Lynx, Wolves, and Boar at La Garenne

 

I had the opportunity to visit La Garenne in the Jura mountains of Switzerland earlier this year. The zoo takes in and treats hundreds of injured wild animals, with most released back into the Swiss countryside. It also participates in breeding and reintroduction programmes. The focus is on animals which are native to the region, and this includes lynx, wolves, and boar which were once native to Britain too. In the Jura mountains, all three are now present in the wild to varying degrees, either by deliberate reintroduction or after recolonising the region from refuges elsewhere.

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Deadwood

Woodland continually creates deadwood, as branches fall or trees die. It used to be something that people “tidied up” and some still do. I came across a couple of lovely examples in Century Wood last week which show how wonderful and important it is.

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Green Man festival in Clun

The Green Man represents man in nature and as such makes a good symbol of the human aspect of rewilding. It has appeared on churches for hundreds of years but was only given a name in Lady Raglan’s Folklore Journal paper in 1939. People have since made wider connections to Jack-in-the-Green of Morris dancing and May Day festivals, the Celtic horned god Cernunnos, Herne the Hunter, and even Robin Hood. So it is both old and relatively new as a concept. Which also applies to the Green Man Festival in Clun.

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Lake Isle of Innisfree

I don’t know about you, but poetry at school was a hit and miss business. Looking back, it feels as if a lot of verse was thrown in my general direction, some of which has stuck and some of which just bounced off – even when committed to memory overnight to placate a teacher. W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is one that stuck, and a couple of years ago I realised its connection to hutting and to Walden in particular. The poem is short enough to quote in full here.

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Dodd Wood and Whinlatter Forest

After a morning spent at Allan Bank by Grasmere, I spent an afternoon at the Forestry Commission’s Dodd Wood and Whinlatter Forest Park sites either side of Bassenthwaite Lake. Again I was mainly looking for red squirrels, but didn’t have as much success as at Allan Bank.

Dodd Wood is a smaller site and is notable for having osprey viewing platforms manned by volunteers in the summer. It’s possible to see down to the osprey nest and watch the adults swooping down to pluck fish from the lake. Red squirrel feeders are also visible from the viewing station, but I didn’t see any signs of feed when I visited.

dodd-squirrel

However I did get some blurry pictures of squirrels scampering around. Like at Allan Bank, they seemed to be spending as much time on the ground as up trees. Even when aware of me and heading off, they didn’t take the opportunity to climb the nearest tree and then move around in the canopy.

One of the proposed reasons why red squirrels are helped by the presence of pine martens, is that grey squirrels spend more time on the ground than reds and so get preferentially eaten by pine martens, letting the reds recolonise the area. Perhaps the scent of pine martens prompts reds to keep off the ground more? Nuts tend to fall to the ground so if it is safe to come down from the trees then it might be worth having both behaviour patterns in their repertoire.

Whinlatter Forest Park is much larger and billed as England’s only true Mountain Forest. The staff in the visitors’ centre were up front about the low chance of seeing reds as the site was quite busy. I headed off on the Seat How Summit Trail, and didn’t see any other walkers all afternoon – just a few mountain bikers. This trail gets up to 520m where the trees give out to heather and includes Seat How, a rocky outcrop with astonishing views across the forest and over to the mountains and Derwentwater. It feels like an island in a sea of trees. These two photos give you a hint of all that.

As a working forest some areas were entirely closed off for felling. You can see evidence of clear felling in the left hand picture above. Some of the other forest roads had warning signs – particularly about the danger of climbing stacks of logs. Quite a sobering thought.

Despite the lack of red squirrels, I did manage to see deer, and toadstools, and a sycamore beside a roadway at about 300m.

 

 

Red squirrels at Allan Bank

Allan Bank above Grasmere in the Lake District is an unusual National Trust house: unfurnished and deliberately informal in a way that puts some NT properties to shame. You won’t find volunteers telling you off for getting a smartphone out to look something up (“No phones here young man!”) or even worse a camera (viral marketing by happy visitors passes them by…) No, at Allan Bank you can pull up a chair, get one of the board games out, try the paints, help yourself to coffee. When you arrive they really do tell you to make yourself at home. Which is nice, because it’s in area with active red squirrel conservation and the animals are easy to see at the feeders on the lawn and in the surrounding woods.

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Rewilding and permaculture at the Hay Festival

Yesterday I was at the Hay Festival and went to sessions about rewilding and permaculture. This was my first time at the festival, although I’ve been going to Hay-on-Wye’s second hand bookshops since I was young. The annual book festival is about ten days long and takes place in tents and covered walkways in a field outside of town. There is an official book shop and some stalls, but it’s mostly discussion sessions and talks. Some of these are plugging someone’s new book, but others are about other interesting topics.

After a bit of an explore, the first session I went to was also the first of the festival and was entitled
“Elements of re-wilding: perceptions and prejudices”. It took the form of a panel discussion led by Rob Yorke, with Sophie Wynne-Jones of Wales Wild Land Foundation and Bangor University, Julia Aglionby of the Foundation for Common Land (i.e. land with commoners who have a right to use it), and Minette Batters the deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union.

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Weeding the forest

What does “mismanaged woodland” mean? It’s very like saying “a weed”. It all depends on what you’re hoping will grow.

Gardeners complain about weeds and go to great lengths to eradicate them. But in other contexts, the very same plants are crops or part of natural, even protected, ecosystems. “A weed” has no botanical meaning. It’s a judgement we make, based on our objectives, plans, and even dreams for the ground in question.

People often talk about “mismanaged woodland” in the same way, often without realising it. It becomes a shorthand for woodland that is neither Ancient Woodland being preserved nor other woodlands being managed to produce timber or coppice products. But again, those are judgements we make.

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