HAre_JCrumley

“….what makes you think the Hare is done with night just because she kicked a badger in the ribs?”

Ever since the days when I thought I might be a druid, the Hare, along with the bear and the wolf, has been an animal of  power and magic in my imagination. This triptych is with me daily, three figures adorning my bookshelf, a wolf from the Schleich range of figurines; a brown bear sculpted from who-knows-what rock, a salmon in its jaws; and a hare. The hare is solid carnelian.

Brown-hare-female-boxing-male-during-courtship

Imagine the somersaults in my soul then, when on a unplanned sidestep into The Haslemere Bookstore, heading as I do straight for the nature and wildlife section just by the sales desk, I spy the form of a hare on the cover of a book. Not just any hare this, this is an orange and white poem in paint from the imagination of Carry Akroyd, one of my favourite nature artists. Following the hare I spy fox, barn owl and swan all in the same unmistakeable colours and patterns. As I pick up Hare my fingers delight in the hard spine and rough cover. This is something of substance, an appeal to all the senses as a good book should be. There might be a threshold of stimulation above which the mind dissolves, and suddenly I am aware that the author of this book, these books, is Jim Crumley, and it feels like a dam has been breached somewhere in my head.  My brain is so hot it may melt like butter. My cheeks start to sting a little. I feel like I have discovered a treasure hoard, half expect the glittering tail of Smaug the Magnificent to drop from the topmost shelf, backed up by his deadly dentistry. When nothing so dramatic happens, an impulse makes me turn to see if I have been discovered in this intimate moment of joy. I almost set my back to the shelves- this treasure discovered, I will fight all comers; this is too good to share. Instead I walk away as if nothing has happened, calm myself within the earhy logic of the gardening section, then quickly exit the store, £10 poorer but richer beyond my dreams as I slide the paper wrapped……book is such a poor word, this is a doorway…..into my bag.

Jim Crumley has written 30 books and you may imagine from my reaction I have read them all, but my only other encounter with the Scottish nature writer was with The Last Wolf he  But what an encounter! In that wonderful book, he told the story of the disappearance of the last wolf in a more or less conventional way through relating the facts of the case and embedding its demise- it’s supposed demise- in a historical context’ He points out how careful we should be about the claims of the killer when such an act could be clearly used for self-aggrandizement and political manoeuvring. Scattered through this interesting read, however,  the poet and visionary (dare I say druid?) is shape-shifted into that Last Wolf, and wandered through the glens and lochs that Crumley knows intimately. Through this powerful storytelling technique, despite my own reservations about the possibility of such a thing in the modern human-dominated landscape, I was one with Crumley in his instance that the wolf should be reintroduced to Scotland as an urgent imperative.

Encounters In the Wild

Hare is in a series of books called Encounters In the Wild which cover the Barn Owl, Fox and Swan. Each chapter is a different encounter with either (and in one encounter both) the Brown Hare Lepus europeaus and Mountain Hare Lepus lepus. From observations of interactions with fellow denizens of the field and wood in the lowlands, to an inexplicable and solitary quest for the peaks in the mountains, Crumley’s encounters with hares are bought to life through his impeccable attention to the details of how things are and what they do- what a scientist would call morphology and behaviour- shape-shifted with a storytellers heart.

This book is about the hare. There is a chapter about the UK current status of the hare and the appalling slaughter that we wreck on this ever-declining species in the name of sport- both through illegal hare coursing and through state-sponsored massacres in the form of grouse shoots. But Crumley weaves the hare’s tale so much with other animals and with the landscape that it all seems part of the same one thing. And here he is, watching and retelling this tale and it’s clear he is also part of that same magical pattern. But while we know on one level what hares are, we are still far away from fully understanding them, and this series of encounters walks the line of familiarity and mystery perfectly.

“..finally there was a blur of dark brown sodden fur between two clumps of heather, but then it stopped dead still. It could be anything-at-all……The anything at all trembled. The shape shifted. It became taller, developed ears, extraordinary brown and white and grey and black ears that flicked upright and scanned the wood and turned into the wind. To watch a hare reveal itself piecemeal as it both changes shape from low-lying horizontal to tall-sitting vertical and inches back and forward among different clumps of heather and skinny birch clumps is to bear witness to a kind of sorcery.”

