Friday, 5 May 2017

Nature journaling - on a former landfill site!

Almost 10 years ago I had to move from a tranquil spot in the Gloucestershire countryside to live on the outer edge of a city. Culture shock was immediate, traffic, people everywhere - and so much noise! Accustomed to roaming through fields, bluebell filled woodland and past gentle streams,  I felt bereft. Desperate to find green space, I had to explore!

We live on the floodplain of the River Severn. Behind our home appeared to be an area of waste ground, close to the industrial site of Avonmouth, and adjacent to a roaring stretch of the M5 motorway.  I was told the area was a landfill site until 1988! Despite this not being the most appealing idea, my natural nosiness got the better of me.  I followed the decommissioned tarmacked road,  past fly tipped rubbish, and found, to my delight, a wealth of nature. 

This site, (now renamed Saltmarsh Drive Open Space) is indeed, old salt marsh. It's crossed by drainage ditches called rhines (pronounced rheen). Some of these watercourses date back to the medieval period. The Merebank Rhine, is actually a Scheduled Ancient Monument!

A few quick sketches managed this week!

The watercourses, and the scrub land surrounding them are a magnet for wildlife, and the soil of the former landfill site has allowed a unique diversity of plant life to emerge, including  stunning wild orchids.

This is one of the few places in Bristol which is home to the delightful water vole. 'Ratty' from The Wind in the Willows. A common sight in my childhood, spotting one is now rare - and a thrill. Otters have also been observed using the rhines.

Small groups of our shy native roe deer frequent the scrub, and  kingfisher and heron are regular visitors to the waterways. There's a wealth of bird life, ruled over by the resident buzzards, who soar above like miniature golden eagles.

 My journaling has changed  a lot in the last 3 years!

No one visits here much. There is litter from the motorway, and strange items which pop up from the landfill. Dog mess, ignored by careless owners, is a hazard; and tuning out the noise from the busy motorway, (and sometimes off road motor cyclists) is a necessity.

Nature, however, ignores these minor irritations; she goes about her work, making this unlikely spot a very special place indeed.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Nature's memories

What's your earliest memory?
Most of my vivid childhood memories have a strong connection to the natural world.

The first thing I clearly remember, aged almost 2, was toddling up to our front door and seeing a huge, dark shadow on the glass window. We were snowed in. I remember being lifted up to see the white world outside, and being not scared, but excited, at how the world had changed.

And  I remember from childhood:

Watching the blue tits pecking the milk bottle tops to feast on cream!
Feeding the hedgehogs who visited our garden.
Excitedly looking for the first golden cowslips which bloomed in the field next door each spring.
Walking along (the beautifully named) 'Frog Furlong Lane' with mum and the 'helicopters' on the sycamore trees.
Looking for 'Walter' wagtail , who loved to catch insects in our yard.
Hearing the cuckoo calling.
Writing on laurel leaves with a rose thorn.
Hanging up a piece of seaweed outside after a trip to the coast, to tell what the weather would be!
The taste of ripe blackberries.
The wonderful scent of the sweet peas mum planted every year.
Being absolutely terrified that tigers would leap out from the shadows and eat me, as dad drove us along narrow, shadowy, wooded lanes on our family outings (thanks, big brother John! I never, ever told mum and dad though .... )

These very ordinary things had a huge impact on my life, and how I view the world. I  really hope that  the newest generation will enjoy similar memories.

Friday, 10 March 2017

The trouble with lichen....

There isn't any.  I just love the title of that book.

They're strange, beautiful, fascinating fungi. A couple of weeks ago my friend Liane and I braved the February squelching and met up with a party of other Lichen lovers on Bristol's famous Downs. You would never imagine there being so much laughter from a group of thoroughly wet, cold people. Lichen seems to attract  rather jolly people!

I  finally managed to document the fallen samples I found in my nature journal ( they'll now be returned to their natural habitat!)  There was  endless aggravation  fun, trying to draw them whilst focusing through  my new hand lens. I won't be trying that again, but it is amazing to get such a wonderful visual perspective.

These are just my interpretations, (sans hand lens) of some stunning forms and textures; and here's a few photos of these little beauties.

Thanks to Avon Wildlife Trust  members, who arranged this event, and local expert Sheila Quin, who led the walk. I learnt a lot and it was worth getting wet feet!  We followed The Downs Lichen Trail.