Nature’s Got It In For You: What you should be scared of this month

I’ve taken the unwise step of reading the tabloids over the past few weeks and now I’m scared. Everything out there is out to get you in one way or another, didn’t you know? I didn’t know. I’ve managed to stay alive for 30-ermm-something years now and I’m not entirely sure how. It would appear it was more by luck than judgement, especially as I spend so much of my time out and about in the wild. Well, the wilder parts of South London, at least. There’s just so much out there that wants me dead! So here’s a round up of everything I’ve read throughout July that falls into that old staple, the Summer Scare Story:

The two biggest species that have been threatening life and limb around the country this month have definitely been the broad definition ‘gulls’ and of course Giant Hogweed (that’s what kicked this all off, really):

  • Hogweed! There were a full full ten (TEN! Count them, Ten!) articles on Giant Hogweed in the Mail alone since the start of July. It’s nasty stuff, undoubtedly, but people seem to be jumping up and down like this is a new phenomenon.
  • Gulls! Virtually over the last two weeks, gulls seem to have become public enemy number one. I’ll leave it for you to decide just how much danger you are in should you venture down to the seaside, but as always I’d advise reading a little further than the screeching, alarmist headlines to see what the various ‘experts’ actually said:

Seagulls could kill babies!

Yorkshire Terrier killed by Herring Gulls- ‘it could have been a child!’

Aggressive gulls must be culled!

There’s lots more out there, but here’s something a little more sensible on the subject. Now if you’ll excuse me I think I need to go and scrub myself with borax.

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The Nature Writing Debate – A Meta-Analysis

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Here is a picture of a tree what has fallen down…but give me a healthy advance and I’ll write you 100,000 words on its ecological processes and about 500 on its aesthetic beauty, what it says about me as a human being and how it ‘makes my soul feel’

This was originally a much longer, wordier, more lyrical piece. However, I did a quick scope around and there was already a plethora of people speaking on the subject from a much loftier and more exalted position than I in a rather po-faced manner. Occasionally in a style that seemed almost perversely self-defeating. What there was a dearth of was fatuous, flippant fripperies not really addressing the point at all. So I thought what the argument really needed was a contribution from a non-writing barely-creditable scientist (ok, I didn’t think the argument needed that at all, but I felt I should probably come up with some kind of half-arsed justification for sticking my beak in). So here goes, it’s time for me to hold my breath and plunge headfirst into the recent ‘nature writing’ debate.

It’s an apt image; I do feel a little as though I’ve been water-boarded with opinions over the last fortnight. Like the Stephen Poole article a while back, an article by Mark Cocker in the New Statesman this year appears to have opened up divisions in the chummy world of green literature.

In an attempt to make a last grasp at brevity and concision on the subject, I did the only thing I know how to do. Over the weekend I read as many of the ‘thought pieces’ as I could and performed a meta-analysis using the most highly complex and powerful piece of analytical software I had available at the time – though what faculties my tiny little mind still possessed after a whole day out in the sun miscounting butterflies is debatable.

Through this unreliable prism I fed the dilemna ‘What is Nature Writing’ and waited for the resulting spew of stats and poorly formed notions. There were graphs, there were charts, phenological and chronological data on the public perception of the ‘nature writing’ phenomenon…did I mention there were graphs? It was fantastic, glorious to behold, but – I decided – possibly not for everyone. In a second attempt to curtail this rather ludicrous premise, I programmed my unreliable software to condense its findings down into a few, concise soundbites on ‘nature writing’:

  • ‘Nature writing’ must contain at least a 45.6% focus on non-human biological entities.

Thanks brain…A tad over-concise (though where this left dragon-based literature, I am still unsure).

