My 30 Days Wild (June 2015)

The 30 Days Wild Challenge

The Wildlife Trusts have laid down a challenge, can you, during June 2015, make nature part of your life by doing something every day for a month? 

See the website here: 30DaysWild

So, something wild every day? No problem!
I have decided to add an extra level of interest to the month by taking on the challenge within the boundaries of The Oak By the Rife Local Patch.  

This map shows the area of the patch; the circle marks a 2 mile radius from my front door and covers the corners of 6 parishes. 
There are plenty of wild places, from heathland, to woodland, to my own back garden. 

I will be tweeting my activities via @SophiEcoWild
And there is an album on my Flickr, dedicated to #30DaysWild:

Of course, every campaign needs an HQ, and I have commandeered, much the the amusement (or bemusement) of my parents, the living-room side-table as a nature table for the duration of June. 

Day 1:
Start at the very beginning

12.00 AM. Midnight. My alarm rudely drags me into unaccustomed wakefulness. I start to mutter a complaint, and then remember it was all my idea in the first place. Today is the first day of June, the first day of meteorological summer, and the first day of the #30DaysWild challenge, and in an idle moment yesterday evening, I decided I wanted to witness the first few minutes of this 'day of firsts'. 
The clock ticks softly, almost unnoticed. Beyond the window the air hangs for a moment unbroken, not even disturbed by the purposeful padding of a fox or the whirr of a may-bug's brittle wings.

4.45AM. Sunrise. I tweet a photo of the sun, snapped on my phone from the bedroom window and hurriedly gather my dictaphone and other paraphernalia and head outside to experience the dawn chorus. As soon as I step outside the front door, closing it softly behind me so as to try and not wake up my parents, I am greeted by birdsong. I am the only person in the terrace who is up and about, and I have the street to myself. Almost. A large snail is making his slow and slimy track across the pavement, and I find myself wondering if he is an early riser or simply coming home late from an all-night mollusc rave.

A song thrush is belting out his song, shouting the same phrases repeatedly as though trying insistently to get my attention. A robin's song cuts through at a higher pitch, and the wren ends it's performance with a disgruntled rattle. From the rooftops the amorous wood pigeons provide the base line.

Click here to listen to a few minutes of recording of the various birds I heard singing

Day 2:
Enjoy the weather, what ever it brings

The weather forecast says rain. But that's fine, I have just brought new wellies. I wasn't planning on buying them, but on my way into town I was reminded that my old trusty pair had recently developed several additional air-vents and water drainage holes. 
And there they were, squeezed on the top shelf, the last pair in the shop and they happen to be in my size; a pair of bright red wellingtons. 
I remembered another pair of bright red wellies. Mud tinted puddles, autumn leaves and conkers. Stretching up to peer through breath-steamed window-glass at small birds visiting food put out by frost nipped fingers. Towering pink spires of foxgloves and the humming of a huge bumblebee, butterflies crowding on purple blooms of buddleia and caterpillars munching my proudly tended nasturtiums, the first strawberry from my garden. 
The crunch of pine cones beneath resin-scented trees and the machine-gun-fire of popping gorse seed-pods on days when heathland sand reflected the scorching heat of the sun. 
I remembered harvest festivals followed by damp days and fungi forays. There'd be new school uniforms to wear, but in the holidays my red wellies would always be there as my passport to a fascinating world of smells, sounds, and wildlife. 

So I brought this pair of new red wellingtons, and today I went for a walk in the rain. 

Day 3:
The daily commute

They say every cloud has a silver lining. 
Currently my car is off the road for essential mechanical maintenance, which means I have to walk to and from work. 
Which means I have to see the buttercup carpet spread beneath the community orchard, glisten with thousands of dew drops. 
Which means I have to be assaulted by a cacophony of bird song, pause to watch the flies rise from the swirling river, see the white apparition of the barn owl drift across the flood meadows where starlings commute to and fro from the backs of summer-grazing cattle.

The polo fields are busy; rooks strut across the lawns, wood pigeons drape themselves over the top rung of post-and-rail fences. Pied wagtails hurry-dance.

A gateway, iron bordered green, suggests a place to stand, to contemplate a simple field caressed by the sun's evening hand. And all at once the summer air rings triumphant with the scent of elderflower and honeysuckle.

Day 4:

I hope you can hear me, I'm typing this in a whisper. I am sat outside the back door, in the cool evening garden, waiting for a hedgehog. Yesterday, whilst I was out at work, my Mum made the exciting discovery of fresh hedgehog poo on the back garden path. It is now sat in a pot on my #30DaysWild Nature table (alongside some fircones and wild flowers picked from my garden), and I am outside, where the midges bite and the blackbird sings a lullaby to the moon (for he can see it, beyond the horizon, from his perch on the rooftop), listening in the twilight for a rustle, a snuffle, a hoggy-noise. 

