A Fond Farewell

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Hi folks!

Just thought I’d post a quick summary of all the cool little things I’ve found on Collard this past week. For the most part, I’ve only been on site for the mornings, conducting a single butterfly transect. This is partly because visitor numbers have dwindled and partly because I’ve had 6 weeks worth of data-inputting to do in the afternoons!

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It’s not all chasing after butterflies and running through meadows…

Aside from all the boring paperwork, I’ve actually had a pretty interesting week at Collard. I said it at the start – “I don’t think I’ll ever have a day up here where I don’t find something new or interesting” – and it’s held true for a whole month now.

In terms of butterflies, there are three species which have begun to steal the show at Collard.

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Gatekeepers have really exploded over the past two days on the hill, almost to the point where their numbers are overtaking Meadow Browns.

 

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Peacocks are a familiar site across England, but I can’t help but really admire their beautiful shimmering ‘eyes’. They really are a fantastic butterfly. These can now be found in huge numbers in patches of scrub around the site, especially along the Eastern Glade.

 

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Brimstones are back! The July-August individuals are brand new offspring. It’s believed that Brimstone’s yellow, buttery wing colour is what first gave rise to the name ‘butterfly’!

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This (Hummingbird?) Hawk-moth caterpillar narrowly avoided being squashed beneath my boot as I spotted it in the undergrowth just in time. I’d never before seen a Hawk-moth caterpillar and oh man, they are something to behold. Check out the yellow-tipped spike at its tail-end. This picture really doesn’t do it justice, but I didn’t want to bother him too much. Incredible.

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These spiders are absolutely brilliant. Goldenrod spiders have an AMAZING ability to change their colour based on the flower where they reside. They also have the coolest eyes ever.

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I came across this pretty sinister looking creature on a Wooly Thistle absolutely covered in aphids, which drew in crowds of diverse insects preying on them. This is of course, a Ladybird larva!

To top it all off I saw my first Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the pines on Thursday! Photographing birds is too much for me, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to imagine that subject.

I can’t speak highly enough of my experience here at Collard Hill, leaving is going to be very strange and I’ll miss it a lot. I’m sure I’ll be popping along next year to see how the Large Blues are getting on!

I’ll leave you with a list of all the species I’ve been lucky enough to see while on Collard Hill this summer (and there are still a few to come yet!).

For the last time, thanks for reading everybody!

Jono – The Large Blue Ranger.

 

 

 

 

Collard’s Critters! – Macro Photography Special

Hi all!

Not too bad a morning up on Collard today. The weather was mostly overcast with occasional drizzle which thwarted my efforts to carry out transects today. I have to admit I eventually ran away this afternoon when this bank of rain started drawing in.

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Because there’s little left to report now and my time here is drawing to a close, I’ve gone back and found a wealth of photos I’d taken but not had the chance to put in the blog.
Today I want to focus on ‘Collards Critters’, the little creatures that are easy to miss. I’ve had far too much fun chasing after little things like these, most of which I know very little about because they are so diverse. There’s something amazing about the way that little critters can catch my eye when I’m not expecting it, after which I can often find myself watching them for minutes, seeing how they behave or how they use their minute appendages in cool ways.
Macro lenses really let you capture some of these amazing features and bring them to life, so hopefully I can share that with you. The really incredible thing about these little guys is just how easy it is to pass them by unnoticed.

As always, if you’re familiar with any of these, please share in the comments! If you would like to see them enlarged, simply click on an image and it should open in full resolution.

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I noticed quite a few of these crab spiders across Collard. They’re hardly photogenic so I was always photographing them at strange angles, but they’re very charming. They’re always extremely quick to drop from vegetation and retreat if you walk near them, which is possibly an adaptation for living in a grazed habitat.

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I’m not even slightly sure what species this chap is a member of, would love an I.D though. Wasp-like markings are fairly common in many species of flying insects, but I personally love how irregular the bands are on the abdomen of this one, they almost look like a mistake.

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These guys were common as muck, real ugly too, they look like right bruisers of the insect world. They were particularly abundant along the grassland strips on the way to Collard, where large numbers would feed/nectar on Apiaceae.

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These buzzers need no introduction. Bees are really abundant at Collard, especially along the bottom meadows rich with trefoils, clover and thistle, where I’d often end up chasing after them. (I just really love the light in this picture)

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This one’s a mysterious and fairly unremarkable individual. I really love the way the Hawkbit came off in this.

