Saturday, March 31, 2012

...natural childhood...

Please read this inspiring report, realeased today by the National Trust, written by Stephen Moss. It's evidence based writing on the fact that our children are losing access to nature. Wild places are not just for the middle classes who can afford large private gardens, it should be for everyone and within easy access of where you and I live.
I went for a walk along the Rea Brook through the heart of Shrewsbury earlier and had been thinking, "Maybe I am being a nimby after all. Maybe housing and the loss of wild open space at the edge of town is OK, because green corridors will survive and be better than what we have now?"

Our walk along the Rea Brook was pretty, but it was tame, fenced in and my son got covered in dog poo as a result of exploring a little way off the footpath.
Can this type of environment be described as part of a sustainable future?
I am constantly thinking of what the councillor told me yesterday. "If developers make a profit then they must be doing something right".  Really? Is financial profit justification enough?

...nature tots...

I've been meaning to post about this group for some time. Nature Tots is a parent & toddler group that meets at Shropshire Wildlife Trust in Shrewsbury. Each week has had a different them such as frogs, rabbits - even wriggly worms as the inspiration for art, songs and other activities.
Over the past 8 years, over 400 different families have come along. We've grown our own vegetables, kept pet snails, eaten healthy snacks and composted our waste.
Nature Tots did all of this with volunteer support. Local parents and grandparents gave their time and shared their skills to great effect.
The group is taking a break until September when it will emerge as something slightly different. Call it a pupation, or hibernation if you like. The volunteers all need a break to do something different with their own kids for a while.

At our last session we made felt shapes from raw sheep's wool. Oscar (4), told us a story about a spider he found on his bed that morning, so we thought spider pictures would be a good thing to make from the wool.

If you want to have a go yourself all you need is some sheep's wool (2 different colours minimum), cardboard, bubble wrap and hot soapy water.

1. Decide on the picture you want to make and lay out some wool to form the background.
2. With different coloured wool, lay out the picture you want, with the fibres running in opposite directions to the background.
3. Place the whole thing onto a layer of bubble wrap, bubble side up.
4. Spray the whole thing with hot soapy water
5. Put another layer of bubble wrap over the top, bubble side down.
6. Rub the top layer of bubble wrap, gently at first so as not to disturb the wool picture below.
7. As the fibres start to knit together you can rub harder until the picture is felted enough for you to pick up, without it falling apart.
8. You may need to add more hot water to encourage the wool fibres to felt.
9. Have lots of messy fun!

Nature Tots will be back - and will more than likely be outdoors a lot more. If you are a Nature Tots mum or dad reading this, send a comment, share your ideas and let's get planning for the autumn!

A felt spider

Felt making at Nature Tots

Friday, March 30, 2012

...chocolate beetroot brownies...

A break from the usual ranting today! We've had the best time playing in the garden with my good good friend Anita, and her bubbly little girl, D. We girls needed a treat so I found this recipe for the most incredible chocolate beetroot brownies from Riverford, via Emma Bradshaw's beautiful blog. Oh my, these cakes are good. Eat them warm and let them melt in your mouth.

Chocolate beetroot brownies

Dough sticks on the campfire
Bouncing on next door's HUGE trampoline

Cooking our dinner out in the garden

Time for a spot of face painting

...insect hotel...

Here's a great idea for your back garden or green patch. I found this design for a high rise insect hotel over at They're striking to look at and very easy to make.

You'll need:
4 pallets (minimum).
Try to get them all the same size and remove any nails and large splinters.
Flat, even ground, preferably in a half sheltered, half sunny spot.
Birch logs
Hazel poles,
Bamboo canes
Straw or hay
Dead leaves
Corrugated cardboard
Plastic bottles with the bottoms cut off
A drill and 5mm bit
Terracota pots
Garden prunings
Small pots of wildflowers

Set the pallets, one on top of the other, in your chosen location.
Start to fill the gaps between the pallets with the materials you've gathered. Drill some small holes in the faces of your birch logs too. These will attract mason bees, a brilliant addition to any garden.

You can then top it off with a roof of slate, turf or sedum and stand back to watch the insects move in! Within a few days you'll have ladybirds, spiders and solitary bees.

