Blog Archives: Miscellaneous

Eastern Scotland by train: Dundee – architecture and art

A couple of weeks ago as the south baked under an unprecedented September heatwave, we had fortuitously booked a rail trip to eastern Scotland where although still lovely and sunny, the temperatures were much more amenable.

This is the first of four blogs covering those six days. Dundee for the first two nights proved to be very exciting and full of interest, and now for me a real challenger to Glasgow as my favourite Scottish city. In no small part that is down to the best-located Premier Inn we have ever been to, overlooking the ever changing beauty of the Firth of Tay, the road and rail bridges spanning the water east and west respectively.

A couple of hundred metres along the waterfront is its cultural heart, the magnificent new V&A design museum, the thing that drew us to Dundee in the first place.

A shapeshifter of a building, close up it seems to be a heavily stratified sea cliff…

… while walking into and under it has all the echoing moistness of a remote sea cave, with ever-changing reflectascapes in its rockpools:

From further away, it transforms into a cruise liner echoing Dundee’s past as a major trading port.

And then from another angle, it is nothing less than an snapping leviathan from the deep – yes, the city has a whaling past too.

A delight to be alongside, at any time of night or day:

Inside the museum there’s some photogenic building design features and interesting artwork and exhibits:

Alongside the V&A is berthed the RRS Discovery, Scott’s vessel for his first Antarctic expedition, with visitor centre:

And the Slessor Gardens, full of sculpture, art… and yes plants too, including fences cleverly reflecting the organised chaos of a reedbed!


Then we came to the Tay Road Bridge, a low-rise affair, but providing remarkable disappearing vistas through its underbelly…

And finally on the waterfront (for now – there are plans for an Eden Project there in the gasworks of the old East Dock), the transformed docks surrounded by historic (and modern) buildings. The dock has its historic vessels too, the HMS Unicorn and a lightship rusting into oblivion in a very fetching manner.

Away from the water, the jute-milling past of the city is now firmly in the past:  the many jute mills have mostly been demolished or repurposed as flats. But one remains to keep the memory alive, the Verdant Works museum. Described to us by a friend as ‘the best museum ever’, the other reason for us visiting Dundee, and we found it hard to disagree with that assessment.


Other cityscapes included the two hills rising out of it, numerous chimneys, churches, art and other buildings, many in a pleasing warm local red sandstone that didn’t match our southerners’ preconception of a dour Scots town (helped by the sunshine and blue skies!).

Our final main location was of course the Botanic Garden. More about the plants and other wildlife there in the next blog, but it also features interesting art and sculpture, along with views across the firth.

It probably says something about our age, but a highlight of our walk home from the Botanic Garden around Balgay Hill  was what we both agreed was the most comfortable park seat ever. Well done to the City Council!

More than enough to keep us fully entertained for a couple of days, it is a city to which I suspect we will return.


Essex Field Club and the Essex Naturalist

In the county of the Essex Wildlife Trust, with more than 37,000 members one of the very largest county wildlife trusts in the country, the importance (indeed the very presence) of the Essex Field Club (fewer than 300 members) is all too easily overlooked.

Essex Field Club has a venerable history, founded in 1880 when it was a learned Victorian gentleman’s (largely) society, for the study of the natural history, geology and in those days the older archaeology of the county, although it has to be said that, in common with the times, much of their interaction with nature was at the end of a shotgun…’what’s hit is history, what’s missed is mystery‘ was the attitude of a time before high quality, portable optics and cameras, and when identification literature was scarce or absent.

To this day it remains misunderstood, the ‘F word’ being indelibly (and now wrongly) associated not with ‘field trips’ but ‘field “sports” ‘. (Note the use of ironic quotation marks – there is nothing sporting about chasing a Fox on horseback with slavering hounds, nor shooting unarmed birds.) In reality, it is the leading county organisation for the study of our wildlife and geology, by amateurs and professionals alike: knowing what we have and where, and how those have changed over time is of crucial significance to those seeking to conserve wild Essex.