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The magnificent iridescence of this beetle is what first caught my eye, but upon closer inspection I noticed it’s preposterously over-sized chunky legs. I believe this beetle is a fairly common species, but it’s absolutely fascinating when you get a proper look. It has something else I’ve not seen before – a large gap along its back, thus its wings are visible (where normally they’re encased in most species?).

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I’ve already featured this guy on here, but couldn’t resist posting him again simply because this is one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken. I mean look at that abdomen. Click for more species info.

 

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This is another little member belonging to the Araniella genus, although I’m not sure exactly which species. I found a large number of these in one corner of the site, each with their own webs atop wooly thistle plants.

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Now this one’s a puzzle. It’s a pretty poor photo for I.D. so I apologise, but I saw a few of these around and they just look absolutely evil.

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The humble and excellently-named ‘Marmalade Fly’ (Episyrphus balteatus). I absolutely love these hoverflies, and without them my dissertation experiments would have completely failed, so I’m still thankful to them for that. They’re fairly common, and in my opinion, really underrated.

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This little fly wouldn’t leave me alone. He wanted to be friends.

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I have no idea what this species was, and it wasn’t until I got it under the lens I began to see all of its strange detail. They have a number of really amazing features; their really bizarre sting-like appendage at the back of their abdomen, their amazingly detailed green eyes and their markings along their backs.

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The ant vs. fly showdown. (you can really see how amazing their eyes are in this one)

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This striking little hoverfly really stood out amongst the Thyme. I believe it’s a member of the Parhelophilus genus, as identified by its unusual vertical bands on the thorax.

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These tiny little beetles(?) were covering my shirt most days, possibly attracted by the extreme orange. My arm hairs give a pretty accurate impression of just how tiny these little ones are.

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Another species I’m unsure of, but the colours on this are really really striking, they have a real metallic sheen. I was lucky to get it posing for the camera on a nice bit of Thyme.

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This guy caught my eye as I was sat on the bench, as it was just resting on a fence post straight ahead of me. You should be able to make out the huge proboscis and all the interesting structures within his thorax.

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This one was almost invisible to the naked eye, but I spotted him perched on this grass head. Once again no idea what kind of critter this is, almost looks like a mite of some kind. Wonderful.

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I had to include one of the humble ‘bloodsucker’. Rhagonycha fulva or the ‘Common red soldier beetle’ doesn’t actually feed on blood, thankfully preferring pollen, aphids and nectar.

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I thought it would be nice to finish with this tiny little spider holed up in grass. The feathery depth of field on the grass is what really makes this image for me.

 

As ever, a massive thankyou goes out to all of our readers. This is likely going to be my last major entry, so I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog while I presided over it and despite the poor year for Large Blues. A very special thankyou to everyone who’s praised the blog this year, you all gave me a warm fuzzy feeling which has allowed me to continue putting in the extra effort to try and make these posts as interesting as possible after long days on the hill!

Hopefully not making this sound too much like an award-acceptance speech, I’d also like to say a thankyou to all of the NT staff I’ve had the pleasure of working with, who work insanely hard across a huge number of sites and welcomed me onto their team. To all the volunteers who give up their free time to help improve the countryside and conservation sites for us to enjoy. And to David Simcox and Sarah Meredith for making the time to work with me and for freely imparting their expert knowledge.

Okay I’m done! The speech is over!

Jono, The Large Blue Ranger.

 

Collard Hill Report – 5th July

Hi all!

Another fairly gloomy day on Collard today, but dry enough for me to perform some more egg counts. Once again, more comprehensive work needs to be done before we can publish a final figure but it’s not looking bad at all. There is really very little to report for today, visitor numbers have really started to dwindle for obvious reasons. With the threat of rain and very little on the wing the hill takes on a very different tone, but there are still treasures to be discovered!

My favourite part of today has to be this. I’m still really really happy about it as I write this.

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I spotted this Elephant Hawk-moth roosting on grass stalks while I was searching for Thyme, and while gently moving some of the surrounding intrusive vegetation it fluttered on to my thumb, from where it refused to move. This little guy was completely stuck to me, I’ve clearly made a friend. I’ve been looking forward to seeing these since I arrived and had almost given up hope!

