Category Archives: Nature

Stripy friends

The cinnabar moth caterpillars have appeared on the ragwort, which has been flowering for a few days now. 

Cinnabar moths are lovely black and red, day flying entities, and ragwort provides food for a number of insects. Unfortunately, ragwort is poisonous to horses and cattle. It’s not usually a problem because horses and cows alike generally have more sense than to eat it, but, when cut and dried in hay they can’t tell it’s there.

If you have ragwort on your land you can, in theory, be served with a notice to remove it, and not to do so at that point is an offence. You can also, in theory, have government people turn up and remove it, although they are supposed to give notice. It’s a rather heavy handed approach to the issue, but there we go.

The less charming dawn chorus

At this time of year, I’m often woken by the dawn chorus. It’s a beautiful sound. Usually. All those songbirds singing their little hearts out to welcome the sun – what’s not to like? Except not all dawn choruses are that melodious.

Back when I lived on a boat, I was sometimes treated to a seagull dawn chorus in Gloucester. No one could accuse seagulls of having beautiful voices. Their cries are raucous, and also very loud – especially when inside a boat and directly underneath them. Being woken from sleep by what sounds like a horde of furious dinosaurs was not my favourite nature experience. There’s the additional factor that seagulls are moving inland as a direct consequence of humans impacting on the sea, so nothing in this scenario is especially good.

Recently I was woken by a dawn chorus of house sparrows. It would be fair to say that sparrows are not musically minded and it was more like a very cheerful amount of shouting. However, given that sparrow numbers have fallen dreadfully, there’s real charm in there being enough of them to be properly annoying in the early morning. I listened to them with a mix of annoyance and delight.

I like hearing birds. I’m not overly attached to songbirds in this regard – I love the calls of corvids and geese, for example. Mooring under a rookery was always a lovely thing to be able to do. My usual dawn chorus has a lot of magpies in it and I think the reason I usually go back to sleep is that their calls are entirely familiar so they impact on me differently. I don’t think I could ever get used to seagulls, though, and am glad that I don’t have to try!

It isn’t natural!

“It isn’t natural to put a cat on a lead,” she said. “That’s not a dog you have there.”

The statement amused me, because there’s nothing natural about dogs being on leads, it’s just something we’re used to seeing and consider normal. Leads have to be made, dogs do not grow them.

The question of how human activity relates to what is natural, is always going to be an interesting one. Condemning as ‘unnatural’ pretty much anything that isn’t liked, is one of those things people seem to like doing to other people. There’s a case for saying that the majority of things we do as late stage capitalist humans destroying the planet is unnatural. It goes against nature. There’s also a case for saying that viewing ourselves as separate from nature is part of what causes this problem in the first place.

All too often, we mistake what we consider to be normal, for something being natural. As with the dogs on leads. No animal originally evolved to be put on a lead by humans. However, there are many creatures that we’ve had relationships with /exploited for tens of thousands of years, no doubt influencing them as well as us. Dogs and humans have been collaborating for a very long time, arguably this is natural. Pug dogs on the other hand, can barely breathe through their own noses and have been shaped by human intent in a way that seems as unnatural as it is cruel. But then, cruelty appears to be very much a part of human nature. 

We confuse the familiar with the natural. We confuse normality with inevitability. We confuse averageness with desirability. We treat being normal and familiar like this is reliably a good thing, something to aim for, to trust and to measure with. It is our business as usual, our regular every day how we do things that is destroying us, and destroying life. It would be helpful to stop assuming that just because it’s what we’re used to, that it is somehow good and desirable.


A bit of messing about with pencils – I used photo references for all of these. First up, the sort of sparrow I see round here a lot.

This is a flock and I took a slightly more abstract approach. I love how some of the images of sparrows in flight contained an array of blobs that didn’t look anything like birds at all. Those three weird shapes are fairly accurate!

This one is an attempt at a Eurasian sparrow although I don’t think I nailed the shape. About two years ago, when Abbey was in Tokyo he used to send me photos of the birds on the bird feeders outside his window. I know a handful of words in Japanese. Abbey’s English is brilliant, but bird language is a bit specialist so it took us a while to figure out that his visitors were sparrows. They are different to my local sparrows, but clearly related.

