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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Poem: January

January

The sun is setting
on the taste of crisp cold;
hot, glowing wood,
clove and cardamom,
black.

Cold sun on cold sky;
indigo, pale dust.

Sylvan shapes with tangled boughs
cut through the dusk.
Gnarled palms of a thousand witches,
thumbs unfurled,
linger.

Sparrows chittering,
clotting naked bramble tree
with feather and bone.

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Pest Control

What defines a pest? According to Google, it’s ‘an organism that sickens or annoys humans, hampers human activities, damages crops or food products, harms livestock, or causes damage to buildings’. That includes fleas infesting our houses, foxes eating our chickens, rats burrowing into our grain stores, or simply anything that encroaches on the short, difficult lives of that rare species we call humanity. For indeed, when human populations are declining so rapidly, and it’s all we can do in the western world to find a morsel of food, why should we put up with other creatures taking such liberties?

Perhaps we should look at the facts…

– In the last 20 years, the world population has increased by 30%.
One third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted before it’s eaten.
– A herd of cattle consumes 8 times more energy than they produce in meat.
– Half of Britain’s ancient woodlands have been lost to new roads, electricity pylons, housing and airport expansion in the last 80 years.

It doesn’t take much to realise how wasteful and destructive we are in our food and building industries. Yet we blame rodents, insects and other small mammals for eating our food, simply trying to survive in a rapidly changing environment.

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Why is it that we believe our lives are worth more than others? I don’t just mean in a dog-eat-dog, Hunger Games kind of way; we travel through our comfortable lives, carelessly wasting and consuming everything in our path, and choosing to ignore the consequences of our actions. How many people bother to read about harmful microbeads in their cosmetics, or remember to bring shopping bags to the supermarket?

Why is it that we treat certain species with such disdain, simply because they’ve managed to survive the destruction we’ve unleashed upon nature? My favourite example is the humble pigeon. Pigeon plumage is beautiful; with the pink and green sheen of their feathers and the smooth grey roundness of their bodies, I believe we would value them more if they were a rare species. Yet because they are common and enduring, we cast them aside. While I personally think it’s a good idea to discourage people from feeding them in central London, to seek to destroy them is another matter.

We have a family of grey squirrels living by our bins at work at the moment; the management have decided they are causing too much damage, and are trapping and killing them one by one. It’s all very legal and above board, but I wonder how easy it would have been to simply strengthen the bins? I always find it fascinating how horrified we are when somebody is murdered, yet we find it so easy to snuff out the lives of other creatures, simply trying to survive and feed their young.

I’ve always thought it sadly amusing how blindly we label creatures as ‘pests’, when humanity tramples through life consuming and exploiting everything in its path. I’ll finish this angry little post with a quote:

I have been studying the traits and dispositions of the “lower animals” (so called) and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man. I find the result humiliating to me.
Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth

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Leopards for Nepal

Like the rest of the world, I was very saddened to hear about the earthquakes that have recently hit Nepal. The number of casualties are still unclear, and it will take a fair while for the country to recover.

While the people there are receiving much-needed support from charities and foreign aid, many animals and livestock are also suffering. I believe animals are entitled to just as much love and support as their human companions, but it’s also crucial to keep livestock healthy if Nepal is going to get back on its feet.

To help support the animals there, I’ve drawn this little doodle of the elusive clouded leopard (neofelis nebulosa) that roams the Himalayan mountains. There are currently fewer than 10,000 mature individuals left in the wild, but the species is believed to form an evolutionary link between big cats and small cats. They are also believed to be the most talented climbers of the cat world, with the ability to climb down vertical tree trunks head first!

I’m selling prints for just £5 on my website, and all profits will go directly to the Humane Society International‘s Disaster Fund, which is helping feed and nurture lost, abandoned and injured animals.

Thanks for your support!

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Thoughts on: ‘Few and Far Between’ by Charlie Elder

My strange obsession with extinction has recently taken me somewhere with a little change in tone. Usually, and quite rightly, the topic of extinction is accompanied by heavy feelings of despair. ‘What’s the point?’ we sigh morosely. ‘We’ve killed off so many species – there’s no hope for humanity!’ While I do understand these gloomy thoughts, to me it seems fairly silly to give up hope on the basis of poor past performance. I believe we need a little positivity, and one morning in April Charlie Elder’s latest book arrived on my doorstep: Few and Far Between: On the Trail of Britain’s Rarest Animals.

A1qZa+C2TvLWhilst the book does contain the inevitable news of vanishing species and harmful human interference, there’s a certain freshness that encourages you to look past this and have hope. The pages are filled with intriguing conservation stories; from bats, rats and wild cats to the tiny pool frogs living in a secret location in East Anglia. Yet, more importantly, it’s not just the cute and cuddly creatures he focuses on; the attention he gives to moths, beetles and birds is equally important in a world where we pour millions of pounds into saving the delightful rhino, but spare no love for the bumblebees or hoverflies that pollinate our crops. While I care deeply for the plight of our elephants, rhinos and tigers, there are many species receiving very little financial help that provide greater support for our ecosystems.

