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Photo: James O Davies/The Historic England Archive, Historic England.
Sphinx House, Moulsford, Oxfordshire, is an example of Egyptian influences on the work of newly rehabilitated British architect John Outram.

Sometimes a person whose work hits a wall of resistance from contemporaries is merely ahead of the times. That may be the case with UK architect John Outram.

Guardian reporter Oliver Wainwright talks to the architect about his philosophy and rehabilitation. ” ‘Our beginning was a worm,’ says John Outram. ‘It had light-sensitive cells at one end that later turned into eyes.’ He is standing in the bathroom at the top of his house in London’s Connaught Square, explaining the symbolism of the patterns that line the walls of his shower.

“Three white worms wiggle their way across a background of blue mosaic tiles at the base of the cubicle, while a black I-shape floats against a band of red tiles above, denoting ‘the emergence of the ego.’ A third yellow band at the top marks the realm of light, where the figure of ‘thought’ appears between two triangles, signifying the parted halves of the ‘heap of history.’

“It’s a lot to digest before breakfast – and we haven’t even got on to the symbolic ceiling (the ‘raft of reason’) or the hexagonal serpent-skin floor tiles.

“ ‘I stand here every morning to do my exercises,’ says Outram, breaking into an infectious giggle. ‘A good dose of metaphysics sets one up for the day.’

“The eccentric architect has reason to be cheerful. At the age of 87, he is enjoying an unexpected wave of popularity. Having been stamped with the label of postmodernism – out of favor since the 1990s, when his work was described as ‘architectural terrorism’ – he has been rediscovered by a new generation, thirsty for color, pattern, ornament and fun.

“The last few years have seen several of his buildings listed, from the Isle of Dogs pumping station, that cartoonish temple to summer storms, to an opulent country house in Sussex built for the Tetra Pak billionaires Hans and Märit Rausing. Illustrations of Outram’s buildings can now be found emblazoned on T-shirts and mugs, while he has a growing following on Instagram, which he joined during lockdown, where he expounds his esoteric theories to a rapt audience. And now, for the first time, the full breadth of his maverick output has been brought together in a monograph. So how does it feel to be recognized so late in life, after years in the wilderness?

” ‘I call it being dug up,’ he says with a chortle. ‘Disinterred, as it were. It’s quite entertaining.’

“As Geraint Franklin, the book’s author, observes, the English have never quite known what to do with Outram. His buildings are hi-tech, neoclassical and postmodern all at once, yet they fit neatly into none of these categories. His chubby columns house sophisticated mechanical systems for ventilation, wiring and drainage, while simultaneously alluding to ancient mythologies in their richly layered ornament.

“A huge jet engine fan in the pediment of the pumping station helps to cool the machinery inside, while also standing as the symbolic source of the ‘river of somatic time.’ A pyramidal glass fireplace in the Egyptian-themed Sphinx Hill house in Oxfordshire summons momentous Pharaonic allusions, while cleverly sucking smoke beneath the floor to a hidden flue.

“In Outram’s world, embracing technology and modernity did not preclude the presence of poetry and history. … Outram piled it all on, mining inspiration from Sumerian, Egyptian, Chinese and Mayan cultures with magpie glee. …

“Born in Malaysia, where his army officer father was stationed, Outram’s outsider status owes something to his upbringing. His childhood saw spells in Burma and India, before he arrived at prep school in England at the age of 11, feeling like ‘a refugee from the British empire.’ His early exposure to the vivid sights and sounds of South Asian cities informed his impression of the classical world, as being ‘much more like India than like the British Museum. Very noisy, very smelly, very colorful.’ …

“Unlike his hi-tech peers, his projects rarely exceeded the capabilities of the average builder. ‘The problem with hi-tech is that it’s very expensive, and the tech isn’t very high,’ he says. ‘I’d been a pilot, so I knew what real hi-tech was – and it wasn’t suitable for architecture.’ …

“As Franklin writes, base materials are subject to an almost alchemical transformation in Outram’s hands. Humdrum concrete – which he once described as a ‘funereal porridge of muddy ashes’ – could be transformed into ‘blitzcrete with fragments of colored brick, ground and polished to an edible nougat finish. It debuted at his New House for the Rausings in Wadhurst, Sussex, in 1986, where five types of crushed brick swirl across the facade like confetti in the wind.”

More at the Guardian, here. Great Pictures. No firewall.

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Photo: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian.
Paul White: ‘After one 21-hour work day, I told my mum I planned to quit. As soon as I uttered the words, I felt the weight lift.’

Have you ever had a really bad boss? I have. I was afraid to quit without another paycheck in hand. It took five years to find one, but it was worth it. It turned out to be my best job.

One thing about the pause from normal life that we can chalk up to Covid is the reassessment of how we’ve been spending our time. The media is full of stories about people who thought deeply about their jobs and ended up quitting.

Today’s article is about a guy who felt a wave of relief when he turned his back on the stress of work and found a new line.

Deborah Linton at the Guardian gets the story from 35-year-old Paul White of Lancashire, UK.

“In May 2018, I became leader of my local council, Pendle, in Lancashire. A year later, after nearly a decade in local politics, I quit. Alongside my council duties, I had been growing a business: milk and grocery delivery to 100,000 customers, locally and elsewhere in the country. I had a 3 a.m. milk round, so I’d be up before dawn delivering bottles, jumping on a train to Westminster after lunch to meet government ministers, and heading back to chair a council meeting that evening.

“My heart was constantly racing. Shortly before my election as leader, I’d been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy – heart failure. I’d been fitted with a pacemaker and defibrillator, and put on medication, but I’d torn up the doctor’s note, convinced I was too busy to take time off. …

“After one 21-hour work day, towards the end of 2018, I told my mum I planned to quit; as soon as I uttered the words, I felt the weight lift. …

“For a while, I did nothing, which was an enormous and uncomfortable culture shift. Then I remembered dreams I’d harbored as a kid, when I’d draw maps of farms I wanted to own. I had studied rural enterprise at university, but the idea of working in agriculture got lost in business and politics. I’d kept an eye on the farming press and, in early 2021, still reeling from the pandemic, I spotted warnings of a turkey shortage at Christmas – a result of supply chain and labor issues stemming from Brexit.

“I rented an acre of woodland in[Laneshawbridge], bought 200 turkey chicks for £2,000 [~$2,500] , and read up on how to rear them. I set up the business in three weeks, figuring I’d see a return in 20 weeks, when the local pubs and butchers were ready for their birds.

