20 December 2013

Magnolia Stellata and the promise of things to come...

This is a photo of my Magnolia stellata. It was given to me as a present for my birthday in 2012. It was a tiny thing and, I guess, it still is! But it has bushed out quite a bit and put on a good show of leaves this past year. It didn't flower, but being so small I hadn't expected it to. But this year as the leaves dropped one by one, I began to notice these little buds.

I'm very much hoping that they are flower buds. The flower buds are fuzzy, allowing the bud to insulate itself from the worst of the cold weather. This is important because the tree flowers before producing foliage. Stellata roughly means star and the common name for this magnolia is the star magnolia. It produces lovely flowers reminiscent of stars with both the petals and sepal being white.

So all of those leaves that I enjoyed seeing this year and put all of their energy into producing these flower buds. I hope that they manage to survive the winter, which in the UK hasn't really started yet.

Either way, for me, it's the promise of good and positive things to come.

I hope you all have a very Happy Christmas and New Year.

Thanks for reading for my blog.


18 December 2013

Pale Brindled Beauty moth caterpillar - Phigalia pilosaria

Date Photographed: 13/06/2013
Location: Melksham
Resources: http://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/pale-brindled-beauty
Notes: This is the caterpillar of the Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria) moth. It happened to drop into Lucy's hair as she parked the car under a tree near our house and she found it when she got inside! I've put together this short clip of the caterpillar moving as I like how it grabs the container with it's little 'foot' while moving along:

16 December 2013

U316 - The goodies have arrived

Last Wednesday I signed up for the final module in my degree with the Open University, called U316 The Environmental Web. So imagine my surprise, two days later, when a knock at the door announced that goodies, ahem, module study resources, had arrived!

As you can see by the titles of the books, there are some really interesting topics to be studied during this module.

But not only that we received a study file, which included field guide sheets for birds, dragonflies, and the humble woodlouse. I'll look forward to this as I enjoy recording wildlife. As well as an introduction to the module and some excerpts of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which I hadn't heard of before this module - but seems to be very important. Information about the Assessment is available here.

In an attempt to get a head start, I've already begun reading the books. The module feels like it will get very hectic, so every page read is a page I can be better prepared for the 6 tutor marked assessments and the end of module assessment.

Fingers crossed!

Has anyone reading this done U316 or similar? If so, I've love to hear your thoughts and advice about the module!

13 December 2013

Appreciating Ivy

Ivy flowers. Copyright: Alfred Osterloh
With great pride I support our English Ivy (Hedera Helix). I think that in the right situation it's a feast for the eyes and a wonderful resource for all of nature - us included. Ever since I was a lad I'd heard all the negative press about ivy being parasitic (which it's not) and that it damages everything it climbs upon (which it does not), so earlier this year I did my own research and documented the most current findings on the positives and negatives of ivy and how to manage ivy on my blog here. I also wrote about research into the weak, but potentially important, adhesion that ivy rootlets secrete here.

With that in mind, I was very excited to read research published earlier this year evaluating the importance of ivy (Hedera helix and H. hibernica) for autumn flower-visiting insects, particularly honey bees. Not only were the findings positive, but the researchers went as far as to say that:
'ivy may well be a keystone species for flowervisiting insects in autumn'  
(Garbuzov & Ratnieks, 2013)

Keystone species are species that play a crucial role within the ecosystem(s) that they are present. Keystone species can affect many other organisms within the ecosystem to the point of determining the numbers and types of other species within the ecosystem community.

