Who Pays?

Priorities for spending of tax payers money by both national and local government seem rather perverse to me. I think we all understand that there isn’t enough in the pot to pay for all the things we, the ordinary people, would like but it is the assumption that politicians of all ilks can make decisions based on their personal beliefs without accountability or realistic debate that infuriates me.

Surrey County Council’s attitude to the management of our countryside estate expressed through Cllr Mike Goodman as cabinet member for environment and transport is truly strange and deeply flawed in its application.

For me and many many others it is perfectly reasonable to use taxes to maintain and enhance the countryside both for public access and wildlife. In fact as I wrote the last sentence it struck me just how “reasonable” it is. Why would you imagine anything else when your very own health, both mental and physical, is so interlinked with the health of the countryside?


Many politicians believe that the “user should pay” but this principle is so unequally applied across services as to become empty rhetoric. It’s politically expedient to make noise about Global warming, climate change, international treaties on CO2 emissions, local and national strategies on waste…….the list is endless BUT what about meeting the simple challenge of maintaining and enhancing the local countryside for local people and the wildlife that lives in it?

I do not believe that all “countryside” should be managed by private landowners or NGOs or that it should be dependant on funding subject  to the vagaries of whatever grant scheme is politically expedient. Public access countryside is not self sustaining financially, and never will be, if looked at purely as a “direct user pays” revenue earner.

One day…

Please do understand that I am also a pragmatist and therefore, sadly, whilst there are politicians like Cllr Goodman and others who stick to their own agenda no matter what, despite advice and consultation, it may well be that all access land should end up owned by NGOs and the existing private landowners.

Think the heat is getting to me!

That’s better!


New Beginning

Anybody interested in wildlife and nature conservation in the UK should be well aware that we are living in some serious times. The loss of our habitats and species is being well publicised and some of the statistics are truly worrying. With this in mind the creation of new habitats will always help to try and reverse this trend and I am aware of ways many of us could help and offer some sanctuary for our dwindling wildlife.

Some of us are lucky to have gardens from window boxes in high rise flats to large country gardens. The areas that people’s gardens cover in the UK is many times larger than all of the UKs Nature reserves put together. Their importance for wildlife becomes obvious when you realise this. And then six weeks ago…
I live in a small block of 10 flats with the front looking at the road but at the back was a sloped area of rough ground leading up to the woodland. Since I moved here the only thing that ever been done to it was that it was cut once a year when the vegetation got really high. I have often dreamed of a flower meadow as I look out of my kitchen or bedroom window and seeing it full of bees and butterflies. I saw my neighbour and asked him about the ‘ garden ‘, he told me it was a community garden and I could do what I want as it needed a damn good tidy up. My plan was immediately put into action and the habitat creation began.

During clearance
And more

In my years working in nature conservation I found it ironic how often I was killing various plant life in order to ‘make a better home for nature ‘. The point is that you have to have the right vegetation to encourage more wildlife and the new garden was full of bindweed, dock, hedge woundwort with bramble creeping in from the surrounding woods. Large areas of pendulous sedge dominated large parts of the garden. With my dream of butterfly and bees in the back garden still firmly placed in my brain I began to clear the rank vegetation. It should be noted that all the work was being carried out at the wrong time of year, the middle of the growing season but in my mind the sooner I started to clear the area the sooner I could be able improve the area. I had grown some wildflower seedlings in my flat and they would soon need to be planted. I spent a good few hours cutting, raking, trimming and chopping down the problem vegetation leaving one quarter of the garden relatively weed free ready for the wildflower seedlings

Bee food?

There was a sense of excitement when I planted the first seedlings into the cleared ground. I had an assortment of native wildflowers ready to plant including, Cornflower, Borage, Field Poppy, Black Knapweed and a few more, all insect friendly species. I marked all the seedings with little canes next to them and began the wait. During the wait I continued to improve other areas of the garden by digging over the ground and removing deep roots of docks and other problem species. The root systems on some of the dock and bramble were so extensive and deep rooted that they took a good 20 minutes to remove. It is important to remove these roots as they will only regrow and it can ruin all the work you have done. This job will continue into the winter as there is still a large area to prepare for the ground to be ready for wildflowers.
I monitored the progress of the seedlings and some were well established very quickly and by the fourth week a Cornflower came into flower, hooray, and in the fifth week I observed a white tailed bumblebee taking nectar, bliss!



New friends

Always surprises me just how nature provides a peaceful moment of wonder when you need it, even not invited. Difficult and busy few days but “our” young doe is spending plenty of time eating round the garden. We had noticed she was enjoying any low hanging apples and accompanying leaves, surely indigestion must follow……..

Our regular gardener!
Too many apples?

A delighted call from my wife pointed out that this week our young doe revealed that she was in fact a mum with twins. I will never tire of such encounters.

Where’s mum?

The youngsters gradually relaxed and commenced further pillaging of the garden.

