Posted in Book review, Nature, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

Reading Challenge 2020: Wilding – Isabella Tree

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Hey Lovelies!

Happy May 1st. Part of me is really shocked that it is May and another part of me feels like each day is becoming a blur. One thing I do take comfort in is that each day that passes means that we are a day closer to our old sense of normality. We’ve all embraced the new normal but I for one would really like to see my family some time soon!

The book for this month came at just the right time. The theme for the Reading Challenge for April was: Focus on a story of nature and / or the spring season. You can remind yourself of the theme for each month in my earlier post: here. One thing that is a constant is that time is passing and that brings with it the beauty of the natural world around us which seems to be excelling at the moment. Wilding is the perfect book for this season.

Wilding

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of Charlie and Isabella, two young farmers who are breaking convention and challenging the norm with regard to their land. The book is fascinating and rich with depth and detail. Charlie and Isabella are working hard on their farm, investing in the latest technology, intensively farming every possible part of the land to maximise productivity because, truth be told, their land isn’t good farmland for cash crops. Even with subsidies, they are struggling to make it work. Determined and ambitious, two qualities they both epitomize, the writing is very much on the wall for them.

Set in the heart of the south of England, the farm is stunningly beautiful. It’s criss-crossed with roads and public footpaths. There is an abandoned castle on the land and it has been in their family for hundreds of years. It’s more than a commercial enterprise, it is part of them and part of the surrounding community. But, it is dying. The land is exhausted, the yields are just not there. Even the ancient oaks are dying.

The narrative opens with Ted Green, a former custodian of royal oaks at Windsor Great Parks. He can see the illness in these proud old men and women of Knepp estate. They have seen kings and queens come and go, half a millennium of history has passed them. The civil war passed by, maybe they provided shade to weary soldiers on the march. As the world wars shook Britain, they heard bi planes pass overhead followed by Spitfires and Lancasters. The land around them was ploughed to answer the call to ‘Dig for Victory’, to feed a nation that would starve without it. But this is the death knell.

“The majority of a tree’s roots are found in the top 12 inches and are vulnerable to ploughing and compaction…delicate mycorrhizae (fine hair like filaments that attach themselves to roots and create a vast network) are destroyed by the churning blades of ploughs and are highly susceptible to agricultural chemicals.”

This is the first time either of them had realised the cost to the land of farming and it is completely shocking. They decided to make a change. They decide to re-wild the land. To return it nature and let go and the ‘land management’ they have been brought up revere. The sheer scope of what then occurs is beyond description in a review. The thrilling rebirth that takes place. They re-introduce some ‘wild’ species to the land. Old English Longhorn cattle, fallow deer, Exmoor ponies, Tamworth pigs. These are not farmed, they are left to be wild within the confines of the land. Nature is very much going to do its own thing.

The effect on the land is startling. As the agricultural chemicals drain away, the browsing, grazing and rooting animals transform the landscape in a few short years. They discover how the different animals compliment each other, grass that the ponies can’t metabolise is perfect for the long horns. The pigs churn up the soil and leave a perfect habit behind them for all sorts of invertebrates which in turn attract birds and then raptors. The eco system is transforming at a rate far beyond anything they had anticipated. Change was in front of them and it was a success!

“We were dismayed at first to observe their (the pigs) capacity for damage, particularly in the wet. But the land’s ability to regenerate was equally astonishing and in the growing season it was only a matter of days before a patchwork of pioneer plants would appear.”

The book progresses chronologically but each chapter tends to focus on a particular element of the wilding process. It could be birdlife, the grazing animals or butterflies. They encounter significant opposition from the surrounding residents, some of whom are aghast at the neat farmland becoming wild and unkept. Whilst I have some sympathy for this, we do all judge things on how they look at least some of the time, but it was a case of perseverance. They refuse to back down. There is a resurgence in the wild life, the rebirth of the land and the huge increase in biodiversity, some of which is now extremely rare and threatened. It goes beyond their expectations and everyone else’s it seems.

“Interviewed anonymously, a cross-section of local villagers vented their anger… I love wildlife, I love the countryside. But it’s turning into quite a mess… a fair old mess really. I don’t believe in this scheme, not in the south-east of England.”

The gradual revealing of the symbiotic relationship between the different elements of nature is beguiling. One Jay can plant 750 acorns in one summer. The tangled thorny scrub that it likes to plant in provides the perfect nursery to stop the oak sapling being eaten by the browsing cattle that keep the scrub in check. The cracked and dry clay by the side of the river provides a habit for endangered insects that need exactly those cracks to nest in. The utter connectedness of all of us, our total dependence on these natural processes shines though this book. It’s personally given me a grounding that I so desperately need right now in times of great uncertainty.

