Category Archives: countryside

Volunteer army gets wild

Across the UK there are conservation organisations, large and small, that depend on an army of volunteers to help look after special habitats and create the right environment for species to flourish.

More than ever the natural world needs us to do our bit. In just a couple of generations wildlife has started to really struggle. Barely a week goes by without a new report about the challenges facing nature in the UK and across the globe.

Getting involved in supporting a wildlife organisation by giving up some of your time is a great way to make a real difference. Armies of volunteers are helping to create the space for nature and also helping us to understand what is happening and why.

Working at the National Trust for more than a decade I got a real insight into the important role that volunteers made. From a postman who had catalogued the number of birds at Malham Tarn in Yorkshire for over forty years to people getting involved in surveying a precious coastal site in Dorset.

Groups of volunteers from companies coming in to help with improving habitats and helping to survey the land is a brilliant way to make a real difference.

If regular volunteering can prove a bit tricky in terms of time commitments there are loads of great citizen science surveys  – including the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch, the Woodland Trusts’s nature’s calendar and Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count. These really matter in terms of helping wildlife experts understand changes that are happening across the UK.

Volunteering is a wonderful way of giving back to your community and doing your bit to keep our green spaces special.

 

 

Keeping it wild in winter

Millions of us will be tuning into Winterwatch this week as our TV screens are filled with natural winter treats. There is always a slight misconception that nature shuts down during the shorter days and as the temperature hovers around freezing. Yet there is still plenty to see and do; and its a great time to get planning as we move towards Spring. So in true list style here are five things to keep you occupied on the nature front.

  1. Visit a local nature reserve. You’re never that far from a natural wonder, where-ever you live. Organisations such as the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and National Trust have some great places to explore and the winter time is no exception. You’ll see them in a raw state as they start to come alive with the turning of the wild clocks to warmer days. Repeat the visit during the different season and you will develop a special connection.
  2. Read a nature book. In the last decade writing about nature has boomed. And there is a treasure chest of classics that have been re-issued by publishers such as Little Toller. So pop to a local bookshop, library or browse online and pick a book or some poetry to transport you into the magic of nature.
  3. Get volunteering. Green places, such as City Farms, need people to help out. Spending some time helping to make these wonderful places beacons for wildlife is really rewarding and you can get to know some great local charities. There is always plenty to do what-ever the time of year. Or you can taker part in survey’s such as the RSPB Big Garden Watch at the end of January. Many conservation organisations run similar citizen science projects throughout the year.
  4. Watch the birdies. We all know about the wonder that is the Dawn Chorus; a sound that captures the heart and lifts the soul. But the winter can be a fab time to tune into local songbirds, whether the Dawn or Dusk Chorus. And with few leaves on the trees you can actually see them too.
  5. Go for a wander. If you take the time to look you can find nature in many surprising places. Take the time to go for a wander, either from where you live or in to the local countryside. There are plenty of great walking books or plot a route on an OS Map or online. As you walk look, listen and absorb. You’ll spot things that you would have never thought would be there and you’ll get so much out of it.

So if you love Winterwatch (and the BBC Watches more generally) use it as a way to get up off of the sofa and out into the outdoors. You won’t regret it.

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.

A rain-soaked memory bank

I’ve just finished reading ‘Rain’ by Melissa Harrison. It’s a book that searches out those rain-soaked memories that lurk deep in your memory bank as you hungrily read the pages.

Weather has been a long-held fascination for the people of these islands. As Harrison points out it’s shaped the way that we live and the way that we think about our identity. Our countryside, our system of farming over the last 10,000 years and the wildlife that calls the UK home are all dependent on the weather.

As an island on the western edge of mainland Europe at the mercy of the full forces of the Atlantic and sweeping weather fronts you’d kind of expect this to be the case. Talking about the weather can help fill the voids of the awkward conversational moments when we run out of things to talk about. We’re always in a slight state of anxiety about what the weather will do today. The only predictable thing about the UK weather is its unpredictability.

The great thing about this is that it’s never boring on the weather front. We might not have the sun-baked summers of southern Europe or the sheet-white winters of northern Europe but this diversity of weather means that it plays such an important role of shaping our daily experiences, whether the journey to work or a summer holiday.

