Sunday, 4 February 2018

Post 481 - Outstandingly Obliging Owls & the Wonderful Wild Watch

Me and Spike the Barn Owl
Hey everyone, a great post today for post 481 about an amazing opportunity I was given that happened today. If you regularly read my blog you'll know that I've been working with a great project called The Wild Watch. It's based in Nidderdale and is surveying 50 key species across the area of outstanding natural beauty so that they can see what is happening with their populations and work out how best to look after the land to help the wildlife. This year I'm looking forward to two things in particular, the first is reptile surveying, but the second is related to my opportunity today - Owl surveying!

Flynn the Tawny Owl busy surveying the area
A key part of The Wild Watch is getting more young people engaged in nature so to help with the Owl surveying they are going to go to the schools in Nidderdale and talk to them about the project. As part of that they wanted a film about Owls to use as part of the talk. As youth patron they asked if I'd like to do the film. It didn't take too long to think about as Owls are a family favourite, I gladly said of course I'd do it!

So today we headed down to the Thirsk Bird of Prey Centre to do some filming. It's a great place. I've been a few times when I was younger, they have some absolutely amazing birds there, 30 species altogether. They very kindly said we could come along  to do the film and we had the place to ourselves as they don't open to the public until March. As if that wasn't kind enough one of falcloners, Kerry, also came in on her day off as she looks after the Owls that we wanted to see!

Sprout the Little Owl
So my family and a few of the Wild Watch team and their children arrived not long after it had stopped sleeting so it was a bit chilly, but the cold didn't bother us much and we certainly forgot about it as soon as the Owls came out. The film was great to do and it was really just explaining a bit about the Wild Watch and how we want all the school kids in Nidderdale to help survey the area for 3 species. One of the best bits was that I got to hold the three species, a Barn Owl (Spike), a Tawny Owl (Flynn) and a Little Owl (Sprout). Owls are so beautiful and it was such a privilege to hold them and see them up so close. While I was holding them we filmed a few facts about each Owl and the other young people there added to them too. I think it'll be a great film and I hope it gets lots of people out looking for these wonderful creatures.

Flynn was very watchful
Since I heard about this opportunity I also saw that the BTO are having a year of the Owl and are also raising money to be able to find out more about these special creatures. I started wondering how I could help. I've done some fundraising before, recently mainly through selling calendars, but a while back I did a sponsored walk for a local wildlife santuary. I've noticed other young conservationists have done walks lately too (like Georgia Locock and Dara McAnulty) so I started thinking about this and then Dad reminded me that there is a Nidderdale Way - so it all seemed to fit into place quite nicely. It's a 56 mile walk around the Nidderdale AONB. I know little bits of Nidderdale but not all of it so this is a great way to help out the Owls and spend some good time out exploring a bit more of the area.
I'm talking to the BTO and the Wild Watch and I'm still making plans but once I know when I'm going to do it I'll be setting up a page for people to sponsor me. I'll make sure I let you know when!

So the last thing to do is to say a big thank you again to the Thirsk Bird of Prey Centre, to the Falconers Colin, Kerry and David, to the wonderful Owls Sprout, Flynn and Spike and to the Wild Watch team for giving me the chance of this wonderful experience.

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 14 January 2018

Post 480 - Looking back & forward

Hey everyone, Post 480 today and I can't believe it was the end of November when I last wrote a post! Apart from Christmas I don't know what took up my time in December but during the holidays I started a big job that has been a long time coming - sorting out all the photos I take! I've been organising them so I can find them more easily.
Saw this beautiful Eastern Black Redstart a few times.
A really lovely bird and very willing to pose!

So to get back into the swing of things again I thought I'd have a little look back at 2017 and let you know a few of the things I plan to do in 2018. Most of the pics today are some of my favourite finds of 2017.

Well I've got lots of people to thank for some wonderful opportunities in 2017. I got to do quite a bit of writing and guest blogging for people. Guest blogs included Rewilding Europe, the BTO, New Nature, the  Wild Watch and Our Bright Future - thanks for these opportunities!