As with all such clubs, it has a range of activities, both indoor and outdoor, throughout the year. But for me there are three things about EFC that stand out. Firstly it maintains a panel of county recorders for particular taxonomic groups and subject areas, experts who give their time freely to help curate the public record so that it can be relied upon as an evidence base.

Second, there is the website. In addition to the usual newsy functions, the site contains information and distribution maps for most species. Of almost everything! A few keystrokes and you can find details of previous records of a species from the county, an incredible free resource, as used for example in our blog from earlier in the year Lockdown Localism – finding rare and special invertebrates close to home.

Third and not least, there are the publications, especially the flagship transactions Essex Naturalist. And here again the website excels, with all publications going back to 1880 scanned, indexed and searchable. So this includes four volumes each of annual Journal and Transactions (1881-1884); these evolved into the Essex Naturalist, which comprises 31 volumes between 1887 and 1976, covering up to five years in each volume. From 1977 to 1992, the Essex Naturalist (New Series) vols. 1-11 were published irregularly, each being a ‘special publication’, essentially a standalone book. Essex Naturalist (New Series) reappeared in annual transactions format, edited by Colin Plant, from 1995-1998 (vols. 12to 15), before emerging into its current, larger, annual format in 1999 (vol 16), with an editorial panel, masterminded by Peter Harvey from the outset. Together, a digital treasure trove going back into the heart of the Victorian era (although the volumes since 2005 have not yet been archived), an window into the past to provide inspiration for the future – what was once, can be again, and better…

Now, the largest ever annual edition (Vol. 37, 316 pp) has just arrived with a thump on the doormat. We are very pleased to have five papers this year – this is a real lockdown bonus, giving us time to contribute to this important written record of natural world, the first time for several years. 

First one is the longest, with John Hall, a twenty page account of the ultimately successful campaign to save Lawford Tye field, home to Lunar Yellow Underwing and more, from the clutches of housing developers after Public Inquiry. Hopefully this will have useful lessons for others in a similar, sadly all-too-frequent situation.

Then an account of new botanical finds around #wildWivenhoe, including rarities hiding in plain sight as close as 20 metres from our door! As covered in a previous blog.

Next, the story (again blogged previously) of our successful campaign to encourage Beth Chatto Gardens to tackle the pollinator-murdering habits of the pond plant Thalia dealbata.

And the discovery of two new big red-and-black bugs (see past blogs here, here and here). The Firebug also features in two other papers by different authors – clearly it has arrived in a big way since 2019, especially around Harwich, but also elsewhere in Essex and adjacent counties. Coming soon  to Mallow and Lime near you!

Finally, the identification of a first for Essex, the rare sawfly Pamphilius sylvarum, after an identification gestation of 8 years, jointly with Yvonne Couch, who found the second, although first to be identified. Confused? Then read this blog.

All of this and much, much more (see Contents page above) could be yours for just £15, from the Essex Field Club. That’s 15 to buy…or why not spend the same sum, join the Club, and get Essex Naturalist along with all other member benefits for free?


Lockdown diary: Gallery updates

One of the opportunities of Lockdown has been the time to add to our website. Several new photo Galleries have been created, and most of the existing ones substantially added to. The announcements below give a flavour of them, but for many, many more please click on the Galleries tab at the top of the page…


Life on the Garden Fence – the Virgin Bagworm

As a naturalist, it is not uncommon for me to be sent photos and specimens in the hope of an identification. One of the most frequent of these are the mysterious things that reside on garden fence panels, occasionally in abundance: what are those strange pupae? Why are the Blue Tits pecking at my fence?

Well, they could be pupae. Or larvae. Or adults. It is a very unusual micromoth, a bagworm called Luffia ferchaultella that lives its entire life in a silken bag, up to 6mm long, which it adorns with bits of its environment: grit, flakes of lichen etc, usually, but not always, giving it a considerable degree of camouflage.

