A wet day, a new book, a big question.

digging holes for waymarkers

find happiness in the woods

So, It’s a wet, wet day and I am holed up in my kitchen doing some research for my new book, which I have been slowly working on for the last year. I am writing the story of my time with the wildlife conservation group I ran for six years, an experience which had a profound effect on me as it did on everyone who found their way to us.

Sometimes I think is it just a bit old fashioned to write a book about a wildlife conservation group when young people are camping on the streets of London and pressurising governments about the climate crisis. Wouldn’t I be better off spending my time joining them?

But what I am discovering from my research is that I am also part of the solution. For governments to take action they need to think that enough ordinary people care and people care about nature if they feel the need for it.

Some people feel the point is to save the earth for the sake of humanity. After all we cannot survive without a planet and we cannot survive without nature’s ‘ecosystem services’ of carbon capture, fresh water and healthy soil that can grow food. Personally I find myself more interested in saving the planet simply because it exists and is beautiful and other creatures have as much right to life as us. But it is the truth that, while nature will survive just find without us, we cannot survive without it.

Nature is essential for our physical survival But what I am learning through my research is that we also need it on a more subtle level too. Studies show that our brains have become wired through lack of contact with it.

Urban environments and technology are literally sending us crazy. Constant noise, proximity to other people and attention grabbing websites are sending our amygdala into overload and leading, not only to rises in depression and anxiety, but even to illness’s like schizophrenia. Nature resets our brain and makes us calm down, become less prone to rumination and more able to concentrate.

So we need nature for our physical health, for our mental health and also for our soul. Whether you believe in the existence of it or not, you probably know that indefinable something that soars in the presence of nature’s grandeur. At least I really hope you do.  Nature links us with the unknown, with something larger than ourselves that we cannot pin down. We need this. We need that heart stopping sunset or rush of bird wing overhead, we need that moment of silence in deep woodland broken by one insect buzz. God how we need that.

It makes me feel justified, this research. What I am trying to write about is not just a story of a group of people who went to the woods but why being part of a group that went to the woods made us all feel so damn happy. It is a book about connection with nature and how it heals us in a world gone a little mad. It is a story about how we need nature far more than it needs us.

In writing this story I not only hope to tell people about the power of nature to heal but encourage them to get out and see for themselves how much difference it can make to all our lives and why we should all be supporting those people camping on the streets of the capital that are fighting for it’s future.

Costa Coffee. What planet are you on?

pexels-photoCosta Coffee is way behind the times when it comes to the war on plastic. Tonight a friend bought me a hot chocolate to take away from one of their shops. I asked the member of staff to leave the plastic top off as I didn’t want the waste. He told me that I didn’t have the choice. I had to have the plastic top even if I took it off as soon as he handed it to me. It was health and safety policy.

Surely if Costa were serious about reducing public waste they wouldn’t be insisting on giving out plastic to customers who don’t want it. Wouldn’t it be simple to produce a form I could sign absolving them of any legal responsibility for selling me a hot drink? The planet I am on cannot tolerate such wastefulness in the name of petty bureaucracy.

Spiced, Pickled, pears

pearsGolden pears are ripening on my little tree, given to me as a leaving present from my last job. Here is a recipe to make the most of this autumnal bounty.

3lbs of cooking pears

slightly salted cold water

1 pint of distilled white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon of ground mixed spice

!/2 teaspoon of nutmeg (I used mace)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

11b granulated sugar

peel of 1/2 lemon

lemon spices vinegar sugarpeel, quarter and core the pears and place in the pan of salted water to prevent them going brown

mix the spices with a little of the vinegar

put the rest of the vinegar the lemon peel and the sugar in another pan, heat gently until the sugar is dissolved then add the spice mixture

rinse the pears and add them to the pan, simmer gently until the pears go clear. This may take longer than you imagine.

take the pears out of the mixture with a slotted spoon, pack into warmed, clean, glass jars

boil the vinegar until it becomes a syrup and pour over the pears until it covers them.

seal the jars.

This recipe was a way of keeping pears through the winter months. The pears can be served with cold meets or cheese and are super tasty.



Raising the Hare – A film by Bevis Bowden

Raising The Hare by Bevis Bowden, follows an encounter between a farmer, his livestock and a hare. Something I am lucky to witness often with my work on the farmland of North Kent.

The film features two Welsh voices of the landscape – the musician John Cale (founding member of the Velvet Underground) who reads Seamus Heaney’s translation of ‘The Names of the Hare’ and the artist Paul Emmanuel (Welsh Artist of the Year) who describes an encounter he had with a hare from horseback.

The film will be shown in York on the 2nd November as part of the Nature Matters festival

The seasons they are a changing

spider on leaf

I feel that today I have looked up for the first time and realised that, in my absence, things had changed.

In the last two weeks I’ve been divorced from the natural world. Surrounded by urban life,  first inside the wards of a hospital, nursing my dad and then stuck indoors with a bad cold. For many people I guess this is the norm. Days and days surrounded by four walls, concrete, traffic noise. I didn’t realise what I was missing but I felt stretched thin.

Today I stepped out into the garden, soaked the sun into my skin, inspected the spiders webs to see who had been successful, fished algae from the garden pond and spied the goldfinches searching the apple tree.

I reconnected with nature and realised how much I had been missing it. In two weeks things had changed, the rosehips had ripened and I collected them to make rosehip syrup, a super dose of vitamin C to ward off future colds. I picked the last of the pears and regretted the dried up berries of the elder bush. I stepped outside my front door and felt the change.

Outside there was the bite of cold in the air, thin high clouds and a sky full of martins, hundreds of them, twisting in aerial battles after the last of the airborne insects. I walked through the woods, along muddy paths, past the first greasy pompoms of old mans beard. The privet berry black.

I came across a friend walking with his children. We caught up and talked of winter skating when the waters rise and flood the woodland bottom, then freeze into a shallow skating rink. He was wearing a winter coat, so was I.

Down at the river, I sat and watched the light turn on the boats and the clouds for the first storm of the season gathering, swallows sped by at eye level, busy, busy, off to Africa. In two weeks, the world had turned, autumn had arrived.