“Each day, I get up with my turkeys at dawn and close them in at dusk. I work alone, but I’ve learned a lot, educating myself on the job – the weird ways the turkeys react to noise, how much they eat, and how loud they are. … I’ve rented 11 more acres and, this year, I’ll start a commercial flock of egg-laying chickens, then move on to sheep. …

“I was named Young Lancastrian of the Year in 2018, but, when I look back at photos, I seem grey, thin, ill. Now, I spend hours outdoors. I lead a walking group, and clock up even more miles with my dog. I tend to my turkeys by the river, and potter around the village talking to people. …

“There are downsides to life on the farm: rain, animals die, and you have to be very smart to make a living from it. … Emotionally, it’s been hard to come to terms with the change. Handing over the keys to the town hall was a huge relief, yet I toy daily with going back – it feels like unfinished business. People who wanted my attention for years, whom I considered friends, disappeared. I’ve also found it hard to reconcile myself with the idea that I’m not contributing to the world. … Now I question if it’s OK for life to feel this simple.”

More at the Guardian, here.

Just for fun, here’s a wild turkey in Providence, RI. Turkeys have to be the world’s most self-important birds. They never worry if they’re contributing to a better world.

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Photo: Westcountry_Hedgelayer/Instagram.
A newly laid hedge at a farm on Dartmoor, Devon.

I haven’t visited England in decades, so I didn’t realize it had gone through a period of ripping out its iconic hedgerows. How sad! But as Tom Wall writes at the Guardian, renewed interest in biodiversity is bringing them back.

“The emerald-green five-year-old hawthorn hedge glistens in autumnal sunshine. In the cider apple orchard and grass pastures below, younger hedges shoot off towards a fast-flowing trout stream.

“History has come full circle in Blackmore Farm, which nestles in the foothills of the Quantocks in Somerset. The owner, Ian Dyer, remembers helping his father, who arrived as a tenant farmer in the 1950s, grub out old hedges in the 1960s and 1970s. But – like increasing numbers of landowners – he has hired a hedgelayer to bring back his hedges to provide habitats for wildlife, capture carbon and slow water pouring off fields into rivers.

“ ‘In my life, I’ve probably taken out three miles of hedge. It was seen as progress at the time. The government was pushing for more and more production,’ he says, standing in the long grass on his 750-acre arable and beef farm. …

“Dyer, 62, has planted 1km of new hedges in the last five years and has noticed more insects, nesting birds and small mammals, including water voles, since the work started.

One study found that hedgerows provide 21 ecosystem services – more than any other habitat.

“ ‘My views have changed in the last 10 years. I want to live in a green and pleasant land – not in a [ecological] desert,’ he remarks. ‘It’s starting to look like I remember it as a five-year-old boy.’

“The National Hedgelaying Society, which held its national championship event this weekend, says its members have been inundated with requests to lay hedges this season, which runs from September to April. ‘There is more work than anyone could ever do for the rest of their lives,’ says Claire Maymon, one of the charity’s trustees. ‘Our founders in the 1970s were worried the craft would be lost for ever, but now we are worried that we don’t have enough young hedgelayers coming through to meet demand.’

“The Campaign to Protect Rural England estimates that over 25,000 workers will be needed to deliver on the Committee on Climate Change’s call to plant 200,000km of new hedges in the UK. The committee has calculated that the nation’s hedgerows will have to be expanded by 40% in order to reach net-zero by 2050. …

“The government wants the post-Brexit agricultural subsidy system to encourage farmers to better maintain hedges. A pilot scheme, offering farmers up to £24 per 100 metres of hedgerows, starts next month.

“Hedges need to be carefully managed throughout their lives, otherwise they thin and eventually gaps appear. Paul Lamb, the hedgelayer helping to transform Dyer’s farm, ‘pleaches’ – or splits – hawthorn, blackthorn and spindle stems so that they grow back dense and thick next spring. ‘Every hedgelayer has their own style,’ he says. … ‘For me, it’s so satisfying to plant and lay a hedge and then see it full of birds, insects and wildlife.’

“Business is booming for Lamb, who lives in a converted horsebox on a nearby farm. He has never been busier, with commercial farmers making up a growing proportion of his work. …

“ ‘When I started hedging, it was a way of earning a bit of beer money on a Saturday. I would never have expected to be booked up for a whole season. But here I am, booked up for this season and half of the next – and still people are phoning me with jobs. There is a renewed interest in conservation and craft – and a feeling that we need to live in a more sustainable way.’

“Britain lost half its hedgerows in the decades after the second world war as farmers were encouraged to create large arable fields to increase production. Since then, legal protections have been introduced and hedges are no longer being ripped out – but the decline has continued due to poor management, including some landowners over-trimming hedges mechanically, without simulating new growth below. But the growing demand for traditional hedgelaying leaves many in the craft feeling optimistic.

“Nigel Adams sits on the HedgeLink steering group, which advises [the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs]. He says there has has been a sea-change in attitudes, with everyone from the National Farming Union to Natural England calling for more hedges. …

“Adams, who lays hedges throughout the country, including on Prince Charles’s estates, believes the role of hedges should not be underestimated. ‘Insects follow hedges and bats hunt along hedges,’ he says. ‘If we didn’t have hedgerows, then we would be living in a barren wasteland.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. Since the Guardian is free, you have access to the pictures, too. I think you are going to love the water vole there.

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Photo: James Rebanks via BBC.
A farmer in England shows how regenerative farming can produce better food while fighting climate change.

There’s a farmer in the UK who hopes to change the way farmers farm in order to promote biodiversity and a healthier planet. He raises sheep.

Here’s a report by William Booth at the Washington Post: “Britain’s rock-star shepherd and best-selling author, James Rebanks, is out at the family farm, giving the tour, waxing rhapsodic about his manure. The glory of it — of the crumbly, muffin-top consistency of a well-made plop from a grass-fed cow. …

“Don’t get the man started on soil health. Rebanks is a soil geek, with the zeal of the convert. … Rebanks represents one possible future for farming, which is set to be transformed in the promise of a post-Brexit, zero-carbon world. The British government plans to strip away all traditional farm subsidies and replace those payments with an alien system of ‘public money for public goods.’

“What are these public goods? Not food. Bees! In 21st-century Britain, the goods will be clean water, biodiversity, habitat restoration, hedgerows, pretty landscapes, wildflowers, flood mitigation and adaptation to climate change. …

“This transformation could be huge: Farmland is 70 percent of England’s landscape and produces 10 percent of its greenhouse gases. There is no net-zero-carbon future without farmers.

“As the best-known farmer in the whole of the United Kingdom, Rebanks finds himself at the center of this transition. In agriculture circles, he’s a super influencer, famous for his Twitter feed. He has nearly 150,000 followers, who check for his posts and postcard-perfect videos and photos of his idyllic home in England’s poetic Lake District and the doings of his beloved Herdwick sheep.

“The shepherd riffs on the circle of life, the frenzy of lambing season, the deliciousness of grilled mutton and the wisdom of sheepdogs — speckled with rants against the alleged ruinous stupidity of industrial farming ‘where the field has become the factory floor.’ …

“He cannot fathom that the planet, and his little corner of it, has been so messed up. He also cannot make up his mind whether we are doomed or just might pull through, a feeling that resonates with many.

“He wrote two books about all this, both international bestsellers. The latest, published to stellar reviews this month in the United States, is Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey.