By far the most charming aspect of this book is its ability to engage the common man. I tend to read a fair amount of environmental and nature writing, and although it’s usually captivating, it often seems to forget that many potential readers are not scientists or ecologists; they simply want to learn more about the natural world. Charlie Elder writes for experts and part-time naturalists alike; his writing is amusing, and he doesn’t shy away from acknowledging his own faults as a nature lover. He misidentifies dragonflies, admits prejudging a few minor species as boring, and is wonderfully honest about the gruelling challenges of nature watching, driving long distances in the early hours to sit on an icy cold beach for the afternoon. This wit and honesty is what makes the book so readable; he reminds us that nature watching isn’t always as easy as it seems on Springwatch, but more importantly that it is worth the wait.

Few and Far Between by Charlie Elder is available now and published by Bloomsbury.

Spring Reads

I’m currently revising for a horrid exam for my Masters, so to distract myself with more pleasant things, I thought I’d gather all the books that I think make excellent springtime reads. A few are from my ‘to read’ pile, while others are much-loved favourites that simply must be enjoyed when everything’s blossoming and nature is raw and green. Best served with a glass of elderflower.

The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard

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My favourite small museum in the world is Gilbert White’s House in Selborne, just south of Alton. Aside from its claim as the home of Britain’s first naturalist, it also holds the Oates Collections, an exhibit focusing on the adventures of two members of the Oates family who were explorers of the natural world. Captain Lawrence Oates was a member of Captain Scott’s infamous Terra Nova Expedition to the South Pole in 1911-12. When his health started failing on the journey home, he sacrificed himself to allow his comrades to travel onwards, leaving the tent in a terrible blizzard with those immortal words: ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’

My obsession with Arctic and Antarctic landscapes has always drawn me to the story of Captain Scott’s doomed journey, and Cherry-Gerrard’s first-hand narrative is possibly one of the most celebrated, having survived to tell the whole horrific tale. I love stories that remind me of the power of nature, and the foolish assumption that man can overcome it.

Badgerlands by Patrick Barkham

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It seems rather apt to read this with the UK General Election looming. I have been against the badger cull almost since the very beginning; I was open-minded enough to try and understand the reasoning behind it, but it makes absolutely no scientific sense. I personally believe it stems from the Conservatives wanting to appease angry farmers with a quick solution, rather than investing in vaccinations and acknowledging that culls often increase bovine TB rates rather than reduce them. I didn’t think you could find worse than Owen Paterson, but Liz Truss seems to be doing a pretty terrible job in his stead.

Patrick Barkham is a fantastic nature writer, especially his work for The GuardianBadgerlands is an intriguing book about the world of one our most elusive creatures; many of us only see them lying on the side of the road, but at night the countryside is brimming with them. Georgia Locock is particularly skilled at capturing them on camera! This is a great read for anyone interested in living in harmony with nature rather than against it.

Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin

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In my final year of my undergrad degree, I wrote an essay on H G Wells’ The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. Many of my points were based around evolution, and I regularly referred to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In the midst of my research, I also skimmed a few pages of Voyage of the Beagle, and realised how underrated it was.

It’s one of man’s greatest historical adventures. Darwin’s journey around the world in the 1840s took him to previously unknown landscapes; from Rio de Janeiro to Tierra del Fuego, Tahiti, New Zealand and the Galapagos, he was sailing to completely unchartered areas in search of nature’s greatest puzzle pieces. It may be that his final theories in Origin of Species are his most celebrated work today, but I love being able to travel back to the 19th century and discover it with him all over again!

Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell

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As a lover of everything nature-related, I’m ashamed to say I’d never read this classic before now. Published in 1960, it’s an autobiographical account of how Maxwell brought an otter back from Iraq to his house on the west coast of Scotland, and raised it as his own. It’s one of the most beautiful accounts of man’s relationship with the natural world, which is why I find it particularly relevant as we move forward into the 21st century.

After reading Tony Juniper’s What Nature Does for Britain, it’s becoming more apparent to me how we choose to distance ourselves from nature, as if we are not part of it. We foolishly seem to think that it’s us and them, rather than realising that we rely on a healthy ecosystem to survive. Being environmentally aware isn’t just about tree-hugging and vegan cakes; it’s a necessary lifestyle choice that we all must take, or everything will collapse around us. This book is a great motivator to appreciate the complexities of our natural world, as well as being a captivating story.

The Night is Darkening Round Me by Emily Brontë

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‘I wish I were out of doors! I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free…’

Nothing illustrates the wildness of human nature more than Emily Brontë’s windswept novel Wuthering Heights. Her poetry is much lesser known, but Penguin have released a collection of 80 ‘Little Black Classics’ to celebrate their 80th anniversary, and this is the one I picked up with glee. It’s only a small selection of her poems, but they are full of the same anguish, passion and raw natural imagery as her novel. Not exactly poetry to read at weddings, but it’s dark, velvety and full of life.