The end of the Large Blue flight season marks the beginning of the end for me, so I’m already becoming somewhat reflective about the time I’ve spent here with the National Trust. It really couldn’t have been any better, I don’t even mind that it was such a poor year for the numbers of adults because of all the challenges it created, and how much more exciting and rewarding it made tracking them down or showing them to visitors. With all that said, I’ll still be up on the hill for a while longer yet, so if you do fancy coming to Collard for a poke around and to take in the views, make sure you track me down! The Blog entries will start to dwindle now, although I do have a nice idea planned for tomorrow, so stay tuned at least until then!

As always, thanks for reading.

Jono – The Large Blue Ranger.

 

 

Collard Hill Egg Counts – 4th July

Hi everyone,

Today’s weather was really rather intimidating, with driving winds and the ever-present threat of rain.The forecast is not looking good, rain for the next week, which almost certainly means an official end to the Large Blue season.

Luckily the rain just about held off for the most part, allowing Dave Simcox, Sarah and I to perform our egg counts with relative ease. I forgot to get a photo of us, but if you imagine three people rooting around on their hands and knees looking for tiny eggs, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what our day involved.

The main news is positive. We will definitely have a population next year. We’re yet to calculate a full figure, and some more surveying is yet to be done, but we found eggs in every part of the site we checked today.

Egg surveying consists of using a semi-random method of throwing out 1m canes. The cane’s location then gives us a 1x1m grid in which to survey, in which we search for Thyme plants and Large Blue eggs. The site is split into 9 areas and each area is sampled between 15-30 times. Some samples contain no Thyme, so this method is also useful for giving a rough estimate of Thyme density across the site.

A full egg estimate can then be made by simply multiplying the average eggs found in an area by the size of that area.

The total egg estimate is likely to be lower than last years, but that by no means correlates directly with our population expectations (i.e. we’re not necessarily predicting that next year will have fewer adults than this year). One of the main reasons for this year’s poor population is the way in which last years summer drought really fried and dried out a lot of Thyme, hugely increasing the mortality of the Large Blue caterpillars dependent on it.
Ecosystems are generally full of checks and balances. This year’s poor number of LB caterpillars has likely meant the that the Myrmica Sabuleti ants will be doing well (which can be assessed by our ant surveys further down the line), meaning this years caterpillars will have plenty of food and a high chance of collection.
Density dependence effects also suggest that less dense egg laying means there will be higher survivability of caterpillar as competition between ‘caterpillar neighbors’ is greatly reduced.

So while we can’t account for the weather and climate of the coming year, the foundation isn’t looking too bad.

Thanks for reading!

Jono – The Large Blue Ranger

 

Large Blue Report – 3rd July

Hi everyone,

Another glorious day out on the hill meant there was plenty on the wing today – but for the second day running, I’m sorry to say, no Large Blues.
The morning was dominated by Marbled Whites, Meadow Browns and (perhaps surprisingly) Ringlets! Plenty of others put in an appearance; Small Heath, Small Skippers, Small Whites and Small Tortoiseshells (a lot of butterflies have small in their name don’t they?). I saw the first Painted Lady I’ve seen in a week or so, which was nice, and the Common Blue’s second brood is definitely in full swing.

Yesterday saw the site’s first sighting of a Dark Green Fritillary this year, which is definitely one to look out for! No sign of our Long-tailed Blue unfortunately, these are extremely strong flyers so it’s hardly surprising it got away, but it would have been fantastic if some more of us could have seen it eh? It may be worth mentioning the possibility that this individual didn’t arrive naturally, and may have been released, as no similar sightings have been made in Somerset (to my knowledge).

The afternoon saw the cloud thicken and the wind pick up so most things hunkered down. After the weather closed in there wasn’t too much going on across Collard simply because the wind was so fierce. Though I was treated to some awesome aerobatics as a Kestrel streaked across the sky, chasing down its airborne prey with incredible agility. Quite something to behold.

One of our visitors, Chris Janet, has sent in this cracking picture of a pair of mating six-belted clearwings. Despite their wasp-like appearance, clearwings are actually a type of day-flying moth. This relatively rare species is often found on calcareous soils, where its main foodplants are Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Kidney Vetch. Keep your eyes peeled for these incredible little creatures if you’re on site!

 

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Speaking of Bird’s-foot Trefoil, embarrassingly, I never actually realised where its name came from until today, when I saw its seed pods.

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It all makes sense now.

