The Countryside Code is applicable to all of us who use the UK’s luscious countryside. Birdwatchers, dog walkers, astronomers and land managers alike have a shared responsibility to protect, respect and thoroughly enjoy Britain’s greenery. Take a look through this quick guide before your next session with those new bird watching binoculars or nightly astronomical telescope excursion!
The code is set into four public sections:
Be safe, plan ahead and follow signs – Understanding access rights, checking weather conditions, mobile phone reception (and battery!), visitors centre locations, map markers, sign meanings and so on; it’s pretty much all common sense, but sometimes we could all do with a little reminder.
Leave gates and property as you find them – Much of the UK’s public countryside passes through or close to private land and farms. Open gates, closed gates, stiles etc are all in place for a reason. If particularly concerned about an open gate/distressed animal etc, try to contact the farmer or local authority.
Protect plants and animals, and take litter home – Long before we stared shopping for astronomical telescopes and bird watching binoculars, we all went to school and learned not to be litter bugs! Always take items foreign to the countryside home (this includes leftover jam sandwiches!) Public fires are banned for good reason; fragile ecosystems can be detrimentally affected.
Keeps dogs under control – In many parts of the countryside it’s illegal to let your dog off the leash. Farmers are within their legal rights to destroy a dog that harms their livestock. Always pick up your dog’s “business” and avoid the countryside if your dog isn’t wormed, as it could easily pass on the infection.
Investing in telescopes or a pair of binoculars isn’t just a matter of one-time consideration. Such optical devices are built to last, and are commonly passed down as family heirlooms or bestowals.
All of our telescopes and binoculars come in their own properly fitting padded case. Some folks prefer to buy universal cases or perhaps adjust a trusted old favourite, but we find that generally the best option is to use the case provided.
The right accessories can make all the difference. For example, your telescope tripod should be sturdy and regularly checked over for damage. Binocular straps should be comfortable (otherwise you’ll just end up taking them off in frustration, risking the safety of your binoculars), securely fastened and of an appropriate length. Lens caps are perhaps the most easily lost facet of lens protection; however cold you fingers or short the drive to the nest bird hide, taking the time to replace lens caps is one of the most important safety measures you can take (we know from experience most damage occurs from unfortunate bumps and bangs during transport!)
Remove oily residue by giving lenses and device bodies a gentle dust with a soft cloth after every use. Arguably the most damaging cleaning action is accidentally rubbing grit or dirt onto the lenses, which can leave nasty scratches and marks. A cursory tender dust with a soft cloth is the perfect precursor to using manufacturer-recommended cleaning solution. Always follow manufacturer instructions when carrying out cleaning or maintenance.
Although vast swathes of the UK’s countryside are polluted by the sinister orange glow of our street lamps, you needn’t journey too far to find ideal spots for your astronomical telescopes.
Galloway Forest Park, Southern Scotland
In 2010, Galloway Forest Park ascertained a level of acclaim thanks to its status as a Dark Sky Park, making it an ideal location to thoroughly enjoy your astronomical telescope, toasty flask of tea and jam sandwiches. The most popular spot in the park is Loch Trool.
Kielder Forest, Northumberland
Kielder Forest’s 250 square miles of dense woodland beauty are noted as being amongst the darkest in England. Check out Kielder Observatory (situated on the impressive Black Feel looking down on Kielder Water) if you fancy using your telescopes in a little more comfort than usual!
Lundy Island, Devon Coast
Although Exmoor boasts darker skies than many other parks, the ten mile trip across the Celtic Sea to Lundy Island is well worth the journey; a favourite spot for holidaying astronomers.
Nestled just over a mile off the coast of the Wirral peninsula, Hilbre Island is a private island where public overnight stays are unfortunately not permitted. Special permission is intermittently granted to astronomy societies and professional groups via the Friends of Hilbre Island.
Although most of us are within relatively easy reach of a decent spot to set up our telescopes, we heartily recommend a few tailored nights on unfamiliar territory. Coinciding your travels with celestial events is a great way to make the most of your trip.
Many folks can live their entire lives without so much as a hint of the scintillating thrill that is observing a meteor shower. If you – like us – have your astronomical telescopes and binoculars at the ready for an exciting year of meteoric astronomy action, check out our quick guide to the best meteor showers visible from the UK during 2011.
Lyrids Meteor Shower(21st-22nd April) – Peaking at around 20 meteors per hour, Lyrids is sometimes visible as early as 16th April right through to 25th April. Look towards the constellation Lyra to see radiating meteors. This shower is of note thanks to the incredibly long trails left in the wake of meteors (sometimes lasting many seconds)
Perseids Meteor Shower(12th-13th August) – Arguably one of the best showers to observe (peaks at around 60 meteors per hour) Although looking to the constellation Perseus through astronomical telescopes or binoculars between 23rd July and 22nd August could reveal many more meteors.