“On one level, the book is about how cheap food culture, globalization and super-efficient, ­hyper-mechanized, highly productive modern farms (giant monocultures of beets, wheat, corn) are terrible for nature (insects, rivers, climate) and our health (obesity, diabetes) and our farmers (indebted, pesticide-dependent, stressed).

“On a deeper level, though, the pages are about healing, about how one farmer in Cumbria is trying very hard to turn his landscape into a sustainable, profitable little Eden by deploying both ancient and cutting-edge techniques. …

“British politicians make the pilgrimage to see what he has done. So do British journalists. He has made the cover of the Financial Times magazine and is the subject of a 30-minute documentary on the BBC. He pens guest columns for the right-wing Daily Mail and the left-wing Guardian. …

“The government is embarking on the biggest change in the management of its countryside since the end of World War II. No longer will farmers live on the Basic Payment Scheme. They will be paid for those new public goods; the old subsidies for ‘food security’ will end. It is a radical experiment, to be carried out on a national scale.

“Yesterday’s farms grew food and outgassed methane. The farms of tomorrow will grow food and sequester carbon. Or at least that is the idea. …

“British farmers, like their counterparts elsewhere in Europe, have subsisted for three generations on subsidies. Without the dole, government figures show, 42 percent of all farms here would operate at a loss. Most small operators wouldn’t survive without the checks. The payments — $3 billion annually — are to be phased out over the next seven years. …

“Rebanks doesn’t think the plan is nearly smart enough or big enough, or that the public understands how much it will cost to have a real impact for farmers, nature and climate. He thinks $3 billion year is ‘a drop in the bucket.’ …

“If anyone can make the switch to this new system of ‘public money for public goods,’ surely it should be Rebanks. He seems more than halfway there already. …

“His family has been shepherding in Cumbria for 600 years. His methods — moving sheep between the communal hilltop fells and the valley below — would be recognizable to the Vikings, who did the same when they settled here more than a millennium ago with a similar breed of hearty sheep.

“Over the past 10 years, with help from conservationists and supporters, he and his family — his wife and four kids — have ‘re-wiggled’ a drainage ditch and created a natural stream plus wetland. They’re planting 25,000 saplings. There were no ponds on the property before. There are 25 now, with otters. Three miles of hedgerows have been restored and 30 acres revived as a wildflower meadow. …

“He’s chopping up the farm to smaller and smaller fields — ‘it’s all hedges and edges, which is good for nature.’ He estimates he has taken 15 percent of his farm out of active production.

“ ‘Listen, the truth is there must be some letting go,’ he said. ‘You can’t drain it all and use it all for farming or grazing. You have to set some aside.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Clown Shortage

Photo: Pacemaker.
Noeleen and Henrik Fries Neumann on their wedding day in 2017. Clowns are serious about clowning.

One of my brothers performed as a clown for years at his church. In his other life, he was a professor doing research into how the immune system works. The great thing about clowns is how they help you look at things differently. Now that I think about it, that’s what scientific research does, too.

I thought of that brother when I read today’s story about how Covid and Brexit have caused a serious shortage of clowns in Northern Ireland.

In case you haven’t already heard more than enough about Brexit (the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union), you can read up on the Northern Ireland complication at Wikipedia, here.

In a nutshell, Ireland itself is still enjoying all the benefits of being in the EU, but Northern Ireland, since it is part of the UK, has to have special treatment so it can still do a lot of what it used to do — and not reignite friction with its neighbor. Add Covid to that and what you have is a royal mess!

To see the problem in microcosm consider the shortage of clowns.

The BBC reports, “There’s a lot more to being a clown than just putting on a big red nose and a big baggy pair of pants. That’s according to David Duffy, co-owner of Duffy’s Circus, who is appealing for people from Northern Ireland to become clowns.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a shortage of the performers, as many returned to their home countries when the first lockdown came into force in early 2020, according to Mr Duffy.

“But what makes a good clown?

” ‘Someone who’s willing to make themselves vulnerable,’ says Noeleen Fries Neumann, known professionally as Silly Tilly.

” Not everybody likes to be laughed at but for someone who is a clown, your worst nightmare would be to not be laughed at,’ Mrs Fries Neumann told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

‘You have to be able to poke fun at yourself, it’s not about poking fun at other people.’

“During lockdown, Mrs Fries Neumann and her husband Henrik, who is also a clown known as Jarl, set up a big top circus tent in their garden, allowing them to continue to rehearse and perform.

“The couple first met at an international clown festival, before having a clown themed wedding in 2017.

“[Lockdown] was hard for Mr Duffy and his circus has been closed for more than 500 days. …

” ‘Because all the circuses in Europe and in England have been up and operational for the past six months, that huge pool of EU artists are already back at work and up until last week we haven’t been able to even get visas issued for non-EU artists and entertainers,’ Mr Duffy said.

” ‘That’s why we’re trying to reach out for any of our folks at home who feel that they can give it a go.’

“In order to be a clown, Mr Duffy says you have to be ‘really, really adaptable’ and be able to think on your feet. …

” ‘A clown actually can be the loneliest place because you’re in there on your own and you have to be able to read your audience, in a short couple of minutes you have to be able to get a rapport going with them and interact and feed off them.’

“Aspiring clowns will be performing a short piece during online auditions being held by Mr Duffy as he tries to recruit a new team of performers.” More at the BBC, here.

You know, some of the best clowns in the business worked for Ringling Brothers Barnum Bailey circus and attended the company’s clown school in Florida. Now that the circus is out of business, maybe there’s a clown or two who would consider relocating to Northern Ireland. What do you think?

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Photo: Robert Mckergan.
Robert Mckergan, 66, is a stick-maker from Portstewart, County Londonderry.

When I saw this story on traditional crafts, I thought of the late, great James Hackett of Moate, Ireland, and the handsome shillelagh he made for John. There was something so special about knowing the maker and knowing that his skill had been handed down through generations. Although his day job was harness making, I suppose James might also have been called a “stick-maker,” like the craftsman in this article.

Vanessa Thorpe wrote at the Guardian in March 2020 about organizations that are working to preserve traditional craft skills like those.

“Clay pipe making, wainwrighting, tanning and making spinning wheels – all are skills of the past that can offer us a sustainable future. This is the message behind a drive, launched this spring, to preserve endangered traditional crafts in Britain.

“With a new award of £3,000 available, together with fresh support from outdoor pursuits company Farlows, the Heritage Crafts Association is calling for a renewed effort to save old skills and pass them down to the next generation.

“The association’s list of ‘critically endangered’ ancient techniques has often been regarded as simply concerned with conserving history. But renewed interest in sustainability, together with a growing dislike of throwaway consumer culture, has prompted a new campaign. …

“The new HCA award was set up this month by Prince Charles, the association’s president: craftspeople are invited to submit a proposal to help secure the survival of a craft ranked either endangered or critically endangered on its official list. …

‘We have a rich heritage of craft skills that can be regarded as just as important as historic buildings and treasured objects,’ [Patricia Lovett, chair of HCA] said. ‘However we are in danger of losing a number of these crafts: our research has found that in some cases there are only one or two makers left.’

