Nuns’ Farts & Endangered Seahorses

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A ball of dried plant material washed up on a beach

I am not kidding. There really are such things as Nuns’ Farts – let me explain…..

First, in France there is a delicious little pastry, some say it’s like a small cinnamon bun and others that it is a dainty fried pastry like a doughnut. Whatever, this sweet cake is called a pet de nonne or pet de soeur – a nun’s fart! The story goes that a Sister  living at the Abbey in Marmoutier was helping to prepare for a religious feast when she farted rather loudly. All the other Sisters laughed heartily at this; and the poor woman was so confused that she dropped her spoon of cake mixture into some boiling oil – thus creating the first doughnut. So now there is a cake with a peculiar name commemorating this event.

Second, on the strandline there sometimes appears a small ball of vegetable fibres which gets its name from its supposed resemblance to the Nun’s Fart pastry …. or maybe its tumble-weed habit is reminiscent of the puff of wind. [The one in the picture above was seen at Lulworth Cove]. In the Mediterranean these rounded or flattened balls are very common and are made up of the remains of leaves and rhizomes of the marine plant Neptune’s Weed or Grass, Posidonia oceanica (Linnaeus) Delile. They have been rolled up into a bundle by the waves.

Neptunes Weed does not occur in British coastal waters as far as I know. But in Studland Bay, for example, the clear shallow water at the western end is home to Eel Grass or Eel Wrack, Zostera marina Linnaeus. I am wondering whether this similar species is providing the material for the fibre balls washed up on our British shores.

By all accounts, this particular bed of Eel Grass in Studland is under great threat from the mooring of large boats. Not only is the vegetation of this habitat being regularly damaged but also some special, rare and supposedly protected inhabitants – breeding populations of rare seahorses – are seriously at risk.

If you would like to learn more about what is happening to the seahorses, and if you would like to do something to raise awareness of the problem, then please look at information on Dorset Wildlife Trust Website (type ‘seahorse’ into the Search window at the top of the DWT page to find relevant articles). There is also the Seahorse Trust for more details, and a recent article in May’s Dive magazine highlights the issue as shown below.


A Blog from the Past [2009]

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