Poem: Mulberries

This poem was written about Sydenham Hill Wood in south London, managed by the London Wildlife Trust. When the Great Exhibition of 1851 was eventually taken down in Hyde Park, it was rebuilt in the place that is now Crystal Palace. They built a railway line through the wood so that Victorians could access the palace, and although it later burnt down and the railway was dismantled, the wood still holds traces of Victorian life. The mulberry tree is all that remains of an abandoned garden in the centre of the woodland.

Mulberries

The mulberry tree
stands alone in the clearing;
it is abandoned.

A starched gardener
placed it there a hundred years before,
when the world came to London
for the great parade.
An elephant stood here, and
over there the Koh-i-Noor
was laid before the gilded eyes
of the rich.

People came and went,
bored by old treasures;

the crystal palace burnt down.

The garden was forgotten,
and the tree grew alone
within woodland shades.
The forest is alive now;
crumbling folly and rusted tracks
all that remain of the Empire,
buried beneath soft earth.

The tree is half black;
dying mulberries eaten
by the nuthatch thief.

Walking with Nightjars

Being the unruly twenty-something that I am, I spent last Saturday night creeping around the gorsey heathlands of Iping Common, just west of Midhurst in Sussex. We were on the hunt for the European nightjar, one of Britain’s most elusive species, best detected by listening for its churring song at dusk. While the bird itself is beautifully marked, it also looks like a mouldering pile of leaves; this means that it’s almost impossible to spot unless flying above the tree line, silhouetted against the evening sky.

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Nightjars are insectivorous, ground-nesting birds, but their crepuscular habits mean they have historically found themselves the subject of old myths and legends. Their Latin name caprimulgus europaeus refers to the idea that nightjars were thought to steal milk from goats’ udders, causing them to dry up or go blind. Yet artists have long considered the nightjar a harbinger of warm summers and ethereal evenings, as celebrated in the poem Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas:

All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

Our walk was organised by the Sussex Wildlife Trust, and our guide Jane Willmott was absolutely brimming with information on local wildlife, history and archaeology. Iping Common is home to a number of Bronze Age burial mounds, crowned with bracken in an amaranthine sea of heather. Straining to catch the nightjar’s call, we followed a twisting path through the reserve, passing a chorus of yellowhammers, song thrushes and blackbirds warbling goodnight. The night also brought us pipistrelle bats and the distant kee-wit of a tawny owl, while an eerie glowworm shimmered in the grass like The Great Gatsby’s viridian harbour light.

IMG_5414After some time, the nightjars finally revealed themselves. A low rumbling trill began to echo across the heathland, and as we edged closer, another voice replied across the heather. The purpose of the nightjar call is to warn others of territorial boundaries, and we were soon exposed to a stereophonic churring display all around us. To my great pleasure as a tick-minded birder, one individual also showed himself to us against the night sky, his slim silhouette appearing momentarily above the birch trees for us to admire.

Despite their red status as globally threatened, the hard work of volunteers is ensuring these birds have one more safe haven at Iping Common. Thanks to the Sussex Wildlife Trust for a fantastic evening!

30 Days Wild: Week Three

I’m still loving this challenge set by the Wildlife Trust – to get everyone doing something wild every day throughout June.

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Fifteen
We were sitting in the garden on Monday evening and happened to see these tiny spider babies chilling out on a sun-drenched leaf. Although I am mortally terrified of house spiders, I find little garden spiders alright. These little babes looked very happy to join the ecosystem.

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Sixteen
The farm where I work is always full of wonderful wildlife, from birds of prey and woodpeckers to adders and fallow deer. On Tuesday morning, we were just chatting on the grass when someone spotted this! A little stoat was carrying its kits from one den to another, just like on Springwatch this year! It scurried underground and brought out one baby at a time, all curled up in bundle, and scooted it across the grass to the new den.