I was great to find the Duke of Burgundy up on t' moors
It was also a year when I got to do a couple talks and got to conferences and events to spread the nature word. Thanks to The Wild Watch for letting me speak at your launch event and to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts Tomorrows Natural Leaders for a big talking slot at their Youth Summit. It was also great to attend Yorkshire Naturalists Union annual conference to display my photos and to provide some insights into helping engage young people. I also got to write a follow up article for this in their magazine The Naturalist which was great and I got some lovely feedback from this.

The most writing I've done for anyone was this last year for New Nature magazine. Thanks very much to James and the team for this opportunity - I've never been called a stalwart before :-)
Made sure I got back to see these beauties this year,
the 'Jewel of York' - the Tansy Beetle

One of the most exciting  developments last year was to be the youth patron for a new project - The Wild Watch - a great project in Nidderdale that will have some big benefits for the areas nature! It's been great working with this project and learning new things like river surveying. Really looking forward to getting involved in this years activities!

A big thank you also has to go to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for their continued support and helping with this year's calendar. I also enjoyed helping out First News with a 'party political broadcast' putting over a young person's view during the general election.

I was really lucky to get great views of this Cuckoo in
my local forest.
I was also honoured last year to be awarded the North York Moors National Park Trust Young Ranger Award. I met the Lord Lieutenant to receive that and it came with an award that will help me visit another national park this year so I'm busy planning that.

One of the final highlights of the year was a trip to London and the Natural History Museum - a big thank you to Erica for making this the most memorable visit yet!

So on to 2018. I've been wondering what to do. I'm still wondering but I've take some inspiration from the last blog I did last year for Our Bright Future. I wrote about a lot of practical ways young people can make a difference for nature, so I'm going to put some of this into action again!
A botanical highlight was finding a patch of May Lily

I did a lot less campaigning last year whilst waiting to see what the Government would do for nature after Brexit. Since the 25 year environment plan has been released there's been a lot of people talking about how it needs to be backed up with an Act and policies. Well I noticed my MP Rishi Sunak had got a Cabinet job in the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government so I decided it was a good time to write and ask him if he could do anything to introduce policies to make new housing developments better for wildlife. I'll let you know what he says!

I've got some more fundraising ideas that I'm working on but they're not really arranged fully so more on those when they are.

Today's haul - impressed the beach
was so clean :-)
I'm going to do my bit on plastic pollution. Our family is quite good with recycling but when we look at what's in the boxes when they're put out there's still quite a few things we could try not to use in the first place. We're trying really hard as a family to reduce our use of single-use plastic. I'm still litter picking, I'll pop dropped bottles and cans I see on my way to school in the bin and when I get to the beach like we did today I'm still doing #2minbeachcleans - well they last as long as we're out. I was really pleased that today at Saltburn it was quite hard to find much plastic.

Well that's a start for 2018. There will be a lot more to come. Please look out on my twitter, facebook and instagram - I'll be trying to share photos regularly from my newly organised collection (I'll try daily but I know what that involves :-)

Hope you enjoyed,


Monday, 27 November 2017

Post 479 - A Magnificent Museum and an Entertaining Entomologist!

Hope - the Blue Whale in the magnificent main hall
- a symbol of humanity's power to create a
sustainable future! 
Hey everyone, today’s post 479 and over the 3 years that I’ve been doing my blog, I’ve had lots of people talk to me over social media, and of course in real life (I do get out a bit). Quite often, though, these two things cross each other, like recently when I went to London. I’m in contact with people at the wonderful Natural History Museum in London occasionally over Twitter, and through that, one of the curators that works there reached out to me, and said pop in and say Hi if we were around. Our family was planning a weekend visit to London any way as we hadn't been for a while so I jumped at the opportunity to try and meet up at the NHM. I've been going since I was quite little and it is probably my favourite museum!
The scale of the NHM collection is almost unbeleivable!

So plans were made and Mum, Dad and I got ourselves to London and then set off early on Saturday to see Erica McAlister (aka @flygirlNHM). As we'd got there a bit earlier than expected Erica met us at the entrance around 15 minutes before public opening time and we were really amazed to be able to get in and have a look around some of the public halls without anyone else there. The most spectacular part of the museum for me is the Main Hall, I always loved being there, seeing this huge space and the enormous dinosaur.