Adults are wingless, and so look rather like larvae. And what’s more each and every one is female: they reproduce parthenogenetically, producing more flightless females – hence the English name I give them: the Virgin Bagworm. She lays her eggs inside her bag, and when they hatch, the larvae commence building their own bag while still inside their late mother’s one. In some species, perhaps including this one, one of the first meals may be the maternal body, but for the most part their larval period of a year or more is sustained by grazing on algae and lichens growing around them. Then pupation, and the short-lived adult period, maybe two weeks, necessarily short as the adult is without functional mouthparts.

All very bizarre. But that’s far from the whole story, and there’s no doubt more to be discovered. Very recently through genetic studies it has been suggested that in fact ‘Luffia ferchaultella‘ is actually no more than a parthenogenetic, female-only form of Luffia lapidella. While this has similarly flightless females, they are not parthenogenetic, mating as normal with the fully-winged males. But lapidella is known in Britain only from Cormwall and the Channel Islands, whereas ferchaultella is common throughout England, south of a line from the Humber to the Mersey…

Virgin Bagworms can be very abundant on fence panels, tree trunks, walls etc, and although only tiny, they are easily scavenged en masse by tits, Wrens and other small birds – many a morsel makes a mouthful.

Gallery of other bagworm bags from around Britain and Europe

Although not often noticed, these other species mostly have males, fully-winged albeit weak-flying, rather hairy and sombrely coloured, small to medium sized, day-flying micro moths. Their bags, however, are often seen, if you know what to look for, and most can be assigned with some confidence to a particular species…without ever seeing the inhabitant.

Gardening with Wildlife in Mind

One of the regular talks I give to groups throughout East Anglia is on the topic of ‘Gardening with Wildlife in Mind’. The most frequent thing I am asked for is a list of the plants mentioned in the talk, and at long last, here it is!  This is far from being a comprehensive list of garden goodies (and baddies), just the ones that anyone who has seen the talk will have seen pictures of.

If you need more inspiration, there’s plenty out there, such as the website of the Wildlife Gardening Forum. Or better still, take a trip out to somewhere like the Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead Market, a few miles east of Colchester, wander round the garden on a warm day, see what the insects are visiting, and then go into the nursery and buy it, assuming your garden has the right conditions. Nature generally will point the way!

Non-native but valuable nectar/pollen sources; also fruits and seeds

Juneberry Amelanchier canadensis/lamarckii/laevis

Himalayan Honeysuckle Leycesteria formosa  (left) and Giant Viper’s Bugloss Echium pininana (centre and right)


Early season food sources for insects

Winter Aconite Eranthis hyemalis

Hellebores Helleborus spp.

Late season food sources for insects

Michaelmas Daisies Aster spp. (left) and Hemp-agrimony Eupatorium maculatum ‘Atropurpureum’ (right)

Useful leaves, for larval feeding and nest-making

Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica

Mulleins Verbascum spp. (Mullein moth caterpillar,  right)

Roses Rosa spp. (leaf-cutter bee, right)

Double flowered plants to be avoided (cultivars)

Kerria Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora’ (left) and Guelder-rose Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile’ (right)

But the original wild -types are useful…

Shelter – breeding and roosting (and often much, much more…)

Leyland Cypress xCupressocyparis leylandii

Ivy Hedera helix

Gardening in the Global Greenhouse

Closing the winter nectar gap

Mahonia Mahonia sp. (left) and Laurustinus Viburnum tinus (right)

Drought-tolerant, insect-friendly, beautiful: the borders of the future

Sun-roses Cistus spp.

Sea-hollies Eryngium spp.

Giant Herb Roberts Geranium palmatum and G. maderense

Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis  (left) and Lavenders Lavandula spp. (centre, right)

Jerusalem-sages Phlomis spp.

Sages Salvia spp.

Possible pests – ones to watch…or ideally avoid

Hottentot-fig Carpobrotus spp.

If you want to know more, glean a few more  ideas, and  find out the reason why my talk is called Gardening with Wildlife in Mind (as opposed to Wildlife Gardening, for example), you can always book me! My rates and a full list of talks can be found here.

