I thought readers would appreciate this one from  my friend Peter Wolstenholme ….. It is good to maintain a sense of humour in such tricky times!

Observing the Government instructions to stay two “METERS” apart, one GAS the other ELECTRICITY.


Peter & Madge.

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Owls of the Peak District

Rural Voice Owls _000644

Owls of the Peak District

Rural Voice Owls cover_000643

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REWILDING YOUR GARDEN – Contact with backyard nature as therapy during Coronavirus self-isolation

REWILDING YOUR GARDEN – Contact with backyard nature as therapy during Coronavirus self-isolation

**Watch here for links to other local projects on this theme – more to follow – and hopefully a few competitions and quizzes too! Do let me know what you are doing – wherever you are!**


Brimstone butterflies recorded in my wildlife garden for the first time!

Nature-therapy and mental health

These are trying times and Coronavirus and associated self-isolation bring the risk of appalling mental health issues. This is on top of the widely recognised problems for many people already suffering stress because of the worry of the pandemic’s widespread and varied impacts on communities and individuals. Worse still, such issues are overlaid onto the post-traumatic stress disorder following six months of heavy rain and associated floods. Now, for people potentially closed in through self-isolation and possible separation from friends and loved ones, it can feel like the world is spiralling out of control. However, nature on the doorstep or in the backyard offers release from the paranoia, stress, and depression. We know that nature-therapy provides major benefits to people in health care and especially for example for patients recuperating from operations and the like. People get better faster and more effectively even from just seeing nature and not necessarily being immersed within it.

Rewilding the mind

Part of the emerging rewilding agenda relates to the twin aspirations of ‘rewilding the body’ and ‘rewilding the mind’; and with Coronavirus this is an opportunity for people to grow those benefits. Clearly, what is available in terms of nature contact does depend on where you are and the type of garden that you have; but nature therapy can relate to a window box or a large garden. However, the great thing about nature is that it is everywhere around us and is largely ‘free to view’. From a kitchen window you can see nature close to, in the garden, and of course overhead. Even in a London city centre apartment you can see peregrine falcons and kestrels, and birds such as seagulls passing overhead. With spring arriving now then just open a window almost anywhere and there will be abundant birdsong and even the buzz of queen bumblebees in search of nesting sites. Nature goes on despite the human tragedy that is unfolding.

Furthermore, with fewer people on the streets and in neighbourhoods, this is the time to watch for those elusive urban mammals. Grey squirrels can be watched almost anywhere, but so too can the urban foxes and the city-centre badgers; and these really do bring a little nature magic into the urban-dwellers’ life. In the suburbs of cities like Sheffield for example, you may see or hear both roe deer and the alien muntjac deer. These are coming to gardens in broad daylight and can be viewed right into the town centre.

Insects too are becoming active as warmer, sunnier weather takes hold. Peacock butterflies are joining tortoiseshells, and sulphur-yellow brimstones drifting through gardens and are drawn to flowers in window-boxes on patio planters. Similarly, at night, moths and other insects will come to bright lights, and close behind in many areas bats are hunting in the twilight hours between day and night. Night-time also triggers a noisy performance of feeding and territorial behaviour from the local tawny owls too.


Ring-necked parakeet – and exotic visitor to my wildlife garden – on my ‘artificial apple-tree’ 

COMPLETE THE PARAKEET SURVEY -records and opinions –


Slow nature

Of course, if you can go out into a garden then a whole world of nature opens on the doorstep; and if you have a garden pond then even better. Staying at home can mean a veritable back-garden safari which we often miss out on during busier times away from the house. Maybe this is a time to reconnect with nature and to contemplate our individual position in a wider natural world; albeit from the patio, the window-box, or the garden. Take time to sit and watch and allow nature to come to you – a tame robin perhaps or a blackbird now feeding young. Self-isolation can provide time alone to contemplate nature and to re-kindle lost connections through a ‘slow nature’ experience. Furthermore, this is chance to re-discover the seasons and the changing patterns of nature and to do this from your doorstep.

Wet, wet, wet

Where there’s water then there is life……and daytime or night with a torch, then if you have a garden pond just sit quietly and watch. The wildlife is ‘on’ the water – skating across the surface meniscus, in the water itself, and in many cases, just visiting. Water draws wildlife from all around and this varies day-by-day. So, meet ‘the newts’……… 

Great crested newt in garden pond by Ian Rotherham

Great crested newts egg-laying in my wildlife pond – OR NOT – A new record for me and the area perhaps – An [ALIEN] Alpine Newt – obvious when you think about it!! Thanks to Gus Hunter for spotting this.

I just assumed an oddly-marked  Great Crested Newt but as an ‘invasion biologist’ by training, for me this is rather exciting!! It sits alongside my parakeets as part of the recombinant ecology of my back-garden!    

Idea and activities to do and to engage with:

These can be done by an individual or for example, by a family with children. Use this opportunity to reconnect with local nature and wildlife and through this to bond with family and to share the experiences. Social media help provide opportunities to share more widely too – and to reduce feelings of isolation. Nature connection does not need to be awe-inspiring or spectacular but can be a new awareness of the commonplace and the ordinary – which, when they are on your doorstep are really quite extraordinary.