By relaxing the parameters of my software by 5% increments and altering the language flexibility, I was able to increase the outputs and ascertain some fundamental concepts about ‘Nature Writing’:

Results:

  • Writing that does not educate the reader about nature is not ‘nature writing’.
  • It is easier to educate the casual reader about nature if you write engagingly.
  • Alas, as with all other genres, some of what is classed ‘nature writing’ is still tedious, pretentious, pompous, self-important or just plain crap.
  • Pigeonholing and genre definitions have their uses for the bookseller, but informative and engaging writing is priceless to the reader.
  • Arguing class, race, gender etc. in this context is redundant. Or at least it should be. Doing so is merely petty point scoring.
  • ‘Nature writing’ is not a whole, cohesive concept. It is amorphous and highly subjective.
  • In all the analysis of the analyses, and critiques of the critiques, something might just be lost. ‘Nature writing’ and writing about ‘nature writing’ has become about writing about the writing in ‘nature writing’ and not about writing about the nature in ‘nature writing’ – !Unexpected Logic Failure! Please Investigate and the Kill Process (Error Message 0x0EEJK).
  • The only real arbiter of whether something is ‘nature writing’ is the person reading it at that precise moment.
  • Who cares?
  • Stop taking it so seriously. It’s not like you’re doing proper work.

Examples of Source Materials:

Death of the Naturalist: Why is the ‘new nature writing’ so tame? – Mark Cocker

The Limits of Nature Writing – Richard Smyth

Is our love for nature writing bourgeois escapism – Stephen Poole

Tales of the City: Manning the Baricades – Melissa Harisson

Common Ground or Private Park: Whose (nature) writing is it anyway? – Richly Evocative

Limitations of the study:

Capacity and vocabulary of analytical software. Possible sun damage.

Suggestions for future studies:

For ease of comparison and to avoid future conflict, the study recommends the development of a Green to Purple ‘Nature Writing’ scale label for all future publications. Through facile chromatographic identification, individuals can assess their scope of literary preference and use this tool to aid further reading choices…

This child-like effort is the best my limited Paint skills could achieve

This child-like effort is the best my limited Paint skills could achieve

…Like that thing with the mattresses…you could probably justify hiking the prices in some way too…

You may have guessed that I am perhaps not taking the whole debate overly seriously, but then again it’s about time somebody didn’t. On the other hand, I’ve got form in this area, so this may not be the last you hear on this subject…

Not a Book Review #2: Meadowland and My Favourite Nature Books

meadowlandI’m sure you’ll all be glad to know that I’ve had rather a pleasant few weeks, what with jollying off to treehouses in the Cotswolds and gadding about Mallory’s birthplace in Cheshire.

It was made even more pleasant by my chosen reading material – Meadowland by John Lewis Stempel. I was originally going to write another one of my rather ill-conceived non-reviews, but I drew rather a blank after my opening gambit of ‘it were reet bloody good’ (yes, in case you hadn’t noticed by now I have occasional Northern Tendencies, which makes my current state of captivity in the overbearing greyness of Stockwell even more unpalatable).

Informative without being facile or opaque, and gently lyrical and emotive rather than histrionic, it put me in mind of another book. Perhaps my favourite as it happens. And regrettably this is where the blog once more descends into another of my periodical bouts of listing things (in other words, I’m short on ideas again this week). That’s right; it’s time for my Top Nature Books:

Edward O. Wilson – The Diversity of Life

Despite his recent slightly childish spats with Dawkins (and he’s become such an objectionable character these days, it’s hard to blame him), I still can’t help but think of Wilson as some kind of benevolent, Grand Knight of Biodiversity. I recall once seeing him pop-up on a wildlife documentary with David Attenborough and immediately shouting ‘House!’ as if I’d just completed some personal game of Conservation Bingo. It was a peculiar knee-jerk reaction for which I received some very strange looks…I digress. The Diversity of Life is one of the first ‘straight’ ecology books I remember reading and I genuinely think it changed the way I see the world.

Aldo Leopold – A Sand County Almanac

Meadowland, with its light sprinkling of prose, detours on phenology and ecology and its obvious love of the land, evoked memories of the first time I read Sand County. I quite simply do not think I have read anything so wonderful. I loaned my copy out years ago and never saw again (always an indication of quality!) I’ve since bought another. It starts with the same premise as Thoreau’s Walden, (man takes himself to a cabin in the woods to ‘live deliberately, to front only the essential facts’) but Leopold is an eminently better naturalist and writer. Infinitely more readable than Thoreau’s impenetrable stocktaking. I have never made it past about page 50 of Walden but still re-read Sand County regularly.

