Category Archives: Uncategorized

Re-charging the batteries at the coast

Clambering over some awesome rocks, revealed by a low tide, on Crackington Haven in north Cornwall on a breezy winter’s day reminded me that time spent at the coast can be a real tonic. For most Brits a trip to the seaside is a summer activity travelling to crowded coastal towns or packed beaches, full of a real buzz.  But going to the seaside out of season can show you the coastline in a new light.

The beach at Hunts Bay

Listening to the waves is a lovely way to feel calm and relaxed

I have always been a massive fan of the UK’s coast. As a kid I spent many a happy hour pottering around Dawlish Warren in Devon and more recently rock pooling with my son and daughter is probably top of my coastal pops (there is something so relaxing and joyful about staring at a small pool of water to find some crabs lurking in the seaweed or small fish swimming at speed to find cover).

A winter trip to the coastline (and we’re never really that far from it) is a must to keep you topped up with fresh air through the shorter days as the arrival of spring can be almost smelt with the blossoming of nature. It’s also somewhere where you can just do nothing in particular, wandering along sandy beaches, collecting shells or sea glass, or staring out to sea. Yes the British climate can make a day at the seaside an interesting one but kiting yourself out with waterproofs and warm cloths prepares you for almost anything.

Cycling along the Camel Trail to Padstow was a real battery charging experience. The light seemed to change every minute as the tide started to flow in the creeks and upstream and the calls of the wading birds created a wonderful soundscape to the pedalling. My daughter’s rosy cheeks summed up the simple joy of cycling by the seaside.

Spending time at the coast is magical and the unpredictably of the weather adds some spice to those days out. Winter time with the low sun and the thought of a wood burning stove in a local pub after a coastal walk is just as good and probably more atmospheric that a day at the coast in the height of summer.

A cinematic journey into research

I have to declare an interest – I love documentary film-making. I can’t get enough of them and there has been a steady stream of very influential films in this genre over the last few years. Using film to capture a complex character or deconstruct a meaty issue is such a powerful tool in story-telling.

Documentary films will often tap into those zeitgeist moments or take a more forensic look at the challenges facing the world, such as environmental change or social issues; or the story of a person that captures our imagination. Whether a feature length film or a short they can convey something in moving images and words that the written word sometimes can’t; though there is often a deep link between the two.

The Research in Film Awards, now in its second year, aims to shine a bright spotlight on the craft of film-making as a really good way of sharing the findings and knowledge from research. Making films based on research has been at the heart of film-making since people started producing films in the early 20th century. They provide a rich textual feel to story-telling and tap in to the art of telling stories.

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‘AWA: Zimbabwe’s Rap Queen’, by Max Thurlow, won the Innovation category at the 2016 Research in Film Awards

Hundreds of films were submitted for the Research in Film Awards this year, which is run by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The standard was so high and shows how people now see film-making as a great way of communicating research in a way that is accessible, informative and compelling. The winning films covered a wide array of themes from Bronze Age hill-forts in Scotland to a Zimbabwean Rapper whose music is a tool for empowerment.  Each of the films that won had something magical about them in the way that they took you on a cinematic journey of discovery.

All of the films that made it on to the shortlist had taken the time to carefully craft a narrative that left me wanting more. It takes real skill and passion to take research and turn it into a film that people want to watch and provide take away messages that have impact.

The explosion in You Tube and the unremitting rise of vloggers means that the world is awash with video content. There is an important and vital need for film-makers to tell stories based in research that can communicate the rich complexity of life and the important role that the arts and humanities play in telling the story of what it is to be human.

You can watch all of the five winning films from the Research in Film Awards and share your thoughts on twitter at #RIFA2016

 

08.05.16 – Attenborough Day

Like millions of Britons I was brought up on a diet of Sir David Attenborough television programmes. Life on Earth introduced me to the wonders of the natural world. Brilliant filming combined with the Attenborough narrative left me spellbound and got me hooked on nature.

You can’t really underestimate his contribution to our national love affair with nature over the decades. He has helped to showcase the best of nature and its complex relationships and intriquing behaviour but also the massive challenges that wildlife faces in the 21st century.

Its his wondeful storytelling ability that has captivated generations of people; helping to deconstruct really complex ecological systems and allow viewers to understand what is happening . I like the fact that my kids love his programming as much as me and that we’ll sit down as a family to enjoy these epic on screen adventures.

At a time when people’s connection with nature on a daily basis has been diminishing I think that this year is the time to launch Attenborough Day – to celebrate Sir David’s birthday. The natural world is a fragile place and Sir David has told its story so beautifully over many decades and we should all spill out into nature on the 8 May to show what it means to us all.

