Unlocking Landscapes is back! In May 2022 I met with author Zoe Gilbert in Ham Street Woods National Nature Reserve on the Kent/Sussex border. Zoe is an award winning writer and she sounds very much at home in the woods. It was a real pleasure to spend the day with her and I’m very grateful for her time.
In March 2022 Zoe published her latest book, Mischief Acts (you can buy it here). The book is inspired by an historic wooded landscape in south London known as the Great North Wood. It’s been covered in a couple of other podcasts for Unlocking Landscape so please see the links below. I love the book and as a consumer of books and someone who knows parts of the landscape she has focused on, I can say for sure that I think she has nailed it!
In this episode we cover a lot of ground:
What inspires Zoe to visit woods and write fiction
Public access to woodlands in the pandemic
The complications around public perceptions of woodlands
Mischief in the woods and National Parks
‘Pics or it didn’t happen’: The importance not being observed all the time (social media)
Contiguousness of woodland
Bison being reintroduced to English woods
The future of woodlands
Prioritising the conservation of woodlands in a time of extremes
Hi everyone! After a bit of a break from podcasting, it’s great to release a new episode of Unlocking Landscapes. This has taken a while to edit but it’s a really relaxing one I think. So much so that I actually fell asleep when listening to one of the drafts a few months ago.
In May 2021 I walked 8 miles into the Sussex Weald to see if I could hear a cuckoo. The weather was fine and there were loads of birds out, many of them in full song. This is an episode best listened to through headphones so you can hear the birdsong, the wind through the trees and the buzzing of bees in the woodland landscape of the High Weald. It’s an immersive episode with a guided walk feel, focusing on listening to the surrounding landscape.
I thought it would be worth sharing an update on where things are with this blog. Last year was a hugely productive one for my blog due to spending so much time at home because of Covid-19 restrictions. At times I was posting three times a week with stuff I would see as good quality.
Now that things have changed I’ve lost that writing time. Things have gone back to where they were probably in 2019. That said, my blog has continued to grow in reach in 2021, especially it seems when people are interested in fungi in the autumn months. October’s views on here have been possibly the busiest month ever for visitors.
In January of this year I began recordings for my Unlocking Landscapes podcast. It was very easy to do because people had time to spend on Zoom due to the stay-at-home orders. Now that there is less of that, I don’t have the time to do them monthly, which has proven a big challenge. That said, I do have two more episodes to publish, hopefully this year, and some episodes agreed with some really cool people, including an author, shepherdess, eco-therapist and a nature writer.
I do hope to add more quality episodes over the years and it may just end up being seasonal, with the episodes maybe a bit longer. I don’t get any income for the podcast and the people appearing on it are doing so out of generosity and a desire to share ideas. Thank you to everyone who has been involved, I’ve loved it so far. The upcoming episodes are part two of the Hungary-Romania trip with Eddie Chapman, and a spring birdsong walk in the Sussex Weald that I recorded in May.
In book news, I have been providing content for other people’s books! Chris Schuler’s The Wood That Built London has just been published with some of my photos in the glossy inner-pages (see image above). It’s an absolute joy to be tied to this incredible book, which has levels of detail about south London’s ancient woodlands which have never before been amalgamated and shared. You can see more here. I’ve also (probably) had some photos published in Tiffany Francis-Baker’s book about Dark Night Skies.
In my own personal self-publishing world I have plans to release a third poetry booklet in early 2022 called Fool’s Wood. I have also been trying to write a book for the past 10 years about my experiences of volunteering and what I learned about nature and our relationships to it. That is proving very difficult to get anywhere with, but I hope to make some progress over the winter months. I am not producing any of these with an aim of being published in the mainstream, more for my personal sanity, and as ebooks. If anyone has advice about producing and publishing ebooks, please help me!
As photography projects go I’ve been gathering images of timber-framed cottages and other buildings for an Instagram account @SussexTimbers. I’m still looking for the best format to share these images and to talk about their historical significance, which Instagram is not quite. I will probably build a section on this website next year to showcase them. Might even make some postcards!