What’s a Tayberry?

On a serious note, we all (particularly politicians) grossly underestimate the role of the natural world in maintaining our mental, let alone physical, health. Whatever the mechanism is , ecosystems services, green pound or many other ways of monetising the natural world, it still strikes me that they all obscure the basic truth; most of us ordinary folks instinctively understand the value of the natural world and accept that we should spend taxes when necessary in order to maintain and improve that natural world. We are all part of the natural world not just consumers of it.

Just a Field

I lent against the old fence the other day watching marbled Whites and Meadow Browns flying over the rough grass land. To my side was bramble scrub where Whitethroats and Garden warblers fed their young and like all of those who watch wildlife  felt a sense of excitement to see these wonders of an english summer. Excitement soon turned to sadness as I turn to see the metal fence round the fields where last year as saw the same species and many more disappearing under a housing development.

Old Fields, new house.
More to come

This field can show us many things if we take closer look. Situated on the edge of a large Surrey village and like many other formerly productive agricultural fields are now seen as a financial asset by the owner and potential building land. I first encountered this field 8 years ago, rough grasses , bramble patches and a few small Sallow trees already established and then we have seen the changes in the species that have occurred from the ground to the skies. the species lists collected show the incredible variety of life that these fields can support given the chance to recover from its former species poor state as an agricultural field. We have observed 24 species of butterfly including Small Copper

Brown Argus, Common Blue, 3 species of Skipper and the Marbled Whites. Amongst the grasslands we found Grass Vetchling.

Scarlet Pimpernel, Birds foot Trefoil

and clumps of beautiful Black Knapweed all feeding a mass of insects. We stood and watched Red Kites and Buzzards in the air together last year, after the presumed farmer cut the grass and made a short lived bounty of food. One winter we watched a Goldfinch feeding on a teasel head and then in a split second its life over  taken by a male Sparrowhawk.

My partner Sam and I have watched the sad decline of the wildlife in these fields after so many amazing wildlife scenes, too many to describe.

We believe all habitats are vital if we are to repair the already fragile natural habitats in this country. The current UK government have nature conservation as a low priority which is fundamentally wrong on so many accounts. They and local government need to realise that building on the Greenbelt is whats slowly killing natural biodiversity. Protect what we already have and lets try to repair some of the damage is what I believe we should be doing. Time for the politicians to actually do something constructive to protect our countryside.

For my dad Francis,

Francis Willis

Childhood haunts

Unexpected time available for a walk this morning led me to think about change in the countryside over time. Seemed like a good idea to go and wander round some of the commons and woods that my mates and I used to roam. In fact the countryside where we first found a wonder for the natural world which for ,most of us has never diminished.

I couldn’t park outside the house where I was born as most of the road is now yellow lined but its clear that there are now no House Martin nests or Swifts along the road. Sad when you think that 40 years ago there would have been at least 40 House Martin nests along the road and another 40 odd nests around the junior school down the road. My first school project aged 9!

Parked instead along Stafford lake Rd which runs across one piece of Bisley Commons. Happy days, this was our patch, assiduously watched for birds and butterflies but also home to camps and favoured climbing trees. Much to my surprise it felt very familiar (though admittedly this little site had been part of my responsibility as a ranger). In fact over the next couple of hours I really did feel that I was on familiar territory, I didn’t even get lost!

Our “best” pond!

Walking through dappled light along wooded paths quietly on my own was a reminder of how much more you hear and see when you shut up (in company I talk too much!). Foraging Nuthatch and a close encounter with a whole Jay family was topped by a very close encounter with a Tawny owl. Standing in the shade enjoying the sights and sound of a lovely bit of wet woodland I jumped when I turned to see a rather surprised owl suddenly change its flight path inches, yes really, from my face. Don’t think it was aggression just surprise.

Watched a beautiful Golden ringed dragonfly hawking the stream in the woods and disturbed a sunbathing Grass snake but both were too quick for a snap. Would have been happy with just a walk in the woods but by heavens I was enjoying myself.

Left the woods and walked across Sheets heath pausing at the sandy pond to admire the dragons and damsels.

Sandy pond

the dragons were too fast but the damsels were more obliging.

2 of the blue ones!
Red eyed damsel

Back to the woods and shade to return across the old fields of Brookwood farm which look like they could make a fantastic local country park with great potential to build on what is already a great place for wildlife.

Brookwood farm

Not the place to be picky and criticise the lack of management but it would be great if they could put a little effort in keeping a little of the stream exposed to the light as it is getting too closed in, pushing some wildlife on to bits of water that really are marginal.

The smallest of stream pools

Amazingly there were at least a dozen tiny fish in this pool crammed with freshwater snails. Again couldn’t get the dragon, a Black tailed skimmer to stay still but this wonder did….

Beautiful demoiselle

As usual gone on a bit and there was more………..