The Actual Beginning of the Quest… A Heathland Hike & Searching at Sandwood.

Leaving Ullapool felt like the real start of my adventure. As described in my previous post here, the Great Yellow Bumblebee (GYB) is only found in a few areas on the very North coast of Scotland and some off laying islands. Thanks to Ida & Katy at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) I had a list of seven prospective GYB sites in Sutherland and Caithness which are managed by different organisations including Highland Council Countryside Rangers. Scotland has two thirds of the world’s machair: a wildflower – rich calcareous sandy grassland unique to Scotland’s North West Coast and Ireland and home to many rare species including the GYB and corncrake. GYB forage particularly on plants from the pea family (Fabaceae) such as red clover, vetches and trefoil before moving on to the Asteraceae family (specifically knapweeds and thistles) later in the flowering season. Intensive farming methods have cleared wildflower meadows across most of the UK but machair habitat, rich in these flowers, is protected by the traditional crofting and farming techniques such as carefully managed cycles of cultivation and grazing that are still widely used in the Highlands and therefore provides much needed sanctuary for the UK’s rarest bumblebee.

I left Ullapool around midday on Sunday 10th July, after a quick ‘farewell’ swim in Loch Broom, and drove North on the A835 towards Kinlochbervie. I had picked up a useful map of the recently marketed ‘North Coast 500’in Ullapool Bookshop and my seven GYB sites were conveniently spread along the route. The first site was Oldshoremore – approximately 60 miles north of Ullapool. It wouldn’t take long to get there but I thought that I might want a few view/photo stops along the way and I wasn’t wrong. I said goodbye to Wester Ross, driving past Knockan Crag (which I haven’t visited in years but will definitely make a point of dropping into next time I’m in the Geopark). The cloud was beginning to come down and there were spittings of rain but rather than detracting from my journey, it made the scenery more moody, dramatic and exciting.

The A894 through Unapool gave the most spectacular views of the hills and inlet around Loch Beag and Loch Gleann Dubh. Before long I reached Kylesku Bridge. I’m not often a  fan of modern architecture but something about this bridge was stunning – the photos really don’t do it justice. It’s tall and open and seemed to add even more grandeur to the surroundings. I stopped to stretch my legs on the other side at the little view point car park, and of course,couldn’t help but rootle through the heather a little looking for interesting inverts.

My next stop was Scourie; a little village about halfway from Ullapool to Durness, and just over Kylesku Bridge. I’ve visited Scourie a couple of times before. It has a pretty little beach and a nice walk over to the headland but the main point of interest (for me at least) is the Handa ferry that leaves from nearby and takes you to Handa Island – a 3km² nature reserve managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, host to one of the largest breeding sea bird colonies in North-West Europe . I visited Handa last year with my family and was lucky enough to see my first puffins on the ride over. Unfortunately the mist came down while we were on the island and completely obscured any views of the spectacular sea cliffs which are home to razorbills, guillemots, fulmars and kittwakes in the breeding season. My grandmother did however get bombed by a pair of nesting Arctic skuas (Stercorarius parasiticus) and I spent half an hour chasing a very pale moss carder bee (Bombus muscorum) around the thistles thinking it could be a GYB. I thought about going back this year but my trip had a reasonably tight time schedule and an even tighter budget so although generally it is well worth the £12.50 boat fare to visit this beautiful island, I couldn’t justify it on this trip.

It was around 5.30pm when I arrived at the car park for Sandwood Bay and it had begun to drizzle again. I had packed my bag with all the camping essentials before leaving Ullapool so I was ready to go but the beach is a 4 and a half mile walk across heathland from the nearest road/parking place and I know how difficult it is to dry out in a tent/car so I thought I should hang around for a bit to see if the rain cleared up. Six o’clock came and I decided I’d have to brave it otherwise I’d be putting up the tent and cooking in the dark (although I later realised it never actually gets dark?!). My rucksack was heavy; full of tins, bottled water, tent, sleeping bag, all of my field guides and a woolen blanket. I imagined that I would be exhausted by the time I arrived at the beach and I set off with a smile that I didn’t expect to last long.

The start point for the walk to Sandwood Bay.

I had underestimated myself. My rucksack (borrowed from my housemate – I couldn’t work out the waist clip. I had to tie and untie it every time I wanted to take it off which was often because it kept threatening to topple me over when I was crouching over plants and insects) was huge and cumbersome but my mood was light and buoyant. I found a wonderful magpie moth (Abraxas grossulariata) and later many more amongst the heather, including some ovipositing. I was struck by the amount of orchids poking spiky bright heads up alongside the heather and cotton grass. I was literally stopped in my tracks by a highland cow that stubbornly refused to move off the path and why should she? It’s every bit as much her land as mine (more in fact!) so I gingerly sidestepped her horns and continued towards the beach. Every step felt like adventure and I found myself wondering: in years to come if I’m lucky enough to have family, will my children tell their children about the time crazy Granny Annie travelled the Highlands looking for a bee and inspiring them to have their own adventures? I hope so.

