Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A simple change...

When you look at our public open spaces what would you like to see, a flower rich sward buzzing with life, or closely mown grass with no weeds?
At a time when there is increasing anxiety about loss of ‘biodiversity’ and in particular the decline in bees, which are of huge economic importance, perhaps we should think about this.
A simple change in the management of amenity grassland could allow the regeneration of wild flowers which, in turn, would increase the pollen and nectar available for bees, butterflies, and other less charismatic, but equally important, invertebrates. 
If the blades of cutters were adjusted so that they were never lower than about 2’’ (except in the areas where there is good reason for the grass to be kept shorter such as sports pitches) low growing species such as clovers and trefoils would be able to set seed. 
There is a perception in some quarters that the public would be resistant to such a change, but I am not so sure.  Perhaps now is the time to open the debate – what do you think?
For more information, pictures, and a link to a petition go to

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Meniere’s disease – one year on

Bristol Half Marathon 2009

It’s been a year; a few days ago the renewal notice for my subscription to the Meniere’s Society dropped through the door.  I’m lucky really, I was diagnosed in 2002 but up to a year ago I only had a few isolated bouts of vertigo – ghastly when they came but manageable with Stemetil.

What is Meniere’s disease?  It’s different for everyone but has three main symptoms: vertigo, tinnitus and progressive hearing loss in the affected ear.  If you’ve never had vertigo, imagine being blind drunk on a roller coaster and not being able to get off (and when it’s really, really, bad you can add food poisoning symptoms too). Fortunately for me these incidents are blessedly rare but I know if I ‘overdo it’ I’m on dangerous ground.  I can cope with the tinnitus and, as it is one sided, I am only loosing hearing in my right ear.

The things I find hardest to cope with are the background feeling of dizziness and nausea when I am going through a ‘bad patch’ and the lack of energy, which is constant.  

Inside I am still the woman who could walk 20 hilly miles with confidence, ran her first half marathon at 48, and had dreams of visiting the Amazon rainforest and trekking in the Himalaya’s before she was 60.  I did the Commando Challenge to get over my fear of water so that I could go kayaking and possibly try scuba diving.  

Sheep Dip - Commando Challenge 2009

Just because I can’t do those things now doesn't 
mean I don’t want to!  I have tried running again but a mile leaves me drained for the rest of the day and no good for anyone.  It hurts when I see other people doing the things I used to do, but I try not to let it show.  I don’t want to give up!

Sleepy dormouse April 2011

There is a plus side – many, many people are far worse off than I am.  I can still walk in the woods, I can still take photographs, I like to have a wilderness for a garden and the neighbours don’t complain.  I can do some energetic things as long as I remember I will have to ‘pay back’ later. I have a wonderful husband and supportive friends. I don’t have a job so I am able to spend more time doing the things I love than I could ever do if I was stuck in an office.  I can spend my days walking with friends, chasing bugs, birds and butterflies and checking up on my dormice and otters.  I hope I am there when people need me.

Violet oil beetle  April 2011

I complain sometimes, but I have a rich and wonderful life and I am grateful.  I just needed to get this out of my system and one year on seemed as good a time as any.

Male orange tip butterfly  April 2011

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Starlings, a hen harrier and fish and chips

Every time David and I go to Shapwick we find ourselves asking the same question ‘Why don’t we come more often?’

We were invited to a meeting about the Avalon Marshes Landscape Project and had decided to go early in the hope that the starlings were still roosting in the area.  The idea was to find the starlings, eat in local pub and get to the meeting at 8pm.

It started well.  We parked at the visitor centre to check where the starlings had roosted the previous night.  We followed the canal on the Natural England reserve to the viewing point and arrived just in time to see countless starlings streaming across the horizon and dropping into their roost in the reeds.  No aerial ballet this time, but impressive nonetheless.
As the flocks descended a large, striking, bird flapped lazily into view.  Our attention was temporarily diverted from the starlings as we realised it was a hen harrier, only the second I have seen.  It would have been worth making the journey for that alone.

As the light faded we made our way back to the car and set off to find a pub.  This is where things started to go awry.  The first establishment we visited looked promising, but was almost empty.  We walked in and realised why.  It would be an exaggeration to say you needed a second mortgage to eat there, but we weren't about to pay £10.95 for the cheapest thing on the menu.

Undeterred we set off to a pub we had often driven past in a little village nearby. This time it was like turning back the clock 30 years.  We entered a small sparsely furnished public bar with two customers hunkered down over a table with pints.  David and I looked at each other, and then at the barman, who was regarding us quizzically.  He told us that, apart from the one we had already visited, none of the pubs in the area sold food.  We were advised to go to Glastonbury for fish and chips.  We were running short of time so, resigning ourselves to the prospect of sitting in the car eating soggy chips from greasy paper, we carried on.

We had never heard of Knights Fish and Chip Shop.  Behind the take away was a restaurant with marble tables, a wood burner and a stone spiral staircase leading up to the loos.  Gratefully we sat down and ordered.  It was then we recognised Michael Eavis, of festival fame, sitting at the table across the aisle from us.  After that it came as no surprise that the food, when it arrived a few minutes later, was exceptionally good.