There are some incredible creatures!

Obviously we knew about the new Blue Whale (Hope) they had put in Dippy's place and she is an incredible sight. It is quite a breathtaking sight to come so close even to the remains of the world's largest mammal. She's posed in a dive and it's an amazing sight in an amazing building that must have taken years to build. Erica was telling us all about how it was built specifically for a Victorian collector, well at least to house his collection as a condition of him donating it. They made such a good job of the building, the decorations and carvings around it are as incredible as the contents of the building - even the floor - mosaics throughout - it`s absolutely mind-blowing the work that has gone into this building!

It holds specimens from the time of Darwin 
So after we were done looking around the museum, we went ‘back stage’ where they hold the NHM collection, where all the specimens are kept. It`s a bit of an understatement to say there's a lot of them! Species are laid out in wooden display trays. These then go into metal lockers, and each locker is in a block - it`s hard to describe the scale of it because it goes on forever! There are lots of blocks of lockers in a row on one floor, huge rooms of them - and that's just one floor - there were 7 floors just for the insects! Erica was telling us that all together the NHM collection contains over 80 million species. It's the biggest in the world (Erica cheered at that once or twice :-)

There were some specimens from centuries back when people were first going to foreign countries to collect. One of the amazing things we saw there was a shelf with some specimens that Darwin himself and his crew collected on the Beagle!

Erica's favourite - Robberflies
These two were caught carrying
this huge grasshopper!
Erica showed us an amazing array of things from the cabinets, some of the insects there seemed as if they didn’t come from Earth, and ones I probably won’t ever see again. It was amazing to see how people have been storing these exhibits for the years since records started, I felt very special to get to see them.

Then, there were the pickles! A huge room essentially filled with preserved animals of all shapes and sizes, ranging from ticks to a giant squid that was so long I had to get a video instead of a picture! It was so big it has to be kept in a specially made tank - made by Damian Hurst as it was so big! See the video to see what I mean! One of my favourites was the pickled Angler Fish! It was interesting to see one of the creatures of the deep and how it had evolved to live there, and how it uses bioluminescence to attract its prey. Have you ever seen a pickled badger, fox, rat, or boa constrictor - no, well neither had I - but thanks to Erica now I have!

In complete contrast to the display we saw in the main hall, ‘Hope’ the Blue Whale diving, Erica also showed us a jar with a tiny Blue Whale foetus! It’s amazing how something so vast comes from something so tiny and fragile.
Scorpion dimorphism.

One of the fascinating things I got to see was the dimorphism between species of scorpion. There’s a quite small species that wasn’t even the length of one of my fingers, to a much larger Emperor Scorpion that spanned my whole hand! The little one is interestingly the most dangerous, much more venomous - and uses stealth. The big Emperor is all about show (and bravado so mum says) and scaring off predators. I also found out that all scorpions glow in ultraviolet light!

The main thing that I couldn’t get over, though, was the sheer number of specimens they had, it was crazy how many there was just on the floor we went around, and to know they had 6 more floors for insects and another building entirely for plants! I learnt a lot about what curators do and how collections are kept. One of the things I found amazing though is they now have the task of digitising the whole collection! A great opportunity for some overtime or maybe holiday jobs for students I would think!

Thank you for an amazing visit Erica!
So lastly, I’d love to give a huge thank you to Erica for reaching out to me and letting me do this! She was one of the most kind and enthusiastic people I’ve ever met, and she let me have so many experiences I doubt I’ll ever get again. It was amazing to be able to go there and see all of the incredible things Erica showed us. I know we only scratched the surface so I’d love to do it again sometime.

Thank you Erica, I'm so glad they keep you in this institution :-)

Hope you enjoyed,


Friday, 24 November 2017

Post 478 - Celebs champion & celebrate nature rather than distress, disrespect and devalue it.

You're a celebrity so step up and get some respect for nature!

I'm fed up of the 'celebrity' programme. I've never liked it. Why is it that a 'celebrity' gets attention for eating insects, for having to crawl through a box of frogs and spiders and making people think nature is something to be scared of and feared?

