Monday, 23 March 2015


This is a long overdue blog post about a fascinating talk I went to as part of the 'Norfolk Festival of Nature' on 27th February. The talk was by naturalists Patrick Barkham and Matthew Oates and was on the subject of 'Spirit of Place'. This really got me thinking about the reasons behind why I visit the places I do, and why I feel the way I do when I visit them.

Matthew Oates started the talk, and introduced us to a number of Welsh terms, not all of which have direct translations into English; two which stood out the most to me were 'Hiraeth' and 'Cynefin'. Hiraeth roughly translates to mean something along the lines of longing or homesickness and Cynefin as habitat or heartland. Both are far more complicated than this though, and together they explain why I long to be out of doors at times and why, when I'm almost any wild place, I feel some sense of belonging. Sometimes this can be in places which are familiar to me or sometimes when I first visit a place, which is a phenomena I can't really explain.

I feel this way when we visit our local patch, just down the road from our flat and just off the A140; for such a 'city' location, we frequently spot kingfishers traversing the River Wensum, are still overjoyed at our chance sighting of a pair of otters, and have used it as a location to learn the calls of different birds. I miss it when we don't get the chance to do 'our walk' at least weekly, and if I go for more than two weeks without at least a walk here, or a trip to another wild place within reach of our local patch (or not), then I really do feel it. It is hard to explain this feeling of 'longing', but when I return to the outdoors, I feel more... complete? This is surely something that all wildlife enthusiasts know?

Patrick Barkham spoke of places which have this impact and we, as an audience, had the chance to discuss our ideas with both speakers, about our feelings and concerns for the natural world. Something I did not voice, but certainly something which concerns me, is the lack of people my age or younger who attended this talk. There must have only been a handful of people, out of almost a full auditorium, who were below the age of 40. Why are our younger people not concerned or interested in the natural world? Is it because, as many say, they are glued to televisions and computer games? Or is it because at key points in their lives, we have failed to make them inspired by the world around them?

As a teacher, I try to play my part in inspiring pupils about the natural world. My bird box cam had all year groups (age 11 - 18) enthralled, as did watching caterpillars morph into butterflies, then releasing them. My STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Club are embarking upon BBC Wildlife Magazine's 'Digital Schools' Project', even if I do only have three attendees.

I don't have the answers, but I hope that I make at least some difference to the number of young people vaguely aware of and interested in nature.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Sculthorpe Moor Community Nature Reserve

Mixed flock of bramblings and chaffinches
We visited a new place today, thanks to several suggestions: Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve, run by the Hawk and Owl Trust.

It was unbelievable; within our first five minutes, at the viewing panel closest to the entrance, we had seen bramblings (my first ever - and five of them altogether!), bullfinches (both male and female), a water rail, a great spotted woodpecker, a nuthatch and more greenfinches and chaffinches than I had ever seen in one place before. It was heard to tear ourselves away from such an interesting gathering, but after a good length of time, and several conversations with other birders about what we'd missed elsewhere, we decided to explore the rest of this magical little wildlife haven.

Water rail
We made our way along the boardwalk, starting with the woodland loop which leads to the first hide. On our way to the woodland hide, I became distracted by rustling in the dry leaf litter and a fast, well camouflaged shape shooting from one tree to another, almost faster than we were able to keep up. Patience paid off here, we watched and waited and eventually were graced with good and quite close up views of a weasel (I think... it lacked an obvious black tail, you can see a video of it here). This was a real treat, I've only ever had fleeting glimpses of these small mustelids before.

The woodland hide gave us stunning views of another great spotted woodpecker, as well as huge densities of chaffinch and greenfinch and a few blue-, coal- and long tailed tits. We left the hide to the cheerful song of a wren part way up the closest tree, and continued through the woodland to eventually reach the Whitley (Fen) hide. Here, we saw more bullfinches as well as a reed bunting and many more chaffinches. Finally, we headed to the scrape, but unfortunately saw nothing from the hide here. However, on the walk to these hides, there was a sudden explosion of small birds from the Fen hide which flew over the pathway; they had been spooked by the kestrel circling overhead; a perfect silhouette against the bright sky. Luckily, it didn't spook another treat for us as we re-entered the woodland; a marsh tit and a tree creeper both making their way up the bark on the same tree.

Common frog
Our final reward of the day was provided by one of the friendly volunteers at the reserve who pointed out scarlet elf cap fungi that was evident either side of the board walk, then took us to the likely location of a nuthatch nest. They had nested in this particular hole last year and had been seen this morning inspecting it again. On our way out of the restricted area, we also saw our first common frog of the year! Looks like spring has arrived!

It's always lovely to discover new places to explore through like minded people, but even better when it turns out that the new place is as full of wildlife as this small reserve seems to be. We'll definitely be making this a more visited area of our 'local patch' of Norfolk!


Coal tit

Great spotted woodpecker

Male bullfinch