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The Carrs Wetland Project

This blog started life as a website for a wetland restoration project near Scarborough, in North Yorkshire. The Cayton and Flixton Carrs Wetland Project, as it was originally named, was an advocacy project working with farmers – It sought to establish farm stewardship schemes on lowland, floodplain peat soils in the Vale of Pickering. A wetland landscape would be restored, farmed less intensively to enhance habitats bring back breeding waders and protect the archaeological heritage associated with Star Carr (arguably the most important Stone Age site you may never have heard of). The project employed a full-time Project Officer at Scarborough Borough Council between 2006 and 2013 but the blog continues to spread the message of wetland restoration.

Although The Carrs Wetland Project came to an end, I sincerely hope that it has remained in people’s hearts as a cause – a project with a small ‘p’ if you will. For the Vale of Pickering needs friends and advocates. It truly is ‘An Extraordinary Place’.

Keeping this blog online, is one way that I have attempted to keep the interest in and awareness of The Carrs in the minds of local people and interested parties.

Tim Burkinshaw, (Scarborough Council’s Ecologist, former Project Officer). 

Jun 2010 Wetland Scrape Waders spring
Wader scrape, Willerby Carr


Illuminating Star Carr

I happened upon a fantastic article on Star Carr from the magazine ‘Current Archaeology’. This was a chance online discovery but I was glad to find it. The piece is a marvellous synthesis of all that we currently know about the Mesolithic site of Star Carr near Scarborough.

A rainbow over Star Carr, once the haunt of a stone-age community living on a lake shore.

The piece, entitled ‘Life beside the lake – Opening a window on the Mesolithic at Star Carr’, is based on a research monograph published by the Star Carr team. The article is fascinating and wonderful to read, albeit a long read, but worth it.

I’ve been privileged to meet some of the archaeologists who have unravelled these insights and to have watched them at work on the digs on the farmland that was Lake Flixton, around 11,000yrs ago. Star Carr will forever have a special place in my heart.

Overlooking the remains of the ‘central platform’, under excavation in 2013
Overlooking the remains of the ‘central platform’, under excavation in 2013. This was the earliest and the largest of three platforms, each made from massive timbers and whole trees, that were built at Star Carr over a 175-year period. [Image: Star Carr project, CC BY-NC 4.0]

I urge you to set aside half an hour to read the full piece – or at least look at the images. It is a great article for those of us for whom a full two-volume academic monograph is too weighty to digest.

To whet your appetite I’ve taken the liberty of choosing some juicy extracts. Enjoy:

Herein lies the paradox of Star Carr: it is at once an invaluable source of evidence about Mesolithic living, opening a vivid window onto a world that is not well represented in British archaeology, and an enigmatic anomaly.

The discovery of possible houses is exciting not only because of their rarity, but because they provide a welcome reminder of the importance of wood to Mesolithic communities. This material rarely survives on Mesolithic sites, but the presence of structures and the great timber platforms highlight how skilled Star Carr’s occupants were at using it.

Another deceptively mundane material from the site that sheds interesting light on Mesolithic life is the humble bracket fungus. This species is also known as ‘tinder fungus’ because of its usefulness for starting fires…… Star Carr can now boast the largest-known assemblage of charred fungus from Mesolithic Britain.

…one of the most unusual items from Star Carr is a small shale pendant etched with a series of parallel lines and smaller markings drawn at right angles…experimental archaeology suggests that when freshly cut they would have been vibrantly white against the darker background, and similar artefacts are known from southern Scandinavia. Possible interpretations of the markings are numerous…

Hilts, Carly, 2019, Life beside the lake, Current Archaeology 349

I hope you find the article as enlightening as I did. This site has in many ways been an enigma since its disovery in the forties, re-interpreted many times and the academic debate will surely continue. I doubt that Star Carr has given up all of its secrets yet, but it has offered a remarkable picture of life by a wetland 11,000 years ago.

Further reading
Nicky Milner, Chantal Conneller, and Barry Taylor (eds), Star Carr: Vol.1 – A Persistent Place in a Changing World and Vol.2 – Studies in Technology, Subsistence and Environment, White rose University Press, ISBN 978-1912482009.

e-versions of both volumes can be downloaded for free:

https://universitypress.whiterose.ac.uk/ site/books/10.22599/book1/ 

https:// universitypress.whiterose.ac.uk/site/ books/10.22599/book2/ 

For more on the Star Carr archaeology project, see www.starcarr.com.

