Peace Crane by Hilary Taylor

Peace Crane by Hilary Taylor
Picture by Justin Wyatt
To read Hilary's story buy this special book...

This magical story has a touch of the supernatural. When an injured crane is found and nursed, something happens, something magical and inspiring...

Gentle Footprints launched- AS SEEN ON TV

Gentle Footprints was officially launched Fri June 4th at the Hay Festival with guest speaker Virginia McKenna and some of the authors

Buy from Bridge House Publishing by clicking on the link BUY:


Virginia McKenna at Hay Launch

Virginia McKenna at Hay Launch

Animal Anthology To Raise Funds for Born Free

Bridge House Publishing announce new book coming Spring 2010. For more about Bridge House please see their website.
This book is the annual charity book for Born Free...if you want to get involved with promoting and selling this book- email me!

Visit the Born Free Website to find out more about their valuable work...

Visit the Born Free Website to find out more about their valuable work...

Friday, 25 June 2010

The Day of the Tiger

William Blake was so right when he described a tiger’s “fearful symmetry” and the cat as “burning bright” with its distinctive black stripes on orange fur. Tigers are generally found in forests but are highly adaptable and can be found in open grasslands and tropical mangrove swamps. Unlike most cats, tigers like swimming and can swim for up to 4 miles.

There are currently 6 subspecies of tigers, although there were 9.

The most varied and most common subspecies is the Bengal. Bengals are primarily found in India and Bangladesh.

If you see a white tiger, it is most probably a Bengal. White tigers only occur when both parents carry the rare gene and only happens in around 1 in 10,000 births. Not only do white tigers have distinctive white fur, they also have blue eyes and pink noses.

Another rare variation is the golden tabby or strawberry tiger thought to be created by a recessive gene. Golden tabby tigers have light golden coloured fur, pale legs and faint orange stripes and the fur is thicker than normal. Golden tabby tigers, like white tigers, are at least part Bengal tiger.

The Indochinese tiger is mostly found in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and China. They’re slightly darker and smaller than Bengal tigers and only a several hundred are left in the wild. The biggest threat to Indochinese tigers is a combination of loss of habit and the use tiger parts in traditional medicines.

In 2004 the Malayan tiger was recognised as a subspecies. There are around 700 left in the wild.

The Sumatran tiger is only found on the island of Sumatra and is critically endangered. These are the smallest tigers, adapting to the thick dense forests they live in, although their natural habitat is under severe threat from logging even in protected national parks.

The largest tiger is the Amur or Siberian tiger. It has a thick coat with a pale golden hue and fewer stripes.

The most critically endangered tiger is the South China tiger. From 1983 to 2007 no wild South China tigers were spotted and a photograph of one taken in 2007 turned out to be a fake. There are currently 59 captive South China tigers but these are descended from only six animals so have poor genetic diversity. There are plans to try and reintroduce these tigers to the wild.

Now extinct are the Bali tiger, the last of which was thought to have been killed in 1937, The Javan tiger, which became extinct in the 1980s, and the Caspian tiger which was found in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and surrounding areas and is very similar to the Amur tiger.

Tigers can mate all year round but generally breed between November and April. After a gestation of 16 weeks a female tiger will have a litter of up to 4 cubs. They will stay with their mother until around two years of age. They need those two years to learn vital hunting skills and if the mother is poached or killed before her cubs have reached maturity, the orphaned cubs will not be able to survive in the wild. Female cubs often take a territory near or overlapping with their mothers. Male cubs wander further taking a larger territory. However female tigers are not fiercely territorial and will allow grown cubs to share territories and even kills with a current litter of cubs.

The tiger has a long history in Asian culture, representing royalty, fearlessness and wrath. Most tigers have a marking on their forehead which resembles the Chinese character for “king” and consequently many cartoon versions of tigers feature this character on their forehead.

The tiger is one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals and represents matter, equal and rival to the dragon which represents spirit. In Buddhim the tiger is one of the Three Senseless Creatures, symbolising anger. The Hindu goddess Durga, as aspect of Devi-Parvati, rides a tigress into battle.

