Pond action



My 93 year old grandad had a bit of a predicament. A badger fell into his fish pond and drowned. It wasn’t something he could get out on his own. Just a few days after the unfortunate pond cleaners came in to sort it out, a fox came to drink, and not caring that it was seen, it lapped ferociously.

In this heat and drought, wildlife needs water desperately, taking risks to get it. I’m glad our tiny pond in our garden is doing its bit, and have topped it up a little in recent days.

With young children, I’ve shied away from a bigger pond in my garden because of safety concerns, but just a tiny, shallow pond can still bring massive benefits for nature. Not only that, but creating a mini pond is a quick, garden project that will bring a whole new dimension to even the smallest outdoor space. It’s one that children can help with, and will get endless pleasure from after just a week or so.

Firstly, you need a water tight container. Something that is about 40cm deep at least, and roughly half a metre squared is enough to be worthwhile. I used a cut off plastic barrel, buried below the soil level (but would work equally well above it). An old sink or tin bath would work just as well. You could also try a wooden half-barrel, lined with pond liner which will be at an ideal height for young children to look in.

Fill it with rainwater from a butt, ideally, but if that’s not possible you can use tap water. Just make sure you then leave it a week before adding in your water plants. You’ll need a few small, oxygenating plants such as the dwarf water lily or water soldiers. Many species don’t need planting – they just float on the water surface.

Finally, you can add in a wooden ramp or pile of stones to help wildlife such as frogs to access the water (and get out again) and a few rocks nearby to offer a hiding place. As that badger found out, it is important for wildlife of any size to have a way to escape.

After that, it’s pretty self-maintaining. You may need to top up the levels with a little collected rainwater when it is very hot and dry, and any out of control plants can be trimmed back, but other than that, you can sit back and enjoy. However, do remember that young children will still need supervising even if it is shallow.

If you build it, they will come. Soon, you’ll be welcoming creatures such as toads, frogs, newts, dragon flies, pond skaters, water snails as well as providing a drink for birds and hedgehogs. Just a little bit of water really is the source of life.


Accidental wildness


Back to school after the half term break and we’ve let wildness slip. Well, ‘formal deliberate’ wildness that is. We’ve nevertheless still achieved something wild every day, those Random Acts of Wildness, although not necessarily of the ‘photo and tweet it’ variety.

We’ve discovered a good climbing tree. If I give them a boost up to the first branch (at my head height) they can then get scarily high. The branches seem sturdy but there is definitely an element of risk (which is why they love it so much).

My daughter is obsessed with picking wild flowers at the moment, and the leaf mantises that we are babysitting necessitate the collection of lots of bramble for them to eat. They’ve gone to school today,  I felt like such a celebrity in the playground when I was holding them!

We also had a gardening session on our jungle (aka back garden), with both kids working well together to rescue snails and prune overgrown shrubs.

At the weekend, there was a gorgeous split second of wildness when a stoat crossed the road ahead of our car, followed by 6 or 7 kits. Too cute!

I’m heartened that whilst we’ve been a bit lacking in planned nature time, we’ve still managed to make space for outdoors discovery every day.

Next on the list; a picnic to celebrate Picnic Week!

30 Days Wild – week one


It was typical that all things were against us for our first few days of being wild. The wet and windy half-term weather combined with lots of driving for a family funeral meant we were up against it to fit in moments of nature.

Day 1: A wet walk, collecting pebbles and leaves. We wouldn’t have bothered with a walk today, given the weather, but it was good to get the wellies on and get outside.

Day 2: Hours on the M25 but there were birds to be spotted through the window – we saw a kestrel, herring gulls and two buzzards in the course of our journey.

Day 3 – 5:  This is where the game changed. We went camping to a basic, natural and beautiful campsite with lots of friends. It is harder to pick the unwild moments from the day, because there weren’t any.

Wild highlights included:

  • finding toad tadpoles
  • making mudcakes
  • collecting an incredible array of sea creatures and shells at the beach (starfish, crabs, anemones, clams, bristle worms to name a few)
  • being woken early by birdsong – there was a particularly vocal robin at 5 am
  • and mainly just being outside all the time.

This was wildness that took more than one bath to scrub off.

Day 6: Back to school, but incredible sunshine. My daughter picked poppies on the way to school (her teacher is very tolerant of the random assortment of nature that gets brought in by my collector girl on a daily basis). After school, we lay in a hammock  and looked up at the trees – we are living with Granny at the moment and enjoying her beautiful garden very much.

Day 7: We’ll be trying some art activities from ‘Collect, print and paint from nature’ by John Hawkinson later. It’s very old-school (published in 1968) and we won’t be setting up a killing jar for butterflies as recommended (using 880 ammonia or carbon tetrachloride!), but the rest is lovely!

It’s been a week of extremes – days where it has been hard to fit in wildness, and days where it has been abundant. I’m glad we’ve managed to make a little space for nature whatever the week and the weather has thrown at us.

