I have just started reading a real classic to Tim. I remember reading Durrell’s ‘My family and other animals’ as a child and being completely hypnotized by tales of his freewheeling naturalist adventures on the (then) relatively pristine Greek island of Corfu.

I had forgotten how well he writes and how he brings the natural world alive. Squeezing generous blobs of language onto a palette, he uses exquisitely bold brush strokes to create vibrant and poetic images.

My mouth waters when I read his prose.

I just want to crawl into the page and join him in those tantalizing, shaded olive groves, to lie on my belly surrounded by velvet crocuses and marigolds, use grassy stalks to tickle moss-encrusted trapdoor spider homes….. and to meet all the fabulous winged, four-legged and two-legged creatures he comes across on his daily wanderings.

In his first few months on the island, the 10-year-old Gerald becomes completely fixated with all the small stuff – the lady-birds, the ants, egg-laying earwigs and rose-beetles.

One gets such a real sense of the intoxicating, deafening, buzzing, cicada-drenched Corfu air.

I couldn’t resist sharing some of these beautiful lines with you…

‘Among the thick, silky petals of each rose bloom lived tiny, crab-like spiders that scuttled sideways when disturbed. Their small, translucent bodies were coloured to match the flowers they inhabited…on the rose-stems, encrusted with green flies, lady-birds moved like newly painted toys; lady-birds pale red with large black spots; lady-birds apple red with brown spots; lady-birds orange with grey and black freckles. Rotund and amiable, they prowled and fed among the anaemic flocks of greenfly. Carpenter bees, like furry electric-blue bears zigzagged among the flowers, growling flatly and busily. Humming bird hawk-moths, sleek and neat, whipped up and down the paths with a fussy efficiency, pausing occasionally on speed-misty wings to lower long, slender proboscis into a bloom. . ..there came from the olive-groves outside the fuscia hedge the incessant shimmering cries of the cicadas…’

And then he writes of the coming of Spring…

‘Waxy yellow crocuses appeared in great clusters, bubbling out among the tree-roots and tumbling down the banks. Under the myrtles, the grape-hyacinths lifted buds like magenta sugar drops and the gloom of the oak thickets was filled with the dim smoke of a thousand blue day-irises. Anemones, delicate and easily wind-bruised, lifted ivory flowers the petals of which seemed to have been dipped in wine….It was no half-hearted spring this: the whole island vibrated with it as though a great, ringing chord had been struck. It was apparent in the gleam of flower petals, the flash of bird wings and the sparkle in the dark, liquid eyes of the peasant girls…’

What a perfectly magical, rich childhood.

How sad it is that so many of the children (spawned by my generation) will never have the chance to roam freely, safely and alone all day exploring hidden valleys, mountains and beaches, collecting beetles, grubs and grasshoppers and striking up unlikely and lasting friendships with quirky, eccentric (but harmless) two-legged strangers…

Gerald Durrell passed away in 1995.
What a man…and what a life.

I am inspired to share these images of three spectacular little creatures we came across on our last adventure out of town – all three of them as beautifully crafted as Durrell’s words.


Bringing Life to Life!

The blame for the extreme blogging lapse can be flung squarely at the foot of 1) nasty editing deadline and publishing wobble; 2) rather challenging small person; and 3) a stubborn running injury…

Thanks to the latter, I have hung up my running shoes (for a little bit) and taken up mountain biking and other endorphine-enducing exploits. This has gobbled up a fair bit of time (and mental energy) one way or another. But more of that later!

Today I felt like venturing into the wonderful world of Attenborough.

This is the man with the voice of the smoothest of velvety red wines, whose wisdom is boundless and whose passion and energy never fails to inspire and delight. When I hear Attenborough’s voice, I settle back into my chair and just know that what I am about to hear will be seeped in experience, intelligent insight and a thoroughly comforting sense of awe and wonder at the natural world.

It is a wonder that seems to permeate so positively and with such energy throughout all his work – even today. This despite the negativity that seems to shroud anything remotely planetary, that which we all have to digest on a daily basis.

One of my son’s Christmas presents this year (from his grandparents) was an audio-CD compilation of Sir Attenborough’s, entitled ‘New Life Stories’. It contains 3 CDs, and the running time is about 3 ½ hours. These recordings (from a BBC Radio 4 series) are written and presented by the wonderful man himself.