Why do it? It looks attractive and will attract lots of beneficial insects to your garden. It needn't cost anything either, if you use old bricks, pots, cuttings and prunings.
If you work in a school or community setting you could ask for contributions to the insect hotel from lots of different gardens.

This one was made in Ellesmere yesterday, with pallets donated by Tudor Griffiths in Ellesmere. Volunteers from the Ellesmere branch of Shropshire Wildlife Trust were there, plus the church warden, sunday school teacher and local residents. It was an inspiring day, (thank you!), especially meeting everyone and having a giggle. I'll be popping back to take some more pictures in the summer to show you how it's progressing.

Alex, Robin and Richard all getting stuck in
The (nearly) finished hotel

Thursday, March 29, 2012

...a number in a plan...

Have a listen to this report on the Today programme on Radio 4 (27th March 2012).
In principle, involving communities in planning, right now, from the outset is the way forward.
Trouble is (and be honest!), are you relishing the prospect of planning meetings to discuss zebra crossings, industrial estates and housing allocations?
No, I thought not.
And I really think this lack of interest and confidence is what developers are counting on.
My personal concern is that without mentoring and "CBT" (Community Biodiversity Training) to create well-informed communities, the developers get to decide what's in the public interest all over again. CBT would include bug hunts, bat walks, campfires, wild food eating and games of hide and seek. This is my kind of planning.

I'd be interested to know your thoughts too.

Here's one opinion I heard today:  "If developers are able to make a profit, then the fact that the profit exists means they must be doing something right".

This was from somebody with an ability to make a decision on behalf of many, many people.
I recognise the need to feed my family and so, yes, profit can be good.

However, financial gain for one small company is one thing.
Net loss of biodiversity and community access to wild spaces; the subsequent increase in car use, busy roads, poor mental health, litter, pee-filled bottles, obesity, isolation, habitat fragmentation, less water, more flooding... are all long term, hard-to-calculate costs of insensitive development, regardless of whether it's called "sustainable urban expansion".

This is conveniently overlooked when making the economic calculations.

If someone wants houses or industry then biodiversity is easy to ignore, especially if local communities leave it to other people to record and notice on their behalf.
There's a mutual ignoring of wildlife, or worse still, a taming of it in play parks and landscaping. Wildlife-free housing estates with road names like "Sparrowhawk Way" and "Green Lane" are all our futures if more of us don't turn off the telly and actively celebrate wild green patches everywhere.

Please go for a picnic this weekend?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


...All this sunshine has brought the wildlife on the farm bouncing and buzzing into action. Just sitting in my garden yesterday I saw hoverflies, 4 different types of bumblebee a Brimstone butterfly, the first chiffchaff and later that evening a pipstrelle bat flying so low over the hedges that at times I was tempted to reach up and grab him!

A Field Blewit
The unofficial wildlife list is nearing 200 species and counting. I've been talking to some experts and asked them to come over to have a "root around" the wild patch. In future posts I'll be introducing you to "Paul the Moth Man", "Ian the Bee Man" and "Pete the Invertebrate Challenge Man". They are all experts in their fields and have very kindly agreed to help us discover more about the farm's wildlife. They'll only come along though, if locals come out to discover what's here too.
That shouldn't be too hard.
I think the "Corner Farm Kids" will love a few late nights camping out and looking for moths, detecting bats with a bat detector and running around the field collecting bugs for Pete and Ian to identify.

Nature shouldn't be left to a few experts. Are you a teacher? Do you fancy teaching a new subject? CBT. Community Biodiversity Training. Think of the power you'll give future communities when faced with insensitive development.

Oh, and I showed some of the amazing mushrooms we found on the field to John Hughes, a rather lovely man. He was so impressed. We have Field Blewits - with bright purple stems. They shouldn't be out at this time of year, but he thinks that as last autumn was so rubbish for fungus, they may have residual energy stored up for more suitable weather conditions. The Field Blewits are making up for lost time and putting on a spring show. It's not that common a species either.

I'm summing up the courage too, to speak to the developer of the proposed housing estate. It's time we had a good chat....eek!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

...freedom and mice...