Lichenscapes, Groundscapes, Beachscapes and Reflectascapes


Those who have seen, and hopefully enjoyed, the photos on our blogs will realise that our photos are pretty standard mementos of a walk or a holiday, or some such excuse to write a blog!

But over the (digital) years we have amassed getting on for 200,000 images, and it has long been our ambition to get more of them ‘out there’ and onto this website. We have the Galleries section, and we now intend to use it! The older galleries will be updated in due course, but after a wet and windy late winter period, conducive to spending time in front of the computer, we have launched the first four new galleries: Lichenscapes, Groundscapes, Beachscapes and Reflectascapes.

These are thematic galleries, drawn from our efforts across the years and across Europe. By focusing on these themes, we hope to draw the eye to perhaps unexpected and underappreciated artistic elements of the world we inhabit, colours, forms and textures which we might fail to see if we concentrate only on that which is before us at the time.

So, here we have the first few, each illustrated with a few representative shots from the gallery:

Lichenscapes – the symbiotic ‘art-attack’ which adorns so many inhospitable corners of the world, from mountain rocks, to sea cliffs, to fence posts, to gravestones, and many more;

Groundscapes – come the autumn, as leaves fall from trees, the ground below becomes cloaked in a mantle, tessellating colours and shapes, each characteristic of the type of tree above;

Beachscapes – it is said that a local, stranded in fog on Chesil Beach, can tell where they are from the shape, size and colour of the pebbles at their feet. And so it is with beaches more generally, each tells a unique story of the interaction of geology, tide, weather and Man;

and Reflectascapes – the reflective properties of water are a staple of landscape art and photography. The water’s surface may try to capture the sky and its surroundings, but never quite manages to reproduce it faithfully. It is the mutations, the unpredictable uncertainties and hesitations, that can fill many a happy hour staring at an otherwise familiar vista.

We hope this taster will encourage you to look at the full galleries.

Why Eyes?

      WHY EYES?                                       


Peacock butterfly flashes his wing –

Enough to startle a predator

Who may think again




Looking like a fearsome beast

This caterpillar may deter a bird

From making of him a feast





Could two extra eyes upon the shoulder

Make this bug

Feel even bolder?





Bold headlights of bright green and blue

Ommatidia by the thousand

Such a joy for me and you



Pipers at the Gates of Dawn

At the Gates of Dawn we stood and listened
To the piping song which filled our hearts
And souls with joy.

Why do they sing so?

At the Gates of Dawn we filled our lungs
And shouted out to the whole world
To announce the day.

Why do they listen so?

To survive we need to attract a mate,
Defend our space, alert a danger
Of a stranger.

That’s why we sing so.

In this world of greed we have a need
To feed on good things, calm things,

That’s why we listen so.

By Jude, inspired by our recent Dawn Chorus walk.


Extinction Rebellion: #WeAreWinning

Extinction Rebellion? You must have been living on another planet not to have heard of this environmental movement, and the impact it has been making not only on our capital, but all over the UK and the world in the past few days.  And depending on which press you choose to read, you will probably already have a pre-conceived idea of what the Rebels are all about…. litter-dropping, destructive and disruptive louts? or peace-loving people, caring about all of our futures?

We decided to find out for ourselves and went up to the old smoke on Tuesday.  On the approach to Parliament Square the rhythmic drumming of samba drums could be heard, beckoning us, but our first attempt at reaching the large crowd was foiled by a chain of police in hi-viz jackets blocking the route from Westminster station.  Frustration!  But we were spurred on by the many gently swaying flags held aloft by protestors in the square itself, particularly by a most beautiful one of a Garden Tiger Moth.  A very special creature to me, a fond reminder of my childhood when they were plentiful, but now sadly  now very rare, and possibly heading for extinction along with so many other species.