A May-bug or cockchaffer rattles and clatters as it clumsily collides with the twigs of the birch tree. Along the terrace I can hear pets being called from darkening gardens, wheely-bins being tucked away and back doors being locked against imagined dangers of the night. A soft flutter marks the blackbird's flight to roost. In the flower borders, pink hardy geraniums and white blooms of escaped strawberries jostle for space; a mass of leafy ground cover perfect for slug, bug... or hungry hog. A stage above, a froth of rose blossom, petals goose-white, shines brightly in the half-light. A garden snail climbs the side of a terracotta pot. 

Day 5:
Feeding: the birds, the bees, and my curiosity

Today I had a whole free day. Chance to catch up on jobs, but also to relax and explore. so after running off a few urgent emails, I put the bird feeders to soak. A large bucket of hot soapy water was just the thing, and I rummaged around and dug out an old scrubbing brush to finish the job later. 

I had been meaning to plant some nasturtium seeds for weeks, since the risk of frosts had mostly passed, but never quite got around to it. Whilst out in the garden and already having grubby hands, it seemed the perfect opportunity. I am always amazed that these tiny seeds, that feel so dry and light, can transform so miraculously into a beautiful flowering plant, which in the case of nasturtiums can scramble and flower throughout the summer right into the first frosts.  I chose nasturtiums as they have always been part of my garden since childhood; never a year passes when their gaudy orange petals don't beam from some corner of the garden or other. The bees like them too, and what is good enough for the bees is good enough for me. In fact, the 'wild and loose' aspect of my cottage style back garden has rather out performed itself this year. It may only be a tiny patch, but there is certainly a lot going on.

From escaped strawberries fruiting in the flower borders, to wild hop making itself at home lounging across the bench, many of the plants are self seeded, some such as the herb robert and speedwell are 'weeds' in anyone else's garden, and most are chosen for wildlife value as well as scent and colour. The Pyracantha 'Firethorn' is just bursting into bloom. A mass of buds against the fence where the sun at this time of year warms it until well after lunch, when the white flowers open they are an immediate magnet to all sorts of hoverflies and bees. And of course, the flowers are followed by bright orange berries for the birds in the chilly autumn months. Just watch out for the thorns!

Beyond the garden boundaries, it is a rowan tree which is attracting all the pollinators' attentions. the flowers throng with honey bees, bumblebees, solitary bees, mimics, and beetles. A neighbouring elder's blooms are largely ignored, in favour of the rowan's sweet nectar. By my feet, birds-foot-trefoil is flowering in yellow patches on the pavement-edge lawns. 

Clambering carefully down beside the shade-cool stones of the bridge, the water of the rife is surprisingly cool as it swirls around my ankles, cold enough to be felt through my wellington boots. Ferns grow impossibly from the stones themselves, beside green damp mosses. This is The Wharf, once a canal section, now largely forgotten with any sign of its former use lost beneath nature's reclaiming hand. 
The water's voice is loud as, now freed from the slow depths of the town pond, it hurries to it's meeting with the River Rother at a meander not very far beyond the bid chestnut tree I can see downstream. I return triumphant with my prize. I had spied from a viewpoint over the low wall of the bridge a rare find; the shell of a freshwater mussel*. I spotted it a few days ago and was delighted to find it was within reach of a few careful steps in the shallow edge. I found one here many years ago, so to find one here today was very pleasing; their presence is a good sign, meaning the water here is very clean.

*I am unsure as to the exact species, perhaps you can help?  

Day 6:
An after-work-relaxation potter

The water was still, undisturbed. Except for the occasional soft plop of a rising fish seeking the insects that danced across the surface.
A moorhen called, like an echo of lazy hazy summer afternoons. 

A mother duck had settled her brood for the night at the edge of the water, half hidden by tall blades of iris leaves, the yellow flowers of which were held aloft, like standards being flown proudly in the evening sun. 
After a ten-hour-long day at work, punctuated only occasionally by the shadow of a passing swift, the last few hours of the day are precious. At this time of year is seems things change rapidly, dragging the season along in a rush; hedgerows grow, flowers bloom and set seed. Turn your back for a few days and the scene changes, creates a new view. 

Part of Pitsham Lane, from the bus depot, past New Pond, as far as the junction with Bepton Road had been resurfaced since my last walk here. The resident of a hole under the bracken on the verge was clearly not impressed and been busy in the nights since, sending the sand from their excavations extending in a scattered heap from the burrow entrance across the newly laid hardcore. I suspect a fox, or a grumpy old lonesome badger. 

Inspecting the sand for footprints (sadly none decipherable beneath the many overlaid dog paw-prints), I noticed a small dead beetle which I later identified as a garden chafer beetle. My childhood self invariably carried a pot in a pocket for collecting such things, a habit which I hope I will never grow out of. 