The link to the Current Archaeology article https://archaeology.co.uk/articles/features/life-beside-the-lake.htm

The Carrs revisited – reflections on peat, drainage and farming economics

A public footpath crosses the Scarborough-Filey railway line to reach the Scarborough Carrs.

Being several square miles of pretty uninhabited open farmland, there are not many planning applications that I have to check out in The Scarborough Carrs. It’s a lowland peat floodplain after all. No-one has ever built houses on there unless you want to stretch the definition and include Star Carr, the famous Mesolithic settlement and that was 12,000 years ago.

Since my day job nowadays involves keeping an ecological eye on development control (the technical term for the planning permission process) I don’t often have cause to visit The Carrs. In short, it’s been a long while since I set foot there and to be honest I was missing it.

Some of the undeveloped business park plots I passed en route have formed their own little wetland areas!

In early summer an opportunity arose through another site visit in Eastfield to make an excursion on foot across a corner of the area, re-visiting my old stomping ground as a Wetland Project Officer.

Wet ditches which criss-cross The Carrs form the boundaries between fields.

I was a little apprehensive how overgrown the paths and farm tracks could be. Fortunately fate shined on me as did the sun and I managed to make an interesting transect. I left ‘civilisation’ via the Scarborough Business Park, passing the vacant industrial estate plots as I went southwards to reach Cayton Carr. Cayton Carr and then west back to the A64 via Seamer Carr.

This post shares with you some of the photos I took and observations I made along the way.

Cattle pasture and big skies…

There were some lovely rural scenes passing through cattle pastures before crossing the Scarborough to Filey railway line. I was able to pick up a farm track which thanks to some stone spread along it recently to firm it up, was passable without too much impediment from the waist-high growth that grows rampant on the damp peat verges either side and down the centre.

Wildlife was abundant with dragonflies and finches feeding on the weeds. There were numerous ditches of flowing water and some waterweeds to see in the bottom.

Some interesting water weeds can be found in the clear-flowing ditches. Occasionally a ditch still follows the course of an historic watercourse. These often have the best diversity of aquatic plants.

Renewed drainage pipes were evident spilling water into a ditch like so many bath-taps left running.

This is normal in the course of farming this land, but saddens me to know that if the water table was retained higher the peat would shrink less, give off less CO2 to the atmosphere and potentially create rare wet grassland or fen habitats for wildlife with the right management.

Some fields are still cropped. Here one of dozens of new ‘underdrainage’ pipes pours water out of the peaty soil. As the soil oxidises and shrinks, these drainage pipes have to be replaced every few decades and placed successively deeper.

Unfortunately, until farmers get paid more for protecting their fen peat soils than they can get from growing wheat or potatoes or fodder crops this will continue. I’m drumming my fingers waiting for the new Environmental Land Management Scheme from DEFRA to come up with the goods, but until then the taps are still running full bore on our farmed lowland peat.

Here, near Star Carr, one can see a recently cleaned ditch shows the pale marl layer beneath the dark peat. This marl sediment formed bed of Palaeolake Flixton.
A closer inspection of the fen peat over the thin lake marl and the yellow, stony glacial gravel and clay beneath. Lake Flixton was a post glacial lake here.

The unassuming bus stop on the A64, named ‘Starr Carr Lane’ on the Coastliner bus route. This marked the end of my walk. The main lay-by is just 100m further south.

River channels new and old at Folkton Carr.

Sorting through some old photographs from my Wetland Project Officer days I found some awesome shots of a bitingly cold, snowy, winter morning when I stopped off near Folkton Bridge, (over the Hertford River) to snap these atmospheric pictures.

The River Hertford at Folkton Bridge in the icy grip of winter.

The Hertford River was straightened or ‘canalised’ in 1801 after an Act of Parliament was passed to drain the low grounds of the eastern Vale of Pickering. (The Muston and Yedingham Drainage Act of 1800.) Local historians tell us that the channel was hand-dug and the work was done by prisoners-of-war from the Napoleonic Wars, between Britain and France.

The River Hertford or ‘New Cut’ as locals still call it, looking east from Folkton Bridge.

