Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Gulls’

There were many human things to feel sad, angry and upset about this year but still nature’s continuity and the simple movement of seasons brings encouragement and a reminder – change will come.

Politically it’s been a year to forget for nature conservation, with the UK government killing more than 10,000 badgers in its mindless badger cull, the likely loss of EU protections for nature in the UK, the ascent of climate change deniers in the United States and more evidence of species-declines brought about by human impacts on the landscape, be it intensive agriculture, pollution or man-made climate change. More than ever we need to take notice and maintain a connection with the natural world, to make the argument again and again for how crucial the biosphere is to our own civilisation.

But I’ve had some of the most memorable experiences of nature this year, and they are often enough to focus the mind on doing something positive

I for one will not be giving up on the UK-Europe conservation mission and will do what I can for British and European wildlife in 2017

Thank you to everyone who has helped artistically or logistically with these photos and taught me about the subject matter!

Wishing you a peaceful winter break and biodiverse new year!

Daniel

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Newt, Peckham, London
March 2016I’m lucky enough to spend a few days a week at a wildlife garden managed by London Wildlife Trust. In the late winter and early spring, when darkness falls, things begin to happen. The night before this a huge number of toads had been on the move and I brought my camera equipment along the next day hoping to find them again in action. They had completely disappeared. However, there was one newt on the move and it paused in this position for some time as I photographed it.

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European bison, Bialowieza Forest, Poland
March 2016

I snapped this wild young bison through a hedge with a 70-300mm lens. Bison have been reintroduced to this part of eastern Poland after their near extinction in the 20th century due to the ravages of two world wars. I love the new growth of horn and the snot dripping from its nose!

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Juniper haircap moss, The New Forest
April 2016

More and more I find myself on the woodland floor these days. That’s because it’s where all the action is. Be it wildflowers, mushrooms or the most primitive terrestrial plants, mosses. Mosses were the first plants to make it from the sea onto the land, one reason why they depend on lots of moisture, it’s a throwback to their days under the sea.

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Cuckoo, The New Forest
May 2016I have been fascinated by cuckoos for years. They migrate to Britain and Europe from as far away as Cameroon, spending about 7 weeks here in the spring to mate. This bird burst out of a plantation and I was lucky enough to have the right lens on and the right setting on the camera to snap him. Cuckoos are in sharp decline in Britain and it’s up to us to find out why and try to do something about it.

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Bee on scabious, The North Downs
June 2016This bee was feeding up on the other side of a stock fence in June and with my wide angle lens I managed to get this picture. I think it encapsulates the ecology of meadows, the bee and the flower a symbol of the wildflower-rich North Downs scrolling off into the distance.

Bees pollinate 80% of wildflowers in Europe and contribute £560million each year to the UK economy through crop pollination, and yet we still use neonicotinoid pesticides which are the strongest force driving 32% of bee species towards extinction in the UK.

I’m not sure whether this is a bumblebee or cuckoo bee, having been told it was the former recently. If it is a cuckoo bee my ecosystem metaphor has fallen apart because cuckoo bees aren’t interested in pollination, mainly stealing from bumblebees!

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Marco plays the guitar, The North Downs
June 2016Like 48% of British people who actually did or could vote, I was greatly aggrieved and disappointed by the result of the EU referendum. The week following it was scary. A sharp spike in hate crime, the nastiest characters in our society buoyed by xenophobes who’d pushed for a leave vote based on fear-mongering about immigration and lies about how much it cost Britain to be in the EU each year.

It’s in unsettling times when a simple walk in the landscape can remind you of the bigger picture. I was walking on Farthing Downs, full of angst for the post-referendum Britain, when I met Marco playing his guitar on the hill. He had only just moved to London from Italy:

‘I have been here one week and in Italy they did not even talk about it [the referendum]. Now I am here and wow. My friends think that I am in London surrounded by cars and buildings, but I am here. And I love it.’

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Herring gull, Rye
July 2016

Every time I go to Rye I get chips from a proper chippy and eat them up at the church on the hill. There is always a herring gull in attendance. I took the chance to create this photo, a technique frowned upon by wildlife photography purists.

I wanted the eye in focus but instead got the chip in the bird’s bill, saliva dribbling down.

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Wasp in the cell, Czech Republic
August 2016We were walking along a quiet forest road when my friend Zuzka picked up a piece of something on the ground. Looking more closely it was a chunk of wasp nest that had been torn off and dropped.


Inside the cells were wasp grubs encased in a papery sheeting, with one ready to emerge. It had likely been dropped by a honey buzzard, a bird of prey that eats wasp grubs and will situate its nest with the number of wasps’ nests nearby being the key. Kind of like good restaurants for us.
It was a privilege to be able to see into this world without being stung by wasps guarding an actual nest

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Honey fungus, The New Forest
October 2016

Let’s be clear, in London and the surrounds, it was a rubbish autumn for fungi. It was a dry season with the meadows of the North Downs largely devoid of waxcaps and other mushrooms. But a trip to the New Forest in October did provide an encounter with a gang of honey fungus, a mushroom that many gardens so dread because it kills trees OMG!