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Occasionally the rain cut out for a few minutes and allowed a few brave bumblebees to forage in the heather. There were a couple of big heath bumblebees around and for one heartstopping moment I saw a flash of pale yellow-orange and thought I’d got my GYB! I slammed my net down and got my bug pot and sample tube ready but quickly realised that it was a carder bumblebee; either moss (B. muscorum) or common (B. pascuorum). Across the UK, B. pascuorum colouration varies significantly and it can be almost impossible to tell apart from the usually paler, yellowish B.muscorum in the field especially in Scotland where one important identifying feature – the absence of black hairs on the rarer B.muscorum – is no longer applicable as B. pascuorum also sometimes lack them in the Highlands!

After almost two hours walking, insect hunting and scenery admiring, I finally got a sight of the bay where I would be camping. I’d been advised by a friend that the best spots are on the far side (although I now wonder if he just said that so I’d have to walk further).

My first view of Sandwood 🙂

I trudged up and down the sand dunes and across a river until I found the ideal place to put up my tent, After making it homely with my car blanket, I sat there for a while thinking and taking in my surroundings. I couldn’t stop staring at the amazing stack rising up at the southern end of the bay, coming in and out of focus through the sea mist. This 240ft vertical formation of Torridonian sandstone (the sedimentary rock responsible for much of the Northwest Highland landscape) named Am Buachaille (translated as The Herdsman, probably due to the waves crashing at its base and whipping up white water reminiscent of a frisky flock of sheep) was up there with the top 10 sights on my trip. However cliché it sounds, I felt so small camping there; on one side a hill with towering rock faces and on the other a vast expanse of white sand bordered by unspoiled heathland and a wild sea. I felt small but still important and strong, and most of all: happy.

View over Sandwood Bay from my tent, with Am Buachaille on the left.

As dusk came about, I started on dinner with my very basic camping equipment – solid fuel stove, fuel tablets and a mess tin. Drawing from my experiences on the fire workshop at Lindley Festival of Outdoor Education last year, I’d packed plenty of cotton wool and Vaseline to make firelighters. It wasn’t a bad tea of pilau rice, kidney beans and tomatoes 🙂 After eating I settled down in my sleeping bag with my field guides and maps, wrote a few postcard and planned for the next day… The search for GYB had begun!


To be continued…

All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.

The Continuation of the Quest… Recounting Memories, Family Connections & Perfect Polly.

On Tuesday 5th July, after a good night’s sleep and not feeling as achey as I’d imagined I might, I said good-bye to Fort William and drove up to Inverness (again, the drive was awesome) where I met my family for lunch. It was lovely to have a brief catch up with my cousin James who works on Shetland and had popped down to say hello. After lunch James left us to see friends down in Birmingham, and the rest of us drove on to Ullapool.

My family were staying in the Leckmelm farm cottage that they’ve rented for a couple of
weeks each summer since I was about 3 years old. It’s the most beautiful place situated on
a working farm right on the shore of Loch Broom and just a few miles from Ullapool; a wonderful (but touristy) fishing port with a brilliant bookshop, hardware store and pubs. Facebook ‘memories’ reminded me that it was exactly four years ago that I met one of my best friends here when she was working as a waitress at The Ceilidh Place. Last year my mum got married up here. I’ve visited the local fairs, swam in the loch and fished off the pier in Achiltibuie. I’ve watched the barn owls  on the farm and collected owl pellets. Many years ago at the cottage, I even helped the farmer round his sheep up for their sheep dip on the farm. There are lots of memories tied in to this place but it was a wonderful freedom being able to explore in my own car and choose where I wanted to visit 🙂

I had decided I would spend a few nights with my family – making the most of a comfy sofa, hot shower and washing machine before heading further north on my adventure.

Photo stops are plenty with my family: Stac Pollaidh on the left.

There were a few things that I had planned to do while I was in Ullapool and going up Stac Pollaidh was one of them. As I mentioned, my family have been holidaying in the highlands for over 20 years and Stac Pollaidh has been a recurrent talking point throughout that time. Whether it’s Mum and Mike reminiscing about the time they climbed up; admiring the ragged rocks and pinnacles from a distance on a clear day or just greetings of ‘Hello Polly!’ as we drive past. I remember the name being stuck in my head at a very young age so I felt that on this trip it was important that I got up there! I’d mentioned to my stepdad that I was going to do it and he was keen to join me but was concerned about his problematic knee getting in the way. We decided to have a practice walk up Ullapool Hill, also known as Meall Mor – a name that seems to be used for a number of hills in Scotland (In Gaelic, meall describes a ‘bare rounded lumpy hill’ and mor can be roughly translated to ‘great’). The day after I arrived (with the aches and stiffness
from Ben Nevis beginning to set in) we drove into town and started up the marked path.

