Well, who’d have thought it!

Following on from my blog a few weeks ago about the top dog breeds in the UK, I thought I’d Google around a bit more and look at what were the most popular pets. I was somewhat surprised by what I discovered…

In 2014 it was estimated that 13 million (46% of) households had pets. The total pet population stands at around 65 million ­– which sounds huge – but that does including fish. I’m sorry, but I never really think of fish as pets as they are cold and wet and you can’t stroke them, or ‘pet’ them as such, but clearly I am in the minority here!

So, here’s what is widely regarded as the UK’s top ten pets:

1. Fish kept in tanks: 20 – 25 million (9% of households)
2. Fish kept in ponds: 20 million (5% of households)
3. Dogs: 9 million (24% of households)
4. Cats: 7.9 million (18% of households)
5. Rabbits: 1 million (2.4% of households)
6. Domestic fowl: 1 million (0.8% of households)
7. Caged birds: 1 million (1.4% of households)
8. Guinea Pigs: Half a million (1.1% of households)
9. Hamsters: 400,000 (1.4% of households)
10. Lizards: 400,000 (0.7% of households)  

Lizards… really? The tenth most popular pet ahead of horses and ponies? Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather from one of the 1 million of No.6. And it’s slightly unnerving to envisage half a million Guinea Pigs chomping away in their little cages, but they are sweet pets and one of my daughters was totally besotted with hers.

Other popular pets are, unsurprisingly, horses and ponies (400,000 – 0.3% of households), snakes (400,000 – 0.5% of households), pigeons (300,000), tortoises and turtles (300,000), frogs and toads (100,000), newts/salamanders (100,000), gerbils, rats, mice and insects (100,000 of each).

I’ve clearly led a sheltered life where pets are concerned, my own selection being restricted largely to dogs and most of those being spaniels. What pets have you owned? Are you conventional, like me, or have you been seduced by salamanders or been besotted with a budgie? I’ll bet there are some unusual ones out there… I’d love to hear about them!


So who is top dog?

Moss, a German Wirehaired Pointer.My partner in crime writing Julia, has a lovely puppy called Moss, who we featured on this blog a few months ago. Moss is a German Wirehaired Pointer. This is not a common breed and Julia is amazed at how often she is stopped in the street and asked what sort of dog Moss is.

Devon is a very doggy part of the world with it being such a great place to walk and also home to lots of farms where working dogs are used. You will find lots of collies – used to work both sheep and cattle and, of course, those wonderful feisty little characters, Jack Russells – used as ratters, rabbiters and general farm watchdogs. They also seem to be the regular driving companion to farmers in their tractors!

And so I started wondering about what the ten most popular breeds of dog in the UK were. The figures I came across are from The Kennel Club so don’t take into account non-pedigree and non-registered dogs so you won’t see a Labradoodle, a French Pug or a Cockapoo on the list! Generally, the most popularly owned and bred dogs in the UK stay fairly consistent year on year, with the same breeds of dogs appearing in the list over and over again. Today’s most popular dogs are:

Our late, beloved Wellington, a Cocker Spaniel.1. Labrador Retriever
The Labrador remains a firm favourite within the UK, and consistently appears near the top of the list every year. Bred as gundogs originally, they make loyal, loving and friendly family pets, great with children, intelligent and easy to train.

2. Cocker Spaniel (my favourite!)
The Cocker Spaniel is statistically the dog most likely to win the Best in Show title at Crufts. But the Cocker is not just a pretty face – like the Labrador, the Cocker achieved its popularity as a working gun dog, and got the ‘Cocker’ name due to its proficiency at hunting the Eurasian Woodcock. Did you know that… 

3. Springer Spaniel (English)
Gun dogs currently hold all of the top three rankings in the popularity stakes, with the English Springer Spaniel coming in third. Affectionate, fun loving and incredibly good natured, the Springer Spaniel loves to play, chase and run.

4. German Shepherd
The German Shepherd (or Alsatian) is a large dog of Germanic origins, and relatively young in dog terms, with the breed originating towards the end of the 19th century. It is prized for its fearlessness, loyalty and A feisty little Border Terrier.intelligence, and can often be found in working roles alongside of the police or military.

5. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier comes in at number five, but if you include non-registered Staffys and Staffy cross breeds, you might well find the Staffordshire Bull Terrier in the number one spot! Squat, muscular and businesslike, the Staffy is a loyal dog that forms close bonds with his family and makes the perfect companion for young and old alike.

6. Border Terrier
The Border Terrier is a small rough-coated terrier hailing from the Scottish borders, and they are comical, fun loving and lively little dogs that tend to be hardy and full of pluck! While the Border Terrier generally gets on well with children, they often don’t extend the same affection to cats and other smaller pets- except as a snack!

7. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is the third spaniel to make the list. Sharing the traits of loyalty, sunny dispositions and kind natures with the Springer and the Cocker it is one of the smaller spaniel breeds, and Zelda Zen, a friend’s gorgeous little Pug.often popular as a lap dog.

8. Golden Retriever
The Golden Retriever is a medium-sized and intelligent dog that loves water! They are also renowned for their loyalty and ability to work with people, and can be found in many working roles such as search and rescue, assistance for blind or deaf people, and as sniffer dogs.

9. Pug
The Pug is often referred to as the comedian of the canine world and is an intelligent, entertaining and good-natured dog. It would certainly be fair to say that their looks are unique and distinctive, with their short, squat bodies, curled tails and squashed faces!

Lennox, a beautiful retriever in training to become a Guide Dog.10. Boxer
The boxer dog, so named for the ‘boxing’ motions they make when fighting or play fighting, has fallen in popularity in recent years, with the incidences of newly registered puppies down 40% in 2010 compared to the 2001 census.

If you have had dogs as pets, what breed did you have, and why…?



The peacock – something to be proud of?

The peacock is a mightily impressive bird, both admired and feared throughout the world. Not only does it have the most breathtakingly beautiful tail, or ‘train’ as it is called, enormous, dramatic and covered in iridescent ‘eyes’, it also emits the most terrifying scream said to be loud enough to wake the dead! I am always somewhat disappointed when I hear their call as such a beautiful bird should make a much more pleasant sound, but I digress…

I bought a rather lovely storage box online recently with a beautiful peacock design on it and, while searching for it, the number of peacock designs I came across, used on all sorts of products, was quite astonishing!

The blue peacock, or peafowl, that we see most often in this country, originates from India and Sri Lanka and is related, unsurprisingly, to the pheasant. While it would be natural to think their stunning train feathers contain vivid pigments – they don’t. It’s much more complex than that and involves ‘barbules’ – fibre-like components. Slight changes to the spacing of these barbules result in the different colours.

Peafowl – oh let’s just call it a peacock and have done with it – are forest birds that nest on the ground, but roost in trees. They have an interesting diet and are omnivorous and eat mostly plant parts, flower petals, seed heads, insects, reptiles and even amphibians. Wild peacocks are not picky and will eat almost anything they can fit in their beaks and swallow! Domesticated peacocks have a slightly different and a more varied diet than their wild cousins. Sometimes they eat grass, different kinds of seed, flower petals, insects and whatever their owners feed them. This is usually similar to the food given to chickens, such as corn and oats and even cheese and rice. 

The peacock appears as an important symbol in many cultures and religions. In Christianity, the peacock symbolism represents the ‘all-seeing’ church, along with the holiness and sanctity associated with it. The peacock also represents resurrection, renewal and immortality within the spiritual teachings of Christianity.

Hindu mythology says the peacock is a magical sacred bird that’s often associated with the god of thunder, Indra. The story says that the peacock will dance when rain comes.

Chinese mythology sees the peacock rather differently to Hindus. They see it as a symbol of dignity and beauty and it is often associated with the resurrection of Christ according to Christian art. This is because the peacock will moult its tail feathers only for them to re-grow again later.

To many Europeans, the peacock is an evil bird, the ‘eyes’ in the tail feathers are related to the ‘evil eye’ and it’s a sign of impending doom to look upon them!

As a crafter, I find their colours entrancing and their shape and intricate feather design inspiring and versatile, while peacock blue is a definite favourite colour of mine. I just typed ‘peacock’ into our craft shop and found we have no less than 12 items listed… OK, so one of them is a peacock butterfly, but still…


Chicken dinners

From the top: One and two – Edith and Dahlia having a go at the cabbage. Three – Dahlia and Lavender making sure they don’t waste any bits! Four – the ladies gather for a photo, minus Iris. Five – thinking about taking afternoon tea in their chalet.I know you all like hearing about chickens, so I’m handing over today’s blog to my partner in crime writing, Julia.

I haven’t rambled on about my hens for a while, so Joanna said I could give you an update this week. I introduced five new hens back in October and you can never be sure how they will settle down and whether there will be bullying. I always think a flock of hens is very like a group of people – sit and watch for half an hour and you will see many human traits you’ll recognise (mostly bad!) and will soon understand where the phrases ‘hen pecked’ and ‘pecking order’ come from.

The three buff orpingtons, Dahlia, Iris and Lavender, and the two cream legbars, Edith and Bunty (all named after characters in our novels!), have settled in very well. Far from being overwhelmed as I’d feared, my two old hens, less romantically named Dino and Specky, who had looked ancient (Specky is 6 and Dino an amazing 9!) have both rallied. Chickens tend to moult in Autumn and both the old ones were looking moth eaten, but the arrival of their new companions has galvanised them into action and they both have beautiful new feathers and are even acting ‘young’ again. Just like us humans – nothing like a bit of competition to make you go and get your hair done or nip to the gym!