Undaunted, we found an alternative way in and discovered the Square to be full of many hundreds of gentle ‘rebellers’ –  individuals, couples, families and groups.  The drumming had temporarily ceased, and all were listening to the MC outlining the plan for the day (namely the writing of letters to our individual MPs and using our democratic right to request an audience with them, or at least to get the chance to deliver a letter).  Guest speakers provided inspiration and hope – Rupert Read, Green activist; Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South,  and Lloyd Russell-Moyle, MP for Brighton Kemptown; we sang and listened to poetry.

The ‘sharing attitude’ of this movement was very apparent – total strangers offering suntan lotion, pens and paper to write letters, or just stopping to chat.  Free vegan food was available to all – served on paper plates with non-plastic cutlery.  Even with the lunch-time eating and drinking, no scrap of litter could be seen anywhere. Yes!!  A David Attenborough life-size cut-out figure looked down benignly on us all, and at least three protesters had set up camp high in the trees, complete with hammocks and ropes. Chris remarkably found himself sitting next to the son of a former colleague, whose website banner detailed the plight of the arctic ice. See


Having written our letters, with polite demands to support Caroline Lucas’ Early Day Motion 2177 signalling a UK-wide climate emergency, for radical rethinking of carbon policies, the formation of a People’s Assembly and most importantly for ‘them’ to tell the truth, we were shepherded over to Parliament House to (hopefully) get the chance to lobby our MP.  Fortunately being near the front of the queue meant only (!) an hour and a half’s wait but our fellow queuers were great company and the police and liaison officers are to be commended on their humour and efficiency – certainly no sign of heavy-handedness, but of course there was no need as everyone was perfectly calm and peaceful.

Unfortunately our MP, Bernard Jenkin, was ‘unavailable’ (as, shamefully, Theresa May was earlier in the day when Greta Thunberg dropped into the Houses of Parliament) but a group of us was addressed (and listened to) by Gillian Keegan, MP for Chichester.  And she did take on board some of our thoughts and proposals – eg why can’t all new properties be required to be built with solar roofs.  It seems so obvious, doesn’t it?

Whilst we were all in the waiting room as MPs were contacted but few materialised, a live screening of the climate change debate was being aired, in which Ed Miliband had asked searching questions of the Minister. It was disappointing to see how few MPs (particularly Tories it must be said) were actually in attendance at this most important of issues (surely?). However we must all rise above party politics in this emergency situation. We found the red-tape involved in trying to contact our elected representatives tiresome; unfortunately were ultimately unable even to leave a letter due to possible contamination and so instead we will be emailing and tweeting and posting our letter, so Mr Jenkin will be able to see how we are feeling.  If anyone reading this is minded to do similar then please do!

Despite these niggles, it was a fabulous, heart-warming day, well organised, calm, friendly with everyone on the same side.  Long may the movement continue; we shall support it as much as we can.

Such an important message held aloft for all to see here……and as another banner proclaimed ‘ Respect Existence, or Expect Resistance’.  Couldn’t have put it better myself…

A few days in London…

A largely photographic record of three wonderful autumnal days, albeit feeling more like high summer, exploring the capital, tasting the architectural, artistic and natural riches it has to offer.

Canyons of glass and steel, capturing but not quite taming the sky:


Surprising juxtapositions  of old with new, like a choral discord unsettling but thrilling. Churches everywhere, the legacy edifices of Wren and Hawksmoor, each subtly different, both inside and out: some uplifting, others deflating:



From spiritual to secular, a cathedral to power: Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, Victorian engineering predating the practicality of electricity transmission. Now hosting an art gallery, but in reality the rusting fabric is art in itself:


Always the River, lifeblood of London and its maritime and mercantile history. Once we oversaw its death, but the Thames is now reborn: we even saw a Seal swimming through Tower Bridge!


And for our green needs, not a Royal Park or the wilder stretches of the Thames Path, but this time – and for our first time – the London Wetland Centre. And mightily impressed we were too! Birds from all over the globe, some brought in, others attracted there by its abundant resources: a metaphor for the melting-pot that is London.

