A Black Fox Running

I was passing Waterstones in Exeter on Saturday and saw a window display for this book.

If you love Dartmoor and wildlife I suspect that this book is for you. I’m halfway through it and am spell bound.

Here is what Waterstones have to say about it – it will give you an idea of what to expect .

A beautiful lost classic of nature writing which sits alongside Tarka the Otter, Watership Down, War Horse and The Story of a Red Deer

This is the story of Wulfgar, the dark-furred fox of Dartmoor, and of his nemesis, Scoble the trapper, in the seasons leading up to the pitiless winter of 1947.

As breathtaking in its descriptions of the natural world as it is perceptive its portrayal of damaged humanity, it is both a portrait of place and a gripping story of survival.

Uniquely straddling the worlds of animals and men, Brian Carter’s A Black Fox Running is a masterpiece: lyrical, unforgiving and unforgettable.

Does it matter how we describe our uplands?

A couple of weeks ago I received a new book on the uplands – ‘Managing Uplands Resources:new approaches for rural environments’ by Lois Mansfield. It is very good, it is 650 pages long, is a hardback and costs £50. It covers all the broad topics you would expect and in many cases interprets the issues in novel ways.









There is a good section in the book on the words we use to describe the uplands. For example, we call them ‘marginal’, ‘Less Favoured Areas’ and ‘Severely Disadvantaged Areas’.In effect we are framing uplands for what they are not very good at doing i.e. we are making them compete with the lowlands.

Instead we should be celebrating what the uplands have to offer rather than what they lack. For example we should be celebrating all the public goods they offer such as landscape, beauty, carbon storage, water supply, access, wildlife, archaeology and pasture fed cattle and sheep.

So rather than getting upland farming to compete with lowland farming (and guess what, it’s not very good at that) we should be highlighting the comparative and absolute advantages that uplands offer thereby facilitating the public money to pay for the public goods via a pastoral management system.

Lois Mansfield is Principle Lecturer in the Department of Science, Natural Resources and Outdoor Studies at the University of Cumbria. She says in her foreword

‘I hope reading this book makes our uplands more resilient to whatever is coming round the corner. Now read the book, get, get out and make a difference.

Hear Hear.

And of course use some positive language.

You can get the book on Amazon now for £45 – see here.



A couple of new moth books for me

I recently bought a couple of ‘new’ moth books.

The book on the left British Moths was new to me whilst the one on the right is the re-written 3rd edition of the book I always use to identify moths.

The British Moths book by Manley is a photographic guide to all of the UK’s moths – micros and macros and the second edition was published in 2015. Comprehensive and a series of great photos.

The new 3rd edition of the Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Waring, Townsend and Lewington has been completely re-written and now contains maps for all the species (only the 800+ species of macro moths). It also contains 72 plates of of all the species painted in their natural postures by Richard Lewington. It also contains some additional species compared to the 2nd edition as these have now been recorded in the country.

So I generally start off using the Field Guide to identify a species and then confirm the ID using the Manley photographic guide.

If you only get on book it has to be the Waring, Townsend and Lewington Field Guide.


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.

Wild Swimming Walks – Dartmoor and South Devon

A new book on wild swimming and walking on Dartmoor has just been published – Wild Swimming Walks Dartmoor and South Devon by Sophie Pierce and Matt Newbury. It gives details of 28 lake, river and beach days out. It costs £14.99

I have done a bit of wild swimming but to be honest it is not really my thing however this little book is excellent – all the walks are between 4 and 7 miles in length and include a wild swim.

Wild Swimming Devon 1
I have been to most of the the places detailed in the book on Dartmoor as part of my 10 Tors training walk but this book gives everyone easy access to some of Dartmoor and south Devon’s special places.

Wild Swimming Devon 2
Walk number 12 is around the Plym Valley and includes the magical Shavercombe Valley and its little waterfall, you could follow the instructions for this walk to get to a lovely remote place and you could then treat the two swims / dips in this walk as optional or compulsory as is your want.

Wild Swimming Devon 3Another walk up the East Dart to Sandy Hole Pass and its waterfall.

I can really recommend this book either as a short walks guide or as a walk / swim guide – either way it takes you to some brilliant places. None of the walks are that long either and as they focus on rivers and lakes don’t involve lots of climbing.

I will certainly be using the book to explore some of the places I haven’t been to yet.

You can order the book from Amazon here.

What do these books all have in common?

The answer I am looking for is NOT that they are all nature / wildlife books ….

Carry Ackroyd 1
The excellent British Wildlife series

Carry Ackroyd 2
Four recent books including the just published Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss which I have just started reading

Tweet of the day
Tweet of the Day which I often feature in this blog – see here and here for example

Got it?

Nature's powersAll the books feature the art work of Carry Akroyd – the very talented and successful artist who lives in Northamptonshire. I have known Carry for many years (I used to live and work in Northamptonshire for the Wildlife Trust where we first met).

