Welcome to Nature in Mindwhere you’ll find articles on wildlife conservation, sustainable living and animal welfare, as well as memoir and opinion pieces.
Wherever we live in the world, we are connected by our responsibility to humanity and nature. By living with nature in mind, we can support a thriving natural environment and enjoy better mental health. We can enrich our own lives and those of generations to come. Through this blog, I hope to raise awareness of why nature matters.
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Nature conservation is an uphill challenge as human-induced climate change and the way we manage land degrades wild habitats and disrupts wildlife migration, breeding and feeding patterns. Now nature conservation could face another human activity issue in terms of the Right to Roam campaign. Their goal of “free, fair and informed access to nature throughout England” came a step closer when the Labour Party pledged to introduce a Scottish-style right-to-roam law in England. But while we might welcome the freedom to access nature regardless of wealth, how do we balance people’s health and recreational needs with nature’s health and survival?
Swifts are back for the summer and Aylsham Swift Group is helping these extraordinary birds
Our special swifts are back from Africa, heralding summer and the time we can enjoy their short stay. Swifts have travelled from central Africa, crossing the Sahara and navigating storms to reunite with lifelong partners. Swifts tagged in Eastern England travelled an astonishing 14,000 miles after leaving the UK in the summer of 2010 and arriving back the following spring. You may have seen swifts already this year, skimming rooftops in joyful ‘screaming parties’ or soaring above our town.
Human survival depends on nature yet economic growth is destroying ecosystems and biodiversity. Should we put a price on nature?
Putting a price on nature isn’t a new idea. In Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet, Sir Dieter Helm measures and values natural capital in terms of nature’s renewable and non-renewable resources. Helm acknowledges that human survival and wellbeing depend on protecting and restoring biodiversity and ecosystems, and proposes a framework for sustainable economic growth that is politically and economically viable. It makes no sense to judge a thriving economy on GDP alone and ignore the impact of economic growth on natural assets. The Dasgupta Review: The Economics of Biodiversity says we need to account fully for our interactions with nature if we want to stop the overexploitation of natural resources, the decline in biodiversity, and the destruction of ecosystems we depend on.
Walking by the lake on the Blickling National Trust estate, I was spellbound by a flock of seventy or so swifts. In the distance, lightning lashed while at the lake’s edge, swifts feasted on clouds of insects. Watching silhouettes of scythe-like wings and forked tails whirling over my head, I wondered if these long-distance migrants were passing through or nesting nearby. Other times, I’ve seen swifts swoop across the lake and dip their head in the water before pitching upwards and shivering to shake droplets from their feathers.
Each summer, I head out to Winterton to see the little terns nesting. On a warm afternoon in July, I’m heading across the heath to the beach, excited about seeing these remarkable birds again. One year, I arrived too late and most of the birds had left. Another year, the terns were mostly breeding at Eccles. Once, I decided to go after the breeding season, but the beach felt so empty. Winterton is best when the electric fence is up and the terns are back from Africa!
A fortunate encounter with a friendly birder on my local patch one evening pointed me in the direction of a nest of raptor chicks. I often walk past the old oak tree he described but had never thought to scan its tall trunk for nests. Packing away the long lens I had borrowed to photograph a reed bunting, I hurried off to the copse of oaks.
As autumn passes the baton to winter, we find ourselves slowing down, and shorter days and less sunlight means winter blues and even depression can strike. Colder weather keeps us indoors where there’s plenty of technology to entertain us, but too much screen time can leave us feeling stressed. We’re less connected to the natural world, yet research by The Wildlife Trusts and the University of Essex shows that spending time in nature is good for our health.
Contact with nature reduces anxiety and stress and improves mood, self-esteem, and attention and concentration. Exposure to nature also increases immunity and can help reduce symptoms of ADHD in children. Such is the importance of nature to wellbeing that Richard Louv, co-founder of the Children & Nature Network, describes nature as ‘Vitamin N’.
Winter can be the ideal time for a nature walk and Norfolk the ideal place!
Autumn is my favourite time to get outdoors and go for a walk. Pick a sunny day and the backdrop of blue sky with golden trees takes your breath away. On days like this, my worries float away with the falling leaves.
When life’s stresses weigh me down, a walk in the woods puts the spring back in my step. When I’m breathing in the earthiness of a downpour or watching birds take flight, I feel alive. Continue reading →
Having grown up on a council estate with tiny gardens and a father who thought birds were best eaten, it wasn’t until I had my own family that I started walking in the countryside and watching birds.
It was only recently though, having moved to Norfolk, that I had the pleasure of seeing a pair of curlews. I wondered how I could have missed this enchanting bird in the past.
