Category Archives: rewilding
And It’s Glorious
The storm has eased, eventually.
Though cold, trees still, dripping yet,
Leaves left, strewn upon the street:
Sheets of gold and ochre. Streams of
Sticks and twigs clog the gutters,
Grown to spreading pools, reflecting
Gorgeous tempest survivors overhead.
And it’s glorious: a rare, raw, glimpse
Of our world without the concrete.
At least until the sweepers resume,
Scouring nature with their plastic brooms.
The Dance of the Gnats
In slanting sunlight along hedges warmed
Hordes of gnats amass in glittering swarms
Like plumes of dust thrust up
From the ground burst open, abounding,
In an ultimate race to lay eggs ere autumn:
A bountiful sign summer rests on last legs,
Yet, at least, as the flourishing knots
Feed the gathering flocks of swallows
Ere their exodus, fill lizards left lying on
Stone even cooling, fatten bats come twilight,
An indication our Earth brims, still:
Life resides, ready to thrive when we let it.
While they fly I will delight
In the dance as long as lasts this light.
Autumn has finally arrived, with a storm, some rain and wind and now chilly foggy mornings. And very happy we are to see it, and the flies dying as they should to be born again next spring…
The beaver is a creature few people dislike. Many think they’re cute. They’re clever – making their dams and their lodges with such craftbeavership, that anyone who’s played with sand on the beach is impressed.
I’ve been trying to spot beavers for almost thirty years, since I spent a summer in Colorado and had a pond up the road. I visited it, and later others in Massachusetts and New Hampshire while I lived there for 7 years.
Always, I was disappointed to find the builders hidden from view in their lodges.
The ponds, though, like this one, were always full of other life: birds and dragonflies, fish and pond skaters. And I saw a whole lot of muskrats, which are pretty cool in their own right, I have to say.
In Pamplona I’ve seen their signs in the River Arga. But despite photos in the paper of brazen beavers crossing bridges, I’d never seen a ripple I could deem a rodent from the banks and bridges I lingered on.
But this summer I found that a pair of beavers have set up home on a very small (usually…) river very close to our village, and right beside the road, to boot, making it possible to spot them without hardly a trek, and since they’re used to the road noise, they don’t spook too easily.
I’d spotted the pond, but just assumed it was a deep gouge created by the huge floods a few years ago (we’d been swimming ourselves in these during the summer of Covid restrictions..) and this year of drought and very little flow, had been kept from drying by someone with time on their hands making a dam…
When I’d realised what the pond actually was, I was back next morning, but saw no beavers – though I did see their lodge entrance – built into the bank rather than in the middle of the pond, like I’d seen in North America.
I’d been told that European beavers don’t make dams, but that’s clearly not true. Perhaps those seen so far in Spain had not because they’ve been on large rivers – there’s no need for a dam on the Arga, I can tell you, though the beavers have been actively felling fairly large trees there (several older trees along the river park are now protected by chickenwire to dissuade them from taking away the perambulator’s shade!).
Which brings me to the title of this post – Beaver Spread.
Beavers are spreading.
These two are descendants of eighteen animals that were illegally released in the Ebro near the Aragon tributary, back in 2003. They’ve been moving up the rivers since then. With mostly no reaction, as most folk don’t notice them – until they started eating large trees in the middle of Pamplona (though that didn’t make anyone call for their removal, as far as I know.) There were some complaints, and, in fact, some animals were removed by the local governments, though, strictly speaking that was illegal, as once reestablished, they should be considered a protected species under EU law.
Anyway, they’ve spread now to smaller rivers, where their positive effects should be a lot clearer. At least to me in this particular brook, it’s plain as day.
This river drains a long valley which is usually very dry in summer, but gets a fair few heavy storms (our house was flooded just from rainfall in the field above us), one of which gouged out that bank in the first photo. Above this pond a bridge was washed out because it got clogged with trees and stones during the flood, and below it, the local town was devastated with huge economic losses when the river flooded houses and businesses within minutes of the storm.