I say celebrity. I really don't know who most of the people that go on this programme are! And just to say I never watch it, I get fed up enough of the headlines everywhere, watching the show would only make me more annoyed.

To me a celebrity should be a role model, someone to respect, someone who inspires people and uses their position to make a difference. I wrote about this a while back in Post 378 - and I mentioned the sorts of celebrities that I admire like Chris Packham, Bill Bailey, Bill Oddie. Of course Sir David Attenbrough should have been in that post too. These are people who are trying to get people to care about the environment. There are any more of course but sadly the people that end up on the celeb programme take the money and just perpetuate an image of nature that is wrong. It should not be exploited for entertainment or popularity.

It was actually tweets from Bill Oddie and Chris Packham that reminded me about my earlier blog and inspired me to write this post.

I've felt this way for a while and I've tried to spread the message a little. I rediscovered my Rant for Change video which must be two or three years old now. I've included it at the end if you want to see it.

Why can't more celebrities promote and help nature?

Wouldn't you rather see celebs doing good? Promoting and helping nature? I want to see these people doing beach cleans, to save our marine wildlife from getting caught in and eating harmful plastics - plastics that we end up eating. How about helping hedgehogs and other declining species? Maybe Ant and Dec could volunteer at a nature reserve?

What about helping insects rather than eating them - studies show we've lost three quarters of our insects in the last 25 years!  If we lose the insects then our entire ecological system is at risk of collapse! Don`t they know that our insects are our main pollinators of plants, and food source for birds, reptiles and small mammals?

Try doing some fundraising for wildlife. I think that would impress people much more than poncing around the jungle abusing nature. I'm sure the people eating the meal worms, cockroaches and spiders aren't enjoying it, but I bet the insects like it a lot less even if they are being eaten by a 'celebrity'.

So I decided to start a Thunderclap to try and show that other people feel the same. You can sign up here:

I hope I've timed it right for the final of the show so that lots of people will see that it's not right to exploit nature like this, that it's not right to send a message that nature is scary.

While I was promoting the Thunderclap the RSPCA were kind enough to respond to one of my tweets. They gave some really good advice about some other things that you can do about the way this programme treats wildlife - I've included the tweet below but basically complain to ITV viewer services and Ofcom (link to how to contact them). I noticed when looking at this that I'm a Celebrity had had a few complaints over the last week but we probably need to send them a lot more to get this to change.

Only problem about this though that I can see is that I'd have to watch the programme to be able to make a complaint rather than just be campaigning about the principle of using and eating wildlife for entertainment :-(

Nature is to be treasured. Nature supports us all. Nature is suffering and needs our support more than ever!

Hope you agree,


Friday, 27 October 2017

Post 477 - A happy return to Haggewoods

Removing Deer guards
Hey everyone, Post 477 today and a quick one about a lovely morning I had revisiting a place I wrote about back in Post 410. It's a great project just south of York - Three Hagges Wood Meadow - essentially since 2010 they've turned an old barley field into a completely new and brilliant habitat, a wood meadow. It's now so full of wildlife and insects it's amazing. Even today, almost in November, there was lots to see.

I went along to do a bit of volunteering for the morning. A small group of us took some deer guards off a few rows of young trees that will be forming some hedges. That was quite tricky as you had to cut the guards off around all of the branches that had grown through them, but we managed.

Raking mown grass
The next job was raking up and collecting some of the grass that had been mown off of the meadow. This was hard work but nice to do in the lovely sunshine. I don't think there were any clouds about at all. It was soon too hot to have coats and jumpers on.

Sowing Yellow Rattle
It took a while to get all of the grass raked up. Dad and I did this while some of the other volunteers collected it up in wheelbarrows. The reason for doing this was to help the meadow by taking away the cuttings which reduces things like Nitrogen and Phosphorous in the soil. This makes it harder for the grass as there's not so much to feed it and that gives the wildlflowers more of a chance.