I wanted to find out more about curlews and what better way than to read a nature memoir! Unlike me, nature writer and campaigner Mary Colwell is no stranger to the curlew call, nor why they may be hard to see. Continue reading →
Humans have a complex relationship with animals, ranking them in a hierarchy of utilisation and affection according to human cultures and values. While some animals are saved, others are slaughtered.
Depending on where you live in the world, elephants, rhinos and lions might be seen as endangered species to be protected or they might be used for pseudo-medicine, trinkets and trophies. Cats are beloved pets for some but for others, they are bird killers or meat. It can be difficult to balance cultural differences, species conservation status and ethics to find the best outcome.
But questionable cultural practices aside, even evidence-based conservation science faces an ethical dilemma.Continue reading →
Terra Incognita Travel’s first Wildlife Blogger of the Year competition was a resounding success with stories from nature writers around the world. I’m delighted to have my story included in their new wildlife blog eBook alongside other personal stories of wildlife encounters and conservation insights. The team at Terra Incognita describe below the idea behind the collection and what the judges—renowned conservationists, scientists, nature writers and filmmakers—said about the top stories. Continue reading →
I lift the blinds on the back door and there he is. Every morning, the garden birds arrive for breakfast but while other birds wait in the pine trees or gather on the fence, this fledgling sits between the flower pots. As I open the door, he hurries forward to be first in line for the soaked mealworms I sprinkle on the patio and then under the table where he will be safe. I have grown fond of this blackbird fledgling, although I know he is sick. He can no longer fly like his sibling. Continue reading →
Huddled behind the hide at the far end of Sandfly Bay, we shelter from winds whipping sand across the dunes. The sun is yet to break as we wait for yellow-eyed penguins to make their way from the headland to the rocks below. It’s a perilous journey from forest nests to ocean feeding grounds, and I wonder why a penguin makes this long trek across farmland each day. Continue reading →
Yellow-Eyed Penguin, native to New Zealand. Credit: David Brighten
Sponsored by Swarovski Optik, ecotourism social enterprise Terra Incognita Travel have organised a competition (details below) to find the wildlife blogger of the year. How exciting is that!
Thank you to James Common, Director of New Nature Magazine, for sharing his red squirrel encounter on social media that led me to Terra Incognita. Reading the variety of wildlife experiences and stories, I was inspired to enter my own: ‘Jewel in the Crown: New Zealand’s Yellow-Eyed Penguin‘. What an opportunity to be read by judges that include highly regarded nature writers, wildlife filmmakers, conservation scientists and environmental campaigners—that’s a prize in itself! Continue reading →
Our love for plastic and our throwaway culture is choking our oceans and wildlife, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Covering 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface and deeper in places than Mount Everest is tall, oceans have long been a source of fascination. Since Captain Cook charted the Pacific Ocean in the 18th century, returning with zoological specimens and botanical artwork that set the mark for scientific exploration, we have been learning about the natural world. Scientists are still discovering new species. Researchers and filmmakers travel to the most inhospitable places revealing the ocean’s mysteries in documentaries such as Blue Planet.
But sadly, today’s naturalists are faced with the impact of ocean plastic waste. Watching albatross parents feed plastic to chicks has been one of the lows of David Attenborough’s natural history career. But how did we reach this point and what can we do to help regenerate our oceans? Continue reading →
We all have favourite books. Some books explore the human condition, helping us understand ourselves and each other. Other books teach us about nature with fascinating stories of wildlife and wilderness. Books that have the power to change us are those that challenge our beliefs and offer new perspectives. These books can lead us to live a more conscientious and compassionate life.
I’d like to share some of my favourite books in the areas of health and wellness, sustainable and ethical living, wildlife conservation, and family and education. These books have enlightened and inspired me to live a more considered life. I hope some of these books may help you in your life too. Continue reading →
Education, communication and cooperation form the cornerstone from which societies build and improve on past ways of living. Whether knowledge is communicated in schools or universities, through media, or within communities, families and social circles, it can prompt us to question our thinking and our behaviour.
With technology linking us across the world, the connection of people and the communication of ideas is a catalyst for global change. Through the internet, we can exchange problems and find solutions.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency says pipes washed ashore in Norfolk pose no danger of pollution. Are they unaware of, or simply ignoring plastic fragments scattered along the coast?
The MCA’s announcement on the pollution risk from four gigantic plastic bore pipes washed up on Norfolk’s east coach beaches was reported by The Guardian. Twelve pipes were being tugged from Norway to Algeria when they came loose after a collision with a container ship. While there are reports that the recovery operation is underway, no-one is talking about the plastic fall out on pristine beaches used by seals and rare seabirds. Continue reading →
The second rarest seabird in the UK, little terns face a bleak future without our help
At a colony along Norfolk’s east coast where I’ve been helping as a volunteer, RSPB wardens are providing dedicated round-the-clock protection for endangered beach-nesting birds. The RSPB’s conservation work is part of the EU Life + Nature Little Tern Recovery Project involving eleven partner organisations, including the RSPB, Natural England, The National Trust, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. The recovery project has been crucial in monitoring, protecting and increasing little tern populations across the UK. Continue reading →
Rather than welcome vegan diet popularity, vegans are quibbling over terms
I read a post on Plant Based News reporting that health expert Dr Oz dedicated an entire episode of his show to the vegan diet, predicting that veganism is going to be the “single biggest movement of 2017.”
