Category Archives: Butterflies

Watch the birdie: capturing wildlife on camera

There is something very powerful about an image. It captures a moment in time and creates a memory that can be shared and viewed time and time again.

Digital technology means that we’re all photographers now. Where-ever we go we have a camera in our possession: smartphone cameras are astonishingly good and produce really high quality pictures. And with social media channels, such as instagram and Facebook, we have the places to share the stories of our life and what matters to us.

Photography has always been an essential ingredient of telling the story of the natural world. But now its a much more democratic process where beautiful pictures of wildlife can be used on popular TV programmes such as Springwatch, sourced from the hundreds of thousands of fans that connect with the series via twitter, or can be liked thousands of time on instagram feeds.

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Puffins on the National Trust’s Farne Islands

The ornithologists of the twenty first century want to get the best shots they can of birds in flight and butterfly collecting is now about the exchange of images of Large Blue’s rather than pinning them to a board.

Wildlife pictures work whether a close up of a particular species such as a beetle or a landscape picture of a meadow, orchard or bluebell wood. They are very important ways of helping us to understand what is happening to nature and also our place in nature.

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So, why note use your camera to help us find out more about the wildlife in the places that we live and love to visit time and time again.

Going wild on your way to work

If you travel by train or bus to work its a great time to check out the nature on your journey.

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Bus stops can be surprisingly good places for nature

My commute from Bath to Swindon by train transports me through glorious countryside. Just staring out of the window is a nice way to get to know the green places around where you live or work. I’m lucky that its field after field and I might be able to spot a roaming deer or flock of rooks in the trees. Its a view that I never really tire of.

Even the most urban commute by train will throw up all kinds of wild treats. Its a question of looking. Railways can create great corridors for wildlife and the embankments can be full of life with butterflies settling on buddleia and songbirds perching in the trees. Wildflowers also spring up adding a splash of colour and the brambles and nettles are great as a wonderful food source for all sorts of creatures.

Waiting at a bus stop as you’re just waking up might not seem the best place to do some wildlife watching. You’d be surprised if you did some detective work while you wait as plants and birds particularly can spring up where you least expect them. Insects can also be found making their way from A to B, whether spiders of beetles.

So, 30 Days Wild is a great time to think about using your journey to work as a new found window on the world of wildlife.

Time for a great British meadow revival

If you were a time lord and could travel back in time to say the 1950s the British countryside would be awash with a mosaic of meadows. They were a staple of the farming system which was full of wild life.

In the last six decades things have changed pretty drastically. Haymeadows have declined by around 90%; a common yet sad stat for many of our fragile habitats. The green revolution in farming (ie more intensive farming) and other changes in land use created the perfect conditions for a slow long decline.

And yet it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a gradual, very British, revolution taking place. Conservation organisations like the National Trust, Plantlife and the Wildlife Trusts (supported by lottery funding and public support), are at the forefront of introducing a change in the way that land is managed to re-introduce haymeadows. They clearly see the value of a habitat that creates a place for wildflowers and insects to flourish.

Visiting a haymeadow in the summer when its just about to peak is a wonderful experience. The plethora of grasses gently sway in the summer breeze, wildflowers add a splash of colour like a Monet painting and butterflies bask in the sunshine. Its one of those experiences that just captivates you.

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A local meadow in Bath, helping to create rich habitats for local wildlife

This slow change in the way that we see the land has also arrived in our towns and cities. At a time of challenging budgets for local authorities creating a network of meadows makes financial sense and enriches the local green spaces. In Bath over the last couple of years mini-meadow projects have been popping up across the city.

These wild places are great for people living in urban areas to reconnect with the natural world. Often small patches of green, they add a vibrancy, and a sense of why nature is so important as a tonic for our busy screen based lives.

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At Bath City Farm, thanks to funding from Natural England, a haymeadow is being re-created on a steep sided hill. When you wander around the nature trail, you will in June, come across a field full of buttercups and with this new meadow project the diversity of flowers will only grow.

Meadows can have a slightly romantic feel to them; those sun-kissed days full of dappled light and the lush warm colours. And yet they provide a really important place for nature to call home. Its time that the Great British Meadow revival really took hold so that they once again become a common sight across our wonderful landscapes.