At the time of the flood there were calls for better drainage – in the way of cutting the poplars and other trees along the bank – to let the water flow without slowing down at all. This came from farmers, and I have to say it’s either in ignorance or apathy of the effects it would have had on the town if that bridge and the trees and culverts had not led the water to spread out across their fields and slow its pace…. it would have washed away houses rather than just fill them with mud, and cars would have gone down like corks in the flow – and a lot more people would have died than did, without time to get out of harm’s way.
We all know that it’s cheaper to compensate a farmer for loss of a crop than a whole town for all their broken windows and destroyed merchandise etc…
But here, despite what I see as large erosion problem, they still dig drains into the fields so they can get the heavy machinery in after the rains they often (more often nowadays of course) wait (and possibly pray) for.
Which brings us to the drought.
We had a forest fire upstream of this pond this spring, and there are worries that the next storm (still waiting on rain) might wash down huge amounts of ashes and soil that’s no longer held in place by vegetation.
But meanwhile the river is down to a trickle. And it’s ponds like this one that are keeping the river alive. While I sat there waiting on the beavers to emerge I was entertained by a plethora of dragonflies, pond skaters, ducks, a heron, and even a nightjar that came down to drink before setting off to hunt. I can’t see, but I assume there are some fish in the murky water, too. And crayfish – European ones – are in that river, as well as European mink.
There is nothing but benefit to beavers – they keep the river alive in drought and they stop the river washing away everything in flood.
What’s not to like?
In Britain they have been reintroduced in a few places, with positive reaction in general. They’ve sorted out flooding in the places they’ve made home, and you’ve probably already heard of these cases.
In Ireland, there are some calls to introduce the beaver to have these same positive effects there. I support this, even if the beaver was never actually officially a native species. Most of Ireland’s fauna was not native. At least this one does some good. We have feral goats allowed to graze the vegetation to nothing in many places simply because it was there for a few hundred years, for goodness sake.
The only problem I see is the same a for so many other species we’d like to see (back) on our island – there’s not enough trees. We need to let scrub grow instead of burn, and get forest cover back in the simplest way possible, and then we have habitat for trees, and then the ugly as feck drainage and flood schemes that beset our lovely towns and villages would not be half as necessary.
Meanwhile, this pair of beavers, and I hope their offspring, are one of those little glories we can enjoy while they last.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter, will have seen the photos I posted of the forest fire that burnt through the hills near the village n the Valdorba/San Martin de Unx area of Navarra where I stay on weekends outside Pamplona.
The fire came close, about a km away, but the wind thankfully shifted and it did not come up the other side of the valley towards us in the end, though we did have to evacuate officially after emptying the house of anything we wished to save – which for me only amounted to the spare medicines I keep here, one book from my large collection and a couple of jumpers with sentimental value. I did think it prudent to take 800 year old statue of the Virgin Mary out of the little church, just in case.
The fires here are not generally set by farmers looking to clear land, though they are sometimes caused by accidental sparks from machinery during harvesting. The extreme heat and extended drought made any spark potentially disastrous, and the high winds made fires spread almost unstoppably – there were several over that same weekend in the province.
The cause of this fire hasn’t been clarified, but the local farmers union are adamant that the underlying problem is the reduction in sheep grazing on the hillsides and the environmentalists push to leave the mountains to themselves rather than intensively manage them…
Well, I hadn’t been able to go up to see the aftereffects of the disaster until a few days ago – now a month after the event.
I cycled down to the valley to the village of Maquiriain which was close to being burnt, but was eventually also saved, up along the main road that was the final fire break, to a village at the head of the valley called, Olleta, and from there turned up to the top of the hill and then back along the tracks joining the windmills.
It was a long cycle, and hot – the tail end of another heat wave that passed over us the week before. In the interim there had been a storm or two, but mostly dry sunny days with the chilly north wind blowing as usual.