...we've had the best weekend.
Misty, dew-drenched mornings and long hot afternoons made the weekend feel just like an adventure straight from the pages of Famous Five.

Every time I went out looking for plants and animals, neighbours I've never spoken to before leaned across fences to introduce themselves. "This tree is my favourite" said one neighbour, "but I suppose I can't do anything about it, it'll have to go."

It may sound strange, but we're all experiencing a kind of grief.
It's more than just a fear and mistrust of change. It's a real body-blow of loss.
We might not be able to give the trees latin names, or wax lyrical about complex ecosystems; but I've noticed neighbours paying a quiet respect to the land that's about to be built on.
There's no wringing of hands or drama; more deep sighs, long pauses and a lot of looking.

Humans exist to connect. Humans connect to each other, but we also connect to the world around us. This connection goes deep. Think back to where you played as a child, escaped from parents' rules, or even stole your first kiss from the one you loved!

Your childhood playspaces may well have been built on already and if so, I'm sorry.
This is happening all the time to successive generations.
There's a constant erosion of wild because communities feel powerless in the perceived face of large corporations and the "march of progress".

I'd really like to take an honest look at the nature of progress and its impact on our relationship to wild.

It starts with sharing with you what we already have...

So here we go, a run down of all the wildlife we've found over the last few days,and it really is we, not just me.

(When I popped outside last night to put H's toys away, there were next door's kids, W and O, running around the field collecting leaves, bark and flowers in a plastic pocket. When W saw me he shouted - "I didn't want you to miss anything!" So I've started a scrapbook and nature table, full of all the things we find).

Here's a taster...
Corner Farm Wildlife (21st-25th March 2012)...

Elder, Ash, Sessile Oak, Hazel, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Goat willow, Crack willow, Holly, Ivy, Sycamore, Damson, Brambles, Dandelions, Daisies, Goosegrass, Chickweed, Germander Speedwell, Common Field Speedwell, Red Deadnettle, Stinging Nettle, Yorkshire Fog, Angle Shades Moth, Tortoiseshell Butterfly, Peacock Butterfly, Red Admiral Butterfly, Bee-fly, Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Red-tailed Bumblebee, Garden Bumblebee, Common Carder bee, Honey bee, Wood Mice, Fox, Badger, Nursery Web spider, Crab spider, Seven-spot Ladybird, 22-spot ladybird, Banded snail, Brown-lipped snail, Garden snail, King Alfred's cakes (a fungus), Creeping thistle, Marsh thistle, Spear thistle, Red mason bee, Blackbird, Wren, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Bluetit, Great tit, Bullfinch, Song Thrush, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Buzzard, Rook, Crow, Robin, Dunnock, Hedge Sparrow, Coal tit, Boletus mushrooms, Ink cap mushroom, Fumitory, lichens (4+species), mosses (5+ species), Pheasant, Lesser Celandine, Barn Owl, Polecat, Brown Hare, Woodlice (4+ species), Bittercresses, Clover, Garlic mustard, Common Dog Violet, Broad-leaved dock, Mouse Ear Chickweed, Violet Ground Beetle, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk, House mouse, Yellow slug, Ground Ivy, Hedge Woundwort, Black Horehound...

...oh, and kids dens, campsites, places to play, risk taking, climbing trees and freedom...

(I don't think I've repeated anything?!)
There's now a flickr stream for photos, and a community recording spreadsheet, available to anyone interested, please comment for access to a copy.

H, G, W, T and O ("The Corner Farm Kids") helped set out and collect humane mammal traps.
We found 4 traps with wood mice in the hedgerows, each was taken by the kids on a victory parade around the houses, before being released in the same area in which it was caught.

We've eaten hawthorn leaves, aka "Bread and Cheese", found buzzard pellets, watched mice, built dens by the campfire and chased a very accommodating (or daft) pheasant across the field.
Experience of freedom is just as important as learning to read and write.
Wouldn't it be great to always have access to wild green space within walking distance of where we live?

H and a Wood Mouse
We need a snail expert! I think this is a brown-lipped snail.
An ink cap fungus? I'm still checking with the experts...

Can you spot the spider?

