General Items of Village interest

General Items of Village interest either from Tipton Times or other sources.

The Spring Night Sky

After a nondescript sort of winter it is nice to be thinking of the approach of spring. Up at the Norman Lockyer Observatory there was a long succession of cloudy Fridays evening but more recently there have been some good sky- watching evenings. Throughout February the sky is still dominated by the great winter constellations, particularly Orion. These will continue to be prominent throughout February but start to fall away in March as the spring and summer constellations rise.

At the beginning of February, five planets will be visible - two after sunset and three before sunrise. Venus will be bright and unmistakeable in the western sky in the early evening, setting a couple of hours after the Sun throughout the month. At the beginning of the month, once the Sun is well below the horizon, you will be able to pick out Mercury between Venus and the horizon. Again throughout the month, the planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are quite close to one another, making a nice little grouping but coming up in the hours before sunrise. The full Moon occurs on

9th February.

On the subject of Orion, the astronomical world has been buzzing with interest at the behaviour of Betelgeuse, one of Orion's bright stars. This star is at the top left of Orion and is a red supergiant star and a pulsating variable which dims and brightens over a cycle time of 420 days. However, in the current cycle, the star dimmed and then continued to dim when it should have been increasing in luminosity. Having been monitored for about 200 years, the star is now dimmer than ever previously observed, giving rise to speculation that it might be about to go supernova. It is known that this will happen eventually when it runs out of the hydrogen fuel that powers fusion reactions in its core but it is not possible to predict when - it could be tens of thousands of years in the future or it could be tomorrow. In fact it could have happened already but we won't know about it until 700 years after the event because that is how long it takes the light to reach us. When it does go supernova, it will swell up to an enormous size and its luminosity will increase so that it becomes as bright as, or even brighter than, the Moon for a year or two. This will be the most magnificent astronomical event ever observed by homo sapiens. It will then decline and after five or six years will be so dim as not to be visible to the naked eye and the magnificent constellation of Orion will never be the same again. However, don't blame me if it doesn't happen in February or March!

Astronomers are not so thrilled by recent events in the communications industry. Elon Musk's Starlink programme comprises 12,000
satellites (of which about 200 have already been launched) aiming to provide global internet coverage. Astronomers have claimed that the number of visible satellites could exceed visible stars and that their brightness in optical and radio wavelengths will severely impact important scientific research. It will certainly make the night sky look very different. It is astonishing that a project with such a global impact should be given approval in the US without consultation with the international community.

There are openings at the Norman Lockyer Observatory on Saturday evenings at 7.15pm prompt:

1st and 15th February 21st March

On Saturday 7th March the Observatory will be open 11am-5pm as part of British Science Week.

Alan Martin

The Sidmouth Centre - in support of the National Trust


The New Year opened with an interesting talk by Jane Overthrow, amateur genealogist and former Sidmouth guide, in which she reflected on research into her own family history together with advice on how to trace your ancestors. Our next two talks are:

Wednesday 19th February (2.30pm) at All Saints' Hall, Sidmouth.
"Making Space for Nature", a talk by Dr Sam Bridgewater, Head of Wildlife and Conservation with Clinton Devon Estates. Sam, a respected author and former researcher at the Natural History Museum, will talk about how the decline of species can be reversed in the East Devon landscape.

Wednesday 11th March (2.30pm) at the Manor Pavilion, Sidmouth.
"The Whetstones of the Blackdown Hills", a talk by John Mather, Emeritus Professor of Geology and former Vice-Chairman of the Devonshire Association. This is our annual Bob Symes lecture, organised jointly with the Sid Vale Association. John will enlighten us on the fascinating history of the local whetstone mining industry.

You don't have to be a member of the National Trust to join our Centre and visitors are always welcome. Full details of all our events are on our website or you can contact:-

Dave King, Membership Secretary, on 01404 811295

RSPB Aylesbeare Common

As I write this, the wind is howling around the cabin and rain is smashing
horizontally at the windows! So what a season! We have struggled along with
our winter management in the most appalling conditions, hats off (no pun
intended) to our residential volunteers who have battled on, all in the spirit of
nature conservation. We have been clearing encroaching scrub from the reserve in many locations, and most recently, we have been opening up the tracks on one of our butterfly transect routes. Here we hope to allow more light to the track edges and improve the floristic diversity of the area, hopefully improving the conditions for many of the butterfly species.

Just before Christmas we had a local contractor on site with his swing shovel (digger) creating areas of bare ground. We have some very rare invertebrates which require the open sandy areas and patches of pioneer heath - this is one way that we are able to create and maintain this particular type of habitat. We hope to do more in the coming months.

Our grazing animals have also been keeping us busy moving groups between different areas on the site. We have recently brought the Dartmoor
ponies back from the Killerton Estate, a National Trust site close to Exeter, and these have ended up back on the reserve at Aylesbeare. We have moved a few of the other groups of ponies to help target management in particular spots
- this also helps with lookering* the animals over the Christmas period - as you could otherwise spend hours looking for livestock over the whole reserve!!

Over November and December we trialled some winter grazing of Red Devon Cattle on Fire Beacon Hill. This worked really well until someone decided to repeatedly take the electric fence down, almost on a daily basis! The site will not have any more more livestock there until the spring. The effect of having livestock on site has helped with the trampling of the bracken and brambles, and eating down hard the invasive coarse grasses. Let's see how things respond next summer.

We welcome Megan who joins us for six months, and to Leo who is coming out several days a week. Aaron has moved on to Forestry England and Becky has stepped up to help keep the wheels turning with both our daily and residential volunteers - so we are having a few staff changes on the reserve.

As the nights start to shorten we look forward to a little less rain and some warmer temperatures,
The RSPB Aylesbeare Common Team

*checking the welfare of livestock