“The at-risk list is compiled by combining a conservation status ‘red list’ system used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust watchlist.

“A heritage craft, usually carried out by an individual in small workshops or at home, is considered viable only if there are sufficient makers to hand down their skills to a younger generation. Last year the traditional paper-making skill of ‘mold and deckle’ was judged extinct, and the vanishing of production in turn endangers paper making. Those deemed merely to be endangered are those crafts which are not financially viable as a sole occupation and those which have no clear system for training or passing on skills. Among these are fan making, watch making and walking stick making – all involving the manufacture of items that are still popular with the public, and even regarded as essential by some.

“Farlows, a company closely associated with fields sports and makers of traditional fishing rods, works directly with many artisan manufacturers, in particular tweed makers, and so its management has decided to formalise that arrangement by backing the heritage association, which they see as a key umbrella body.

“ ‘There is a real knack to making something like a split cane rod. People who fish really value it,’ said [Robin Philpott, chief executive of Farlows].

“The danger, according to Farlows, which began trading 180 years ago and in 1942 switched all its manufacturing to support the war effort, lies in widespread mass production. Although the company now has a Russian owner, its management say it still aims to keep alive the key trades it supported when it was owned and run by family members. …

“Robert Mckergan, 66, is a stick-maker from Portstewart, County Londonderry. ‘For me, it started as a hobby, but I feel we need these crafts to go on. I am a retired engineer and while you can teach yourself as I did, not everyone can do it. You need to be competent with your hands.

“ ‘You couldn’t live on this work, I don’t think. Each stick is about 20 hours’ work. But you get a sense of achievement and of purpose. When I see a tree, I see all the potential carvings. And of course the smell that comes from a piece of wood, say cherry, as you work is lovely.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. An update is at the Heritage Crafts Association, here.

Photo: Wikimedia.
Shillelaghs. See the one James made for himself, here.

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Photos: Ashleigh Whiffin.
Amateur nature recorders in the UK are providing vital data on beetles, soldierflies, and many lesser-known insects.

Britain’s long tradition of amateur scientists sets the stage for today’s enthusiastic volunteers mapping the nation’s insect population.

Isabella Kaminski writes at the Guardian, “Ashleigh Whiffin’s day job as assistant curator of entomology is to look after National Museums Scotland’s vast collection of preserved insects. But her passion for the creatures doesn’t end when she goes home; in her spare time she spends hours recording and verifying sightings of a specific group of large carrion beetles in the family silphidae.

“ ‘Silphidae are absolutely brilliant,’ Whiffin says from her Edinburgh office. ‘They’re decomposers, so they are really vital for recycling and also have forensic applications. Some of the members in the family are called burying beetles and they actually prepare a carcass, make a nest out of the corpse and then feed on the rotting flesh and regurgitate it for their kids. They’re quite a charming – but also grisly – insect.’

This banded burying beetle in the UK is a scavenger said to be able to smell a rotting carcass from two miles away. I’m thinking it’s a cousin of the endangered American Burying Beetle that John used to study in Rhode Island.

“Wanting to know more about the distribution of silphidae across the UK and how they were faring in conservation terms, Whiffin established what already exists for more charismatic species such as ladybirds: a national recording scheme. …

Whiffin is one of Britain’s tens of thousands of volunteer nature recorders, whose detailed sightings of flora and fauna, or key events in their lifecycles, are vital for keeping tabs on biodiversity as the climate warms, habitats shrink, and pesticides and pollution degrade the quality of land.

“It’s a hobby with a long history in the UK, where amateurs have been stuffing, pinning and pressing specimens for centuries. … These days, records are collated, verified and filtered through a patchwork of recording schemes and local environmental record centres. Many end up in the National Biodiversity Network’s Atlas, the country’s most comprehensive collection of biodiversity information. …

“The Biological Records Centre (BRC), a research institution in Oxfordshire set up in the 1960s, calculated a few years ago that about 70,000 people take part in biological recording each year, although Helen Roy, the BRC’s coordinator of zoological data and research, thinks that is probably an underestimate. Despite years of doom-mongering about the death of natural history as a pastime, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ State of Nature 2019 reports calculated that there had been a 46% increase in the time donated to nature recording since 2000.

“Martin Harvey, who also works at the BRC but runs a recording scheme for soldierflies and their allied families in his spare time, says most insect surveys are run by volunteers. …

“But while there is little concrete data on demographics, recorders admit there is a lack of diversity among those involved. … Says Whiffin. ‘I have to say for the beetle community, that is predominantly white men and that is something that I’m very keen to change.’

“Whiffin has been advertising her recording scheme on social media and running beetle identification courses online to try to reach a wider range of people.

“Biological recording has also benefited from apps such as iSpot and iRecord, which allow citizen scientists to snap a picture of their subject and quickly upload it. …

“Harvey notes that people get involved at different levels, from casual recorders to those who go to ‘extraordinary lengths’ to specialise in a subject or species. … ‘For most, if not all, insects there’s a lot we don’t know and a lot of areas that don’t get recorded very well,’ says Harvey. ‘There’s also basic natural history gaps in how they live, what they feed on, what their lifecycle and behaviour is, and individual volunteer naturalists can and do make an enormous contribution to finding out that sort of information.’ …

“There are now 30,000 records on large carrion beetles from the silphidae family recording scheme combined with historical data gleaned from dusty museum notebooks. This enabled Natural England to commission a recent study on the prevalence of silphidae in the UK, which showed that several species were critically endangered or vulnerable.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Rewilding in the UK

Photos: Murdo MacLeod
Scotland is inviting nature to return to abandoned industrial spaces.

The idea of “rewilding” industrial spaces, or turning them back to nature, makes me happy. One often reads about it happening in the UK, but we could do it, too, if we wanted to.

This photo essay in the Guardian is about how, in Scotland, rewilding often happens through benign neglect. Bella Bathurst wrote the text and Murdo MacLeod took the photos.

“Since the idea of rewilding took hold, it has generally been seen as a rural pursuit involving withdrawal from farmland so that animals and vegetation can restore their own ecology. At its most herbivorous, it includes allowing hedgerows or scrub to flourish unchecked. At its most primal, it involves deliberately releasing animals such as beavers or wolves in the belief that the re-entry of a single alpha species brings with it a cascade of ecological benefits. …

“The perception is that it is expensive, far away and often inaccessible. It certainly isn’t something that just anyone can do.

“But what if the wildest places of all were right under our feet? In the forgotten spaces in our cities, rewilding has always happened naturally, land falling under stone and resurging again, concrete lids flipped off before submerging once more. In the margins and the demilitarised zones, the abandoned embankments, the bits we don’t want or the lands already contaminated beyond human tolerance, ecology is thriving.

