About Me

Hello and welcome to my nature writing blog. My name is Jill Stanton-Huxton and I am a freelance writer with a passion for the natural world. I am a volunteer and member of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), World Wildlife Fund, British Hedgehog Preservation Society, UK Butterfly Conservation, Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hosptial and BBONT (UK Wildlife Trusts). Please feel free to comment on my posts and if you’ve enjoyed your visit please come again! You can also find me on my facebook page: Nature Notes of a Country Girl. Best wishes, Jill

Friday, 9 December 2016


Snowdrop

Did you know the snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is a member of the daffodil family. It is often abundant in woods, hedges, stream-sides and churchyards in late winter. Evidence suggests that it is an ancient introduction frequently associated with both pagan and christian sites and is the symbolic flower of the feast of Candlemas.

My winter Snowdrop Haiku:

Sturdy, sweet scented
Galanthophiles delight
The winter gala


Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The Private Life of an English Field - Meadowland


I’ve recently read this beautiful book by the writer and farmer, John Lewis-Stempel. It won the Wainwright Prize for 2015.

The book is about the passing months and seasons of an ancient meadow (on the edge of Wales) with all its wildlife. It brought back memories of my own carefree childhood, growing up in an English country village in the 1970’s. Days were spent playing in haystacked fields during the long, lazy days of summer and down country lanes, where hedgerows were bursting with blackberries, in the autumn.

To quote John Lewis-Stempel “it’s the sort of field where, as you step in, you breathe out.” A mountain river runs along the eastern edge of the field and two oaks, with elephant trunk thick roots (around 700 years old) remain as evidence of when the land was wooded. A kingfisher flies along the river, never deviating from its course, a small copse is home to foxes, a pair of ravens roost in nearby trees, rabbits graze near their warrens and the old boar badger (with his dragging back leg) patrols his territory. 

One year he decides to let the meadow ‘go’, instead of moving livestock around in it. As a result, in late June the meadow is bursting with wildflowers and he realises that, once upon a time, it would have been a hay meadow. Sadly, 97% of traditional meadows have now disappeared due to intensively managed farmland.

When it is ready to be mown, he decides to do it the old fashioned way – with a scythe. However, he notices the curlew and meadow pipit are still on their nests, and so as not to disturb them, he mows around them – leaving them ‘afloat’ on their own meadow islands.

On one beautiful Midsummer Eve he goes for a walk on the farm and his three horses and donkey surround him like a merry-go-round. For a few moments he wonders what they are doing – then the donkey and one of the horses tug at his sleeve and he realises they are playing and want him to join in!

To sum it up, it’s one of those books that you remember long after you have finished reading it – and probably like me you will want to read it again and again. So, if you just read one nature book this year, make it this one. You won’t be disappointed, I promise!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

If you go down to the wood today...


My husband and I went for a walk in our local wood a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful day and as we were walking along, enjoying the sunshine, something about the wood felt different to me. At first I wasn’t sure what it was, then I realised that for the first time it actually felt and looked like a ‘real’ wood.  

We’ve been visiting the wood for several years now, since we became members of the Woodland Trust. Part of our membership package included having a tree dedicated to us. So one autumn morning we packed up our binoculars and camera and set out to try and find ‘our new tree’.  Windmill Piece wood was established by The Woodland Trust as a ‘Millennium wood’ so at the time the trees were just saplings with many less than six feet tall.  

Over the years we’ve seen the wood gradually ‘growing up’ and maturing through the changing seasons. In the early years we noticed some of the saplings died over the harsh winter months and then as the remaining ones continued to grow the trees were regularly thinned out to make more space for them.  And a few years ago “ridings” were made that run through the middle of the wood adding a further stage to its development.  

Today, many of those young saplings are now over 30 feet tall and provide a shady woodland canopy beneath their leafy branches. And on either side of one of the “ridings” the trees branches are so long they form a natural archway as they lean over and shake hands with their neighbours.  