We got to our meeting with two minutes to spare.  

I have a feeling that the Avalon Marshes are going to be playing a major part in our lives from now on, and that this won’t be the only time we go to Glastonbury for fish and chips.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Spring in my Garden

Yesterday I saw my first Brimstone, an unmistakable flash of sulphur yellow. I have never managed to photograph one, so when it settled briefly on a log I grabbed my camera and dashed out.  Needless to say just as I was about to press the shutter it flew off over the hedge.  Having gone outside into the sunshine I decided to 'seize the day'.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

How to lay a hedge in four, not so easy, lessons

I can now lay a hedge, it's official.  Not a particularly useful skill for a modern CV maybe, but it was something I had wanted to learn for a long time, so last month I took the plunge and signed up for a course that took place over four consecutive Sundays on a beautiful organic farm near Bristol.

 It was hard work, after the first day every muscle in my body felt as if it was on fire, but it was great fun, very rewarding, and definitely worth a few aches and pains.

The hedge we were working on was mostly hazel with some blackthorn.  This is how it looked when we started.

The first task was to clear away all the material that wasn't needed for laying which, given the thickness of the hedge, was a challenge in itself.  We were told to put anything suitable for stakes or binding to one side for later use.

Once all the excess vegetation and debris had been moved away we had the task of deciding which stems to lay, which to use as living stakes, and which to remove. Gaps were filled by hammering in stakes made from  hazel stems that had been removed from other parts of the hedge

Next we were shown how to cut into the stems with a bill hook so that they could be bent and woven between the stakes.  This wasn't as easy as the instructor made it look, and took a fair bit of practice.

The final touches were to weave long hazel binders into the top of the hedge to hold it down, and saw off the stakes to a uniform height.  

As we progressed our instructor gave us less and less help, and on the final session I teamed up with my husband to clear and lay our own section of hedge from start to finish.  The final result is pictured below.

It may not be the most expertly laid section or hedge you will ever see, and we certainly weren't speedy, but we both thought it was a job well done...  Does anyone need a husband and wife hedge laying team? 

Friday, 11 February 2011

My Wildlife Pond – A Tale of Trial and Error

I have always wanted a wildlife pond in my garden but I decided not to do anything about it until the children were old enough to be safe around water.  About seven years ago I finally took the plunge.  I decided to dig it myself, in the part of the garden that used to be my vegetable patch.  I had suffered a crisis of conscience about slug pellets a few years earlier and, despite trying every conceivable organic deterrent, had not been able to grow anything since!

I read a few books, marked out the outline of the pond, chose a liner, and began to dig.  Very quickly things began to take shape.  I enlisted my husband’s help to put in the liner and the whole family joined in as we filled it with water.  It had a deep patch in the middle, a muddy area for planting, ledges of various depths, a pebble beach, a turf bank on one side and slates around the other.

Mistake number one – I should have cemented the slates in, but I thought they would look more natural set in earth.  I have regretted this ever since as they have never looked right, but it is very hard to rectify once the pond has things living in it because if cement goes into the water it will kill everything.

I thought very carefully about planting and decided only to use natives.  Then my neighbour offered me a bucket of pond water and some of her plants to get things started – I found myself smiling and saying ‘yes please’.  Mistake number two.  One very pretty plant turned out to be a water primrose, which is an invasive alien, and a few days afterwards I noticed a tiny translucent fish swimming at the edge of the pond.  They oxygenators were full of goldfish fry!  I managed to get rid of the water primrose before it got established, but the goldfish were another matter! I gave away dozens as they grew up but the last one or two became very big, ate anything that moved, and defied all my attempts to catch them.  The last one disappeared a year ago so we are finally fish free – I am hoping that now my tadpoles stand a chance!

My last big mistake was to plant a native white water lily – I was warned that it would grow very big but did I listen?  Last summer it finally filled the whole pond so I took advantage of the early drought and low water levels to wrestle it out.  It felt like doing battle with a triffid! 

I finally have a fish free, water lily free, pond and the frogs have returned despite the hard winter.  I’m hoping that I have finally learned from my mistakes and that anyone reading this will learn from them too.

Disasters aside, my pond has giving me a great deal of pleasure over the years and it has brought some wonderful wildlife to my garden.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves...


An Explanation

Why 'Thoughts from a Dormouse'?

I was a dreamer when I was a child. One day at school a young, exasperated, teacher asked me a question. I don't know what it was, I didn't realise that she had spoken to me until I heard 'You are never awake in class, we will have to call you dormouse'.  It stuck! for the rest of my primary years I was known as 'dormouse'. In my mind I had a picture of a chubby creature sleeping in a teapot at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

Over thirty years later I made my first acquaintance with a real dormouse.  By then I was beginning to become involved with wildlife and conservation and had been offered the opportunity to train for a dormouse licence with Avon Wildlife Trust.  I wouldn't say it was love at first sight, but it was close!  I now have my licence and am still amused at just how prophetic that thoughtless remark turned out to be.