A local farmer whose family have lived here for generations, told me once of the small round artefacts they used to find on the banks – which they believe to be musket-balls. Perhaps these conscripted ‘navvies’ were watched over by armed soldiers, who may have dropped the odd bit of ammunition or, who knows, fired a warning shot to ‘encourage’ the workers in their toils!

A snowy scene of a sinuous drainage ditch north of the Hertford, which marks the parish boundary between Cayton (on the right) and Folkton (on the left).

The Hertford is in some ways a river whose course was straightened but more accurately a new, direct line was cut and the old river diverted along it. The watercourse we see today is still referred to on some maps and in conversation with locals as the ‘New Cut’ or simply ‘The Cut’. Remnants of the original course of the Hertford are given away on Ordnance Survey maps by the wiggly, apparently illogical boundary between the parishes of Cayton and Folkton. Some of these are still used as drainage ditches between the fields, carrying a shallow flow of water and perhaps with more diverse aquatic flora.

Notice the sinuous blue line of a drainage ditch to the north of the river…which coincides with the dotted Parish boundary. That right there is the original course of the Hertford.

On the OS map (the 1:25000 scale) there is a dotted Parish boundary which follows a meandering blue line of a drainage ditch. Farmers did not dig wiggly drains separating the fields, but if they were already there, would likely maintain them periodically. This is the clue that they mark older, natural watercourses.

Incidentally land drainage is a complex beast, not always as simple as it appears to the layperson. I certainly learned a lot in my time as Project Officer. You can read more about Land Drainage elsewhere on the site.) Notice that the Hertford, flowing east to west appears not as one but three parallel blue lines. The central one is the Hertford Cut itself, the substantial channel in my first and second photos. Either side are counter drains called the North Delph and South Delph. It’s all about gradients. Rivers are not flat, they flow gently downhill.

Frost-laden reeds in the roadside ditch by Folkton bridge lay-by. The ditch is part of the parish boundary and probably a remnant of the original river channel. In the background can be seen Folkton waste water treatment works.

Field drains – the ditches flowing out between fields, empty into the counter drain, then flow parallel for maybe several hundred metres until a culvert links it to the main river. If the field drain emptied directly into the river, then being more subject to rise and fall, river levels would often be higher and cause water to ‘back up’ in the field drain, thus impeding the flow and consequently the drainage of the field. By carrying the water a little further downstream the natural gradient of the river can accommodate the outflow from the land. It’s rather neat really. Even if it messes with my head sometimes trying it understand it.

Snow lying on the fields of Folkton Carr, the Hertford in the foreground and beyond the scarp of the Yorkshire Wolds.

Origin of the word ‘Carr’

Carr is a habitat type which used to be much more abundant in the UK before intensive agriculture and drainage of land. It refers to a wetland habitat, generally wet woodland with willow and alder scrub in low-lying areas. Ecologists and botanists have very particular uses for terms like fen, carr, mire and bog but for most people they will be synonymous; referring to land that is waterlogged for some or all of the year.

They derive from a time when such wet ground was generally of little use – you couldn’t cultivate it, the ground was too wet for grazing animals much of the year etc. Possibly some firewood or peat could be cut, or sometimes reeds for thatching. This was true for centuries, until large-scale schemes to drain the fens and lowlands especially from the 1800 onwards.

‘Carr’ in particular derives from a Norse / Viking word for this type of land and as much of the east and north of England was settled by Viking invaders, there are lots of ‘Carr’ place names in Yorkshire, in flatter, low-lying areas. Star Carr is said to translate as ‘sedge bog’. Its near neighbours include Flixton Carr, Folkton Carr, Cayton Carr, Seamer Carr and Staxton Carr. These all relate to their nearest settlement, being local villages around the periphery of the peatland. Star Carr is perhaps the odd one out – there is no village called ‘Star’ but the name Star Carr refers to both the geographical area of land and the specific archaeological site of international repute.

Local farmers refer to these areas as ‘black land’ owing to the very dark carbon-rich soil. Indeed, the extremely high proportion of organic matter, over 90%, makes this land an important and oft-overlooked store of carbon, locked-away ten thousand years ago. The very ‘improvement’ of this land for agriculture by draining it causes its organic peat to decompose as soon as oxygen can get in. Rather like a sinking compost heap it slowly but surely shrinks lower as the organic matter is oxidised and CO2 released. This is why ditches and have to be dug prograssively deeper and older generations of land drains (such as lines of terracota pipes), once laid four feet or more deep become exposed at the surface.