Day 7: 
Busy bees 

...and an answer that creates more questions

It had been a warm day, and the sun was still just high enough above the roof of the house to catch the end of the garden. Better still, for a short while at least, I had nothing more urgent to do than find a seat there in the remains of the sun and share a quiet hour or so with the bees. Bumblebees were placidly drifting from one flower to another, between pastel pink and deep purple columbines, creamy white firethorn, and spotted tunnels of foxgloves. 
It seems we had both had a busy day, the bees and I, and there was no sense of hurry in their hum. Indeed, one of the bees had apparently eaten herself to sleep. And there we stayed, both sat dosing in the sunshine and flowers, until a chill breeze gently blew away the last moments of the day. I received an answer to my question about the identification of Day 5's find - the freshwater mussel shell. Several answers actually; some folk on twitter thought it might be a fresh water pearl mussel.  Sussex Wildlife Trust have since confirmed that this incredibly rare species is sadly extinct in our county. In the end, we settled on Swan Mussel. 
However, now as is often the case, one answer brings many more questions; how do swan mussels live, how many are there in this stream, is there anything I can personally do to assist their future conservation? And how did this shell come to be empty and so fall into my hands, perhaps there is a predator in the river?

Day 8:
Sometimes you miss your target...
but find something just as good!

The plan today was to visit the Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve of Iping and Stedham Commons. The Stedham Common section, the eastern area of the reserve, lies just inside my 2 mile radius patch as the patch boundary running along the road at it's western edge. I count myself as very lucky to be able to reach rare lowland heath within an hour's walk from my front door, and at this time of year on warm sunny days, its lure is strong. For just a couple of weeks in mid-June when the heather blooms and the sand bakes under the midday sun, a dainty butterfly takes centre stage, and it is this that draws me in, persuading me to turn off the main road or feel my leg muscles stretch along the grass verge. I first came across the tiny silver-studded blue butterfly back in 2007 when volunteering with the management of these heathlands. It has captivated me ever since, and every June I set aside a day or two to try to see these beautiful creatures. 
Today, I was perhaps a bit too ambitious, too early, as no flighty blue jewel was to be seen. Better luck in a week or so. 
However, missing out on my target species doesn't mean the trip was not a success; it turned into a floral extravaganza!

It was approaching lunch time when I left home, so I packed a picnic. Beside the allotments wild roses draped their blooms through the hedgerow and a speckled juvenile robin had already picked up his parent's bold attitude. The roadside verge, thankfully left un-mown by the local council, was a riot of colour. Ragged robin jostled with white fluffy cotton grass in the boggy patches, whilst common spotted orchids sent up their spires of exotic delicacy and tall buttercups wafted above, catching the breeze. A willow warbler sang his plaintive song from the greenest oak tree along the lane. 

The heathland had warmed in the morning sun. 
Although clouds were beginning to gather in the sky the sand retained its stored heat. 
My first dragonfly of the year nearly made me drop my sandwich. 
A yellow hammer sang appropriately of bread and cheese. 

Any open area of the heathland, between the woody stems of heather, was claimed as a scene of industry.
Wood ants trooped back and forth, carrying building materials and stores for their growing nests, carefully skirting the trip wires laid at the entrances of silk tunnels; the front doors of funnel web spiders.
Beneath my own feet, the sandy path was roughly cobbled with chunks of iron-stone. 

A woodlark sung its looping melody. 

A chiffchaff shouted, trying to make himself heard over the rush of traffic beyond the trees. 

Just off the heathland, on the verge beside a busy main road (the A272), less than 10 minuets cycle (via pavement cycle path) from Midhurst, beside a bus stop, a mass of orchids are appearing in the long grass. An exotic looking display, unnoticed by rushing traffic.

Day 9:
A windy day

Today a cold north easterly wind blasted and buffeted, chilling the effects of the June sun. It turned the leaves of every tree inside out, like a naughty school boy lifting all the girl's petticoats. 
I wanted to capture the voice of the wind in the leaves,
the way it tousles, teases and bullies the trees. 
The way it sends the clouds racing and scudding, 
and disturbs the field-corner cattle, peacefully cudding.
It annoys the ash keys forming in their dangles
and catches at the cobwebs tucked in the crevices 

where the stone wall angles.

There are no sun-basking insects on the hogweed now,
or flycatchers flitting daintily from bending bough. 
Above the hill, jackdaws are tossed 

like coal dust on the swirling air,

As the wind is all at once invisibly seen, 
come and gone, 
both here and never-there.

Day 10:
Wild Woodbine

Today I planned to go in search of the scents of the wild, but the wind had other ideas, chasing the air as it blasted in branch-inverting gusts that turned the hedgerow trees silver-green by twisting the underside of every leaf to face the sun and ragged clouds. But on one stretch of hedgerow, where in the warm sun the hawthorn berries are setting and the elder trees hold aloft their hands of ivory blossom, a well loved flower, perhaps the countryside's most famous perfumier is in bloom; the honeysuckle, the wild woodbine. Her flowers cascade down from hedgerow heights until they nudge the nettles that bend in the breeze. Each flower is a thin curved trumpet, gathered with others in a whirled cluster the colour of good cornish clotted cream, laced with pink of summer berries. Long stems twine and weave, loose ends waving randomly in the wild air as if reaching out like tendrils to secure their next route to the canopy and the sky. 

