From June 1995 issue

Out in The Field
News that otters are returnng to the upper reaches of the Thames was a cause for great celebration in the Gloucestershire home of Mrs Daphne Neville. One of the country’s only licensed otter handlers, Mrs Neville has been on her “otter-horse” for some 15 years. She tours agricultural shows and local schools with her four small-clawed Asian otters, promoting the cause of the indigenous native breed.

“The otter is the flagships of a healthy river. People have to learn to respect them and leave them alone,” she says. The Nevills’ otters swim freely in the ponds and river surrounding the mill-house. The smallest of the 13 species, Asian otters are less aquatic than British natives and are easily transported.

The first to arrive, Bee, became a celebrity, carrying out 1,500 public engagements in 13 years. Known as the singing otter, she appeared on radio and television. Bee’s repertoire ranged from Happy Birthday to Jerusalem.” She even managed Yellow Submarine,” says Mrs Neville. “She had a very keen ear.”

Bee’s successors, Mr Bee, Little Bee and twins Phoebee and Tobee begin their summer tour at the Lake District National Park’s Brockhole Visitor’s Centre, Windmere.


One of the entomological mysteries of the 20th century was the disappearance of the chequered skipper from England. Though it still survives in western Scotland, the English population has been extinct since 1975.

The charity Butterfly Conservation (BC) has embarked on a scheme to re-establish the chequered skipper in its former haunts. Research has shown that the English population was ecologically closer to butterflies from France. The French governement has permitted BC to collect eggs from the Ardennes. if all goes well, chequered skippers should be flying again in England next spring.

These butterflies have an unusual life-cycle. The eggs hatch in June or July but the caterpillar grows slowly, becoming a chrysalis the following April. The adults emerge in mid-May and can be seen until June. Dr Martin Warren, BC’s conservation officer, says: “This project is the culmination of over six years’ research on the butterfly, both in Britain and northern Europe. The chances of it flourishing are good.”


Country Queries
I have been told that it is possible to preserve fresh flowers using a microwave. Is this possible and, if so, can you tell me the method?
Into a microwave-safe container put a layer of silica gel about 1in deep. Take a fresh flower at its peak, trim the stem to about half an inch and put it stem down into the gel so that the flower is upright. Sprinkle gel over and between the petals until it is completely covered but take care not to crush the flower out of shape. 

Put the container into the microwave alongside a microwave-safe measuring cup with some water in it. Microwave on high for two-and-a-half minutes, rotating the container with the flower in it every 30 seconds.

Put the container with the flower in it to one side and levae for at least 12 hours undistrubed. Then, very carefully, take the flower out and tap it gently to remove all the gel. Re-use the gel for further flowers and when you have enough to make up an arrangement, attach false stems and secure with florists’ tape.

This process works best if only one flower at a time is put into a container and one container at a time is put into the microwave.