venus

As I arrived with a second car load of stuff at my new lodgings near Dorking in Surrey, I looked up and caught site of a wonderful thumbnail moon and there, hanging like a full stop on a moonbeam sentence was Venus.  Its extraordinary how such a sight can move your scientific reason and poetic soul at one and the same moment. I defy anyone who suggests one has more ‘truth’.

Venus struck me of late as I was heading south on the A3, heading home toward Liphhook. With Bluey my car in the garage , I was passenger to my friend Sarah Jane who was listening- at least I think she was!- as I vented my spleen over the state of the world. As I lifted my gaze to take in the ridge of Hindhead , I was pierced by the dazzling image of Venus in the still-bright sky. Watching her watching me lifted my mood completely.

Thinking about landscapes as I do, about how animals respond to differences in habitat size, shape and continuity, I wondered how the appearance of such a dazzling star in the December sky would affect or mammalian kindred. I have been reading a book by the biologist Alexandra Morton, gifted to me by my new friend Sarah Haney on a recent trip to Ontario, who describes in her book how the captive Orca Corky predicts the moment of sunrise on the side of her tank:

“There was Corky licking the spot and a few minutes later their was the  streak of light”

Alexandra Morton Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught US

I wonder how else non-human animals are affected by changes in moon and starlight.

 I have a poem about Venus in the making but now is not the time to share, so for now in humility I offer the wonderful William Wordsworth’s poem.

To The Planet Venus

What strong allurement draws, what spirit guides,
Thee, Vesper! brightening still, as if the nearer
Thou com’st to man’s abode the spot grew dearer
Night after night? True is it Nature hides
Her treasures less and less. Man now presides
In power, where once he trembled in his weakness;
Science advances with gigantic strides;
But are we aught enriched in love and meekness?
Aught dost thou see, bright Star! of pure and wise
More than in humbler times graced human story;
That makes our hearts more apt to sympathise
With heaven, our souls more fit for future glory,
When earth shall vanish from our closing eyes,
Ere we lie down in our last dormitory?

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t the most picturesque winter solstice up on Gibbet Hill, Hindhead, Surrey…..

 

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but in my mind it was all….

 

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Happy Winter Solstice!

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Today Surrey Wildlife Trust’s new Citizen Science Project ‘Hedgerow Heroes’ took a step closer to realisation as I delivered a taster session for our People and Wildlife Department directed  by the awesome Aimee Clarke

 

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Awesome Aimee Clarke

 

As regular followers of this blog will know hedgerows are a passion of mine having created and steered the Hedgerows for Dormice Project for Peoples Trust for Endangered Species from 2009-2011 thanks to a Countdown 2010 Grant from Natural England to improve the status of Dormice in the UK.

Thanks to the incredible physical endurance of  James Herd from the SWT Commercial Development Team and Ranger Ben Hapgood who recently completed a gruelling Triathlon , and the generosity of Chessington World of Adventures, “Hedgerow Heroes” will commence in 2017. In the first instance we will be training volunteers to help us update the status of  hedgerows in Surrey- their extent and condition, In future years we hope to engage in hedgerow management and perhaps explore some novel ideas around community ownership of hedgerows as part of neighbourhood planning and green infrastructure networks.

Surrey Wildlife Trust has a Vision for a Living Landscapes for People and Wildlife which depends on Citizen Science programs like RiverSearch and the upcoming Hedgerow Heroes. Hedgerows are a magnificent example of a semi-natural habitat that requires human intervention to maintain (blog post on anthropogenic habitats forthcoming), which 130 Species of Principal Importance for Nature Conservation rely on and ecosystem services such as natural flood management, natural pest control and  soil erosion control depend on.

Our day today was light-hearted but with serious overtones. Guffaws about hedgerow bottoms were met with serious concerns about well-managed hedges with enough shrubby growth at the base for refuges for hedgehogs, which are one mammal species, as well as  dormice, that can trace an evidence base for their own decline back to  hedgerow loss and poor management

Oh dear I seem to have brought my Canadian Doughnut & Hedgerows fetish back to the UK as well.

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L-R: Glen, Keith, Emma, Libby,Jenny, Louise, Tom, John, David

Turning a frown into a smile amongst ordinary people working to improve their environment

Today started badly there is no doubt about that. The US became even more of a theme park than usual and an Orange Man who hates almost everyone but himself had become President.