Day 11:
Work-place wildlife

It is not always easy to fit in 'wild time' during a busy working day. Especially when the work is indoors, hours are long and breaks are short. But keep your eyes open, leave the window pushed wide, you might be surprised what enters your world. At the farm shop, my place of work, nature is never too far away. From time to time, when passing the open door, the scream of swifts grabs and twists that buried longing for the summer sun, sending the heart racing for just a second before they are gone again, high over the rooftop. They pass over the heads of a bemused pair of collard doves, and further along the ridge-tiles, a wood pigeon, diligently preening dust-grey feathers.  
The airspace the swifts cut through, is swirling with pointed pied silhouettes of house martins. They are nesting in the eaves of the neighbouring building; an old stone-built priory tucked beside the village church, and on Sundays, or when there is a summer wedding, their bubbling chatter creates beautiful music when combined with the ringing of the church bells. 
A fountain, rising up from a water feature in the centre of the south-facing sun-baked courtyard which forms the shop frontage, refreshes the pot plants and herbs. A puddle forms where the fountain's aim is less accurate on one side, and runs in a thin coating of moisture across the brickwork. Here, where there is life-giving water separated from risk of drowning, bees visit. Dancing in indecisive, sun-drunk spirals, they touch down in the wet to drink. 
The local jackdaws seem to have fledged all their chicks at once. The adults have deposited their young intermittently along the post and rail fence around the car park,  identifiable by the remains of a yellow gap at the base of their beaks, a barely-there tail and equally ridiculous clumsy flight. 
On the journey home, a song thrush's voice breaks through a pause in traffic near the entrance to the local school. 

Day 12:
The coming of the storm

Throughout the hot humid day, we have felt the pressure building. Now, as darkness falls, I stand at the window watching the storm breaking. The rain began in a hurry, the heavy air suddenly loosing it's grip and beginning to drip, and on an impulse I dashed outside to feel the thrill of sudden rain at the end of a stagnant day. Cool fresh water, tingling on summer-dry skin and sweet on the tongue. Flowers, idling in the garden as if they hadn't really noticed that the sun was setting and were reluctant to close their petals, bounced and shuddered under the weighted drops, bowing their faces in defeat towards the rapidly puddling ground. 
The sky is indecipherable through the falling rain, the air thrilled, charged with static. Nerves sing. I join the restless minds that watch at windows. All at once the world is stark, blue-white, bright, and plunged again into blinding shadow-dark. One...two...three...four, we count the seconds until the deafening thunder rolls. Streetlights flicker, intimidated by the lightning. We feel indulgent, almost foolish even, just standing at the window staring at the weather, and so we try to carry on as normal or try to sleep. Eventually the rain slows to a steady hum, a lullaby. The air that drifts through the window pushed wide, is refreshed, as the night relieves the muggy day.   

Day 13:
Chicken run

My job can involve many hours indoors, between refrigerators and shelving units, but occasionally I get to escape for a half hour of therapy from the rush and stress and constant talk; when I go to 'do the chickens'.  We are lucky at the farm shop where I work to have our own flock of hens, and although driving up the track to the field where the chickens are housed, to handle pecky flappy birds and collect sometimes mucky eggs, might not be everyone's favourite job, I enjoy the break from the hustle and bustle, and my chats with 'the girls'. 
Today as I carried the trug full of fresh eggs back to the vehicle, I paused to admire (and take a few phone-camera snaps of) the buttercups that grew a foot and a half tall in the tassel-topped grasses; gold interlaced through the purple fog of grass seeds. 

Somewhere high above, a skylark sang, and I could hear the circling calls of two buzzards, hidden in the glare of the sky. From the hedgerow that separates my moment of calm from the main road, came the phrases of the yellowhammer and I wondered if he had a nest unseen, hiding a clutch of his own eggs. Far smaller than those I carried, they'd be covered in little lines, like biro scribbles. More likely by now, as we near the middle of June, the eggs would have hatched and nestlings or even fledglings will soon interrupt his short repetitive song again with their begging for food. A rapid blur between the waving stems is a silver-y moth, a summer visitor from the continent, disturbed from its grassy resting place by my passing feet. As I approach the feed troughs, a thieving jackdaw makes a rapid exit, leaving a single black feather as a calling card. A stray cloud covers the sun, reminding me that time is passing and I should be returning to work. 

Day 14:
A wildflower project

At the end of our small communal car parking area behind our house, I have been developing a wildflower patch. An area of mown grass between the tarmac and a sharp drop through trees into the steam which is piped under the carpark, is kept trimmed and 'tidy', but where it rises up a short steep bank to meet the bottom of the fences of neighbouring gardens, it becomes a little wilder. 

The grass is no longer strimmed, except in later summer when the flowers' seeds have set, allowing the vegetation dieback to be removed so as not to return nutrients to the soil over the winter which would encourage thuggish grasses and nettles. Wildflower seeds; mixed packets, field poppies, and most recently, yellow rattle have been scattered on any bare patches scraped in the soil. Small plants 'weeded' from my own garden, such as cowslips and oxeye daisies have been transplanted and wished good luck. 

This evening I went to check on the bank's progress. This is the second summer for the bank, so it is still very young and different plants are completing to become established. Despite possibly hundreds of poppy seeds having been sown, I have not seen any sign of them growing yet. But oxeye daisies, geraniums, buttercups, and vetch are all thriving between a mixture of grasses. 