The view indicator on Ullapool Hill, looking out towards the Summer Isles.

The track is narrow but well maintained and there are a few routes over the hill
with different start and end points. I tried to get up last year with Marcus, using a different map and to be honest, I have no idea how I managed to get lost but we never made it to the top. The map we had this year was a simple sketch really with different stretches of the path marked on and labelled, along with landmarks such as benches. It was quite a bright day even though it had been forecast to rain in the afternoon. We stopped at the indicator to admire the views over the summer isles before carrying on to the to the small cairn marking the ‘summit’ (if it can be called such a thing at around 250m/820ft). Next year I will probably try to carry this walk on past Braes and to Beinn Eilideach (558m) but this time I only had a couple of hours for the walk so we headed back to the car.

Happily, Mike had enjoyed the walk and wasn’t feeling too painful in the next few days. Friday was forecast to be the best weather of the week so we chose that as the day to go up Stac Pollaidh, a ‘Graham’ at 612m (2008ft). On Friday morning it was foggy and a bit wet but the weatherman said that it would clear up by 4pm so we decided to head out around 1pm in the hope that when we reached the summit the cloud would clear for wonderful views over Assynt. We packed sandwiches, waterproofs, maps and compass and I drove us to the little car park where the path starts. We were surprised to see that the car park was busy with a few people heading back down off the mountain and a family parked next to us preparing to go up.

The path up Stac Pollaidh is very well maintained and has been created by North West Highlands Geopark with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help alleviate scarring and damage to the mountain. Similarly to my experience of Ben Nevis – the cloud was down and there were now views which is a shame because Stac Pollaidh rises by itself and so on a clear day gives especially wonderful views of Assynt, including nearby Suilven in the North, and the Summer Isles to the West (or so I’m told but I suppose I’ll have to try again for the views next year!). The ground was a little wet, and steep in places but we made it up to the saddle in a little over an hour.

I think a lot of people choose to stop at the saddle and head back down the same path they came up. We decided to head up to the second, lower eastern summit and ate our sandwiches next to the cairn, waiting for the cloud to clear as per forecast. However after 10 or 15 minutes the wind had really started to pick up and we were beginning to get a bit chilly so we started back down to the saddle. I wanted to have a look at the route up to the true summit, which some people have said is probably the most technically difficult summit on the mainland due to the exposed nature of the final tower. If it hadn’t been wet, windy and foggy I might have been tempted to as least to try but I’ll leave that for next time when I hope to have a lot more guts, strength and experience 🙂 I explored a little around the ridge, admiring the striking Torridonian sandstone formations, until I got a bit frightened by the vertical drops and gullies below and scurried back to the safety of the crest.

It seemed to us that most people were heading back off the mountain via the same path they came up but I had a map for the circular route and as someone who never really likes to ‘go back the way we came’, Mike & I found our way back to the path and continued our full circle around Stac Pollaidh. When Mike had climbed with my mum 15 years earlier the path we took didn’t exist so they had taken a direct ascent straight up the side. I was glad to be able to go up with him, as unfortunately my mum’s illness means she isn’t able to walk very far these days. Typically, halfway back down the cloud had begun to lift and the sun came out… we should have waited at the top for longer! We continued back to the car, changed out of waterproofs and headed off to Ullapool’s lovely Ferryboat Inn for a celebratory pint.

Back at the cottage the newly installed WIFI at the cottage was, of course, a dream! It meant that I could finally get back in touch with Katy, Scotland Conservation Officer for BBCT and let her know a bit more about my plans so that we could find a convenient time to meet. The next day was Ullapool’s annual Rotary Club fair on the pier, attended by various local groups including plenty of wildlife organisations. I went along in the afternoon and had plenty of interesting chats; on environmental education with staff at Scottish Wildlife Trust who had a super array of natural history specimens including a pine marten skin and a Scottish wildcat replica skull; on my quest for the GYB with a lovely gentleman from the River’s & Fisheries Trusts of Scotland who told me where he had seen them; and on my future with a lecturer in environmental biology from Middlesex University. I’m sure there are so many interesting people in the world but they all seem to congregate in the highlands! That evening it was Mum & Mike’s wedding anniversary so obviously I had to stick around for dinner at Moorfield where they had previously had their reception (always delicious and so accommodating re: vegan food!).

A quick morning swim in the icy, crystal waters of Loch Broom. There’s no other way to say goodbye to one of my favourite places 🙂

So on Sunday 10th July, after a quick morning swim in Loch Broom, I said goodbye to my family and Ullapool, left behind the hillwalking part of my trip and drove towards my first Great Yellow Bumblebee site to truly begin my search…

To be continued…

All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.

