Nature Book Club: Review-Get your Boots On

This week for Nature Book Club I’d like to take a look at a book I’ve been sent from another Nature Book Club contributor, Alex White. For those of you who don’t know, Alex is and up and coming naturalist. He’s been blogging about nature since he was 13. He is part of many nature groups including a focus on nature, the youth network for connecting young people interested in nature. In 2016 he appeared on Springwatch Unsprung and I do actually remember the segment despite this being before I discovered Alex’s blog. Chris Packham critiqued Alex’s photos. Anyone who knows the Springwatch photo segments will know Chris can be quite harsh in his comments, but he was very supportive, he did critique but was encouraging offering constructive advice. Alex has continued with his blog and working with different nature organisation. Then last year he released his first book, ‘get your boots on‘.

I am not necessarily the key target audience for this book as it is largely geared towards offering advice and support on gaining pleasure in nature to young people. That said, I’ve devoured the book over the last week. The book is split into advice on getting interested and getting out, making connections, gadgets and technology, get competitive, juggling wildlife and your life, activism, next-generation and be open to advice. You’ve got great advice that you can see has come out of Alex’s own experiences. The advice is wide-ranging there are tips on kit, photography, nature groups, exams and lots on being comfortable with yourself. Much of the advice most people learn the hard way such as don’t wear shorts on fieldwork. But here it is offered up for young people to avoid.

From such a young writer you will see many of the reviews of this book using words such as ‘inspirational’, ‘poignant,’ and ‘wonderful’. But these words all fit. This book would have been nice to have when I was a teenager, though I may not have listened to the advice as I was too wrapped up in music obsessions arguing with people over the merits of Black Sabbath and The Smiths and the lack of merit in listening to Coldplay. But we are now living in a period where young people are making their voices heard. The younger generation are very aware of the damage that has been done to our world and want to see changes. Having a book like this written by someone so young is great for showing anyone can make a difference. It is certainly filling a gap in the nature book market as there is no shortage of books aimed at younger children.

The book itself is a nice glossy paperback filled with photos, many taken by Alex himself. Having read it cover to cover I can dip and out finding lots worth rereading. The text is interspaced with sections from his blog and guest contributors adding their advice. Alex has drawn on an amazing list of contacts who add their words of wisdom. Chris Packham, Mark Avery, Dominic Dyer, Anneka Svenska, Kate MacRae and so many more.

It has inspired me to get my trail camera out again. I haven’t set it up in a while apart from just to see if the hedgehogs are visiting the garden. I haven’t seen any signs this year but I live in hope of them returning. My trail camera is just a cheap one from Aldi bought on sale at £15. They usually start from £30 up these days. The better quality ones can capture amazing footage but even a cheap one like this can show you what is in your garden. It gave me and the in-laws great pleasure seeing the badgers in their garden.

I wasn’t expecting to see them this time of year but we did have a few visitors.

Alex is fortunate to have many people around him providing him with great chances to get out in nature. But I get the feeling he knows how lucky he is to have had so much support at such a young age. One lesson I’m taking from the book is to take the opportunities on offer.

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RHS Little book of happy house plants-Review

Amazon smile link currently £12.99 for hardback.

Over the last few years I have put a lot of work into gardening with children. The benefits of outdoor learning and engaging in nature are well documented so I won’t cover it again. I have also kept a number of house plants in the classroom. My bonsai sadly passed on through neglect during my paternity, but a number of others have thrived. I have developed a greater interest in bringing greenery and gardening indoors and over a couple of blogs I’d like to look at a few sources of information starting with a book review.

I bought this little book in the July Kindle monthly sale for 99p. While kindle isn’t my favoured format for gardening books at 99p I thought I’d take a gamble. Holly Farrell has written a number of small guides for the RHS over the last few years: Gardening for mindfullness, minature garden grower and plants from pips. She has also written about jam and growing fruit for cakes. The little RHS books are little introductory books to subjects.

