Fauna and flora

Book launch: The Facts of Rural Life

London, 29 June 2015

The Facts of Rural Life was launched last week at the Farmers Club in London. Among those attending were Members of Parliament and Peers, including five former ministers, as well as scientists, journalists, country vets and representatives of a range of organisations involved in nature conservation, land management, animal welfare and field sports. [read full article]

Is this the future of conservation?

London, 22 May 2015

In the harsh environment of northern Kenya, communities struggle with frequent droughts, poor health care, sparse or irregular government services and the threats posed by cattle rustling and ivory poaching. Ethnic rivalries dating back many centuries continue to disturb peace and undermine development. However, all this is beginning to change, thanks to a new movement based on community conservation. [read full article]

On field sports, death and moderation

Rutundu, Mt Kenya, 18 February 2015

We had come to Rutundu, some 10,200 ft above sea level on the northern flanks of Mt Kenya, to enjoy the mountain scenery and the pleasure of staying in log cabins where wood fires and hurricane lamps were the sole source of heat and light. We had also come to fish, and as soon as dawn broke on our first morning Jo Harrison – a serious fisherwoman with a trout stream of her own in Hampshire – and I clambered down a steep gorge in the company of Cosmas, one of the Rutundu staff. [read full article]

Bested by bats

Hoby, Leicestershire, 12 November 2014

The authors of the Book of Leviticus were under the impression that bats were birds, and listed them alongside hawks, owls, ravens and herons as being unclean, or an “abomination” in the words of the King James Bible: as such, they were not to be eaten (11: 13–19). Modern churchgoers know that bats are mammals, not birds, but many would agree that they belong among the unclean. [read full article]

A tale of invasive species

London, 5 September 2014

This time last year I wrote a blog about a fungal disease which is killing plane trees along the Canal du Midi in the South of France. Some 4000 dead or dying trees, most planted in the mid-19th century, had already been felled. Since then, many more trees have been taken down and lengthy stretches of the canal are now treeless. [read full article]

What’s good for the grouse is good for the curlew….

Coverdale, Yorkshire, 24 June 2014

“When we arrived in Coverdale in 1983, the in-bye land was like a billiard table and the heather on the moors was rank and scraggy,” explained Stephen Mawle as we watched a pair of grouse and their chicks feeding among the young heather and bilberry. In those days there were over 3000 breeding ewes here and Coverhead Farm was heavily overgrazed. [read full article]

So what’s the problem?

London, 17 April 2014

There is scarcely an acre of Britain which is truly wild. Farming, forestry, hunting, water extraction and urbanisation have all had a profound effect on our flora and fauna. Some of our top predators, such as lynx, wolf and brown bear, have been lost; many other species have been introduced, frequently with disastrous consequences for livestock, crops and indigenous wildlife. [read full article]

Waiting for the migrants

Capestang, France, 18 March 2014

The dawn chorus in Capestang has been a disappointment this week, even though the weather has been unseasonably warm and almost summer-like. At daybreak, little yellow serins twitter feverishly in the upper branches of the ancient black poplar in the ravine at the foot of the garden. [read full article]

Moving with the tide

London, 24 January 2014

On Wednesday, during a hearing of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on the winter floods, Paul Leinster of the Environment Agency told MPs that vulnerable stretches of coast could be abandoned to the sea. The process, which goes under the dreary name of managed realignment, would change the shape of Britain – with thrilling consequences. [read full article]

Kites and cleanliness

Kigali, Rwanda, 11 November 2013

Late one afternoon, some 35 years ago, Richard North and I walked through the gates of St Anthony’s monastery in Egypt’s Eastern Desert. Among the cowled monks we eventually found one who spoke English. Richard explained that he was writing a book about monastic life, Fools for God. I was retracing a journey I had made in the mid-1970s, a story told in the The Other Nile. [read full article]

What’s happened to our flycatchers?

Wa, Ghana, 3 October 2013

We spent this morning at a farmers’ meeting in a village in Upper West Region, then had a late lunch in Wa – cane-rat stew for my two companions, palm-nut soup for myself – before heading back to Tamale. It was a long journey, much of it on a rough dirt road that’s being upgraded by Chinese contractors. At this time of year the countryside is lush green, the ripening maize head high, the cowpeas and groundnuts ready for harvest. [read full article]

Tearing the heart out of the Midi

Capestang, France, 17 August 2013

I have talked to half-Amerindian peasants in Brazil whose forests were being felled, mostly against their will, for high-value timber. I have wandered among the smoking ruins of forests in Sumatra, set alight by companies who wanted to plant lucrative oil palm. I have spent time in Cameroon interviewing Baka pygmies about the impact of illegal logging, which was leading not just to the loss of trees and wildlife but the hunter-gatherer way of life. [read full article]