Monday, 9 June 2014

Sparrowhawks and Ducklings

I've been lucky enough this year to be able to follow the story of our local Sparrowhawk pair at the nest, today I've spent the majority of my time in the little hide. The first chick hatched this morning, allowing me to witness some of its first feeds, I also had the privilege of seeing the musket at the nest, a rare sight !

This evening I had a quick trip along to Holywell, the pond held 17 Mallard, 2 Grey Heron, 13 Tufted, 5 Pochard, 3 Coot, 4 Little Grebe, 1 Moorhen, 1 Canada Goose with 5 goslings, the cob Mute Swan, 2 Reed Warbler, 1 Sedge Warbler, and 5 Gadwall including this female with 9 ducklings !

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Shed Roof

I spent some time sitting on our shed roof today, watching the comings and goings of our feathered  garden inhabitants.

After 10 years, the House Sparrows have decided to pitch up in the terraced box !

Starlings have made use of this box since we put it up, sometimes having up to three broods.

The Collared Doves are busy prospecting our tree in the front, as are the Woodpigeons.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Friday, 25 April 2014

Unleashing the Wild Side of Belsay

I'm beginning a work based blog at , giving a behind the screens look at some of the projects I get involved with, with the thoughts and ideas that they create.

Here's my first post from earlier in the week.

For the past two days I’ve been privileged to spend some time working with Chris Harman, from The Den Building Experiment, as part of English Heritage’s ‘Unleashing the Wild Side of Belsay’, producing a promotional film for future events.

Chris is the first person I’ve met whose title reads,  ‘The Den Builder’, and the first person I’ve ever heard of whose profession is building dens. When I first met Chris back in February I couldn’t get past the thought of how sad it was that his job had to exist. It took me back to my school Summer Holidays, where almost everyday, from dusk till dawn, was spent buildings dens, making fires and exploring our small patches of woods. I was under no illusion that few kids build dens, or even spend time in the woods in this ‘modern’ age, so much so that just last week when I spotted a little lean-to den in the woods, it brought a huge smile to my face.

Spending time in the woods on my doorstep, building dens, making fires, wandering observing nature, has been one of the main influences on my development as a person, on my career and my life. I still walk in those same woods today.  This is why, once you look past what we have lost, you can see why Chris’s job is not only amazing, but essential! The Den Building Experiment site states

‘We believe that the experiences of den building is fundamental to children’s development, allowing them to learn through play and exploration. Despite the proven value of den building activities, research suggests that it is dying out. Through engaging and inspiring people, our aim is to preserve the art of den building, providing opportunities to learn a broad range of skills, including team work, problem solving, mathematical skills and creativity’.

Not only is Chris inspiring the younger generations, but he’s also re-inspiring the older ones too. Today we’ve had the weather on our side, blue sky and a lovely warm sun, in the beautiful Quarry Gardens of Belsay Hall. Its attracted a variety of people out, from young to old, very few walked past without engaging in conservation about the Belsay Wildman, the Den itself, but mainly (from the older generations) reminisces of there childhood dens. You could see their eyes light up as they recounted their experiences, digging underground dens with roofs of corrugated iron, cooking on metholated spirits and fires, every little detail describe as if it was yesterday. Dens had obviously played an important, and happy part of their lives.

When was the last time you seen children in the woods building dens? Childhood is now mainly an indoor, structured lifestyle, with very few ‘wild’ children kicking about. I feel that its important not to forget about the older generations, mainly parents, when you talk about inspiring children, as they are the main part of the problem, along with schools, public perception and the police. On Easter Sunday an article was published in the Chronicle, titled ‘Mum hits out after police called to deal with children building a den in Warkworth Woods’. Taking the article with a pinch of salt, the main problems still ring true, local residents complained (public perception) and the police responded telling the children to dismantle the den and ‘leave the woods’. I was in a similar situation a few times when I was kid, once being put in the back of a riot van, suspected of taking drugs when I was out looking for a Sparrowhawk nest, and told to ‘not go in the woods again’, thankfully I didn’t listen, but where would I be if I had?

The lack of kids outdoors isn’t a recent trait, it’s been slowly building over the years and has been heavily documented in America by authors such as Richard Louv. William J Long spotted the trend back in 1903! Despite this, I feel trends are changing, thanks to a number of organisations and individuals making a difference. Children are starting to become wild again.

Unleashing the Wild Side of Belsay will be running all Summer, inspired by the story of the Wild Man, the Middleton’s protector for over 600 years, an uncivilized, hairy and strong being that live in the forest and mountain wildernesses on the edge of civilised society. By the 17th century it is said that the Wildman had come to be seen as a noble savage, protecting civilised society. Changing the perception of the wilderness from frightening to celebrated.

Chris will be back for ‘Wild Week at Belsay’ from Sat 24th May- Sunday 1st June, helping (and inspiring) children build their very own Wildman Dens.

Monday, 7 April 2014


Progress I’m told, progression to what, the end?

The Green Belt is a brilliant idea, its unfortunate that it doesn’t live up to its name, it should be called the ‘progression zone’, or more aptly encroachment zone, with every sq metre of green land steadily getting encroached upon, with the blight of an urban lifestyle.

‘Suburban’ estates which are increasingly devoid of green, 3 metre front gardens, gravelled, with big steel fences enclosing them, wider tarmac paths and roads, houses squeezed side by side with just enough space to fit a wheelie bin down. Boxed back gardens with huge fences, like mini fortresses designed to keep everything out out and everything in in. Like the buildings themselves, no holes, no chance of a gap in the eaves, facer boards, or tiles, nowhere for insects to make their homes, never mind, House Sparrows, Starlings, Swifts, and Bats.

