In The Gardens, August 2017

The co-incidence of horticulturally-inclined guests and a strangely glorious sunny Bank Holiday weekend prompted a series of garden visits in and around Oxfordshire.

We spent time in the Harcourt Arboretum and at the Oxford Botanic Gardens and a bit further afield visited the National Trust gardens at Hidcote and the amazing Kiftsgate Court Gardens just next door.  If I wasn't enthusing about rewilding somewhere I could happily take over Kiftsgate (particularly the steep bit looking down to the swimming pool!)

Colours just starting to change at the Harcourt Arboretum

Hidcote Gardens

Hidcote Gardens

Swimming Pool at Kiftsgate


Oxford Botanic Garden

And then we weren't out and about, we were mostly in the garden. :-)

Feels like Autumn, Shetland August 2017

Down in the far south (and I mean England) there is this slightly daft idea that August is a Summer month.  The schools are shut, and it feels the main hazard in most workplaces is of being rolled over by passing tumbleweed. And the weather is usually rubbish.  August might still be sort of warm, but it’s wet with it.

Up in the North (and I mean Scotland) the school summer holidays are earlier (i.e. in the summer) and once you get to mid-August to kids are back at school and life is returning to what passes for normal.

This weekend on Shetland felt like the start of Autumn.

The weather switched from sun to rain and back. The wind changed direction and strength dramatically over three or four days. To add this sense of early Autumn, this is the Quiet Time on the bird cliffs.  A few weeks ago the cliffs were buzzing with puffins and guillemots, they’ve all gone now, and even the chattering fulmar don’t feel the need to raise their voices so much.  It’s also still a wee bit too early for the autumn migrants to start flooding the island.

Low cloud over Fitful Head

Scat Ness

West side of St Ninian's Isle

Clear to the Horizon, Fair Isle with Lady's Holm in the foreground

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse in the evening sunshine

One Summer tradition that seems to still be in full force around Shetland is the visiting orcas.  This summer has been a bumper one for orca around the Shetland coastline (and probably a pretty rubbish one if you are one of the resident seals).  There have been a couple of pods working the coast line quite regularly. This weekend we had a passing visit from Knott and Hulk.  These big male orca are regularly seen around Iceland, but this summer have been spotted around the Pentland Firth and Fair Isle.  I’ve been lucky enough to see orca in quite a few places, but I was starting to feel a bit narked that I’d not see them from Sumburgh Head before!  It’s hard not to say Wow, when you see how fast these animals can move through the water.

Knott and Hulk approaching

Knott passes Sumburgh at full speed

And if you want to see a few more picture from the weekend - they're on Flickr

Mid-Wales August 2017

A trip to Wales is starting to look like an annual fixture in my diary.  After managing to ‘avoid’ visiting for several years, the promise of a good discussion about rewilding lured me to North Wales last autumn, and now the promise of an even better workshop on rewilding drew me back again last week, this time to mid-Wales.
The main event was at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth - there’s a separate blog post about the excellent workshop I was doing there.  
The Centre for Alternative Technology is well worth a visit if you are in the area - it’s an inspiring glimpse of many ways of living more greenly - and there’s a splendid water-powered cliff railway if the walk up from the car park to the centre looks too daunting.
CAT Water-powered railway
Centre for Alternative Technology 

CAT isn’t the only attraction in the area. The Dovey Estuary is beautiful, and has the RSPB Ynys Hir reserve on it’s southern side.  
Dovey Estuary 
Ynys Hir

A bit further south gets you to Aberystwyth - a mix of holiday resort and university town looking out onto Cardigan Bay.  And it’s got it’s own cliff railway too - the landscape in this part of the country seems to lend itself to cliff railways. 
Aberystwyth marina
Aberystwyth Pier
Aberystwyth cliff railway 
Looking onto Cardigan Bay

On the north side of the Dovey is the rather sleepier (at first glance at least) town of Aberdovey.  Is this where one retreats to when the bright lights of Abersytwyth become too much?

Aberdovey Beach

And the weather.  It’s fashionable to make jokes about the Welsh weather, and indeed the idea of a water-power cliff railway would be of limited use in a drought zone. It did indeed rain (and rain very heavily) for some of my time in mid-Wales, but the sun also shone.  In fact the sun managed to shine brightly pretty much any time that my timetable required me to be outside, so all in all, I really can’t complain about the Welsh weather

Whatever next? Maybe south Wales next year!

Rewilding 101

I was delighted to be able to spend a long weekend on a three-day introduction to rewilding course at the Centre for Alternative Technology recently.  This course (and I certainly hadn’t seen anything similar elsewhere) gave a really thorough and engaging introduction to many strands of rewilding.   It was good to finally get to visiting CAT, I'd been a shareholder at one point in the very distant past, but had never managed to get round to visiting.

CAT Water-powered cliff railway

The course helped the 15 attendees (from a huge range of backgrounds, some with lots of really good relevant background knowledge!) to get their heads around topics as diverse as our changing relationship with nature, historical attitudes to nature and wildlife, the many ecological, geographical and political drivers relevant to rewilding, strategies for rewilding, land management and financial issues and also the development of a geographical understanding of rewilding. All this was illustrated with an excellent range of case studies both on screen and in the countryside around the Centre in Machynlleth.

Field Trip 1 - south of the Dovey Estuary


Dovey Estuary


One of the things that really struck me was the vast range of different approaches to rewilding that can and have been tried.  I was already aware of two of the extreme approaches – from the top down (the approach of Paul Lister at Alladale  and big carnivore introduction) to the bottom up (Alan Watson Featherstone and Trees for Life and restoration of the Caledonian Forest).  I was also already aware of the sterling work being done by the John Muir Trust in returning a range of properties to a more natural (and sustainable) condition, and of Rewilding Britain starting to establish large scale pilot projects in England, Scotland and Wales.
I hadn’t previously taken on board the range of active and passive strategies for rewilding (based on how much one wants, or is able, to intervene in a landscape), or indeed of the more scientific strategies for figuring out what ‘should’ be in a particular landscape (as has been done at Carrifran in the south of Scotland).  I also hadn’t given much thought to the importance of ecological networks – allowing different areas of recovered or recovering land to interact with each other. I certainly hadn’t really understood a lot of the funding streams that drive what currently happens in the British countryside (although Brexit has the potential to divert or dam a lot of those streams).

Field Trip 2 - The Old Quarry at CAT - abandoned 60 years ago

Guess the age?  Trees above the CAT Quarry

Passive rewilding underway above CAT

I had already been trying to get my head around the practical aspects of rewilding with a view to looking for a suitable area of land somewhere in the country – but I certainly hadn’t got to the stage of contemplating using drones to replant inaccessible areas. 
If you want to watch some videos about rewilding you could start with these 

Thank you to Kara Moses for co-ordinating the whole event, and to Mick Green, Steve Carver and Dave Gurnett for sharing their expertise and enthusiasm.

My next task is to figure out if I can find somewhere to put my new found knowledge to work.