I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love nature. Or, more than that, didn’t feel immersed in, absorbed by, nature. Face down, lying on the smooth concrete surrounding my parents’ 1950s tank of a pond, nose almost to the water; so, so, close to the smooth newts as they tail flicked and nudged, peering into the green water for the telltale wrapping of a single egg in a curly Canadian pondweed leaf. When I was older, boyfriends and makeup held no competition for days wandering the local woods with heavy, too-big-for-me, binoculars slung around my neck, scouting for birds or badger prints. Or down by the weirs, dipping for snails and beetles, the rush of the river in my ears.
[Adapted from The Garden Jungle, to be published by Jonathan Cape in July 2019]
It was because of my love for cider that I discovered the joy of growing apples, and now apples have become something of an obsession for me. You might wonder what there is to get so excited about. The apple is perhaps the most commonplace and familiar of garden trees; many people have one and don’t even bother to pick the fruit, just allowing them to rot on the lawn (which is not such a bad thing – blackbirds and a host of insects will enjoy munching them right through autumn into early winter). To my eternal mystification, those same people may buy apples in plastic bags from their local supermarket, even while ripe fruit hangs on the tree in their garden.
Even though our beautiful butterflies are endangered by damage to our natural environment you can still enjoy their company, perhaps more than you think. They can give us lots of pleasure, and in my own case butterflies have caused me to write and publish a collection of poems inspired by them. It is called Papiliones, and the title means “butterflies” in Latin. You don’t need to be a scientist or environmental activist to feel passionate about butterflies. I am not an expert about the natural sciences, but I just love seeing them and writing about them. Read more
Only a few minutes away from my house, the Shropshire Hills raise themselves up the sky where they encompass the two fragile and beautiful nature reserves of the Stiperstones and Long Mynd. My three years of work for Natural England and the National Trust have resulted in Upland, which I hope contains all the love I feel for these wild places. Read more
I like the title of this blog – Nearby Wild, it succinctly describes what we all want – to have wildness in abundance on our doorstep, nosing in through the garden gate, fluttering around our shrubs, buzzing about the flowers, singing in the trees. I wish I were describing the reality of wild Britain, but this richness is mostly an aspiration as we have lost so much of our wildlife over the last 50 years.
But it is good to have dreams to work towards. Read more
Four years ago, when I was still working as a children’s author, if you had told me that I would hug nearby hedgelines, crawl through muddy fields, and stand in sad imitation of a tree in order to photograph hares, stoats and short eared owls, I would have laughed.
The hill above my village was for long walks, dreams, poetry, stops to chat to locals and enjoy the view over the Shropshire valleys I have lived in all my adult life. A breakdown and recovery from severe clinical depression in my mid forties changed everything. Read more
Early spring is possibly my favourite time of year. Day by day, Nature comes back to life in front of us. For me, it lifts my spirits. Even in this most bizarre winter, when the winter didn’t look like it was going to arrive at all, but finally did so in early March. But of course as the sun gets ever stronger, the cold nights quickly disappear and beautiful warm sunshine greets me as I let the chickens out first thing in the morning.
Nature survives at the margins
Today I found a particularly pleasing, though very small, sign of spring – Whitlow grass (Erophila verna) flowering here in Dorchester. Read more
Sat amongst the bluebells on a late spring evening, a gentle breeze tickling my nose, I am waiting for the first black nose to appear. It is a moment of excitement, tension and a little bit of apprehension.
Every creature is just settling down for the night, blackbirds are singing their final song, wood pigeons are flapping about high in the branches, looking for their roost for the night. Through the trees I can see a couple of roe deer silently moving in the dimming light. Read more
Most of my life has involved nature as my adventure. I ask myself why. My connection with non-human lives has been a constant ember within me, aside only during a period of traumatic bereavement, another story. I acknowledge this bond was securely founded in early childhood.
I think it came in two main parts.
Firstly, I was fortunate to live, play and imagine among nature with effortless ease, growing up in a particularly biodiverse corner of North Herefordshire. It was a hamlet of a few houses dotted around a hill, but mostly of woods, streams, tracks and open common land. Read more
From a presentation given for New Networks for Nature’s ‘Nature Matters’ event in Stamford, England, November 2015
For more than twenty years I have lived by the sea in Scotland. My children have grown up with otters as their neighbours and, more recently, with re-introduced white tailed eagles too. They’re as pleased to see them as when they bump into their friends, which is just as it should be. It’s a place we feel we belong.
To walk on that shoreline is to play back some of our own history: one rock makes me smile at the memory of a picnic we had there, when my daughter found a long heron’s feather and put it in her hair. In another place I stand again where I once did at midnight, after heavy snow, entranced by the full moon that lit up the land as far as I could see. Read more