A well-earned campfire at the end of the day

I call these "Alexander Beetles" from stories my mum used to read me..

Thursday, March 22, 2012

...the neighbours are talking...

Weird things are happening.
Since starting this campaign, people living around the patch are talking to each other and sharing what they've seen. I often have people coming to my door, but now they bring twigs, pellets, pictures and stories. It is really lovely.

J has yellow-necked mice in her garden, H loves wildlife but doesn't know what any of it is called and A remembers a time when he could see all the way across to the church spire.
A wants to bake cakes and get her snazzy wellies on, K is doing some research into small mammals on the farm, J saw a fox recently and the kids on Corner Farm Drive all want to help too.

 On a walk around the farm this afternoon, K discovered a pellet at the base of a sycamore tree, which we think could be from a buzzard that regularly visits the farm. The pellet looks gross, but its contents are incredible - it is the indigestible remains of the buzzard's dinner- hair and bones from various small mammals caught in the local area.

A pellet from a bird of prey on the farm. Buzzard perhaps?

 Dissecting pellets from birds of prey is a fascinating activity and an important record of what's here.

I've found this weird introduction to the subject from Science Explosion. I can't get the chorus out of my head now!
We've been kindly lent 20 Longworth Mammal Traps, and a few neighbours are gathering tomorrow night to set them around the wild patch, and collect them for inspection on Saturday morning.
These traps are humane, which means no animals will be harmed in the process.
They are trapped inside a warm, cosy bed for the night, complete with muesli snacks.
I tell you, there are days when I wish for a human-scale Longworth trap, set with a duvet, a bottle of wine and a good book. Just shut the door and settle in for the night!

Longworth Traps

A set trap, ready for a passing mouse or vole.

We'll keep a record of what we find and give the information to the Shropshire Mammal Group.
It's shaping up for a good weekend ahead.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

...Flickr and fires...

...I'm having a quiet day today, as it's been a long but brilliant day out in the Ercall woods with the Wildlife Trust; no time to get out onto the wild patch to record anything this evening. So while I finish my glass of wine, have a look at what I've done at work today. Big thanks to Tiffany, Jackie and Nicole for being such good fun. Oh my god, you learn a lot when it's just a bunch of women in the woods!

Testing the "Survival Shelter" for comfort

T's first fire. A very proud moment!

The shelter's not going to get finished like that is it?

Don't let it go out!

Corner Farm Drive now has a Flickr photostream.
Call round and take a picture of some wildlife, a great view, or something that sums up your thoughts about wild green patches everywhere.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

...Snails and the Councillor...

I have drunk a lot of tea, talked a lot and collected a lot of snails. Now who can say that's not an honest day's work?
After a morning developing a wildlife pond near Oswestry, I came home to find my local councillor had been round and left his card. I was very nervous about speaking to him as it's my first foray into local politics; I didn't want to sound stupid and ruin chances of being taken seriously.
I needn't have worried. He was human!
We had a chat about how the planning system worked (another reminder not to assume I could "save" the wild patch) and whether I had any chance of making a difference in speaking up for local biodiversity.
I explained my personal position.

 "I am not against development. I am against insensitve development that fails to take into account local character and just ends up sprawling haphazardly across some prime UK countryside. I would like my son to have a decent, affordable house; but not at the expense of the natural world. What if Shropshire Council could work with local residents and developers to be really honest about the long term future of Shrewsbury and its green space?"

Well, this could be beginning to happen, explained the councillor...

 There's currently a consultation called the SAMdev (gorgeous name!) in Shropshire. It stands for Site Allocations and Management of Development.

Anyone can comment on what they think of local housing and development plans. It's a chance for everyone to have their say, apparently regardless of income, where you live or who you know. In theory, it sounds pretty democratic to me and I've filled in a questionnaire making my feelings known. If you want to make your feelings known, you have until the 8th June 2012.

I feel that if I just objected to development on the grounds that I don't like change, or that housing is bad and green space is good; then I'm kind of falling into the same old trap of environmentalist vs developer, both deaf to each other and more than a bit shouty. No one gets anywhere.

Einstein should have been a town planner: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results". Calling developers and planners "evil" or laughing at environmentalists is insanity. Both sides are doing their jobs, hopefully with passion too.