The most obvious thing is that the experiment of planting pine trees was a huge error, just like it is in many other areas of the world. The living trees left should be felled for timber or paper and native trees let grow – or be planted or seeded from local trees if necessary – instead.
The trees that burnt most were pines and those nearby suffered from the heat.
The densest stands of oak did not suffer so much and seemed to have protected one another (probably because of increased humidity within copses) and even some fields.
The huge snowfall we had in October didn’t seem to have dropped so many boughs in the area I saw as in trees around our village, so probably didn’t have a huge effect, but I did see that under the trees with fallen limbs there was more ash when the wood burnt, and the trees probably also suffered from more open canopy effects.
The juniper bushes burnt to crisps, as did a lot of box, and some other small shrubs I’d know the name of, though that has to include roses and brambles. These will regenerate, I suppose from seed, and some brambles are already coming up. The evergreen oaks are sprouting – from trunks that lost all their leaves and are only sticks, as well as those with shrivelled brown foliage.
Those with trunks too badly burnt have some sprouts from roots, and I suspect more will come with rains and patience for them to get to the surface.
The sheep or other grazers would have probably not had changed much at all. The grass would have been eaten before it burned, yes, but not the juniper and box, as even the horses don’t od much to stop it, so fire is actually the best way to reduce it, and the forest will benefit long term – if the climate change can be reduced in time to have any forest.
The farmers union and other lobby groups are sponsoring a story-telling event for the local kids: how to avoid causing fires in the future. One hopes it does not slant towards recounting legends and myths of the old days… when the mountain was not wild, but was more like a commons-like park or ranch.
Just to be clear, I am in favour of cattle on the hill, as I am the horses, but I wonder if the farmers union would agree that an underlying condition we need to deal with is reducing the CH4 levels from intensive cow production so as to reduce climate change leading to heat waves and forest fires of the future…
I wrote this poem after a recent weekend away – just a 30 min drive to a little village. It made me think of why sometimes we’re not aware of what we’re missing with our bare, biodiversity impoverished agricultural landscape, especially in Ireland.
The Pull of Pastures
This scenery spread out from the village, splashed
With sun, fills one with joy of a morning:
An unfiltered boon as we run to the pool
Through fields of wheat under the evergreen
Oak-clad steeper slopes and hearing the hidden
Mistle thrush and goldfinch from the thistles,
Tangled juniper thorns and brambles
Enticing animals excitingly close
To our gardens along such scrubbed inclines
That goats would grub but tractors cannot grade.
The grazing sheep and cattle have gone,
Without battle, deer and boar and other
Beasts browse, but when by driving north
An hour I arrive in another world, where
Fields unfold before one: green grass rolling
Up slopes to autumnal oaks or out flat past
Hedgerows – or even if there’s nothing else
To be seen but green dotted with cowpats
And sheep shit – that simple fact gives gravity,
Pulls me towards such pastures, like a string
Tied within, knotted well when life was spring.
It’s this kind of feeling that gives Ireland its “green” image… it sometimes may as well be painted green for all the life it has other than cattle and sheep. But we love what we know, and unfortunately we’ve been educated to love a barren ecosystem, and younger people are growing up even worse than us older folk.
The Arga along the edge of Pamplona’s older parts just outside the old walls. A flock of cormorants roost just around the bend here.
What Would We Do Without Wooded Banks?
Walking a dammed riverbank, autumn evening,
Scanning still water for a hint of beavers,
Seeking signs of these elusive animals,
Watching for ripples in the reflection of the gloaming.
See a shimmer sent out to midstream but
Just a wind eddy as aspens shiver overhead,
Their yellow leaves tied tenuously to baring branches.