Yet haven’t most of us known for some time that 21st Century Western Civilization is broken. It’s a machine designed to make us consume, because consumption is the dynamo that drives the growth economy which allows our societies to build more houses and shops and roads and hospitals and schools so we can live long and healthy lives….er… consuming.

For me Brexit and Trump are warnings of collapse, but instead of marshalling the best in us to build a better world, they are symptoms of the fear that people have for their future when power is taken away from them, away from the idea that Governments are elected to represent them but instead give power to globalised entities in the name of wealth generation and growth.

Wealth generation and growth is a process, not an end point. The end point should be global well-being.

My antidote to all this was a day on the Rye Brook , a small tributary of the River Mole which itself is a tributary of the River Thames, rising in West Sussex near Horsham and flowing 80km north-west through Surrey to join the Thames at East Molesey near Hampton Court. I was here with 9 volunteers who had given up their day to help improve the morphology and habitat of the Rye as it confluences with the Mole in River Lane Meadows, Leatherhead. The Rye is classed as a Heavily Modified Water Body  in the parlance of the EU Water Framework Directive due to its modification for flood relief, so it will never achieve Good Ecological Status. However we can mitigate the effects of the structures and impoundments along its course by improving habitat. This is the aim of the project we are now running called Rye To Good, with the target being Good Ecological Potential.

I have been working on the Rye since 2010 when I produced a Hedgerow Management Plan for Ashtead Rye Meadows. Today, I manage projects like Rye to Good as part of Surrey Wildlife Trusts’ Living Landscape vision, and particularily our Catchment-based Approach (CaBA) work hosting the River Mole Catchment Partnership (RMCP) and Wey landsacpe Partnership (WLP). The Rye Brook is lucky enough to have an army of interested residents and forward-thinking landowners who readily get involved to improve the condition of their local watercourse.

Today everyone looked a bit fazed. We had hoped to break a couple of weirs at the mouth of the Rye to improve the passage of fish into the brook, but after a full night of rain the brook was too high to work with the equipment to cut through concrete weirs. However we set to work on the other goals- installing two deflectors to encourage a straightened section of channel to meander; building a berm to create a low flow channel which would continue to move silt even in lower flows; and day-lighting the brook from years of neglect allowing blackthorn to block out any light into the channel.

With myself and colleagues Glen and Emma today were John, Keith, Libby, Tom, Louise, David and Jenny.Volunteers were from the Surrey Wildlife Trust RiverSearch Citizen Science Project and Surrey County Council’s Lower Mole Countryside Project.

Today has reminded me that real political power lies in the connections we have with each other. Keeping an open mind and heart and solving communal problems as citizens- not as consumption-orientated individuals has to be the way to a brighter future.

Stay positive.

 

 

 

 

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(Probably) The first ever hedge layed in Canada! L-R: Jim Jones, Jef Gielen, Nigel Adams, Steve Quilley

Where I find myself in Ontario Canada introducing the technique of hedge-laying and discovering social-ecological complexity, Novel Ecosystems theory and Community Supported Agriculture along the way

 

 

I’m writing this blog as US Citizens go to the polls and a baked potato crisps in the oven, getting ready for a date with home-made chilli. By the time you read this, we will have a new ‘leader of the free world’. I doubt much will change really, except the aforesaid citizens will have as much to divide them as we Brits now have thanks to Brexit

So if you can’t bare another Trump vs Clinton, Brexit vs Remain story, let’s talk about Connections, my favourite topic. There is after all far more that unifies us than divides us.

I was invited as a guest of the Institute of Social Innovation and Resilience at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, to take part in exploring social-ecological complexity, and in particular the role hedgerows and hedge-laying might play in designing “novel” or “designer” ecosystems ahead of the inevitable growth of the Toronto Golden Horseshoe.

Hedgelaying in Ontarios Greenbelt-Program Fall 2016

I’ll explore the detail of the project in a later blog, but for now it’s worth explaining how this invitation came about due to its almost serendipitous levels of connectivity. Before I joined the Surrey Wildlife Trust I ran a project for the People’s Trust for Endangered Species called Hedgerows for Dormice (HfD) (HfD Newsletter 2011) from 2009-12, for which I ran a series of workshops across England and Wales for Landowners about Hedgerow Management. Through this project I had joined Hedgelink which at the time was the UK BAP for Hedgerows Steering Group, and now goes from strength to strength as a technical advisory group on hedgerows which are a Habitat of Principal Importance for Nature Conservation in England.