Corridors of wild power

When we think of places where we connect with nature our minds often turn to open fields, deep forests, mountain ranges or the rugged coastline.  Its a natural instinct in-built through thousands of years of tending the land that we associate nature with rural places. After all our diet of wildlife telly beamed into our living rooms or devoured on smartphones has a particular countryside bias.

And yet for most of us its the everyday experience of urban living where we can potentially connect with the natural world. However, in our busy, fast-paced and hard-pressed lives, we often miss the obvious signs of wildlife right in front of our eyes or beneath our feet.

The nature of our towns and cities means that wild oases can be found in the most unusual places. You just need the time and patience to look in the right places.

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Not far from where I work in Swindon there is a lane sandwiched between the mainline railway and an office car park. Its no more than a few hundred metres long and about 5-10 metres wide; and connects one of the station car parks and path into the centre of town. In reality its one of those non-descript places that people pass through in a hurry, either on their way to work or heading home.

This slightly unloved grey/green corridor, however, is full of wild life. Stroll along the footpath on a sunny day and the noise of the trains and hum of urban life drains away as the birds sing in full throttle, the bees buzz past in a real hurry and butterflies rest on nettles to soak up the sun.

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Over the last few weeks the foilage of the trees and hedgerows has come alive with hawthorn bursting into brilliant white and the mini meadows filling up with buttercups, dandelions and forget-me-nots. Blackbirds and robins have been getting busy building nests for the breeding season and the lane has come alive with cabbage white and orange tip butterflies.

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Throughout the rest of Spring and into Summer this will become a place where I go to get my fix of nature, to daydream and let the troubles of the world disappear.

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For me its these edgelands, these arteries of urban life, that can re-awaken people’s interest in nature. We can all find them near to where we work or live. Just take the time in a lunch break or on the way to home to linger and tune into the intensity of nature or just watch as insects fly this way and that.  It doesn’t matter whether you can identify the species you see; the act of just connecting with the wild place where you live will enrich your life.

Two feet good…the joy of wandering

Every month has its designation and now that we’re in the month of May its National Walking Month. Any initiative or campaign to encourage more people to walk is a good thing in my book.

For some people walking has an image problem. Think walking, think hikers, with all the latest kit, striding off into the countryside. We shouldn’t forget that its the people that have rambled the land for generations that helped open up our green and pleasant land for everyone and the mass trespass to Kinder Scout in the Peak District ultimately led to our network of wonderful National Parks.

I like to think of walking as the stuff of life. If I don’t have a daily wander it doesn’t feel like I’ve connected with the world around me. Yes you can see it in the narrow confine of how many steps that you’ve walked today but there is something plain nice about walking the streets of the place that you work or live.

Back at the start of April I began a new job. One of the first things that I did was to work out a few walking routes of different lengths. And as part of this detective work there was the real bonus of a footpath neighbouring the railway, nearby the office, which is a nature rich urban corridor – full of wildlife. As spring arrived so did the birdsong, trees bursting into leaf and the sight of butterflies on the wing.

We should all try and get walking more. Just set off from where you live and walk. See where it takes you. I can bet that you’ll find out so much more about the place where you call home. The pace is just right too, to take things in and to notice the buildings, the green spaces and the sounds that just flash by or you miss when driving past.

Walking is also a great time to think. Try to resist the urge to plug those headphones in and just let the soundscape inspire you. You can use a walk in the morning to plan your day or in the evening to download your day.

I still love a long distance walk (I’m in the midst of trying to complete the classic Cotswold Way with friends) but a ramble through some woods with my family or the walk to the station in the morning is just as rewarding. We’re made to walk and hopefully May will tempt a few more people to see that walking in good your body, soul and mind.

Spring is sprung

When I was a kid growing up in Swindon most Saturday’s we took the train to Bath to watch the rugby. As you left Swindon on the right hand side there was a shallow embankment. In the spring time the Daffodils, when in bloom, would spell the phrase: ‘Spring is Sprung’.

I love all of the four seasons for the contrast and the richness that they bring to our lives; creating a real sense of tangible change and the full range of colours in nature. Its always good when we’re on the cusp of the changing of the season, especially between winter and spring.

