Monthly Archives: January 2018

  • 6 Nations Rugby From muddy mayhem to perfect pitch - the story of rugby down the years

    We’re kicking off the 2018 Rugby Union Six Nations Championship with an affectionate look at the game’s colourful history …

    Atco 6 nations rugby
    Image by Ben Hershey (Unsplash)

    Remember when rugby matches used to be played on muddy quagmires? When, by the end of the game, there was hardly a blade of grass still to be seen and all the players would leave the pitch caked in mud?

    How things have changed. In December 2017, the French club side Racing 92 inaugurated its new indoor stadium which has an artificial pitch and a permanently closed roof. No chance of rain or mud here!

    It’s just the latest development in a sport that, like so many other things, appears have been started by the Romans 2,000 ago, when they played a game called harpastum.

    A rugby-type game was later documented in France and Britain, where players were at times guilty of over-exuberance. In England, the game was blamed for causing injuries and even death! Laws were passed in medieval and Tudor times, banning the “devilish” and ‘beastlie’ game, which often involved hundreds of men from neighbouring communities.

    The game became somewhat more refined in the 1800s, although there was still no rugby pitch to speak of – it was usually a case of two teams of indeterminate numbers doing battle in fields. The most famous fields were in Rugby.

    Rugby School in Warwickshire had moved to its new site in 1749. It was a large plot, with three rough fields for sporting activities. It was on these fields that the game was to undergo its biggest change in 1823. At this time, teams could have as many as 200 players and the ‘try line’ at Rugby was a tree. Teams had to reach their opponents’ line (or tree) to have the chance to ‘try’ to kick a goal – again, this would involve the tree. If they successfully dropped the goal, they would earn a point.

    Unsurprisingly, games could last for days without a point being scored!

    Having so many players on the other side made reaching the line difficult. As did the rule which said that players were not allowed to carry the ball. They could kick the ball, like football, but carrying the ball was a complete no-no.

    Not exactly a winning spectator sport. No wonder local lad William Webb Ellis decided to shake things up a bit in 1823 by collecting the ball and running with it. Sometimes rules are there to be broken. It became an accepted part of the game and was written into the laws in the 1840s.

    In other major changes, the round ball became oval, rugby split into two – Union (15 players) and League (13) – and the rule-makers agreed the game would benefit from more points being awarded.

    As for the Six Nations Championship, this grew from the Home Nations, first staged in 1883, to the Five Nations with the addition of France, and finally, in 2000, to its current format with Italy becoming the 6th team.

    Which seems like a perfect full circle, given that the Romans probably gave us the game in the first place!

  • RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

    RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

    House Sparrow by Andy HayImage by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    How we can all help the RSPB to help our garden birds

    January sees the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – the world’s biggest wildlife survey. In 2017, eight million garden birds were sighted by the 500,000 people who took part across Britain.

    The 2018 birdwatch takes place on 27-29 January. To be part of it, download a pack from the RSPB website – it includes a picture chart so you can correctly identify the birds you spot. Simply spend one hour looking out for birds in your garden or in a public space and note down your sightings.

    The Big Garden Birdwatch gives the RSPB a snapshot of how our garden birds are faring and enables the charity to compare figures to previous years, providing a picture as to which species are doing okay and which are struggling.

    And, just because a species comes top of the list, it doesn’t mean that historically, they’re doing well. The fact is, the UK bird population has suffered a huge decline since 1970 – some species are down by 95%. The main cause is modern agricultural practices in the UK and Europe. Most species have been affected. A notable exception is the house sparrow, because populations in urban areas appear to be self-sustaining.

    It’s no surprise, therefore, that it was top of the league at the last count. The 2017 birdwatch produced this Top 10:

    Robin by Ben AndrewImage by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

    1 – House sparrow

    2 – Starling

    3 – Blackbird

    4 – Blue tit

    5 – Woodpigeon

    6 – Goldfinch

    7 – Robin

    8 – Great tit

    9 – Chaffinch

    10 – Long tailed tit

    Things you can do to help our birds

    Great Tit by Chris GomersallImage by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

    Feeding:

    Birds benefit from all-year-round feeding. In autumn and winter, make sure they get two good meals a day, in the morning and early afternoon. High fat bird foods are especially helpful during these months, as they give the birds the increased energy they need.

    In spring and summer, garden birds need protein. Black sunflower seeds, mealworms, and quality seed mixes are good. Even mild cheese will go down a treat. Birds also love fruit such as soft apples and pears – slice them in half for them – and bananas and grapes. Don’t use peanuts, fat or bread during these months as they can harm chicks if adults take them back to the nest to feed them.

    Whatever the season, use the same feeding times so the birds get used to their ‘dinner times’ and visit your garden accordingly. And regularly clean the feeding area to prevent the risk of disease spreading among the birds.

    Blue Tit by Ray KennedyImage by Ray Kennedy (rspb-images.com)

    Water:

    Keep a supply of water for the birds to drink – they like to drink a couple of times a day. A bird bath is equally important. It keeps them clean and preening their feathers also improves their insulation. Again, keep the birdbath and the water hygienic with weekly cleans if possible.