This book introduces you to the basic principles of house plants such as dealing with microclimates, selecting the right plants for the right room and things to watch out for. It presents a number of the current trends for presenting your plants. There is basic advice on buying plants, selecting suitable pots, watering, tools, and compost. It has overviews of some care overtime such as repotting, supports and how to create specific presentations.

The chapter on presentation covers: terrariums, kokedama, hanging gardens, Christmas displays, a child’s sensory garden, an edible kitchen wall, greening your desk space and other projects. This section is probably the weakest with a number of the sections reading as if she isn’t writing from experience. The terrarium section for example talks about being able to make one from a container as small as a testtube. But I don’t know how many houseplants you can manage that small, readily available that aren’t going to outgrow a container that small. The suggestions of terrarium plants are sensible enough, but I get the feeling something created following the advice here would gain the wrath of Wong and deadplants in six weeks. Read here for more terranium mistakes. Article 1. Article 2. Kokedama are something I’d like to have a go at making, but this doesn’t go into enough detail to feel I could manage it. This is really the weakest chapter as none of it leaves you quite satisfied that you have enough detail or it doesn’t feel like it comes from someone who has enough experience to advise.

The chapter on staying alive offers practical advice on keeping the plants alive. It deals with watering and feeding and practical issues such as going on holiday. It offers a good quick overview of each task.

The book finishes with plant files. It describes a number of common houseplants giving you a basic profile of hardiness, type of plant and height and spread. It then splits them into locations and types: sunny spots, succulents, bright spots, orchids, shady and humid spots, bright and humid spots, air plants, shady and cool spots, and bulbs. In a short space it covers a good number of plants.

There are then a few links to websites of interest and further reading. Much of the recomended reading links you back to other books Holly has written. Interestingly no blogs are recommended, which now offer some of the best advice on houseplants. But then they also disappear as quickly as books are published.

Overall the book is fine as a 99p kindle purchase. I wouldn’t recomend it for more than a fiver. It would make a nice gift for someone looking to develop a house plant collection, but the RHS practical house plants book is currently cheaper and offers more detail. But as a starting point to see if you’re are interested in learning more it isn’t a bad choice. The presentation is good and the writing is generally clear. As a short guide it is too brief on areas, but OK as a starting point before looking into subjects further. For example terrariums and kokedama interested me from this book. But I’d need to look up more information to see if they were practical for me.

Overall worth buying if on sale if cheap, probably not worth £12.99 for it in hardback, but good for 99p on kindle.

Hope you’ve found this useful. I’m going to go into further detail of other houseplant books in future blogs as well as looking at some of my own house and class plants.

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The wonder of the Lost Words

In my Christmas Round up I mentioned my main present deserved a blog of its own. Having had time to reflect and enjoy reading it I now feel ready to comment on this book of wonder. I’ve only wanted to read a few pages a day so I could prolong the joy.

For Christmas Amy bought me The lost words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris. I’ve been aware of the book before its release and had held off on buying it hoping I would receive it as a present. The concept of the book is brilliant for nature lovers and as a teacher who promotes outside learning irresistible. The Oxford Junior dictionary took out 50 nature related words and replaced them with words considered more relevant. These were mainly computer related words such as, “chatroom,” and, “broadband”.

I remember the news story back in 2015 informing us of this decision. While I can understand the reason it saddens me that it is considered more use for children to know what an attachment is rather than an acorn. Many of the changes were seen as a continuation of the disintegration of childhood. Children increasingly have more solitary lives, less time outside and a disconnect form nature. All of this adds up to less resilient children and potential increases in mental health issues. While an argument could be made that the computer time still allows children to interact with people on a global scale it isn’t the same as face to face interaction. This coming from an avid blogger and twitter reader. I appreciate the use of the internet in creating new communities, but it isn’t a replacement for being outside with your friends.

The lost words takes these nature words to use as a basis for an acrostic poem. One poem for each word. Then each word has a title page of the word and then an illustration page. Presented as a beautiful A3 hardback the artwork gets the space it deserves. It feels like a quality package, but is selling at a very reasonable price for something that feels so special. I’ve been a fan of Jackie Morris’s artwork after buying, “something about a bear”. I went onto buy many more of her beautifully illustrated books. The style is perfectly matched to Robert MacFarlane’s words. MacFarlane’s nature writing has been nominated and won many accolades over the years. The partnership between the two on the lost words is a perfect blend. The poems are written as spells. These poems are wonderful fodder for the imagination.