I’ve never understood the real meaning of organic, never realised the difference it might be making to me and us all to be eating intensively farmed meat, cereal and vegetables. This book lifts the veil on a past which is more connected and much, much, more healthy. Darker, yes, less controlled and dominated, but ultimately more productive, more beneficial for all of us. From the fungi that live in the soil, the painted lady butterflies and nightingales, through to the majestic raptors that glide above us dependent on the whole connected chain of life below them.

“If the beat of a single butterfly’s wings can raise a hurricane on the other side of the world, one wonders, what might tens of thousands do in your own backyard?”

This is a book that is full of hope, full of wonder at the resilience of nature but it sounds a warning note at the end. The turtle dove, once common in England, is critically endangered. Knepp is the only part of the country where numbers are growing but it is too little too late. We cannot run the risk of losing another beautiful thing from our landscape due to our own actions again. History repeats…

“As we skirt the blackthorn thickets with an ear out for turtle doves Charlie and I count mixed blessings. The joy at hearing the bird here, and hearing it now is counterbalanced by the sands of time charging down to that single pinprick of loss. The turtle dove is a reminder that Knepp is an island, only a tiny scrap of the carpet – powerless, on its own, to save a species on a trajectory to extinction.”

Final Thoughts

This book is a gem but it is so dense and thick with information, research, findings and results. I really enjoyed reading the characteristics of the animals that they get to see on a daily basis, the pigs being a particular favourite. Nature is thriving there and this is proof that it can continue to thrive if we just change what we do. It also reminded me that we shouldn’t judge based on how things look. At some stage, this project looked ‘messy’ to several onlookers, but look at the beauty it produced. The lasting effect means much more than the appearance.

Now it’s May, the theme of the reading challenge for this month is: Read a book about hope and growth. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. These categories seem to be fairly apt at the moment.

Big love all. Continue to stay safe.

xxx

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Posted in Book review, Read The Year Challenge

RTY: The Wood (The Life & Times of Cockshutt Wood) – John Lewis Stempel

Hello Lovelies!!

Today I want to share with you my review of my book choice for Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge. The topic for May was use a book to get closer to nature. I chose to read The Wood – The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood. This book was a perfect choice for me because I’ve been wanting to branch out into reading more non fiction.

The novel, told in diary format by John Lewis-Stempel, focuses on his final year of working at Cockshutt Wood and tending to the three and a half acres of woodland. After four years, Stempel coppiced the trees, raised cows and pigs who roamed there. He knows the land like the back of his hand, it is a part of him. It’s a blissful sanctuary.

“Cockshutt was a sanctuary for me too; a place of ceaseless seasonal wonder where I withdrew into tranquility. No one comes looking for you in a wood.”

What’s it all about?

Following the last twelve months, we see Cockshutt Wood change through the seasons. The novel starts in December where we read vivid descriptions of the robin singing, the trees standing naked and the snow gently falling. It’s picturesque, peaceful, beautiful. Man and nature becoming one.

“There is always the sense of the unexpected in a wood, a constant feeling that, around the next bend in the path, behind the bole of the next tree, there will be a surprise.”

As a reader, we are invited into Stempel’s life during December’s chapter. We learn about his background in this profession, stemming from his grandfather, the farm animals they had and how traditions have continued, such as holly. Yet, what I have never given thought to before is how on the surface, winter seems to signal the end. It’s a time when plants wither, the weather drops and it becomes a chore to be outside. Nevertheless, nature is working hard behind the scenes to look after us. Mother Nature is waiting for a sign just like we do, for that moment when we all wake up ready to face the world; to start again.

“Oddly aware, walking through the wood this afternoon, that it is dormant rather than dead. How the seeds, the trees and hibernating animals…are locked in a safe sleep against the cold and wet.”

January’s entries provide something I get quite excited about: snowdrops. The description of the weather is still cold, crisp and glittered with snow. The songs of robins sing through the wood. I personally always admire the snowdrop. I feel a thrill of excitement whenever I see them. Every year I look for them, for the sign. They are so delicate and beautiful, yet the survive the harshest of conditions in winter. They represent that spring will come, we’ve nearly made it.

“If snowdrops are appearing, then the earth must be wakening. Of all our wild flowers the white bells are the purest, the most ethereal, the most chaste… Whatever; the snowdrop says that winter is not forever.”