Philip Hoare – The Sea Inside

I never really had much of an interest in Marine Ecology until I read The Sea Inside. The sea still remains a terrifying place in my mind (vast, deep, unknown and full of sharks), but The Sea Inside awakened an interest in the communities that depend on it and the creatures that inhabit it. So much so that I even went as far as taking a course in marine biology last year. Although I still don’t go in the sea. Are you mad? There’s all sort of weird stuff in there.

George Monbiot – Feral

Had to bring up Monbiot, didn’t I? Though I still have my reservations about some aspects of the whole rewilding ethos, Feral is jam-packed with ideas and knowledge and gives a damn good argument for some pretty drastic changes to the way we look at land management and conservation. Most of all it made me want to get the hell out of Stockwell!

…and there. I have managed, for once, to rein myself in, giving an appropriately idiosyncratic ‘Top 4’, rather than go on at length as, in truth, I would rather like to do so. These are merely 4 that are at the forefront of my mind at this moment (and also in a rather prominent position on my bookshelf and coffee table. The two are likely not unrelated). But once again, I strive for, and still overshoot, brevity. I have, to my eternal shame, still never finished any Rackham, Deakins or Mabey (though I’ve got copies around here somewhere) and this list is, of course, distressingly subjective. So feel free to put a plug in for your favourite piece of nature writing and I may one day get around to adding it to my pile.

There Has Been a Bank Error in Our Favour

With a fiscal insertion that is, frankly, eye-watering and involves sums of money it is beyond my tiny, maths-spastic, brain to comprehend, the Premier League has recently been awarded £5.2Bn in TV rights for the next 3 seasons. Like me, you probably find it difficult to comprehend just how much money that is, but as I guideline I just did a quick land search – you can buy around 100 hectares of mixed woodland for £500,000. Now by my rough maths you could therefore buy an area of woodland around twice the size of Yorkshire. I think. Honestly though, I wouldn’t trust my maths.

I’m preaching to the converted here, I know, but if you were to somehow gauge the amount of time spent and enjoyment gained by people experiencing the natural environment, it would far outstrip that gained from a season ticket to your standard Premier League team, even if that team happened to be the 03/04 Arsenal, replete with Bergkamp, Henry and Vieira. Indeed, nowadays I’d much sooner shell out a few quid to watch a bunch of ecologists attempt to kick a ball around (or engage in any kind of competitive sport for that matter) than sell all my worldly possessions to watch the Gunners capitulate to their standard last minute defeat as they surrender a 2-0 lead at home to Leicester. Given the ecologists I know, I can guarantee it would be a much more entertaining game, though for quite different reasons.

communitychestIt’s that, well, green space is always just there, isn’t it? Unfortunately that’s the view far too many members of the public hold, as I’m sure we are all well aware. But just imagine for a second that there has been an almighty balls-up at the bank (yeah, just imagine that) and that £5.2Bn has accidentally been redistributed to a handful of environmental charities. Now we’ve got it, what the hell are we going to do with it? So here are my top 5 suggestions for spending our fortuitous winnings:

1. Rewild the uplands

Monbiot pushes this in Feral but it’s been a notion at the forefront of British conservation a lot longer than that. Wales and Scotland have many upland areas that have marginal viability farming. Many highland areas of Scotland are run purely for game (with detrimental human impacts on raptors and anything else that might possibly interfere with the production of more game) Compulsory purchase of Highland estates from some of the non-resident oligarchs that have scooped them up in recent years would allow a large scale rewilding effort with the reintroduction of charismatic megafauna and the possible re-establishment of the Caledonian forest.

2. Plant up more woodland

Following on from the above, imagine being able to re-establish the Great North Wood or extending the New Forest?

3. Re-meander rivers, allow to flood

If we could purchase large areas of riverine land, we could breakdown the restrictive man-made banks on our rivers where possible and allow flood plains, backwaters and meanders to re-establish. This would not only encourage wildlife but also have great benefits for the population of the Somerset Levels (much greater than knee-jerk dredging).

henry

Thierry applauds your noble if misguided intentions

4. Start buying up golf courses. Just because. I flew in to Heathrow last month and was astonished by the amount of green-space given over to golfers.

5. Evacuate the Isle of Man and leave them as an experiment in rewilding (OK, I’m not entirely sure we could really afford to do this. I’m not sure what property currently runs to in the IoM. I’m pretty sure that, unlike everything else on the island, it is not a good 10 years behind the mainland). Maybe the Wallabies will take over.