The Continuation of the Quest… Meeting the SnowForgers & Reaching the Summit.

My trip began on 2nd July when I set out from Nottingham, car share Pat on board, and drove to Stirling. We stopped at Kendal and a couple of service stations. In Stirling Pat stayed at a hostel while I kipped in the car (recently named Cricket, partly due to the noise the clutch makes and partly because I watch too much It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) in a lovely spot by the forest and Bannock Burn river just outside of town. Here I met a kitten that wanted to share my warmth and my food. I gave it some oat milk, but not a name.


The next morning I picked up Pat again. We took a quick look at Stirling Castle and set off on a beautiful scenic drive towards Fort William. I should have written this before, as now I fear that after all the amazing journeys I’ve been on here, the place names are beginning to blur into each other. We drove through Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. We stopped at Bracklinn Falls and Callander Crags after reading a signpost telling us that it was only 1/4mile off route. Bracklinn Falls was very pretty: a lovely walk through woodland and grassland, and so many orchids! I’ve been really surprised at just how common they seem to be up here – although I couldn’t tell you which species they are or even if they are the same species as I’ve seen white, lilac, pink and deep purple flowers. I did spot one distinctively different orchid though which I’ve since been told is a butterfly orchid (probably greater sp.) – how lovely!

From there we hopped back in the car and drove on to Fort William through Glencoe which was stunning. Car share Pat and I parted ways in Fort William – he was going on to some of the islands. I had decided that I would give Ben Nevis a good go, but with no real practice and quite a bit of apprehension. My bunk house (on recommendation from my housemate Robbie) was the Ben Nevis Inn and it was great. I arrived starving hungry and armed with MacSween’s vegan haggis and a bag of Jersey Royals ready to make the stodgiest carb-loaded supper. In the kitchen were two sorry looking souls who I later knew to be Jack and Gavin. Jack was half asleep on the table and I made a nuisance of myself (as usual) by spreading out my things as far and wide as possible and generally chatting nonsense about my bee quest. The three of us were shortly joined by more of the jolly group that called themselves the SnowForgers and eventually the remainder of the crew came back down from the mountain and introduced themselves too. They had been sponsored to climb Ben Nevis and were raising money for Bowel Cancer UK. I can’t even describe here how much it meant for me to meet such a group of wonderful people at this point in my trip. Kingsley, the experienced mountain leader of the group offered me advice; the ladies complimented me on my courage and independence; Steve flattered me by *pretending?!* to be interested in my bee mission; Gavin ensured I was stocked up with everything I could ever possibly need, including a whistle, glucose tablets and a good knife; and Jack took it upon himself to teach me how to properly use my map and compass. He even gave me a survival bag and a waterproof case and asked if I wanted him to fold my ordnance survey map for me, which I couldn’t really refuse! They let me sit in while they did a little presentation ceremony (with certificates and everything – I was kind of envious!) and although everyone will say I’m quite an emotional person anyway; I very nearly found myself tearing up as they all thanked Kingsley and Jack and congratulated each other.

Some of the SnowForgers, and me!

The SnowForgers stayed up celebrating and I tried to have a reasonably early night, feeling much more positive and really quite inspired by them. We said our goodbyes in the morning and at 9am I started off up the highest mountain in the UK feeling a real high 🙂

The weather was misty and a little wet but I’m not the kind of girl that’s going to let a bit of rain put me off. The path was great and I got some nice views about half way up when the cloud cleared for a few minutes. I was super happy to meet and talk to two other girls who were doing it by themselves –  a beautiful lady from Czech Republic who had decided to come up to Fort William after playing a football match in Glasgow, and a equally lovely girl from England who said ‘it doesn’t matter if I don’t make it to the summit, I’m just having a go’ but I was really pleased to see later on near the top. I had quite a few stops ‘to look at the view’, as well as layering and un-layering (as the weather really couldn’t decide what it was doing!) and snack breaks. There were a few sections of the path that were a bit harder going: the final couple of zig zags particularly., but any time I started to lag I just thought about where I was, and what I was doing and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face!

I got to the summit around 1.30pm. It had taken me 4 1/2 hr, but I’d made it! There was no view to speak of but I had an amazing feeling that I’d accomplished something. “I did a good thing”…

On top of the world! Well, the UK at least…

My main worry before setting out, especially after meeting the wonderful Snowforgers, was that in doing this trip by myself I had no-one to motivate me to continue on; to reach the summit; to find my bee; etc. At home, motivation is something I tend to struggle with so climbing Ben Nevis (even on the tourist route) with a huge rucksack (that everyone commented on!), in the fog and alone (although of course I’d chatted to a few people along the way)…. it really made me feel proud. I wrote on Facebook:

I can’t remember a day that I’ve spent on my own feeling as happy, motivated, positive, confident and proud as I did today’.