“In some places – such as the land around the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine – plant and insect life has adapted to the extreme conditions: boars have moved in, there is a new radiation-munching fungus and, in the thin strip of no-man’s land between the borders of North and South Korea, leopards and Asiatic black bears have been spotted. …

“In Scotland, the 40-mile strip between Glasgow and Edinburgh has always been mined, for not just coal, but stone, gravel, lead and even gold. After centuries of hard pickings, parts of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire have an upended appearance. What was underground is now on top and what was above has gone below, with buildings and bridges slumped over old drift mines and razor-lined spoil heaps terraced by extraction tracks. Wildfowl nest on lochs made from old coal holes and an orchid called Young’s helleborine, discovered in 1975, favours only the best iron ore. …

“At an explosives factory once owned and operated by the Alfred Nobel Company, [sections] are still in use, but most of the 330-acre site was long ago abandoned. Along the cracks in the old pipelines and through the decaying buildings, it would be quicker to list the native plants that are no longer there than those that are. …

“Public feeling is that big business should be obliged to make good what it has taken, but human attempts to restore land are often amateurish. Planting a few conifers and flinging around a mix of wildflowers may be a quick fix, but sometimes it appears that the best thing to do is nothing. …

“In 1913 the 13th Earl of Home tried to lift local unemployment at Douglas by allowing mining nearby. The mining unseated [his] castle, it was demolished, and the flooded workings (known locally as the Black Hole) are now so patterned with commuting birdlife that it resembles an avian Heathrow. …

“On the other side of the Clyde, between the Erskine Bridge and the old John Brown shipyard, lies what used to be the Beardmore naval construction works in Dalmuir. In the early 20th century it produced munitions, planes, submarines and warships before being converted into a fuel-supply depot and then being gradually abandoned.

“Now a cycle path runs through it, but otherwise there is nothing new here except nature: golden leaves of birch springing from the concrete jetty, hawkweed drifting Ophelia-like in the drowned oil storage tanks, wrens nesting in the rusted embankments, mallards cackling from the blackthorn scrub. …

“Dalmuir is beautiful, dangerous – and almost certainly contaminated. … Halflands like these can be among the most joyous and optimistic places on earth, but they can also carry with them a polluting sense of menace. Finding them means that you may end up meandering across an indeterminate line between a walk in the park and full-scale urban exploration; you explore at your own risk. …

“They also have a habit of vanishing. Brownfield sites tend to be classified as wasteland, and with the pressure on housing, they are first in line for redevelopment. Ardeer is intended for ‘regeneration’ and Dalmuir will shortly be dug up to make way for the Scottish Marine Technology Park, a deepwater ship hoist and a new small-vessel fabrication yard.”

More at the Guardian, here.

Abandoned naval construction works in Dalmuir, Scotland. Explore at your own risk.

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Photo: The Wildlife Trusts
What the Broadmarsh area of central Nottingham could look like if the Wildlife Trust’s post-Covid wildscape plan gets the go-ahead.

Although headlines tend to feature the thoughts of leaders with limited imagination, that doesn’t stop other people from thinking. Stories like today’s make me happy, whether or not the ideas ever are fully implemented, because it’s reassuring to know there are always people working on creative solutions to problems.

Phoebe Weston writes about a UK mall at the Guardian, “An empty 1970s shopping centre in Nottingham could be transformed into wetlands, pocket woodlands and a wildflower meadow as part of a post-pandemic urban rewilding project.

“The debate about Broadmarsh shopping centre, considered an eyesore by many, has rumbled on for years. This year it was undergoing a [$116 million] revamp by real estate investment trust Intu when the firm went into [bankruptcy]. …

“As retail giants such as Debenhams and Arcadia Group falter, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has come up with a new model of inner city regeneration: urban rewilding.

“The trust wants to bulldoze the already half-demolished Broadmarsh building and turn it into [6 acres] of scruffy green space at an estimated cost of [about $5 million]. The designs were created with Influence Landscape Architects and could set a precedent for what to do with the growing amount of vacant retail space in other cities. …

“Ponds surrounded by reeds, crocus meadows and wet grasslands would attract butterflies, dragonflies and a range of birds including reed warblers and black redstarts, according to the Wildlife Trust, which is calling on people to back its green vision. It will put its plans to Nottingham city council in the coming weeks as the authority canvasses views on what Broadmarsh could become as part of a 10-week consultation process.

“The proposed scheme would run counter to the conventional idea of urban parks and instead hark back to what Broadmarsh would have looked like in centuries gone by.

“ ‘Often open spaces in cities can be manicured and a bit formal,’ said [Sara Boland, managing director of Influence].

‘The idea of this was to have more rewilding, restoring, protecting [so] the zones we then developed were about foraging, pond dipping and protecting species.’

“Nineteenth-century maps helped architects get a clear picture of what this part of Nottinghamshire once looked like – a fertile garden area covered in fruit trees. Old street names include Pear Street and Peach Street; those fruits would be grown in the park to reflect its heritage. Crisscrossing the park would be walkways based on centuries-old street layouts.

“Nottingham Wildlife Trust has long wanted to create green corridors in this area of the city to connect it to Sherwood Forest to the north. It has put up nest boxes on many buildings close to Broadmarsh to encourage black redstarts, which used to live in the city but are now rarely seen. …

” ‘Over the past 20 or 30 years … we’ve submitted ideas for roof gardens and new avenues, all sorts of greener features,’ said Erin McDaid, head of communications and marketing at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. ‘We feel this could be a real opportunity for the city to stand out from the crowd as cities across the UK look to recover their economies and find a new direction for urban centres.’ …

“ ‘Anyone coming into Nottingham on the train would have to pass by [Broadmarsh] before they reached the city centre, and it was just this horrible, ugly building with no windows. It was very unwelcoming,’ [Nottingham resident Ewan Cameron] said. …

“David Mellen, Nottingham city council leader, said the conversation about the Broadmarsh site had captured people’s imagination. He said: ‘It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine a significant space right in the heart of one of the country’s core cities.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Six-Foot Tutus

Photo: Tyrone Singleton
Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers rehearsing in their socially distanced costumes.

Never underestimate the power of artists to work around obstacles! In today’s story, a dancer, a choreographer, and a costume designer figured out a socially distanced way to get dancers back to dancing. Anna Bailey reported the story at BBC Radio.

“Acclaimed Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta says ‘it feels great’ to be venturing back to staging indoor performances for a live audience in the UK after months of being prohibited from doing so because of the pandemic.

” ‘It feels great because we’ve been in lockdown for far too long and it’s a kind of career where if you don’t exercise your body for a week you go back and pay for it,’ says Acosta. …

“Acosta and the Birmingham Royal Ballet are following in the footsteps of The Royal Ballet in London which recently performed in front of a live audience in a reduced capacity auditorium.

“But Acosta is going one step further by introducing socially distanced costumes in the form of extra wide tutus for the brand-new mixed bill Lazuli Sky.