Wonderful Wildlife Art at the Mall Galleries: ‘a glimpse of the wild in the heart of London’


Summer Stonechat by Richard Allen ASWLA






Yesterday, we were lucky enough to be able to attend the Private View of this year’s Society of Wildlife Artists’ exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London (another benefit of the welcome flexibility that comes with ‘retirement’!). It was a great opportunity, second only to the Rutland Birdfair, to meet up with old friends and former colleagues, and to be immersed in a dazzling array of wildlife-themed artworks.

It is several years since my last visit to this annual exhibition, and it seems that the trend has been towards the kind of wildlife art I enjoy. In the past, I felt it was overly dominated by highly representational, almost photo-realistic pieces. All demonstrating incredible talent, but in this era of a multitude of actual photographic images of increasingly good quality, artworks depicting the same view of the world left me rather unmoved.

Not so this year however: a great range of more abstract works, or with strong graphic design elements, now seem to be in the majority. Pictures which capture the feel of the subject and its surroundings, which suggest rather than spoon-feed – that for me is what makes art such a powerful form of communication. Images that simplify reality to its essential elements, maybe introduce new colours or textures that challenge the way I see the natural world, and in the process help me appreciate and understand all the more the wonders of nature, and bolster my resolve to continue to fight for its protection.

So I would strongly recommend anyone who values the natural world and appreciates attempts to capture its essence on canvas or through sculpture to try and make time for an hour or two at the Mall Galleries: the exhibition runs until 6th November. Or at least look at the selected online gallery of images

The only downside was the unseasonal, almost tropical temperature with everyone crowded in. But even that bore fruit: in a desperate quest for cool, fresh air (insofar as London’s air can be described as fresh), we ventured outside for a few minutes, and came upon a beastie we have been searching for without success for a couple of years: the red-and-black lygaeid bug Arocatus longiceps, climbing up the exterior wall of the gallery, just a few metres from the nearest specimen of its host food plant, London Plane…


Apologies for the poor quality of the photo: taken on my mobile, as I made the classic mistake of leaving my camera at home. One day I will learn!

Thanks to Richard Allen for inviting us to the Private View, and to Andy Clements for extending that invitation to the BTO evening reception.

The Curate’s Egg: my reflections on leaving Natural England, part 2


In the first part of this blog, I touched on an issue for Natural England which has become apparent as I have left their employment, that of a feeling amongst staff of disenfranchisement. Now that I have found my voice, this second (and probably final) part nails my colours to the mast and explains my personal views on some of the key issues of our time.

I realise that my views could be dismissed as the rants of a disillusioned staff member who has been ‘let go’ early, being surplus to requirements. But that’s not the case. I am still proud of the work of NE and its predecessors, and my departure was a positive choice on my part. However, it is certainly not the case that I agree with everything it has done.

Take for example the licensing of Badger culling in an attempt to control Bovine TB. I disagree with that. Although I am not an expert on the matter,  I trust and respect those often eminent scientific experts,  contrary the ‘anti-expertise’ dogma which is sweeping the world, who maintain that the efficacy of such an approach is highly questionable, and indeed may even be counter-productive. I recognise that NE is in a difficult place, caught between its much vaunted evidence-based decision making and having to deliver Defra policy. But with all due respect, I think there is a considerable difference between the evidence coming from the scientific community and the ‘evidence’ coming from politicians (whose expertise, such as it is, is only around how to manage the diverse expectations of their constituents and lobby groups). Or indeed the ‘evidence’ coming from dairy farmers, caught at the sharp end of BTB, and understandably wanting something to blame, to see some action.

Worryingly, the licensing of badger culling for BTB control may be opening a can of worms, by creating an assumed precedent. Badgers in sea walls in Lincolnshire? Public calls to cull them! Not, as would have been the case in the past, to translocate them. While it is not likely that such calls to cull would ever be licensed, the conceptual genie is out of the bottle, and it may not be possible to contain it.