I’m writing it again now so that in the days, weeks or years to come I can remember that.

I spent half an hour at the summit, eating a delicious avocado and hummous sandwich and drinking tea. A little snow bunting that had been singing beautifully finally showed. It was great! Even though I know how dangerous Ben Nevis can be in snow and/or low visibility I was still quite surprised at just how little room for error or straying from the path there is at the top. The gullies are amazing and terrifying!

On the way back, I sat down in my waterproof trousers and slid down the little snow field. It was so so much fun, I laughed so hard and went really quite fast! The cloud began to clear a little as I got half way down and I stopped just off the path to eat my final sandwich (vegan haggis, mashed potato & salad).

The last hour or so of descent was the hardest part: my legs were shaking by that point. I stopped briefly to take a closer look at the biggest fly I’d ever seen, which turned out to be a male Giant Horsefly (Tabanus sudeticus). It was one of very few invertebrates I saw that day, probably due to the weather which typically had brightened up considerably by the time I got down. I got back to the bunkhouse at 5pm and was feeling a bit dismayed that the Snowforgers weren’t there to welcome me back (although they had insisted that I kept them updated on my progress and I knew that they were pleased for me and would be ‘raising a glass’ where ever their next stop was).

A new arrival at the hostel was an amazing 19 year old girl from Colorado who had just spent six days hiking and camping The Great Glen Way by herself (from Inverness to Fort William). I was very impressed, as I couldn’t imagine doing something like that at her age, or possibly even now! We had a quick chat and I would have liked to have talked more but through the wonders of social media and coincidence, I had plans to meet with a guy that I’d chatted to the previous night, and then bumped into on Ben Nevis. After a quick shower and finishing a ridiculous emotional postcard thanking my housemate for inspiring me and encouraging me (and lending me his tent & rucksack) for my trip I walked out to meet Connor, getting distracted along the way by yet more orchids. Finally I had someone to drink & celebrate with! After a quick pint in the pub, we grabbed a couple of bottles and headed down to the shore where we drank, chatted (he has his own mountain guiding business and told me lots of awesome things like that there’s an annual botanical and geological survey of Ben Nevis) and watched a pair of otters (he assures me… I didn’t have my binos). A perfect ending to a wonderful day…


To be continued…

All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.

The Beginning of the Quest.

I don’t know when the idea first came to me, but it seemed like a good one…

The Great Yellow Bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus), from here on referred to as GYB, is probably the rarest bumblebee found in Britain. Records from the last hundred years show it’s distribution throughout the UK drastically reducing due to loss of wildflower rich habitat; the result of intensive farming and land use. In the UK, this bee is now found only on the very North coast of Scotland and a few of the outlying islands where traditional crofting practices allow the machair landscape that the GYB needs, to remain. At some point this year I decided that I’d make it my summertime mission to see the GYB and managed to get three weeks off work for a long road trip around the North coast of Scotland.

The week before I was due to leave, I attended the first ‘Bee Summit’ at The University of Derby. There were a lot of speakers throughout the day, ranging from the environment and facilities manager at Toyota UK, to the CEO of Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT), to a local farmer and landowner. It really was extraordinary to have a room full of bee enthusiasts from so many differing backgrounds. A particular highlight of the day was a rendition of a honeybee waggle dance performed by a group of local primary school children! I got talking to a wonderful lady called Ida who was recently appointed Education Officer for BBCT. I’m sure we will meet again as she invited me to share my ideas and be involved in developing education resources for 11+yr as part of the Pollinating the Peak project 🙂 Ida told me that she was also a lone traveler and seemed quite excited to hear about my planned trip to Scotland in search of the GYB. She very kindly put me in touch with the BBCT Scotland Conservation Officer, Katy who then emailed me with a map of the best sites to see GYB and, even better, agreed to meet me while I’m up in Caithness. And so my journey began…

Marking GYB sites on this very convenient NC500 map.

If you’re interested, please read more about GYB here (BWARS) and here (BBCT).

In case you were wondering, #30DaysWild blogging is still a work in progress (very slightly *cough* behind schedule) but I’ll finish off my posts (they’re all planned out!) when I return from this trip…

All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.

#30DaysWild – Day 6


Day 6 – Sunset over the lake.

Today was a pretty lazy day around the house. I watered the lawn and my garden; the veg in my green house are coming along well but I haven’t grown as much as I did last year.