“It is the first one-act ballet commissioned and presented by Acosta since he took over as director of the Birmingham company at the start of the year. It is also due to be performed at Sadler’s Wells in London at the end of [October and online Nov. 1].

” ‘When we started, we wanted a piece where nobody would touch each other and so the dancers will be wearing elongated structures that are not static but are constantly moving and creating different shapes, evoking your imagination,’ explains Acosta about the spiral-shaped costumes. …

” They’re great in terms of aesthetic and a record of the time that we live in,’ Acosta adds.

“He has devised Lazuli Sky with the help of his designer Samuel Wyer and the award-winning choreographer Will Tuckett.

The influence for their costumes came from the crinoline skirts worn by fashionable women in the 19th Century to protect themselves from smallpox, cholera – and unwanted male advances. …

” ‘The tutu has always been a socially distanced piece of clothing; a stiff skirt that sticks out half a metre from your body. So it’s taking that idea and going “let’s just push it a little bit further,” ‘ says Tuckett. ‘The movement is dictated by them and the dancers have been fantastically adaptive and collaborative. Both male and female dancers wear them and so far there have been no upsets.’ …

“In Tuckett’s production the tutus with [6.5-foot] trains will also act as part of the set, as the production crew are unable to move props during performances due to the risks of the virus.

” ‘We’ll be projecting images onto the skirts,’ says Tuckett, ‘and when the dancers come out on stage it’s hypnotic and other worldly. They also look like sails and flowers when they all open out, they completely fill the space.’

“Nature is at the heart of Lazuli Sky, which stands for ‘bright blue sky’ and focuses on the upsides of the pandemic, such as open skies and birdsong, rather than the downsides. …

” ‘It’s incredible, there were no planes flying, levels of contamination and pollution dropped, and I got to see the beauty of it all,’ says Acosta [of his time in quarantine]. ‘I just hope that people will take notice of this and try and find a solution to help the planet. We want to give people hope.’ …

” ‘It’s unnatural for human beings not to touch and we have this tribal aspect of who we are to be social beings and our art form has always been about interaction physically,’ he says. ‘If you take that away from us, I’m not sure what kind of art form you would get if you’re not able to do Sleeping Beauty touching each other.

” ‘But we will wear masks on stage if we have to, and the dancers and musicians are very disciplined, we take ourselves very seriously in that regard.’ …

“So, is he the man to champion bringing ballet back during the pandemic, particularly having overcome his own challenges growing up in Cuba?

” ‘Well yeah, I just want for the people, especially those in Birmingham, to try and break the stigma that ballet is yesterday and something distant,’ he says. ‘My story, everybody has heard it and what ballet has done for me, and I want to bring that same enthusiasm to everybody, challenge people’s perceptions and do the best I can to achieve diversity and a healthy turnout of audiences from different backgrounds.’ “

More at the BBC, here.

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Photo: Peter Cziborra/Reuters
Tom Moore, 99, a retired British army captain, walks to raise money for health workers in the pandemic. His initial goal was to walk the length of his garden 100 times before his 100th birthday April 30. He did it and is still going strong.

Public Radio International  (PRI) is a wonderful service. It covers stories from around the world with greater depth than most egocentric US outlets. Sometimes PRI’s stories take off, like this one, which you may have already heard from another news source.

It’s about 99-year-old World War II veteran Captain Tom Moore, who feels deep gratitude to the health-care workers who looked after him in previous illnesses and made up his mind to help them during a pandemic that puts them at risk.

From PRI on Instagram: “He did it! Today, 99-year-old World War II veteran Captain Tom Moore achieved the goal he set up for himself earlier this month: to walk the length of his back garden 100 times before his 100th birthday on April 30.

“But Captain Moore didn’t walk just for recreation. He was also raising money for Britain’s national health service (NHS), now strained because of the coronavirus pandemic. He raised an astonishing 16 million GBP, or nearly $20 million — way above his initial fundraising goal of 1,000 GBP, or $1,200.

“Moore said he wanted to thank NHS workers for the care he received while recovering from skin cancer and a broken hip.

‘The patience and the kindness that I’ve got from all of them from top to bottom was absolutely amazing. So, anybody who is helping with me and the National Health Service, I’d be very pleased, because they’ve done so well for me and they’re doing so well for everybody else at the moment,’ Captain Moore said. ‘I think we must say “Well done, National Health Service.” ‘ “

Listen online to the PRI story, here. And do make PRI part of your ongoing routine. Yesterday alone it had a slew of intriguing topics, and its presentation of international music is as good as I’ve heard anywhere:

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It all started with individuals making changes in their lives to avoid single-use plastic, then moved to small shops offering plastic-free shopping. Nothing wrong with that says the UK version of Wired, but what is really needed more is for large supermarket chains to get on board.

Nicole Kobie writes at Wired, “Plastic-free, zero-waste shops — which include Bulk Market and Harmless in London, and Refill Store in Truro, Cornwall — are a utopia for people looking to ditching single-use plastics, and have even inspired (or shamed) some larger retailers into following their lead and cutting down on packaging. …

“Using reusable containers has benefits; it avoids the environmental costs of manufacturing and disposing of single-use plastic packaging and reduces littering. [But] says Simon Aumônier, principal partner at Environmental Resources Management (ERM). ‘The issue is it’s not always as simple as that.’ … The overall environmental impact can be small compared to other choices, such as reducing meat consumption.

“Here’s how to make the most of shopping plastic-free, and why it matters what you buy, where you buy it, and how you carry it home.

“Plastic-free stores require shoppers to bring their own reusable containers (or buy them in-store) in which to ferry home their pasta, nuts and other dry goods.

Shunning single-use plastic means it doesn’t end up in landfill or choking a turtle. ‘Every time you use your own container, you’re cutting down the amount of plastic you would have been responsible for,’ says Clare Oxborrow, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

“However, as with the plastic bag versus reusable tote debate, it matters what you use in place of the single-use plastic packaging, and how often you use it. …

” ‘Replacing a piece of single-use plastic packaging with a Tupperware container means you’ve got maybe ten times the material — therefore you need to reuse it maybe ten or 20 or 100 times before it’s a better solution in material consumption terms,’ says Aumônier. …

” ‘Glass and metal are more robust for the long term and can often then be recycled at the end of their life much more easily than plastic can,’ says Oxborrow. ‘Because of the way the system is set up, only about nine per cent of plastic ever made has been recycled. [We] have to stop using so much plastic in the first place.’ …

“There is a reason single-use plastic is used for packaging: it works. One study shows that cucumbers wrapped in plastic stay fresh for up to two weeks longer than ‘naked’ ones. And a cucumber that gets chucked in the compost bin is a waste of water and transport (and related emissions), regardless of how it was packaged. … Pasta, nuts and the like have a longer shelf-life, so are less likely to be wasted once brought home, and less likely to get damaged in store. …

“Biodegradable plastics are seen as one solution, but [Helen Bird, resource management specialist at WRAP] warns they aren’t necessarily as green as they may seem, as they also require fossil fuels to produce and often aren’t actually compostable. ‘To a large degree, the infrastructure that we have in place at the moment in the UK is not set up to make those plastics actually compost,’ she says – meaning they end up in landfill or are incinerated.