This winter has been a good one. The sunniest since 1929 according to the Met Office, its also had some fantastically clear nights, ideal for stargazing, and also for deep frosts in the morning. There is something re-assuring about the noise of people scrapping the ice off of their windscreens and the pure beauty of a landscape shrouded in a glistening white.

One of the lovely signs of spring, primroses

One of the lovely signs of spring, primeroses

Many of the signs of spring start to emerge before we get to March (the 1st of March is officially the first day of the meteorological spring). Daffodils and primroses coming into bloom, catching a glimpse of your first butterfly and the buds on trees: all signs of milder weather and that much valued extra hour of daylight (that comes at the end of the month).

Its also the time when we and the animal kingdom begin to emerge from hibernation. The promise of warmer weather getting us out and about; and the natural world ready for the season of huge change and reproduction.

A tree full of starlings in full voice

A tree full of starlings in full voice

Every day the volume of birdsong cranks up a notch. You notice how our feathered friends are starting to limber up with their vocal gymnastics, generating a wonderful soundscape in towns, cities and the countryside. We’re full speed ahead towards the arrival of the wall of sound, that is the dawn chorus. And don’t forget the joy of the dusk chorus too.

I feel the need to connect to the seasons. So much of our lives are spent rushing around, spent looking at screens and getting through those to-do lists. Nature, especially in the spring, can be a real tonic for us all; taking the time out of our day to notice things as they change lifts the spirits.

One of the real signs of spring..the arrival of the toad patrol...

One of the real signs of spring..the arrival of the toad patrol…

One of the big symbols of the arrival of spring is the toad patrol in Charlcombe Valley, on the eastern side of Bath, cranking into action. The road signs appear, warning drivers about the perilous journey for the toads as they migrate down to the ponds, and diversions are in force. And the wonderful volunteers are out in force helping them on their way.

Spring is a time of renewal. I can’t wait to see the fragile beauty of the delicate white flowers of hawthorn, the first butterflies of the season on the wing and the appearance of nests in the trees. And there is something so magical about wandering through a traditional orchard with the fruits trees in full blown.

So its time to get ready and take time to see and hear the wonders of nature with the first signs of spring.

Nature’s guide

A couple of years ago I came across an old well thumbed copy of the Observer book of wild flowers. In the digital age its easy to forget the power and wonder of a tactile thing such a book.

As a kid I would spend hours looking in books to find out more about the world around me. One of my daughter’s favourite books, which is just about holding together, is a children’s encyclopedia. Its something she goes back to time and time again.

Recently we were sent a 1973 copy of booklet called ‘Spotter in the country’. It might look a little bit dated now but the words that jump out of the pages are all about inspiration, encouraging observations of nature and importantly having fun. Something which can be easily overlooked is that spending time in the natural world is one big adventure with lots of fun and constantly discovering new things.

These simple spotters guides have played such an important part in connecting generations of kids to the natural world. One of our naturalists at work came in with copies of a ladybird guides to the four seasons in four beautifully illustrated books. They told a wonderful story of nature through the seasons with barely a fact in sight. They’ll be out of print now but it feels as though it’s time for a revival.

And don’t forget that these are the books that have inspired the wonderful group of writers penning such fantastic poetry and prose about nature.

The premise of these often pocket sized books was about presenting information simply. Taking these books on days out or flicking through the pages to identify a plant or butterfly was all part of the experience of learning about wildlife. The words used were accessible and they took you on a journey of learning without realising it.

Turn on a computer or visit a local bookshop and the choice of guides to nature is huge. There is a wonderful array of information at our finger tips but kids connection with nature has been in decline for the last 30 years.
I’m worried about the desire to have too much information and too many facts. What is needed is to tell a story about nature, tapping into that innate sense of storytelling which is such a fundamental part of being human. Kids need to be drawn into nature and they have a natural fascination with nature that needs to be unleashed by creating a story related to the wildlife that they see every day.

Wouldn’t it be great if every seven year old in the UK got a copy of a wildlife spotters guide, helping them to identify some common species of trees, plants, birds, insects and mammals.

It would be a story of things they might easily see and a first step into the wonderful world of wildlife, encouraging them to stop, look and listen; and perhaps most importantly talk to their friends about it.

Kids at this age are like sponges, absorbing a huge array of information and I reckon that there would be a real sense of excitement finding out about the trees in a local park or the butterflies in their garden.