Wednesday, 16 December 2009

birds, culture and conservation symposium

Last friday I attended this fascinating event in Oxford, run by Paul Jepson and the lovely Mark Cocker. I went home feeling physically heavier as a result of all the new information weighing down my brain! Not to be overly dramatic, or anything...
It really was a great idea for an event though, a sounding board for ideas in poetry, art, philosophy and science, culminating in a discussion about the future of conservation.
I particularly enjoyed Jeremy Mynott who spoke most impressively without any notes. I'm really looking forward to going birding with him in the spring.

Yesterday I was given some writing to do for the RSPB - essentially writing copy - which I've spent this morning on. It's actually a rather lovely task to edit the letters from volunteers, you get a sense of what being a part of an organisation means to individuals and it can be quite moving.

But enough sentimentality, the weather is foul and my heron is all puffed up in fury across the river.

Saturday, 10 October 2009


No matter how many I see, every sighting of a heron gives me goosebumps.

They are utterly distinctive against the river banks, so tall and yet delicate enough to have been crafted from wire. I also enjoy how such a still creature can occasionally jerk into action, like a clockwork toy, at the suggestion of a fish beneath the water's surface.

At London Zoo yesterday (one of my favourite haunts) the real stars for once were not the crowd-pleasing penguins, but instead the savvy heron who, spotting his opportunity for a free lunch, had swooped down into the enclosure, and was sidling up to the keeper and his bucket of fish. The heron obviously thought that, like fishing, he only needed to move slowly enough that the keeper wouldn't see him. He seemed unaware of his tall stature, and his sharp, angular contrast to the chubby little birds beneath him.

I would have given him the whole bucket.

Thursday, 24 September 2009


I just wrote my gb wildlife column for October, on spiders. I love doing those columns, because I learn so much in the process. For example- did you know a spider's web with a radius of 3cm could stop a Boeing 747 in full flight?? Amazing stuff.
I have a new respect for the spider living above the towel rail now. He looks so pleased with his web, but I don't think it's occurred to him that there aren't many insects to catch indoors. At least, I hope there aren't!
Used a quote from the lovely people at Buglife. They sent me something a few hours after I emailed them, which was ever so kind. I personally think everyone should become a member.

Sunday, 20 September 2009


...appearing in this month's and next month's Bird Watching magazine- a feature on starlings, and a review of Simon King's autobiography... A little nervous about the latter!


Today went on a perfect autumn walk in Fowlmere. And by perfect, I mean the weather was summery (not a big fan of the other seasons). Inside the hides it was positively stuffy, and couldn't resist dangling my arms out into the sunshine...even at the risk of scaring birds!

Plenty to see, despite not having bins with us. Emperor Dragonflies and Common Darters, wonderfully weird Ear Fungus, tart elderberries and Brown Trout. The light catching in webs made me decide my October column should feature garden spiders. There is currently one living in my left wing mirror, which could well be one of Britain's best travelled arachnids....

Blackberries were already shrivelling on the branches-has this gotten earlier, or is it just me being nostalgic and old? Keep thinking I should attempt to make elderberry cordial, or perhaps sloe gin.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

A Truth

There is no love more destructive than the love of a cat for cat-mint. My cat gorges her passion with hearty mouthfuls, followed by joyous rolling. The weeks go by and she is left mourning at the plant's stump.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Holiday (celebrate!)

Off to Somerset tomorrow and I absolutely CAN'T WAIT! 
Stocked up with natural history books (it's high time I got to grips with the Natural History of Selbourne) and have already arranged a visit to Secret World animal sanctuary.

I'm also taking Simon King's autobiography with me, which I'm reviewing for Bird Watching. I'm about half-way through it and already thinking he ought to have written a book purely about wildlife stories, as the autobiographical side is a little lacking. I suppose it's jealousy on my part, but the man never seems to have met with any resistance. Everyone in his life is far too nice.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Where has July gone?

I've barely had time to blog this month, as I've been rushing from one work experience placement to the well as graduating and turning 23.

This week I've been on Bird Watching magazine, which is based outside Peterborough. I had a wonderful I have always said, wildlife enthusiasts are the nicest people in the world. The small team on Bird Watching were welcoming, wry and full of knowledge. I got to write a piece about wildlife friendly farming- looking at places like the RSPB site Hope Farm. They've added more grass, wildflowers, hedges and lark plots (bare patches of earth for ground nesting birds). It was interesting how similar wildlife gardening is to wildlife farming, really both are just about small changes and using one's common sense.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Stick Insect Drama

I have done something bad for a greater good...