So, still no Large Blues. It’s possible we could have reached the end of the season already, although it’s still a little early to call that verdict definitively. The end of the period arriving so quickly has come as a bit of a shock. With their (late) emergence on the 14th, we imagined that we’d just be at the tail-end of their peak now in early July.
Butterflies are an inherently changeable species, so sometimes no matter how perfectly you manage for them, the climate can conspire against you. This is year two of declining numbers, but it’s extremely likely they will bounce back fairly shortly.

Our egg count tomorrow may begin to shed light on just how quickly…

 

Thanks for reading,

Jono – The Large Blue Ranger.

 

Large Blue Report – 2nd July

Hi folks!

My apologies, but today’s post will be fairly minimal as the internet in where I’m staying this evening is extremely temperamental.

Not a single Large Blue was seen on the site today! We’ve had around 40 visitors today looking alongside me, so it’s not for a lack of trying!

Yesterday and Monday we did have sightings, but they seem to have been of the same aged individual as shown in; this post; the below photo (sent in by Neil George); and on Paul Redman’s Flickr.

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Old Large Blue – Neil George

It seems the second brood of the Common Blues have started to emerge – which made for some exciting/tragic moments today. Really beautiful though.

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Despite the lack of Large Blues this season, there is at least hope for the next generation (Collard Hill’s 15th!). We’ve seen a good amount of egg laying, and have tracked down the first hatched caterpillar! The ovum hatch after 5 – 10 days. After Large Blue caterpillars emerge they will feed upon the Thyme flowers until entering their fourth instar, whereupon they fall to the ground in the hope of being picked up by the ant Myrmica Sabuleti, on which it will feed for the next 10 months.

Our planned egg counts may give a better idea of what to expect next year.

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Is this already the end of the Large Blue season at Collard? Only time will tell, so stay tuned to the blog for more information!

Thanks for reading!

Jono, The Large Blue Ranger

 

Collard Hill’s New Guest

We’ve had a very exciting sighting this morning.
Nick Edge sent in reports & his photograph of a Long-tailed Blue.

ImageThe Long-tailed Blue is a migrant to the UK, and it is generally considered extremely to see one on our shores. Last year (2013) saw the largest reports of their numbers in the UK since records began, with sightings on 9 sites across the South Coast. To my knowledge this is the first time we’ve seen them at Collard, although I could be wrong and staff are looking into records.

Read more at UK Butterflies, where you can also view a large number of photographs taken after last years influx.

 

Large Blue Report – 29th June

I am sorry to say that it seems as though the recent bout of rain has had little effect on the numbers of Large Blues out on Collard. Today’s fairly dreary start gave way to a brilliant day, sunny spells with frequent punctuation by clouds. General butterfly activity across the site was pretty good, with Marbled Whites and Meadow Browns in abundance followed by Small Tortoiseshells who were performing their amazing mating rituals.

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Today we had only three sitings of Large Blues across the whole site, (with a hefty number of eyes searching). I only personally saw one today and I can’t believe this tatty old thing was still flying!

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The six-spot Burnet moths have really come out today. I’ve been waiting to see an increase in their numbers for some time now, as pretty much anywhere you look you can see their chrysalises on grass stalks. It’s a pretty wonderful sight to see them in such great abundance. 

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My personal highlight of the day has to be finding this Great Green Bush-Cricket. I have to admit I had no idea these things even existed and man oh man are they something to behold. This one was literally nearly 2 inches long. These guys seem way too big to be found in the British Isles. (Sorry the picture isn’t too great I was actually pretty terrified of this thing and I’m not even ashamed to admit it)

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I also really really enjoyed seeing a flock of around 15 Goldfinches making their way noisily across the scrub today. Such a charming and colourful little bird. Aside from this, I’m still working on trying to photographically catalog all of Collard Hill’s wildflowers, which is a nice little side project (and may be a future blog post if I can ever complete it!)

So, definitely not great news on the Large Blue front, but Collard is still very much holding its own as a fantastic place to be.

Thanks for reading & stay tuned!
Jono, The Large Blue Ranger.

P.S. This past week I’ve been working closely with a young volunteer by the name of William, who many of you may have met on your travels to Collard. It was an absolute pleasure and I’d like to direct you to his astounding UK Butterflies personal diary for some excellent words about and photographs from Collard Hill.

 

 

Large Blue Report – 28th June

Hello all!

I apologise for my recent absence, some minor health issues. All better now though!