I don’t think it’s just us that has noticed this difference either - so has the ‘wild world’.  On recent visits we’ve seen a green woodpecker foraging on the ground for food a pair of Red Kites circling over the woodland canopy and heard Sky Larks singing in the field on the edge of the wood. 

Recently as a member of Butterfly Conservation we went to the wood for a picnic and to do their Annual Butterfly Count. The count only last fifteen minutes and amazingly during that brief amount of time I recorded eleven types of butterflies – Large White, Small White, Green Veined White, Marbled White, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Speckled Wood, Painted Lady and Small Tortoiseshell.

Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough to entice us back to the wood during the autumn months, it now provides us with blackberries for our apple and blackberry pies and sloe’s for our winter tipple of sloe gin.

Finally, to quote the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds recent advert - if you create a home for nature...nature will come.

 

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Perfumier and the Stinkhorn


Over the last few years there has been a renaissance in nature writing and, as such, an abundance of excellent books to read. As a result I’ve been unable to pass a bookshop over the last few months without popping in and seeing what they have on their shelves to tantalise my senses.

One of my favourites, which I read this summer, is the rather wonderfully titled ‘The Perfumier and the Stinkhorn’, written by one of the UK’s greatest nature writers, Richard Mabey. He is the author of some thirty books, including the beautifully written and thought provoking ‘Nature Cure’ which was shortlisted for the Whitbread, Ondaatje and Ackerley Awards.

‘The Perfumier and the Stinkhorn’ is a pocket sized A5 book of six short essays which explore how our sensory responses (sight, taste, smell, touch and sound) influence our interactions with and attitudes towards nature. His aim when writing this book was, in his own words, “to attempt to marry up the Romantics view of the world with the meticulousness of the scientist.”

Like any great nature writing book, not only does it reawaken the reader’s own innate passion for nature - it also leads them on new explorations and discoveries of the natural world. To whet your appetite here are just a few fascinating facts from the book:

The nineteenth century poet, John Clare, objected to the oppression of living things in the name of science. He was always excited to find new species of plant or insect but had no desire to kill the butterfly by sticking it on a cork board with a pin. Instead he would patiently watch it settle and then get nearer to it to see the powdered colour of its wings.

He also had a very visual take on the natural world and insisted that other organisms had perspectives too. On his walks, he would ‘drop down’ peering closely at the earth and scribble notes on old scraps of paper or seed packets.  In his poem ‘To the Snipe’ he pictures the snipe from its own point of view – and in doing so captures the boggy habitat of its home.

The American poet, Gary Snyder, in his essay ‘Unnatural Writing’ argues that ‘conventional natural history and science writing are “naively realistic” they unquestionably view nature from the perspective of the front-mounted bifocal human eye.’

Interestingly, in a kind of mirror image of John Clare’s swamp, it was only in the 1980s that a group of French biologists discovered (by looking at it from a different perspective: from above) that the top storey of the rainforest, thought to be seen previously as just a canopy for more important environmental business below, probably contains more than half of all earth’s plant and animal species!

Finally, did you know that the shower of rain on dry earth has a name? Its called ‘petrichor’ and it’s the perfumed essences from such things as flower petals, pollens and resins that are washed into the earth and then absorbed by porous stones and clay. When warm rain falls again this is released back into the air and rekindles our memories of these ingredients.

Natural smells are also all part of a complex messaging system between plant and plant and animal and plant. For example Mopane trees in Africa (a favourite food of elephants) send out a warning message to other trees that they are being browsed. However, elephants are wise to this trick and eat only a few leaves from each tree then move up wind to new trees. Colin Tudge wrote ‘we can’t hear the trees calling to each other, but the air is abuzz with their conversations none the less, conducted in vaporous chemistry.’

In his conclusion to this enthralling book, Richard Mabey, writes “how powerful our unassisted senses are when guided by our imagination and that science and technology can open up new perspectives, but that is our own gift to use these to change our ordinary point of view”.