Brown-hare-scratching-ear

Carry Akroyd’s art is a perfect complement to this book. Her work arises from the linocut tradition and is inspired by the wildlife and agricultural landscapes of the East of England, where Brown Hares still do well in decent numbers, and in particular by one of its most famous sons, the poet John Clare. For me it is a reminder of a youth spent at my Aunt, Uncle & Grandparent’s second home in Glinton, outside Peterborough- very near to Clare’s residence and Akroyd’s gallery at Helpston. It was a youth of ladybirds, walks along the edges of vast wheat fields, “hills and hollows” and Peakirk’s Wildfowl, where the sky was huge and forever blue and if you were lucky you would spot Hawker Harrier out from RAF Wittering. But for paralysing hayfever I would have spent more time rooting round rather than looking up at those planes: a story for another day.

As we approach the breeding season when Hares are easily seen in the day, I have been planning with Mammal Group, Wildlife Trust and SBIC colleagues to push on finding out where Hares still exist in Surrey. Watch out for an upcoming blog about a day out searching for them near Cranleigh, almost as far from the snow-covered slopes of Bidean nam Nian as you can be without leaving the mainland. I shall hold these encounters with me; for or an ecologist like me they are a reminder should I need one that looking is the beginning of learning and leads to understanding; but understanding is only part of the story. The head and heart are in one body for a reason.

One line I will also take with me:

“ I realised at this point that the Hare was not in site and neither the badger or I had seen it go.”

Badger and I are will be keeping a careful watch from now on.

 

Threeamigos

The Three Amigos (c) Catherine Burton

Forgive the long post but there was so much to say!

 

Last Saturday I was at an event that embodies the spirit of connectivity which has me so enthralled. It’s the fourth time I have attended the Surrey Recorders Meeting organised by the Surrey Biodiversity Records Centre (SBIC to its friends). I have been every year since I joined Surrey Wildlife Trust and one before, speaking on the Hedgerows for Dormice Project I ran at People’s Trust for Endangered Species. I enjoyed this meeting probably more than any other because I know so many more of my fellow recorders than I did when I first attended. This meet serves the recorder community best in that it provides a place to catch up on what others are doing, and make plans for the year ahead.

For me the talks are a form of call-to-arms; or perhaps a challenge. Here set out before me were stories from people engaging with the natural world in ways they find personally fulfilling, and in some cases the invitation there was to join in the fun. In terms of species work, have my work cut out for me as one of the county recorders for mammals, vice-chair of the Surrey Mammal Group and overseeing SWT’s Otter and Water Vole Recovery Project and the Surrey Harvest Mouse Project, and now training for my Bat Roost Visitor Licence with Surrey Bat Group. But I’m missing a whole world of other taxa! I have been slowly breaking into moths, and through setting up our RiverSearch Programme and working with Glen Skelton on Riverfly monitoring, I’m relearning the aquatic inverts from uni days. A couple of Recorders meetings back Graeme Lyons from Sussex Wildlife Trust talked about Pan-Species Listing and I have been recording everything I see since. Finding the time to learn is hard though, and also relies on a good memory and the ability to use these skills in the field. Still, who could be bored with the natural world on your doorstep. Put your boots on and go turn over some logs! Learn something new.

The talks were as usual, excellent. Simon Humphreys gave an interesting and informative account of the Veteran Tree Project at Dawcombe where he has been volunteer ranger for 30 years. It’s easy to see how important these trees are in our landscape they are a habitat in their own right supporting bats, lichens, fungi, and a host of important insects including the saproxylic guild. Soldier flies and their Allies is the most recent edition of the excellent and recommended series of Wildlife Atlases published by SBIC (Surrey Mammal Atlas due 2018 if all goes to plan!), and author and naturalist Jeremy Early gave a wonderful account of these Dipterans, so-named because of their brightly-coloured abdomens reminiscent of soldiers in the days before DPM camouflage. I met Gareth Hunt from Clandon Wood Burial Ground at a mini Bioblitz there a few years ago and he gave us an update today on plans for the site. The Burial Ground is designed to one day be the last resting place for 1000s of people, all buried in a low-impact, environmentally friendly fashion (maybe I’ll book a plot, although I do lean towards excarnation for my preferred means of discorporation after the Amercian First Nations fashion). In the mean-time the site bears species-rich hedgerows, semi-natural grassland and wetland features, and was the site of a rescued hedgehog release. With the help of hedgehog footprint tunnels loaned from the Surrey Mammal Group, Gareth tells me they are still there.