What do you think – overly ambitious? Not ambitious enough? There were plenty I could have added (I wasn’t sure whether you can actually ‘buy’ areas of the ocean) but I’ve aimed for brevity for once. I know, I know, it’s all pie in the sky stuff, but I think it’s an important exercise to consider – if we don’t consider what our ultimate, dream outcomes are, then how can we move towards them?

This picks up from a thought I had recently while watching UKIP: The first 100 days – what would the first 100 days of the government of Spike look like? Thinking about it, there would probably be about the same level of rioting, I’m not sure people are ready to discuss population control quite yet. Maybe I’ll write that one up next month…

Environmentalists in Film and Channing Tatum’s Massive Block Head.

Look, it can’t all be frighteningly long discourses on management structures in environmental charities or hackneyed theorising about the future of volunteering on this blog you know. I know we’ve had some fun and games with those kind of posts over the last few months. My, how we’ve laughed. But enough of all this levity, sometimes I will feel the need to address serious issues here. This is one of those occasions. I’m sorry, please stick with it, it sags a bit in the middle, but there’s a quote from a highly respected authority on the subject at the end that I think is well worth the wait.

Blockhead Tatum, expressing his full actorly range

Blockhead Tatum, expressing his full actorly range

Last week my carer (wife) took me out to the cinema and told me if I behaved she’d let me have a fizzy pop and a bag of skittles (she late reneged – more on that later). Being the high-brow types that we are, we went to see Foxcatcher (which has no foxes in it). This came hot on the heels of seeing Birdman (which has no birds in it). You’d think we’d have learned. It’s clear these types of films are not for the likes of us – where’s the explosions? Where’s the gratuitous nudity? They were both films that, as a friend of mine once put it, need a glass stomach so they could see where they were going (I’ll leave you to figure that one out). It was during one of the prolonged shots of Channing Tatum’s massive block of a head staring into the distance, furrowed brow and all, that I started to drift.

Blockhead Tatum, expressing his full range of emotions

Blockhead Tatum, doing ‘sad’

The enigmatic, paranoid, peculiar John Du Pont is, apart from a fan of sweaty man-on-man action, a keen Ornithologist (Enigmatic, paranoid, peculiar – I’ll leave you to make your own Twitcher jokes). At one point he drops in on Blockhead Tatum in the middle of the night to point out (erroneously) the call of a distant Barn Owl. My wife (yes, once again, I really do have a wife) felt me bridle in my seat. She must have known there was a smartarse comment coming. It was the ensuing ‘for god’s sake, that’s not a Barn Owl’ that resulted in the revoking of my skittles privileges and general shushing for breaking the code of conduct. It was only later when I thought about it that I realised he’d said Barred Owl. I don’t know what they sound like. Or whether he was right. It probably would have been more in keeping with the character if he were just making it up as he went along.

From that point on, I’m afraid the film rather lost me and I drifted off into considering the portrayal of environmentalists and the like in film. I uncovered a worrying trend:

Quantum of Solace – The real hero is, of course, committed environmentalist Dominic Greene. But obviously Bond can’t have that so stitches him up -wouldn’t you know it, he’s only out to cause a drought in Bolivia so he can profiteer. The bastard. At least I think that’s what happens. It was very confusing

Hound of the Baskervilles – The real hero is, of course, committed entomologist and skilled trainer of large, wild dogs, Jack Stapleton. But obviously Holmes can’t have that so stitches him up – wouldn’t you know it, he’s the lost relative of the Baskervilles out to claim their manor. The bastard. Holmes chucks him in a bog for good measure.

Bird Man of Alcatraz – Pimp, murderer and Burt Lancaster.

Silence of the Lambs – The pursuit of sexually confused Lepidopterist Buffalo Bill by Clarice Starling.

Anyway, that’s as far as I got before Mark Ruffalo got shot (sorry, I’m supposed to preface that with ‘spoilers’ aren’t I? Tough.) It seems we’re doomed to be portrayed as either outsiders, loners and obsessives, or slightly wet tree huggers. I suspect even in the upcoming biopic of myself, Blockhead Tatum will feel the need to inject a sinister note of some dark, all-consuming mania, possibly aimed at careless dog-walkers and the scientifically illiterate. I’m open to suggestions in the comment box of better portrayals of environmentalists in film (not Erin Brockovich, she doesn’t count).

