Joseph of Arimathea. On Wearyall Hill he rested, leaning on his staff, which during the night took root and became a blossoming hawthorn tree. This was taken as a sign that Christianity would be accepted in the country. His staff became known as the Glastonbury Thorn which flowers on Christmas Day. A flowering twig is sent each year to the Queen.

A HEALTH PROMOTING PLANT

Hawthorn contains chemicals which are sedative, anti-spasmodic and diuretic. It is supposed to regulate arterial blood pressure. It also helps sufferers from palpitations, angina, the menopause and disturbances of blood circulation. Hawthorn flowers can be made into a tea to ease insomnia, and acne. The berries are said to help with diarrhoea (I bet you can't spell it), dysentery, and kidney problems. Please use your common sense with these claims, as the health-giving properties may not have been tested scientifically.

MAIA is the goddess of May, and is celebrated for spring growth and renewal. However, this does not mean that the weather takes any notice of a mere man-made calendar, as a quick glance of the following will reveal.

OLD CALENDAR

Before the Julian calendar replaced the Augustinian calendar in the 17th century, midsummer day was on the present 5th July, and it was an occasion to decorate hawthorn trees – a custom called "bawming the thorn". I don't know whether this still takes place somewhere – it wouldn't surprise me if it did, perhaps some readers may know.

To many country folk, hawthorn is known as "bread and cheese", and I well remember eating the fresh bursting buds of hawthorn and calling it bread and cheese. And did you know that mistletoe grows on hawthorn as well as the more usual apple, ash and oak?

MAY WEATHER IN THE PAST

1st 1691 There was a snowfall in Yorkshire accompanied by a keen frost. It was 6ins deep in York and was reported to have lain for the following five days.

1979 Dudley. Snow fell on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th. On the 2nd there was complete cover at 9h.

In 1987 snow fell in the Black Country on the 2nd.

2nd 1740 Edinburgh's newspaper, "The Caledonian Mercury" reported that, "This morning there fell a great deal of snow, so that there is now a considerable storm on the ground, with frost."

3rd 1986 Rain fell over the hills of Cumbria, North Wales and Northern Ireland, bringing with it radio-active fallout from the explosion at Chernobyl, near Prypiat – then in Russia, now Ukraine – the week before. You may remember that it was the world's worst nuclear disaster.

The fallout consisted mainly of caesium-137, iodine-131, and strontium-90. In June restrictions on moving sheep on nearly nine thousand farms and 4 million animals were imposed. Caesium has a half life of 30 years. By 2006 the restrictions only applied to 400 farms, 359 in Wales, 9 in the Lake District and 10 in Scotland. Northern Ireland was cleared in 2000.

4th 1579 London is reported as having experienced a fall of snow 12ins deep.

1955 The Fens were reclaimed from the sea a long time ago, and this region in Eastern England is still dead flat. Ploughing the peaty soil, and sewing seeds renders it liable to be lifted up by strong winds (over 25mph), and blown away before the seeds have germinated. Extensive "blows" occurred in March 1968, May 1972, May 1975, and March 2004. Perhaps this man-made problem could be prevented by re-planting hedgerows.

5th 1767 There was a severe snowstorm in southern England.

6th 1954 Roger Bannister ran the first ever four minute mile at Iffley Road, Oxford.

8th 1884 Seathwaite Borrowdale, in the Lake District was rather rainy with a fall of almost 7 ins, 172.2mm, of rain. This was the wettest day ever recorded in May. The village is in the shadow of Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England, and Seathwaite is regularly the wettest place in England. The wettest year in all the British Isles was at Sprinkling Tarn, directly above Seathwaite, with a rainfall of 257 ins, 6527mm, in 1954.

Seathwaite itself has an average annual rainfall of 140 ins, 3556mm, which is about four and a half times that of Dudley. Places in North Wales and Western Scotland have similar amounts of rain.

These places have more rain than lowlands because the high ground forces the moist air to rise over the top rather than flow around the sides. The result is rising moist air which expands as it rises, consequently cooling and resulting in the condensation of the moisture into heavy rain – known as orographic or relief rain. Your fridge works in just the same way. This is why the Black Country Ridge has slightly more rain than the surrounding lower parts of the Black Country.

THE LATEST SCIENTIFIC MARVELS

GRAPHENE This wonder material – invented in Manchester University – is so strong that a strand as thick as a pencil point can hold the weight of a grand piano.

You may use it on your touchscreens in future, being virtually transparent and resistant to scratches.

STANENE – PERFECT CONDUCTOR

This is composed of a single layer of tin atoms, and is able to conduct electricity 100% at room temperature. The electrons can travel through the material with no resistance. It is part of a group of topological insulators that conduct electricity only on their outer edges.

SWINGING BALLS

A footballer can swing the ball if he kicks the ball on one side causing it to spin. The other side experiences a drag imbalance producing low pressure, with higher pressure on the kicked side. The ball is pushed towards the low pressure side and curls to that side.

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