Category Archives: Norfolk

Wild plants and flowers part 2

Time for part 2 of my wild plants and flowers blog, where I attempt to identify the various species I find roundabout where I live in Norfolk. I think  there must be hundreds of different plant species out there at the moment, I keep seeing new ones every time I go out for a walk or cycle ride, so I’ll only cover a fraction of what’s on my doorstep.

Is this week 6 in lockdown? I can’t remember how long I’ve been working from home now but it’s starting to get a little dull with the lack of office banter. At least I’m mostly still getting out for my daily cycle or walk, although I did miss a couple of days last week due to it being a bit wet and just not having the motivation. I’ve said it before but I do feel very fortunate to have such wonderful countryside and scenery on my doorstep, even if Norfolk does lack any serious hills or big forests; the Broads make up for it!

I really like what some enthusiasts are doing at the moment; using chalk to label the names of plants they’re finding in villages, towns and cities across Europe. Brilliantly educational for people out on their daily exercise, especially children. I suspect there was a time when kids were just taught the names of wild plants, and what they can be used for, as a matter of course, but that knowledge has faded. Using chalk to label the plants, which will wash off harmlessly in the next shower, is a great idea; and yes strictly speaking it might be illegal, but so are the air pollution levels in many towns, or driving whilst using a mobile phone, or fly tipping, but people get away with that all the time. I think we can let a bit of educational and colourful graffiti that is bringing a bit of joy slip.

On Sunday I rode my bike up to the coast at Happisburgh because I wanted to see the sea. It was actually the sound of the waves hitting the shore that I wanted to hear, rather than seeing it. Pedalling the country lanes was lovely, the verges covered in plants and flowers, insects buzzing and kestrels hovering. I also saw a stoat hunting along a hedgerow with its distinctive black tipped tail, but too fast to photo.

It was a 62km round trip on my bike, taking about two and a half hours. I want to start building up my cycling distances again in case I decide to do another long cycle tour once we’re out of lockdown. I’d really quite like to cycle round the coast of Britain again, which I first did in 2013. It was a wonderful trip, and I learnt so much about my own country; you can read about it on my Bike around Britain blog.

Before I get onto this week’s plants, here’s a short bit of film I took up at Happisburgh, in case you’d like to hear the sea too (and the wind).

On to plants.

The photo of this first one is from several week’s ago, and also contains a few other hedgerow species. Focussing on the plant in the middle with the arrow shaped leaves; Lords and Ladies, also known as Cuckoo Pint (Arum maculata). Some of the country lanes round me have banks crowded with it.

Lords and Ladies

Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum)

It’s got lots of other names, some of them quite evocative such as Jack in the pulpit, Devils and angels, Friar’s cowl and Adder’s root; these names might be down to the different plant parts looking like male and female genitalia. Later in the year it produces a fruiting stalk that grows up from the centre, with distinctive orange-red berries. You can see this around July/August and into Autumn. The flower, a cobra like hood, is nestled in amongst the leaves and is different again. It smells like rotting meat which attracts flies, which in turn pollinate the flower, pretty cool. I’ll try to get some photos of the different parts as they appear. Lords and ladies is poisonous as it contains oxalate acid crystals. These crystals are spiky and can irritate the tissue of your mouth and digestive track if swallowed. If you’re allergic to such things it could cause your throat to close up. I have tried a little bit and it’s definitely got a sharp and heated aftertaste, that builds with time; apparently the older you are the longer it takes to notice.

Lords and ladies is native to the UK, in England, Wales but not so much Scotland. It’s a perennial, and prefers the shaded areas. The plant contains large amounts of starch, so was used in washing for collars etc. I’m told that when the ‘gentry’ used to select their washerwomen they’d look for those with the sore red hands, as they’d be the hard workers; their hands were afflicted by the oxalate acid in the Lords and ladies.

Ground Ivy 1

Ground Ivy and interesting ladybird

I’ve included a couple of pics of this next one, Ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea). I like this first picture because of the interesting ladybird, and the pretty small purple flowers. Ground-ivy is another one of these plants that has multiple names, including Alehoof, Gill-over-the-ground, Catsfoot and Creeping charlie. I prefer Alehoof as before the introduction of hops Saxons used it to brew beer. It’s another native perennial and common throughout most of the UK, flowering from March to May.

Ground Ivy 2

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) – nice little purple flowers

I found this one in a graveyard, but it pops up all over the place and is considered an invasive weed by many. It’s actually a member of mint family, which you can tell by its square stem. I also don’t think anything that can be used to brew beer should count as invasive or a nuisance, although it can spread rapidly by runners or seed. I believe the leaves can be eaten in salads, but the plant might be toxic to livestock. Apparently it has lots of traditional herbal medicine uses, but I really don’t know if any of them are effective; treating eye inflammation, tinnitus, lung herb (bronchitis), as an astringent or a diuretic. I have a feeling a lot of uses were just made up, the old placebo effect.

 

 

I really want to cover wild garlic on this blog, also known as Ramsoms, however I’m learning there are probably several varieties.

Three-cornered garlic

Three-cornered garlic – Allium triquetrum

This photo I think is of Three-cornered garlic (Allium triquetrum), which is the same family as Ramsoms, and no doubt still counts; it certainly smells strongly of onions. I think this particular variety counts as an invasive species as it can smother out native species, meaning it’s illegal to plant it out in wild. If it is this then I’m seeing a lot of it on the banks of country lanes round me. For reference it flowers April to June and likes shady spots.

