Category Archives: Wildlife Walks

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.

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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.

Heading to the hillfort at Eggardon Hill

For me the hillforts of Dorset are as important as the pyramids of Egypt. When you visit one it feels like you’re travelling back in time; connecting with the people that worked the land thousands of years ago.

On a spring day, as the sun tried to break through, the mist hindered the view but Eggardon Hill loomed large on the horizon. We drove along a road that followed the line of what was one of the vast mounds that surround the hillfort. Down one side was a sheer drop and the other was a defensive moat.

This is the third hillfort in Dorset (all owned by the National Trust) that I’ve visited in the last six months. Hambledon Hill is one of the best sites in Europe, a remarkable place, and Badbury Rings on the Kingston Lacy estate, is a place that comes alive with the arrival of the wild flowers.  Dorset really is a hillfort superpower. These magical places are true wonders.

The wind made the short walk to Eggardon bracing. But it was worth it. The earthworks here are stunning: a testament to human endeavour and indigenuity. It’s mind boggling to think that people toiled here thousands of years ago to create this intricate defence system to keep the community safe. This wasn’t some random act of setting up camp, the entrances and banks were carefully thought through to provide a robust way to defend the site from attack. The surrounding landscape would have been covered in trees, hence the need for a high vantage point.

Sheep graze the slopes and fragments of chalk litter the site. Skylarks high above belted out their distinctive and achingly beautiful melodies.  On a clear day you can see the coast. The trees here are windswept, growing at right angles, and the banks of the hillfort will be awash with orchids in the summer and butterflies fluttering gently above the chalk rich grassland. It is a place to connect deeply with human history and natural history.

When you’re visiting a place such as Eggardon it really does feel as though you are standing on the shoulders of a giant with commanding views across the landscape.

A wildlife wander through Charlcombe Valley…in the footsteps of Jane Austen

On Sunday 8 March I’ll be helping the Bath Natural History Society to lead a wildlife walk through Charlcombe Valley.

A stile into the heart of Charlcombe Valley

A stile into the heart of Charlcombe Valley

This is a very special place for me. Somewhere that I return to time and time again, a place that you can be at one with nature. Its a place that changes so much with the passing of the seasons and has a rich natural history story to tell.

From a babbling brook to the wildflower rich meadows, a network of hedgerows and grand old trees, Charlcombe sometimes feels like a hidden gem (to use a well worn phrase).

Whatever time of the year I visit with my family there is something different. It could be buzzards circling above, being attacked by angry crows, or countless species of butterfly in flight on a warm summers day. And its a place where you discover undiscovered places all of the time, an ancient tree worn down by the passage of time or a new place revealed by the clearance of scrub.

One of the wise old wonders dotted around Charlcombe; sustaining an entire community of wildlife

One of the wise old wonders dotted around Charlcombe; sustaining an entire community of wildlife

This walk with the passionate experts, who certainly know their stuff, will another a layer of knowledge to my understanding of Charlcombe, overlooked by Solsbury Hill and loved by Jane Austen, a frequent visitor. It will be a great chance for kids (and adults) to roam free and get that little bit closer to the natural world on their doorstep.

Starting at the junction between Richmond Road and Charlcombe Lane, the wildlife meander will begin 2.30pm (on Sunday 8 March), and continue till dusk, weather permitting. They’ll be a chance to join up with the brilliant toad patrol; volunteers giving a helping hand to the toads as they migrate down the valley – one of the biggest of its kind in the UK.