To see why the researchers have made this suggestion, we need to consider which species visit the ivy flowers, what the ivy flower offers, and what benefit these species derive from a relationship with ivy:
  • Firstly, there were many different species visiting the flowers of the ivy including the honey bee (Apis mellifera), common wasp (Vespula vulgaris), ivy bee (Colletes hederae), hover fly (Eristalis tenax), green bottle fly (Lucilia sp.) and red admiral butterfly (Venessa atalanta) among others.
  • Secondly, the ivy flower offers both nectar and pollen, possibly no surprise there. But, perhaps what is surprising is that the nectar has a sugar content of around 49%. This is quite a high percentage and shows that ivy nectar is a high quality foraging resource. The results strongly suggested that the only nectar that the tested bees had in their crops was from ivy. This becomes even more important considering that 79.7% of honey bees and 94.6% of bumble bees did not have pollen in their baskets. Pollen trapping at six hives in two locations showed that of the pollen that was collected by the honey bees, an average of 89% was pollen from ivy during the autumn.
  • Thirdly, ivy is a very abundant plant meaning that foraging distances are much shorter than summer foraging trips. Collecting pollen and nectar from ivy flowers is also fairly easy. These traits make it efficient enough for honey bees to make a honey crop. This may improve survival over winter of honey bees. These factors may well provide honey bees with a food resource allowing them to rear young workers before overwintering, subsequently providing them to get off to a great start in the spring. The paper rightly suggests that further experimental work should be done before we can understand this properly.
So, while we already knew that ivy provides food via berries and can provide a home for many insects and nesting sites for birds (if it is allowed to grow), but this paper really drives home the importance of ivy to many species of insect that are still around in autumn, including late season butterflies.

Ivy not only provides them with a meal as they collect nectar or pollen, but the nectar is of such high quality it can also help honey bees survive the winter. Without sounding too dramatic, if ivy was lost to the ecosystem, even locally, it could mean death to the honey bees in that particular area. If honey bees aren't around to pollinate our food crops, then we could be in big trouble.

It just goes to show how difficult it can be to understand ecosystems and food webs, prior to this research I wouldn't have connected ivy to food crops and yet the honey bee is a link between the two.

For further information on this paper
  • Watch a video made by the University of Sussex produced to assist us in identifying the insects we may see on ivy flower:

  • To read more, view some amazing macro shot, or download an ID leaflet; see the University of Sussex blog post about the research here.
  • Read the AOB blog post that alerted me to this research.
  • Also, interestingly, a house that had been allowed to be overrun by ivy for 10 years recently had the ivy trimmed back. While some of the dead ivy branches were left hanging for some reason, this house shows that as long as the masonry and brickwork aren't damaged prior to the ivy - then they won't be damaged by the ivy. To see the photos, click here
Garbuzov M., Ratnieks F.L.W., Leather S.R. & Roubik D. (2013). Ivy: an underappreciated key resource to flower-visiting insects in autumn, Insect Conservation and Diversity, n/a-n/a. DOI:

11 December 2013

U316 - The environmental web

The view from Morgan's Hill Nature Reserve, Wiltshire.

For the past few years I've been studying towards a degree. It's been a bit disjointed as i first began with studying science, but then my employer at the time offered to pay for my study if it was work related. So I started studying business and information communication technology, but kept studying the certificate in contemporary science in the background. This was possible because an undergraduate certificate is made up of 60 points, this particular certificate could be built with 6 10 point modules, therefore giving a good base for understanding contemporary science (they were some of the toughest modules I've done!).

Then I was made redundant and fell ill shortly after (possibly even before) starting a new job. I wasn't really well enough to continue studying, so I knew I had to start modules I was interested in at the time to ensure I could get a degree - and hopefully prove to future employers that I didn't waste time just being ill! By this time I had amassed 2 undergraduate certificates, 1 in Business and the other in ICT and Computing. I had also already completed my first level 2 module, a 60 point module in communication and information technologies.

So what could I do that I was really interested in? I decided that I wanted to learn more about English, firstly a level 2 course about the history of English. Then bringing us up to my most recent module, a 60 point level 3 module entitled Children's Literature. In the background I managed to complete my third undergraduate certificate in Contemporary Science.

I finished my most recent module in February 2013. Even though I'd managed to get away with only 2-3 hours of study a week - I needed a break. I wasn't getting any better and I needed time away from deadlines and constant forced reading. I could 'cash in' my points for an ordinary degree, but I didn't want to constantly explain to people what an ordinary degree was and that it didn't have a grade! I've also done well enough that I should be able to finish with a 2:1, which would be amazing and much more than I expected.

So I've now decided, after much deliberation, to try and finish my degree - and thus close this chapter of my life! I've registered for a 60 level 3 module entitled The environmental web.

The Open University website describes the module as an
'interdisciplinary course examines contemporary issues such as biodiversity and climate change in order to develop your environmental literacy, and enable you to take part in informed debate and action. It draws on a wide variety of disciplines to investigate environmental changes, their consequences, and implications for action. You will explore environmental materials on the web used to publish data, implement policy, debate issues, and promulgate views – learning how to navigate, analyse and evaluate such information.'