 

Wild Garlic - Ramsoms

Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) – broader leaves

The variety I wanted a photo of has broader leaves, and I found loads of it when I was down South last. This is what I regard as Ramsoms (Allium ursinum), and the two photos that follow are courtesy of the Wild Food UK website – https://www.wildfooduk.com/edible-wild-plants/wild-garlic/

 

Wild garlic flowers

Wild garlic flowers

This species is definitely native, and the flowers are quite different. It can be found over most of England and Wales, and Southern Scotland, in damp and shaded areas, especially woodland. It flowers from April to June. I love it for making pesto, and the whole plant is edible, however I would avoid digging up the bulbs so it can regrow. Garlic has a number of health benefits including treating high blood pressure and cholesterol. I’ve no doubt it has loads of other benefits too, including the obvious of keeping vampires away. I reckon you can use it pretty much anywhere you’d usually use garlic, so I think I’ll try adding some to guacamole next time I make it. Don’t get it confused with Lily of the Valley which looks similar but is poisonous; doesn’t smell anywhere near the same though.

Following the trauma of trying to work out which wild garlic is which, here’s something a little easier, and which again there is loads of around me at the moment.

White Deadnettle

White Deadnettle (Lamium album)

White Deadnettle (Lamium album) is very common alongside footpaths, hedge-banks and roadsides, but apparently gets rarer as you travel north. It’s a perennial and flowers from March to December. Like Red Deadnettle covered last time it won’t sting you. I’m told it can be eaten like spinach but I’ve not tried it. Herbal medicine wise it has been used to treat catarrh, and the flower used for treating sore throats and bronchitis. Apparently it might also be effective as a sedative.

Whilst it might have uses for humans, I think it’s of more use to the different varieties of insect I see feeding off it. Not mowing the roadside verges is definitely helping our insect friends thrive at the moment.

 

Yellow Archangel

Yellow Archangel (Lamium galeobdolon)

Here’s another Deadnettle, which I’d somehow failed to consciously notice before now, despite it being common in England and Wales. It’s a perennial flowering from May to June, although I saw it out in April this year; maybe another symptom of climate change and average temperatures going up. This one is called Yellow Archangel (Lamium galeobdolan), and I love the bright yellow hooded flowers. This example appeared to have slightly variegated leaves, which I don’t know if is usual or not; from the pictures I’ve seen I don’t think so. I believe you can eat the young leaves and shoots, and that the leaves taste slightly spicy. I might have to try making a tea or soup from it. All these plants seem to have multiple potential uses, and this one is again a diuretic and astringent, amongst other things.

Whist I’m doing ‘nettles’ I ought to cover the well known and often disliked Stinging Nettle (Urtica diocea), which I’ve no doubt most people can recognise.  This is common pretty much everywhere, and most definitely counts as a native perennial. It grows in woods, wasteland, gardens, field edges and footpaths, and is much loved by several species of butterflies, for their caterpillars. It’s definitely worth keeping a small patch in your garden, and not just for the insects. The small hollow hairs on the nettle leaves and stems are what sting, containing formic acid and histamine.

Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle (Urtica diocea)

Stinging Nettles are amazing plants as they have so many uses, and as they grow pretty much everywhere, and quickly, you can easily get hold of lots of them. They contain Vitamin B, as well as A, C and K, the aforementioned formic aid, minerals such calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and sodium. They  also contain between 19% and 21% protein, so they’re truly a superfood. I have made nettle soup from them, and thrown them in stews like spinach, you just have to remember to remove the hairs first by crushing and rolling them. That reminds me, I think you can use the pith from the inside of the stem to treat nettle stings, which could be handy, although you’ll probably sting yourself getting to the pith. Pretty much a superfood I reckon, and will be useful if the supermarket shelves go empty. It flowers from May to September.

Nettle cordage

Nettle cordage

One more use for the amazing nettle; you can make cordage out of it. Collect a load of stems, perhaps keeping the leaves for food, and split them down into long fibres by crushing the nodes, squishing the stem and separating, removing the pith. To make nettle string you dry the fibres for at least 20 minutes, then twist two lengths together in a twist and kink motion, which would be much easier to demonstrate than describe with words. Over the course of an evening round a campfire you can make quite long lengths of cordage that can be used for all sorts of things.

I think that’s your lot for today as I’ve noticed my word count has crept over 2000 and I don’t want people to fall asleep. I also want to save Umbellifers for next time, when I’ll perhaps cover the likes of Hemlock, and Hemlock Water Dropwort, both of which can kill you reasonably easily, although one is more painful than the other. And Hemlock is absolutely everywhere! That’s one of the reasons I don’t really like eating anything from that family, as I don’t want to get Cow Parsley mixed up with something that’s going to send me over the River Styx in a speed boat. I’ll see if I can find some Cow Parsley and Hogweed too though.

As before please don’t take any notes I’ve made concerning medicinal uses as gospel, as there are lots of different opinions out there, and different people are allergic to different things. Please do your own research.

I’ll leave you with a picture of a cat in a box, because cats love boxes for some reason, especially this one.

Cat in a box

Cat in a box – Boxus catus

Until next time, stay frosty.

Wild plants and flowers – Part 1

Over the last couple of months I’ve been able to get out a bit more, either before the lockdown started on my bushcraft course, or for my daily exercise regime now we’re having to practice social distancing. I’m grateful that whilst Coronavirus has brought hardship and grief to many, at least it came along in springtime, and with good weather to boot. I am enjoying walking or cycling through the Norfolk countryside, exploring hedgerows and copses, fields and Broads.