Wicken Fen
I was even lucky enough to be given one of her paintings when I left the National Trust at Wicken Fen and moved back to Devon.

Check out her website here

Her paintings and prints capture the essence of our wildlife and make it more likely that more of us will want to conserve it

Rain – four walks in English weather

I was in the bookshop last Sunday (again ….) and found this little book perched on the shelf – to be honest it was the National Trust logo and the author’s name that caught my eye and not the title. I flicked through it to find that Melissa Harrison has produced a book about four walks in the rain – two of them in places I know and love deeply – Wicken Fen and Dartmoor. I was the Property Manager at Wicken Fen for the NT for 7 years and was General Manager for the Trust on Dartmoor for 11 years.


The author deliberately sets out to go walking in the rain in different seasons in different places  when most other folk would find an indoor activity instead. This is a book of nature writing so if you want to follow in Melissa’s footsteps and follow her routes you will be disappointed. You get occasional glimpses and hints of where she (her husband and dog) have been and this is interspersed with passages about the history, people and nature of the places overlain with meteorological experiences.

I really liked the book – at this point I have only read the chapters on Dartmoor and Wicken Fen – there is a chapter on the Darent Valley and  another on Shropshire.

The book has inspired me, today I have decided to go to Wistman’s Wood (a place Melissa visited), I have checked the weather  for Postbridge (which is nearby) and light rain and drizzle are forecast. Perfect – a Dartmoor walk in Dartmoor weather with a special Dartmoor name – mizzle.

The slight shock for me with the book however was to find that I had been thanked in the acknowledgements. I’m not really sure what I did but nice to be thanked anyway!



Two new books: Spring and Raptors

I went shopping yesterday ….. and bought a couple of nature books. I was on a mission to buy the first one – ‘Spring’ which a compilation of nature writing by well known and new writers. I had read that it was coming out and was given the following endorsement / instruction from my former colleague and friend Matthew Oates,Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 18.41.27

‘Spring’ is described as ananthology for the changing seasons, it is published by Elliot and Thompson in partnership with the Wildlife Trusts. It contains contributions from 67 writers celebrating spring ranging from Shakespeare, Gilbert White, DH Lawrence, George Orwell, Thomas Hardy through to more recent people such as Melissa Harrison, Stephen Moss, Jo Cartmell and Lucy McRobert.

Spring Melissa Harrison

It also contains a piece from a new writer Elliot Dowding who I only know because he follows my own blog and frequently ‘likes’ pieces I write (thank you Elliot – people ‘liking’ my work encourages me onwards). Elliot’s contribution describes the emergence of spring as he travelled back from volunteering for the RSPB at Haweswater in the Lake District, on a train, to his native Sussex. The further south he went the more signs of spring he saw. Beautifully observed and described – I wish I could have written like that when I was 22! He is worth checking out – he runs his own blog ‘Wildlife and Words‘ which contains many well written,  considered and interesting pieces – see here. At this point I have only read Elliot’s contribution in the book.

For me ‘Spring’ is a book to dip in and out of – I will try and read one or two pieces a day and hopefully by my first cuckoo I will have completed the book. Excitingly volumes on Summer, Autumn and Winter are also planned – excellent. I guess I really ought to get a copy of Melissa Harrison’s book ‘At Hawthorn Time‘ too.

The second book I acquired today was bought on a whim, I saw it one the shelf at my local Waterstones in Exeter (the joy of browsing in a bookshop is much better than browsing on the internet I feel). It is called Raptor and to be honest I hadn’t heard of it before. I have had a lifelong passion for raptors (birds of prey) and when I was clearing my mother’s house after she died in 2014 I found a notebook I had produced when I must have been 11 or 12 where I had drawn and written about all of the UK’s raptors. I am fortunate I have seen all our species of birds of prey in the wild and that is that storyline running through Raptors. James Macdonald Lockhart gives a chapter to each of our native raptors and tells a tale of each in a specific place.

Raptors Lockhart

I only bought the book yesterday, so have only read a little bit so far. I have read part of the first chapter on hen harriers and the whole chapter on buzzards.

The book weaves together the story of Lockhart’s great grandfather, the famous Scottish naturalist Seton Gordon, the 19th century ornithologist William Macgillivray and his own travels in search of birds of prey.

The buzzard chapter is located on Dartmoor and described Lockhart’s quest for them in the Teign Valley – starting in Chagford  tracing the river back up to its source high on Dartmoor, wild camping (where I too have camped) and then descending downstream to the National Trust’s and the Woodland Trust’s land around Castle Drogo.

It is compelling writing and I am really looking forward to the rest of the book – a mix of history, ornithology, nature writing and personal experience.

Both books are highly recommended and to use Matthew Oates’ words – “Essential reading”.