Sticking with the Einstein as Town Planner theme: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them".

We have created a problem in which residents are reassured that there are no immediate plans to develop an area until roughly 12 weeks before the footings go in.
No wonder everyone gets a bit pee'd off and confrontational with each other as ecologists search for barn owls and developers build what they've always built.

Now imagine that planners say to residents, "We've got 14-20 years to look at some innovative ways to accommodate a growing population. Here's your chance to find the green space you value and start to shape where you live for future generations."

Place Plans could be a step in this direction. I've been asked to go along to a public meeting to find out more. I'm certainly interested.
  • It could mean that in the future, all of Shropshire's new schools get built within walking distance of some prime, beautiful local countryside for playing in and learning valuable skills for their future.
  • It could mean that Highways work with allotment groups to ensure cycle paths and safe walking routes exist to connect people with their food.
  • It could mean that in the future there's a place for a herd of cows grazing in the middle of town (Why not? It's the milk on your cereal every morning, and a chance for farmers to feel a bit more loved). 
  • It could mean that every new development brings a net increase in biodiversity through careful long term research and planning.
It doesn't cost anything to think a bit differently. Talk to your neighbours.

(This next bit contains a sanity warning for my sister-in-law, who I know reads this! J, I know you hate s*!gs and sn*!ls, so please look away now...)

Oh, and I spent half an hour in the wild patch looking for snails today!
What a huge layer of leaf litter; 20-30cm deep in places and crawling with at least three different species of woodlice. (Does anyone know a woodlouse expert I can borrow?)

I collected (and returned) all these snails within one square metre of leaf litter, but not sure how many different species there are, or if any are particularly rare.
I've shared them on for identification and will let you know the results. Let me know how many different species you think you can see on these pictures? If you can name them too, that would be marvellous.

This snail was a smart looking thing, and seemed to know it too!

How many species can you see? I'm still trying to work it out.

Beautiful little ramshorn shaped shells

More snails. (Sorry J, hope you're not looking at these.)

Three different species of snail? Could be four.

No wonder the song thrushes love our back garden!

If I can give the area an overall biodiversity "score", like an index, then highlight the main species/habitats - could the developers take this info and work with local residents to increase the score? Back gardens can be havens for wildlife, as can community spaces and careful management.

Stop press: Barn Owl spotted yesterday by B on the field opposite the development site. Hopefully we'll be allowed to put up some nest boxes and encourage them to stay. Have a look at the Shropshire Barn Owl Group's webpage for more info on how you can help this protected species.

Monday, March 19, 2012

...who cares...

After yesterday's blog post about Corner Farm, there's been a lot of interest. Thanks so much for all your support, advice and tweets.
There's been over 100 hits on this site since yesterday, which is amazing. It just goes to show that it's not just me and my wild green patch, it's a subject close to many people's hearts.
If you want to blog and tweet, we now have a hashtag! It's #myclimbingtree.

I talked to a colleague at the Wildlife Trust today who encouraged me to keep recording the wildlife on the proposed development site. There's a valuable story to be told about how residents can value wildlife corridors and maybe work with developers to create something a little better than the usual "one size fits all" approach. Who knows.

All I know is that this patch outside my family home is alive. Bats, badgers, foxes, bugs, big trees, hares, birds and mammals. In 12 months time it may well all be gone. This is the story of who cares.

Here's some more pictures H and I took earlier this evening.

Corner Farm and one of the old holly hedges

Cow pats. They can be brilliant bug habitats. More poo please!

Our cottages. There'll be 25 houses on the right and the lane will become a two way road.

Freedom to roam for one more year.

Another 15 species have been added to my list including elder (great for making jewellery), holly, ivy, carrion crows, jackdaws and a pair of buzzards circling lazily overhead. There's the first glimpses of garlic mustard and bittercresses in the hedgerows, plus violets, speedwell, chickweed and arum lily. None of which are rare, but if development continues in its current form, they will be one day.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, March 18, 2012 one...