Leonids Meteor Shower(17th-18th November) – Annually peaking at 40 meteors per hour, this cyclic shower peaks magnificently every 33 years, resulting in hundreds of meteors visible (most recently in 2001) emanating from the constellation Leo.
Geminids Meteor Shower(13th-14th December) – Often cited as the best meteor shower in celestial history, Geminids can peak at up to 60 multicoloured meteors per hour. Check out the constellation Gemini from 6th-19th December.
Although many meteor showers are visible with the naked eye, the visual impact of glimpsing the likes of Geminids or Lyrids through an astronomical telescope is mesmerising!
Catching a glimpse of some of the UK’s rarest birds in the sights of our telescopes or bird watching binoculars is what twitchers live for! Many of our bird watching telescopes offer video recording to preserve even the most fleeting sightings of Britain’s fabulous wildlife.
Avocet – Less than 4,000 wintering birds, with fewer than 900 breeding pairs. Mostly found on the east coast of England in estuaries.
Cirl Bunting – Confined to the south west of England, particularly coastal fields and hedges of south Devon. Currently around 860 breeding pairs.
Common Scoter – Although around 50,000 birds winter in the UK, only about 50 breeding pairs have been recorded. Most commonly spotted in their breeding grounds (northern lochs of Scotland) from October to March.
Osprey – Illegal poaching and low breeding numbers have seen the osprey population plummet in the UK. Arriving back from Africa in late March/early April, most of the 150 or so breeding pairs head to Scotland’s freshwater lochs.
Store Curlew – Arriving in late March to breed, around 350 breeding pairs can be found predominantly in Norfolk (Weeting Heath particularly) and around Salisbury Plain.
Also of concern are once common birds such as the skylark (the population has dropped around 47% since 1970) and corn bunting (down 89%) Neither of these birds is considered to be endangered just yet, but unfortunately it may only be a matter of time.
Set your bird watching binoculars to good use by helping the likes of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (R.S.P.B) with annual surveys.
Star gazing can be a wonderfully rewarding hobby. For the avid gazer, perhaps unable to indulge their hobby through brass telescopes elegantly positioned in high-up cubby holes, there’s only one option left – time to go outside!
Stargazing is basically free (aside from investment in decent astronomical telescopes) and can be a great activity for all ages throughout the year. In the northern sky, about 3,000 stars are visible, including Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) Constellations drift across the sky throughout the night in correlation with the turning of the earth and its orbit around the sun.
The Best Spot
Choosing the perfect spot is fairly easy for those who live out in the country or have access to a car. Look for somewhere away from traffic, trees and artificial lighting like streetlights or heavily populated areas. You’ll usually need about five clear miles in each direction to be free of light pollution (depending on the landscape)
Equipment Binoculars are fine for spotting areas of interest, but the steadiness and precision of telescopes is the best way to see stars clearly. Remember to keep astronomical telescopes and binoculars in their protective cases to travel.
Provisions and Clothing
Even the British summer can be bracing at night! Never underestimate how cold you can become when stationary. Depending on the proposed length of your session, a couple of flasks of tea or hot chocolate, some tasty treats and sandwiches could be a godsend!
It’s vital to dress in warm layers with a thick coat on top, thick socks, gloves and a hat. Pack a few blankets in the car for companions who could feel the cold a little more.
The winter sky is a fantastic place to test our new astronomy telescopes. Here are a few definitions to get eager star gazers off to a shooting star start!
Asteroids – Thousands upon thousands of lumps of rock orbit the area between Jupiter and Mars. Occasionally, some break free and can pass very close to earth.
Binary – This is an incredible sight to glimpse through astronomy telescopes. The naked eye sees one large star, however telescopes can reveal the true nature of binary stars, which are actually two stars orbiting each other – magnificent to behold!
Galaxy – The Milky Way is a galaxy, and contains around 100,000 million stars.
Light Year – A measure of distance (not time) The speed of light is slightly shy of 187,000 miles per second, making one light year around 6 billion miles.
Meteoroid – Any bit of space detritus that’s free from an orbit and flying through space. If a meteoroid enters the earth’s atmosphere it’s then defined as a meteorite. Millions enter the earth’s atmosphere annually; however, very few survive the journey to the surface.
Satellite – Any celestial object orbiting a larger object is a satellite. The moon is earth’s satellite. The earth is a satellite of the sun.
Star – A luminous ball powered by nuclear fusion. The surface temperature of stars ranges roughly between 3,000°C to 50,000°C
White Dwarf – The tiny remains of a once massive star; the matter of which has collapsed in on itself so much, a spoonful would weight many tonnes.