The world needs young nature geeks

They say that whatever issue you have with a toddler, you can multiply by ten for the teenager. Whilst inspiring tiny children about the great outdoors has its challenges, they are nothing compared to trying to keep young people involved with and excited about nature as they hit the often rocky, hormonal years of teenagedom.

I know from personal experience that even the most rural, idyllic childhood doesn’t prevent a rapid descent into nightclubbing and alcohol – who has time for nature then? My children are a while off that, but I wonder how I will keep them connected to our natural world.

Wonderful campaigns such as the Wildlife Trust’s ‘Every Child Wild’ and the work done by The Wild Network help the parents of younger children to embrace nature. Whilst there is no deliberate exclusion of teenagers from these projects (and much remains highly relevant), there is a focus on reaching out to younger children. To then lose that connection in the fug of the teenage years seems such a tragedy.

Time in nature is vital for everyone’s health and well-being and in the turbulent, exam-packed teenage years, stress relief and green exercise are just what the doctor ordered. Despite all the medical evidence, society still thinks it is more normal for a teenager to be holed up in a darkened room on social media than roaming the countryside with a pair of binoculars.

A more worrying aspect is the bullying that young people can experience if they are into nature. Being called a geek, nerd or twitcher can be the least of it. In a world that values material consumption and the quick thrill of the digital, choosing to spend time, often on your own or with the older generation, can mark you out as an odd ball.

A Focus on Nature is a youth nature organisation aiming to address this. It offers a community for young people who love nature, as well as looking at the wider issue of disconnection of teens from our natural world. The website is full of stories of young conservationists getting out there and not just connecting with nature, but taking real action.

Wildlife charities do offer teenage options for involvement. The RSPB’s Phoenix membership provides Wingbeat, the only environmental magazine written by teenagers for teenagers, and opportunities to become part of and blog on the Phoenix forum. For those interested in volunteering or work experience, most conservation charities can give exciting and varied opportunities that could lead to a career in conservation.

With social media, there is a platform ready and waiting for our tech savvy teens. We would all benefit from more young voices to shock us oldies out of our comfortable complacency and to make caring about our planet the norm, not the geeky exception.

Teenagers need nature and green spaces in their life. It will bring them fun, stress-relief, new friends and turn them into true custodians of our world.

It’s been a while (ahem) since I was a teenager and I don’t yet have my own, so I’m very interested in your thoughts and experiences on this important issue.


First published in the EDP and EADT.


Our £25 family holiday


We’ve just had a lovely break in the sunny (?) South East, in a well-equipped four bedroom family house, all for the grand sum of £25… and that was just our travel costs and a bathmat (more on that later).

This wasn’t a rental property but a successful house swap with friends, who also have two young children of similar ages to ours. Whether you are being thrifty or not, a house swap is a brilliant way to have a change of scenery and an eco-friendly UK based holiday.

For a start, the second we entered the ‘new’ house, the children’s eyes lit up. There were toys galore, all different to the ones at home, and all free to be explored without awkward negotiations with the rightful owner. There were fun bedrooms, decorated for kids and all the paraphernalia you need for little ones, such as child size chairs, plastic cups, a paddling pool and bath toys.

From an adult perspective, we had everything we required to eat in without taking the whole cupboard with us. Stuff like olive oil and washing up liquid that you take for granted at home but can’t do without when self-catering. I helped myself to a can of sweetcorn from the cupboard which saved us going shopping for vegetables one evening and a coffee machine kept us perky too.

It was also very handy on the animal front. We swapped our four assorted mammals for their two friendly cats. No pet-sitters were required, and we enjoyed the regular photo updates which kept us reassured.

There were of course some negatives. It was certainly more work than rocking up at a holiday home. Before hand, I couldn’t help but see my home through the eyes of guests and had a de-clutter session. The slightly mouldy bathmat just wouldn’t do, so I replaced it. There was also the double hassle of changing all the sheets and towels before leaving and then wanting to leave the borrowed house in a fit state for our friends’ return to their home.

Halfway through, my friend sent me a panicked text saying there was a huge crack across my hob that she hadn’t noticed before, but she would buy us a new one if they’d caused it. The crack has been there six months, so all was fine, but it was a little reminder that you really would feel terrible and if you trashed something in your friend’s house.

Still, any minor inconveniences were way less annoying than paying hundreds for a holiday rental. I also feel oddly closer to my friend. I’ve lived her life for a little and slept in her bed, kissed my children goodnight where hers normally snuggle and cuddled her cats. Now when we have one of our long phone chats I’ll be able to picture everything so clearly. And all for £25.

Are you a real proper grown-up?