As well as birds and mammals getting busy with nest building, courtship and young, insects are buzzing and plants are growing. Since starting to learn about wild plants I’ve been amazed at the number of different types one can find in a small area. Different habitats can hold a multitude of different species; sunlight hitting a cleared woodland ride can cause dormant seed banks to germinate into colour, soggy marshland paths produce verdant green borders, and the hedgerows of Norfolk country lanes are just alive with plant life, in turn providing food and homes for animals and birds.

This year more hedgerows and road borders are being spared the chop and left to grow, leading to what seems to be an even greater abundance of springtime life. When I come upon a roadside verge that has been mowed, or a hedgerow that’s been flailed, I really notice the difference; sterile, smells empty, no colour, less buzzing and birds. It’d be great if Councils left far more of these areas to grow, and if people could leave at least a corner of their gardens to go wild, all providing vital habitat for plants and animals who are otherwise up against it.

As there are just so many plants to cover I’ve decided to split my blog into a few posts. I’ll cover ten or so species each time and see how far I get. Most species will be native to the UK, but they’ll be the odd non-native that slips in just because they’re interesting or have a pretty flower, or because I didn’t realise they were non-native. The definition of a native species seems to vary, but in general it’s a species which has evolved and is self-sustaining in a region, and which has not been introduced; although it could have arrived and colonised an area by natural non-human based means. To count as native the plant species needs to have been present in an area since ‘historical times’. Unfortunately I need another definition for ‘historical times’ at this point, as for example Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa), whilst widespread in the UK, is technically non-native as the Romans introduced it; good food source and building material.

I’ve already included a picture of Daffodils (Narcissus), of which there must be hundreds if not thousands of different species. Their brilliance in early spring can drag you out of the winter doldrums, and they also have a number of different medicinal properties which I won’t go into right now (colds, burns, wounds). If I do mention any medicinal properties please don’t take my word as gospel; do your own research and don’t believe everything you read. I’m pretty sure none of the plants I cover will cure COVID19.

I probably should have thought about how I was going to order this a bit more, rather than just going through my photos including them as they come. But that didn’t happen so here goes.

I’ll start off with the beautiful Wood Anenome ( Anemone nemorosa). I have to credit the second of the pictures below to the Wildife Trust website, as I needed another photo after realising the one I took a month and a half ago was from behind; not my greatest photography moment. The Wood anenome flowers from March through to May, although I think they’re about done this year. It has 6 or 7 petals (actually sepals) that can be purple streaked, surrounding yellow anthers. It’s low growing with slightly feathery leaves. I don’t know of any modern medicinal properties and think it’s probably quite toxic if you were to eat it. I always feel like Spring is firmly on its way when these appear.

The Wood anenome is an ancient woodland indicator species (AWI). An AWI is a plant species which is slow spreading, rather than a pioneer species that spreads by windblown seeds. They flower early before the tree canopy blocks out the sunlight, and are generally shade tolerant. Their rate of spread by natural means is limited to about a foot a year (if that), mostly via roots and bulbs, so when you see a carpet of bluebells, or a sea of Wood anenomes, you know they’ve been there for a long time. The definition of an Ancient Woodland is where there has been continuous tree cover since AD 1600; we have very little of it left in the UK, and projects such as HS2 definitely aren’t helping. If you’re in a wood and you see an AWI such as Wood anenome it’s a good sign the woodland has been there for a long time, and deserves respect and protection. One side note; the trees in an ancient woodland could still look young if it’s an area of coppice that has been managed for centuries, such as a traditional hazel coppice, so you won’t always see ancient Ent like looking veterans.

Next up is Jack-by-the-hedge, or Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), which flowers from April to June. The footpaths and hedgerows around me are full of this at the moment, but it can be found in woodland too. It’s a native biennial, biennial meaning it’s life-cycle goes across two years; it’ll flower in its second year. Perennial plants differ from biennials in that they live for more than 2 years, and can flower every year (not always though).

Jack-by-the-hedge

Jack-by-the-hedge or Garlic Mustard

I really like Jack-by-the-hedge. The leaves have a strong garlic taste, and can be eaten raw or boiled. You can eat the seeds that come later in the year which are also garlicky. Definitely a contender for Ransoms, otherwise known as wild garlic, which I’ll cover later or in another post depending on when my photo comes up!

Pedalling down country lanes at the moment I’ve seen a number of fine examples of the next entry, Greater Periwinkle (Vinca major). As suspected this plant was introduced to the UK, and can now be found throughout southern England. I’ve seen it in hedgerows where it trails and climbs, putting out these amazing purple flowers. I don’t think it has any particular uses, although maybe you could use the trailing stems to make rudimentary cordage.

Greater Periwinkle

Greater Periwinkle – amazing purple flower

There are a lot of small white flowering plants around at the moment, and it’s easy to get them mixed up.  This next one could easily be confused with Greater Stitchwort, I reckon anyway, but is in fact Field Chickweed, or Field Mouse-ear Chickweed (Cerastium arvense). I’m finding this along field edges at the moment, as well as roadsides. It’s a perennial, flowering from April to August, and is edible, although I’ve never eaten it and apparently you might want to cook it because of the texture. Pretty distinctive 5 sets of paired petals and yellow anthers.

Field Chickweed

Field Chickweed or Field Mouse-ear Chickweed (Cerastium arvense)

On the subject of when plants are appearing and flowering in Springtime, it’s worth talking about how things seem to be happening earlier and earlier every year as average temperatures increase due to climate change. I was introduced the concept of Phenology by a conservation scientist recently.

Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate, as well as habitat factors.