And then there’s the question of licensing the lethal control of Buzzards, to support Pheasant-rearing businesses. Again I disagree, maybe more from a moral perspective – to kill a protected raptor because of its predation upon an alien bird, arguably a pest, which is reared, released and shot in its millions. But again there are external influences which impact upon NE’s decision – in this case a High Court judgement. But have all alternative solutions been explored? And are there really no grounds to challenge the legal ruling? And if not, why not? Shouldn’t the wildlife licensing system have at its heart protection of the species, one that is awe-inspiring and a considerable success story, rather than ‘de-protecting’ it to facilitate economic returns… If NE really is caught in between the proverbial rock and the legal hard place, should it not be out there seeking changes in the law to reflect the views of the majority, who value and are inspired by the majesty of large raptors flying free, rather than the few who make a living from shooting or get their fulfilment through killing?

As with the Badgers, this decision is turning into a precedent, with several other similar applications under consideration. Where will it end? And more worryingly, how can we accept that the terms of the licence (numbers killed etc) will be adhered to? What happens if someone exercising a legal right to kill a Buzzard ‘accidentally’ misidentifies a passing Hen Harrier? Many unpleasant and illegal acts of persecution have taken place under a cloak of secrecy, out of the public gaze, on shooting estates: how can we be assured that nominally legalized Buzzard control will not go beyond the bounds and be added to the litany of illegal persecutions of protected birds?

While I recognise the need for NE to satisfy its political masters (oh for the days when we were an independent watchdog!) and remain within the bounds of law, I cannot help but feel that this has been at the expense of respect from and credibility with the wider conservation community. And when the time comes that NE itself is deemed to be ‘surplus to requirements’, as surely it will, it will need to turn to that community for its very survival. And to return to my earlier theme in Part 1 – NE should unlock the passion in its workforce, and win friends and supporters for the future.

Of course, NE does many things well, and with which I am proud to have been associated. None more so that the creation (now almost complete) of a coherent network of Marine Protected Areas (MCZs, SPAs and SACs). And all delivered with relatively little adverse comment and reaction: were we to have embarked on such a programme on the land at the same time and in the same political and economic climate, there would have been uproar, particularly from vested interests set on making money by turning countryside into suburbia.

Out at sea there are few developers. And most of those that there are (especially offshore wind companies) have a long history of working with us to reach genuinely sustainable development solutions. Likewise there are few regulatory authorities, unlike on land where the multitude of quasi-independent authorities provides ample opportunity for perversion of the democratic process (sorry that should read ‘lobbying’), forcing compromise when compromise is inappropriate, and means the loss of an irreplaceable part of our common natural heritage. All in the pursuit of Government priorities ie housing, jobs and economic growth.

Other things NE can be proud of, I believe, include:

  • Being a key player in visionary landscape-scale restoration schemes: Great Fen, Avalon Marshes, and numerous coastal managed realignments
  • Finding sustainable solutions to a wide range of development cases, and (largely) staying on the right side of compromise
  • Simply staying alive in a highly challenging political and economic climate
  • Making the right decision regarding the reintroduction of Beavers. Will Lynx be next? Having been involved with that project, and maintaining the requisite professional neutrality hitherto, I can now say ‘I hope so’. Better that the upland economies are supported by big cat ecotourism, than by unsustainable practices associated with driven grouse shooting and the like.

So to my final perspective: Natural England is that proverbial Curates Egg – good in parts. I can only hope that when viewed through the lens of hindsight, its achievements for the natural environment are seen to outweigh the follies.


Sorry for the length of these postings, and thank you to anyone who read this far: I had a lot to get off my chest! Future postings will be shorter – and more illustrated! Next stop for me – Menorca and its autumn wildlife…

And finally, my metaphorical ‘golden watch’. My parting gifts included this wonderful original painting of Swifts over the church I can see from our flat, the work of my friend and outstanding local artist Richard Allen. Little did they know how much I have coveted this image since it first appeared in British Birds. And how it symbolizes the feelings I have right now – wild spirits flying free above Wivenhoe.