I wanted to do a blog update post as I have fallen behind with writing and photography, but am still in existence. Believe me it pains me not having the time or mental space to write anything, possibly more than it pains you to read this blog.
I’ve just finished working on a short-term project job and it’s been pretty full on. I’m hopeful that in April I’ll be able to post more, especially with the invertebrate world coming to life again. I’m also about to embark on a new project job, full-time, meaning I will have to be more organised about how I post on here. As ever I want to keep my blog as an outlet.
Spring, it cometh
There have been a couple of signs of spring awakening in my garden, with a hairy-footed flower bee my most seasonal sighting. That said, I have only seen one, which is perhaps unusual for this time of year.
It’s late March now and the local green spaces have their chiffchaffs back.
In mid-March I led a spring walk in Dulwich for London Wildlife Trust. It was rather wet but there were still signs of the season changing.
Lesser celandines were the closest thing to a flowering plant I could find, but ramsons, bluebells and wood anemone were in leaf. That said, wood anemone appears to be a casualty of lockdown, in that the increased footfall has trampled this delicate ancient woodland plant out.
In terms of the more distant past, I spoke to the group about the Victorian impact on the woods, how invasive species like knotweed, laurel and rhododendron had been introduced by them. At the end of the walk one attendee spoke to me and told me something that astonished me.
“My family, back in the 1700s, were responsible for introducing rhododendrons to the country,” he said. “It’s in the bones.”
I was aware of the fact that my throwaway comment about Victorian introductions might have potentially been an insult. I explained that it was more in regard to their place in wilder landscapes which he agreed with, mentioning just how destructive they are in more rainy places like Scotland.
I’ve said before on here that one of the great things about leading guided walks is that people feel comfortable sharing their knowledge with you. Guided walks are always a shared experience, not a lecture. They’re an invitation for people to look differently at a place and make others aware of things you didn’t know yourself.
I’ll have to be more careful in my (mild) criticism of the role Britons past have played in changing the flora, fauna and funga of the UK.
The Gallows Pole
I’ve been reading the novels of Benjamin Myers recently, an author of poetry, fiction and place writing based in Yorkshire. While on a weekend break I read The Offing and gobbled it up. It’s the story of a young man walking in the north of England one summer after the Second World War. He becomes friends with a very charismatic woman who takes him under her wing, in the way that people in their 30s upwards can often do for young people at the end of their teenage years. It’s a beautiful book and much recommended.
I’ve just finished the very brutal The Gallows Pole. The story is based in ‘the land of my forefathers’, the Calder Valley near Hebden Bridge in North Yorkshire. It’s a visceral, violent and disturbing novel but is one of the best I’ve read in years. It has that ‘unputdownable’ quality. More disturbing for me is the number of Greenwoods who crop up as part of the illegal coin clipping industry that blossomed in the rainy hills of Calderdale. Not least, a Daniel Greenwood! And it’s historical fiction! My family were hillfarmers there up until some point in the 1800s, living in the area around Haworth at the time of the Brontës, before moving to Liverpool where my father was born. Greenwood is a Yorkshire name with heavy concentrations around Lancashire, too, probably because they moved to work in the cotton industries at the advent of the Industrial Revolution. My Dad told me that Greenwood comes from a wooded place known as ‘Greenwode’. ‘Wode’ of course is the Anglo-Saxon name for woodland.
The Lost Rainforests of Britain
In the nature writing world, in February I read The Lost Rainforests of Britain by Guy Shrubshole. It’s great to see these woodlands getting some press, especially seeing as they have been decimated over the centuries, with very little of the the habitat left. Shrubshole shows the way for how much of the landscape in Western Britain can be home to more of this unique habitat. I hope it can progress but worry that in a warming climate it becomes less viable.
I felt the book might have benefitted more from a deeper focus on the landscape at its heart – Dartmoor, close to where Shrubshole lives. The random trips to tick off other woods felt a bit of a distraction from a more meaningful account, such is the style of this type of species or habitat-focused genre. In terms of personal taste, the name-dropping of other writers and musicians has become a tedious pastime of this genre and makes it seem like a clique. I don’t think that helps the movement, though again it’s probably about personal taste.
It’s definitely worth a read if you want to know more about things like Atlantic oak woodland and the habitats and landscape history of Dartmoor.
Thanks for reading.