Below, a pale place in the gloom of the bank shows
The scene of beaver eating on a poplar bole,
But no body approaches, so I pause and pad across
A footbridge to pause and snap a photo of autumn:
The trees arch out over deep water, and I wonder
What life could live in a river without the banks
Well wooded? Where would these cormorants aloft
Alight for the night? The herons roost? Dropping
Guano to recycle. Kingfishers eye the minnows below
Before dropping down to snatch the flashing fish,
Well fed on fallen leaves and dung. What would become
Of them? What would hold the water when it rises,
Hold holts for otters to hide within? How would
We hope to halt in our walks, to take in these
Scenes of such reflections, all glittering and glinting,
Hinting at the invisible, holding hope?
When darkness descends over thoughts do I
Give up on the hunt and head home.
Sometimes I see a tweet from home of the destruction done unto rivers and the shredding of any foliage along their banks. Here, there are beavers back from past extinctions, and it can be a nuisance if they bole an old poplar on a part of the riverbank well-frequented by walkers and with few other trees to shade us, but a bit of chicken wire protects the most important and moves the beavers off towards this end, where there’s plenty to eat and a few trees felled will only add to the diversity of the river.
Saving the Next Generation
Wherein comes the urge to chastise
Children chasing chaffinches, ducks;
Picking wildflowers for bunches just
To steep in water and later pour it out?
These innocent actions seem almost
Painful for some of us to see, since
It seems every seedling, even insect, is
Particularly precious in this sinking era.
Now we need to encourage kids to
Lie down on a lawn, plucking daisies
As they please, ripping leaves and
Flicking petals to the breeze, immersed
In the verdure that surrounds us. Thus
They will in turn appreciate the wonder
Of these tiny treasures of orchids, clover,
Cornflowers as especially as do we mourners.
I’ve been offline to a certain extent so far this summer. But I’ve been outside a lot, enjoying the nature left to us, as you can see from these photos ( I don’t publish anyone’s face in this blog), and with my kids in Ireland.
But I have republished Peter and the Little People, and it’s out in paperback!
It’s for the Kids!
Of course, anyone of any age can enjoy it, so go ahead and pick up a copy. It’s perfect for reading aloud, too.
Like everything we do, it’s for the kids who will have to visit places much changed and degraded unless we stop what we’re doing.
I don’t let my kids pick some wildflowers, like orchids, but then the local roads authority or the farmers come along and strim or spray the ditches and hedgerows…
The news this summer is of course pretty depressing, with the IPCC pretty much saying we’re in big trouble unless our so-called leaders act like we need them to…
So have a read of Peter and the Little People, and then help your children write some letters to the Taoiseacht or whoever supposedly leads your government telling them they’ll have a place in history – good or bad is up to them.
Peter and the Little People republished!
And a poem that the Little People would understand from a longer term perspective than humans seem able to take…
I hope summer is going well for everyone and the new (for us fifth) wave of infections is not affecting you.
I have some news: I have republished my children’s novel, Peter and the Little People, since the original publishers have sadly closed recently. I took the opportunity to re-edit it, so it reads a lot smoother, especially in the first chapters.
It’s available on pre-order now, and will download automatically onto your kindles etc. on the publication date which will be August 15th!
AND it is available in Paperback! So you can pre-order it now and it will pop in the post for you, too.
Till then, here’s a poem that was inspired by a different book written and set in Ireland.
Children of the Rainbow is a book from decades ago, but it’s well worth reading if you have any connection with the Island.
At the same time, I was reading Barry Lopez’s Horizon, which was quite impactful, too.
So the poem that came out is not quite as hopeful as Peter and the Little People regarding our planet. But I hope it’s still beautiful.
For there is yet beauty all around us if only we appreciate it and preserve it.
The Fading of the Rainbow
Our grandparents grew up under the bow of wonder
Shades of beauty forty-fold and more, so vivid
The colours were within reach, like the hand of God,
Life bursting out of every bud and bloom, butterflies
And bees humming just one tune in Nature’s symphony
But today, we stare across a broad sweep of fields, all
Furrowed into one with faint lines left where once
Grew hedgerows; rooks caws accompany cows now,
Gone the curlew call and corncrake, cuckoo only
Heard on distant hills: a sound of childhood, half
Remembered. The skylark leaves a faint line upon
The heart where before flew nightingales and chorus
Of dawn songbirds, silenced like the wolf and other
Wild animals swept away before the sheep browsing.