Through Hedgelink I met Nigel Adams, a countryside management professional specialising in hedge-laying, and vice-chair of the National Hedgelaying Society. I enlisted Nigel to help me with the HfD Hedgerow Management Workshop, providing a much-needed practical element of hedge management through his 10-point plan to compliment the positive wildlife message from my PTES project. Nigel also attended my NERC Workshop on Hedgerow Connectivity at Imperial College in 2014 and off the back of this he enlisted me in the 3-man mission (with Jef Gielen, a hedge-layer from the Netherlands) to Ontario to demonstrate the art of Hedge-laying. Nigel and the NHS had hosted the Waterloo team, headed up by Dr Steve Quilley and PhD Candidate Perin Ruttonsha, when they attended the National Hedgelaying Championships in 2015, and who subsequently invited him and Jef to take part in the all program at Waterloo in 2016.

Nigel, Jef and I were intrigued by the invitation because we didn’t equate Canada with hedgerows, let alone hedgelaying. The team at Waterloo were tasked with finding a hedge for Nigel and Jef to demonstrate their art and it soon became clear that finding a suitable “hedge” was not easy. After arriving in Ontario on a Monday evening in September we went straight to work on Tuesday demonstrating hedge-laying on a small patch of shrubs at the Quilley’s property in Elora. I say “we” I am of course more an eager conservation hedge-layer rather than professional like my colleagues but the “hedge”, layed midland style, was soon shaping up. Until we ran out of shrubs to lay!

Following this first demonstration we journeyed with our hosts from our base in Waterloo to Caledon and scoured Mount Wolfe Forest Farm for a suitable hedge to lay. Beautiful as the farm is, it did lack anything resembling a hedgerow although a line of trees along the edge of a woodland strip gave us the opportunity to demonstrate again. Assembled at Mount Wolfe to watch the demonstration were some of the posse that had been to the 2015 Hedge-laying Championships in the UK including Debbe Day Crandall (Save The Oak Ridges Moraine Coalition), Gord Macpherson (Toronto Region Conservation Authority), Karen Hutchinson (Caledon Countryside Alliance/ Albion Hills Community Farm) and Nicola Ross (Writer and Environmentalist), together with farm manager Sarah Dolamore, all keen to see how hedges and hedge-laying might be a useful tool in the conservation of the Oak Ridges Moraine Area.

These hedge-laying demonstrations naturally gave rise to many questions. Why aren’t hedges, never mind hedge-laying, more prevalent in Ontario? What are the best species of shrub to use from the palette of Ontario species? In our hedgerows were maples, ash, basswood, hawthorn and buckthorn which all seemed to work but would this yield the best results? How might snowfall impact the newly cut pleacher? There may be good practical reasons why hedges haven’t been planted extensively in Ontario, however further work should look to map current hedgerow extent. Nigel and Jef had brought their own bilhooks over with them thinking no such equipment would be easily available. Only after they had both left (I stayed on for two extra weeks) was a Canadian-made billhook unearthed in the Barn at Mount Wolf Forest Farm

Of course there may also be social aspects to explain the lack of hedges. Settlers from Europe were in some cases disenfranchised by the theft of common land and its redistribution to wealthy landowners exemplified by the exclosure acts. During the enclosure acts of 1750-1850 over 200,000miles of hedgerow was planted enclosing over 2 million acres of land. Perhaps hedgerows represented a way of life settlers would rather forget. I will come back to this because I think it raises some challenging questions about how much social and cultural aspects should be considered when ecosystem functioning is threatened.

The general consensus was that some trial hedges should be planted as soon as possible to answer some of these practical questions before hedgerows might be rolled out as a component of green infrastructure.

Subsequent blogs will explore:

  • Novel ecosystems concepts
  • Complexity and resilience
  • Ontario-Surrey Comparisons
  • Community Supported Agriculture & Forestry
  • Locally-derived ecological coherence & resilience

Oh, and here are the donuts………

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Staples Lane, Clandon Downs, TQ063503

Staples Lane, Clandon Downs, TQ063503

Ash tree in hedgerow, Staple Lane, Clandon TQ 064503

Overlooking woods at High Clandon Farm TQ06275053

Gappy Field Maple hedge, Clandon Downs TQ06435035

Clandon Downs TQ06435035

Clouds over Clandon Downs

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in hedge bottom, Staples Lane, Clandon Downs TQ05865137

Staples Lane Clandon Downs Panoramic

Staple Lane, East Clandon TQ06435035

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