What I’ve been reading: this year has been dominated by Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad and Life and Fate. I have studied Russian cinema and am something of a Russophile, but there is only so much you can take of 20th century Russian history. Tread carefully. I’ve recently finished Wanderland by Jini Reddy, I Belong Here by Anita Sethi, some of the novels by Sarah Moss (Ghost Wall and Cold Earth), and at the moment I’m enjoying Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard. Reddy and Sethi’s books are a must read for people who are advocates (or not) of countryside access. Especially those who adamantly and aggressively announce that ‘the countryside is for everyone’ as a reposte to the lived-experience of Black people and people of colour. It’s not, and racism prohibits people from feeling welcome in certain places. Finding the Mother Tree is essential reading for those who want to understand more about how trees are interconnected and the role fungi play in healthy, happy woodlands. I still haven’t read the Merlin Sheldrake book.
What I’m listening to: the new album by The War on Drugs is one I have been waiting a long time for. Change is my favourite song so far (that piano…):
I want to give a shout out to my dad who regularly reads this blog and has, alongside my mum, been a massive support to me for many years (obviously). Dad has been under the weather recently and unable to get out as much as he would like to, so hopefully dad what you can continue to see here is a bit of a sense of the outdoors. We’ll get you back out there again soon.
Thanks to everyone who reads this blog, sending in comments on here as well as on Twitter. I love to receive your comments, which are almost 100% positive, though I don’t block criticism (as long as it’s not inappropriate).
Wishing you a pleasant winter ahead with friends, family, wildlife and pets.
After a month off this summer, Unlocking Landscapes is back and this time it’s outside, with a guest!
In August I met up with Dr. Beth Nicholls at Bedelands Local Nature Reserve in West Sussex. Beth is a researcher on the subject of pollinating insects, with a key focus on bees. She works at the University of Sussex.
We talk about:
what inspired Beth to become a “bee doctor”
the hairiness of bees (but not wasps)
educating people about the importance of all pollinators
issues around honeybees (and Asian hornets) in the UK
why wasps are important, how bee-washing is employed by the corporate world
and the need to change how pesticides are used in the UK
Thanks for tuning in and I hope you enjoy the episode.
In this episode I’m joined by my good friend Eddie Chapman as we recount a visit to the Great Hungarian Plain.
Eddie is a devoted rambler and part-time rapper who lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He grew up in the Derbyshire town of Chesterfield and developed a love for the landscape through hiking in the nearby Peak District. Eddie now spends his walking time bagging munros in the Scottish Highlands.
Listen to the audio file here:
Watch the audio slideshow on YouTube here:
This is part one of two episodes covering a trip Eddie and I undertook across Hungary and Romania in 2015. In part one we recount our travels through the Great Hungarian Plain, en route to the Romanian Carpathians.
It’s a light-hearted episode with recollections of unusual experiences, including owl-headed body-builders, fire water and rural sports bars.
We saw some incredible wildlife in one of Europe’s most important landscapes – the Great Hungarian Plain – and would definitely recommend it if you’re into birds. But do listen to what we did wrong if you’re planning a visit!
In this episode, I am delighted to welcome Chantelle Lindsay and Sam Bentley-Toon. Chantelle and Sam are environmental professionals who worked together on London Wildlife Trust’s Great North Wood project. You can also listen via these podcast providers:
Chantelle and Sam share their experiences of protecting and managing south London’s ancient woodlands. They talk about their passion for volunteering and some of the challenges that woodland conservation in London involves.
We also discuss rewilding in a London context and whether beavers could possibly be returning to London.
Since recording this podcast, Sam has moved on to work on London’s rivers and Chantelle has become a minor-celebrity with her brilliant appearances on Blue Peter and a Great North Wood-focused segment on BBC’s Springwatch.
People like Sam and Chantelle are lesser known in the conservation world, but they are having big impacts at a community level. Their contribution to our understanding and enjoyment of landscapes is really special and should not be underestimated. Of course, you can say the same for many people the world over, and just it’s such a pleasure to be able to feature people like Chantelle and Sam on this podcast.
Thanks for tuning in and I hope you enjoy the episode.
Julian has published two books of non-fiction with a strong focus on landscapes, wildlife and heritage. In 2012 Julian’s debut book The Small Heart of Things was published, and in 2019 it was followed by Irreplaceable: The Fight to Save Our Wild Places.
We pick up right where we left off in episode one, with a question to Julian about his experiences of getting to know local people and telling their stories through his writing.