I have a house (and manage to pay the mortgage), I am married with children. I even work! Yet a part of me is forever young. I don’t mean in a crazy, fun teenager way, forever out clubbing and getting drunk. No, my kind of ‘young’ is more gawky than that, about 12 years old I’d say: A little socially awkward, not quite learned when I should keep my mouth shut and constantly feeling that I’m worthy of praise for being so grown-up.

Surely I deserve a medal or gold star for consistently getting my children to school on time, or owning cake tins and Tupperware? Remarkable feats for a 12 year old indeed. When life gets too much, it is understandable; I should be focusing on simple things like pony riding and who my best friend is.

Many of us feel we are playing a part in life, it’s the classic imposter syndrome where we feel our luck will run out and someone will eventually work out we are a fraud.

I hope I’m not alone, so I’ve devised a quiz to work out what stage of life you are truly at. Let me know…

Question 1

What do you think when you’ve been invited to a party?

  1. I wonder how much booze there will be.
  2. Whether I will get home for bedtime.
  3. Whether my best friend is going.

Question 2

What is your writing like?

  1. It’s a bit of a scrawl because I normally use my phone.
  2. Slanted and flowing.
  3. Round and bubbly, possibly with hearts over the ‘i’s

Question 3

How many items in your house have been purloined from your parents’ home?

  1. 1 or 2, maybe just some of my old toys from childhood.
  2. None, I’ve bought everything myself.
  3. More than 5, including nail clippers, kitchen scissors, recipe books, laundry baskets and a funny egg timer thing.

Question 4

What’s your favourite sandwich?

  1. Cheese and chips.
  2. Smoked salmon and cream cheese.
  3. Nutella.

Question 5

If you broke your leg tripping over in the street, who would you want to visit you first?

  1. Your partner or best friend.
  2. Your lawyer.
  3. Your mum.

Question 6

What did you think when you watched Frozen?

  1. It was a necessary update of the ‘every princess needs a prince’ cliché.
  2. I’ve never watched it.
  3. So beautiful, made me cry.

Question 7

What time do you like to go to bed?

  1. About 1 am but sometimes later.
  2. Lights out at 11 pm after reading.
  3. Before 9.30 pm.

Question 8

How do you find quizzes like this?

  1. Just a bit of fun.
  2. Totally ridiculous, I don’t have time for them.
  3. I do loads of them, they are so insightful.


Mainly a)

You are a teenager – up for having fun but streetwise and no one is going to tell you what to do.

Mainly b)

You are middle aged – sensible and practical your idea of having fun is to drink slightly more than the government’s recommended units of alcohol (by consuming good quality wine).

Mainly c)

You are twelve – just on the cusp of puberty you don’t really know who you are but that’s ok unless you have to make any big decisions in which case you may cry.

Life’s not a race, it’s a slow dance…


Photo by Phil Barnes Photography

I’ve hurt my knee. I’ll pause there to allow for the violins to play because I can’t deny it, I do feel rather sorry for myself and expect everyone else to as well. I’m usually one of those busy, rushing, clock-watching people. Always telling the kids to hurry up and catch up. Only now I’m not.

There is one advantage to living life at a gentler pace. You see so much more and appreciate so much more of the world around. As local naturalist Mark Cocker recently wrote, taking a more leisurely pace brings fascinating natural encounters, in his example a weird longhorn moth; “Almost at every step in this season something remarkable makes our acquaintance. Perhaps it is because as I get older I walk slower and have more encounters of this kind.”

Children too, take life at a different pace, one minute haring at break neck speed, but then suddenly stopping to look at things that interest them on life’s journey. When you want to get somewhere with young children, it can be infuriating that the snail on the wall must be studied in detail, and then the red spider mites on the pavement must be counted (impossible). Yet when you switch off that permanent internal clock, always tick-tocking noisily away, then crouch down and look too, you can have an entirely different experience of life, one that is rich with little moments of discovery.

Slowing down is good for us on many levels. Firstly, it’s about doing things properly; quality over quantity. It’s about slow food that is locally sourced and cooked from scratch. It’s about breathing deeply and calmly rather than the short, shallow inhalations that make many of us feel permanently anxious. It makes us nicer people to be around too – we listen more and give other people a little more of ourselves before the next thing claims our attention.

Secondly, it is vital for the environment. Faster travel is generally more polluting (I’m willing to make an exception for train travel here). Taking the self-propelled, slower option will always save carbon and be more sustainable. You can learn to love the journey rather than just the destination.

Slowing down means taking a moment to feel the sun (or rain!) on your skin and to smell the air. Look up into the sky and see if you can see any birds like swifts or swallows up high, and to find out what the clouds are doing. Are there flowers on the grass verge, or insects? Connecting with nature takes time, but not much. It is all around us, wherever you live, but we choose to rush on by, checking our phone as we go.

Many of us are missing out on a lot. I still expect those violins to play when I mention my knee troubles (it really does hurt you know), but I’m hoping that even as it heals I’ll keep my pace gentle and not waste my time by rushing.

First published in the EDP and EADT