Spring has sprung in the wood and we hear the songs of the birds and the plants are all starting to wake. Spring also provides a sense of renewal in Stempel as he feels he has a spring in his step. The wood continues to create a sense of awe and amazement. References to different poems by John Clare, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning and Edward Thomas embody this sense of new life that spring brings. This lyrical way of writing means that the wood appears to be magical. For Stempel, it enables him to feel like he is a child again. I completely relate to this, being outside in the lush greenery makes me feel quite at peace. There’s a feeling that absolutely nobody can get to you.

“…the possibility of adventure in its secluded spaces. I’m still that boy. I cannot walk through a wood without a sense of wonder. And there is a relaxing privacy to a wood… A wood is an escape.”

Now we are in May, we have beautiful flowers, birdsong in abundance and longer, lighter evenings. It is the same for the wood. There’s a ‘blizzard of blossom’ and everything is growing at an enormous rate, a rate which Stempel (and every gardener too) only just about manages to keep a hold on. The new animals are appearing and finding their feet. It’s the best time of year and this lyrical narrative made me so excited and blissfully happy. If you close your eyes, you can imagine it, with the whole of your being.

“Dawn chorus II: starts with robin, then blackbird, song thrush, chiffchaff, willow warbler, wood warbler. They merge into a stream of song; I cannot distinguish their individual voices. They sing as one.”

Time rolls by and the summer months are passing like the gentle breeze being described. Trees are standing proud and tall, providing a home for a variety of insects and birds. The bees are working hard to provide for their own hive as well as us humans. Their buzz hums in the air. The does walk around the walk, their home with calm ease. Yet there is a sense of time passing, of seasons changing. The apples are swelling, nearly ready for picking. The fox cubs are sent into the wild to fend and find the way for themselves. Autumn is approaching.

“Colour change escalation, for the worse; most trees have lost vibrant hues in favour of a muddy brown mixed by a toddler let loose on a paintbox of watercolours.”

The novel ends by going full circle. We see the trees loose their leaves, squirrels nut collecting ready for hibernation, animals fighting one another for the berries on the bushes. It is inevitable; time moves on and seasons work together to change and nurture. This also means the end of Stempel’s time at Cockshutt Wood. During his four years here, he has become at one with the wood and the wood is at one with him.

“I thought the trees and the birds belonged to me. But now I realize that I belonged to them.”

Overview

This book is beautiful in its purest form. It’s lyrical, it oozes soul and it was a massive surprise for me. I am the first to admit I am not a great lover of non fiction. However, this has changed me. I went on a three mile walk with my dad and this book was all I could think about. It provides descriptions, poetry, recipes and tales of the inhabitants of the wood. It’s profound and I felt genuinely moved. I recommend it to anyone who wants to feel closer to nature, to have a moment of peace and tranquility. I’m off to find more of Stempel’s books.

If anyone has any suggestions for the next few months, please let me know! Topics can be found here.

Big love all! Enjoy the last day of May. Summer is approaching. Xx

Posted in Days Out, National Trust, Photography, Places, UK

Croft Castle and Parkland

Hey Everyone.

February is whizzing by and the snow drops tell me that spring is well on its way. Sometimes we all need a day of peace and tranquility to regroup and recharge. For my parents and I that was this weekend. We decided to visit Croft Castle and Parkland in Yarpole, Herefordshire.

From the outside you can see just how impressive it is. It’s quite a rarity to see a castle standing in its entirety, especially one as old as this. The castle dates back to before the Domesday Book, with the Crofts making a family home there.

Due to descendants of the Croft family, you are limited to what you can see within. However, I did really like beautiful rooms we could see. My favourite room had the most beautiful wallpaper. The gold really stood out; very grand.

One of the most fascinating items in this room was a grand clock. However, this one had eyes. I’ve never this before in my life.

For me, the parkland outside was more incredible than the castle itself. We decided to do the ancient tree walk. I was completely blown away. The suns came out (which always helps) but the trees were just amazing. The oak below is over 500 years old.

These trees create a beautiful landscape. To think they began as a small seed and now hundreds of years later they are these wondrous masterpieces. I just felt so overwhelmed.

I genuinely fell in love with the grounds here. Normally, I’m a property person. I appreciate the land but I adore the interior, the lives it represents and the time periods. Yet, I found myself more and more at peace and full of admiration for the land.

This window of family time was really quite lovely. It’s so easy sometimes for life and jobs to get in the way. It’s also really nice to have a change of pace sometimes. We live in a beautiful world. We need to treasure and nurture it for future generations.

Enjoy the rest of February, spring is nearly here!

Big love xx