“Budgens in Thornton swapped paper for plastic bags on bread, Bird notes, but that led to problems as shoppers couldn’t see what they were buying. Sales slumped. … The supermarket has now found the right balance, with one store offering 1,700 plastic-free products, showing alternatives can be found.

“Plastic-free stores are usually locally-run businesses, and stock locally-produced food. While that has social benefits, whether local production has environmental benefits depends on the food in question. … How you get to the store also matters. If you’re walking or taking the bus to a local zero-waste store, you’re doing it right. …

“Local, simpler shopping doesn’t require a zero-waste store, of course — old-fashioned local butchers and greengrocers also fit the bill, though many high streets now lack them. ‘A lot of them shut down because they can’t compete with the supermarkets,’ notes Oxborrow. And that means we get into cars and drive to buy plastic-wrapped cucumbers instead. …

“Sarah Laidler, an analyst at the Carbon Trust, notes it’s best to buy locally grown and in-season, and to eat fruits and vegetables quickly so packaging isn’t required. ‘But vegetables don’t account for the bulk of carbon emissions in most people’s diets.’

“And then there’s processing. Those jars of dry beans and other ingredients are light to transport and easy to store, but require home cooking. …

Rather than try to calculate the merits of canned chickpeas versus dry, it makes more sense to make changes we know work, says Aumônier, such as only boiling the amount of water needed for a cup of tea and putting a lid on a saucepan to keep heat escaping.

” ‘These things can dramatically multiply the impact of the food and they’re easily overlooked.’ Laidler adds: ‘A key step Pepsi took to reduce the emissions of its Quaker Porridge Oats was to cook them more in the factory, so it was then cooked less at home.’ …

“And that’s the core issue at the heart of plastic-free stores: there are bigger changes we could make more easily. That doesn’t negate the positive impact of zero-waste shops, notes Bird, as they act as gateways to encouraging people to think when they shop — and they help shame larger supermarkets into action.

“Supermarkets are starting to clean up their act, albeit slowly. [It’s] better for everyone if the supermarkets themselves also change their practices, so the least amount of single-use plastic is used even for those who aren’t within striking distance of progressive shops in Dalston or Cornwall. ‘Ultimately we need to see the supermarkets embracing reuse culture,’ Bird says.” More at Wired, here.

You might be interested in etee, where I just bought a dish soap I’m testing to cut down on plastic bottles and the fossil-fuel consumption involved in transporting what is essentially a lot of water and only a little soap. And for coffee drinkers who compost, consider Dean’s Beans. However, you do need a really robust compost pile to break the bags down, we’ve found.

Part of the movement to bring your own containers to takeout restaurants or as a “doggy bag” after dining out is a shop is in Providence, RI.

020320-bring-your-own-container

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Photo: Karen Robinson/The Observer
Cartoonist Simone Lia can’t resist painting worms, but her interests go way beyond humble invertebrates.

I happened to run into two very different stories about comics yesterday and thought I would make a post referencing both. The featured article is an interview with Observer cartoonist Simone Lia. Kate Kellaway was the interviewer.

” ‘Whenever I was between projects,’ says Simone Lia – comic-strip cartoonist in the Observer and author of a new children’s book, The Secret Time Machine and the Gherkin Switcheroo, about the unlikely friendship between a bird and a worm – ‘I couldn’t stop painting worms. I didn’t know why.’ …

“She knew enough, she goes on, to know she should pay attention to this obsession. And, with a laugh, she explains she realised how much she admired the character of the worm:

‘They’re very humble, live in the ground, do good work, get on with it.’ These qualities, she says, ‘I’d like for myself.’

“If this sounds like a Christian aspiration, it will not surprise Lia’s many fans. In 2011, she beguiled readers with the book that made her name: Please God, Find Me a Husband! The belief in God was no joke. But the book was very funny.

“In one irresistible sequence, Lia, whose boyfriend had just ended their relationship by email, walks disconsolately across Leicester Square. She hears the lyrics of INXS’s Need You Tonight playing from a bar and believes God is communicating with her. Before long, in her mind’s eye, she is dancing friskily with God – a bearded, bespectacled bloke in a pale blue, calf-length dress. Her story leads her to a religious order in Wales (‘I’m so not going to find a husband hanging out with nuns’) and to Australia, where she meets a handsome horseman who, in the way of handsome horsemen, disappears over the horizon.

“It is eight years since that book was published (it has five worms on one of its opening pages). As we sit down in Lia’s front room, I ask how long it took God to get his act together. ‘Ten years,’ she says. …

“Her latest children’s book … The Secret Time Machine and the Gherkin Switcheroo describes the challenge of living with an old bird who does the crossword puzzle and does not want to go out, and a worm who dreams of wriggling back underground. Having said that, the worm overturns Lia’s definition of wormdom by mainly living above ground and by not being humble at all. He swings between feeling he is worthless and believing himself a genius. …

“In the interests of honesty, she feels she should not leave out ‘the dark bit’ of her life. … ‘Putting things mildly, there was a lot of fighting at home. I felt very alone and felt even Jesus was not listening to my prayers – it felt like he did not care. That is when I stopped praying, became interested in art. Drawing and painting was an escape. I could enter another world and forget about feeling lonely or afraid. … That might be how Fluffy came about.’

“Fluffy (2007) was a graphic novel about the relationship between a rabbit and the floundering human being he thinks of as his dad. It looks like a children’s book but isn’t. … It was while researching for Fluffy in Sicily (the rabbit goes on hols there) that Lia rediscovered God. A randomly encountered Mormon asked her whether she still prayed. She went into a baroque church, but all she could think of was to ask God for a better hotel room (she feared she had been staying in a brothel).

“ ‘Despite my rubbishy prayer, I felt something out of the world in that moment. It’s very hard to explain but it was as if my heart opened up. … From that moment, something shifted inside of me.”

Read more about Lia and how her life has affected her comics here. And for a completely different take on cartoons, read the Paris Review article on comics as poetry, here.

On second thought, tying religion to comics and tying poetry to comics may not be so different after all. Depends on where you’re coming from.

In the Paris Review, Ivan Brunetti explains why comic strips like “Jump Shot,” by Lynda Barry (below), deserve to be called poetry.

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Photo: Charlie Burrell/ Knepp Estate Castle
Longhorn cattle were chosen for a UK “rewilding” project as stand-ins for their extinct ancestor, the auroch.

Here’s a concept that was new to me: “rewilding” the countryside — that is, bringing the land back to an earlier and less developed state.

At the radio show Living on Earth, we learn that a UK couple was able to turn a large, unprofitable farm into a profitable one by letting the land go back to nature.