Jeremy

Jeremy Early: Robbers and their Allies (c) Catherine Burton

I could listen to Martin Angel talk all day, he has the smooth baritone of the best storytellers, and that he was recounting the exploits and discoveries of the Surrey Moth Group’s Royal and Bagmoor Commons Surveys was a further delight. I joined the moth group last year with the intention of starting to record at my home in Haslemere. I was even loaned a moth trap by my neighbour and always impeccably waist-coated John Rees but I was so busy with the new dormice checks on site my mothing was restricted to the Bioblitz event in June. So this was a wake up for me to begin mothing- especially with the potential to meet as exquisite a creature as the Merveille de Jour.

 

Merveille-du-Jour-Dichonia-aprilina_RST006443-_D3X1

Merveille du Jour Dichonia aprilina http://www.robertthomsonphotography.com

 

Our very own Glen Skelton gave an update on the RiverSearch Citizen Science Initiative, which is the backbone of SWTs Catchment-based Approach Work. Glen and I are about to undertake practical enhancement works with RS volunteers as part of our DEFRA-funded Catchment Partnership Action Fund Projects (more about that anon), so a good reminder of what the volunteers do when they are not up to their butts in water creating new fish habitat. When creating RiverSearch I was keen for it to be a platform for volunteers to record as much as they could on their 1km reach, as well as the key features related to water quality and ecology we needed them to record. If there was something they wanted to learn, we would facilitate training. Becoming a Riverfly training hub was an early addition and Glen now co-ordinates a growing list of local Riverfly groups which have already proved themselves in providing data to pursue point source and diffuse pollution incidents, and are now providing data to monitor the success of our CPAF projects. But another fantastic reason for attending the Recorders meeting is making new connections, and Lynn from the Surrey bat group pointed out our RS reaches are the same length as the Bat Conservation Trust Waterways survey, we hope to do some collaboration with both BCT and SBG on that for our volunteers. The last speaker of the day also offered us another opportunity. PondNet is reaching Surrey this year, and its coordinator in the south, Francesca Dunn from the Freshwater Habitats Trust (ex-Pond Life) talked about the project. They are looking for volunteers and ponds for them to survey, and SWT RiverSearch volunteers will be happy to help I am sure.

I haven’t mentioned here that I also gave a two-part talk which for the first part was announcing that there will be a Surrey State of Nature report produced in 2016, emerging from Surrey Nature Partnership ’s Biodiversity Working Group in Collaboration with SBIC and SWT. There was a national SoN produced in 2013 and also some county SoNs from Kent (2011) and Devon (2013). Behind this this piece of work is the lack of any true baseline from which to monitor changes, as a place from which to undertake an audit of Surrey’s Natural Capital, and therefore also to monitor success (or otherwise) in achieving SWTs goals of a Living Landscape. The second was a brief exploration of monitoring which really posed questions rather than answered them. Faced with a room full of people who are already recording species (some for longer than I have been alive) it was a daunting prospect to ask is what we are recording giving us the data we need to answer the questions we want. Fundamental to this is the goal set by Professor John Lawton in his Making Space for Nature report is the need for coherent and resilient ecosystems. Much of what we monitor is biodiversity-its abundance and distribution and although research into biodiversity and ecosystem function is stil relatively new, we should begin to incorporate what we do know into our monitoring systems. More on this- and my talk in full-in a later blog.

 

JIm

State of Nature (c) Catherine Burton

State of Nature (c) Catherine Burton

 

What is clear is that one ecosystem service provided by biodiversity is it brings so much joy to people, stimulates both the left hemisphere in our natural human urge to discover and understand and the right hemisphere in the creativity which it stimulates. How that supports our economy, how we value that is beyond my brain, but I suspect these behaviours occurred early in the evolution of Homo sapiens, and exercising them is as important as breathing.