Nature for everyone

Not everyone in the UK has equal access to wild places and green spaces. I expect this is true of other countries as well. As is usually the way of it, underprivileged people are the ones least likely to be able to access green spaces. If you live in a flat with no gardens, then having some communal green space in walking distance is important for mental and physical health alike.

If you don’t have a car, and live in an urban environment, then our national parks are pretty inaccessible. Without good public transport infrastructure, you won’t be able to access the countryside closest to you, even. Safe routes for cycling would also really help with this issue.

Where can you access green spaces as a disabled person? Where can you find the information about accessible spaces? How do you find out where it’s possible to go with a wheelchair? What about if you have limited mobility – it’s not unusual to be able to walk, but unable to get over massive stiles in fences.

Nature for everyone means not pricing people out of the opportunity to spend time outside. It means accessible green spaces in urban areas. It means proper information about access and what to expect. It also means more than a stretch of mown grass and one lonely, tired tree! 

Here’s what we need from the government:

  • Make equal access to nature a core test of levelling up
  • Make it a legal requirement in levelling up legislation for developers and public bodies to provide access to nature-rich green spaces for everyone
  • Provide funding for locally accessible nature-rich spaces by extending the Levelling Up Fund to green infrastructure projects.

Help ensure everyone has the equal right to nature. Sign this petition.

The Fox Beneath The Window

There was a fox beneath my window. It came silently in the night, and may have left long before I knew it had been there. I woke from sleep to the unmistakable, bitter musky smell of fox pee coming in through the window. It’s the second time recently that this has happened.

Behind the flat there’s an area of grass, with trees and a large stream. I’ve seen kingfishers and herons out there. I’ve heard foxes and badgers at other times. Otters pass through sometimes, although I’ve never seen one from the bedroom window. It’s busy out there after dark.

My only communication with the fox was the scent of pee. It’s not a charming smell, more the sort of thing to catch in your throat and leave a person feeling a bit queasy. But it is also the smell of fox presence, so I find it both horrible and comforting all at the same time. Twice now, I’ve lain there in the dark before the dawn, breathing in the unpleasant smell of the fox and feeling glad for the knowledge that a fox has passed beneath my window, and paused nearby for a stinky wee.

I also like that this isn’t a romantic story. It’s not an airbrushed take on nature, full of how lovely nature is. Sometimes, nature stinks, and it’s important that we engage with those aspects and don’t demand something safe and inoffensive.

Encounters with wild things

I’ve had two wonderful encounters with wild things in recent days. With all due reference to my recent post about getting closer to nature, I want to be clear that both times I was somewhere it would be reasonable to expect a person to be, and I did no more than stop and look.

The first encounter was at twilight and I was on a cycle path. Various songbirds were alarm calling, so I stopped to see what had upset them. There was an owl in amongst the trees and the smaller birds were doing their best to see it off. Owls will take chicks as well as rodents. The owl called several times before heading towards the fields. We’ve had owls here all the time I’ve lived in this flat, they hunt in nearby fields and raise chicks in the trees on the edge of the cycle path.

My second encounter was in daylight. I was on a pavement, passing by some semi-wild land. I suspect some part of my brain registered that I was being watched. There was a fox cub sat at the edge of a bramble patch, catching some sun. The fox cub stayed there while I pointed it out to Tom, and then trotted back into the undergrowth. The cub watched us the whole time and seemed relaxed – we were some distance away and on the other side of a wall, which probably helped.

I didn’t get photos in either instance – both were brief encounters and unexpected, so no one had a camera out. I’m conscious with foxes that posting pictures of them in identifiable locations can bring them trouble anyway, so it may be best not to make clear public declarations about where they are.

Getting closer to Nature

The chances are you’ve seen art and photographs of people with wild things. You’re a Pagan, a Druid, and the idea of wild things coming to you is deeply attractive. It would affirm how attuned you are to the natural world. It would prove your Druid-ness. Maybe you could rescue something and raise it. Maybe you could tame something.