There is more info on the Carrs Wetland Project website about land drainage, the River Hertford and peatland which go into more detail. Likewise Star Carr, the Mesolithic settlement site, now buried beneath the peat is described elsewhere on the blog. If you wish to read more about the long lost lake from which the Scarborough Carrs originate, look up Lake Flixton.

Museums to visit


The Lake Flixton peats are nowadays largely hidden under pasture.

At the site of Star Carr today there is little to see but a patchwork of arable and pasture fields, dissected with farm drainage ditches (See more on the fascinating drainage story here). The archaeological interest lies beneath the surface. There are however some excellent museum displays of  Star Carr and Lake Flixton material, which interpret and conjure-up the Mesolithic environment beautifully. There are several to choose from – all with a different slant on the story, but they are all well worth visiting.

Rotunda cropped

Rotunda Museum, Scarborough

The Rotunda Museum, Scarborough http://www.scarboroughmuseumstrust.com/rotunda-museum/

The Scarborough Museum Trust’s famous Rotunda Museum in Scarborough is a small but beautiful building and currently houses an excellent exhibition of Star Carr material. The building was originally conceived as a geological museum – if you are able to visit when they do special access to see the upper gallery in the central tower – such as they have done in recent years for Heritage Open Days – you can appreciate the stratigraphic arrangement of cabinets for geological specimens. An entry fee applies – look out for free access on Heritage Open Days in September.


The Yorkshire Museum.

The Yorkshire Museum, York. www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk  – The York Museums Trust runs two museums and an art gallery in York. This one, located the beautifully-kept museum gardens (itself a great public green space close to York City centre) houses a very nicely done display of Star Carr and Lake Flixton material. There is firstly a display themed ‘After the Ice: Yorkshire’s Prehistoric People’ in which Star Carr material figures prominently. They also have what they call a spotlight display, ‘Ritual or Disguise: The Star Carr Headdresses’ which features some remarkable new frontlets to go on display and also the much publicized and unique Star Carr shale pendant, a small but tremendously important find from recent excavations. Entrance fees apply. YMT do a very worthwhile annual pass, the YMT card, for unlimited access to their three sites. The York Castle Museum is also excellent and substantially larger.

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge. In 2018 a brand new exhibition about Star Carr opened at the Museum of Arch. and Anth. in Cambridge, called ‘A Survival Story – Prehistoric Life at Star Carr’ It is bang up to date with the latest academic thinking about the significance of Star Carr to modern humans – explaining how the Mesolithic climate and landscape was in rapid flux during the site’s occupation and demonstrates a hitherto unrecognized level of resilience and adaptability among the Mesolithic people of Yorkshire. A Survival Story – Prehistoric Life at Star Carr is on display at the Li Ka Shing Gallery at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Downing Street, Cambridge, from June 2018 to December 2019. Entry is free. Read more on the exhibition on this archaeology news network blog.


Other places to learn more

The Scarborough Borough Council-led Carrs Wetland Project has come to a close but the landscapes and heritage of The Carrs remain a fascinating subject. The pages of the Carrs Wetland Project website remain a good introduction to the amazing and under-appreciated archaeology of Star Carr and Lake Flixton.  The most recent extensive excavations at Star Carr, although finished are still yielding new insights for science as the material collected is analysed and interpreted. There are new academic papers published by the Star Carr research team regularly and reported on their Facebook Page and website.

It is also worth mentioning a few groups or organisations who may run events or talks from time to time on the heritage of The Carrs. Below are some links which may prove useful, beginning with the ones more directly pertinent to the archaeology.

www.starcarr.com  – The official site of the archaeology project based at University of York. Full of info from Professor Nicky Milner and her team, the people who know the site best! Keep a look out for talks or media releases by the team about their latest research. If you ever get chance to hear Prof. Milner speak on Star Carr be sure to do so. They have an occassional newsletter which is certainly worth subscribing to.

www.sahs.org.uk – Website of the Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society. They have a regular programme of indoor talks and summer field excursions as well as engaging in research investigations of their own.

www.yas.org.uk – Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society.

www.cba-yorkshire.org.uk – Council for British Archaeology – Yorkshire Branch.

www.scarboroughfieldnats.co.uk –  Scarborough Field Naturalists Society.

www.connectingfornature.wordpress.com – The website and blog for the local biodiversity partnership in whose patch The Carrs falls.