I'm really looking forward to starting the module and have been reading up about the topic and contributing to the facebook group that I've joined.

I thought it would be a good topic as I'm interested in nature and biological recording and I think that this module will provide me with a great deal of context when recording wildlife and understanding how it all connects. I think it will also help me improve my writing on this blog - and will hopefully inspire me to write not only about the module, but also about topics that I encounter during the module.

So, wish me luck - I'll most definitely need it!

09 December 2013


Just a quick and fun post about some awesome shapes people have made for Geocachers. I was listening to a radio programme about Geocaching recently and one of the cachers interviewed mentioned a series of caches shaped like the head of an alien! Intrigued I set about finding this alien head located in the US. I imagined that it would be a one off - but to my surprise there are many cache series around the world that have been arranged to form shapes from Ying/Yang symbols to Signal the Frog, who is the mascot for Groundspeak (the operators of Geocaching.com).

Below I've added some screenshots from the Geocaching.com website. To view other shapes, see this bookmark list compiled by Striving4Camelot.

06 December 2013

The history of our passion flower

The passion flower is not a native of the UK and until recently they haven't done too well in our climate, as botanist Trevor Dines explained in the third episode of Wild Things earlier this year.

So imagine our surprise when one popped out of nowhere and started growing right under our living room window! I didn't know what it was when all we could see were leaves, so we allowed it to grow hoping that it would flower - which would then help us to identify it and see if it's a plant we wanted to keep.

Well it obliged and gave us a display of a couple of flowers. From the flowers, we judged it to be the common passion flower (Passiflora caerulea).
A lovely floral display from our passion flower this year.

We did wonder how it came to be in our garden in the first place and suspected that perhaps one of the previous owners had planted it. It's the ideal location with the front of the house being the southern-most facing.

Then Lucy happened upon an old photograph from an estate agent website. So we then thought that the people we bought the house from had hacked the plant down as there was no sign of it when we viewed the house or in the estate agent listing when we bought it. And that it was planted by the owners previous to them. As you can see in the photograph it used to be well established.

Passion flower far right.

Our suspicions we proved correct when we were chatting to a lovely lady that walks her dog past our house. She told us that the passion flower was very vigorous and used to grow all the way down the grass!

Being happy to keep it, but not to let it get out of control, I fastened some wire to the front of the house earlier this year. This allowed the plant to grow up to the window and be a nice cover for the wall under the window. We've then kept pruning it back when it gets a bit too much! This way it will also be easy to cut out old stems and have the new stems held in place by the wire as they grow.
Either about to open or about to close!
The passion flower has been superb this year and the flowers even went to fruit, which was fun to watch. The fruit begins green, but over time, turns to orange. I think that this makes it a plant of real interest, first the flowers and then the fruit, all through summer.

As Trevor Dines mentioned that it was edible, I took one of the fruits inside. It's a really interesting fruit to look at when it's opened, revealing lots of seeds surrounded by a sticky liquid! I did try some raw, but as is mentioned all over the Internet - it's not a nice flavour and not an experiment I'll try again. Apparently the flower can be used to make a tea that alleviates anxiety.
The ripe fruit cut in half.
As our house is a 1970s build, there is no real history and it's the same as every other house on the street. So it was quite nice finding out something of interest in the history of the house - especially because it's plant related.

Thanks for reading.

02 December 2013

Cardoon - Cynara cardunculus

Date Photographed: 25 August 2013
Location: Yeovil
Resources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardoon
Notes: This is a really tall plant. The one photographed was at least 6 foot tall. I initially thought it was a knapweed of some sort, but the good folks at Wild About Britain gave me the correct identification.
ETA: I forgot to say that this garden was next to a field that enclosed a couple of horses. They were so interested in this plant that they were reaching over the fence to eat the flowers. My parents told me that they eventually knocked the fence over in their attempts to get more and more flower heads!

29 November 2013

Desktop Calendar - December 2013

1) To ensure that you get the best quality, click the photo so that lightbox opens the image.
2) Right-click the image so that the context menu appears:
Firefox: Select "Set as Desktop Background..." and choose from the position options as below (Center or Fit will generally provide the best look).