What I hadn’t thought about before, but now seems blindingly obvious, is the impact plants emerging, flowering and going to seed at different times, due to climate change, will have on other species that might rely on that plant. If for example plants are starting to grow earlier in the year, then caterpillars that feed on those plants may appear earlier. The problem is that they may be around before the bird nesting season, meaning a species of bird that relies on that caterpillar for feeding its young may now be caught short on food supplies. That’s just one example and I’m sure there are loads of other worrying changes of a similar nature that will impact our flora and fauna. Thank you to Dr Charlie Gardner, conservation scientist, for that info; I hope I got it right!

Climate change impact lesson over, back to plants. Here’s another one the Romans introduced because it’s a good food source. Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum), or hedge parsley, is a biennial, flowering from April to June, and there’s absolutely loads of it on the road edges and footpaths around me. I think it might be regarded as a bit of an invasive pest of a plant, and it certainly has quite a strong smell when there’s lots of it together. You can eat all of it which is handy; the leaves can make a white sauce or can be used as a herb, the younger stems cooked like asparagus, the roots make an alternative to parsnips and the flower buds can be eaten in salads. I’ve yet to try any but it’s on my to do list, I just get a bit nervous around the Umbellifer family, of which Alexanders is a member, as several of them can kill you very easily. Best not to get them mixed up really, and I’ll cover some of the poisonous ones on a future blog post.

Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) is another common plant I find in Norfolk, and throughout the UK. It used to be called Ranunculus ficaria but the Latin name has changed now, just to confuse matters. It’s a member of the buttercup family, as one might guess from the bright yellow flowers, and has other names such as pilewort. It also has quite distinctive heart shaped leaves. The name pilewort comes from its traditional medicinal use where the bulbous roots were used to make an infusion to treat haemorrhoids. The roots look a bit like haemorrhoids, which perhaps where the idea came from, but I have no idea as to their effectiveness; limited I suspect. It flowers from March to May, is a perennial, and can be seen carpeting banks and beside footpaths.

Lesser Celandine

Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna)

The photograph below isn’t perhaps the best example of the next entry, Red Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), which is the first of several nettles I’ll include. This one doesn’t sting, flowers from March to October, and is again pretty common throughout the UK on verges, waste ground and field edges. I believe it does have uses in herbal medicine due to its astringent and diuretic properties, as well as being anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, so you could use it for a wound wash or to make a poultice; nature is pretty funky when it comes to keeping wounds clean and helping them heal. It’s really not hard to find this if you go out for a wander.

Red Deadnettle

Red Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum)

Another Ancient Woodland Indicator species can be found in our native Common Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). This is a favourite of many, including me, not just for the colour that carpets woodland before the tree canopy closes, but also for the heady perfume they emit; such a lovely scent. It’s a perennial flowering from April to June, and is illegal to pick. I think it might be under threat from the Spanish Bluebell which was introduced and is escaping into the same habitat as our bluebell. When walking in the woods it’s good to take care to not step on bluebell leaves which are easily damaged; these plants take a long time to spread! Usage wise I think you can make glue from the sap and mushed up bulbs, but it really doesn’t seem like a good idea. They are also poisonous to eat, so let’s just leave them alone and admire their purple amazingness and heady scent.

I’m not really sure of the exact species in my next photo, but it’s a Horsetail of some description. It was in a marshy bit of ground so could be a Marsh Horsetail (Equisetum palustre), or one of several other types, maybe Equisetum arvense. I don’t think gardeners like it very much as apparently it’s invasive and doesn’t flower, but I liked the vibrant green of it, and the intriguing shape and structure. I don’t know if it has any medicinal properties.

Horsetail

Horsetail (Equisetum sp.)

Wood Spurge is another AWI species, and pretty common in Southern England and Wales. It’s a perennial flowering from March to May, with yellow-green disc like flowering structures making it easy to recognise. As with other AWI’s it spreads slowly via underground rhizomes, creeping long the forest floor. The milky white latex sap from Wood Spurge is poisonous, and used to be used to burn off warts. Take care if you try this as leaving the sap on for too long can make your skin permanently photo-sensitve.

Wood Spurge

Wood Spurge (Euphoria amygdaloides)

I think that’s my ten species for this post, with Daffodils included as a bonus. There are hundreds of plants I could cover, but I’ll concentrate on the ones I can find locally, and also the ones that are featured on my bushcraft course. There are around 30 I need to learn the Latin names for, as well as their uses, so I’ll feed those into future posts if I can find them. There are just so many cool plants out there like Wood Sorrel, Foxgloves, Primroses, Bugle, Herb Robert and Pignuts, to name but a few.

If you spot any plants I’ve misidentified please let me know. I’m using a variety of books including the excellent Wild Flowers of Britain by Roger Phillips, as well as an App on my phone called ‘Picture This’ ,which doesn’t always give the right answer but often points me in the right direction.

More plants and flowers next week, possibly interspersed with an alternative offering should I be inspired to write something else.

Stay frosty 🙂

Bluebells, blossom, birds and beards by the broad

I don’t know what day of the lockdown it is, and haven’t really watched the news today. Sometimes I just want a break from all the bad news, anxiety inducing headlines, speculation and frankly at times moronic questions from journalists during the daily press briefings.

I’m getting particularly sick of hearing conspiracy theories about how the virus might have originated. I really don’t believe the Chinese manufactured it in a lab; it’s far more likely this has come from nature due to our continuing destructive practices bringing us closer to infectious diseases. We really need to address the ecological crisis, which of course is tired to the climate emergency. And don’t get me started on 5G nonsense, whether it be how 5G can spread the virus (give me strength) or other unscientific theories. Conspiracy theories don’t do anyone any good, and of course you can’t really argue with people that really believe them as they just claim your counter-arguments are all part of the conspiracy. It would be nice if some people weren’t so credulous, and eager to try and convince others of their lunacy. In severe cases it can really put lives at risk, and cause unnecessary disruption.