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Seventeen
Whilst waiting for the kettle to boil on Wednesday morning, I had a wander around the staff room and found this little chap. I soon discovered he was a small magpie moth, and as he later disappeared I hope he once again made it out into the wide world. Such beautiful markings! I am absolutely hopeless with butterfly and moth identification; this is probably the first moth I’ve ever learnt the name of!

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Eighteen
After the excitement of last week’s elderflower wine and fritters, I thought I’d make use of the last flowers before they disappear again. On Thursday I made elderflower cordial, which was really quite delicious! The only problem with making these delicious beverages is the ungodly amount of zest grating required…

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Nineteen
I decided to visit my little lamb Juliet today, who I’ve been bottlefeeding since she was born. I’ve weaned her off the milk now and she happily grazes with the other adult ewes, but I miss spending time with her every day! I needed to pick dandelions for one of the education activities we do with the visiting schoolchildren, so I used it as an excuse to spend some time in the sheep paddock. She liked the dandelions.

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Twenty
This year I’ve started volunteering for the Bat Conservation Trust on their Out of Hours Helpline! I applied for it last winter, and in April we went for training at their head office in Vauxhall. Once or twice a month, I take up a shift of bat calls when the office is closed. This means that if anyone finds an injured bat or roost and they call the BCT helpline, the call is sent through to me and I talk them through the situation, help them release the bat or find a local carer if it’s injured. It’s so much fun to do, and really rewarding!

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Twenty One
This afternoon we went to the classic car show at the Deer Hut in Liphook. I’m not a huuuuge fan of cars, but they had a fantastic bookstall raising money for the local scouts, and I found this big, beautiful book about the British isles. My mum also bought me a book about a family in WWII that rescued injured wildlife, so I can’t wait to read that either!

Lost Forever: Mankind’s War on Wildlife

This article was also published on The News Hub, where I write about science and the environment.

We’re half way through the sixteenth year of the 21st century, and the latest casualty in mankind’s war on wildlife has just hit the news. With a 90% decline since the 1980s, the yellow-breasted bunting has almost disappeared from eastern Europe, Japan and Russia. Once abundant in China, the lemon-feathered bird has been zealously pursued by hunters to be sold on the black market, despite the government enforcing a hunting ban to protect the species in 1997. Conservationists are urging citizens to educate themselves on the importance of local wildlife and choose their groceries from sustainable sources, but while many residents appreciate the plight of the bunting, demand is still high. Could the little songbird join this list of recent avian extinctions from the last century?

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Atitlán Grebe, 1989
The decline of this Guatemalan water bird was documented for 25 years by American ecologist Anne LaBastille. When an invasive bass species was released into their habitat at Lake Atitlán, they reduced the population of crabs and other fish that the grebes were feeding on. After a devastating decline LaBastille brought them back from the brink through a conservation programme, but in 1976 an earthquake fractured the lake bed and it leaked. Unable to cope with the reduced water level, the last surviving birds have not been seen since 1989.

Turquoise-Throated Puffleg, 1976
This Latin American hummingbird was so named for the white puffballs of downy feather around each leg, but has not been spotted since an unconfirmed sighting in 1976. A victim of deforestation, it is presumed that all original habitat has now been destroyed in the agricultural village of Guayllabamba in Ecuador. Based on the few known specimens, it was just 10cm long.

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Passenger Pigeon, 1914
A species of historical significance, passenger pigeons were once one of the most abundant birds in north America, flying across the land in enormous, mile-long flocks. They were so numerous that they accounted for more than a quarter of all birds in north America, but their numbers soon dwindled through habitat loss and mass hunting for cheap pigeon meat, which was used to feed slaves in the 19th century. The last passenger pigeon, Martha, died alone in Cincinnati Zoo in September 1914.