So here we go. I hope to get out and about on Corner Farm Drive as much as I can over the coming months; discovering wildlife, meeting the neighbours and capturing stories before the site potentially disappears. I've already found some great stuff as you'll see from the photos. In a ten minute walk we've spotted over 30 species including a very big slug, a centipede, lesser celandine and perhaps the caterpillar of an Angle Shades moth. The site is hooching with small mammal holes which is what we'll look at next.

Off on an adventure
This is where the houses might be built
A large slug on some deadwood

I've found a centipede!

Angle Shades moth caterpillar
Lesser Celandine

Saturday, March 17, 2012

...not in my back yard!...

The following opinions are my own personal rant...

Some developers don't like wildlife. It gets in their way.
Take our quiet country lane. It is a single track road leading to an 18th century farmhouse.
The fields surrounding us have hares, barn owls, tawny owls, lunar hornet moths, dragonflies, veteran oak trees and thick holly hedges. In the summer months we camp out in the back field, watch stars and cook food round the camp fire.

Bah! Say the developers.
"What do you know about the real world?" 

"We'll do you a favour and dig up the hedges, widen the road and put some nice tarmac down.
 Those old trees are unhealthy too. We'll help you out and replace them with some nice ornamental shrubs.
Hundreds will want to own this rural idyll; so we'll build houses right on top of the remaining wildlife.
There. Job done. Say thank you".

(All the developers across the land join in the chorus...)
"Don't be such a nimby,
You can't stop progress.
The houses have got to go somewhere.
It's in the strategic plan..."

Apparently, kids don't need to play in wild places either. Wait until they see the safe patches of square green turf the developers have created for them. They'll love it, all fenced in, bland and cosy.

What?! You say you played here with your family for free? Oh no no no. We can't have that. Our cheapest property on this site is only £120,000.
Oh, and we're cutting your son's climbing tree down too. It's unhealthy. I'll leave you to explain that to him.

OK, to be fair, we have to remember that many developers and local authorities are, when faced with a financial crisis, not rational organisations. In the absence of any true innovation they panic and the end result by default, becomes one of destroying local biodiversity and community health. Anyone who stands up for wildlife is an unworldly fool in the face of demand for housing space.

You might be surprised at what I'm going to say next.
I am not against development.
Development as evolution in thought and action. Not just a "spreading out".
I saw no development in the plans on show tonight at a local residents meeting.
It was just a plan to build over our wild green patch.

Lucky us.

Here's an offer. I will hug and squeeze any developer who is a true crafter of exciting communities and space.
Work with me to make our wild green patch better for people and wildlife?
Development in the future might not be so boring and harmful if we start thinking outside those dreadful boxes.

Can you tell I'm cross? (Hee hee!)
I'm meeting with the local councillor next week and will keep you posted on wildlife, development and developers...let the games commence; and please, even if you've never seen my place, you probably know of a wild green patch near you. Stand up for wild green patches everywhere. They need you and you need them.

Here's some great ideas for houses I'd like to see next door...

Public wealth (nature) vs private profit:

Have your say on the shaping of Shropshire, you don't have to live here to have an opinion...

Transition Towns:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

...a tin to put things in...

A neighbour very kindly dropped off some animal puzzles for H to play with. Just look at those gorgeous tins! It's made me want to start a collection of kooky pots and tins like these, but I just know I'll get an equally old fashioned look from J. "More stuff?!" bacon sandwich in the world...

We've ignored the washing up, hoovering and tidying and spent all day in the garden. Who can blame us on a day like today? J disappeared into his shed, while h and I gave the garden fence a bit of a face-lift with a lick of paint. I gave h some bright green poster paint which he loved splashing about, some on the fence, but most on his face.
J surprised us by making a huge pile of bacon sarnies which we ate sitting out on the back step in the sun. "Best bacon sandwich world daddy" said 3 year old h.

Friday, March 02, 2012

...fairy doors...

Been working too hard lately, so welcomed the break with H to visit our favourite toddler group. It's lovely, full of chilled out families in a beautiful spot. Today we made fairy doors. We grabbed some sheets of card and tissue paper and had fun glueing it all together. H had great fun looking for leaves, which we added as decoration.
We're proud of the end result and have put it out in the garden; a secret doorway to another world hidden deep in the undergrowth!