I’m pulling together photos from my recent wanderings for a blog post on wild plants you can find growing on your doorstep at the moment, however this is quite a lengthy enterprise. It’s amazing how many species you can find along paths and roadside verges. In lieu of that, here’s a short film from the woods down by Salhouse Broad I took today. Many Bluebells, a lot of Blackthorn blossom, birdsong and the odd beard.

Working from home is giving me many more opportunities to get out into nature in my local area, for my daily bit of exercise. I really hope others are getting the same opportunity, whether that be in the city, where nature can still be found thriving, or out in the countryside. Once we’re out of lockdown I hope that working practices will change for many, allowing more time at home with friends and family, perhaps a slower pace of life, and more time to appreciate the natural wonders we have in the UK.

The current crisis also seems to have stimulated a gardening resurgence, both for people growing their own food, as well as planting more nature friendly species to help wildlife. Both these are great things; growing your own food will make us far more sustainable and less environmentally damaging as a nation, and our insects, birds and mammals need all the help they can get at the moment.

 

We just need to remember to try and plant native species where possible, and ponds don’t need to be sterile ornamental things. The wild pond in my garden has birds visit it everyday, as well as a hedgehog at night; far more entertaining than coy carp, in my opinion.

Nature may appear to be thriving in many places in the UK at the moment, but it’s not all good news. On my cycle ride the other day I noticed yet more hedgerows have been torn down alongside a road where I believe new houses are to be built. Hedges provide such vital habitat for nesting birds and shelter for mammals, as well as wildlife corridors. I really don’t know why the hedgerows have been removed, especially during bird nesting season which I think it illegal. There still seems to be flailing (violent machine hedge-cutting technique) going on too, which I hate, not least because it sprays wood splinters all over the road causing me punctures; I’m more worried about the impact on wildlife though. I really wish we could try and live and ‘develop’ in a more harmonious way with the wildlife we have left. At least roadside verges seem to have received some respite this year, with less mowing; it’s amazing seeing all the wild plants and flowers growing.

Perhaps the lockdown will allow people more time to appreciate nature, notice its beauty, and take in the destruction happening. We need to get out of this state of denial and ignorance. We need nature as much as it needs us to protect it. Maybe lockdown will give people the pause and thinking time needed, and once we emerge we can turn the decline in biodiversity around, and put the health of the planet, ourselves, and that of future generations ahead of profit and so-called ‘growth’.

Plant blog to follow 🙂

A wander down country ways

Another week done and it’s suddenly Easter! I’ve fallen into a new routine and try to get out once a day for a walk or a bike ride, around work stuff. Dunno how long the lockdown is going to go on for, but feels like a few weeks at least. Was hoping to get down to my parents for Easter, but obviously that’s not going to be possible. At least I can still stay in touch with family via FaceTime etc. Happy Easter everyone!

One of my excursions this week ended up at Salhouse Church, where I sat under Yew tree for a bit. I wrote a poem about the Yew, a tree that has a lot of mythology associated with it. If you fall asleep under them you can end up having very strange dreams, especially when there’s pollen in the air.

Yew Tree at Salhouse Church

Yew Tree at Salhouse Church

A wander down country ways,
To ease the stress of strangest days,
I stumble on a church and grounds,
Yew trees gather close around,

These guardians of ancient sites,
Witnesses to age old rites,
Dare I climb its spiky limbs,
As evening comes and daylight dims,

Instead I sit and breathe in deep,
Will Yew tree pollen make me sleep,
And bring with it the strangest dreams,
Not everything is at is seems,

A gateway to deathly halls,
Its poison touch darkness calls,
But life and rebirth it can bring,
Something good to make one sing,

I didn’t climb this mystic tree,
Respectful of its solemn key,
I’ll find another trunk to climb,
And come back here another time.

I’ve been exploring a few new trails on my bike rides, finding new hidden gems I wasn’t aware of.

I’m not sure I’d be able to stay sane if I wasn’t able to get outside once a day. The good weather is definitely helping too.

Norfolk has a lot of churches, a testament to its rich farming past. Landowners competed for prestige by building churches, some of them quite large in relatively small villages.

For some reason I always convert church photos to black and white, seems to work quite well. As a counter here are some Bluebells from down by Salhouse Broad, which have started to come out in the woodlands round me; useful ancient woodland indicator species.

As usual it’s beautiful down by Salhouse Broad at the moment, especially given it’s relatively quiet, with plenty of room to maintain social distancing rules. Very grateful to have it on my doorstep.

I’ve been trying to get to grips with learning new plant species.  Hedgerows are crowded with new growth, flowers and colours. There are at least 4 species of nettle I’ve seen (dead nettles), as well as lesser celandine, stitchwort, chickweed, Alexanders; I think I’ll do a separate blog post for wild flowers and plants, which will help me learn their names, especially the Latin ones!

It’s great cycling at the moment, a real pleasure with so few cars on the road. I’m really hoping that when we get back to ‘normal’ people choose to use their cars less, maybe work from home more. It would do wonders for the environment, and hopefully mean people have more time to enjoy the important things in life. Less cars also means less road kill, which has been very noticeable over the last few weeks. Nature is definitely breathing a sigh of relief with verges left to grow, and animals and birds spared being hit by traffic.