I had work in the evening over at Jubilee Campus and managed to catch up on some #30dayswild blog posts while I was there. The business library that I was working at is on the top floor of one of the buildings there and offers quite nice views over the green roofs on that campus and of the lake too. The sun began to set just as my shift was ending, while I was taking a photo I noticed this awesome European garden spider (Araneus diadematus) hanging right in front of me 🙂

After we locked up, I took a few minutes to watch the sunset from the lake edge, admiring the yellow iris on the banks and saying hello to a mallard that came to see me. I love his reflection on the smooth lake and the colours of the sunset mirrored on the waters surface 🙂


All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.

#30DaysWild – Day 5


Day 5 – Walking the Edges.

A last minute cancellation from his climbing partner meant that my housemate had to change plans and so I got to spend a lovely day walking in the Peak District National Park with him. Robbie decided where we were going as we went along, which suited me fine as he knows the area so much better than me. I love driving but it was quite nice to be a passenger for a change and be able to take in all the scenery. I saw a buzzard being mobbed by a crow above the road, a kestrel and even a little stoat run across in front of us! There were some cute villages with beautiful houses too – I love the stone they use to build around that area, it’s so distinctive. It was kind of grey and hazy as we were driving up but in the short time it took to reach Chesterfield, the sun had come out and it was getting pretty hot. We parked somewhere (near North Lees campsite?), sun-creamed up and set off along the top towards Burbage North Edge.


I’m quite excitable when it comes to being outside and surrounded by beautiful countryside. Robbie was warned by my other housemate (who recently accompanied me walking bits of the Cantabrian coastline) before we left that I would probably stop every few minutes to look at something (insects) and that I’m prone to tripping/slipping/falling over. I feel that this is an undeserved reputation, although I did end up needing stitches on my recent trip to Spain… Anyway, today I was on my best behaviour and only stopped to look at the really interesting inverts, such as the striped millipedes (Ommatoiulus sabulosus) and this wonderful hairy Oak Eggar moth (Lasiocampa quercus) caterpillar…

We stopped for lunch by some boulders just off the path between Burbage North Edge and Burbage South Edge. I watched the birds and Robbie watched the climbers. Throughout the day he talked a bit about climbing and showed me a couple routes he wants to do. It’s well interesting but it’s like a whole different language. I suppose it’s the same with anything when you get to a certain level. I’ve only been climbing twice outside and the last time was 6 years ago at Cheesewring, Bodmin Moor with other volunteers and keepers from The Monkey Sanctuary. I’d really like to try again sometime but I don’t think I’d be very good at it… although I’m not so scared of heights and things anymore 🙂

Possibly a click beetle species?

Looking for invertebrates is much easier… Today I saw a few butterflies, including a Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) and a Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui). There were a couple of blues and plenty of whites flitting about and I was very restrained in not chasing them through the scrub with my camera. There were quite a few beetles too and I spotted my first nomad bee species!


One of my highlights though was spotting two ring ouzels (Turdus torquatus). Robbie had told me about them before: how they nest in the crags at Stanage & Burbage and in the breeding season there are signs to stop climbers from doing certain routes near the nesting sites. Ring ouzels were red-listed in the Birds of Conservation Concern  4 report, published in December 2015, due to  a population decline of over 50% in 25 years (according to BTO statistics, between 1991 and 2012 ring ouzel numbers fell by as much as 72%). This area in the Peak District National Park is a bit of a stronghold for them, with great gullies and crevices for nesting and lots of heather coverage too (which apparently they like). I saw the first one when we were having lunch and originally I thought it was a juvenile female blackbird (Turdus merula) but the shape wasn’t quite right and there was a bit more of a sheen to the feathers which had light edges. Female ring ouzels lack the prominent white crescent moon but the pale edging on their brown feathers gives a ‘fish scale’ like effect, distinguishing them from female blackbirds.  The second ring ouzel was a male that flew across the path a little way in front of us. I described it to Robbie as ‘like a blackbird but with a white ring around it’s neck’. He said ‘maybe it’s a ring ouzel’ (which had been kind of a theme throughout the day) and so I thought he was joking but when we looked it up it was spot on 🙂

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We ended up doing a (kind of) figure of eight centering the millstones at Stanage Edge and extending in one direction towards Burbage South Edge and over Higger Tor, then in the other direction to the end slab of Stanage Edge and back down to the car park. I have to say that I lived up to my clumsy reputation by tripping on a downhill slope and ended up rolling on the ground (obviously exaggerated for comic effect and I’m sure I could have kept my balance if I’d have felt that way inclined…ha!) Hopefully my housemates won’t think I’m too much of a liability and we can go out again sometime soon 🙂

All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.

#30DaysWild – Day 4


Day 4 – Pond dipping with Wildlife Watch!

I arrived back in Nottingham late last night but there was no chance for a lie-in this morning… it’s Wildlife Watch day 🙂

I volunteer with two Wildlife Watch groups in Nottingham: the City group based at Wollaton Park meet every first Saturday of the month, and every third Sunday I’m with my Attenborough group as Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Attenborough Nature Reserve. Today my City Wildlife Watch group were meeting at a different site (Martin’s Pond in Wollaton) and I was leading one of my favourite activities… pond dipping!