With his unique brand of spittle-emitting-emphatically-enthusiastic dialogue, Attenborough shares many of his various unique and amusing experiences as a nature documentary-maker/presenter of decades.

He waxes lyrical about a whole range of unique habitats, bizarre creatures and (often even more bizarre) conservationists and naturalists he has had the fortune (or misfortune!) to meet or learn more about in his long working life.

Every episode is as riveting and fascinating as the next. On our last trip north to the Kgalagadi, we listened to the whole CD set on the trip between Cape Town and Niewoudville.

We listened to the entire thing again while driving around within the park (sacrilege I do realise, but understand that we had a fairly restless 8 ½ yr old on deck).

And then ONCE again on the return journey home – a mere 6 days later.

The fact that we (including small person) were riveted every time, speaks volumes about the quality and content.

In the next few blogs I will expand on one or two of these incredible journeys or stories. These are ones that really captured my imagination.

My next blog will be about one of the world’s first seriously eccentric naturalists….Squire Warterton, of Walton Hall in Yorkshire. He was a complete and utter nutter….but a fascinating one.

It’s a story well worth waiting for…I promise.

Earth Hour tomorrow

It has been a while since I last wrote here. I have been in the thick of a rather cumbersome edit and there has not been much time to surface for air! It is Earth Hour tomorrow, so I felt compelled to quickly send this one out there.

I sent this as an email last year to a local radio presenter. My hope was that he would get fired up and get going with some really effective and powerful radio to get people to start TAKING ACTION around climate change. He opted to ignore my email, which was very disappointing. (I have since stopped listening to the man, as I find him enormously arrogant and painful to listen to, but that’s another story..!).

I thought this would be a pertinent post as we dust off our candles and think of ways to mark (not just this one) Earth Hour…but all the hours thereafter by adopting many simple climate friendly actions …
[Apologies to my old ‘species of the day’ recipients, as this one might be a little repetitious…]

I am in the process of writing a series of books for kids on a range of pressing environmental issues. Issues such as biodiversity, waste, land, water and, of course climate change. I am currently researching and writing the climate change book.

As I trawl through books and the internet in my quest for information, I am becoming more and more depressed. The facts, images, stories that I am unearthing are all too real and devastating. The more I write, the bleaker I feel about things. I sometimes wish for a blissful state of ignorance!

Instead of languishing in misery and giving energy to the internal rage that I feel against humanity, I want to channel this energy in as positive a way as possible – which is why I am contacting you.

I am appealing to you – as a fellow birder and a lover of big skies and wild places. Have a look at the attached photo. It speaks volumes to me. Almost more than the endless images of the climate change poster child…the polar bear. As you probably know, this is an Adélie Penguin in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. Here the bird is valiantly trying to keep its eggs from being washed away by a torrent of melt water beneath its feet. With a reduction in sea ice and a scarcity of food, populations of the Adélie penguin have dropped by 65% over the past 25 years…

This is just one of many stories and photographs I have come across in the past month. I am ‘meeting’ people – witness to climate change – from every corner of the world. I read their stories and want to weep. There are literally hundreds of them. People on the coast of Tanzania who are watching their houses and schools being washed away by rising sea levels, sherpas in Nepal who are experiencing frequent flooding from glacial melt, a ski instructor in Switzerland who may have to close down his business because the snow is simply too unreliable…villagers in parts of East Africa dealing with malaria for the first time, a beekeeper in Italy who has watched massive shifts in flowering times and subsequently in bee behaviour….I could go on.

These stories and images all come together and show a very topsy turvy world indeed…..and in so many cases, people are talking about changes in the last one or decades only.

I am appealing to you to help get these stories out into the open – to make as many people aware of what is happening. I fear that 99% of the planet is fast asleep and unaware of the astounding realities. We are all sitting on a very large tanker heading full tilt towards a massive iceberg (no pun intended). We have to wake the hell up and do everything that we can to steer the tanker around….

Can you possibly look at dedicating 2-3 minutes of your afternoon drive time to a very brief snippet on climate change. It could be a small fact, little story (about one of these ‘witnesses’ I mention) or a description of how a bird, frog, insect or plant species is being severely compromised by a warming world.