While Alice is currently to young for understanding the poems I like the idea that in the future we use the book as a basis for a wildlife treasure hunt. A fieldguide for childhood lost. We’d attempt to find all the items from the book. Some are readily available in our garden, some would require hunting. A book to go back to again and again. It’s currently making for a perfect fireside read during the cold Winter nights.

And as if by magic a goldfinch has been summoned to my garden.

The secret life of the owl

Last night was the night of my work Christmas Party. A jolly affair with a meal much better than I expected from a party held at a Rugby Stadium. One of the downsides of our move to Hornsea is that it places us quite far out of town, so if I want a drink I face an expensive taxi. As such I was driving and had a night of sobriety and people asking, “what are you drinking?” followed by looks of disgust when I named a soft drink. The journey home though takes me through a run of country roads flanked by wide hedges.

Coming along one of the few straight sections of road a white outline swooped past. I slowed the car to a crawl and the shape hovered back. I was treated to the momentary spectacle of a barn owl flapping slowly alongside the car, probably dazed by the lights. The wings displayed spread out, snow white, against the moon lit sky. Just for a moment we looked at each, the wide eyes peering at me from the heart shaped face, before it moved on with its night time hunt.

A barn owl from earlier in the year at the owl sanctuary.

Owls are a fairly common sight for me driving in and out the countryside to work in town. During Winter their hunting hours are extended further increasing the likely hood of a sighting. That said, they never fail to leave me with a sense of wonder.

Today I have the house to myself as Amy is out with her sisters being treated for her birthday. Alice is sleeping. So I had a chance to sit and read a book. An actual hard back book. Normally I do much of reading through the kindle with the back light as I read before bead with Alice asleep next to me. So print books are a rarity for me currently.

Settling in with a cup of tea I got down form the bookshelf John Lewis-Stempel The secret life of an owl. John Lewis-Stempel’s book meadowland has been one of my favourite nature reads over the last few years. A book written well. A book worth reading again and again. Many nature books are full of terrible self reflection or poor quality prose, but I’ve found all of the books I’ve tried by John Lewis-Stempel to be highly engaging. The secret life of an owl is just a short read at 88 pages, but I went for the hardback because of my love of owls and the book is a lovely produced little hardback.

secret life of owls

The content describes the lives of owls. A little bit on the anatomy of owls. Descriptions of the different owl pellets you might find and how they are produced. It dips into poetry and literature for further owl references. Several famous owl owners are mentioned such as Florence Nightingale and Picasso.

The book goes onto describe the owls of Britain and then the relationship between humans and owls.

For the price it is quite a short book. But an enjoyable quick read. It lacks the commentary on the state of the English Countryside that runs through many of Lewis-Stempel’s books. But it made for an enjoyable read to settle in for an hour with. A good introduction to owls. For a greater level of depth there is a Collins New Naturalist on owls. If you’re looking for a present for a nature lover the secret life of the owl will make an excellent gift. 

Woodsman (Unabridged)

I finished listening to Woodsman (Unabridged) by Ben Law  narrated by Ben Law on my Audible app.


Ben Law became known to the world through channel 4’s TV show grand designs. For readers who don’t know the show a film crew follow someone trying to build their dream home. They usually have more money than sense. Horrifically complicated designs. And it seems to be pretty much compulsary to have a baby on the way. Its presented by a smug presenter who stands back reviling in the setbacks. Ben’s was very different from the vast majority in that it was low budget, largely built from local materials and was completed within a reasonable time frame, though his partner did have a baby on the way.

Ben lives within a wood. He built his house from materials within the wood and has developed a level of self sufficiency through woodland skills.