I’ve been trying to get a bit of track and sign practice in too, as I’ll be assessed on it later this year. It’s got trickier this week as the ground is harder (not rained for a while), and given I only have a brief window of opportunity each day I can’t explore as much as I’d like to. I found a nice Muntjac deer print (think it is anyway), and the remains of a pigeon which I reckon was taken by a bird of prey. Also found a bearded lizard in my herb garden! (they might be pets though)

I’ll finish with a picture from Wroxham Bridge, showing a very quiet river. Last Easter Wroxham was packed with visitors, but today there’s practically tumbleweed blowing down the high street. Oh, and here are some cat pics too – current house guests leaving fur everywhere whilst enjoying finding new places to sleep.

Adios for now.

Is it my imagination?

Is it my imagination, or are the birds louder, the insects more buzzy and does the air taste sweeter? Out on my bike for my once-a-day exercise break, I glory in the lack of background noise from traffic, the roads and skies quietened by necessity.

Sometimes I pedal down to the Broad, not too far from my house, to enjoy the peace that water brings. I’m alone there aside from a few dog walkers; usually it’d be packed with picnickers and boats.

It’s fun poking about, looking at the tracks and signs animals have left. I’ve yet to find Otter footprints, but have seen signs of their feeding. I’m sure there must be a badger set somewhere close by, but as yet it alludes me.

Spring flowers are bursting into life, which is helping me learn to identify new species. The flowers and warmer weather no doubt account for the large clouds of insects I pedal through, although I wonder if the cleaner air and reduced traffic are also playing a part in their increased numbers. Insects are such a vital foundation for trophic cascades and ecosystems, it would be wonderful to see their numbers recover. I sat and watched a bumble bee buzzing round the Broad for several minutes the other day.

As well as Salhouse Broad I sometimes cycle down to the River Bure, opposite the Ferry Inn on the other side of the water in Horning. There’s no one drinking and eating outside the pub, aside from gaggles of ducks and the odd swan.

On the home front I need to get out in the garden more, but remain pretty occupied with work. Did manage to get a bit of bread braking done, and was very happy to find Hedgehog scat in my garden; I think one might be visiting my pond at night.

Things are a little busier in my house than normal as I’m now playing host to 2 cats, 2 bearded-lizards, and an additional human who have all joined me for the ‘Lockdown’.  The cats like finding places to lounge in the sunshine, and seem content. It’s good to have house guests, as although I’m always happy in my own company, I’ll probably start to go slightly mad if this goes on for several months. I’ve also fixed up my big off road touring bike to explore local trails, and been carving spoons to practice my bushcraft skills; the course has been paused for obvious reasons, but will hopefully continue come Autumn.

As well as keeping on top of my natural history study, it’s been fun to try to improve my photography skills. I’m conscious I’m lucky to live where I do, and am able to get out on my own into the countryside and nature. There’s a  very low risk of bumping into anyone else, and if I do it’s easy to maintain several metres distance. I’m trying to post up a few photos on my Instagram and/or Twitter accounts from my daily exercise jaunts.

The Broad still has the greatest draw for me, although the Mallards do not obey social distancing rules.

It won’t be long until the Bluebells are out, carpeting the woods round here in colour. Definitely something to look forward to.

For the time being the Daffodils, Marsh Marigolds, Lesser Celandine, Stitchwort, Dead Nettles, Wood Anemones and countless other plant species I don’t know the names of are bringing colour to the landscape. Also, going on a walk can be quite a slow process now, as I keep having to stop to try and ID plants or animal tracks; Fallow deer example below I think.

A bit further on from Salhouse Broad is Ranworth Broad, another beautiful spot currently devoid of most humans. There are waterfowl aplenty to be seen, and I’ve spotted an elusive Kingfisher flitting about a couple of times; the brilliant blur of colour as it flashes past.

 

When I’m out in the countryside it feels like being out in a time warp. There are so few human based sounds and sights compared to normal, it sometimes feels like it could be a hundred years ago, or more. Nature seems to be thriving and I can’t help thinking it’s doing us all good (‘all’ being all inhabitants of this planet) to slow down a bit, COVID19 impacts notwithstanding. I’m hoping that we, as a species, can learn from this crisis. Maybe we can stop our relentless pursuit of economic growth, and destruction of the planet, slow down, appreciate what we have, and lead a more harmonious existence; one that might preserve the Earth for generations yet to come.

I’ll end with a bit of film from the Broad, which is mainly to showcase the birds singing.

Stay safe and sane.

Rebel for Life

‘Rebel for Life’. I love that phrase and the double meaning. Simple, with a big impact. That’s what we’re trying to do in Extinction Rebellion: Rebel against a system which is causing catastrophic climate change. The climate breakdown we’re experiencing now will impact all life on Earth within our lifetimes, and exponentially so within the lifetimes of our children. The evidence is irrefutable, and yet our leaders don’t seem get it. In fact most people don’t seem to get it, but that is changing.

Rebel of Life

Rebel of Life

Extinction Rebellion is a movement I have become part of over the last few months, and is something close to my heart. It’s great to finally meet and work with a group of individuals who feel the same way, and who are awake to the challenges we face; all the grief, anxiety, anger and despair, with the same aim of trying to provoke the changes desperately needed.

Traditional methods of driving change just aren’t working. Writing to your MP is all well and good, but what if they don’t listen, and are unwilling to educate themselves. Petitions get ignored, and scientists sidelined by powerful lobbyists backed by fossil fuel companies.

We attempted to get Norwich City Council to declare a Climate Emergency, however this was downgraded to acknowledging a Climate Emergency, with no increased commitment to reducing carbon emissions within a sensible timeframe. More political shenanigans by Labour councillors unwilling to face reality. Yes the council have done some good stuff on the climate front, but it’s nowhere near enough. In some ways I can’t blame them, as they truly believe they’re doing the right thing, but that’s because they’re not properly awake to the challenges we face yet. This is deadly serious. We need to adapt now, and that adaptation has got to be deep with fundamental lifestyle changes for all.