Sulu Bleeding-Heart, 1891
With a tangerine patch blossoming on its breast, nobody knows whether the Sulu bleeding-heart still survives. Any living population is likely to be small, and would be continuously threatened by uncontrolled logging and unregulated hunting. The Sulu Archipelago is a chain of beautiful islands in the Pacific Ocean, but there are unfortunately no protected areas to ensure the survival of its wildlife. Other than two initiatives in the 1990s, any remaining population of Sulu bleeding-hearts has been left to survive alone.

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Paradise Parrot, 1927
Native to the woodlands of eastern Australia, the paradise parrot was a bright, colourful bird which had become increasingly rare by the end of the 19th century. Its decline was abrupt, and could have been due to overgrazing, land clearing, hunting by bird collectors and predation from cats and dogs. Famed for extravagant plumage, its colouring was vibrant even by parrot standards, with a mixture of turquoise, scarlet, black, brown and blue. A small number of individuals were discovered after searches in the 1920s, but the last confirmed sighting was in 1927.

Laughing Owl, 1914
Just 69 years after a scientific description of the laughing owl was published, it was deemed completely extinct in its native New Zealand. Known for its intriguing vocals, calls have been described as loud, dismal and frequently repeated. Others described it as ‘like the barking of a young dog’ or ‘a melancholy hooting note’, but bird-lovers today could not hope to hear it for themselves. Although abundant when European settlers arrived, theories claim that predation was the likely cause of this species’ decline due to its unwary and gentle nature.

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Eskimo Curlew, 1963
Once one of the most common shorebirds in the north American tundra, this slender-billed species was known as a ‘New World’ bird, one of the those discovered on Captain Cook’s second voyage in 1772. By the end of the 19th century millions were being killed each year, until the last confirmed sighting was recorded in Barbados in 1963. The plight of this species was the subject of Fred Bodsworth’s 1954 novel Last of the Curlews, which follows the bird through its migration to South America.

White-Eyed River Martin, 1980
Although its habitat at the Bueng Boraphet lake in Thailand has been declared a non-hunting area, surveys to find this bird have been unsuccessful. Other factors in the martin’s decline include the disturbance of sand bars and the construction of dams in the river, as well as deforestation and intensive agriculture. Despite its absence, the bird has attracted sufficient interest in Thai culture to be featured on both a postage stamp and gold coin.

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Imperial Woodpecker, 1956
The world’s largest woodpecker species, the decline of this Mexican bird is a truly grim tale. In the 1950s, logging companies convinced local people that imperial woodpeckers were destroying valuable timber, and encouraged them to kill the birds by smearing poison on the trees. Their numbers plummeted dramatically, and it is not known whether any populations still exist. With sad irony the loggers’ efforts were for nothing, as imperial woodpeckers did not forage on, nest in or damage live trees.

Black-Lored Waxbill, 1950
A small, dun-coloured finch, nobody really knows what the wild black-lored waxbill sounds like. Most of the population was known to reside in the Upemba National Park in Congo, but as with much of the wildlife in this area, it is unknown whether it is protected in any way. This is due to the fact that the park is continuously threatened by poachers, pollution and the militia. While the bird has not been spotted since 1950 the species could still exist, although it remains too dangerous for conservationists to carry out any surveys in depth.

Poem: Luna Tumida

Written during the last eclipse.

Luna Tumida

When I was seven years,
We all went to the garden
To gaze up at the sun because
The milky moon had swallowed it,
Like a whole edam set alight;
Rusted round the edges.

They gave us plastic glasses
to stop us getting eye tumours.
I put mine on the dog,
Who had a golden face
And glistening nose,
And was simply more important.

30 Days Wild: Week Two

I’m absolutely loving the 30 Days Wild challenge! Although I already manage to get outdoors every day, it’s lovely thinking about different ways to enjoy the wild and try new things. You can still get involved by registering here!

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Eight
Ok, so really not the most riveting or photographically excellent picture, but this is one of our Iron Age roundhouse roofs at work. If you look very closely you can see a little beige blob on the outer circle – this is one of our swallow nests! We are lucky enough to receive a gaggle of swallows every spring, and they usually find lots of little nooks to nest in. It’s amazing they can survive with all the smoke from the fire – perhaps it has health benefits?!