So next time you go down to your local wood or park for a walk, or pop out into the garden to do some autumn pruning, remember to ‘tune in’ to all of your senses and see what a difference it makes – I know I will!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Perfumier-Stinkhorn-Richard-Mabey/dp/1846684072

 

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Finca Son Jorbo, Mallorca – (A birders’ delight)

This summer we returned to the beautiful island of Mallorca for our annual holiday. We stayed at a traditional 17th century farmhouse in a rural location on the central plains. The converted farmhouse, which is run as an excellent bed & breakfast by the British owners, has lovely views over the local countryside and their 300 olive trees which are harvested annually by the two of them.

On the very first morning of our stay we woke up to the haunting sound of Red Kites singing in the surrounding countryside. During the long hot days and warm evenings that followed we continued to hear them but never managed to catch sight of any.

Eventually, we worked out that they were nesting in a small wood located just outside the grounds of the farmhouse. Each evening we took a stroll towards the wood hoping to see them - but the only ‘wildlife’ we encountered were the local rabbits scurrying about amongst the olive trees and dashing for cover when they saw us.

By the last day of the holiday we’d completely given up hope of seeing any – and then of course it happened!  At the time we were lounging around by the swimming pool when I glanced up at the clear blue sky - and there they were – two of them circling over our heads with their forked tails tilting as they steered themselves gracefully through the air.

Sitting on the terrace in the evenings we were often joined by a pair of Spotted Flycatchers perched sharp eyed and alert on the branch of a nearby tree. They are not the most exciting birds to look at with their grey-brown plumage, spotted crown and cream spots on their backs - but what they lack in the looks department they make up for in their aerial hunting displays.  With a burst of their rapid wing beats they would fly off their perch – gracefully twisting and turning in mid air to catch the plentiful supply of insects. This would continue until dusk when they would fly off across the olive fields and disappear into the night sky.

But by far the biggest surprise of the holiday was seeing the exotic and beautiful Hoopoe. I’ve never seen a Hoopoe before, but remember watching an episode of the BBC’s Springwatch this year where they showed one that had landed in the UK by mistake during migration.

At first I couldn’t identify them – all I could see were birds the size of a Mistle Thrush with a pinkish-brown body hopping around the olive trees. However, over the next few days as I caught sight of some under the dabbled shade of the trees I noticed the flamboyant fan-shaped crest on the top of their head’s and ‘bingo’, realised they were Hoopoes.  

These gorgeous looking birds are found in open cultivated and uncultivated areas in eastern and southern Europe. They feed on the ground: probing and picking with their slim, slightly curved bill for insects and grubs. They often nest in trees or walls and have one brood each year in April-July, laying 5-8 eggs.

Oh, and apparently they only raise their fan-shaped crest when they are agitated or excited - so maybe, at the time, they were busy raising their young and sensed someone snooping around in the undergrowth!











Sunday, 3 February 2013

Nature Tales


I’ve just finished reading a lovely book: ‘Nature Tales: Encounters with Britain’s Wildlife’. It’s a collection of essays written by nature writers from the 1700s to the present day. It’s published in partnership with The Wildlife Trust which was formed in the 1960s in response to widespread devastation of our natural habitats. Today there are 47 trusts in the UK which manage 2,300 nature reserves.

The book is neatly categorised into chapters covering wildlife in a variety of locations: hedgerows, on the wing, in the river and sea, in the garden, under trees, in the wild and from the window.