My previous flock had a bully in its midst and I’m afraid it made life hell for some of the others. The bully died last year and I was determined that when I introduced new hens it would all be harmonious. Several hen keepers I’d chatted to online had told me how to deal with any future bullies. And no, it doesn’t involve a cooking pot! You isolate the bully, keep them out of sight of the others for about a week. The main flock will then settle down and a pecking order re-established. You then reintroduce the bully who will very probably find herself at the bottom of the heap – and she will then behave herself! Can’t we all think of instances when it would be handy to do this in real life?! 

This time of year it is all rather muddy and the hens can get bored with no grass to peck at or insects to chase. The lovely people I bought the cream legbars from, rather cleverly hung cabbages on string from trees. The chickens can then peck away at it and, as it moves about it, gives them a bit of a challenge and keeps them interested. I had a hilarious 10 minutes recently, watching Dahlia and Lavender standing either side of a suspended Savoy cabbage. One would peck, the cabbage then swung toward the other hen, and she’d lunge to peck it, and back it swung – I swear it looked as if they were playing ‘swing ball’ with great enthusiasm! 

The buffs are very gentle natured, but they are big birds and they do like their food! The cream legbars, Bunty and Edith, are faintly hysterical (they remind me of that character Mavis in Coronation Street!) and paranoid, so they will only approach the cabbage once the buffs have had their fill. They manage a few pecks but are, of course, frightened by the swinging vegetable as it is clearly ‘out to get them’ and they tend to run off screaming.

When we introduced the cream legbars, they were younger than the others and needed to be kept separate and given different food, so we searched eBay and managed to buy a second–hand coop for very little money. It is rather twee and looks a bit like an alpine chalet! Bunty and Edith liked it and would fuss around inside like two old maids bickering over the housework.

Now, the hens all live together in the main coop, but the chalet is still there inside their run. We have noticed that most afternoons, the five new hens go Gossiping inside the willow structure before going in for a WI meeting in the chalet.and stand in it, apparently for no good reason other than to have a bit of a gossip. You can hear them making contented ‘pock pock’ noises like a load of old gossips at the WI. It’s interesting that the older birds don’t seem to be invited, so perhaps there’s a little bit of girl power in action but fortunately, it seems to be no more than idle gossip! Let’s hope it stays that way!




Potentially harmful garden plants

Top to bottom: Autumn crocus, Lily-of-the-valley, Delphiniums, Lobelia and Chrysanthemums.My granddaughter Grace is really getting the hang of this walking lark! As a typically doting granny, this has set me thinking about her toddling around the garden this spring, with me pointing out my favourite plants. And then, being an eternal worrier, I started thinking about harmful garden plants and whether I ought to start digging things up!

After a quick scoot around the RHS website, I had calmed myself with the knowledge that, fortunately, serious poisoning by plants is very uncommon in the UK. Some garden plants do present a hazard, but the risk of severe poisoning, skin reaction or allergy is low.

So, what are the hazards?
Some plants may cause digestive upset or discomfort if eaten. Obviously, children are most at risk as we adults tend not to go around stuffing garden plants into our mouths or up our noses! A small number of common garden plants are more toxic and could cause severe poisoning. Obvious ones that I think we probably all know include Laburnum, Laurel and Yew. Less obvious nasties include Autumn crocus, Lily-of-the-valley, Delphinium and the innocent looking Bluebell!

Other plants cause problems when in contact with the skin. Irritant sap can cause a burning sensation and sometimes blistering of the skin and anyone can be affected if you get enough on your skin. Some unexpected candidates include Daffodils, Lobelia and Chrysanthemum.

What to do if there’s a problem…
If you think a child or adult has eaten part of a doubtful plant, seek medical advice immediately from a hospital Accident & Emergency department. Do remember to take a sample of the plant with you. Do not panic and DO NOT try to make the person sick!

If you think an animal has eaten a poisonous plant, get them along to the vet as soon as possible and, again, remember to take along samples of the plant concerned.

Better safe than sorry:
Really, as I said at the start, the chances of anyone poisoning themselves in this country are very slight, so please don’t be concerned! In addition, if you follow these few simple guidelines and all should be well!

  • If it is not a food plant, do not eat it!
  • Teach children not to play with or eat growing plants
  • Use gloves when pruning or weeding and keep skin covered
  • Do not leave prunings or uprooted plants in reach of farm animals or pets
  • Check plant labels for toxicity warnings (sometimes stated on label)

Plant poisons information
The RHS website www.rhs.org.uk has an extensive list of harmful plants, so I’d suggest you refer to that if you want to check out your existing plants, or are considering buying new ones, and you have a young child or wayward pet!

For information about particular risks presented by potentially harmful plants, try the following contacts.

RHS Gardening Advice Service – tel: (0845) 260 8000, 10am to 4pm

Kew Gardens – tel: (020) 8332 5000