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Nine
We moved house last June to an area near to the edge of town, which means we now have a huge array of wildlife and birds in the garden. We had heard rumours from the neighbours that there might be hedgehogs in our road, so we’ve been putting mealworms and sunflower hearts out in the garden. We wondered if it might just be the cats eating it, so my mum borrowed a trailcam from her work and put it out last night. And argghh look what turned up! We’re so excited! I’m now going to organise a mini-mission to ensure all our neighbours have holes in their fences, so our road will hopefully be a hog haven.

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Ten
We have a huge pile of log timbers at the farm, and we’ve recently been spotting an adder slithering around in the sun. I’ve been hoping to spot her for ages! On Springwatch this week they’ve been talking about adders and how the females are having their babies around now, so we’re hoping this is a mother-to-be enjoying the last of her freedom.

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Eleven
I think everyone in the country must have seen a few sprigs of elderflower blossoming by now! It only tends to bloom for a couple of weeks a year, and we’ve already harvested some for culinary purposes. We’ve started fermenting a big bucket of elderflower champagne, and also tried these elderflower fritters from Country Living magazine, which were so delicious!

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Twelve
I saw this fuzzy bee on a flower at the farm and couldn’t resist a photo. I absolutely LOVE bees! I’ve tried to ID this just from this photo and I think it might be a buff-tailed bumblebee, but as I can’t see the tail I’m not sure! We have lots of wildflowers around the farm which is really important for healthy bees.

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Thirteen
I’ve never really twitched much before but I reckon it is seriously addictive… This was my first ever twitch alone! I went to Titchfield Haven nature reserve to see the Greater Yellowlegs that’s had Twitter all a-flutter. It was showing wonderfully, and I then went down to the main reserve with my parents for a lovely walk. We saw lots of avocet chicks, lapwings, little egrets, gulls, terns and shelducks.

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Fourteen
Sunday is usually my horsey day. I ride my friend’s chestnut mare Marigold while my friend rides Marigold’s naughty son Ambrette. The livery is in the middle of a beautiful set of fields surrounded by trees, and we sometimes go hacking out to Chapel Common, which is one of my favourite places to spend a weekend afternoon. We see plenty of wildlife, and last time I even heard a cuckoo!

Hunting in Hampshire: A Letter to my MP

Readers of my blog will know that I am wholeheartedly in support of the Hunting Act of 2004, and last year celebrated ten years since the hunting of foxes, deer and hares was made illegal. As a member of the League Against Cruel Sports, I received an email after the rather grim result of the General Election in May, encouraging me to write to my MP and ask them to keep the ban in place. My MP for East Hampshire is Conservative Damian Hinds. As it’s easy to judge someone before hearing what they have to say, I wanted to keep an open mind. After all, the Blue Fox is a fantastic organisation run by ‘Conservatives Against Fox Hunting’, and I hoped Damian might be an aspiring member of this group. I was, of course, wrong.


