The Fight for Beauty

Fiona Reynolds, the former Director General of the National Trust has just published her first book, The Fight for Beauty – our path to a better future.

“We live in a world where the drive for economic growth is crowding out everything that can’t be given a monetary value. We’re stuck on a treadmill where only material things in life gain traction and it’s getting harder to find space for the things that really matter but money can’t buy, including our future.”

The fight for beauty

This is a powerful book which reviews the history of beauty, aesthetics, landscape, countryside, nature conservation, farming and urbanisation. It then sets out how we can move forwards.

The book has chapters on the battle for National Parks, how nature and the wider countryside lost out, how farming made and destroyed beauty, the battles of trees and woodlands, the success story of the coast, cultural heritage and the battles around urbanisation and planning.

Fiona is not just a historian though, she has played a leading role in many of these stories, as well as working for the National Trust she has also worked for the Campaign for National Parks (CNP) and the Campaign for Rural England (CPRE). For example she has been actively involved in the battles over the intensification of farming on Exmoor in the 1980s, the threat of drainage on Halvergate Marshes in the Norfolk Broads, the trials and tribulations around the passing of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Bill, the row over the privatisation of the Forest Estate, the rumpus over the National Planning Policy Framework  and the campaign to get children back outside and enjoying wildlife and the countryside.

Fiona has been a high profile campaigner throughout her career, I remember well in the 1980s and 1990s when I worked for the Wildlife Trusts how we were all envious of her and how she was always on the Radio 4 Today programme talking about the environment ahead of all the other campaign groups.

I worked with Fiona when I was at NT when I was drawing up the Wicken Fen 100 year Vision – the plan to massively expand the Fen by creating new habitats for people and wildlife – without Fiona’s support and encouragement that project would have come to nothing. I was therefore very proud to find that my work at Wicken is featured in The Fight for Beauty.

This is a good book and one that everyone interested in the protection of our countryside should read. The conclusion from all of the battles described is that we need to ensure and encourage everyone to get out and enjoy their countryside and wildlife – unfortunately such activities are now less common than they once were. This needs to change because if we don’t enjoy the beauty of our countryside and green places we won’t fight for them when they are threatened.

I hope in a small way that my blog encourages people to get out, be curious about the natural world and ultimately fight for the places they love too.

Garden comes alive

For the last few weeks spring has been unfolding at a steady pace, today my garden has burst into life. There are butterflies, solitary bees, bumblebees, hoverflies, beetles and bugs everywhere. I even surprised a grass snake on the lawn which promptly slid off into the undergrowth. I’m sure who was most startled ….. I have managed to photograph a few species.

Red-headed Cardinal Beetle
This is a red-headed Cardinal beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis)

Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatusThis is a capsid or mired bug called Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus

Green-veined White-2A green-veined white feeding on a Geranium

Criorhina floccosaThis splendid beast is a hoverfly which is mimicking a common carder bumblebee – it is called Criorhina floccosa

Criorhina floccosa - mapI have never seen this species before and it is rather a scarce species usually associated with woodland – the huge protected oaks in my garden might have helped lure it in.


Finally I found this and to be honest I don’t know what it is – any ideas anyone?

A view from Dartmoor into Cornwall

Whitchurch Common is on the western edge of Dartmoor – it is on the top of the hill before the land plunges down to Tavistock and beyond. There is a large car park on the Common below Cox Tor and it contains a plaque which details the panorama in front of you.

Plaque - west Devon-CornwallYou can zoom in on the plaque to read the writing (i.e. double click on the image)

To help you I will transcribe the words / locations. From left to right (or if you prefer from south to north) it reads:-

Staddon Heights, Plymouth Hoe, Mount Edgecumbe, Roborough Down, Plaster Down, Tamar Bridge, Saltash, Whitchurch Common, Tamar Valley, Whitchurch Down, (Lands End 80 miles), Gunnislake, (Tamar Valley), Kit Hill, Caradon Hill, Kilmar Tor, Tavistock, Brown Willy, Launceston, Ramsdown, Brent Tor.