“BOBBY BASCOMB: When writer Isabella Tree and her husband, Charlie Burrell, inherited an estate in West Sussex, England, they assumed they would continue to farm as generations of family had before them. But the intensive agriculture of their predecessors grew increasingly difficult, and they decided that farming was no longer a viable option. So they began to mull over another idea: Give the land back to nature and let it take its course. Isabella Tree’s recent book is titled Wilding, and its the story of what happened to the land when they gave up farming and let nature take the reins. …

“ISABELLA TREE: We inherited this piece of land from my husband’s grandparents [in] the 1980s. And it had been intensively farmed for ever since pretty much the Second World War. [But] the farm was losing money hand over fist. [We] kept buying … bigger machines, throwing more pesticide, more fertilizer, more nitrates, built bigger dairies and changed our types of cows to more higher-milk-yielding cows. …

“We tried contract farming [and] sold all our farm equipment. It was a very, very black day. … Charlie’s ancestors have been here since the Nash castle was built two hundred and twenty or so years ago. It really isn’t for us an option to sell. [We’re] stewards of this land, and we can’t just sell up and move out. …

“BASCOMB: Well, how did you even come up with that alternative? I mean, for most farmers, I think it’s probably pretty counterintuitive to just let the land go. I mean, that’s not what you do as a farmer.

“TREE: It is a very, very difficult thing to do, you’re absolutely right. …

“BASCOMB: You talk a lot in your book about the importance of introducing herbivores. What animals did you introduce and why? …

“TREE: We had to introduce animals that we knew would be able to survive outside all year round without supplementary feeding, that would be able to fend for themselves even in a harsh or wet winter. So, we chose old breeds, we chose Old English Longhorn, wonderful cows with great white finching stripe down their backs and great big horns. And then Exmoor ponies, one of our oldest breeds of horse, they are fantastic at surviving, out in any landscape. Very, very hardy, indeed. And Tamworth pigs, another old breed that’s very closely related to Iberian swine. So, they’re the closest we felt that we could get with an English variety of pig to the wild boar. And then we had roe deer here already in low numbers. And then we introduced fallow deer and red deer. …

“BASCOMB: What does it look like? What does it smell like, even sound like, and how is that different from what you started with? …

TREE: When you walk around Knepp today is the sound of insects, for a start. On a day like this, it’s a hot, sunny day, you’ve just got the sound of crickets and grasshoppers, you’ve got bees, you’ve got hover flies, you’ve got every sort of insect out there. It’s thick with insects. If you go out there on a bicycle, you have to wear sunglasses or, you know, because you’re getting insects in your eyes. …

“This used to be the norm 50 years ago. But in the era of pesticides, we just don’t see insects anymore. So the sound of insects is astonishing. And then, of course you’ve got the bird song, surround sound bird song. Go out into the thickets, it’s sort of like the African scrub. … It’s a wonderful thing to be sitting in the middle of.

“But it’s a double edged sword because we now go on walks in other places in the UK, places where we always used to enjoy, you know, an hour or two to walk, and now we notice what isn’t there. And it’s that, it’s what Aldo Leopold called that sadness, that tragedy of having an ecological education. You know what isn’t there and what could be there, what should be there. …

“We literally haven’t introduced anything apart from the free-roaming animals. So, they’ve all found us on their own. [We] have 13 out of the 18 breeding species of bat in the UK. One of them called the Bechstein’s bat is so rare, it’s rare even in Europe. … We have Peregrine Falcons, we have them nesting in a tree. Usually you associate Peregrine falcons with cliffs and clifftops. They nest in steeples and cathedrals, but not in a tree. Nightingales are another species that is associated with woodland, but at Knepp they’re taking up territories our exploding hedgerows and our thorny scrub. And so they’re choosing a very different habitat because it’s suddenly available to them. So, it’s really changing the science books, we’ve forgotten that this is where nightingales love to be.

“And I think that’s one of the lessons from Knepp, is that we’re so used to seeing species in a very, very depleted landscape, that that’s where we think they want to be. But in fact, they’re often clinging on by their fingernails to habitat that just isn’t optimal for them. And where they’d much rather be is in the kind of habitat that we’re presenting for them at Knepp.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: FNRttC /Night Ride Cycling UK
UK participants in the Friday Night Ride to the Coast enjoy the casual pace. Smaller, more family-oriented night riding can be found in cities like Cleveland.

I’ve been meaning to write on this topic for ages — ever since I started seeing Mary Ann’s joyful Facebook posts on cycling at night with friends, family, and like-minded strangers in Cleveland.

In an article by Sam Walker at the Guardian, we learn that night cycling is a thing in England, too, but for more miles.

Walker writes that the Friday Night Ride to the Coast is a “carefully organised event run by the ‘Fridays,’ a club devoted to the singular cause of safely delivering you at a conversational pace from the Smoke to the sea. They do this every month from spring through autumn, requiring only third party insurance and an annual membership fee of £2.

“The FNRttC, as it’s known to veterans, has been spreading the joy of night riding for almost 15 years, flying quietly under the radar of most cyclists. …

“It was started by Simon Legg, who spent a decade escorting thousands to Brighton, Whitstable and other destinations with decent transport links. When he retired he entrusted his legacy to a group of seasoned ride leaders who take turns as mother hen.

“The distance ranges from 55 to 75 miles, and popular routes can attract more than 100 participants. There are tail-end Charlies and human waymarkers, sometimes recruited on the spot, to ensure nobody is lost or left behind.

“Rides begin at midnight with a chat about safety and etiquette, jokes optional. Mechanical problems along the way are met with expert assistance, though you’re advised to give your bike a thorough checkup beforehand. …

“It’s a great social mixer, but there are also opportunities for solitude as you pull each other along on an invisible stretchy rope. Punctures are a communal affair. ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ one of the minders will more or less transmit to the front, and so all will wait, grateful it wasn’t them. This time. …

“We ride at night because it’s there, conveniently out of the way of the usual routine. Less traffic is a bonus, but magic moments are made of more than this.

“There’s the moon, for a start: those times when it paints the road silver and the mist mysterious, inviting you to dabble in poetry. When not moonstruck, the darkness itself is the draw, a coverlet silencing the day’s concerns, yet granting permission for thoughts to drift forever out into space. …

There are bats and badgers and other nocturnal creatures clocking in, which helps rouse you out of any stupor you may have been falling into. Hills become easier. Shrouded in mystery, their summits mere conjecture, they are far less daunting.

“But possibly the biggest draw is the intimacy of cycling with people all on the same mission, getting a buzz off their energy, their tired happy faces in the morning’s light a mirror of your own.

“ ‘Why are you doing this?’ I’ve asked fellow riders … Answers ranged from: ‘I’m getting miles in to help with Paris-Brest-Paris’ – a 1,200km jolly – to: ‘My friend talked me into it.’ There were plenty of dreamy shrugs: ‘Why not?’ … For some, it’s an answer to a question they may not even have been aware they’d been asking themselves.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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