Dear Mr Hinds,
Congratulations on your election as a Member of Parliament.
The Hunting Act recently passed its tenth anniversary, and has never been more popular, with 8 out of 10 people saying that they support the ban on fox hunting, and even more supporting the ban on stag hunting and hare coursing.  All three are currently outlawed under the Hunting Act.
I support the Hunting Act because chasing and killing wild mammals with dogs is cruel and has nothing to do with wildlife management. There is no credible evidence that fox numbers have increased since the ban or that more foxes are being killed by other means. Moreover, hares are a declining species in Britain and classified as a conservation priority. With over 400 convictions to date, the Hunting Act is the most successful piece of wild animal welfare legislation in this country’s history.
However, the ban is now facing a serious threat of repeal.
A modern, one nation Conservative party should not be supporting a repeal of the Hunting Act, which has majority support across all parties and social grades, and is as strongly supported in rural areas as it is in urban. Recent Ipsos-Mori polling shows that 66 per cent of Conservative voters want fox hunting to remain illegal, 83 per cent want deer hunting to remain illegal, and 87 per cent want hare coursing to remain illegal. This is not, as some have suggested, an issue of class; it is an issue of compassion.
While some may argue it helps preserve green land and maintain our beautiful countryside, this can just as easily be achieved with drag hunting and wildlife tourism, which is something I believe we should be supporting instead.
Thank you in advance for your reply. I have only recently moved back to Hampshire from Bristol and then London. I moved home because I missed the beautiful atmosphere of our town and the surrounding National Park. If our countryside were to be tainted by the cruel hobbies of a select few, despite the majority of people not supporting it, what kind of place will Hampshire and the rest of Britain become? These activities belong in the past, and are not part of a progressive Britain.
Kind regards,
Tiffany Francis


Dear Miss Francis,
Thank you for contacting me about the Hunting Act 2004.
I know that many people have strongly held views about hunting, for understandable reasons. I have corresponded on this issue many times over the last five years. My opinion has not changed substantially.
I share your concern for ensuring the welfare of animals, but in my judgement, the Act does not protect wild animals. In many cases it is actually detrimental to animal welfare. This is particularly evident when other methods of control are deployed, several of which can be indiscriminate. The law as it stands simply bans one method of killing foxes, whilst leaving people free to kill them in various other ways, including shooting, trapping, snaring and gassing. This seems illogical and counterproductive.
The Act itself is also worryingly badly drafted, despite the debate on it occupying hundreds of hours of parliamentary time. This sadly leads to misinterpretations of the Act and confusions in its application.
Many people have no wish themselves to hunt (myself included), and yet are increasingly aware that the ban is not a workable means of promoting animal welfare.
Those that hunt are in a minority. But in the tradition of our liberal democracy, being in a minority doesn’t mean you are ‘wrong’. Our tradition is to treat minorities with tolerance and understanding.
The Prime Minister has said that a majority Conservative Government, which we now have, will give Parliament the opportunity to consider the Hunting Act on a free vote, in government time. For the reasons outlined above, it is very likely I would vote in favour of repeal of the law in its current form.  I realise that many people will not approve of this stance, and that it may make me unpopular with some.
I am sorry that this is not the response you were seeking, but I wanted to set out my position clearly. I respect that many people have passionate and differing views about hunting, which is why the issue has been voted as a ‘conscience’ issue for many years.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Yours sincerely,
Damian Hinds


Dear Damian,
As far as I can see, your reasons for wanting to lift the ban are as follows:

Foxes can still be killed in a number of other ways. While I agree that some other forms are also inhumane, how does this mean that chasing a fox across the countryside for hours at a time, and then ripping it apart with dogs when it is too exhausted to continue, is a viable form of pest control? It is unfortunately a dated tradition that belongs in the past. I agree that other forms of pest control are equally inhumane, so why not address these with changes to the law?
The Act is badly drafted. Why not change this? Lifting the ban is not a viable solution to correcting a badly drafted bill. Use your powers in parliament to address how badly it is drafted, and change it for the better.
Those that hunt are in the minority and deserve a fair voice. Do you not think we all have a say on how our wildlife and countryside is managed? I have lived in rural Hampshire all my life, and I am completely against foxhunting. Yet I spend many hours each week walking, cycling and horse riding through the countryside. Why should our wildlife be left in the hands of those who want to hunt it? It makes no difference how many people actually hunt. We should all have a say on how our countryside is managed, and 80% of UK citizens do not want the ban to be lifted.