Blockhead Tatum, star of upcoming biopic 'Adventures in Conservation', getting into character

Blockhead Tatum, star of upcoming biopic ‘Adventures in Conservation’, getting into character

But we should be glad, shouldn’t we? At least we’re getting some screen time and exposure. Reflecting on the portrayal of the green movement in film recently, Schwarzenegger discussed how he has tried to make the issue of climate change one that would resonate with the public, without having to involve distracting and unphotogenic scientists: “I think the environmental movement only can be successful if we (film makers) tell the stories. The scientists would never get the kind of attention that someone in show business gets.”*

*Ok, that’s not exactly what he said, but you can tell it’s what he meant. Maybe.

Why We Must Keep Nature in Our Dictionaries – My favourite nature words and how they will save your children come the end times

It’s the latest harbinger of an apocalyptic future where machines become our overlords and we’re forced to communicate entirely in binary  – the Oxford Junior Dictionary are replacing ‘nature’ words with decidedly ‘unnatural’ counterparts. Is this a very audible bellweather of the inexorable move of the human race indoors and, ultimately, into the very machines themselves?

I do wonder, in my more pessimistic moments (generally, 75% of the day) just how this generation will turn out when they hit adulthood. It’s a virtual unknown. Yes, there were Video Games, before that TV, Radio and even books – all of which, if you listened with a gloomy disposition or with a miserabilist’s bent to the ear, would rot the brains of our youth, turning then into gurning simpletons with poor social skills. I’m pretty sure this hasn’t happened, though I often can’t quite tell when forced to interact with the service industry. Lamenting the ‘youth of today…’ is a universal right for anyone over the age of 30 (although I think I started at 21), it’s usually not particularly well-founded, though.

But the Internet, the many screens we are confronted with day to day – it’s all-pervasive in the modern world in a way that the others were not. They change the way we work, the way we think, even. What change, then, to a developing mind? I’m hardly covering new ground here though; Project Wild Thing (about which I was characteristically but perhaps unjustly mean about a while ago) is just the latest in a line of attempts to convince us to take our children out into the natural world and leave them to their own devices, may the strongest survive. A bit like the Hunger Games, or (more originally) Battle Royale. On second thoughts, maybe I misunderstood Project Wild Thing. Or maybe I’ve just been watching Battle Royale recently.

newts on facebook

I was doing a little research the other day – Wikipedia has really got it in for newts

Removing natural words from the dictionary is all very well, and I can see the point in an age where we’re teaching our kids coding, but where will it leave them come the Zombie Apocalypse*, eh? That’s the real question here. Knowing how to spell ‘algorithm’ ain’t going to help them when they’re scrabbling through the undergrowth, pursued by hordes of the undead, trying to work out if this strange nut thing they’ve found is edible or poisonous…if only they knew it’s name they could look it up on wikipedia and find out…except, wait, that Jimmy Wales chap has finally had to shut Wikipedia down due to lack of donations. Well, that and the Zombies eating every single online editor until its accuracy drops to an all-time low (I know, who’d notice, right?).

So here are my favourite nature words that you should go out and teach your children immediately – failing to do so is basically condemning your offspring to a real-life shuffle-on part in a George A Romero film:

Osprey – Os-prey, os-prey. For some reason I find something very agreeable about the two separate parts of the word when they come together. Plus, it’s an awesome, awesome raptor and who knows what role falconry will play in a dystopian future?

Hemlock Water Dropwort – There’s something about the way the successive syllables rise and fall…plus, in an apocalyptic society, you can disguise it as celery and poison your rivals.

osprey

Osprey Post-Armageddon fish delivery system

Juniper – Gin will be essential when society collapses (Who am I kidding, Gin is already essential).

Coppice – maybe it’s because I’ve done so much coppicing, but the word always brings on a warm feeling. Plus, if you want to make those hurdles for tripping undead pursuers or spears to stab them right in the face, then long, straight poles will need to be cultivated.