The nursery that I've been working at for the last few weeks recently got in some Indian stick insects for the pre-schoolers to admire. Needless to say, not only were the children not bothered, but neither was anyone else. I came in to find them in an unsuitable cage, full of poo, with two of the insects lying dead at the bottom. The cage was bone-dry and the leaves inside were brittle and curled. The trouble is, that none of the plants they will eat (bramble, hawthorn, roses, privet) grow anywhere near the nursery, so feeding them had become a hassle for the staff.

I couldn't stand to leave them there, so I offered to take them home and clean them out. Here's the bad bit, I lied, and told the nursery they had died. But I just couldn't have brought them back.

Since then they have been happily munching fresh, damp leaves, and most have perked up.

The only other drama was when one escaped, and although he was recovered, the shock of the outside world seems to have killed him. This is a big shame, but at least the other three have happy little insect lives ahead of them....

Sunday, 5 July 2009


Since being back in Cambridge (end of May) I've seen more wildlife than I saw in three years in Liverpool. A young, greyish fox darted into a hedgerow on Long Road as I drove to work. The undersides of a heron's wings outside my window. Starlings still inhabiting the gutter (an article starring them to appear in Bird Watching magazine) as chatty and burbly as ever. Outside the Smee of swifts having their evening meals. The cat inside, all eyes.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Full of Flu

And using this as an excuse to stay in bed and read. Finished 'The Aye-Aye and I' by Gerald Durrell, which I adored. I want my writing to be as witty and easy to connect to. Also, by today's standards the man's vocabulary was fantastic and varied, which I feel all writers should aim to achieve.

Now on to 'Notes from Walnut Tree Farm', by the marvellous Roger Deakin. What a pleasure it must have been to have known this man. His writing is a fruitcake-rich appreciation of the British landscape, including mammals, birds, weather, country living, hills and trees. I am envious of his knowledge of trees, and the ease with which he describes them:

I love the creasing and wrinkling of the tree's skin at the points where branches have been bent over and then healed, like the bending of an elephants trunk. Woodmen call these 'elbows', and I have often found, in Welsh or Cumbrian hedges especially, that the laid branches of hazel or ash will pleach themselves together, two or three different trees fusing into one in a series of swollen, gnarled elbows.

This passage is a good example of Deakin's ability to combine knowledge, experience and language into a sort of "found poem". Beautiful stuff. Must read up on my trees.

Frog and FOF have been joined by a third, a spectacularly green accomplice who I found in the shade of my neighbour's brambles. These brambles seem to be an eco-system in themselves, so thriving with bees and frogs. I am only vaguely disappointed to find no hedgehogs there, but will continue to look.

The weather is muggy, although perhaps that is only my raised temperature. The river, as usual for a saturday, is busy with rowers and over-looked by collared doves.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Man, the Legend

Last Wednesday I was lucky enough to meet David Attenborough at a book signing in Cambridge. What a legend. He was ever so sweet- an hour early and gave everyone the warmest smile. My friend Nikki (who had come to stay from Wales to see him) and I walked around the city in a daze afterwards, clutching our books. It's now almost top on my list of things to save in a house fire...just below the cat and hamster.

 On the 21st I'm going to see Jane Goodall give a talk at London Zoo, so that'll be two of my heroes ticked off the list!

Monday, 1 June 2009


My June column should be up shortly on gb wildlife,
Look under the "This Month" section, for columns on the pipistrelle bat, willow warbler and the green-veined white butterfly....

If you build it....they will come...

The garden had its shiny new pond for approx 3 weeks before the first frog sighting. "Frog" (you can tell I have a creative writing degree, no?) has settled into the tiny space, and in the last two days has been joined by a friend (Hereafter referred to as Friend of Frog). 

The sight of these two, throats bulging beneath the lillies, got me to wondering how they are able to find a fresh pond so quickly. Not only this, but how do the species which only live in water find their way? We seem to have quite a collection of diving beetles. Now we just need a snail or two to clean up the murky gungy stuff left in the wake of frog parties.

Anyway, all this action reminded me of the film "Field of Dreams", and the slogan "If you build it, they will come" which seems to apply not only to ghost base-ball players, but the British Common Frog as well.