I don’t understand why drag hunting is not enough for these minorities? I have full empathy for people not wanting tradition to be forgotten. But these people have to adapt to a modern, progressive society. There is no place in British society for a cruel and bloodthirsty sport like this. Drag hunting is a perfect compromise; they can still enjoy the thrill of the hunt, and the hounds and horses can still pursue a trail. Why is this not enough?
Will you ignore the voice of the British public? When so many people are against foxhunting, how can you justify voting to have the ban lifted? Do you think the British public are idiotic and ignorant, and don’t know what they’re talking about? I don’t believe this. I think we are moving forward into a fairer society, where we treat animals with respect and carry out pest control properly. I have no problem with pest control where it is desperately needed, to ensure our farmers can continue to work and produce food for us.
I don’t believe you have animal welfare in mind when you say you want the ban lifted. While it is important to protect our countryside, we need to do this by protecting our green belts from overdevelopment, reducing the number of pesticides used, and subsidising wildlife protection programmes. I find it amusing that you claim wildlife protection as your reason for supporting foxhunting.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Tiffany

Dear Miss Francis,
Thank you for your further message, and I have taken all that you say on board.  These are very important matters and I know that views are very deeply and sincerely held, on all sides.
Thank you again for getting in touch.
Best wishes,
Damian


Rather disappointed. I believe our MPs should be there to engage in debate and discussion with their constituents, and I genuinely wanted to understand how someone can be in favour of hunting. I considered my responses reasonable and well-informed, and I had hoped Damian might be interested in the opinions of local residents and at least pretend to consider the alternative. Instead, he simply closed the conversation down. Sadly, I don’t feel I can look to my MP for support with wildlife matters, and it is once again up to normal people to fight for the protection of our natural world.

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Poem: Starlings

Written last August.

Starlings

The starlings are gathered in Brighton.
The pier crumbles forlornly into the
sea, spangled with dead
neon from the boardwalk.
Tourists meander with hot chips,
wondering:
‘Is that France?’
The sky is rabid tangerine.

They nestle on cold harbour steel,
waiting for the wind to rise
and lift them into
the empyrean.

The first leap.
A brave pioneer vaults from his post
into the apricot dusk.
One by one, they ascend in a cloud of smoke;
thousands of tiny bodies build
in fever,
until there drifts a
blossoming cacophony of birdsong.

The shore disappears.
Starlings entwine together
in the crimson blush.

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30 Days Wild: Week One

To celebrate the great outdoors and the importance of nature, I’m taking part in the Wildlife Trusts’ latest campaign 30 Days Wild! It’s a fantastic way to get everyone outside every day, to do something wild and feel the benefits of a life closer to nature. I’ll be posting four weekly summaries throughout June to share my wild ideas. You can still join in by registering here!

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One
On the last weekend of May I stumbled upon a brave patch of wild garlic in the woods, struggling on between wilting towers of bobbing bluebells. To capture that perfect spring smell of woodland garlic, I decided to make my own wild pesto! I chopped a few basil leaves, organic pine nuts and a hunk of Cornish Quartz, my favourite cheddar full of crunchy salt crystals. I then added glugs of hazelnut oil and olive oil, and mashed it together into a glorious green mess.

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Two
I’m lucky enough to live within a National Park, which means I see wonderful wildlife every day! But there’s still so much around the country that I can’t spot from way down south, so the growing number of live cameras available online are fantastic. It was pouring with rain today, so I spent the morning with a hot cup of coffee watching this osprey on her nest at Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve in Cumbria!

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Three
With all the horrid news about bumblebee declines and pollinator problems, there’s nothing I love more than planting wildflower seeds. It’s such a quick, easy way to help wildlife and make your surroundings more beautiful! Somebody came into work today with two boxes of ‘Simply Scatter’ seeds, so there wasn’t even any need to rake the soil. And as it’s been raining so heartily over the last few days, the ground was well up for it. I planted them around the borders of our beehive area, rather hastily jogging around the hives as the bees like getting stuck in my hair. The mix contains calendula, borage, delphinium, adonis, achillea and lupin.