When Sir David turns 90 on the 8 May wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could all take the time to look at nature and listen to nature where we live, connecting with the nature on our doorstep.  It would be amazing if people could commit to do their bit for wildlife where they live either by volunteering or supporting organisations that help species and habitats. Maybe it could be a good time to go on a family walk in the woods or find a local nature reserve that you’ve always been meaning to go to.

I’ll be taking my kids to Folly Farm, an amazing Avon Wildlife Trust place, to get some wild time, and spend time immersed in the beauty of spring.

The day is the perfect chance for people to commit to make a difference and share the stories of success in the world of wildlife; giving us all the hope that we can reverse the decline that we have seen in the last 60 years and showing that #Attenboroughday is one where hope shines bright.

A January nature diary

After years of trying to write a nature diary with limited success I decided that the best way forward was to pen a sentence of news from the natural world every day.

I was hoping that just penning a few words would mean that it becomes part of my daily routine, so here goes with my offering for January.

1 January: a cold windy rain kicked off the first day of the year, confusing the flowers already in bloom, as a result of the mild winter.

2 January: we see a fox run across the road in front of us in the pre-dawn darkness. Then en route back from Cambridgeshire we catch a glimpse of a fox stalking some prey in a field.

3 January: a pair of magpie’s danced in the sky as the sun shone with relief from the constant rainfall.

4 January: I heard the sweet melody of a winter dawn chorus.

5 January: it was re-assuring the see the stars twinkling as the heavy cloud briefly lifted.

6 January: a fog bound morning with deep winter darkness; nothing much stirring.

7 January: lovely crystal clear night with the stars burning bright; temperatures are becoming more normal.

8 January: a cold frosty start to the morning, with the rooks active along the side of the motorway, circling high above the trees.

9 January: watched a robin perched in the tree at Bath City Farm.

10 January: a flock of pigeons fill the sky with their busy feathers as they land on a bridge.

11 January: in the morning grey a seagull flies past, filling the air with its noisy soundscape.

12 January: a substantial flock of birds takes up residence in a field alongside the M4

13 January: the day ended with a majestically rich sunset.

14 January: two buzzards circled high above the fields searching for their prey.

15 January: a frosty landscape rich in shimmering white greets the arrival of first light.

16 January: seeing the snow covered mountains of the Brecon Beacons across the perfectly still Bristol Channel.

17 January: a cheeky grey squirrel scampers across the path to take shelter from the rain.

18 January: a group of rooks perch in a tree with its bare winter branches.

19 January: with the crystal clear star-filled sky, a heavy frost takes root on the lawn and roof, shimmering brightly.

20 January: the morning begins with a deep blood red sunrise, illuminating a frosty landscape.

21 January:  wet damp soaked fields became deeply frozen within a matter of miles as the train headed north.

22 January: the dark shape of an unoccupied birds nest in a bird tree as the evenings begin slowly to get lighter.

23 January: seagulls flew high above Victoria Park, circling in ever greater numbers, before flying into the distance.

24 January: buds were bursting from trees in the magical wood at Bannerdown Common.

25 January: five swans flew past in formation.

26 January: was transfixed by a mini-murmuration of starlings swishing and swaying above a landfill site.

27 January:  pigeons had been busy collecting twigs for their nest outside the office.

28 January: geese flew gracefully across the motorway.

29 January: a sparrowhawk flies over its territory on the hunt for food.

30 January: empty rooks nests fill the crowns of trees.

31 January: a windy rain sees in the end of the day as the mists blow in.

Securing the future of cider

Once-upon-a-time the countryside from Dorset to Herefordshire would have been filled with traditional orchards. The west country was at the heart of England’s status as an apple superpower. Orchards would have formed an important part of the fabric of rural life. And yet within a couple of generations orchards have almost disappeared from the countryside – statistics show that up to 90% of orchards have disappeared since the 1950s.

George Holmes, National Trust Area Ranger for South Somerset. Credit National Trust, Steven Haywood

Area Ranger George Holmes planting some of the Somerset cider apple varieties at Montacute House

Stumbling across an orchard is a little bit like finding a treasure chest. They’re places whose riches keep on giving whether with the arrival of spring and the blooming of the trees with the fragile flowers or the harvesting of the fruits in the golden glow of a warm autumnal day. These often small patches of land with knarled old trees are important havens for nature too – butterflies, bees, bats, birds see them as important food sources and wild flowers will carpet the orchard floors.