Thanks to the Green Party Councillor Denise Carlo for tabling the motion so eloquently, and to the backing of the Green Party Councillors present. A shame the Labour councillors don’t get it and are more concerned with political jockeying and short-term goals. It reminded me of why I’m loathed to watch Question Time anymore.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have 12 years to drastically cut carbon emissions if we’re to be in with a chance of limiting global temperature rises to below 1.5’C. Rises above that will see drastic increases in droughts, flooding, food shortages and extreme heat and weather events. We’ll see mass population displacement and migration, with the associated social, political and economic problems these bring. The bad news is we’ve almost certainly passed the point of limiting temperature rises to below 1.5’C, and we’re already seeing all these problems. It’s happening NOW.

And yet politicians, business leaders, and people in general don’t seem to want to acknowledge the Climate Emergency, or do anything about it. Even if a Climate Emergency is declared it’s only words, often not backed up by deeds, with policies driven by the idolization of unfettered and unsustainable economic growth; policies that often only benefit the superrich.

Again in some ways I can’t blame them. It’s hard to comprehend the scale of the problem and the impacts it’ll have. Much easier to live in denial and not wake up. And that’s what a lot of our so-called leaders want us to do: Don’t wake up, continue being compliant little consumers who can be exploited, whilst they sit amongst their riches secretly building emergency bolt holes for when it all goes wrong; yes, that’s happening, the world’s elite aren’t stupid.

The Norwich chapter of Extinction Rebellion took action last week, at the Norfolk County Council annual budget meeting, to try to drive home the point that change is needed. We strongly oppose the building of the new Western link road due to the increased carbon emissions that will result from both its building, and use.  The money would be far better spent on other projects such as public transport, social housing, renewable energy schemes, and measures to prepare for sea level rises that will sink places like Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. The leaflet we produced explains more.

Climate Emergency flyer for Norfolk County Council protest

Climate Emergency flyer for Norfolk County Council protest

We disrupted the council meeting for around 5 hours by occupying the council chamber and making our voices heard through colourful and at times harmonious chants. I went along to help record the protest and broadcast updates via social media.

We don’t take this sort of action lightly, however as the leaflet says we’ve had enough of asking politely and not being listened too, of being sidelined, ridiculed and ignored. Our leaders are failing us, even though they don’t seem to realise it, and need to be woken up. We won’t take the destruction of planet and our futures, as well as the human caused 6th mass extinction event, lying down. Again, this is happening now and it’s not hard to find out about it; look at how insect numbers have plunged, the levels of biodiversity loss, sea ice diminishing to the point of blue ocean events in the arctic, or the fact that between 150 and 200 species are going extinct every day – a rate that is around 1,000 times greater than the background or natural rate.

Four of our number were arrested at the protest, and willingly so, a small price to pay for getting the message out there. Kudos and my personal thanks to them all.

Council protest - 11 Feb - XR Norwich activists in action

Council protest – 11 Feb – XR Norwich activists in action

I should say the police were courteous and gentle, and we have no complaints about how they conducted themselves. They’re just doing their job. It’s a shame our politicians aren’t.

The four people arrested were charged under a law dredged up from the archives, something created in the early 20th century to deal with movements like the Suffragettes. Oh…the irony. The county council even had a Suffragettes exhibition on display in the building, but obviously were blind to the parallels.

Following on from last week’s protest a group of Extinction Rebels also visited a South Norfolk district council meeting last night, to table a question requesting the declaration of a Climate Emergency. The request was refused by the council, with their action on cleaning up graffiti, fly tipping, and road advertising all being cited as reasons why they’re doing enough.

Cleaning up graffiti…they really don’t get it to they. How can that possibly help any of us in the fight versus catastrophic climate breakdown? This kind of ignorance is what we’re facing, and why Extinction Rebellion advocates non-violent direct action. We’ve got to rebel to stand a chance, following in the footsteps of movements like the Suffragettes, or individuals such as Gandhi; when the political system fails us it is our duty to rebel against it, and this is surely the biggest crisis faced by the human race to date.

We did invite Councillor Kay Mason Billig, Deputy Leader of the South Norfolk District Council, to meet with us to discuss the benefits of declaring a Climate Emergency. Councillor Billig politely refused, confirming there was nothing more she could do to assist with this request seeing as the council had refused it. She did wish us well with our campaign though…which is nice…she clearly doesn’t get it.

Time is running out

Time is running out

On a positive note did you witness the children striking for their future on Friday? It was truly moving to see thousands of pupils strike from school lessons to protest against the lack of action on climate change, a movement started by the inspiring Greta Thunberg (please watch her TED talk, and follow her on Twitter). Hearing their voices eloquently calling for change was amazing to watch, and I’m very much looking forward to the next #SchoolStrike4Climate on March 15; this is going to grow and grow.

Some politicians such as the progressive MP for South Norwich, Clive Lewis, came out in support of them, whilst others, including our Prime Minister, derided the action saying pupils should not damage their education by skipping lessons, and could face detentions and disciplinary action. As many pupils have said it’s their future being destroyed, and it’s time for change. Sacrificing a few hours of lesson time is more than worth it, and what is the point of learning if there is no future? Full credit to these children, they’re doing more than most adults for the cause.

I believe Theresa May said something along the lines of children and teacher time being wasted. I’m not sure she really has a leg to stand on after seeing the parliamentary shambles of the last few years. They have also wasted at least 30 years by not doing anything to avert this crisis; these facts have been known for decades.