Lunch gave us all the opportunity to catch up, share stories and make plans which some may say is the real heart of the recorders meeting, after which some rapid fire updates. One that sticks in mind was on the Oak Processionary Moth (OPM). This little critter is a non-native invasive species that has serious consequences for human health and the Forestry Commission and other agencies are on a mission to eradicate it. The hair of the OPMs caterpillar is toxic and a rash of cases of unexplained breathing difficulties around Richmond Park was traced to this hairy vector. The only management technique at present is location and eradication of the nests as early as possible. The caterpillar will also defoliate and kill the host tree. John Lock  was presenting early research into a possible natural enemy the Tachinid fly Carcelia iliaca.

unspecified

(c) Catherine Burton

With my Surrey Mammal Group Hat on I was also manning the SMG stand and asking people for Brown Hare and Water Vole sightings. We have some old sightings of Brown Hare in parts of Surrey but no new recent records so ahead of the Mammal Atlas we need a real push to update these. I’m overseeing a status update for the Water Vole in Surrey at SWT, spear-headed by Alex Learmont our Water Vole Conservation Officer. She coordinated 66 surveys last year (again with RS volunteers we trained up), all with no evidence of water voles. If you have seen either of these…or any mammals in surrey from the humble rabbit and fox up, you can submit records directly to SBIC here. Or if you prefer send to me at jim.jones@surreywt.org.uk

 

 

In Alistair’s review of the year, he recalled the passing of one of Surrey’s foremost recorders, Ray Tantrum. What Ray didn’t know about fungi was probably not worth knowing. I met Ray a number of times at SWT events like Bioblitz and I always told her I was going to come on one of her Fungal Forays. I will remember a warm and likeable person with an incredible knowledge and a wicked sense of humour. Shortly after her funeral a letter appeared about her life at SWT and, jaw dropping, I read tales of escapes from Nazis and a fondness for motorbikes. I wish had time to get to know her, but a stronger inspiration to embrace life I have not seen.

Thank to Alistair Kirk and Catherine Burton of SBIC for organising this event again. I think this year especially the need our support- who would have thought that in the midst of all this fantastic activity stimulated by a local record centre, supporting a community of dedicated and knowledge people, who are providing a health cheque for the nations’ environment free of charge, that Natural England have decided to cut funding to these fabulous places. I cannot see the sense. Support your local record centre.

I’m not a man to wish for the year to run away with me but when Alistair closed the meeting and bid us Adieu until Feb 2017, I was so excited about what that might hold. But on a sunny late winter morning, there is such expectation in the air as the natural world awakes (although as warm as it has been, it’s been a cat nap rather than a deep dreamy slumber). I am brimming to the top with ideas and excitement about discoveries yet to be made. And Im going to enjoy sharing them all with you too.

Feels a bit like being at the top of a roller-coaster just before it…drops….over…..the eeeeedge……

A very interesting and timely insight by Miles King into the views- and obvious disconnection- of our current Government on flooding , drainage and wildlife. Frightening

a new nature blog

Water_Vole_on_Boot_Hill_(5592665124)Those of us who believe that nature is important and that in order for nature to be better protected from the activities of people the best approach is to gather evidence, scientific evidence, analyse it, and present it to those in power, should heed this story.

Yesterday the Prime Minister attended the Liaison Committee, where he was questioned on a wide range of issues. The Liaison Committee comprises all the chairs of the Parliamentary Select Committees. So Neil Parish, new chair of the EFRA committee, and Devon farmer, was there, as was Labour’s Huw Irranca-Davies, new chair of the Environmental Audit Committee. You can watch the piece here from 17:22.

It was good to see Huw I-D give Cameron a hard time over the cuts in subsidies for renewable energy, though Cameron is an accomplished PR man and had the figures to hand, which he deployed. It’s a pity…

View original post 940 more words

Communities across Britain, particularly in the North of England ,are again suffering from the effects of flooding. In Surrey where I live and work, flooding is in the news after a very wet winter, although so far we haven’t seen a repeat of the disastrous floods of 2013/14 which caused much distress to and damage to property particularly on the Wey at Shepperton and the Mole at Dorking and Cobham.