The other thing we did to give the wildflowers a chance was to sow yellow rattle seeds. This is a plant that also makes life harder for the grasses, it's a sort of a parasite and weakens the grass again giving the wild flowers more of a chance to get going. Well it didn't seem to take long for the morning to go, it was lovely being out in the meadow in the sunshine.

A young Toad
After that we went back to the table by the volunteer hut to have a chat. The main reason I went down was that I was invited by Rosalind one of the people who's developed the Hagges Wood project, who wanted to have a chat with a few people about some of the ideas I'd written about in the Yorkshire Naturalists Union magazine - I did an article called 'From Grey Beards to Green Teens - an engagement conundrum'. It was basically a write up of the event and some thoughts about getting more young people involved in nature and conservation. Well Rosalind,  Justin who was volunteering there, Nick a filmmaker who's done some work at the wood, Kat the project volunteer co-ordinator, Dad and I all had a great discussion and came up with lots of ideas. There may be a new project here in the making which I'll tell you more about as it develops.

So a great morning, during the volunteering I found a toad and two frogs in the long grass and we were treated to nice views of a Kestrel and two lovely (I think) Red Deer who passed over the field quite close to us and headed into the woods. I'll be looking forward to going back and seeing how the yellow rattle gets on next season!

Hope you enjoyed,


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Post 476 - #OwningIt & #OurBrightFuture

The raw materials
Hey everyone, post 476 today and it's the start this week of a fantastic new campaign. A few months ago I was lucky enough to be asked to give a talk at a local youth nature summit organised by Tomorrows Natural Leaders (see blog post here). This is one of a series of projects around the country being run as part of the Our Bright Future programme led by the Wildlife Trusts. It was really good to be involved with so I'm glad to see that something they mentioned would be happening has started this week.

The site
This is a new campaign called #Owningit. In the words of #OurBrightFuture it's about this:

We are asking organisations, projects and young people both within and outside of Our Bright Future to join the #OwningIt movement. We want to illustrate the large-scale impact that can be made to the environment when many people take small actions. The campaign will provide inspiration and ideas to excite young people and encourage them to take action.

You can read more on their website, there's lots going on, loads of organisations and young people are showing how they are trying to make a difference.

Cutting logs to size
Well after giving me a chance to do my talk and as I'm very passionate about connecting young people with nature I thought I just had to do something to mark the start of the campaign. So today I finished a project that I've been meaning to do for a while, that is create a bit of a new habitat in my garden. It's really easy to do and if everyone did something similar it could make a big difference to our insect populations which are sadly struggling!

We've had a pile of cuttings lying around the garden for a while taking up a bits of space here and there and looking a bit untidy. Although that's not such a bad thing today I used them and with a bit of help from Dad we made a great log and stick pile which should be great for beetles, toads, frogs and hopefully some wasps, bees and other species will benefit from a place to hibernate or feed. The original idea was to build a hedgehog house in the middle of it, but I think we'll do that another time and put it in another place. Thinking about it it would have made the job of cleaning the hog house out very difficult.

Halfway there
So this was quite an easy thing to do really. All of the stuff was free and all of it had been collected from our garden as it was trimmings from bushes and trees that needed cutting back. We like the garden quite wild and full but every now and again it does have to be tamed a bit! All of the trimmings were gathered together and sorted into piles of different sizes. The only thing that wasn't from our garden were four pieces of wood that came from my grandparents house just up the road and they were recycled fence posts. They were just knocked into the ground a bit to make a frame.

All of the logs and sticks were then just piled in, the bigger stuff on the bottom and smaller stuff on the top. It's built directly on to the soil and it's placed under our Magnolia tree so that it won't dry out in the summer. Putting fallen leaves on top will help retain moisture too. I'll add to this as the leaves fall more. There you go, an easy DIY bug house.

The finished product!
Dead wood like this should support lots of insect life. Slugs and snails will no doubt like hiding in it too. Frogs and Toads should like the damp nooks and crannies too and hopefully will have lots of slugs to eat. If I'm lucky Wood Mice might take up home too. Then of course birds like the Wren and the Robin will probably have an explore for a meal or two.

I'll be watching with interest!