I’m at the point of complete disgust and despair at most of our politicians and leaders, with a few exceptions such as Caroline Lucas, or Clive Lewis. Talking to them just isn’t working, and neither are letters or petitions. Direct action seems our only recourse.

We are all going to have to change our lifestyles in order to stand a chance, and for our children to stand a chance. The changes needed will be far-reaching; a topic for another blog, and for a Citizens Assembly to try to work out. I certainly don’t have the answers.

The question I was asking myself today was why do most people in this country, and in more developed countries across the world, seem to value their often luxurious and consumptive lifestyles more than they love their children? Why won’t they make even simple changes like using a car less, rejecting fast fashion, or cutting down meat consumption? I don’t get it. Many indigenous cultures claim we have forgotten how to love our children. I think they might be right.

You can follow Norwich Extinction Rebellion activity via our Twitter account, @NorwichXr, as well as our Instagram and Facebook accounts. Please feel free to come along to one of the weekly general meetings which happen most Thursdays; details on Facebook, or message me.

Rebel for Life.

Writing to my MP

I made a commitment to myself at the beginning of the year to write to my local MP, Keith Simpson, concerning issues that I feel strongly about.  I figure you can’t complain if you’re not willing to do something about it, and also it’s going to help me keep sane in a world that increasingly makes less and less sense.

I may still write to him about being paid to cycle to work and how the Government could contribute to this, but I need to do some more work on that; they already indirectly contribute via things like cycle to work schemes, I’m just not sure they work very well. In the meantime I’ve sent the below, and am looking forward to seeing what he has to say.

Dear Rt Hon Keith Simpson MP,
I hope this email finds you well, and like me looking forward to it getting a little more spring-like soon. It was good to see you in the local press recently alongside the announcement that the last bit of the NDR will be opening soon.
I am writing to you concerning the increasing number of housing developments that are being planned around Norwich, which are starting to eat up more and more green field sites. I understand there is a housing demand, however I want to make sure this demand is being satisfied in a well conceived and sustainable fashion, without too much impact on the environment and our beautiful countryside, something I’m sure you can agree with.
To let you know a little about myself. I moved to Salhouse just over a year ago, and am loving living in the countryside after being in Norwich since I moved from the South East to go to UEA in 1993. I now work for Virgin Money as a Project Manager.
I recently read an article in the EDP (http://www.edp24.co.uk/edp-property/councillors-approve-380-homes-sprowston-1-5459687) which claims that a housing development in Sprowston will only have 10% of affordable homes, despite the Joint Core Strategy policy having a target of 33%. I would like to know if this is true (the EDP isn’t always 100% accurate), and what the reason for this deviation is. Is it a case of the developer saying they won’t have a sufficient profit margin if the affordable housing ratio goes above 10%, and if so has this been independently verified? I understand this development falls within the Broadland district.
My concern is that whilst we have a housing shortage, and need to build more homes, what’s the point if people aren’t going to be able to afford them? People may also overstretch themselves on the borrowing front, leading to bad debt and repossessions should interest rates go up, which seems inevitable in the short to medium term. My suspicion from reading other articles on housing plans is that very few will meet the recommended percentage of affordable housing. Perhaps the strategy needs to be revisited on this, or pressure put on developers to change their plans?
I also recently wrote to the Broadland Planning department concerning a small housing development that is being planned for the field behind where I live (Application 20180360). I know they don’t reply to individual emails, however I’d like to make you aware of the points I raised, especially considering Salhouse again experienced issues with flooding this winter. I have copied in the relevant section of my email of 31 March 2018 below.
1) Access to the new development via Barn Piece Close. I’m not convinced the road is big enough to be used by vehicles accessing the additional site. It’s quite narrow, and access on to the main road could start to become an issue with the increased number of cars. There could be a risk this turns into an accident zone as cars don’t exactly travel down Salhouse Road to the mini roundabout slowly. Also the dead-end close has children who play in it at the moment, and safety issues might result from increased traffic. Is there an alternative route into the site that could be considered, perhaps directly from the main road?
2) Mains sewerage capacity. I read in the parish magazine about issues with the village sewerage system overflowing, and not really being fit for purpose for the current number of homes. Is there not a risk the increased number of dwellings could cause more overflow problems. Should the sewer system be improved and expanded prior to any new development being considered? The sewer system recently overflowed again, thus proving this is still an issue.
3) Other utilities. Aside from sewerage, are other utilities such as gas, water, broadband, electricity etc of a sufficient capacity to supply the new homes, with no loss of service to the existing homes in the vicinity?
4) Further expansion. Would this development pave the way for even more development in the immediate area, which would exacerbate the above points even further?
5) I assume the standard ecological surveys ref bats, newts etc will be completed? We have enough threats to the UK’s biodiversity as it is. I would really prefer to see more brown site development going on.
I realise development on brown field sites can be more expensive, and that affordable housing is not going to be as attractive to developers seeking to maximise their profits. However, with the challenges first time buyers and lower earners face with getting on the housing ladder, and the threats our countryside and environment are up against, would it be possible to initiate a review of the planning policy to ensure it is benefitting everybody, and doing what it can to protect our rapidly diminishing natural spaces and biodiversity.
A supporting argument for this may also be that the housing market is slowing down due to fears of interest rate rises and lack of affordability. Hopefully this means we have the time to review plans and make sure we get them right?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
James Harvey

 

I’ll share any response I receive. I have a feeling this may be the first of many pieces of correspondence to Keith, however I’ll always try and make them constructive.

In my next post I’ll get back to plans for summer cycling trips; bike-packing in Scotland on the horizon.