Tawny Grisette – Roles off the tongue, doesn’t it? Plus good to know the difference between this edible mushroom and some very similar, poisonous ones that you can then use to poison your rivals on the way to the top of the rudimentary feudal system that will evolve once the zombies have been dealt with.

Others on the shortlist were – Glanville Fritillary, Bird’s-foot trefoil, Ribwort plantain and Teasel. So what’s your favourite ‘nature’ word, and just how will it help us survive an uprising of hyper-intelligent Tesco automated check-out bays?

*I appear to have switched my end-of-human-race scenario from AI run wild to Zombie epidemic, lord knows why. Again, I may have been watching too many films over the holidays. Coming Soon: I write a piece where I explain that both are merely more cinematic stand-ins for environmental collapse, Zombies are in fact a metaphor for climate change and AI represents our own attempts to control a natural environment that will, inevitably, rebel and kill us all.

No I Will Not Use the Title Bear Necessities in a Post About Bears. You Can’t Make Me.

Just as ‘Yes’ by McAlmont and Butler is clearly the greatest pop song ever written, so there must logically be a ‘greatest fictional bear’ ever created. Yes, that’s right, the blog has degenerated to this – me discussing the pros and cons of cartoon bears. And no, I have not been paid to write this in order to promote the new Paddington film.

I could make a point about the dangerous anthropomorphism of animals and how this leads to misplaced confidence around those from the big, bite-your-head-off and not at all cuddly species (see Grizzly Man, or the recent photos taken by a student in New Jersey moments before being killed by a black bear). But I wont. I don’t really think I have it in me to make a serious point in what is a very flippant and facetious post I knocked up in the 30 minutes I have spare between getting the Tea on and developing my FIFA skills.

So here, in order of morphological and ecological accuracy, are my ‘Top Bears’

Hyper Camp

Hyper Camp

Rupert

Species: Polar? Who knows?

Location: Nutwood, England

Habits and preferences: Hyper-camp. I will cast no aspersions about his preferences.

Accuracy Points: 0

Seriously, what was it about these authors in the 20’s, were they trying to convince kids that the woodlands of the UK were thronged with super-friendly bears? Rupert…god I hate Rupert…maybe it’s those stupid check trousers. At least they aren’t red trousers. Maybe it’s Paul McCartney’s fault. Rupert is less a bear, more an effete young boy with a bears head stuck on him.

Not Really a Bear

Not Really a Bear

Pooh

Species: Teddy Bear

Location: Ashdown Forest, Sussex

Habits and preferences: Likes Honey, a bit slow

Accuracy Points: 2

Ok, so technically he’s a ‘Teddy Bear’ rather than an actual bear, but Ashdown Forest? I’m pretty sure there are no Bears in Sussex…pretty sure. Points for appearing to be in a pre-hibernation state most of the time and enjoying honey.

Nice Hat

Nice Hat

Paddington

Species: Spectacled Bear

Location: Peruvian Immigrant

Habits and preferences: Likes Marmalade sandwiches

Accuracy Points: 5

Points for getting species origin correct and overall appearance not too far off. I’d even concede that bears would like marmalade sandwiches, should they happen on one. He does however recklessly encourage the adoption of dangerous wild animals in contravention of the 1976 Act but may gain bonus points for inciting the wrath of UKIP.

yogi

Yogi Bear – In reality a remorseless killing machine

Yogi

Species: Grizzy

Location: Jellystone National Park

Habits and preferences: Stealing picnic baskets

Accuracy points: 6

Right species, right place (It’s supposed to be Yellowstone, obvs), vaguely correct appearance. Attraction to picnic baskets spot on whilst also carrying a genuine public warning. With his smart-casual dress sense (tie, hat and nothing else) he’s definitely the most stylish in the countdown. In reality would have ripped Park Ranger Smith’s face off and chewed-up his mangled body before going down in a hail of bullets.

baloo

Bill Murray

Baloo

Species: Sloth Bear

Location: Indian Jungle

Habits and preferences: Likes fruit, honey, ants, dancing and tomfoolery.

Accuracy points: 8

Actually looks like a bear, unlike most of the others. Right species, right place, right diet. I’ve also just found out the Bill Murray is voicing the character in a 2015 live action version, and that’s the best news I’ve heard in a long while.

Honourable(?) mentions for Bungle (super odd), but there was only room for one camp bear in the countdown.