He details some of these such as foraging and coppicing. Ben outlines issues for the future. He sees the coming oil crisis as oil runs out could lead to a return to a more rural life complete with folk songs. He outlines a future horrific to people who love city life (and polo horses), but wonderful to fans of Tom and Barbara on the good life.

Ben Law narrates the audiobook himself. He isn’t a natural reading it and it is a bit wooden at times (pun intended), buts it’s nice hearing it in the authors voice. An enjoyable quick listen. Interesting to people who would like a more environmentaly friendly vision of the future.

The nature principle-Richard Louv

I have just finished listening to Richard Louv-The nature principle on audible. Since Alice came along my reading time dropped, so I like listening to audio books on my journey to work. I’ve worked through a lot of nature books over the last year, so even with lack of time I’m still learning new things. I’ve reviewed Last child in the wood, Richard’s previous book. Last child is something of a modern classic for educators wanting to get children outside. The nature principle has more of a focus on adults and how connecting to nature can benefit us in many ways.

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It covered a lot of similar ground as last child in the woods, sometimes even falling back on the same research or giving further details of events mentioned in last child. So I wouldn’t recommend this without reading last child first, as you may find some of these references annoying. Unlike many nature writers covering the same topic I like Richard Louv as he concentrates on positive steps that can be taken to find a space in nature. Many nature books currently get stuck on the doom and gloom and stating that much of what has happened to the environment is irreversible. But Louv, while he does talk about places that have gone wrong, spends more time discussing what can be done to move forwards to create a better world. He has ideas for embracing both nature and technology. His work isn’t about just reclaiming a past we can’t go back to.

Louv argues for the benefits of time in nature. He covers research showing how recovery time in hospital is shortened in patients look out onto green space. Time in nature can boost creativity, increase immunity and help de-stress. While I’m already sold on the benefits of nature time it’s still nice to hear.

The narration is good. Rick Adamson, who narrates, has a clear voice. Many of the non-fiction audible books have narrators with no intonation suitable for putting you to sleep. Not suitable for me driving, but this was done well.

Having enjoyed this second book I’m now tempted with Louv’s more recent book Vitamin N. May be a future purchase.

 

50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ 

One third of children have never climbed a tree by the age of 15. Half have never made a daisy chain. Similar numbers show for experiencing a game of conkers. All of these were common childhood experiences for me. Many went with the changing of the seasons. These worrying trends are not only bad for children’s health, the benefits of outdoor play being well documented, but it is also sad to see such simple joys missed out on. A child is now more likely to be treated for repetitive strain injuries from playing consoles than for falling out a tree.

50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ is a lovely little book aiming to address this imbalance. As the title cunningly suggests it lists 50 nature activities. It was put out by the National Trust. I originally bought it for some ideas for my work as a teacher, it’ll be a few years until Alice is ready to do most of them. But it is a lovely book for a child and would make a good present for a nature living child of about 4-7 years old. After that I think they might see it as a bit babyish.

The book gives advice and tips on outdoor adventures. Beginning with advice on getting ready, kit and the countryside code. The book is a good quality hardback with elastic to keep it sealed as you add in pictures and a nice size for carrying. 

Each of the 50 activities entries has a description and a place to sign off. Many have spaces to draw pictures and tick lists. For example what animal sounds you heard outside. There are facts and advice for grown ups alongside the details. So the whole book ends up personalised by the child. 

The activities are mainly things that were common childhood pleasures 30 years ago for me, but increasingly are not experienced by children. Things like rolling down a hill, picking blackberries and flying kites. Others are activities requiring planning and booking, such as rock climbing and horse riding.

At the end of the book there are some puzzles, doodle pages and other parts to keep a child busy if they find themselves stuck waiting for their adventure.

The National Trust also made a nifty little app to go alongside it for the more technology living child. The app suggests activities for the season and keeps track of what they have done. There are also additional challenges to unlock and certificates to earn for the completist. 

There are other books in the series such as even messier adventures and night time adventures. The National Trust have done an excellent job encouraging children to get outside. It’s had a good amount of success and hope it continues to 

http://www.thejournal.ie/tree-week-2639919-Mar2016/