Options from Firefox
Internet Explorer: Select "Set as Background". To change position settings you will need to set the personalise settings for the desktop in Control Panel:
Control Panel settings
Mac OS10.6.8
Chrome: Command click on photo (above); it opens in a new Tab. Drag to desktop. Use "Desktop & Screensaver" in System Preferences to center and choose background color.

To Hollis, over at In the Company of Plants and Rocks, for the Mac instructions.
To Jessica Burke from Moss Plants and More for such the idea.

Note: If anyone uses other Operating Systems and could let me know the instructions for applying the photo as a desktop image, please get in touch!

25 November 2013

Witches Butter Fungus - Tremella mesenterica

Date Photographed: 13/11/2013
Location: Giles Wood, Wiltshire
Resources: http://www.first-nature.com/fungi/tremella-mesenterica.php
Notes: This fungus has many common names including yellow brain and golden jelly fungus.

22 November 2013

Five Fact Friday: Plant Hunters - Robert Fortune

1. Robert Fortune was born in 1912 at Kelloe, Berwickshire. Little is known about his early life as his journals have been lost. That which is known of his life is detailed in the four books that describe his 19 years travelling through China. He died in1880.
2. After an apprenticeship at nearby garden, in 1842 he applied for the post of Superintendent of the Hothouse Department at the Horticultural Society's Chiswick garden. After just a few months working there, he was chosen to spend a year gathering information about Chinese gardening and collecting new seeds and plants. He was told that 'the value of plants diminishes as the heat required to cultivate them is increased', but orchids, aquatics and plants with 'very handsome flowers' were exceptions to this rule.
3. Fortune left Britain aboard the Emu, bound for Hong Kong, on the 26 February 1843. He took plants with him for delivery to the colony in Wardian cases. He had some adventure in China, including what seems to be an epic fight with a crowd that liberated him of his letters and other valuables.
4. During his time in China, he found that strangers were distrusted and disliked. They would deny that nurseries existed or claim that they were very far away. Nevertheless he purchased and found many lovely plants. He had many trips to China before retiring back in Britain in 1862.
5. Fortune is credited with discovering 120 new species, including: Weigela florida, Mahonia japonica, and Rhododendron fortunei.

Musgrave, T. (1998) The Plant Hunters, London, The Orion Publishing Group

15 November 2013

Five Fact Friday: Plant Hunters - Marianne North

Some plant hunters went in search of plants in the name of science, some in the name of gardening, and some like the great Marianne North in the name of art; as we shall see below.

  1. Born in Hastings, on the 24 October 1830, Marianne North was educated at home. She originally trained as a vocalist, but her voice failed. This allowed Marianne to concentrate on her painting. She died on 30 August 1890 in Gloucestershire having lived a life most of us can only dream of.
  2. She made many trips to Kew Gardens to paint and draw some of their rare plant specimens. She was encouraged by the director of Kew Gardens at the time, William Hooker, the father of plant hunter Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker
  3. She travelled extensively with her parents. She continued to travel with her father after her mother passed away. After her father died Marianne made the decision to travel on her own, with the intention of travelling to tropical countries to paint the 'peculiar vegetation in its natural abundant luxuriance'.
  4. North was a very active artist and travelled deep into the areas that she visited ranging from Canada to Australia and Japan to India. She sent her oil paintings to Sir Joseph Hooker at Kew. Marianne later wrote to Sir Joseph Hooker suggesting that she would be happy to build a gallery within the grounds at Kew, if he would agree to display her life's work. He did agree and since 1882 her wonderful work has been on show. In 2008 a lottery grant allowed Kew to restore the Marianne North Galley and all 833 of her canvasses.
  5. Marianne painted 900 species of plant and in great scientific detail. Many of her paintings were highly regarded, such as her depiction of Banksia attenuata. There are also plants named in her honour, including Nepenthes northiana, which can been seen in the painting below. The genus Northia was named in her honour by Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker in his Icones Plantarum (1884).

One of the many gorgeous illustrations by Marianne North.

Harrison, L. (2012) RHS Latin for Gardeners, London, Octopus Publishing Group

Click images for copyright information.