Hurrah for Trees! (Trees are Ace)

There was a tree of the year competition (sorry, #treeoftheyear)? I missed that one. Was it on Saturday night TV? (Actually, that would probably have made a half decent program. Better than Springwatch, certainly). Anyway, this reminds me that a couple of years ago I started to compile my ‘Top 10 Trees of Epping Forest’. What the original purpose of this was, I don’t now remember. I can’t quite imagine how I would have managed to convince anyone that it was work related. I’ve dug out the photos from my inept computer filing system (pathway: pictures > pictures > Spike > pictures > 2012 > trees) and it looks like I only got to 5. So to continue this months theme of being positive (yay nature), getting excited about things (this hurts my face) and only writing shiny, happy posts, here they are (next month, if winter ever starts, I will return to being a dedicated miserabilist):

5 – (In fact, imagine this soundtracked by the Thunderbirds countdown to lend it the necessary gravitas)

Grimston’s OakGrimston Oak - Bury WoodBig oak in a clearing in Bury Wood. I haven’t noted whether it is English or Sessile. Found at a junction of 3 paths. I can’t find any details about who Grimston was and don’t remember any anecdotes from my time at the Forest (and they do love an anecdote!). Those with a more sinister bent of mind might like to imagine that those horizontal branches on the right hand side once served an ominous purpose. Not me though. And if you did, you’re clearly wrong-headed and should be sectioned forthwith.

4 – Massive Bugger of a Veteran Hornbeam Pollard in FairmeadVeteran Hornbeam Pollard

(That’s it’s official name amongst those in the know, in case you were wondering. Honest it is) I don’t think the photo really does the scale of this tree justice. Worth bearing in mind that the bole is at head height, though. It’s a lapsed pollard, of which there are many in Epping Forest, so there’s a danger the limbs will snap. Pollarding is…you know what, I’ve given that talk so many times I can’t be bothered to type it out here. If you don’t already know, go read a book or something (sorry, that was unnecessarily rude. Here’s a link). I have also definitely not tried to climb this tree. Never. How dare you even suggest such a thing!

3 – The Fairmead OakFairmead Oak

Ok, what’s left of the Fairmead Oak, anyway. Such an awesome tree (and so artistically shot in black and white by myself (I had just worked out how to use that function)), you might have noticed that it is the background image for this very blog. It is Phoenixing quite wonderfully and you can probably just make out the regrowth coming from the snap point. Who knows, might even survive.

2 – The Lost Pond CoppardLost Pond Coppard

Huge diameter, about 20-30 feet maybe? It’s been coppiced then pollarded. Pretty Cool. Just look at the base of that thing. If you were a child (or of a childish frame of mind), it makes an excellent hide-and-seek apparatus. I, of course, being a grown adult man have done no such thing. Don’t be foolish! And I certainly wasn’t on my own when I didn’t do it.

I think this was actually Epping Forest‘s official entry for the ‘competition’, but it’s not the best, oh no (and that is FACT, not merely my subjective aesthetic opinion). The best tree is…drumroll…                .                                                                                                                               .                                                                                                                                                                                        .

Honey Lane Quarter Oak1 – Honey Lane Quarter Oak

My, the tension was palpable there, wasn’t it? This English Oak is awesome, gnarled and just all-round pretty damn cool. Obviously this rather arty photo was taken by somebody with a little more camera-type skills than my point and click efforts (in fact, if you look closely you will see me in the shot, leaning thoughtfully against the trunk, like some kind of enigmatic troubled soul). It is found just off the road at Honey Lane Quarter past High Beach, and as far as I am aware it does not currently have a name. Although now it does, because right this second I have named it Spike’s Oak. And who says I can’t?

Veteran trees are undoubtedly cool, and anyone who says otherwise is a fool (and I like to make up a tree-based rhyme pretty much all of the time). Seriously, this ‘Tree of the Year’ thing is all I ever hear about from the ‘kids’ when I hang out on the ‘street’. And why the heck not? This is the point where I remark that at least they have more personality than your standard X-factor contestant etc and so forth. But I wouldn’t do that. Trees are made of wood, they don’t have a personality. They are awesome though. Except for Sycamores, they’re a bit crap.