Now even that centrepiece of pristineness, poster
Child of evolution in isolation and archipelagos lies
Lessened, the frenzy of breeding becoming bare as
Feral goats graze the spare seedlings, dogs attack
Basking iguanas, cats and rats run riot, into ruin
One of the last remaining untouched outposts upon
The vast planet, pinched a little smaller each season,
Swept into sameness, as only colonisers cling to barren
Land. If these distant places are as doomed as our city
Streets, what place has hope this side of the rainbow;
Faded, bleached, and ragged, can it even hold any
Hidden at the end, like a crock of leprechaun gold?
Though I’m Irish, and for me Summer started in May, making this MidSummer’s Day, logically, it seems that the astronomers around me disagree. Whatever.
Here’s a short poem I thought of a couple of Sundays ago, to make you think of the joy of these short nights.
Other days we rush inside
From the porch, to prepare
Dinner, drinks and sit upon
Sofa to see a movie or TV; or
Drive to the city for dusk, but
Sunday is when we want to stay
Watching sunset and slipping
Off to bed when the bats and
Owls calling have taken over
From twilight blackbirds and
Nightingales, the last rays of
Sun replaced by moonbeams,
The gleam of glow worms when
Cicadas are silent to let crickets
Sing, as peace settles like aspen
Cotton in the stillness between
Breezes. Then sleep suggests itself
Until we rise again to catch the dawn.
The Lilacs Have Already Faded
We wait as children for Christmas,
The bursting forth of buds, spread of
Poppies along bearding barley fields;
Delighting in drifting aspen down.
But if we perchance glance away
During spring’s apotheosis we find
The lilacs have already faded, and
Summer swiftly advances unto autumn.
Just as a blink allows the bastards
Take flame and machine to the trees,
Scraping drains in absence of rain,
Leaving shoots shorn dead as winter.
I wrote this last week when I was in my garden, seeing that the patch I didn’t mow the week before now sported a lovely little orchid.
But the lilac I had planted just beyond had lost its one flowerhead, having faded to brown already in the space from one weekend to the next.
And I thought of how quickly the spring passes, as usually, even when we vow not to miss it. It’s too short, even when its only summer on its way, we all know where summer leads….
Then I saw while on a cycle what the local roads authority had done, in May, to the hedges and scrub alongside the roads around the village – gone along with who knows what machinery and razed everything down to the ground. Of course, if they discovered plastic rubbish under that bush, they left that there.
What kind of mindset allows this to happen? Where are the leaders?
The locals just shrugged it off. It seems they think all this can be infinitely replaced, not that it’s a last bastion of such beauty.
Is it not possible to see that we are losing things before they’re lost, or are we doomed to miss only what we have completely exterminated?
The village in the north of Spain is not the only place where such destruction takes place, of course. Just last week a huge swath of Killarney National Park was burned by negligence or intentional malice.
On the other hand, I just finished reading Anne Frank’s diary for the second time, after about a 35 year gap… and I was struck by her passages about Nature.
Just like many during the lockdowns we went through, Anne realised that joy and peace can come from looking at the sky and the trees. Of course, even at thirteen and fourteen, Anne Frank was a very self-aware person compared to most around her, even then, never mind now.
I took snaps of the paragraphs. She wonders if her confinement indoors so long has made her so “mad about Nature” which is probably true to some extent, just as it was for many others. But she sees it as a medicine, “which can be shared by rich and poor alike,” and “the one thing for which there is no substitute.”
My question is whether that last line has sunk into our collective consciousness, or it is just that we can’t fathom our existence without Nature – even it if is out there, waiting for when we want it, after we’re released from prison, or our confinement, or we fancy a walk away from our computers? Until it isn’t.
And can we act as if something is lost before it actually is, giving us the chance to save it at the last minute.
Because we’re down to the last minute.