At least there’s still some wildlife corridors, the little voice in my head says, unfortunately not, wildlife corridors to what, monoculture crops? Wildlife unfriendly farms? And with 200 houses brings at least two hundred people, more like 800, and where do their gardens back onto? Where do they walk their dogs? The bottleneck that is now the ‘wildlife corridor’, 10 metres wide at the most, cleared of any greenery. The wildlife has nowhere to go but up or down, no escape into the impenetrable fortresses.

So in the end, a fragmented habitat, loosing its possibilities of what ifs, changing behaviours of its resident species, and cutting off those childhood lands. You can only hope that the time its been given has been enough, enough to develop those unique habitats, developed them enough to inspire people to protect them, or the endless goal of progression (greed) continues.

As I watch those dark storm clouds pass over ahead and the brilliant orange sun sets, I know all will be well in the end. It won’t be the end they were expecting, nature will reclaim its lost lands.

Sunday, 16 February 2014


For the past two winters there's been sporadic sightings of Bittern at Holywell Pond, this is most likely a wintering bird, but due to the vast reed-bed, and ponds to the West, its only been seen on the main pond a handful of times, normally in flight.

Today I had a text from BD, saying 'Bittern at Holywell, in reeds in front of North Wood'. Alan and Sid had seen it fly across the pond and land in the reeds opposite the hide, but it hadn't moved (in sight) for half an hour. I sat until dusk, with no joys. I'll catch up with it someday !

The White-Fronted Goose was still amongst the Greylag flock, in the field on the way down to the pond.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014


It's been quiet on the wildlife front of late, mainly due to the confinement of edit based work, but I've been reading quite a bit to make up for it. The latest book being that of Feral, by George Monbiot, A' Search for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding', it delves into modern day thought and conservation, the shifting base-line syndrome, and the discussion of rewilding, whats possible, what can be done, what has been done. George opens your eyes to the true meaning of rewilding, and creates some bold statements along the way. Overall it makes you dream, dream of possibilities, dream of changes, dream of the wild, but it also made me gain a different perspective on things.

I've grown up in Whitley Bay, on the edge of the Green Belt, the forefront of housing development. My passion for the natural world developed in areas of land which were left around the housing estates, wastelands as some people call them. I've always seen them as wild, but it wasn't until reading Feral that it dawned on me, these areas are wildernesses. After the initial act which creates them, either planting, surface works, or just dereliction, they are by majority, left free to naturally grow and develop.

Unfortunately these are seen as wasteland sites, and sites which are said they can't be built on, in the end are. We have two larger areas left, one a mix of concrete bricks, grassland and hawthorns, the other a planted wood and a now stunning meadow. The rest consists of fragment 30-40 year woodland, and 20 year old shelter belts. One of these fragmented woodlands I've been familiar with since a child. Although its size is deceiving this is the wildest place I know, its like stepping into a place that had been forgotten, by man anyway. In the summer the floor is dominated by greenery, sticky weed up to your chest, giving home to the Fox, but also species which are associated with old woodland, such as the Speckled Wood Butterfly. The only pair of Blackcaps in my estate breeds there, and its also home to my favourite species, the Sparrowhawk, raising its family undisturbed here for as long as I can remember.

I believe these areas are vital for children's connection to nature in an urban environment, but also vital for nature itself, they contain so much more diversity than the nearby monoculture farmland. If you haven't read it already, Feral is definitely worth picking up.

Delving into the next book, traits from Feral can be followed through, but this time more to do with rewilding of the human spirit. The Nature Principle by Richard Louv looks at 'Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit-Disorder'. Richard introduced the concept of the nature-defecit-order in his last book, 'The Last Child of the Woods' (definitely worth a read), where he found children where lacking in skills, life, and even developing illnesses through the lack of contact with nature. Inspiring is an understatement for The Last Child of the Woods, I'm only a few chapters into The Nature Principle, but it is already just as inspiring. Richard looks at our faith in technology, good and bad, how it can be a struggle to let it go, and how the powers of nature are still overlooked.

Due to the nature of my work, technology plays a huge part in my everyday life, and I'm guilty of letting it take over at times, especially in terms of social media. Technology and nature can work together to form something even better, but Richard Louv says that your time in nature has to be greater than that of your time in technology, so that it doesn't eat you up completely. Recently its eaten me up, so I've been rewilding myself over these past few days.

Hide and Seek with a Little Owl.

Today I've spent some time attempting to photograph wildfowl on one of the Hadrian Wall Loughs, I've visited Killingworth Lake and Holywell Pond, but most importantly I spent a few hours in the woods, stalking Roe Deer. Stalking an animal has to be the best way of connecting with nature, all your senses come into play, you feel the wind on your cheek, you touch the ground, searching for those quiet spots, you use your peripheral vision to look for movement, you listen to the surroundings, and you even smell the air, all this comes together with little conscious effort, but it instantly takes you into the wood, not just through it, into it, into the home of the Roe Deer.

Getting close to these animals, in their home, the place they know where every tree stands, where every track leads, where their own senses are perfectly in tune, is a unbelievable privilege, not because they've accepted you, but because you've managed to traverse their home as part of the wood, as an object of the natural world, not as a man.

A Doe looks up as the shutter goes, and a Buck feeds behind.