Many years ago, I was writing environmental and gardening columns for an English language publication in France.
I wrote a piece on Japanese knotweed, a plant that has become a real problem in many countries.
Introduced to Europe in the 1800s as a garden exotic, this rampant plant soon began to make a nuisance of itself. It sends its root down to a depth of three meters and spreads them horizontally as widely as seven meters.
Those roots can penetrate concrete and road surfaces and can even knock down walls. …
Many decades ago, for reasons that escape me now, I found myself living in a small caravan on the beautiful East Coast of South Africa. I was not alone in that tiny little van. I shared it with three rather large rain spiders. Rain spiders are large, hairy spiders, given to bursts of speed that would make your average Porsche owner green with envy.
As a nature lover, I must confess that spiders and I have a rather uneasy relationship. …
Care workers, social advocates, and saints be damned. We want to worship at the feet someone who can throw a ball through a hoop, jiggle their butt while lip sinking to a soon to be forgotten song or make a million dollars before breakfast. Let’s hope that the good Lord doesn’t decide to judge us by who we promote to the status of hero. This seemingly universal human characteristic has only been magnified by the advent of social media.
I wish that this glaring weakness in our collective character was restricted to our fellow human beings. Unfortunately, that is simply not the case. Even in the area of environmental protection, we love to have our rock stars. Whales dominated the stage for over a decade, only to be replaced by elephants and then rhinos. …
At this time of year, large numbers of European starlings form vast flocks just before sunset. Together, they provide one of nature’s most impressive displays. Moving in perfect union, they twist and turn to create synchronized patterns across the sky above their roosting sites.
Very often, these displays, called a murmuration, are performed in front of the vast orange backdrop that one only gets with a late autumn evening.
At a distance, the starling is quite an uninteresting looking bird, quite similar to a blackbird but slightly duller, perhaps.
One needs to get close to appreciate the ivory white spots and the iridescent sheen to their wings. …
For days a noise coming from either the dry stone walling or the flower bed beneath it had been bugging me. It was the sort of short beep one associates with a mobile phone when it signals you that the battery is about to go flat.
I don’t carry a mobile, and if you are thinking, this makes me somewhat antisocial, you should know that my wife agrees with you.
I knew with some degree of certainty that it could not have been my wife’s phone. Hers was undergoing treatment after its third plunge into the toilet bowl in less than a fortnight. …
When we were small, and my parents wanted to escape from my sister and me for an evening, they would invite an elderly couple to come to our house to babysit while they were away.
The journey back in time is too long to remember names, but I clearly remember that the-old-man had lost the four fingers of his left hand, which must have been in an industrial accident.
I never fell for his story that he had cut them off while shaving, but my kid sister was always a little more gullible than I was, and so I am not so sure about her to take on this. …
I have recently abandoned writing on Medium on any subject other than nature and the environment. For me, it is something of an experiment.
The results have been quite shocking.
Where I once held top writer status in several different categories, my readership has since dropped dramatically.
I enjoy reading about nature and the environment. Though our pawning of the planet can be downright depressing at times, I have long believed that it is the most crucial issue humankind facing at the moment.
I know that there are other writers out there with similar views, but it seems we are a tiny minority; outliers in a world that would far rather read listicles about — Ten Ways to Get Rich on Medium — or — Sixty Sex Positions You Hadn’t Heard Of. …
In September of this year, a couple of walkers in the Alsace region of France stumbled on a small aluminum container holding a message on a tiny piece of tracing paper.
The message had been carried by a pigeon and was from a Prussian Infantry officer to his regiment in, what historians think, 1910.
From my point of view, the timing couldn’t have been better because it offers me a gentle lead into a story that I have wanted to tell about Peregrine falcons in London. (I’m getting there — I’m getting there.)
Pigeons were used extensively to transport messages during both World Wars. …
I have just finished George Monbiot’s excellent book on the subject of rewilding, called Feral.
In the book, Monbiot takes an in-depth look at just how much of a change to our environment would be if we reintroduced some of the larger mammals ranging from beavers to bears.
For more than ten years now, I have been experimenting with a little rewilding project of my own.
To the rear of my house, I have a pocket handkerchief-sized walled garden of just over thirty square yards.
As is often the case in ancient French villages, the garden is an oddly shaped patch of ground walled in by irregular houses and an old barn. …
Many years ago, when I first moved to France, I bought and started to renovate a two-hundred-year-old house that had been abandoned for decades.
The crooked stone walls and giant oak beams soon began to test both my skills and my fragile relationship with my bank manager. When offered a day a week of gardening work at a nearby manor house, I jumped at the possibility of reversing the outward flow of cash from my bank account.
Within a week, the elderly couple that owned the estate had persuaded me to up my duties from one day a week to two by bribing me with a substantial pay rise. …