Bugwoman’s First Annual Report

IMG_1194Dear Readers,

A year ago today, I created my first ever blog post for Bugwoman’s Adventures in London. At that time, I had no idea what I was doing, except that I had a passion for my local wildlife, and wanted to write about it, so I set myself the task of investigating the creatures that lived within a half-mile of my North London house. I wondered if anyone else was interested in the overlooked, under-reported animals that inhabit our gardens, our streets and sometimes even our houses.

Indoor Woodlouse 002

Woodlouse galloping over the duvet

In a world where the creatures and plants that live with us have so often been pushed to the margins, it was a relief to see that they are not going quietly. Once I started to pay attention (and of course I had to, because I needed something to write about), I found animals everywhere. There were foxes, frogs and snails in the back garden.

The Gardener's Friend

The Gardener’s Friend

Cropped Fox

A very confident fox hoovering up the suet pellets from the bird table

There were mistle thrushes on the local playing fields, and crows, parrots and woodpeckers in the tiny remnant of local wood around the corner.

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Ring-necked parakeet setting up house

Crows 16

Crow bathing in Coldfall Wood

Jays stole the peanuts that I’d intended for the tits, and finches ate a 25kg bag of sunflower seeds every month.

IMG_0777

Goldfinches

There were damselflies and butterflies, Spanish slugs and froghoppers, early bees and leafcutter bees.

Red Admiral Cropped 2

Red Admiral on Ivy

Elecampane blog 6

Leaf Cutter bee on Elecampane in the garden

To begin with, I concentrated on writing, but soon I discovered that I wanted to photograph the creatures that I saw, to put together word and image. I grew to love sharing the sounds of nature with the people who read the blog, and even experimented with video. It fulfilled a deep need in me, but also seemed strangely familiar. And then I remembered why.

When I ten years old, I was in charge of the nature table at school. Do schools even have nature tables these days, I wonder? It was always full of bits and pieces that the children had found, acorns and feathers, seashells and stones, even, in pride of place, a shrew’s skull. But this wasn’t enough. I created a weekly nature magazine, eight pages every week, full of competitions and animal stories and accounts of creatures spotted. The other children read it mainly, I think, for the bars of chocolate that I bought with my pocket money to offer as prizes, but for me it was a chance to share what I had discovered with anyone who would listen.

“Look”, I wanted to say. “Isn’t that extraordinary?”

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The trunk of the Totteridge Yew, over 2000 years old and still going strong

It isn’t enough for me to know something, or to have seen something. I need to share it, to help other people to see it, to hear about what’s going on in their gardens or parks. I want to be told stories too, and so often that’s what I get. A fox or a robin or a magpie shared, sometimes across continents, knits a community that does see, does care. Mine is not the only heart to leap at the sight of a heron, or at the sound of the first frog-song from the pond.

Heron Blog 22

But the real revelation for me this year has been the Wednesday Weed.

Yarrow

Yarrow

I started off knowing very little about the plants that grow in my neighbourhood – there were maybe a dozen that I could identify by sight. So, when I started writing about them, I thought that it would be a short-lived phenomenon. But instead, I realised that I was falling in love with the diverse, often scruffy, always overlooked plants that were everywhere around me. Like Londoners, they came from every corner of the world. Like Londoners, many of them were scratching out a living in the poorest of habitats, but surviving nonetheless. And like people everywhere, each species had its legends, its history and its place in the fabric of things. I loved unearthing the strange and wonderful stories of Herb Robert and White Deadnettle, of Groundsel and Yarrow, of Feverfew and Cuckoopint. It made me humble to realise how little I knew that would have been second nature to my recent ancestors. It reinforced my sense that so many people are alienated from the world around them, including myself. But it filled me with a kind of joy that it was so very easy to find out about the plants, to start to know them.

White Dead-nettle (Lamium album)

White Dead-nettle (Lamium album)

Trailing Bellflower

Trailing Bellflower

Pineapple Weed

Pineapple Weed

There is still something of the Ancient Mariner about me as I grab passers-by to encourage them to look at some bird or plant that I’ve found. An unfortunate young man got out of a council van outside a derelict house last week, only to have me inform him that the patch of Annual Mercury in the front garden had both male and female flowers, and, look, this is how you told them apart.

“Cool”, he said, in a way that made me think that perhaps he was either very slightly interested in what I’d told him, or very polite.

Annual Mercury (Male)

Annual Mercury (Male)

The mood of the media is unrelentingly negative. I don’t have to watch it for long before I feel my anger and grief turning to helplessness and depression. What, after all, can ‘ordinary’ people do? Fortunately,  ‘ordinary’ people are not ordinary at all. ‘Ordinary’ people get off their backsides and save the local woods that they love. ‘Ordinary’ people put up bird feeders, grow plants for pollinators, protest, sign petitions, fight for their communities. Only today, a report showed that urban gardens provide a haven for bees and other pollinators, and have more species than farmland. An indictment of farmland, to be sure, but how heartening for anyone with a garden or a window box or space for a container, no matter how small! Writing the blog has shown me how many people, all over the world, are noticing, caring and acting. Let’s not be downhearted, dark as things often seem. A lot of people, doing small things, can change everything.

24 thoughts on “Bugwoman’s First Annual Report

  1. Marla

    Thank you for your year of insight. I so enjoy receiving your posts, especially about the plants. I do drawings, portraits really, of the same denizens in my world. I hope to share them soon and would like to also share a link to you on my new website.

    Reply
  2. Katya

    Thank you for passing on to us “ordinary” folk your many wonderful discoveries and observations this past year. I have enjoyed your lyrical, informing and often hilarious posts, and do hope you will continue your meanderings and missives to us for at least another year!

    Reply
  3. Jill

    Congratulations on your first anniversary! I really look forward to your weekly celebration of less spectacular plants and wildlife in and around suburban gardens. ‘Weed’ and ‘bug’ sometimes mean things that are surviving somewhere people regard them as a nuisance, but you show how they all have value and are just as interesting as their bigger and more showy relatives.

    Reply
  4. Classof65

    Thank you so much for your blog, I enjoy every single post. I wish I had had a naturalist to teach me the “weeds” and flowers and fauna when I was a child. Now that I’m “elderly” and curious I must learn the hard way….

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thank you, Class of 65! If it helps, I am completely self-taught – everything I’ve learned has come from observation, followed up by research, a lot of fumbling about in fieldguides and a fair bit of getting it wrong. But I do think every school should have a naturalist, to help children to understand their world when they’re young. If you get the bug (ha!) early, you never really lose it…

      Reply
  5. belle

    I discovered you via Spitalfiledslife. I really enjoy your blog and am learning so much. I’ve recently moved to Eastbourne and have for the first time a large garden which we are giving over to nature. Looking forward to the next year, fascinating, well done.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thank you, Belle! How exciting to have a whole new garden. If there is one thing that I would recommend to increase garden wildlife, it would be a pond. It’s not just the frogs and dragonflies, it’s all the other animals that come to drink. Looking forward to hearing how it develops, and what exciting creatures you see….

      Reply

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