The past week has been hectic and I didn’t have as much time to prepare as I would have liked but luckily I had a trusty OPAL survey making life a lot easier. OPAL (short for Open Air Laboratories) is a nationwide citizen science scheme led by Imperial College London, but currently running with 13 partners including The University of Nottingham. Their objectives, which include encouraging lifestyle changes and creating an accessible environmental education programme, are truly admirable and very close to my heart. It’s well worth checking out their website, not only for the awesome surveys but also to download free identification guides and posters on a multitude of plants and creatures.
Our Watch session today was themed around water so after a quick safety chat and an introduction to The Wildlife SAM_1092Trust’s #30DaysWild campaign we went down to the fishing platforms and got stuck in with the first part of our survey ‘How Clean is your pond?‘.  One
of our boys carefully filled a 2 litre bottle with pond water from the edge and we counted how many OPAL logos we could see on the ‘OPALometer’ disc at the bottom of the bottle. The children were unanimous in their decision that all of the logos were visible and we were happy that our water was so clear 🙂

Next we dipped a pH test strip into the water and compared the colour of the indicator
square with the colour scale. We discovered that the water in our pond is quite acidic, with a pH of 5.5. This could be for a number
of SAM_1090reasons including the chemical make up of surrounding rocks and soil, fallen leaves, pollution or rain. When fish and amphibians breath out carbon dioxide underwater it dissolves to create carbonic acid, thus lowering the pH of the water. Having lots of plant life in the pond should counteract this effect because the plants remove carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. Most fish prefer a pH of between 6.0 and 9.0, and a pH of 5.0 or below would become harmful. The pH of our pond is probably not ideal but as long as it’s self-regulating I think it’s unlikely there will be consequences to the wildlife living there.

We had a great time dipping in Martin’s Pond and I was proud that the children did a really good job of looking after each other and keeping safe. The survey asks that you sweep the net in a figure of eight movement for 15-20 seconds. We wanted to sweep near the bottom of the pond to find any creatures lurking there, but we tried not to disturb it too much, otherwise we’d get a tray full of mud.

Now for the most fun part … the results! We found some cool creatures – one of the boys was especially pleased with the big Ramshorn snail that I scooped up. We found pond snails, mayfly larvae, water hoglouse, diving beetles, pond skaters, leeches (much to the excitement of our kids!) and the girls even managed to catch 3 tadpoles in different states of metamorphosis.

We completed the OPAL water survey workbook with our results. The workbook gives you numbers to add up for each different creature you find; we got an overall score of 18. We probably could have improved on this – the presence of shed unidentified nymph skins led us to think that if we had dipped last month we might have found dragonfly or damselfly larvae, but we left it a bit too late! In any case, a total score of between 6 and 30 means that the pond is ‘quite healthy’, so we were pretty pleased with our mid-range score 🙂

After a show-and-tell with our pond creatures, we released them and took a short walk through the reserve and around the pond. There were plenty of flowering plants, including comfrey and yellow iris. We even spotted a heron on the far side of the pond and some fresh water mussels.

We finished up the session with a craft activity; making colourful dragonflies out of wire and pipe cleaners. Unfortunately we hadn’t seen many flying insects in the morning but as it brightened up towards mid-day, one large white butterfly came out to play. The children made some amazing creations with the pipe cleaners – one of the boys decided he was going to make a variety of pond creatures then hang them from his ceiling and turn his bedroom into a marsh! Sounds like a perfect wild activity to me!

Our wonderful City Wildlife Watch group with their pipecleaner dragonfly creations.

All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.

#30 Days Wild – Day 3


Day 3 – Thinking wild at The National Gallery.

My best friend Shaun and I spent this morning wandering around London, accidentally taking in loads of landmarks. On the tube I’d spotted a poster for an exhibition at The National Gallery called ‘My Back to Nature’ by resident artist George Shaw. I thought it looked really interesting so we headed to Trafalgar Square and popped into the gallery. Although going to an art exhibit in the capital city might not seem particularly wild, I hope you will appreciate why I’ve chosen base this post around the visit…

The first exhibition we went into was called ‘Dutch Flowers’. It was a collection of beautifully detailed still life paintings of flora, by a variety of Dutch artists. The flowers were gorgeous but the addition of wonderfully precise invertebrates, including bumblebees, ladybirds, caterpillars, butterflies and beetles are what interested me the most. Perfect!