11 November 2013

Candle Snuff Fungus - Xylaria hypoxylon

Date Photographed: 10/11/2013
Location: Warminster, Wiltshire
Resources: http://www.uksafari.com/candlesnuff.htm
Notes: Due to the antler shape of the tips, this fungus is also known as Stags Horn Fungus. It seems the the fungus starts as white and matures through grey to black.

Quite a nice surprise to see this fungus. We saw it while out looking for some 'cache and dash' geocaches. We didn't find the cache! But we noticed on the online log for the cache that two others had looked for the cache this year and hadn't found it either - so we weren't too disappointed. The great thing about geocaches is that they take you to places you may never normally go and even if you're only looking for caches next to the road, there are nice surprises to be had!

Watch the video I found on YouTube below to see spore dispersal from this very interesting fungus:

08 November 2013

Five Fact Friday: Plant Hunters - Ernest Wilson

1. Ernest Wilson was born in 1876 and grew up in Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. Died 1930.
2. His first plant hunting expedition was in 1899, employed by Jame Veitch & Son. He was given the special mission of finding the handkerchief tree. Leaving Liverpool to travel to America on his was to China, he took a detour to the Arnold Arboretum, meeting Charles Sargent - a key player in Ernest's later life. After a false start, Wilson found the Handkerchief tree on 19 May 1900. He gathered a large quantity of the seed and found hundreds of other interesting plants in the area.
3. After marrying Helen Ganderton in the June of 1902, Wilson was off to China again on January 23 1903 for a two year trip. This time his object was the poppy Meconopsis integrifolia, which he found on the 15 July 1903 as a dazzling sheet fluttering in the mountain breeze. He returned home with the seed of 510 species and 2400 herbarium specimens.
4. His last adventures were with the Arnold Arboretum, first in China and finally in Japan - where Helen became the first wife of a British plant hunter to go on a plant hunting expedition. These expeditions were as successful as all the rest and in total Wilson is credited with the introduction of over 1000 species. Sadly Ernest and Helen were killed in a road accident in October 1930.
5. Some of the over 1000 species he discovered include: Viburnum davidii, Lilium regale, and Magnolia sinensis.

Musgrave, T. (1998) The Plant Hunters, London, The Orion Publishing Group

04 November 2013


IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
- Rudyard Kipling

01 November 2013

Desktop Calendar - November 2013

1) To ensure that you get the best quality, click the photo so that lightbox opens the image.
2) Right-click the image so that the context menu appears:
Firefox: Select "Set as Desktop Background..." and choose from the position options as below (Center or Fit will generally provide the best look).

Options from Firefox
Internet Explorer: Select "Set as Background". To change position settings you will need to set the personalise settings for the desktop in Control Panel:
Control Panel settings
Mac OS10.6.8
Chrome: Command click on photo (above); it opens in a new Tab. Drag to desktop. Use "Desktop & Screensaver" in System Preferences to center and choose background color.

To Hollis, over at In the Company of Plants and Rocks, for the Mac instructions.
To Jessica Burke from Moss Plants and More for such the idea.

Note: If anyone uses other Operating Systems and could let me know the instructions for applying the photo as a desktop image, please get in touch!

25 October 2013

Five Fact Friday: Plant Hunters - David Douglas

1. Born in Scone on 25 July 1799, he began an gardening apprenticeship in 1810. He died on 12 July 1834, in what has become a sadly infamous death, falling into a deep pit trap for wild cattle and seemingly being killed by the bullock that had already fallen in.

2. David Douglas was one of those people that are just very unlucky. One example being his first trip to North America. Upon disembarkation he was told my immigration officials that he was too scruffy to land. Permission to land was granted when he purchased some new clothes.

3. He travelled extensively and after only being in North America for 8 months, he had travelled 2,105 miles. Almost doubling this in the following year by travelling 3,932 miles.

4. David Douglas is credited with the discovery of over 200 new species of plants. It was, however, the conifers he introduced that changed the garden landscape of Britain. The Douglas fir is named after him. This also has the Latin name of Pseudotsuga menziesii, after Menzie who had previously explored the Pacific North-west - but was confined to his cabin by Captain Vancouver, who was fed up of the crew helping him collect plants.