  • A daily log and diary;
  • Record weather and events at regular times each day and create and comparison from day-to-day – rainy / sunny / windy / still / wind direction / temperature etc;
  • A list of species seen and recorded;
  • Spot the butterflies coming to your garden on a sunny day – so far I have had comma, small tortoiseshell, peacock, brimstone, and large white
  • Photographs / videos of some of the plants and animals as they appear;
  • Exchanging records and images on-line – share with friends and family;
  • Recording birds seen in the garden and those flying overhead;
  • Observing behaviour and numbers seen – birds nesting and feeding young etc;
  • If you have bird-feeders then observe and record the bird and numbers on the different feeders, when they feed, for how long, and the time of day. This can easily build to a diary nature diary and can be shared on-line too. If you don’t have bird-feeders then simply watch what’s flying past and overhead – I just had a hundred whopper swans – a first for here – over my urban garden;
  • Looking at the night sky – the moon, stars and more, plus listen out migrating birds etc;
  • When darkness falls, try night-watching for hedgehogs, foxes, badgers, deer, bats, owls etc; the first three can easily be enticed down the garden path with a little cat-food, dog-food, or special pelleted hedgehog treats! Listen for roe deer or muntjac deer barking at night – happening near you …… probably …… and check out the on-line survey to complete on  
  • Daytime grey squirrels may be non-natives but they are still entertaining and easy to spot! 
  • Watching for and recording ‘phenology’ – when and how flowers etc come into blossom;
  • How about using this new awareness of your local nature to inspire you to creative writing – prose or poetry – and drawing or painting – these can be posted up on social media and exchanged with friends, family or wider;
  • But there is much you can do that is totally free – like listening quietly to the ‘soundscapes’ of your local patch – as well observing to the ‘visual patterns’ through the day. Both these can easily be recorded on a mobile ‘phone or device – and then uploaded to share with family, friends, or more widely; 
  • How about observing sunrises and sunsets – and photographing them;
  • How about watching the clouds and imagining make-believe words – maybe as our ancestors once did;
  • For those of a scientific bent, you can take part in various national surveys of garden birds and other nature. Many local wildlife groups are also organising easy-to-do garden surveys – contact your local Wildlife Trust for details; also watch this blog for more links and local ideas;
  • More exciting still, if you have access to remote cameras / trail-cams then you can bring nature experiences close-up and indoors. There may also be other providers nearby whose live footage can be watched from your own home – try the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB for example. If the problems last, then try a nest-box cam for your blue tits. These can be ordered on-line and are fairy low-cost;
  • For children too, you can organise a quiz / competition based on what can be seen or found close-by;
  • Again, an easy and free activity for children is to set up a glass bowl or jam-jar of clean water – in the garden or even on a balcony – and then observe from day-to-day what plants and animals colonise this miniature world;
  • Finally, get hold of some easy-to-grow flower seeds, perhaps some you have left over from last year or else again ordered on-line. With this, children for example, can see springtime nature first-hand. Scatter on bare ground or on a plant-pot of soil and wait for a tiny miracle to take place. If you can’t obtain seeds then carefully; transplanting soil with young seedlings from the garden to a flowerpot can achieve much the same thing quite easily. Even a few handfuls of garden soil if kept moist in a pot or maybe a jam-jar will soon produce seedlings, fungi and mini-beasts – just the stuff to keep young minds active!

Alpine newts above and underside

Rewilding’ should be from the window-box to the mountain top, and now is a good chance to re-connect with your local nature and your local space. This will enhance your own ‘sense of place’ and that of children too; and this will be something to be carried over once the crisis has passed. Then comes the chance to plan for the future maybe to rewild your own garden, to from a local group to rewild your neighbourhood, and to rewild your body and mind. Breaking out from the mental shackles of self-isolation you can help plan a better future that is closer to nature. Again, you can do this by yourself, or if you are with family members it can be a collaborative and above all, enjoyable activity. Spring is a great time to do this.  

Flock of whooper swans

Whooper swans passing low over my garden last weekend – a ‘first’ for here and heading northwards to Iceland!!  

Oh Deer!! Roe deer now being seen well into urban Sheffield …… in S8

Roe Der at TADCASTER Cres Sheffield 8 by Amy Benjamin_000468




Red deer 13

some KEY LINKS: NEW FACEBOOK PAGE set up by Jim Clarke – more to follow

And Sheffield Bird Study Group: 

See under ‘Coronavirus Update’ on the home page;

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Why we need to be water-positive


Why we need to be water-positive – Flooding podcast with Jamie Veitch


Spot the River Trent if you can – near Newark the other week! From the A1



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I had quite a few enquiries about this article – so here it is to download!

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Ring-necked parakeets by Mel Jones

Ring-necked parakeets by Mel Jones

Mel Jones onthe ring-necked parakeets_000641

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The benefits of natural flood control – BBC Discussion on natural flood control – with special reference to peat-bogs March 2020

The benefits of natural flood control

– BBC Discussion on natural flood control – with special reference to peat-bogs March 2020

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