It’s a temptation I entirely understand. Wild things are deeply emotionally affecting. There are few experiences more powerful and affirming than having a wild being look back at you and not just run away. These are usually experiences I have at a distance. I don’t try to handle wild things unless they genuinely need my help – getting hedgehogs out of roads being the thing I’ve done most of. I won’t rescue wildlife from other wildlife because everyone has to eat. I will move creatures who are at risk of being harmed by humans.

Without knowledge, skills and the right resources, bringing a rescued creature home is really risky for them. It’s better to get them to a professional, or an established rescue centre if they really need help. It’s always worth considering leaving them to let nature take its course – thus providing someone else with a meal. Decisions about who to help and who to leave hungry should not be based on cuteness. For me, whether the species itself is endangered is going to be my biggest consideration.

If wild things get used to humans, this can make them vulnerable. We can put them in danger if they start thinking humans are safe to approach, or a good food source. We can frighten them, disrupt their lives and cause them harm by trying to get close to them. Often the kindest and most respectful thing to do is to stand still and let the wild thing do as it will if that doesn’t put you at risk either. Enjoy the moment. Wild creatures who seek food from humans can end up being killed for being aggressive and invasive.

The situation is different with semi-wild things – feeding the ducks on the pond in the park is not really going to impact harmfully on them. Birds in your town centre are not going to be compromised, probably. It’s worth noting that seagulls in particular can become aggressive in their dealings with people if they think they can get food. It is important to know what you’re doing, and to know what is safe and appropriate food for any semi-wild things that move towards you. Don’t give dairy to birds. Don’t pollute the water by throwing in loads of bread that just sinks to the bottom.

If we genuinely care about nature and about wild things, one of the best things we can do is not impose. Humans put a lot of pressure on nature as it is, without Pagans trying to live out fantasies in invasive ways. Stay on the path. Don’t interfere with wild lives. Don’t try to feed them your lunch. Don’t steal their babies – leaving young unattended is normal. Don’t deliberately get close to their homes, nests, or dens. Watch them from a distance that keeps them safe.

Grass snake encounter

Photos by James.

We met this rather fabulous grass snake on Sunday. Said grass snake was in the canal, near the centre of town and came close to the tow path on a number of occasions while we were watching. Grass snakes are good swimmers and it isn’t the first time I’ve seen one in a Stroud canal. They are totally harmless, although their size can make them seem more intimidating – I think this fine fellow must have been at least three feet long.

The scudge in the water is just what happens at this time of year with all the pollen from the trees. Mostly willows, I think.

When embodied spirituality isn’t really an option

I’ve always been interested in the idea of honouring nature as it manifests in my own body. I’m also not very good at it, because my body is a bit of a mess. Doing things that focus on being embodied, or conscious of my body isn’t a great deal of fun when I’m in a lot of pain. Getting out there and putting my body in nature is also problematic when it’s cold, or I’m already sore.

Once upon a time there was a person who was ostensibly all about embodied spirituality and felt that the reason I (and no doubt other people) were hurting was that we weren’t embodied enough. If only we’d spend more time being embodied, the pain would naturally reduce! This of course is bullshit, but there’s a lot of it out there and it needs talking about.

If you have the kind of pain that is caused by stress, tension and failure to look after yourself, then paying more attention to your body will probably help fix a lot of those things. These are not the reasons I’m in pain. I’m hypermobile, it’s a tissue issue, it’s about fundamental structural things in my body. Paying attention to it just makes me more aware of it, which improves nothing. Organising my body to minimise damage and pain is not something I have to do consciously most of the time.

This kind of minimising is one of the more common forms of ableism to show up in allegedly spiritual spaces. It depends on the idea that you would be well if you tried a bit harder, and that’s simply not true for everyone. If you can cure your ills with a bit of mindfulness and paying more attention to your breathing, then you simply weren’t that ill to begin with and it is not a fair measure of what anyone else might be up against. 

Not being cured by doing the spiritual things does not make you a failure as a spiritual person. You might find things to help you manage what’s going on – and you might not – but either way there should be no shame in it.

I’d like to be more embodied, but I can’t do that when my body is difficult to inhabit. These are good times to explore the practices that take me away from myself. There’s nothing unnatural about seeking respite from pain – it’s one of the things sleep is for.