We made our way through to the George Shaw ‘My Back To Nature’ exhibition – the result of Shaw’s two year residency at The National Gallery. We watched a short video in which Shaw explained some of his motivations along with his musings on his residency and his thoughts on other painters in the gallery. He comes across as a really genuine, down-to-earth person surprised by his own success. Shaw uses Humbrol enamel paint as a medium to create narrative woodland landscapes inspired by his memories of the wooded areas around Tile Hill, Coventry where he grew up on a council estate. The enamel paint looked blocky and thick up close but taking a step back brought in a perfectly suited level detail and texture for his realist approach. Some of his paintings are of picturesque trees while others feature woodland littered with adult magazines, tarpaulins and lewd graffiti; the reality of many suburban woodlands.


As Johnathan Jones wrote in his review for the Guardian (warning: contains adult themes), ‘Three discarded bottles become a rustic still life‘. And it’s true. To see so much litter in real life, in the forests that I adore, would make me despair! But Shaw’s paintings were perverse and intriguing and made me think about the environmental impact my generation is leaving behind – physically as in litter, deforestation and plastic oceans, but also in terms of a message to people of the future. In the video, he spoke a bit about the absence of people in his painting (in direct contrast to the vast majority of other paintings at The National Gallery) and used the term ‘ghosts’ not in the spiritual sense but as ‘something that has gone but continues’.  Shaw’s depictions of littered woodland show that someone was there and something happened. There is some kind of story behind every painting and viewers can make their own interpretations based on their personal memories. I was reminded of a little poem I saw on a sign out walking a few years ago;

Take only pictures,

Leave only footprints,

Kill nothing but time.

George Shaw’s ‘My Back to Nature’ says to me that everyone should be able to enjoy our  wild spaces. These places mean so many different things to so many different people: from private refuges to social or educational events; from first experiences to family traditions. Make your own stories but be mindful of leaving your surroundings in the same (or better!) condition then when you arrived.

Also day 3: Millpond & Cows

We rushed back from London to meet our best friend Denley and old friend Chris who was visiting Cambridge from Australia for the first time in seven years! After so long apart we were at a bit of a loss of what to do so decided to go to our old haunt around the millpond and reminisce. This plan failed though, as it was pretty wet and we had forgotten about the cows that roam there leaving big mucky presents behind for unsuspecting visitors to step in. We grabbed part of a fallen tree for a make-shift bench and I felt so happy to be back in the wild places we used to hang out at as teenagers. I was glad to see there wasn’t any litter around and that the area had hadn’t changed (except for the addition of a dream catcher hanging on a tree) since we used to sit there with beer, picnics and BBQs on warm summer nights all those years ago.  Today however, wasn’t that kind of night and before long we were on the move to find somewhere warm and dry.

#30DaysWild – Meeting old friends and going back to the Millpond where were used to hang out as teenagers.

All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.

#30DaysWild – Day 2


Day 2 – All day travelling

Today consisted mostly of travelling; by car, bus and train. My best friend and I drove from Nottingham to St. Ives Park&Ride, got the bus into Cambridge and then the train to London where we went straight to a gig. I had a little poke around in the wildflowers near the bus station  but there wasn’t too much of a chance for getting wild. I did enjoy climbing on top of this bunker and being the king of the castle in the five minutes we were waiting for the bus to show up 🙂


I couldn’t really admire the scenery while I was driving but the bus way and train took us past some lovely wildflower meadows. Trains are often a good opportunity to spot some wildlife in the surrounding fields but today wasn’t the day for me!

All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.

#30DaysWild – Day 1


Day 1: Birds in the garden
Today was quite a busy day. I had work in the morning and then in the afternoon I went to Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s offices to pick up some equipment for Saturday’s Watch session (stay tuned!). It was great to have a quick coffee & catch up with my volunteer manager Lynn; unfortunately I haven’t been able to get out to as many school sessions as I would like to recently so I really did appreciate the chance to see her! After that it was off to the garage to have my poor little car seen to.

When I finally got home I really needed to chill so I decided to make some little paper birds using a kit that my best friend got me for Christmas 🙂 My housemate has recently been telling me some stories about when he used to ring birds a few years ago. It sounds really interesting and I so wish I could get to the AFON weekend in West Sussex next month where they’re doing a ringing demo, among many other activities. Anyway, one of his stories featured a little bullfinch so I made that one for him, and the nuthatch for myself (I saw my first one in Germany last Autumn). I took them out for some air and a little shoot in our garden…

In real life, we haven’t got as many birds in our garden as I’d like. There are lots of cats around the area and our feeders haven’t been particularly successful but I’ve seen a couple of blue tits and great tits on the coconut shell fat ball. The blackbirds enjoyed picking out the worms and grubs after I raked and re-seeded the lawn a few weeks ago. We had a female blackcap in the garden a couple months ago which was very exciting, but I haven’t seen her since. The feeders will stay topped up though and I’ll keep an eye out for anything new 🙂

All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.