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Post 475 - A Marvellous Gathering for YWT Annual General Meeting

The clouds cleared and it was an incredible day
for the members day at Potteric Carr
Hey everyone, Post 475 and a little post to let you know about a great meeting I went to yesterday. It was the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust AGM. This year they made it into a member's day, so that they could attract a few more people and make the meeting not just about the facts and figures of the last year. The idea was to make it more interesting and to show off Potteric Carr visitor centre, which is one of the big projects they did last year. Did it work? Well for me it did, I had a really great day!

Dad and I set off early as Doncaster is quite a way from us, pretty much the other end of Yorkshire, but we got there in plenty of time. A bit of a co-incidence but the first people that we bumped into when we got there were some people Dad has worked with in Northallerton where we live!

Everyone got a cup of tea before the morning activities started and most people were gathered outside on the decking by the visitor centre as the day was glorious, it was hard to believe it was October. We got to say hi to Richard and Jono from YWT too before things got going and it was good to see them as they've been very helpful to me. More on that in a bit.

A highlight was this Grass snake.
So the member's day started with activities in the morning and a choice of a long walk around the reserve, a short walk or an introduction to bird spotting. Well as it was such a sunny warm day it had to be the long walk. Potteric Carr is a lovely and huge reserve and we find new bits every time we go. It was nice to have a walk around with the visitor centre manager and learn some more facts about the place and where to see some nice species. A spring visit for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is being planned! The highlight of the walk was seeing some lovely Grass snakes!

After the walk it was back to the visitor centre for lunch. This was in the visitor centre cafe and the catering staff there made us a wonderful lunch, I ate loads as it was so good!

So then onto the afternoon when it was a series of talks including all of the AGM business. Well they were all really interesting. I was looking forward to the first one as it was Lindsey Chapman talking about some of her Unsprung experiences. The last time I saw Lindsey, Springwatch and my Dad had arranged a surprise while I was bird watching, and she presented me with an Unsprung Hero award (there's a link to it on the right >>>). There were some funny insights into the world of Unsprung and it made you appreciate how hard it is to pull the show together live! It was a great talk.
Very proud of this!

Then came the AGM bits. I didn't know if I'd enjoy these bits but it was interesting to learn about how the organisation works, where it gets its money and how it spends it as well as learning about some of the projects. We also had to vote in a couple of new board members.

Last speaker was Rob Stoneman, the Chief Executive and he gave a really powerful presentation about how important the work of the Wildlife Trust is, how fragile a lot of our habitats and environment is but also how some projects are working and making a difference.

Thanks so much YWT and Northwold
So it was a great day and I really enjoyed it but the best was still to come. I'd been working since the summer with YWT to produce a 2018 calendar using some photos I'd taken when I was on my 2016 challenge to visit all their reserves (there were too many and Yorkshire is too big - but I did get to around two thirds :-). Well I had been waiting for the calendars for a while as very kindly Northwold Print were doing them for me as half of the profits are going to YWT. The company is owned by one of the board directors Gurdev and he very kindly brought them with him that morning.

I was having a look through it and Jono and some of the YWT board members had a look through it with me. It looks really good! The photos are pretty good but the graphic design was done by Sally Henderson at YWT and it's made it look so much more professional than my last calendar, thanks Sally!

It was after this that Lindsey came over to have a catch up and we had a chat about some of the things I'd been up to. She was surprised how much I'd grown since the Unsprung Hero filming, but it was quite a while ago now. One of the things we talked about was the calendar, happily she really liked it, so much she asked if she could have it :-)

Well I wasn't going to say no and Lindsey was happy to have a photo taken with me. I never expected the first one to go to a celebrity or to get such a great endorsement! Thanks Lindsey.
Great to catch up with Lindsey
and so glad you like the calendar :-)

After saying goodbye to Lindsey we went off to see Richard in the shop to get a few calendars to bring home to sell and Richard will have them up for sale on the YWT website soon!

Have to say a big thanks to Jono, Sally, Richard and Gurdev for all the help - they look incredible and I'm really proud to see my photos in something so professional.

So a great day, and I was really glad to be part of it. It'll be a hard job to do a better event next year!

Hope you enjoyed,