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In wildness is the preservation of the world- Henry David Thoreau, in  ‘Walking’ (1862)

Its Sunday June 3rd and back in the UK my colleagues at Surrey Wildlife Trust have already been busy filling social media with their #30dayswild posts to encourage their friends, family and the public to take time each day through June to connect with the wild. Lou took a walk in a local wildlife with her dog Banjo and photographed all the flowers. James has revamped his garden with new plants to attract wild pollinators. Lucy  and Nicole have been exploring the mountains of Scotland. My computer screen is brimming with colour and energy and life.

I have been meaning to update my blog but I have been too busy living #MyWIldLife to write about it, but now happily both my love of writing and my need to spread the word about some of the exciting things i’m doing coincide, just in time for this annual celebration of wild living.

My Canadian adventure which started in 2016 has now reached a new phase  and I am at the start of a 10 month sabbatical from SWT. I am working as Visiting Scientist at the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Innovation and Resilience which is part of the University of Waterloo. I have joined the team on the Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Landscape initiative  who have been using a partnership approach to explore complex issues of landscape planning and management within southern Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH). I’ll be working with partners to support their hedge planting and hedgelaying visions at both site and landscape level, together with exploring the development- or rather curation-of a rural skills network in Southern Ontario. This practical work will explore new pathways of sustainable transformation towards landscape and community resilience. More on this in later blogs!

I am living with my partner Sarah at the wonderful Mount Wolf Farm, owned and run by the Crandall family where my friends Nigel and Jef demonstrated hedgelaying back in 2016 and last year we planted the first plants in the First Canadian Hedgerow (probably not but every hedge needs a story!).  Mount Wolfe is at the centre of a transitioning landscape, a complex theatre in which i find myself an actor exploring solutions towards a sustainable future.

Thoreau’s thoughts about wilderness are iconic. Today, in the age of the Anthropocene as we struggle to maintain ecosystems and reverse biodiversity loss from a myriad of pressures perhaps we might restate this famous quote- in our world  is the preservation of the wild.

Here are a few highlights for my days 1-3 of #30dayswild

 

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Even in winter, hedgerows are working in the landscape. Not only can they prevent snow drift on to roads (a feature or ‘ecosystem service’ I’m keen to explore more in work in Ontario, see 3 Go to Canada: Hedges, Novel Ecosystems and Damn Fine Donuts,HedgeCanada Revisited: healing the landscape and connecting communities with a new hedgerow story  and Hedge Canada 3: The Planting) , thick hedgerows can also be a barrier and shelter against wind for wildlife and people. They also provide visual interest in the landscape, their varied structural forms catching the eye, an adventure in landscape history for the curious mind and a cheering companion on a winter walk, especially when full of redwings after ivy berries! Ivy in hedgerows and trees is crucial at this time of year for birds and small mammals. Rowan berries and hawthorn hips are mostly long gone, but Ivy berries still endure. Kate Bradbury has written about the benefits of Ivy in the Guardian here

Its this varied structure of hedgerows, clearly seen on a winter walk  that underpins their value to biodiversity. In a  recent paper (Graham et al 2018 The influence of hedgerow structural condition on wildlife habitat provision in farmed landscapes) the authors reviewed the importance of hedgerow structure to biodiversity and found that the the definition of a good qualityhedgerow for biodiversity conservation should be expanded to include all those key structural features which are important across taxa. They highlighted the importance of heterogeneity in hedgerow structural condition  where no fixed set of hedgerow characteristics were found to benefit all taxa., which leads away from the prescription of uniform hedgerow management , because some species (including those of conservation concern) are likely to be adversely affected by a loss of suitable habitat or resource decline. I’ll review the paper in  future blog.

It’s important to maintain hedgerows in good condition however. Annual cutting at the same height every year stresses plants resulting in thick stems and a hard knuckle of regrowth which cracks and splinters under a flail which looks unsightly and may contribute to exposing plants to disease and decay. Annual cutting leads to gappy hedgerows as plants disappear from the hedge, like in this ‘candelabra’ hawthorn along Chapel Road in Westhumble, Dorking. Equally, non intervention leads to tree lines and eventual disappearance of hedgerows.