New 25 Year Environment Plan champions peatlands

potato growing nr Seamer Carr

Deep, lowland peat soils, if drained, can prove fertile for arable cropping but as doing so releases many tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere as the peat gradually wastes away, should we be growing food on these soils at all?

The Government has published its new 25 year Environment Plan – ‘A Green Future’. Find it for yourself here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/25-year-environment-plan

It is actually very easy to read and avoids technical jargon, explaining in clear reasoned terms what the government intends to do and why. Whatever the colour of your politics it is hard not to like what you read. It is particularly heartening to see lowland peatland restoration promoted and validated in spite of the agricultural importance of fenland and lowland vales in England. I will come back to this in a moment.

Meanwhile, if all 151 pages are a lot to take in at one sitting there is an At a Glance Summary document of the key policies which is much easier to digest. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/25-year-environment-plan/25-year-environment-plan-our-targets-at-a-glance However I would urge you to open the full plan document and have a skim over it, dipping in to sections that captivate your interest.

It mentions marine plastics for example, farming and land management policies, green spaces for communities, helping primary schools to improve school grounds and get children out in contact with nature more. If your passion like mine is for soil health and protecting peatlands then the intention to phase out horticultural use of peat can’t come soon enough. There is stuff on waste reduction and Natural Capital (hurrah for that); policies on fisheries and habitat creation are described; a proposition to increase woodland cover to 12% and lots of talk about climate change mitigation, natural flood management, resilience, Clean Growth, whatever that is and lots more. Healthy cynicism aside there is much to applaud.
Anyway, back to peatlands, here is what is says on ‘Improving soil health and restoring and protecting our peatlands’:
“While peatlands are our largest terrestrial carbon store, drained peatlands release their carbon, adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Organic or peat soils make up 11% of England’s total land area, over 70% of which are drained or in poor condition. Although our drained lowland peatland makes up only a small proportion of the agricultural land in England, these are among our most fertile soils and play an important part in the nation’s food supply. Conventional agricultural production using current techniques on drained peatland is, however, inherently unsustainable.”
While one could argue that the hot topic of upland moorland management (including the much debated impacts of driven grouse shooting on upland catchments and ecosystems) has been conveniently left out of the plan, I have to welcome the way that the essential conflict of cultivating lowland peat soils for food production (or indeed fibre or biomass) has been laid open for debate head on.
Seriously, do delve in and have a look for yourself. This plan is not just for civil servants to put on their shelf but has some real relevance in the way that ordinary people might participate in making things happen. Whether it be pledging not to use single use plastics (drinking straws, carrier bags, drinking cups), getting involved in rejuvenating a local greenspace, petitioning your garden centre to ditch peat-based composts or supporting the campaigns to reduce pesticides like neonicotinoids – there is sure to be something you can get personally involved in with.

Ploughing, Peat and Post-CAP Policy


A cultivated field at Staxton, just inland of Scarborough on the Yorkshire Coast illustrates how dark the peat soil is here in the Vale of Pickering. These fields are a store of soil-based organic carbon, locked away in wetland biomass over the last 11,000 years. But we really should not be ploughing such soils for arable crops.

A freshly-cultivated field by the A64 at Staxton with a green sliver of a remnant drainage ditch, illustrates nicely how dark the peat soil is here in the eastern Vale of Pickering. Generally speaking the darker the soil the higher the organic matter and hence carbon content. These fields are a store of soil-based organic matter locked away in wetland biomass over the last 11,000 years, since Mesolithic humans knapped flint and hunted deer on the shores of Lake Flixton. In places the several-metre-deep peats around Star Carr and Flixton Carr have been found to be up to 95% carbon by mass. In the UK, soil carbon stores exceed that locked up in our forests by approximately four times. So we really should be looking after these Natural Capital assets. World leaders and policy-makers will be meeting in Edinburgh later this month for the World Forum on Natural Capital.

In climate change mitigation terms, (As I vividly remember reading in the exec. summary headline of the IUCN Commission of Enquiry on Peatlands)  the ‘low hanging fruit of climate change mitigation’ in other words the very first priority we should be spending our carbon offset cash on, is to restore and re-wet our degraded peatlands. Cultivated (and hence degraded and oxidizing) peat farmland soils figure prominently in this catergory. Spending our Corporate and Social Responsibility pounds on woodland creation may be more ‘sexy’ for big businesses and we’ve all bought the loo rolls that promise to plant two trees or whatever for every one they chop up for cellulose…or the tea bags that fund tree planting projects…but perhaps we really should be investing more in restoring and re-wetting peat bogs? (Maybe there is a good case for bog rolls that donate to Bog Restoration – just a thought.)

