So the last time I posted, and an impersonal post at that, was nearly ten months ago. So why the hiatus? Having had the luxury to balance my business and writing lives for several years, and publishing my first three novels and a book of short stories during that time, summertime 2013 saw me embark on two new novels and take on a second job that in October last year became a single full-time position. Whilst I am lucky enough to have found a role that ticks all of my boxes in the business world – creative, business building, autonomous but with people I adore who support me and allow me to support them, with real purpose that is simultaneously fun, challenging and rewarding – it’s to the detriment of my novel writing. I’ve written a lot in the past year – but mainly for the new business: thought papers, technology guides, a website, consulting engagements, workshops, proposal templates, surveys and countless blogs and I only have so much brain. The novels somewhat languish although there are some draft chapters and copious notes and thoughts in my head.
But another thing has been happening outside of my business and writing pursuits which, while another demand on that finite resource, time, is enriching and inspiring both of these areas: wildlife conservation. It’s a big theme in one of my new novels and one of the wonderful things about building a business with like-minded people is that together we can make choices about how we want our business to look and operate, how we want to incorporate our ‘paid work’ into our lives and flex and bend our time to create space for our other interests – the interests that make us more rounded, happier, more fulfilled people. Our company’s motto is: “Fanatical about making life on earth fantastic.” and that is our intention for ourselves just as much as our clients.
This morning, on my drive from Chichester to an event at Twickenham stadium I, as is my wont, listened to BBC Radio 4 and heard a story that triggered this blog: last night the winner of the Samuel Johnson prize for for non-fiction was ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen McDonald (It sounds amazing and I plan to gorge myself on it on a beach in India in January). My interest in wildlife and the conservation thereof has taken me to many places in recent years (the Galapagos islands, a long weekend camping at Durrell Wildlife for my birthday this year, to a Victorian sewage pipe in Worthing for a Shoresearch survey with the Sussex Wildlife Trust, on butterfly walks with the Butterfly Conservation Trust, many many zoos and aquariums all over the world, on safari in Tanzania, elephant reserves in Thailand, some amazing reading and a very special nature reserve – more on both the last later) but this immediately brought to mind my visit to Eagle Heights, a bird of prey centre in Kent I visited recently with a friend that lives nearby. We met several birds that day – a Harris Hawk called Squeak because he does, a hand reared Little Owl and a stroppy eagle and I thought how much fun falconry would be. My mother, who is retired, recently told me that due to niggles in her back and hip, would likely give up her hobby of wood-turning and sell her lathe since it requires standing in a cold garage for extended periods of time which is not conducive to comfort. So she needs a new hobby, so I was quick to suggest falconry, perhaps selfishly (arguably like when I took my father walking with llamas for his birthday present). She’s yet to equal my enthusiasm for the concept but I will continue working on it (I’d buy her a copy of Helen’s book but I don’t think Amazon have properly sorted Kindle gifting yet…) but the real point is here that peoples’ passion is inspiring. And whilst I’ve been avoiding doing any writing that is not novel writing (and doing very little of that) Helen inspired me to write more about my experiences with the work and pleasure I am doing and taking in wildlife conservation.
DRUM ROLL! I am officially a volunteer warden at Kingley Vale! I start my training on November 20th. I am beside myself with excitement and have already packed a bag with: binoculars, secateurs, a magnifying glass, a thermos flask, a tape measure, a Leatherman, a whistle and some Nivea cream. I want to put my bat detector in too but think I should probably only take that when it’s dark.
What? I hear you say… Well, let’s start with what Kingley Vale is. Here are some headlines:
- The finest yew forest in Europe (I’ve been told who said this but can’t remember! Will update in a later post!) – some of the yews are as much as two thousand years old which makes them some of the oldest living organisms in Great Britain
- A National Nature Reserve – as specified by Natural England which is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (one of the first questions one of my friends asked when I took her and her dogs there was who ‘owned’ it and I was unable to answer… then.)
- Over fifty species of birds are found, although only six species breed in the yew woodland
- Mammals include deer, yellow-necked mouse, water shrew, dormouse, badger, bats and moles
- Thirty-nine species of butterfly (mainly found in the grassland)
- A dew pond featuring the protected great-crested newt
- Remains of a Roman Temple, Iron Age settlement site known as Goosehill Camp, the Devil’s Humps Bronze Age round barrows and prehistoric flint mines and Viking battlegrounds
- A couple of miles north of the stunning Roman, Georgian and cathedral (walking through Kingley Vale is likened to walking through a cathedral) city of Chichester (my ‘hood)
So there are some initial facts and figures but the reason I’ve brought this up is because I plan to write much more over the coming months and years about my experiences at Kingley Vale and what I am learning about conservation. And post pictures of what I see and find. And answer any questions you may have. And finally, here are some of the things I anticipate I will be doing as a volunteer warden (this is the first time Kingley Vale has had such a position and there are six of us working together for the reserve manager):
- Maintenance: checking leaflets, signs and boards, litter picking, making tree damage safe if needed, clearing paths
- Talking to walkers and answering questions (if I can!) about the reserve and hearing what they love about it and feeding that back
- Seeing what changes and what I find and reporting that back
- Getting involved with surveys for butterflies, bees, plants, dormice
- Helping with bigger projects around creating new wildlife environments, protecting some of the rarer species
- Helping people understand why it’s best they don’t light fires, camp there or why it’s important they keep their dogs on leads or stay on the cycle paths
So – in a post soon – more on Kingley Vale, but also more on what I’ve been reading and listening to in the last few months. Make your life on earth fantastic. Please do.