There are many mixed messages surrounding the efficacy of different approaches to flooding. Calls for dredging of rivers to increase the capacity of rivers appear to hold more sway with policy makes than more  catchment-based approaches including natural flood management and land management interventions. The government assures us that money is being spent to alleviate the problem but is the money being spent wisely and with the best advice?

In this  vacuum of leadership, local communities are making up their own minds and drawing conclusions for themselves. Residents of Horley have made these YouTube posts that combine humour with a very serious message: why are their still development proposals put forward for land in the flood plain?

Flooding in Horley 1

Flooding in Horley 2

Local authorities are hard pressed to stimulate local economies and build new housing but until the impacts of flooding are incorporated into economic models, lack of  joined up decision making will no doubt continue to yield proposals that make no sense to flood-hit communities,  There will be much more on Rivers in this blog. My work with Surrey Wildlife Trust centres around the delivery of projects for the Catchment Partnerships we host- the River Mole Catchment Partnership and Wey Landscape Partnership. These were set up in 2012 to address ecological and chemical status of Rivers but,  recognising that issues surrounding water in the environment are naturally interconnected,  we are beginning to make connections with  Flood Forums across Surrey.

It’s an area where the primary focus of this blog, the importance of connectivity, can be seen through the  interactions between rivers and the communities-human or otherwise-that live along them.

 

 

This post is about why my blog is so named and how a connection, in this case with ideas in a book can be life changing.

The first book that opened my eyes to science was Fritjof Capra’s book Web of Life: A New Synthesis of Mind and Matter (1996). If I’m honest, sitting here almost 20 years later I don’t remember much of the detail, but it was a bridging point- a profound connection- between a semi- mystical path I had been following exploring the unity and connectivity of living things (I had started to follow the Druidic tradition) and opened my eyes to a life of scientific enquiry. In my head that’s not much of a leap; you could argue druids where really the ecologists of their day, utilising the same observational techniques of the natural world, but based around a different knowledge paradigm.

In the Web of Life, Capra summarises the problems that the world faces- climate change, poverty, population growth, environmental degradation- as integrated and systematic, requiring a totally new approach to thinking about the world. He proposed that a “paradigm shift” is needed similar to that which marked the discoveries of Newton/Einstein and Lamarck/Darwin which permeated every sphere of existence. In the Web of Life he explores the movement to  systems thinking away from the reductionist understanding of components. Systems also have emergent properties that are more than the sum of the parts: simply put, the bicycle is an emergent property of the positioning of pedals, wheels, saddle etc in a prescribed manner to produce a functioning system. Importantly the properties of the whole are not present in the parts, so studying components is unhelpful in understanding the properties of the system. Capra explores how systems thinking has transformed approaches across disciplines including mathematics (chaos theory), cybernetics, gaia hypothesis and autopoiesis (self-organising systems).

Systems thinking has important social science repercussions because it moves thinking away from the separation of humans and nature (a big bugbear of mine as my Web of Life will reveal); it implies integration rather than self-assertion and the triumph of ego; and networks underpin systems rather  than hierarchical structures.

Capra also explores the deep ecology which broadens ecological science into a philosophy of life. More on that in future blogs.

After reading this book while a care worker at a residential home for people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviours. I started studying part –time an OU Discovering Science course and read the second of two formative books: Edward O Wilson’s Diversity of Life. It became clear to me that I wanted to study ecology- essentially the science of the distribution and abundance of populations because it encapsulated for me the take home message from Capra – the idea of connectivity and complementarity between parts and the whole. Ecology connects with so many other scientific disciplines and I think can embrace non-scientific world views as well, although many ecologists would disagree I suspect.

While the Web of Life was pivotal in changing my life, like the paradigm shifts mentioned here it crystalised some experiences and thinking that were already present; but now I had a framework of knowledge to build my experiences into and to pose more questions to test that framework. For me, as I am sure for you too, a life without at least some kind of filter through which to pass your experiences is, to use one of my father’s favourite quotes from Macbeth “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

 

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