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Four
The nature of my job means I am constantly surrounded by wildlife and farm animals, all of which have wonderful, inquisitive personalities. This little Manx Laoghtan lamb is called Juliet, and when her mother gave birth to her and her twin sister, only one of her udders was working and we had to start bottle-feeding Juliet several times a day. Two months on she is now chubby and healthy, but as I have been her main source of food, she sort of thinks I’m her mama… This means I have full access to lamb hugs, which is the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon!

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Five
There’s a massive patch of brambles at the top of our sheep field, and it’s always brimming with bees, beetles and butterflies going about their days. I decided to have a look and see what I could find… After I accidentally scared a bunny into the woods, I identified several species of bumblebee, a green hairstreak butterfly and a garden chafer beetle. I also got stung by a nettle, but you can’t pick and choose with nature – you have to love it all!

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Six
What a wonderful weekend! I’ve been house/dogsitting for a friend in a village near my town, and the surrounding countryside is absolutely stunning. Molly and I went for a four mile walk through two different nature reserves: the Buriton Chalk Pits and Coulters Dean. The latter is managed by the Hampshire Wildlife Trust and was completely brimming with wildflowers!

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Seven
To bring my week to an end, I decided to try and identify a wildflower. I’m pretty good with birds and mammals, but I have lots to learn about insects and plants! These are growing on one of the banks at the farm between comfrey and numerous stinging nettles. I have consulted the wise and glorious internet, and I think I’ve identified it as white campion (Silene latifolia). If anyone knows any better, please let me know!

Songs of the Countryside

The BBC weatherlord predicted heavy rain this weekend, so I thought I’d squeeze in a brisk walk before being marooned indoors until Monday. I’m fortunate enough to live in the South Downs National Park, which means local maps are criss-crossed with all manner of exciting pathways for the humble pedestrian. My feet decided to take me two miles across the hills to a little village near our town, a walk that is particularly good for spotting birds of prey and mammals.

While bright butterflies and attention-seeking garden birds often make themselves seen, I’ve found that some wildlife is absolutely impossible to spot, although easy enough to hear. I’m therefore giving myself a gentle education in bird songs, because I can always hear a greenfinch before I see one, and how many people actually locate that woodpecker, drilling into our minds with contempt?

Now I can identify a growing handful of birds by their songs, and it makes birding much more challenging, but ultimately more rewarding! The song thrush came as a slight disappointment, believing as I did that we had an exciting collection of birds hooting about, when really it was just one being really deceitful…

Despite my newfound love for the songs of the countryside, I still managed to spot a few delightful species hopping from spring to summer:

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In a twist of fate, I was also recently sent this book by the kind people at Sound Approach, a publishing house founded by Mark Constantine, the founder of my ultimate favourite cosmetics company Lush! Undiscovered Owls is a beautifully illustrated book about the world of owls and their calls. While I’m obviously mainly interested in British owls for identification reasons, it was wonderful to read about owls around the globe too. Not only does the book feature beautiful pictures and descriptions of familiar and rare owls alike, it opens up the realm of sound recording and the science of bird song in a very accessible way.

And the best bit? It comes with sound recordings on CD! No more reading archaic linguistic representations of bird calls (chichichichichit springs to mind..?). There’s a good reason I listen to Radio 4’s Tweet of the Day – I simply don’t have the imagination to try and identify bird song by strange nonsensical words. I think the only way you can learn is to listen, and as most of us can’t live in the middle of a woodland all day and night (sigh), modern technology seems to be an excellent educator.

Now if they could just make one for every bird genre, that would be most useful!

One last bit of exciting news! Throughout June I’ll be taking part in the Wildlife Trust’s amazing campaign 30 Days Wild, to encourage us all to do something wild every day for a month! I’m going to be writing a weekly summary on the blog, so keep an eye out for all the weird ways I can think of enjoying the outdoors. I was also featured in the Independent today – have a read!

Undiscovered Owls was published last month and is available here.  Highly recommended!

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