5. Other plants that Douglas discovered include: Ribes sanguineum, Garry elliptica, and Pinus radiata.

Musgrave, T. (1998) The Plant Hunters, London, The Orion Publishing Group

21 October 2013

Common spangle gall - Neuroterus quercusbaccarum

Symptoms: Develops on the underside of the leaves of pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) and sessile oak (Quercus petraea). The discs begin as yellow-green and age to become reddish.

Cause: Caused by a small gall wasp called Neuroterus quercusbaccarum. These galls are created when the wasps of the currant gall generation emerge and lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves. The offspring of these eggs will emerge around April and the cycle will begin again.

Control: There doesn't appear to be much stress on the tree, so can be left in place. Also there can be many galls on each tree, making it very difficult to keep under control.

18 October 2013

Five Fact Friday: Plant Hunters - Frank Kingdon-Ward

1. Frank Kingdon-Ward born to Professor Harry Marshall Ward in 1885.
2. His father died prematurely, lacking money to continue his education Kingdon-Ward had to find a job. He rushed his studies and got the first job that would take him abroad. This job was as a teacher at the Shanghai Public School in 1907, which he didn't really enjoy - seeing it as a means to an end.
3. He set of in September 1909 for his first official plant hunting expedition. Returning a year later to his teaching job. By 1911 he was off again, spending much of the next 45 years on hunting for plants.
4. Kingdon-Ward had a fantastic memory for locations, which enabled him to return to collect seed at the right time - for instance being the first to bring viable seed of the blue poppy. It seems that he really enjoyed these trips and would travel with his first wife, later with his second wife. Even at the age of 73 years old he was planning another trip, although he sadly fell ill, collapsing into a coma and dying on 8 April 1958.
5. He introduced plants such as Lilium mackliniae, Primula florindae, and the lovely Cotoneaster conspicuus.

Musgrave, T. (1998) The Plant Hunters, London, The Orion Publishing Group

15 October 2013

Silver-washed Fritillary - Argynnis paphia

Date Photographed: 20/07/2013
Location: Green Lane Wood, Trowbridge
Resources: http://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/species.php?species=paphia
Notes: Sadly I wasn't able to see the underside of the wing, where the silver streaks are found. This is my best ID from looking at the arrangements of the markings on the upper wing.

14 October 2013

Great Willowherb - Epilobium hirsutum

Date Photographed: 20/07/2013
Location: Green Lane Wood, Trowbridge
Resources: http://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/great-willowherb

10 October 2013

Desktop Calendar - October 2013

Here's a bouquet of flowers that I took from our garden in July. The bouquet is composed of salvia, passion flower, sweet pea, and dianthus.

If you like it and would like to use it as a background on your desktop, please follow the instructions below.

1) To ensure that you get the best quality, click the photo so that lightbox opens the image.
2) Right-click the image so that the context menu appears:
Firefox: Select "Set as Desktop Background..." and choose from the position options as below (Center or Fit will generally provide the best look).
Options from Firefox

Internet Explorer: Select "Set as Background". To change position settings you will need to set the personalise settings for the desktop in Control Panel:
Control Panel settings

Note: If anyone uses other Operating Systems and could let me know the instructions for applying the photo as a desktop image, please get in touch!

Thanks to Jessica Burke from Moss Plants and More for such a cool idea.

What to expect on Notes of Nature

The idea of this blog post have been sat in my head for a while now. Seeing the 'What to expect on Loose and Leafy' post and that it's World Mental Health Day has spurred me into action.

If you follow my blog you've probably noticed that for a blog entitled notes of nature, there aren't many notes! There are lots of photos and some basic information, then once in a while there will be an attempt at a note, either scientific or nature writing. There's a reason why the blog has a high ratio of photos compared to writing.

As some of you many know, in January 2012 the world stopped, well my world stopped. I woke up one morning and I literally couldn't do anything. Well I managed to get my shirt on for work, but couldn't manage the tie. Incredibly disappointed with myself, I called work and told them I couldn't come in today. My girlfriend (now fiancée *yay*), Lucy, managed to get me in at the doctors and took me there. The doctor immediately signed me off.