Panorama - west Devon-Cornwall
Here is a panorama of the view – you can double click the image to enlarge it – it includes all the places on the plaque and also includes Cox Tor on the extreme right.

Quite a view and worth a visit if your are in the area

Emsworthy’s bluebell lawns

The bluebells at Emsworthy are coming into full flower – it is an impressive and joyous sight.

Emsworthy bluebells 4
Emsworthy is a nature reserve owned and managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust – see here for location and details

Emsworthy bluebells 1
It is located west of Haytor and Saddle Tor on the road to Widecombe

Emsworthy bluebells 2
Look out for the orange barn – that is where you need to head

Emsworthy bluebells 3
The spectacle is all the more enhanced by the calling of the cuckoo – zoology and botany hail our spring

Rarities from a Dartmoor boggy meadow

I went over to the wet meadows at the west end of Fernworthy Reservoir in search of marsh fritillaries – I failed to see any as it is probably too early in the season but I did manage to find a few other interesting things.

Ctenicera cuprea
This is Ctenicera cuprea – a click beetle  see here for more details

Ctenicera cuprea map
The distribution map from the National Biodiversity Network only shows records from the Somerset bit of the Exmoor National Park – UPDATE – despite what the map shows it has apparently been recorded before on Dartmoor – thanks Keith Alexander

Sericomyia lappona
I also found this hoverfly Sericomyia lappona which is quite uncommon on Dartmoor

Sericomyiia lappona map
It has been seen before on Dartmoor but not at Fernworthy

Green-veined white
There were a lot of green-veined white butterflies on the wing- their caterpillars feed on cuckoo flower which was abundant in the wet meadows

FrogI worry about treading on things when I walk about in wet grassland and bogs …. I should’t worry as a frog stood on me!

Grange Barn – the oldest barn in Britain

Grange Barn in Coggeshall  in Essex is one of the oldest agricultural buildings in Europe. The oldest timbers in the building date from the early 12th century.

Grange Barn 1
It is a huge building – 120 feet long, 45 feet wide and 35 feet high

Grange Barn 2It was built by Cisterian monks so that they could store their agricultural produce

Grange Barn 6

To me it is one of the wonders of Britain and clearly shows how important the management of woodlands was in the 12th century in producing timber for huge buildings like this

Grange Barn 3The building was used for agricultural storage up to the 1960s

Grange Barn 4

After which it fell into disrepair – during the early 1980s it was saved from destruction and restored by local people – I first visited Grange Barn in 1986 with Oliver Rackham

Grange Barn 5The roof consists of over 85,000 tiles

The Barn was given to the National Trust in 1989 and is now open to the public – see here for the opening time details.

Devon County Show and some sheep

I went to the Devon County Show yesterday. Lucky with the weather – no rain – I fear that today will be rather different ….. I went to see the judging of the Best in Breed Sheep finals.

Gretface Dartmoor
This is the best in breed Dartmoor Greyfaced Sheep

Whiteface Dartmoor
Best in breed Whitefaced Dartmoor sheep

Scottish blackface
Best in breed Scotch blackface sheep

Devon and Cornwall longwool
Best in breed Devon and Cornwall Long Wool sheep

Charolais - best in show
And finally – Best in Show – a Charollais sheep with the owner Mr Alford from Cullompton and the final’s judge

Farming can be quite a lonely business, so many farmers love exhibiting their animals at the many local shows. It is a time to meet their neighbours and other farmers to look after the same breeds as them, a chance to compare notes and work out where to buy some new sheep from. Congratulations to all the ‘best in breed’ winners (sheep and owners!) and to Mr Alford – proud moments to win at the Devon County Show and you can see that in his face.

A couple of alpacas – now quite a common sight on Dartmoor and in Devon

Red deer hind
A red deer hind on the British Deer Society stand

A goshawk on a falconry stand – one of Dartmoor’s special birds

Exeter Morris men
The Exeter Morris Men performing outside the beer tent!

The Exeter Wheel
And the Exeter Wheel – a new attraction this year.