Bees visit the clover, ants climb the vetch stems and build their mounds where the ground is dry, and dock-bugs parade across wide flat leaves. Bindweed twists around the grass stems and anything else it can grip, seeking the sky. A multitude of spiders skulk amongst the stems. There is promise of more to come; the fox-and-cubs buds are orange tipped, and the furry flower spikes of mullein are extending by the day. There is a track down the bank where the local badgers pass through, a highway also used by cats and foxes. The green woodpecker has been visiting in search of the ants, holes in the soil show where he has been feeding with his long sharp beak.  

I was delighted to find, at the top of the bank in the perfect position for gravity to spread the seeds wide, a fine example of yellow rattle. This plant, originally of hay meadows, is a parasite on grass roots, weakening the plant. Once established, this will hopefully mean a bigger variety of flowers will have a chance of competing for their share of the space. 

Day 15:
A country walk

There are few better ways to spend an hour or two on a sunny afternoon than to go for a stroll along a country lane with flowers and views, sharing with a loved one an unexpected moment of joy, before returning satisfyingly tired to relax and chat and eat a tasty simple meal. 
Our walk today took us along the foot of the South Downs at Cocking. As soon as we left the car behind and took the familiar path down beside the village corner shop, it felt good to be out in the fresh air and sunshine. The breeze of the morning had died away and the afternoon was pleasantly warm. A trio of poppies nodded appropriately beside the war memorial that stands outside the churchyard, perpetually gazing at the flanks of the downs. 
A red admiral butterfly dashed past on some unknown mission, its rapid flight suggesting it was a migrant, aiming for a patch of nettles far north of us. We spotted many more of these butterflies throughout the walk, some as purposeful as the first, others distracted, lingering on sun bathed leaves or hedgerow flowers. The lane was bordered by hedge-banks, the near vertical side clad in cleavers and bush vetch, punctuated with the deep red-purple flowers of hedge woundwort. Wild roses kissed the sky above. 
A dark arrowhead crossed the strip of sky above our heads; a female peregrine out hunting, a thrilling sighting, shared. Something to chat about over dinner later. 
As we round a corner, a roe doe appears from the hedge and bounces, as though on springs, across the lane vanishing into the field beyond. I'm not sure who was more surprised. 
A stone built barn, tucked at the bottom of a tongue of woodland between two rolls of hill, caught our eye. Curiosity craved a closer look. 
As we turned for home, a broad bean field hummed with pollinating bees and a pair of grey partridge whirred away on stubby rounded wings. 

Day 16:
Sussex day 

Those readers familiar with my blogs, will likely be well aware of my passion and pride for my home county of Sussex. 16th June or St Richard's day, has in recent years been chosen as the region's 'County Day', encouraging celebration, and in turn preservation of the unique qualities, culture and heritage that define Sussex and make it special. 
Having a day off, I decided a relax was in order, which required several important things. 
Firstly, a breakfast of yummy fresh boiled eggs, from the ones I collected myself at work (see day 13) with locally made bread. 

The second was a view of the garden, where goldfinches and greenfinches squabble over the sunflower seeds (and have me considering buying an extra feeder to hang up so all can feed at the same time!). Bees buzz on the creamy white pyracantha flowers, disturbed occasionally by a blackbird on nest-site-potential-inspections. Celebrations are approaching at the weekend, so partly with that in mind and partly in honour of 'Sussex Day', it seemed appropriate to hang the bunting (this blue background with 6 gold martlets is the county flag). House martins twittered in the sky above; like the birds on the flags come to life. 

The final ingredient of course was a walk. I had to pop into town to do some chores, and with the car still being off the road pending repairs, this meant going by foot-power. Wanting to make the most out of the time outside,  I took a detour to wander through the Midhurst Cemetery for a moment of calm, reflection and breathing space, before the hustle and bustle of the town itself. A cemetery may seem to some people a strange place to visit, but I enjoy the sense of quietness, intrigue (the names on the graves, or at least those that remain readable, must have many stories to tell), and they can also be great places to spot wildlife. This Cemetery merges with woodland and the local common at its quietest end. Rhododendron and pine trees jostle, daring each other to step out of line and encroach on the rabbit-cropped grassland. In fact it was not a tree that stepped out from the shadows, but a roe deer. A doe, closely followed by two young kids. Their coats gleamed a beautiful russet-gold in the sunshine, the kids still retaining a few light spots along their backs. Nervous, the doe's large ears constantly scanning for danger, they melted back into the woodland as quietly as they had arrived. 

Day 17:
Garden Goldfinches

I have been so enjoying the flock of goldfinches which has been visiting (and efficiently emptying) my garden bird feeders that I would like to share them with you. Today's 'Wild' moment was less 'outdoorsy' and more technological. I set up my camera yesterday to capture some footage of the birds' antics and was delighted to be able to film the colourful characters squabbling, feeding and investigating. With their red masks and gold flashes, these dainty birds are real show-offs. The greenfinches that also visit are more sedate, as their bulkier build suggests, whist the  chaffinch has been shier, just popping in occasionally.
The audio on the clip, was recorded earlier that same day, from my bedroom window on a simple dictaphone. 
Today's task was to compile the two and prepare the clip to share with you. 
So here they are; my Garden Goldfinches...