We get into some pretty deep topics in this episode including:
How the mathematics of life mean you can only connect with a handful of places in a meaningful way
The poverty of language around ‘brownfields’
Convincing politicians to pretend they’re jumping spiders!
Life-altering experiences in the North Kent Marshes
Oliver Rackham and the loss of meaning in the landscape
The importance of local green spaces in the pandemic and beyond
Massive thank you to Julian for his time and consideration in putting these two episodes together. Please support Julian by purchasing his book and following him on social media. Hope you enjoy!
This is part one of two episodes with author Julian Hoffman. This episode focuses on Julian’s life in northern Greece where he encounters European brown bears in his day to day life. We also discuss the local accents of wrens(!), particularly Liverpudlian wrens.
Julian has published two books. In 2012 The Small Heart of Things was published and in 2019 it was followed by Irreplaceable: The Fight to Save Our Wild Places.
I’m a big fan of both of these books. Julian does that rare thing for a nature writer and centres communities within the landscape. Irreplaceable is a great example of this, with Julian writing about local people the world over battling to save special places, habitats and species.
Irreplaceable was the Highly Commended Finalist for the 2020 Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation.
Julian details how he came to live in Prespa, how he became a writer there after working with his wife as a market gardener, toiling away in the open fields growing fruit and vegetables, and getting to know the locals.
Thanks so much for bearing with us and I hope you enjoy the episode.
A couple of weeks ago I decided to try an outdoor recording for Unlocking Landscapes. This walk was 8 miles in total from my front door to visit a nearby area of woodland in the Sussex Weald:
Please subscribe to the Unlocking Landscapes YouTube here.
You can tell from the podcast that this latest English lockdown has affected my lung capacity, I’m a bit breathy at times! There’s only so much editing you can do though. One to remember for future episodes.
Anyway, the areas of interest in this episode are:
Woodland streams, known in this area as ‘gills’
Heathlands and plantations
Sphagnum moss bogs
Ancient and veteran trees, especially beech (Fagus sylvatica)
I’d love to know what you think of this episode and if you’d like to hear more in future. You can comment below or email me at email@example.com
Thanks so much for listening and I hope you enjoy.
I’m pleased to publish episode 2 of the Unlocking Landscapes podcast. My guest this month is Raki Nikahetiya.
Raki lives in New Delhi and practices ‘interdisciplinary photography’. His photographic work focuses on documentary, landscape, wildlife and other digital art forms. He is currently working on a project with the University of Barcelona on the subject of… cave paintings and petri dishes!
Raki talks about life in India where agrarian protests are raging and people are coming to terms with the Covid-19 pandemic. He also describes his upbringing in rural Sri Lanka and how that has inspired his work as a photographer and a community conservationist working with indigenous communities in Sri Lanka and Mozambique.
In the YouTube version of the podcast you can enjoy some of Raki’s photographs alongside the audio:
You can follow Raki’s work through the links below:
Raki is a wonderful guy and I really enjoyed speaking to him. Thanks to everyone who has listened, subscribed and provided feedback on the podcast so far. It’s a real pleasure to record the episodes but the preparation and post-production is a lot to fit in alongside a full-time job! Hoping that things will settle a bit now as things get up and running.
On Saturday 12th November I led a fungi walk for London Wildlife Trust at Dulwich Wood in south-east London. I only managed one photo on the day because I was working and leading the group around, but it was a pretty good one nonetheless. When doing a pre-walk check I accidentally flushed a woodcock from… Continue reading Flushing woodcock in Dulwich 🦆→
I recently finished reading a new novel by debut novelist Sarah Jane Butler. I’m no master reviewer of books and never feel comfortable giving books a rating, but I wanted to promote this book from a fellow Sussex Weald-resident. … Continue reading Books: Starling by Sarah Jane Butler 📚→
On Sunday 6th November I led a fungi walk in Aldershot in Hampshire, on behalf of Brimstones. Interesting fact: Aldershot means a piece of land (‘shot’) home to alder trees. It’s the same for the placename of Oakshot, sometimes with an extra ‘t’ included. Helpfully, there were plenty of alder trees on this walk and… Continue reading Dog stinkhorns in Aldershot 🍄→