It’s a great book to dip in and out of during the day or relax with on a cold winter evening - and although I enjoyed reading all of them (to whet your appetite) I’ve made some notes below of a few of my favourites:

‘From the Natural History of Selbourne’ by Gilbert White (1720-1793)

Gilbert White was a naturalist and curate who over a number of years studied and observed (amongst other things) a pair of white owls that bred under the eaves of a local church. There’s a fascinating diary entry, dated 8th July 1773 in which he discusses the owls ‘voice’ in relation to ghosts and spectres:

‘The white owl does indeed snore and hiss in a tremendous manner; and these menaces well answer the intention of intimidating; for I have known a whole village up in arms on such an occasion, imagining the churchyard to be full of goblins and spectres.’

'The Living Mountain' by Nan Shepherd (1893-1981)

Nan Shepherd was a novelist, lecturer, gardener and hill walker who travelled widely during her lifetime but remained devoted to the house she grew up in, three miles from Aberdeen.

She describes the flora and fauna of the mountain in great detail and with a wonderfully poetic prose. In particular the opening passage is so beautifully written it entices you to read on:

‘I have written of inanimate things, rock and water, frost and sun; and it might seem as though this were not a living world. But I have wanted to come to the living things through the forces that create them, for the mountain is one and indivisible, and rock, soil, water and air are no more integral to it than what grows from the soil and breathes the air. All aspects of one entity, the living mountain.’

'The Old Trout' by Henry Williamson (1895-1977)

Henry Williamson was a writer and journalist who’s most famous literary work was probably ‘Tarka the Otter’.

This is a delightfully written tale of ‘an old trout’ which he sees under the bridge of a local river and writes about over a period of time. He begins by telling us that ‘the best time to see him is in the morning about ten o clocks, any day during a spell of fine weather between April and September’.

Initially the old trout is shy and hides under vegetation but then gradually they build up ‘a relationship’ when he starts feeding all the fish on the river. He writes about the trout becoming ill from a wound at the top of his head which it eventually recovers from - then one day he waits for him, as usual, at the bridge but sadly he never sees him again.  

'The Gannet' by John Woolner

John Woolner was the winner of the wildlife trusts new writing competition in 2010 for unpublished writers.  This beautifully written and humorous story starts with him being a thirteen year old boy and his mother finding some frilly black knickers in his pocket – now if that doesn’t make you want to read it then nothing will!

 
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nature-Tales-Encounters-Britains-Wildlife/dp/1904027946/ref=pd_sxp_f_pt



 

Redwings Return


 
 

 
A few days ago a flock of about twenty Redwings came into the garden and within a few hours devoured all the berries on our cotoneaster bushes. This isn’t the first time they’ve visited - according to my ‘nature diary’ my very first sighting of them was on a frosty morning in January 2009.

I remember thinking at the time that they looked like thrushes, but then I noticed they had red markings on their wings so I looked them up in my Bird Guide: it describes them as a small sociable thrush with a bold head pattern and distinctive rusty-red under wings and flanks. Apparently, they are winter visitors from the Taiga forests of the far north. This stretches from western Alaska to eastern Siberia and has a winter temperature of -50. They forage in flocks for berries (often with fieldfares) and visit large gardens for food.

That first year there wasn’t a flock of them, just two or three, and after eating lots of berries they disappeared as quickly as they’d arrived; Returning, very briefly, a few weeks later in February.

The following year, on the 7 January 2010, once again, a few arrived in the garden and began feasting on the berries. I remember enjoying watching them and expecting them to disappear in a few days like they had done the previous year - so, imagine my surprise when the next day I looked out of the dining room window and saw a flock of about fifty in the garden!

Although it was a bitterly cold day, with a heavy layer of snow on the ground (it was one of the coldest winters in the UK for 30 years) the sun was shining and as they settled down to rest on the bushes, their feathers puffed up to keep out the cold, they looked stunningly beautiful with their freckled chest’s and red wings.

Since then they’ve returned to our garden each year - but, sadly, I’ve never seen as many as that first sighting in 2010. I’m not sure if that’s significant in anyway - if it means the population is declining or simply that they are going elsewhere. But in the bleak midwinter days of January, when there seems little to look forward too, and spring seems so far away, I really look forward to their return.