Category Archives: Wildlife

Wild words

Over the centuries words have a played a special part in shaping and defining our relationship with the natural world from the carefully crafted wildlife notebooks of Gilbert White to the intense beauty of Helen Macdonald. They have given us the tools to find ways of describing the magic of those moments of wonder when we watch a bird of prey hovering as it hunts for prey or taking a walk through a colour-rich haymeadow in the summer.

Importantly these books have also been vital in capturing our changing relationship with nature. As we have moved en mass from the countryside to the towns and cities in the last two hundred years our deep connection with the natural world waned. Whereas generations ago we could have easily identified wildflowers or trees now we’d struggle to reach double figures for different species.

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In the last decade there has been a remarkable explosion in books about nature. This seems to have co-incided with and maybe even been fuelled by the financial crash of 2007 and that basic human need for the comfort blanket of familiarity and the power of nature to provide certainty that all is well in a turbulent world. It’s also been important in us dealing with that sense of loss – both in terms of our connection with nature but also the disappearance of species and the threat to our green spaces.

Wander in to any bookshop and it’s likely that you’ll come across a table full of books about nature.  Surging sales of modern nature writing and those wonderfully evocative re-discovered classics are playing an important role in helping us to reignite that love of the natural world and make it part of our everyday lives.

As someone whose love of nature was rekindled through my work and having children the written word played a vital role in helping me to navigate my way through the huge challenges facing the natural world and coming to terms with what it means to me and my family. They gave me the confidence to re-engage with nature and not be afraid by my limited knowledge of birds or butterflies; it was the general appreciation that mattered as much as being able to identify them all. At home I have stacks of well-thumbed books about wildlife and eagerly anticipate the latest release.

Reading the Lorax

Books aimed at kids are a great way to get them into nature

Reading rediscovered classics by Richard Jefferies, wonderful new fiction by Melissa Harrison and the evergreen Lorax by Dr Seuss with my kids, has fired my imagination and created a deeper connection with the wild places where I live. The beauty of new nature writing is that it has found its way into those wild places in the towns and cities as well as the majesty of our ancient woodlands or the pure joy of watching butterflies.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council is launching a bid to find the UK’s favourite book about nature, working with a team of researchers at the universities of Leeds, St Andrews and Sussex, as they start a new two-year research project that will focus on the literary, social and cultural impact of writings about the natural world.  The choice of potential nominees is limitless: it could be a novel, piece of non-fiction or a field guide. Crisp, clear and rich writing has that special ability to draw the reader in to the subject matter and bring to life a simple wildlife encounter or help us navigate the huge environmental change that has been happening in our lifetime.

 

My wild month

Today is day one of 30 Days Wild, a brilliant Wildlife Trust campaign to get the nation hooked on nature.

Over the course of the next month I’ll be sharing a virtual wildlife diary based on observations and ideas to get us all that little bit closer to the natural world.

The great thing about nature is that its all around us. I was woken by the dawn chorus as the clock slowly ticked towards the alarm call. Though it was early this more natural way of waking me up was a wonderful sonic experience.

On my walk to work in Swindon after being dropped off in my car share, you can see and hear nature in some interesting and different places. Songbirds of all shapes and sizes fill the air with sweet tunes. Plants pop up through cracks in the pavement and occupy space on road side verges. Butterflies flutter by looking for food or a mate.

You didn’t need to travel deep into the countryside to get a daily dose of nature. Its surprising how much wildlife lives in our back gardens, local parks and alongside footpaths. So this month why not set off from home or work a little bit earlier to soak up your local world of wildlife and tune out of your smartphone.

June is a great month to try this out as things are naturally busy with so much more to see and hear. Hopefully this will be the start of a lifelong love affair with nature.

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.

Autumn

I love autumn. In fact I love all of the seasons. Seasonal change is a wonderful thing that I never really tire of and there is always something new to see or hear.

To me autumn means the changing of the guard as the crunchy and colour soaked leaves fall to the ground. It’s about spending many happy hours collecting conkers, throwing sticks up in to the tree and collecting the bounty as they land on the ground.

Autumn is also the season of harvesting apples and blackberries and that wonderful taste of a warm crumble with melting ice-cream.

The arrival of the darker mornings can be a challenge to the body clock but the richness of a warm afternoon autumn glow can compensate for those bleary eyed starts to the day. Mists will fill the landscape creating a mellowness and the smoky smell of bonfires create a real atmosphere.