(Please excuse the bunting in the background, it is in preparation for a celebration at the weekend!)

Day 18:
Rescue Mission

Today's #30daysWild moment wasn't what I had planned; it was an unexpected interlude in a busy day. 
The cool vegetable chiller in a shop is no place for a butterfly, even if that butterfly is perched daintily on the broccoli. With it's wings held closed upright, if viewed end-on one could easily overlook it, and even from the side the greenish-shade almost seemed to reflect and fade into the background. I gently nudged the tiny feet with the end of my finger, lifting its grip from the broccoli and onto my hand, then, cupping my other hand around to protect from the breeze, I transported my new friend outside. I aimed to encourage the butterfly, which I could now identify as a 'small white', onto nearby flowers, where it could rest, feed and recover, but the insect had other ideas. With a flick and a flutter, it headed off in the opposite direction, heading for the open countryside beyond the carpark. It's weak flight appeared to grow stronger with every wingbeat, as the morning sun struck, bright and warm. 

Day 19:
Sharing nature

Today, we sat in the garden all evening well into the twilight; my loved ones and I. Beneath our feet the grass had been warmed by the sun during the day, whilst between us and around us the air breathed gently. Birds called, the blackbird and the goldfinch. Discussions turned to flowers, and downland sights, as tales of recent walks were shared. Garden chafer beetles whirred. A sleepy bumblebee sought a resting place in the flower border. House martins flicked overhead. The day cooled around us but we did not notice, did not mind, it was a delight to breath the soft fresh air and relax under the fading sky. 

Day 20:
Midsummer magic

Maybe it is because I was a midsummer baby, or maybe there really is magic in the air, but I have always thought there is a feeling of enchantment about Midsummer Eve. All day dull clouds hung, not obscuring the sun but never quite moving along, diffusing the light to a soft glow, steady, unchanging as the long hours drifted on. I took a walk to contemplate, to reflect on the nature of the day. A robin sang briefly. On the lake, a line of mallards swam past, already fading into their muddled patterns of the moult. 

The metallic tambourine rattle of a beetle's wing-cases clattered in the leaves of the oak, which have lost their spring shade and are starting to gather the accumulating dust of summer. Swallows swooped low over just mown fields, plucking insects from the pressured air; at last a light rain began to fall. 
My thoughts turned to the fairy stories of old, and it was easy to pick out the actors taking their places on the stage. The blackbird played the role of the flautist. The wind moved gently as if practicing it's dance steps. 

The hedgerows were clothed in flowers; golden honeysuckle offered forth their sweet trumpets, bramble blossom beckoned bees and blowsy shrub roses left to grow wild filled the air with fragrance. Their truly uncultivated cousins, the hedge-roses, clambered higher, trailing pastel pink kisses. 
Strains of music floated in my head, as if half-remembered, but try to listen to them and they'd fade, disappear like the raindrops on the rose petals that melt at the brush of a curious hand. 

Would Puck or Pan be found here, where the grasses shift in the shimmering evening light, telling stories or playing his pipes, as fairies danced at the edges of sight? 

Day 21:
The first is always the sweetest

There can be few things that evoke 'summer' more vividly or instantly, than the scent of flowers. Fragrant flowers are an absolute must in my garden, from roses to herbs, and of course, the beautiful delicate sweet pea.
Most of my flowers are best enjoyed in their natural setting, rambling and billowing through the flower borders, (including self seeding and creating unexpected and delightful combinations such as the pink hardy geranium mixed with the frothy lime lady's-mantle). 
But the sweet peas are grown for the timeless pleasure of pottering around with a pair of scissors, picking the long stems with their sun-warmed silken blooms, and bringing them inside in little posies to scent indoor rooms. The secret with sweet-peas, as I have learnt from my Great Granddad's advice passed down the years, is that the more you pick, the more flowers you get to enjoy. And the first is always the sweetest. Every now and then through the evening, (if you can drag yourself indoors from the garden when the long light hours seem enchanted), a waft of sweet soft fragrance will gently nudge you when you least expect it, lifting your senses and your spirit, as though reminding you of the magic of midsummer.

Day 22:

One of my favourite hobbies/bad habits (delete as appropriate) is peering over hedges and fences. I love to sit on the top deck of the bus, to see beyond the winding verges into the fields and hidden corners, and catch those glimpses of views you can only see if looking in the right direction at exactly the right moment. I can never pass a country gateway, without stepping into it, or up onto its bottom rung, to satisfy a child-like curiosity about the world it invites the passer by to enter. 
Today I was peering over makeshift gates, between roadside trees, into the local allotments. I am always inspired by the unintentional artistry of the ramshackle constructions, unexpected plant combinations and escapees such as the salad crops that have bolted to seed or the clashing fiery petals of marigolds juxtaposed with frothy foliage of fennel. I must clarify that I simply pass by these personalised plots on my walk, not set them as a destination, but there never fails to be something that catches my eye and draws me in. Today it was red poppies. 
Pausing beneath the sheltering branches beside the lake further along the lane, during a particularly persistent shower, I was pleased to see I wasn't the only person to brave the rain for pleasure. 

