On the 23rd March 2020, in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the British Prime Minster Boris Johnson announced to the House of Commons that the UK government would be informing people that they must stay at home and that certain businesses should close.
I therefore joined 1.7 million people and started working from home, with the inability to visit friends and family, and to only leave the house for essential business and for one hour’s exercise per day.
These are selected entries from the diary I kept during this unique period in our history, recording the wildlife in our small garden in a town near Oxford.
“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Mark Twain
Blackbirds gracing my garden always lift my mood. Their invariable fleeing in alarm when I enter, however, expresses a universal verity, and we witness something similar every time we go for a walk in the countryside. Sigmund Freud wrote of the “inability of people to hear things which did not fit in with the way they saw themselves… We put ourselves through all sorts of inner contortions, rather than look plainly at those things which challenge our fundamental understanding of the world” (Kingsnorth 2017: 268). I am trying to start here, to acknowledge from the outset this is not what people for the most part will want to hear. Read more
I am lying on a small slope, a heathland in miniature carved from the litter of old mine workings. High summer, with the heather in bloom and the grasses revealing small, roosting secrets. By day, the walkers and tourists wander, peeking in and out of roofless engine houses chasing lives and their echo long gone. Darters and damselflies buzz round with clockwork precision and graylings almost merge into the rocky substrata that suits them so well. But now, in this evening soft-light, the cars have departed and this patch of nearby wild almost belongs to me. Read more
Caroline Lucas, speaking at the Oxford Real Farming Conference 2019 this week, criticised the Agriculture Bill at present going through parliament as lacking in firm provisions relating to farmland nature: little on environmental regulation post-Brexit, and nothing on public health. But evidence is accumulating that a robust and accessible natural environment is essential for human mental and physical health. The deterioration of the environment affects the most vulnerable people; children are growing up in ignorance of the joys of wild nature. We forget we are part of creation; humans are just one branch on the tree of life. For us, nature is not a luxury, not just a week-end destination, but a necessity for health and happiness; to be cut off from nature is sensory deprivation.
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.
Though I have lived here all my adult life, the commission to photograph the flora and fauna gave me an excuse to delve deep, building relationships with farming families, locals and conservation groups. 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