Sometimes the seasons seem to blur into one but if you do get a year of distinctness between spring, summer, autumn and winter you really notice it. Tuning into the seasons is such an important way of keeping connected to nature: something that I think really matters and is such an essential part of our lives.

I love the fact that the architecture of our landscapes and cityscapes change so dramatically in a matter of weeks. Nature is getting ready for the long dark winter months. Butterflies might still be on the wing, birds start to migrate south and fungi can be found dotted through the nation’s woodland. You also get the cranking up of the dusk chorus, a musical treat as the evenings draw in.

In my home city of Bath the buildings are lit by the richness of the autumnal sunshine. The cityscape changes colour as the leaves turn gold, red, orange and yellow and then tumble to the ground. And in the meadows outside of the city the mist hangs poetically in the morning light.

Watching the seasons change keeps us rooted in the world around us. Every season has something to offer.

Swallows and Amazons 2.0

Seeing all of the posters promoting the new ‘Swallows and Amazons’ film made me think how much the ability of children to roam free will have changed since the book was published in 1930.

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Kids need their nature time and once they get a taste for it they are hooked

Barely a week goes by without new stats being published about kids spending less time outdoors than ever before and the impact that this will have on their well-being and the skills needed for life. If Arthur Ransome were alive today would his equivalent book be all about a group of kids marooned in their bedroom playing minecraft for weeks on end with little or no connection with the outside world.

You could argue that Ransome’s vision of a ideal summer spent mucking about on an island in a beautiful lake in Cumbria is a Utopian vision that never really existed. However, reams of research shows that children’s connection with the natural world and spent time outdoors has diminished drastically in the last couple of generations.

I spent alot of time outdoors when growing up. Every time I went out to play my Mum would ask me to make sure that I was home by tea time. I disappeared off into the countryside and had amazing adventures with my friends. This was only in the 1980s and yet it feels very different today. There are a plethora of barriers that have led to children becoming almost invisible playing outdoors or in local parks.

And yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Why shouldn’t every child have a right to the kinds of experience that the children in Swallows and Amazons had, where ever they live in the UK, and that millions of Britons had when they were growing up? I don’t want to be part of the last really free-range generation.

The brilliant thing is that once kids get a sniff of the outdoors they’re hooked. Children have that deeply natural sense of adventure and thirst for learning (something that seems to be educated out of many people). The boom of the Forest School movement and the rise of campaign’s by charities such as the National Trust and Wildlife Trust is making a difference. Places on den-building days or adventure courses will often sell-out as quickly as tickets for Glastonbury.

I know from my two children that they love nothing better than wandering through a wood, playing in a stream or hunting for crabs in a rock pool. We need to unleash that inner wild child in every kid and let them discover the simple joy of being outside.

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.

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.

Getting connected with nature

Mid-winter might not seem to be the best time of year to encourage people to get into nature but actually it’s the best season to get started.

Despite the record mild temperatures that we’ve had in the last few months, the gradual lengthening of daylight hours is a sign to the natural world to start getting busy.

House Sparrow

Birdsong can be all around all and its worth taking the time to tune in.

With less happening you can start to hone your wildlife watching skills. It’s worth taking the time to get to know some species rather than trying to learn everything.

I’ve got into nature in a big way in the last decade, partly through work and also having a family. I’m no naturalist or ecologist but it’s amazing what you can learn by looking or listening. Importantly I think that I have never got hung up about my lack of ID skills and just enjoyed nature for its pure wonder and ability to amaze.

Taking the time to notice nature every day is really important. It’s pretty fundamental for us all to have that connection to the natural world for our well-being and also so that we can understand what is happening to wildlife.

Doing everything in bite sized chunks is a good way to get started. Set yourself a nature task every week or maybe start jotting down what you see. You can read around particular subjects but sometimes there is no substitute for just getting out there.

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One of the lovely signs of spring, primroses

The commute to work can be a handy way of introducing yourself to nature, whether you walk, cycling, drive or use public transport. Nature is all around us waiting to be discovered. And if you use the same route everyday you’ll start to get use to the things that you see or hear.

In the coming weeks things will start to flower (if they haven’t already) and the dawn chorus will begin to crank up in volume. As winter slowly turns into spring there will be lots more to see and hear.

My view is that you need to get to know nature on your terms: don’t get hung up on trying to know everything at once, just enjoy it and have fun.
Nature always has an ability to surprise and amaze us and getting a fix of nature every day is a fantastic way to enrich our lives.

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.

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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.