    Shelter:

    It’s not just nest boxes that help garden birds. Allowing trees, shrubs and hedges to grow undisturbed also provides a safe haven. Check with the RSPB before doing anything that might disturb birds. Remember: all birds, their nests and their eggs are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.  www.rspb.org.uk

  • 11 ways to put your old Christmas tree to good use in the garden and home

    bird feeder from recycled Christmas Tree

    11 ways to put your old Christmas tree to good use in the garden and home

    If you haven’t got rid of your Christmas tree yet, then don’t worry – there are loads more useful things you can do with it than just taking it to the recycling centre.

    An estimated eight million people in the UK bought a real tree. Sadly, many of the trees will end up in landfill because a lot of owners put them straight into their bins – bad for the environment and a real waste in every sense, when they could be put to great use.

    Bear in mind that if you’re going to saw the trunk, if your tree is sappy, it’s best to wait until it’s dried out to avoid damaging your saw and making a mess of you!

    Here are 11 great ways to make use of your old Christmas tree, otherwise known as our ‘Logs 11’

    1 – If you have a log burner or fireplace, use the trunks and branches for firewood or fire starters.

    2 – Create mulch for your garden – pine needles make excellent mulch.

    Christmas Tree recycling

    3 – Birds will love your old trees. With their pot or stand as a secure base, they provide shelter and sanctuary for garden birds. Or you can use the tree to tie bird feeders.

    4 – Cut off the boughs and use them to insulate perennial beds, providing a warm covering during cold spells.

    5 – Cut the trunk into round discs about 5cm thick (2 inches) and use them as decorative edges for paths or borders.

    6 – Cut the trunk into a good height for flowerpot risers.

    7 – Slice the trunk thinly to make coasters. Sand and treat them, to prevent the risk of sap damaging your furniture. These are real eye-catchers and a talking point when you have guests.

    8 – Tealight holders are another creative way to use the wood.

    Christmas Tree in bin

    9 – If you’re feeling particularly creative and confident, you can even make a log bird feeder.

    10 – Logs, sliced up and imaginative arranged, can make for a stunning piece of rustic wall art.

    11 – And finally, we love this one … how about cutting lengths of log or reasonably sturdy branches, with the top bit sliced at a downward angle, and painting a gnome’s face onto the wood. Instant woody gnomes for your garden!

    Do you have any other great ideas for making practical or creative use of your Christmas tree? Share your photos on our social media pages – we’re on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

  • January Garden Care Tips

    January Garden Care

    JANUARY for many can be a dark and cold month, the middle of winter with spring still months away. However, there are still things going on out there – nature doesn’t stop – and there’s always something you can do for your lawn. Here are a few things to think about.

    Disease : Cold temperatures together with a lack of sunshine can really stress the lawn, making it more prone to disease. And you can help your grass by keeping it clear of debris. Just simple leaves and twigs can create ideal conditions for fusarium, a deadly disease. So remember to pop outside and do a little routine cleaning up, especially after windy weather.
    Fork aeration
    Changing weather: This is affecting all of us and changing the gardening calendar we’ve been used to for decades. So there may be some jobs you would normally have left for a month or two that should be done now in January. Here are the three most important:

    1. Feed: That’s right, a mid-winter feed! And just by including an application of Sulphate of Iron or FE (no NPK so don’t panic) you can perform little miracles - helping the turf to harden off against disease attack, locking up any leftover nutrients, killing off any moss bloom and even gaining the lawn a little colour! It’s what the pros do all over the world, and it could just be one of the most important feeds you will ever do! This can be applied via lawn sand, but as this product is a foliar feed it is better to use a sprayer or even a watering can, for a much better coverage.
    2. Mowing: If it’s still growing, then keep mowing! And even though your winter feed lacks nitrogen, it will still help invigorate the grass enough to warrant getting out the mower. Give the blade a good sharpening first, and set the cut high for a light trim. With the extra colour from the winter feed, you can even get creative with stripes! Believe it or not, light winter mowing can be really good for the lawn; good mowing is good maintenance and prevents problems from occurring – the best of proactive lawn care!
    3. Grass Topsoil Subsoil
      Soil: Lawns and grasses are all about the soil. And good lawn soil is all about aeration, stimulating the soil to keep it healthy. But don’t reach for your garden fork; put it away and leave it for the rest of the garden. It’s not meant for the lawn and you will only get poor results. We want maximum impact – and that means hollow tine aeration. Pick some good weather conditions, use an efficient machine or hollow tine fork, and remember to collect those cores from the surface. Add them to the compost bin or you could even use them to fill in any hollows. This way you won’t even need to reseed these as the cores are full of the natural grasses that are already in your lawn.

    So, unless there’s snow and frost, don’t let the January blues stop you enjoying a little light lawn care. It will all help your grass to start the growing season in a much better condition.
    David Hedges Gower
    David Hedges Gower
    The UK's Leading Lawn Expert

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