 

IMG_3629

 

I suggest a balance needs to be set between the need to preserve the hedgerows and hedge networks itself versus the needs of the species that occupy it/them. There is a point in the (The Hedge Management Cycle, (see also Hedgelink website) where a hedgerow reaches Point 10-  line of trees, and is managed as such for biodiversity and socio-ecological benefits. There are some old beech hedges in Surrey at Haslemere and Hindhead and on Leith Hill which still retain the old pleachers fused together at the bottom of huge mature beeches. These amazing relics are part of the story of our landscape history and while I wouldn’t prescribe ‘no intervention management’ to all hedgerows its important to allow space for such features to emerge, both for wildlife and people. Its only by planning at the landscape scale and over time can you assure the heterogeneity Graham et al recommend.

 

Old Hedge & SarahD_Comp

Relic beech hedgerow at Leith Hill, Surrey

 

For more information about hedgerow management visit the Hedgelink website  http://www.hedgelink.org.uk

I’m a novice at moth trapping and have been meaning to get to grips with moths for some time now. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to provide a bit of entertainment for my nephew Tarn when his best friend  Ross came around for a sleepover on a sunny evening. Tarn’s house in Dorking is a quite sheltered and not much in the way of native species so I wasn’t expecting much but nestled into the Surrey Hills it’s not far from the woods.

Tarn and Ross too busy with Minecraft, my other nephew Fenn helped me set up the skinner box, paying particular attention to counting out and lining up the specimen pots. We turned the trap on and left it while we went back inside for the other highlight of the evening: Star Wars The Force Awakens on DVD!

The evenings moth “haul” began unconventionally with two white-tailed bumble bees that were nesting in a nearby nest box and two impressive cockchafer beetles! It wasn’t long before we were attracting some unidentifiable micro-moths though and then the first unmistakable vision of a Brimstone.

We caught 10 identifiably distinct species in all and I was able to put names to three- the Brimstone, Angle shades, and Shuttle Shaped Dart. The rest I’m working on, although if anyone has any ideas with some of the ones below help gratefully excepted (and even corrections if I’ve misidentified any).

But a great evening, and a good activity to continue through June as I attempt my #30dayswild challenge

 

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.

 

Ashol-Pan, Kazakh's first trainee female Eagle Hunter in 2000 years (c) Asher Vidensky

Ashol-Pan, Kazakh’s first trainee female Eagle Hunter in 2000 years (c) Asher Vidensky from

A very dear friend of mine was recently bought a lesson at the Hawk Conservancy for her birthday. She is a big fan of birds of prey, especially the kestrel she sees on her daily walk with the dog, but i think the lesson transformed her. Into what remains to be seen! I could definitely see her working with birds of prey but she need to do the Lantra Award in Bird of Prey Management and Husbandry. I  remind her that I made the leap from Care Worker into the environment sector- although i had formal qualifications it was the volunteering and building up skills slowly that really mattered in breaking through, not the MSc.

This morning i can’t shake an image out of my head and I finally remembered why; a story on the BBC back in April of the first female trainee Eagle Hunter in the Altai Mountains for 2000 years. I looked up the story again and every time I’m blown away by the images.

As I write this I recall a conversation with my Father on Christmas Day. I was stunned to hear he had been to see the Hobbit: Battle of The Five Armies while visiting my brother before Christmas. Not so strange you might say, but there is history of course. Dad can’t do sci-fi or fantasy that well, so this was a bit of a surprise. Then he recounted the story which I had heard a few times before of the picture he drew as a boy of an eagle standing on a rocky precipice. I reminded him of the picture in my 1974 Tolkien Calendar of Gwaihir the Windlord and Bilbo Baggins and we still haven’t got to the bottom of which came first the picture in the calendar or the memory of the drawing!

Gwaihir and Bilbo

Gwaihir and Bilbo

And of late as I pass below the chalk escarpment of the Surrey Hills near the Mole Gap on my way home to Dorking via Guildford, I’ve regularly spotted two red kites drifting laconically over the fields and hedgerows below The Wotton Hatch. I have seen soiltary birds before down this way but never a pair. I couldn’t be sure if they were mates, but I hope so.

Red Kite (c) ANDALUCIA PLUS IMAGE BANK / ALAMY from

Red Kite (c) ANDALUCIA PLUS IMAGE BANK / ALAMY

I’m sure there’s some psychological resonances going on here: a return to the instinctive, the need to take flight, views from above, ability to see hidden truths, hunting success (which remains an elusive prey). I’m grateful to my friend, ever my muse, and my father for pulling these connections together from the Moria- like mines of my subconscious.

And just before I sign off, my favourite bird of prey, the Marsh Harrier. So reminiscent of good times in East Anglia working for the RSPB.

Marsh Harrier (c) Robert Canis

Marsh Harrier (c) Robert Canis

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