Day 23:
Wear it Wild!

Today I decided a splash of light-hearted silly-ness was needed - so I rummaged in my wardrobe for everything nature themed, to spread a little sunshine, celebrate the joy of our wonderful wildlife, and share the message teamed with some brightness with everyone I passed on the street! From a hat decorated with flowers, to a teeshirt showing a disgruntled looking bee, my favourite nasturtium-hued trousers, and of course - bees upon my feet! 

The moment of the day however, was a strawberry! Strawberry plants, descended from a pot-full lovingly nurtured some years ago when I had a little more time available for such things, grow more or less wild in our garden, rambling through the flower borders. Generally speaking, the resident slugs get to this free buffet of fruits before we do. So finding this enormous and pristine specimen was a moment of extreme excitement, and it was paraded into the house and placed in pride of place in the centre of the kitchen table with all the pomp and ceremony we could muster before breakfast! 

Day 24:
Doing the right thing can prove to be surprisingly tricky...

There are some species which are simply, inarguably, undesirable. Japanese Knotweed is one of those species, and there is some growing just down the road from me. Growing, and growing! In fact, it's rate of spread is rather alarming! The clump has established itself on an anonymous scrap of land, between back gardens and the road, no more than one hundred meters of so from farmland and opposite the gates of a very busy agricultural machinery yard, alongside a regular bus route. 
Due to its significant negative impact, for example the damage it can do to buildings, or the way it smothers land, the tenacious Japanese Knotweed is a plant which landowners have an obligation to ensure does not spread. To enable landowners such as Local Councils to control this weed, the public have been encouraged to report hotspots. 
I am still trying to find out how and where to do so! 
After googling with little success, I have tweeted West Sussex County Council, PlantLife, Natural England, and Environment Agency. Hopefully, someone will reply...

Day 25:
Cloud appreciation

After a frantic and long day at work, the fresh sunlit evening was one for sitting back, looking up and watching clouds. House martins haunted the airspace above the roof, gone before you can turn to look then there again flickering, flitting, fleeting. The blackbird sung, muted, slow; his summer song. On the wildflower bank, the yellow spires of Mullein are coming into bloom, along with pink and white mallow. The low sun highlighted the underside of the oak's great raised branches. A pair of wood pigeons watched the moonrise together from the ridge of the roof. 

Day 26:
Cake with a cause

This year, the WI have gone to Glastonbury. That's right, the Women's Institute are serving tea and cake to muddy, exhausted (and potentially slightly drunken?) festival revellers. But although they are playing to their strengths (for who can make a better cake than the Women's Institute?), this is about far more than 'Jam and Jerusalem'. The WI isn't just a group of old ladies sitting in village halls knitting cardigans or listening to talks about the history of flower arranging. The society has thousands of members and a long history of campaigning since its early days, and will be bring this spirit to the festival. 

In their own words: "From equal pay to climate change, from gaps in the midwifery workforce to the plight of the honey bee, WI members have embraced a diverse set of challenges and built a reputation for the WI as a practical and ambitious organisation that doesn't shy away from tricky issues." - (See more at:

The Institute embraces and actively supports many environmental campaigns, and as my #30DaysWild activity today I shall be researching more about these, and supporting or sharing those I feel are important. 

So here I am, raising a cup of tea to the Women at Glasto' (and their band of sisters across the country), taking the cause with a serving of cake, to the (rather muddy) masses!


Day 27:
Robin returns

The robin has returned. The one that tries to sneak into the storeroom at work when my back is turned, hoping to steal a few dropped crumbs from the bread delivery. I hadn't seen it for a few weeks. I am sure it had a nest, hidden over the wall in the neighbouring garden, but those chicks will have probably fledged by now. Maybe the female is sitting on eggs again, waiting for the male to bring her beakfulls of insects, or bread seeds. 

The robin has recently been declared, via a public vote, as Britain's National Bird. This choice, naturally, didn't please everyone. There were those who felt that more dramatic, eye-catching, rare or needy species should take to top position, but I am rather glad that the little robin remains firmly our nation's favourite. Of all our island's wonderful array of fabulous birds, the robin is quite possibly the most well known and recognisable. It is a bird that most of us can relate to, they will visit our back yards, or school playgrounds. They sing from streetlamp-lit trees as we return from late night revelries, or followed granddad's spade when we toddled around behind him a a child. 
Friendly and approachable, opportunistic and intelligent, the robin also has another side; being willing and able to aggressively defend their territory when needed.  A set of qualities much like the British public! 