The idea is to get people talking intelligently about climate change, how it is going to be impacting on all of us and how WE CAN AND HAVE TO – MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

To ensure that we don’t just fill your listeners with despair, the emphasis will have to be on what can be done to turn the tanker around. And there are so many things that people can do to tackle this beast. These would need to be highlighted in the afternoon slot.

I would be very happy and willing to put the info together and send it to you on a daily basis.
Please let me have your thoughts on this. If it is a sponsorship issue, then again, I would be happy to take action there if needed.

I have sleepless nights about what we are doing to this extraordinarily beautiful planet of ours and feel sick to my stomach that we all seem to be passively watching it happen. There is that and the thought that so many of us simply do not know or understand the magnitude of the problem.

Please lets harness the fantastic power of radio to wake people up and make us conscious human beings – who genuinely want to hand over a livable planet to our children and theirs.

I came across this very pertinent quote recently by Paul Hawken – renowned entrepreneur, visionary environmental activist, founder of Wiser Earth and author of many books – most recently Blessed Unrest.

‘Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.
Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.’

[With thanks to David Ainley for the sad photo]

Silver lining…

It is so easy to get terribly despondent about the state of our planet, but every now and again you come across a good news story that restores hope.

I got the October copy of Africa Geographic in my post box yesterday. Although one distressing article focuses on the rather precarious situation in the rainforests of Gabon, there was one that deserves a mention, just because it is overwhelmingly positive and it gives a refreshing perspective on conservation in Africa today.

It is not all bad out there!

The article entitled ‘life, death & resurrection’ by Dale Morris, talks about the remote Liuwa Plain in Zambia. This area, as he put it, ‘flatlined’ after poachers and hunters had their way for decades. This once glorious wilderness area in the western part of the country would have teemed with wildlife just a century ago.

In 2003, it was quite literally devoid of all life. This is when the African Parks Network took control. The Liuwa Plain National Park is, as Morris puts it, like the proverbial phoenix that has risen from the ashes.

Today poaching has come to a standstill and animal numbers are increasing steadily. Zebra and Tsessebe populations are healthy again and the population of Lechwe has stabilised. Wild dog, cheetah and leopards are also making a comeback and buffalo and lion have been brought in and are thriving. What a wonderful good news story to take you into the long weekend!

The African Parks Network is a private sector park management institution that manages parks in public-private partnerships with Governments on a long term basis. Continue reading

The Dark Ages…

This is a photo of a completely barbaric tool that is still being used today by many South African farmers to take out predators and protect their livestock. I have seen images of leopards, caracal, Black Eagle and even an Egyptian Goose trapped in these horrifying things. In 2006, four leopards were killed in 2006 by gin traps in the Baviaanskloof valley alone. One can only imagine the prolonged pain and unbearable suffering of an animal with a leg trapped in something like this. It is positively medieval. Continue reading

The bleeding island

Today’s species takes the ‘drowned rat’ look to a whole new level! This is yet another Madagascan species directly affected by the ravages of deforestation and soil erosion.

I am including another photo (kindly sent to me by Rhett Butler for use in the Land book I have written for Jacana).

Rhett has captured the horror and scale of the deforestation problem on this vast island. As far as the eye can see, the hills have been stripped bare, and the rivers run red. Visit Rhett’s website: http://www.mongabay.com/about.html for more of his excellent work.

The Aquatic Tenrec is Vulnerable. A nocturnal, semi-aquatic mammal, it is endemic to the eastern humid forests and central highlands of Madagascar. It feeds on aquatic invertebrates and may be dependent on the availability of permanent, clean and fast-flowing water where its prey thrives. Continue reading

Daisies (and wine!)

We are on home turf once more! This time we head to the soggier parts of the Western Cape to meet a delicate succulent wetland daisy (Cadiscus aquaticus). This species is found in a few low lying sites in the Western Cape. It is Critically Endangered.

Encroaching farming and livestock grazing and trampling threaten both the flower and its habitat. Infilling of wetlands and mechanical damage by heavy machinery are ongoing threats. Eutrophication from runoff from fertiliser use in surrounding ploughed lands is also a threat.

I thought it would be a good time to mention the sterling work of the Biodiversity Wine Initiative http://www.bwi.co.za/members/member.asp?MemberID=139
Read here about a wine farmer in Darling who is going out of his way to protect rare and endangered fynbos and renosterveld species.