Over the next few weeks nothing happened. I couldn't do anything. Physically and mentally drained and in lots of pain. My doctor diagnosed me with depression. After more time, I underwent counselling and then CBT for many months. Here's the graph that shows the results to answers to the standard questionnaires that are required to be filled in after each session.
The graph shows my social phobia (at the top) and depression (at the bottom) scores. For depression I'm told it shows my going from major depression to mild depression. With CBT and finding (after many attempts) the right medication, I've been able to stabilise at mild depression.

One of the things that helped me find inspiration for life again was taking photographs of flowers. I don't really know what made me start, but after a while it was all I could think about. I couldn't drive any more due to fatigue and headaches, so I would spend every car journey looking out at the road verges for flowers. This led to a passion for plants; photographing them, identifying them, and learning about their biology.

As the depression stabilised the tiredness and pain continued. To cut the story short, I was recently diagnosed with fibromyalgia. So I have regular appointments for physio, occupational therapy, and check ups. I feel positive that I can manage this and get back to a 'normal' life. I can't wait to get back to work and have a family - I want this to happen - managing fibromyalgia and the depression is the priority. I've found that when I replace them with other priorities - I fall back: badly.

It's a lesson I've had to learn a few times.

So, back to the focus of the blog post: what to expect on Notes of Nature.

1) Mainly photographs: Photo posts use much less energy and make me feel productive. Most of my photographs are from months ago - before all of my fibromyalgia-related appointments and starting a part-time AAT course. I will try to take some new photographs soon, but will keep posting the old ones until I run out.
2) Expect some gaps in posting. Some would say that's a good thing! When my photographs run out, I will try to make some profiles for the plants already on the blog - but this will take time.
3) Book reviews: As I can manage the fibromyalgia better I will be able to read more nature and plant books and will review them as I have in the past.
4) Science writing: I will try to write four posts per year on plant science - I've already done my four for this year, so the next will be in the first quarter of 2014. If you have any suggestions - let me know in the comments!
5) Desktop calendar photos: Jessica Burke who writes the Moss Plants and More blog makes calendar images from her moss photographs and I hope she won't mind if I do the same with my plant photographs. We're already into October, but I'll post one for this month anyway - to get me going!
6) Nature writing: As I am able to get out more again,I'll blog about some of the places I go. Sometimes it may well be a post about something nature I see down the street - but sometimes they're the most interesting places!

I think that's about it. I've probably missed something, but if so I'll make a new post and link back to this!

If you've got this far - thank you - while I always feel I'd continue the blog even if nobody reads it, it's always so nice and appreciated when people comment.

For more information on depression, see this video:
For more information on fibromyalgia, see this video:

Common Plume moth - Emmelina monodactyla

Date Photographed: 14/07/2013
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://www.eakringbirds.com/eakringbirds2/mothspterophoridae.htm

09 October 2013

Silver Y moth - Autographa gamma

Date Photographed: 17/07/2013
Location: Tower Road, Melksham
Resources: http://ukmoths.org.uk/show.php?bf=2441

08 October 2013

Book Review: Seed to Seed

Seed to Seed is a year-long narrative of a thale-cress plant that the author found in a churchyard. The book starts quite sparsely with a loose idea of documenting the life of a thale-cress plant and the entries for the first couple of months tend to be shorter and mainly filled with weather reports with some natural history writing. The author makes clear that this book is really for his children, so when reading I tried to keep this in mind.

I started this book at a bad time. Our cat was ill and subsequently we lost him, to what seems to be heart failure. I didn't know if I would continue reading this book, due to the writing not motivating me and the sadness of the time.

I thought this book would be a year in the life of a plant scientist and in the end it does sort of become this. While the natural history writing and the entries about the holidays the author takes with his family can be quite drawn out, Nicholas Harberd really comes into his own when communicating science. While the book, I felt, was a bit long; I did enjoy the entries about the plant biology research the author has been performing.

We hear a lot about the thale-cress plant research at John Innes Centre, especially about DELLAs which seem to restrain the growth of the plant so that it can respond to the environment rather than grow far too quickly regardless of environmental conditions and then die, perhaps without successfully creating seeds for the next generation.

For the science, this book is worth reading. But I learned that I could miss the first paragraph of most entries, which were weather reports, and many of the entries written while the author was on his holidays - without missing the science writing. Overall, I'm glad that I persevered as I feel that it is an important book.