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

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Running Hare - The Secret Life of Farmland

I’ve just finished reading The Running Hare – The Secret Life of Farmland by John Lewis-Stempel. He was the winner of the Thwaites Wainwright Prize in 2015 for his beautifully written nature book, Meadowland (see blog post dated 2016).

This thought provoking and insightful book is a close-up and intimate study of the plants and animals that live in and under plough land. The book is also delightfully illustrated by Micaela Alcaino.

It is a history of the field, the story of landscape, people who ploughed the field, their lives, language, religion and food.  It is also a story of loss – the quiet fields and countryside which no longer sing with the sound of birdsong and the animals once abundant in the fields and hedges now gone. In a poignant sentence, early on in the book, he writes ‘we are all to blame, farmer, supermarket, politician, me and you.’ A sad reflection of our time and a warning for the future that we need to act now, if, he says ‘we want the birds back’.  

With this in mind, he wanted to plough and husband a conventionally farmed arable field in the old-fashioned, chemical-free way – and make it into a traditional wheatfield.  He hoped to bring back the flowers and wildlife that have almost disappeared from British ploughfields, like corncockle, corn marigold, cornflower, grey partridges, quail, harvest mice (and my favourite) hares.

He eventually finds a four-acre arable field called ‘Flinders’, which he can only have for one year. In January, he ships in some of his sheep to eat the kale that is in the field, and so the process begins. Finally, in March he ploughs ‘Flinders’ with his tractor – The Little Grey Fergie. He notes how difficult it is and sees why the ploughman was called the king of labourers.

Over the month’s he sows the wildflowers he has bought, and watches as wildlife returns to the field. The hares reappear and soon enough leverets arrive. Flinders gradually becomes full of colour and life, while the nearby landscape (in contrast) remains as monotone in summer as it is in winter.

In July Flinders is full of bees buzzing amongst the mass of poppies, corn marigold, corn chamomile, cornflowers and self-seeded indigo wild pansies and scarlet pimpernel. It’s a sad fact that twenty-three species of bees and flower-visiting wasps have become extinct in the last 160 years.

In late August, he is ready to harvest – he notes nature only gives a couple of days between the crop that is ideally ripe, and one that is deteriorating.

He uses an Alvan reaper-binder that never falters, never seizes, and leaves a perfect sheaf every time. They are left in a row, making stacking them into a ‘stook’ easier. There are 880 sheaves in total. They are put in ‘stooks’ of six sheaves leaning upright against each other in a tunnel – so the rain runs off them but the sand and wind will catch them. In doing this the ‘weed’ in the crop will die off. He then decides to have a go at hand threshing, for some homemade bread, so buys a flail – an ancient instrument to part the grain from the husk. He manages to collect three full bags.

At the end of the year, after the entire process is complete, he remarks that…one field, just one field made a difference – wildlife thrived on Flinders for the year and the wildflowers and wheatfield were both a success. If we had a thousand fields...

Wednesday, 29 March 2017


We recently visited the beautiful county of Norfolk, on the North West corner of East Anglia.  We stayed near the Wash, which is one of the largest estuaries in the UK and includes mud flats, lagoons and salt marshes.

The area is a wonderful wildlife haven for nature lovers – it’s recognised as being an important area for a variety of bird species, including pink-footed geese, shelduck, oystercatcher, lapwing, curlew, sanderling, dunlin and turnstone; and it has the largest colony of common seals in the UK – 7% of the UK population.

It’s also the location of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Snettisham Reserve, which is famous for two spectacular bird displays: the flight of thousands of waders during the highest of tides and the dawn flight of pink-footed geese leaving their winter roosts.

The beaches are spectacular, especially Brancaster with its miles of golden sands and the long sweeping beach at the historic and beautiful Wells-next-the-Sea with its sand dunes, pine woodland and coloured beach huts. While we were walking on the beach their we were lucky enough to see a small group of seals with their pups on the shoreline – a truly magical moment.

On the eastern side of the Wash there are low chalk cliffs and the famous stratum of red chalk at the delightful town of Hunstanton. The town is mentioned in the Domesday Book and its motto is ‘it is our pleasure to please others.’ It is the only east coast resort that faces west across the Wash and has spectacular sunsets – which is probably why the locals call it Sunny Hunny.

On the beach at Hunstanton we explored the rock pools for crabs, collected shells and watched the wading birds on the shoreline. I was particularly pleased to see curlews and oystercatchers for the first time. There is even a shipwreck (part of the metal hull survives) on the beach, a trawler called the Sheraton, which was used as a patrol vessel in World War 2 and wrecked in 1947.

Finally, King John of England is said to have lost his crown jewels at the Wash in 1216. Apparently, the horse-drawn wagons moved too slowly on the incoming tide and some were lost. Stories vary as to whether they were really lost – but it’s an interesting historical tale all the same!