Years ago I remember visiting the sea cliff masterpiece that is Bempton on the Yorkshire coast. As we arrived to catch a glimpse of the seabirds at this RSPB site, storm clouds gathered in the distance. Despite the impending downpour a family, in true British bulldog spirit, was getting ready for a picnic. They were going to have their neatly cut sandwiches and a cup of tea whatever the weather. This speaks, for me, to something at the core of our national identity; shaped as much by our weather as any grandiose national narrative. We are what the weather throws at us; sculpting and creating beautiful landscapes and a total pragmatism in character, which is very British.

In many parts of the world when the rain comes people take shelter. In the UK we carry on as normal. On a work visit to Snowdonia I remember standing in a blanket bog in the driving rain talking about this important habitat. I can remember it as though it was yesterday and it feels like your body will take weeks to dry out.  Only in the UK would this happen.

When I think back to my childhood or time with my kids now, it’s the wilder weather that springs to mind. Wrapped on a Cornish beach with crashing waves or splashing in puddles at Victoria Park in Bath on a deserted day. I just love the weather and we should all grow to love its inclement nature.

wild time 365

As the length of daylight hours begin to shorten and the weather starts to turn, for some parents the struggle to get their kids outdoors becomes one battle too many. The lure of cosy days in, watching films or playing on the X-box becomes very strong for lots of children.

December 023

Kids need their nature time, what ever time of year it is, and once they get a taste for it they are hooked

 

When it’s wet, increasingly cold and dark it might feel that the great outdoors isn’t that tempting. Getting soaked through on a walk in the countryside or the prospect of washing basket full of dirty laundry piling up at home can feel a bit too much.

And yet the outdoors is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Yes the nature of our landscapes can look very different but the winter months can throw up a real sense of adventure and excitement. Living on an island in the Atlantic means that we should be use the fickleness of the weather. Nature does grind to a half as the clocks change and we head towards winter.

It’s so important that if we are to live in a country where every child is wild, that they have an experience of nature all year round and not just on the sunny days. There is something exciting about wrapping up, putting  on you boots, filling the flask with hot chocolate and setting off for a day at the coast or countryside. The natural wildness of windswept days, crashing waves and tumbling leaves makes you feel alive.

Jumping in puddles is one of the memories that many of us will have as kids. Those carefree moments of running up, jumping and hitting the water and soaking your parents; followed by laughter and the desire to do it time and time again is what wild time is all about.

For kids to flourish and grow there is a real sense of avoiding a sanitised world where the cold, wet and windy is absent from their every day lives. Feeling the full force of elements will often lead to the days that children will remember more than any other as they grow up.

A very British revolution: the creation of the National Parks

Seventy years ago Clement Attlee became Prime Minister. In the aftermath of the six long years of the Second World War the UK needed a new settlement fit for the future that could rebuild the morale and infrastructure of the country. As we all know the welfare state was born and this is now seen as one of the great reforming Governments that transformed people’s lives.

One of the less well known, but equally important aspects of six years of a very British revolution, was the huge strides that were made in opening up access to the countryside and beginning to create a system of protecting the wildlife that calls the British Isles home.

In 1949 a truly radical piece of legislation became law – the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. It set a framework to establish the great National Parks of England and Wales, began the journey towards creating Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and addressed the needs of a network of public rights of way.

Two years later the Peak District became the first National Park and fifty-eight long years later the South Downs became the last of the original list of twelve to join the ranks of great national natural assets.

The journey towards this momentous passage of legislation was a long one. As the towns and cities of the industrial north and London expanded there was a recognition that we needed to protect our most treasured landscapes. Many of these special places were off limits because of private ownership. It was the mass trespass on to Kinder Scout (in Derbyshire) in 1932 that set in train a domino effect which led to the Attlee Government giving the full weight of the law to protecting our rights to enjoy these special places.

Seven decades on and it feels like the National Park movement is under huge strain. Its coffers are increasingly bare, i.e., it’s having to do the same or more with much less resource and staff, and the new Government has a taste for deregulation and a weakening of planning legislation.

The National Parks of England and Wales are our great natural lungs: places where you can go to play or just take a moment to get off the treadmill of life. Millions of us travel to them every year. I grew up spending many a happy day on Dartmoor – its bleak and unforgiving beauty engrained on my memory bank. I live in Bath surrounded by the Cotswold AONB and that wonderful escarpment.

When we think of the welfare state and that safety net for people in the UK we should include the consequences of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. This is about our well-being and ability to spend time enjoying and being part of a wild landscape. Yes these places have been shaped by human activity and continue to be so but they provide a place to connect with nature and we need them now more than ever.