Day 28:
30 days unplugged

28th June 2015 was #NationalUnpluggingDay, a campaign to encourage people to go gadget free and swop smart phones and screen time, for a day of looking up and looking around and connecting with the world about them. Although I required the use of my laptop, and I found myself needing to send some essential text messaged, I did challenge myself to shut down my social media platforms for the day in order to be less distracted and focus better on my wild time.  
It was an interesting experiment, and important to highlight the need to sometimes not simply turn to the screen out of habit, but I concluded that permanently going entirely without any connection with that community of like minded people beyond the internet would mean missing out on a great deal of enjoyment, knowledge, sharing, learning and discovery. There must be balance however, and my balance comes in the form of books. Lots of books. 

The majority of Sunday was spent at work, but in the evening I spent some time at the no-mow wildflower patch (see day 14) accompanied by a favourite well-thumbed volume, matching some of the species currently in flower with their identifying colour plate in the book. 

Day 29:
The chatter of house sparrows

The summer has turned hot. As temperatures rise rapidly towards 30c it is welcomed by some, bemoaned by a few. We don't often open the windows at the front of the house, tending to spend more time in the kitchen at the back, but we have pushed one open today to allow a cool breeze to move through the shady living room, tickling the back of my neck as it passes. It means that, between the noise of passing cars or buses and the rising hum of overhead planes, I can hear the house sparrows chattering in the bramble bushes across the road. Sometimes they will bundle into the bushes below the front window, or tumble in a squabbling gang from my neighbour's wisteria. The sudden arrival of hot weather subdued them a little, but they're lively again now the heat of noon has passed and the day is moving towards evening. 
We are lucky to have these chirpy characters in our bushes, garden, behind our guttering, in fact in our lives at all, as the once common place, everyday, little brown sparrow has disappeared from many neighbourhoods, with national population numbers falling significantly. Once synonymous with cockney cheek and attitude, this familiar bird is hardly found in our capital city now, and in both smaller towns and rural areas it is fairing almost as badly as it is in London. The reasons are complex, but House Sparrows are very sedentary, disliking to move far from their colony's favoured territory, so any negative effect on the location, will have a significant effect on the sparrows. For example the loss of nesting sites, as buildings are increasingly fitted with new plastic soffits and fascia boardings, which blocks access to the small holes, cracks and gaps in older style building eaves, will render the birds effectively homeless. The tendency to pave over front gardens (and back gardens!) in our towns, and the gradual loss of wildflowers and poor hedgerow management in our countryside, has been proven to have a negative effect of insect numbers, leaving the sparrows not only homeless, but their chicks hungry as well. 

Yesterday, for Day 29 of #30DaysWild, I got up at dawn (or at 'sparrow-fart' as some Sussex folk still say, although perhaps not in polite company!) to experience a changed dawn chorus. It seems that midsummer was a turning point in the birds' calendars as well as ours, as since that day the dawn chorus has lost the feeling of a mass out-pouring of song that it had at the start of the month. Instead, we are now audience to a more muted, slower performance, with each bird seeming to take its turn on centre stage. The robin starts early, waking the blackbird, who alternates with a hesitant song thrush. The sparrows however run their own competing show, a riot of cheeps, chirps and chattering from 4.30am, only calming down into background contact calls and the occasional raucous scrum, well into the morning when the rush-hour traffic has got going and the street is busy.  

Are you lucky enough to have house sparrows where you live? When was the last time you heard this cheerful chatter? It always reminds me how important it is to value the commonplace...

Day 30:
Nature inspiration and staying wild

Today I was taking the opportunity of a day off, and hiding from the intenseness of the hot weather, by achieving some of those jobs that I simply never seem to get around to normally, such as having a serious de-clutter. In amongst one box of old art projects and notebooks I came across a scrapbook and a school holiday diary, completed at ages 6 and 8 years respectively. A few extracts made me chuckle, and showed that really I have always been a little bit 'wild'. Tomorrow is 1st July, and the #30DaysWild challenge will be over, but I know that I will not give up connecting with nature just because the campaign is finished, and I will always stay 'wild'. 

Pressed flowers, a visit to an arboretum, building a bird bath and a walk around a lake all feature in the pages of these early records of my 'wild' days, inspiring my continued fascination with the natural world.

I hope you have enjoyed 'going wild' with me for the past 30 days. 

Don't forget that you can continue to stay in touch and keep up to date with all my nature adventures via Twitter @SophiEcoWild, my SophiEcoWild Facebook Page, or on the blogs here at Oak by the Rife, or over on SophiEcoSussex
Comments and feedback always welcome, I love to hear from you!

1 comment:

  1. Lovely idea to do the bank. Don't you have to disturb the soil where the poppy seeds are. I think that's why they grew on the battlefields of WW1.


About Me

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Hello! Thank you for viewing my blogs and profile. I am passionate about the countryside and british wildlife and I hope that this comes through in my blog. I am a nature writer and have been pursuing photography since early teenage years, whilst building a career in conservation. Helping people to reconnect with the natural world is very important to me, whether through direct hands on interaction, education or literature. Please also visit my website, for more information, my current CV, and further examples of writing and photography. You can contact me or keep up to date with new blog posts via Twitter @SophiEcoWild and/or Feedback, comments and audience participation are always welcome! Sophie May Lewis