What I am about to say next may sound counter-intuitive…Sadly, Stewardship schemes for these type of famland areas ( ie lowland cultivated peats) over past decades have prioritised high quality habitat creation and biodiversity targets. These are fantastic of course where they can be achieved – restoring wet grassland for breeding waders like curlew and lapwing, but they are difficult and bold undertakings, needing expert advice, on the ground supervision, and a zeal for conservation rare outside of nature reserve management.

I have found this out through personal experience as Project Officer on the Carrs Wetland Project, a role I enjoyed full time from 2007 until 2011 then part time with other duties for a few more years. Only on a few of the farms on the ‘black land’ was re-wetting even acheiveable, especially when neighbours continue cropping and therefore maintaining active land drainage. Even then it was not an undertaking agreed to lightly. Prioritising wet grassland for breeding waders does nothing to offer incentives to the average farmer for managing their land to best retain soil carbon for its own value.

So, while on The Carrs we still thankfully have a few farm schemes in HLS doing what they can to re-wet the fields: bund the ditches, excavate wader scrapes, carefully manipulate sward structure with cattle grazing and raise water tables with sluices….the great expanses of ‘Black Land’ in between, comprising millions of tonnes of locked away carbon, but steadily oxidizing to CO2 with each pass of the plough….remain in cultivation. This may in fact be very productive, for potatoes for instance, or it may be sub-optimal – where adequate drainage is a barrier to good arable cropping. I really feel though that in the new era of post-CAP agri-policy we do need to be looking at payment for public benefits – including the sequestration of soil carbon itself – as well as the laudable efforts to restore species, preserve heritage features and regulate flooding wherever possible.

I hope the policy makers in DEFRA are paying attention, for meanwhile as Brexit negotiations rumble on, the farms are cultivating their fields, laying fresh underdrains, and planting crops on the very land that could help us stave off a runaway spiral of CO2 emissions and the uncharted climatic consequences that come with it. Our soils are just one element of Natural Capital – the assets in our landscape that underpin our economies, health and prosperity – but looking after our soils better (as part of a Natural Capital Policy that makes it pay for land managers to do so) is a very good starting point. I sincerely hope that national and global decision-makers wake up to this jolly soon, because I might just be still around to see the consequences.


Reflecting on #30DaysWild

Prompted by an email from the Wildlife Trusts I filled in a quick survey following up on my experiences of the 30 Days Wild challenge this June, the now annual gauntlet thrown down to ordinary people to undertake random acts of wildness every day for a month. Now, we all get requests for feedback surveys on this, that and the other; mostly they are a bit of an un-solicited chore. However, I feel that this initiative is a very worthwhile one for spreading the message of letting nature and wildness into our daily lives so I took a few minutes to respond. (If you took part in #30DaysWild yourself and want to shape the campaign next year you can do likewise using this link https://wildlifetrusts.typeform.com/to/aEvj9h )

instagram 30dayswild example

Instagram Post for Day 17 of #30DaysWild, 17/06/16 inspired by a surprise beetle encounter.


As when I took part in #30DaysWild previously, I found that by committing to a pattern of posting on social media (I tried to send a daily Instagram post, which was also shared to my Facebook timeline) this ‘public’ sharing element gave me a greater impetus to try to do something each day – I felt that I was under some scrutiny…

 …Whether or not my followers and friends would have noticed, let alone challenge me on it, were I to miss the odd day is a moot point. Even when sometimes I nearly missed (quick, dusk is falling!), or on a few occasions I posted something retrospectively the next day, the 30 days wild habit makes you more aware of nature moments in your daily life. During the month of June, and this was not the first year I’ve taken part, it meant I was always looking out for wild experiences that I could share. In this way, though it’s a challenge to sustain for a month, I find it trains one to think about ways to share and be evangelical about one’s relationship with nature. Which is no bad thing, is it?

instagram woundwort

Day 18 saw me getting up close with nature in York and one of my favourite shots on the phone was this whorl of Woundwort flowers.


Post Script.