That should be good news for vegans.
But instead of welcoming the rise in popularity of vegan diets and the positive knock-on effect for animal welfare, the environment and human health, some vegans are quibbling over terms. Continue reading →
A major supermarket chain supporting farmers and animal welfare is welcome news, especially in light of past price wars
Asda will be the first supermarket to stock Free Range Dairy Network milk carrying the Pasture Promise, which is encouraging news for animal welfare advocates. To be awarded Pasture Promise certification, free-range dairy herds must be grazed outside for a minimum of six months each year and farmers aren’t permitted to shoot calves at birth. Continue reading →
The story of a remarkable cockatiel travelling 20,000 km as cargo
The house is empty, our life packed into a shipping container quick as a flash by a removal squad. We had booked a local motel, three of us and Rocky, in the hope of a comfortable night before the long drive north to Auckland airport. But with Rocky worryingly ill over the weekend, I’m staying here with him in familiar surroundings while my husband and daughter crash out in the motel.
I put the oil heater on in the bedroom and sleep on an air bed covered with old linen I will throw away tomorrow. This last night is special. I know it might be the last peaceful moments I have with Rocky before the long flight to England and the possibility he won’t survive. Continue reading →
Help garden birds through the winter and feel the warmth of nature
The rental property we moved to recently was built on land where an old bungalow used to be. Except for three conifers, the garden was cleared and laid to lawn except for an empty flower bed which I turned over the other week hoping to attract robins and blackbirds with worms.
How we justify cultural traditions that exploit animals and why that needs to change
Cultural traditions are passed on through generations, perpetuating our use of animals for food and pleasure. In upholding religious festivals and food practices, medicinal ‘cures’, and superstitious beliefs, animal abuse continues without question. We can be reluctant to let go of cultural traditions, seeing change as a rejection of our culture, or even an attack on our identity. Continue reading →
Human settlement pushes New Zealand’s yellow-eyed penguin to the brink
Yellow-eyed penguin feeding chick at Penguin Place, Otago. Image credit: David Brighten
The Emperor penguin is arguably the most familiar penguin in the world, the poster penguin for climate change as global warming melts the Antarctic ice they depend on. Indeed, this magnificent penguin’s survival in such an inhospitable environment is well-reported in films and documentaries such as March with the Penguins and the BBC’s Dynasties.
There’s something perverse about teaching children to hunt
The slaying of Cecil the lion last year epitomises everything that’s wrong with a hunting culture that now seems to be more about pleasure and ego. A dentist who learned to shoot when he was five years old hops on a plane from the U.S to Africa and buys himself a baited lion which he slaughters, all for the thrill and the trophy. He doesn’t see the wondrous animal that others see. He sees only himself. Continue reading →
Children in Central Otago see a dark side to the Easter bunny
Easter is a time for celebration, whether it’s the Christian celebration of resurrection, or the Pagan celebration of fertility, symbolised in community Easter egg hunts and the Easter bunny.
What you wouldn’t expect is a family bunny hunt involving the slaughter of 10,000 rabbits. But that’s what happens every year in the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island. The Great Easter Bunny Hunt seems to be a celebration of killing. Continue reading →
Migrating turtle doves will be shot down as they fly over Malta.
The Maltese government has sanctioned the slaughter of 5,000 European turtle doves as they fly over Malta in the last stages of their 5,600 km journey from wintering grounds in West Africa to breeding grounds in Europe.
Our fascination with intelligent parrots has a catastrophic impact on wild populations
When we’re looking for an animal to keep as a pet, we think about food, exercise and affordability. But how much thought do we give to where the animal comes from? When we buy exotic birds through online ads or breeders, we may unknowingly support the plunder of wild species. The African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) is one such species. Continue reading →
As cat ownership soars, we need a radical change in attitude to save mammals and songbirds from cats’ claws
Despite evidence from camera traps and Cat Tracker devices showing predatory behaviour, cat owners tend to describe their pets as too slow or too gentle to harm wildlife.
But Kitty is equally at home stalking wildlife as she is sleeping on our lap.
As human populations and domestic cat ownership explode, especially in urban areas, more small mammals and birds fall prey. When breeding can’t keep pace with predation, species numbers decline. Well-fed domestic cats might even be compared to trophy hunters in the sense they aren’t hunting for food.Continue reading →