It was worth waiting for this chance to find mushrooms in their pomp, largely intact with some nice light and greenery still around.

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Balmer Lawn, The New Forest
Halloween, October 2016

Whilst these New Forest ponies are not wild and they do belong to people as domesticated stock, I felt transported into some ancient scene from the Eurasion steppe. Mist rose with the twilight over Balmer Lawn near Brockenhurst, the ponies grazing the horizon.

 

 

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First published on Caught by the River

The River Avon, Bristol, June 2013

I walk along the floating harbour in search of the woodlands I know are further downstream of the Avon, high above the city of Bristol. The harbour is a story of new developments in a variety of different colours and states. One sign by a small park warns of its private nature – no sunbathing, no dogs. Another building is skeletal, multi-storey car park-esque. It always makes me laugh how the images of what a development will look like become less a promise and more a threat when they’re in this half state – it will be finished. Together, these buildings are gently grotesque. The death of England’s once great ports is a boon to the property development industry. Just like in Liverpool and Manchester, old buildings which once provided lifelong employment and were a focus of global trade have become bars, shops, restaurants, apartments and offices, transient spots for the aspirational middle classes and upward to work, frolic and recover. But that’s not the whole story. There’s a revolt against the tidying, the ornamental planting, the exclusivity and boredom. At the water’s edge is red valerian, a Mediterranean flower that has escaped into walls and pavements across England and grows here in the cracks between the stone where daisies also blush pink. Together these plants are the punks of the gentrified waterside, the Pussy Riot of the floating harbour. I clench my fist and salute these wildflowers.

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The Avon bends north and in the distance I see the mighty Clifton suspension bridge bursting from the wooded limestone cliffs. But I’m getting lost on my map in trying to locate the path to Leigh Woods, confused by the A370’s spaghetti junction. I cross a footbridge and then a few roads and find the river itself, a prehistoric mud swamp that’s brown in its entirety. Gulls are making prints, lesser black backs, herring and common gulls, they rule this city totally. When I opened the door to the room where we’re staying I looked out of the window and met the fierce eye of a gull. I cross a bridge plastered with posters protesting against plans for buses to pass through. Gulls below see me and act a little tentative – I wonder if they get any trouble from people up here, in this well hidden spot, maybe kids with air rifles. Parkland opens up, the suspension bridge now clear, I aim for the trees. The Avon and I both flow in the same direction. The wheel of a trolley reaches from beneath the mud, as does a traffic cone and a road sign, fragments of a world of transport now mired. I pass underneath the bridge and its black strip across the sky catches in my vision through the leaves of the trees. Up ahead comes a left turning and the entrance into Leigh Woods.

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The path appears carved from the gorge. The banks are denuded of trees, covered in hartstongue fern, panting as they soak up the light. The path is steep and wild, riddled with chunks of the limestone that defines this landscape. The slopes become more wooded as I climb, hazels grow amidst single ash trees, with a good number of wych elm and some oak. A chiffchaff sings somewhere, as does a blackbird, a song thrush pipes its beginnings. A month ago there would have been much more, but the breeding season is beginning to take its toll on the songbirds, they are growing quiet. That said, a moment of rest and silence brings more songs: the aborted music of a coal tit, a robin squeezing its thin medley out through the thicketed scrub of young trees. A trio of East European students pass me where I sit, a young woman speaking pointedly. They don’t notice me, so involved in their conversation. The Poles I know all speak in their native tongue with such passion, you’d think their world was at stake.

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I happen upon a settlement that the interpretation board renders some 2300 years old. The banks were perfect for the defence of the river. I walk along the ridge lit by red campion and struggle to imagine the scene. Farther over on the other side I find the first common spotted orchids of my summer, taking them by the throats with the tips of my thumb and finger.

Back amongst trees, the wind blows through and I notice the rumble of the city, the searing sound of cars around the River Avon. I wonder how the hunter gatherers would have lived in dense woods like these. People today are enlivened and stressed by the proximity of others, as well as their distance. The woodland peoples, before they began exploiting the clearings at the edges will undoubtedly have been driven by a fear of wolves and bears, creatures that were made extinct in England. I ask two ladies and their dog in passing if they know how to get back onto the riverside and they shrug, they don’t know: ‘I think you just have to find a slope and go for it.’

I head on down a side track and the limestone rocks return, cutting out a steep, rugged path into the wooded hillside. At the end there’s some light, colours move across the gap. I’ve found the edge. The view opens out and the murmurings of vertigo appear with the river, the road and the gorge. It is a bizarre and beautiful sight. An oak is dead and beheaded above me on the precipice, how frightening for the woodlander who had to cut that off. Slick ferns grown from its mossy trunk like attempts at wings and feathers. The track isn’t at an end here and so I sense an exit. On the way down it crumbles under foot and so I’m thankful for the fistfuls of hawthorn wood that I can hold as I descend. And as I do I think of the settlers rushing to defend their land from an invasion on the Avon, flying down to the river with spears, arrows and other weaponry to hand. You see, I only have a camera and binoculars. I live in the age of observation.

© Daniel James Greenwood 2013
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