25 May 2013

No Answer to Nature's Decline

The above photo is of a blogger, Rebecca Hosking, as a child in the early 1980s looking for fish in a local stream. She now runs a farm in Devon "using ecological practises that go way beyond just organic". In a post, Wildlife through the eyes of my forebears, she talks about the loss of wildlife each generation witnesses. In the 1920s salmon, trout and eels swam in the stream. By the 1950s, when her father was dabbling in the water, the salmon had gone. In her childhood the trout had disappeared and only small eels were left. Today, she says there are no fish at all.

I think we all have similar stories. My experiences of wildlife must have been different from those of my parent's, and I know for sure my children haven't been as deeply immersed in nature as I was on my holidays in the 1970s.

In this post I want to say something about the recent report, 'State of Nature', published by the RSPB and 24 other wildlife organisations. You might have heard about it on the radio or seen an article in a newspaper. The headline findings are that 60% of wildlife populations have declined since 1968. The details are too depressing to go into, so I won't, but what I do want to do is highlight the report's conclusions and recommendations ... in that there aren't any.

The first I heard of the report (having kept away from environmental news because it's such a downer) was a gentle discussion on the BBCs Breakfast programme. A toad (when was the last time you saw one of those?) had been brought into the studio for Bill and Susannah to giggle over, and the report authors were all smiley and reassuring saying 'yes, things are bad, but if you plant some wildlife friendly plants in your garden all will be well.'

I spluttered into my shredded wheat.

Why wasn't anyone angry? Why was no one saying this is a nationwide (in reality worldwide) tragedy, and these are the actions we have to take to stop it?

The report is a PDF online, 92 pages, with a foreword by David Attenborough, some nice photography ... and no final conclusion or list of recommendations for government and business to take action on.

The achievement is in the compilation of a large number of surveys in a wide variety of habitats, and it does make interesting reading. The RSPB have done a good job. There is now a baseline of information from which experts can work further.

This is a good thing, but gathering and analysing numbers doesn't in itself provide answers.

Wouldn't the publication of this report have been an ideal time to push influential people into making changes or at least promises?

So where could changes be made? If research has discovered the causes of population decline these areas must be the basis of any changes. Here are the causes the report highlights:
  • "ultimately due to the way we are using our land"
  • climate change
  • poor management or neglect
  • recreational disturbance
  • coastal development, cliff stabilisation 
  • changes to agricultural practises
  • loss of green spaces
  • fragmentation of habitat
  • tidier gardening
... apart from climate change (and that is debatable) the cause is solely down to the activities of humanity.

Hidden in the text, but not presented in a final chapter, are some recommended actions:
  • targeted conservation
  • provide space for nature in your garden
  • reduce your carbon footprint
  • volunteer at a local nature reserve
  • take part in identification surveys
  • agri-environmental schemes
  • designation of nature reserves
  • protection of sites in the planning system
  • landscape-scale conservation projects
... a hodge-podge of very smallscale (and ineffective?) personal actions to large projects that require the goodwill and coordination of state and business interests.

I suppose the authors would say the final aim of the report was not to provide answers, but to supply information.

But I wonder if the people in the field, who witness the hollowing out of our natural world, can't clearly articulate methods to stop the halt, then who can? And, more importantly, who has the will to do so?

That, I think, is the key. The problems are multiple and complex. At a local level local people can work hard to maintain the health and diversity of their local wildlife, but this problem is of a national scale. If laws are to be made and large amounts of money spent then it is people of power who need to be persuaded. This report does not do that. It has managed to worry people interested in conservation (and viewers of breakfast TV), but does it have the teeth to force any significant engagement with these issues by the people who can affect things on the large scale - who can change the way we use the land?


Vulgar Ageing

" "It was visited by all the gentlemen and gentlewomen for the size and beauty of its flower. But now it is so vulgar that no one cares about it".

Ulisse Aldrovandi on the first "Peruvian Chrysanthemum" seen in Italy (actually a sunflower), planted in Bologna in 1594. Seen above in his 18 volume Tavole di piante, available online in its entirety at the University of Bologna."

(this blog post is a complete lift from a post on the gardenhistorygirl blog. I hope she doesn't mind. I thought the description of the ageing sunflower was something the majority of Garden65 readers would find ruefully amusing.)

14 May 2013

Bunting And The Mid-life Crisis

Have I lost my senses? My son certainly thinks I have. He puts it down to the mid-life crisis. Mind you, it would be a sad reflection of my little life if putting bunting up in the garden is the only expression of my mid-life crisis. Aren't you supposed to get a sports car, or tattoo, or lover? Personally a new car or lover are both financially and physically unlikely, although I am mulling over a tattoo, but I hope my middle age hormones will motivate a course of action more extreme than hanging up some bunting.

My defence, if needed, is that this small dark corner of the garden needs livening up. An option is to paint the brick wall of the extension, as seen below, but I think the reality of that wouldn't look as smart as it is in my imagination, and anyway, who needs the extra work of repainting it every year or so?

Bunting on the other hand, if not 'cool', is eco-friendly, relatively fuss free, and fun.

The pinky / orange colours were deliberately chosen to blend in with the brick, with the blue as contrast, and you've got to have stripes and spots.  I think it works ...

I am also hoping that it works on a Feng Shui level to encourage a long hot summer.

This is the Youtube tutorial I used to learn how to make the bunting. The woman is posh, probably knows Pippa Middleton, so you have to stifle your giggles, but the instructions are clear and easy to follow.

9 May 2013

Then It Dawned On Me

Spooky mist ... and compulsory discarded lager can

It was International Dawn Chorus Day the other day. This is run by The Wildlife Trusts who want people to experience the dawn chorus in their gardens or join organised walks, and make note of all the interesting birds they can hear.