Despite the foreboding forecast, I managed to spend the morning scouring the site as best I could in the hope of finding some roosting large blues, sheltering from the drizzle. Fate was seemingly not on my side today though, and my searching was largely in vain. There were a few brief sunny spells, the longest of which was about 15 minutes, in that time a few species managed some activity but by and large the site remained quiet with the exception of Marbled Whites.

I also managed to fall flat on my bum on three separate occasions this morning (luckily no-one saw). The soil on Collard gets so slippery so very quickly so if you do head up in weather like this or while the ground is still wet, please be extremely careful.

I was joined by a few extremely optimistic visitors this morning, which was great to see. I’m not sure how well they fared, nor whether or not they ran screaming from the hill as I did when the weather closed in and lightning threatened to strike me down.

Tomorrow looks set to be a real nice day for butterflying, and I’m really looking forward to see what kind of effect our recent spell of rain has had on large blue populations/ their behavior.

Thanks for reading!

Jono – The Large Blue Ranger

Large Blue Report – 25th June. Super Special Photography Edition!

Hi everyone!
Large Blue numbers and sightings seemed to have remained fairly consistent across Collard Hill. Today saw 6 – 7 sightings early in the morning.This morning was actually one of our best, we saw 3 before 10:30 which was a really positive sign. There was a nice bit of cloud as well which allowed for some open-wing excitement. I’m yet to get that perfect picture yet though.

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The trend didn’t continue into the afternoon however, with things really quieting down after lunch time. We’ve had successive weeks of weather which allows the majority of butterflies on site to get flying really early in the day, so this is a pattern we’ve often seen. It’s still impossible to tell if numbers are going to pick up in the near future or remain at this kind of consistency. We’re due rain soon, so we might begin to see some changes in butterfly behavior & numbers.

I spotted a few enjoyable sights while on site today. The first was the comedic context in which this burnet caterpillar found itself.

The second being the laying of this Hummingbird Hawk-Moth! Rooting around in vegetation looking for tiny little eggs and finding them is a really thrilling experience.

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Despite the relatively low numbers this year, we’ve still had many Large Blue seekers on site who’ve really enjoyed their time here. As one of our visitors, Gary Farmer said:

We had glimpses of two Large Blues. But there’s so much more to see there. Clouded Yellow butterfly and a Six-belted Clearwing moth for starters. Stripe-winged grasshoppers and most surprising, Rufous grasshoppers. With Great Green Bush-crickets and a Spotted Flycatcher thrown in for good measure I almost forgot that LBs were the reason for our visit.

Another one of our visitors – Chris, coined a phrase I’ve become extremely fond of;

If you don’t see a blue, just enjoy the view!

Chris Hooker’s lovely view

We’ve had plenty of picture submissions from visitors which we’d love to share. It takes me a little while to get everything looked at and downloaded, sorry about that! We’re so grateful to everyone who sends in pictures, and to everyone who visits and enjoys the site – meeting you all is a pleasure!

Hummingbird Hawk-Moth laying. Taken by Chris Hooker.

Chris Hooker did a much better job than I did capturing a Hummingbird Hawk-Moth laying its eggs.

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Excellent Large Blues from Neil Hulme.

Two Excellent Large Blues from Neil Hulme.

Thomas Blewden's perfect Small Tortioseshell

Thomas Blewden’s perfect Small Tortioseshell

Thomas Blewden's Marbled White. Such a difficult one to get!

Thomas Blewden’s Marbled White. Such a difficult one to get!

Clouded Yellow - Thomas Blewden

Clouded Yellow by Thomas Blewden

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Martin Blake managed to capture this unprecedented scene as a Large Blue settles on John Samway's shirt.

Martin Blake managed to capture this unprecedented scene as a Large Blue settles on John Samway’s shirt.

Brian Harrison's fantastic Dual Blues.

Brian Harrison’s magnificent Dual Blues.

Andrew Cooper makes a friend.

Andrew Cooper makes a friend.

Once again, a huge thankyou to everyone who has shared their experience with us, be it through photographs or comments, it helps give a real boost to staff like myself. Please continue sending things in!

Regrettably I’ve got some minor health issues at the moment, so it’s likely I’ll be taking a few days to rest up before I’m fighting fit and back on the site. Because of this there will probably be a few missed blog posts, but I’ll get back on top of it as soon as I possibly can.

Hope to see you on the hill!

Jono – The Large Blue Ranger