Last time around as this year, I chose to use Instagram as my modus operani, using the #30DaysWild hashtag and simultaneously selecting ‘share to Facebook’ and to my  Twitter feed. However this means it goes on my personal FB timeline and not to FB groups that I am a member of such as 30DaysWild (or more specifically ConnectingforNature and Stamford BridgeinBloom, my go-to places for daily posting activity these days). If I’m brave and willing to commit the time perhaps one year I’ll do it as a daily blog… but that’s still a bit daunting and I’m not sure I have the discipline to set to it of an evening after the day job. Posting on the 30 Days Wild Facebook gp seems a good option as it now has several thousand people and so a much bigger reach than my other social accounts but are we ‘preaching to the converted’?

I wonder what others feel and how it works for other full-time employed people? If I am brutally honest I sometimes imagine that the stay-at-home mums with preschool kids are best represented (and envied) on the 30days FB gp for their inventive #30DaysWild activities. I’m very lucky to have a day job and commute that can take me to beautiful wild places, a back garden and village which places nature on the doorstep and a strong affinity already to zero in on natures details. How is it for the busy professional or indoor worker to undertake the challenge? How daunted might they be by the scope and inventiveness of others posting their exploits. The wild experience is just as important, arguably moreso for them, as its more out of their way to make a daily wildness habit.

Did you do 30DaysWild? What are your thoughts about it? Did you share any random acts of wildness on social media? Above all do tell the Wildlife Trusts about it,  (Here is that link again https://wildlifetrusts.typeform.com/to/aEvj9h ) as it really will help them to finesse and grow the campaign next time around.


What will Brexit mean for Nature?

I am not sure where to begin with this post, but it feels right to have a stab at it. There is little doubt that EU Directives have been some of the strongest protection for species and habitats over the past few decades, and it’s also no secret that the Conservative government has been keen to minimise ‘red tape’ for economic development, by putting in place a presumption in favour of development in the local planning system. We now have the NPPF the National Planning Policy Framework, which swept away reams of details planning guidance, policy statements and advice, in favour of more general broad brush ‘biodiversity duty’ which, to put it crudely, leaves it to the discretion of local authority planning departments. So this is my first worry for Nature…protected areas and species.

First, what happens to Natura 2000?  – that Europe-wide network of designated areas given statutory conservation protection for their valuable wildlife habitats? Without EU legislation to require it, will the UK government uphold the conservation designations which are enshrined in European law? Special Protection Areas for Birds (SPAs) are European designations, for instance the North York Moors is designated an SPA for the populations of Merlin and Golden Plover it supports. Fortunately the North York Mors is also a National Park, which gives another strong UK based level of environmental protection. Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s) are another EU designation, for instance the River Derwent is an SAC for its riparian habitats with key aquatic mammals and fish. Will this stand once we have parted company with Europe?

A second issue of EU legislation: Will the Water Framework Directive be abandoned – that challenging goal for raising the ecological status of all our rivers, streams and water bodies – including reduction of aquatic pollution, sediment inputs from land, removing barriers to fish migration on rivers etc. It has steered and dominated major aspects of the Environment Agency and DEFRA’s work relating to rivers and their catchments. Indeed the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) which has been embedded in aspects of DEFRA work on land management was a logical extension of the need to improve water quality and water level management of our river systems.

Thirdly and this is a big one, there is the matter of European subsidies for rural development, agriculture, forestry etc, including the Natural England flagship agri-environment scheme, Countryside Stewardship, on which the ink is barely dry from a major shake-up and re-organisation of farming subsidies for environmental benefits, including provision for pollinators, climate change mitigation, ecosystem services, carbon management, catchment sensitive farming methods, farmland biodiversity under Pillar II of the Common Agricultral Policy – the so called Greening of the CAP. It is up to the individual EU nation states to design their own schemes for prioritising and disseminating the subsidies for Agri-Environment work, and Countryside Stewardship – and its forbears including ELS/HLS -is our nations version. But the money ultimately comes from central European funds, and surely this is going to be a major headache for Natural England who are just bedding in the new CS scheme and working on only their second round of annual applications this summer.

Whati is without doubt is that there a major work to do both by government departments and by conservation organisations large and small to make sure that Nature does not get a raw deal out of  Brexit.   In one sense you could say that interest rates and currency flops can recover, but if natural habitats get ‘done over’ once in many cases it will be for good.