Last year I did this in Garden65. It was a magical hour, very atmospheric, but disappointing ornithologically. In that absolutely no birds sang their little hearts out in these trees. There was a blackbird that sat on a neighbour's TV aerial and had a good shout, but otherwise the chorus took part some distance away. This year, then, I rather boldly ventured out into the nearby Fog Lane Park.

I kitted myself out as though it was a great expedition: hat, gloves, leggings under jeans, walking boots, thermos of coffee, toast wrapped in tin foil.

I was so nervous about it that to be honest I missed the official Day, and only reluctantly got up the next morning. I told the family that I definitely didn't want to do it, but I knew it would be enjoyable once I got there. It's a bit like doing exercise - getting out of the door is difficult but you feel pleased with yourself once the whole event is over.

In short, I made a fuss.

However, what was a big adventure for me turns out to be completely normal for my children.

Just as I went to leave my daughter came in.

She bounced in, pony tail flying, with bare ankles, leggings with no covering jeans, and only a t-shirt and thin cardigan on. It hadn't got into my head that she may go out when it is dark, and spend a few hours in the dark of a nightclub, but when she comes back the birds are singing and the sky is pink. Of course, the magic of the natural world completely bypasses her. The idea of listening to the birds and making notes of which ones you can hear just doesn't make sense to her. Her ears are probably ringing, so she couldn't here them anyway.

It goes back to that idea of framing. A thing itself, be it flower border, dawn, or something you are cross about, has no meaning until you give it one yourself. My daughter doesn't attach any significance to dawn whereas I go all misty eyed about it.

My son too is comfortable with being outside as the sun rises. He has been a paper boy for many years. I truly admire him for his fortitude. Every Saturday and Sunday he has ventured out on his bike through rain, snow and ice, and is very familiar with dawn. In fact he is so toughened to the phenomenon that he says he prefers the winter time when he starts in the dark and sees the sun gradually rise, in comparison to the summer when it is light throughout his rounds.

It is worth noting, although I am sure you already know this, that 'dawn' may officially be when the sun rises over the horizon, but birds don't have access to astronomical data sets. The sky becomes light well before the official time, so the birds begin to sing an hour or more before dawn. Both this year and last year I made the mistake of setting out about half an hour before official dawn, but the show had already peaked by then and the poor little birds were beginning to got on with the more prosaic task of feeding.

Half an hour or so after official dawn

5 May 2013

CBT In Action

Here is a perfect example of the efficacy of that popular CBT tool, reframing.

For years this patch of lawn has been a problem. Moss crowded out the grass, so I dug up the moss, but the grass didn't grow back. Instead ox-eye daisies and plantain and all manner of undesirables took hold.


True, in their pomp they do have a certain Timotei glamour,


but ... they are in the wrong place.

However, after an afternoon's work all such anxieties are banished. By simply moving the border from behind them to in front they have miraculously become a legitimate flower bed and no longer a scrappy bit of lawn.

If only other weed infested areas of life could be so neatly transformed.

2 May 2013

The Answer Is Always Cake

It's not a very good photo is it? Too much going on in it, and too contrasty. Not to mention the low light levels. Thank goodness it's just for 'illustrative purposes' then.

As you can just about make out I've been having the morning coffee in a different part of the garden this week. This corner is normally too spidery and dull to comfortably sit in, but the addition of garlands has pepped it up a bit. And I'm still proud of the newly sumptuous pond so it is nice to sit near and gaze approvingly.

It has been beautiful: the weather is not too hot, not too chilly ; the birds are busy singing ; plants are happily growing in an attractively green way ; washing is drying on the line so there is a chance of putting another wash on and maybe seeing the bottom of the laundry bin ; and the man with the power tool seems to have gone away.

I was surrounded by peace and beauty ... and then guilt kicked in ... what have I done to deserve this loveliness? I can't see why Providence has allowed me this peace. I haven't paid for it by working hard. I haven't healed anyone of their pain. I haven't contributed to society, beyond producing the next generation. How did my karmic load tip towards this reward of pleasure?

Recently I have been struggling with these thoughts. My life has obediently progressed from the hard work of school and university, through the horror of full-time work, into the maelstrom of motherhood. Now however, like many other women at this stage of life, I can't see the path ahead. What are we supposed to do next? At each stage I had the feeling that I had earned any moment of beauty that came my way, however briefly. This is what life is about, I thought. You do your best at this 'living' thing - commuting, burping babies, doing exams, whatever - and then your luck temporarily changes and you have a good day. But what of now, when Life isn't asking anything of me (apart from patience, perhaps)? What have I given, to receive this?

Dunno. Perhaps the answer would only come after hours of intense meditation and a good chat with an archbishop or yogi guy.

To improve my karmic debt I would like to be able give this sense of contentment to other people. I have a little daydream of running a 'cafe in a garden' where people could sit outside, even if it is chilly, have a cup of tea and a nice cake, and feel this lovely feeling of relaxation sweep over them.

This is what is in the cafe:
  • Victoria sponge at least 6 inches thick
  • cushions and quilts and blankets
  • china cups with saucers
  • plenty of bunting
  • cats roaming around the tables
  • champagne
  • flowers on the tables
  • ponds and waterfalls
  • hidden lights (supplied by my friend Rowan ;-) )
  • huge umbrellas
  • marquees for when it rains
  • no sulky waitresses
  • bantams
  • peacocks?
  • cucumber sandwiches without crusts
  • inch thick toast
.... you get the drift.  What would be in your dream cafe?