Orchards matter because of this rich cultural and natural heritage. There is an orchard near where I live, on the route up towards the summit of Solsbury Hill. It feels like a place untouched by the pace of modern life and I get a real sense of connection to the people that have loved and cherished this special place before me. The fruit trees come in all shapes and sizes and there is a slight wildness to the orchard, with its light-touch management. Wandering through this orchard always feels like a magical experience.

That is why the news that the National Trust has been given the national cider apple collection is so important. Over time 300 varieties of cider apple including Slack-ma-Girdle, Netherton Late Blower and Billy Down Pippin will be planted at eight places across the west country. It’s thanks to the vision and passion of Henry May that this collection exists at all and now the plan is to secure the future of these beautiful varieties and hopefully see them used by local cider-makers.

A countryside without orchards is unthinkable and the rise of community orchards, the work of organisations such as the Trust and People’s Trust for Endangered Species and growth of craft ciders, provides a hope that these fragile and wonderful places can survive.

We don’t want a rubbish coast

There is something very sad about seeing a beach littered with pink plastic bottles. Last week Poldhu beach in West Cornwall became the latest victim of stuff floating around in our seas. Yes this might have come from a container that disappeared over the side of a ship but it’s symbolic of our often casual attitude the oceans.

poldhupollution Steve Haywood

After an overnight high tide last week National Trust staff and volunteers were met with hundreds more pink detergent bottles washed up at Poldhu and Gunwalloe in West Cornwall. Over a thousand were cleared from Poldhu beach this morning, and the local opinion is that numbers are increasing not tailing off. The pink bottles are now also being found in Mount’s Bay, to the west of Poldhu.

Marine waste is a big issue. Our seas are full of the stuff. And the impact can be felt in terms of how our beaches look and the wildlife that calls the seaside that we all love home. Think of the last time that you were at the coast and some of the disregarded rubbish strewn along a beach. I remember being on a beautiful beach in south Pembrokeshire which was full of disregarded fishing nets; not a great experience for families and potentially lethal for seabirds.

A few years back the Head Ranger on the Farne Islands tweeted a picture of a seabird that he’d found tangled in a balloon. For this bird it would get a second chance but for many others they don’t. The picture quite rightly provoked a lot of concern about what is happening along our coastline.

Teams of coastal Rangers and volunteers help to keep our beaches clean. Their tireless efforts mean that we can enjoy beaches free of litter and sometimes potentially nasty surprises. The beach cleans that happen on a regular basis are a good indicator of the sheer volume of rubbish and the scale of the problem.

We can all do our bit to make sure that our waste footprint along the coast is zero (if there are no bins just take it home and don’t casually chuck your rubbish somewhere that people might not see it). And there needs to be more of an effort by Government to make sure that marine litter is reduced and that shipping and boats think about how they deal with their rubbish.

It really is rubbish to find a favourite beach or a spectacular stretch of coastline blighted by litter. Loads of people are keeping our coast special by helping to clear it up and we need to make sure that we’re not adding to the problem.

 

A nature diary with a twist

Welcome to 2016. Time for people to write their New Year’s Resolutions and tell the world about it. So, it would be rude not to join in.

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Writing a sentence of nature news gives you a chance to reflect on the changing of the seasons

Its always refreshing, I think, to look ahead to a new year and ponder some of the things that you’d like to do, or the challenges that you would like to set yourself. The papers are full of the big trends for 2016 and what you should be doing. Often, as we all know, these resolutions barely make it out of January.

This time last year I talked about the wild time memory box – something I’ll repeat this year. Its always good to capture those moments: watching a sparrowhawk hunt its prey or being amazed at the stars on the Isle of Wight, with the benefit of no street lights. And then at the end of the year you can spend time looking back on all of those amazing experiences.

For me personally I’m going to pen a nature diary with a difference. A few years back I set myself the goal of writing a diary about the natural world. Like all good intentions it started off well but gradually faded away once I got into February. I loved challenging myself to find the words to describe my experiences and feelings based on nature and the weather.

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A favourite walk could generate loads of memories

This time I’m going to write a sentence, or maybe a paragraph, about something I see or hear in the natural world each day. It could be the appearance of daffodils in the garden, the arrival of swifts or the gently fluttering of butterflies flying across the garden. Just penning the words will mean that I reflect on the nature that I’ve come across that day; adding new content to my nature memory bank.

Hopefully this bite sized nature journal will work for the whole of the year and lead to bigger and better things. Taking the time to connect with the natural world each and every day, where-ever you might be, is so important; at a time when most of us spend pretty much every waking moment staring at some sort of screen it does recharge the batteries or refresh the soul to look and listen.