The tiger is the national animal of Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Malaysia, North Korea and South Korea. In a poll by Animal Planet, the tiger was voted the world’s favourite animal, winning 21% of the vote from 50,000 viewers from 73 countries.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


The seahorse was the first creature to really capture my imagination when I was a child. I remember seeing about them in a picture book and not quite believing they could be real - the thought of something that shape making its way silently, upright, through the sea seemed impossibly romantic. Then, when I became a feminist, learning that the male bore the young lifted these fish even further in my estimation.

Unfortunately, now that I am in this unique moment with other Gentle Footprints authors I find that the seahorse too is if not endangered then certainly vulnerable.

Why? Boat anchors and bottom dredging by fishermen damaging their habitats - they're quite fragile and don't adapt well to changing conditions; they're used in Chinese medicine (20 million a year taken); they're kept as pets (a million a year taken, of whom 99 percent are dead within six weeks). They're also captured, dried and sold as decoration (a million a year - I know, what is the matter with us?).

They're fish but they don't swim well. They get around by beating their dorsal fins 30-70 times a second and steering with pectoral fins on either side of their head. It's tough, so they prefer hooking their tail around the grasses they live in and just bobbing around. The eyes, on either side of the horse-shaped head, can move independently. How can you not love a creature that bobs around looking forwards and backwards at the same time? It's handy when looking for food - they eat things like small crustaceans, tiny fish and plankton and estimates are that adults eat up to fifty pieces of food a day. They don't have teeth but slurp the food up through their snouts. They don't have stomachs either thus the need to eat all day. Babies, apparently - called fry - eat sixty times that amount.

Which leads to the birth business. It was once widely said that they mated for life and were faithful, but this may not be true (they only live for about four years anyway). The female deposits the eggs in the male's pouch and he fertilises them there, then carries them for 14 to 28 days. They court for several days before breeding, and while the young are incubating the female comes to visit every day, where there's a greeting ritual. Depending on species there may be between fifty and fifteen hundred fry and contractions can last for twelve hours.

Of course, like all fish, once the young - fully formed miniature seahorses - are expelled there's no more nurturing and dad's ready to receive the next batch of eggs the morning after the night he's given birth. As we saw with NeiraKeto the octopus (see "Closing Circles" by Anne Cleasby in Gentle Footprints) thousands of them don't survive. With seahorse fry fewer than 0.5% of the brood survive, what with predators and delicate little bodies being washed away into colder waters. It seems very wasteful of life (why not have fewer and look after them?) but these creatures have been around one way or another for 40 million years.

We have two British indigenous species, the spiny and the short-snouted, found mainly all down the west coast and the south coast and there are another 28 species worldwide, including the fancifully named winged seahorse, hedgehog seahorse, giraffe seahorse and sea pony.

Oh, and they don't live in groups but can you guess what a whole bunch of them together are called? A herd of seahorses...

Friday, 18 June 2010

The Day of the Cuckoo by Lyn Fountain

Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu!

I was walking the dogs early Monday morning, and had taken one of my favourite paths, which is through the churchyard, up the incline of the wheatfield and along the line of the hedgerow behind the old Hall. It was cool and damp, the air was still and had yet to be stirred and warmed by a sun that was pale and weak for June. As I arrived at and turned the corner, facing north, a distinctive birdsong rose out of the haze of a distant clump of trees beyond the next village. It was the umistakeable call of a cuckoo. The first I'd heard since moving to the Norfolk countryside, and only the second time I'd ever heard one - the first time being around 15 years ago. A dozen times it called, "Cuck-oo.. cuck-oo.." in rapid succession, with barely a beat between the repetitions. It might be a bit late in heralding spring, and it's certainly not nearly summery enough here in chilly Norfolk, but - as corny as it sounds - the beautiful simplicity of it lifted my heart, and I couldn't wait to tell the first person I met that I'd just heard a cuckoo.

The cuckoo arrives in Western Europe from April onwards. After breeding, the adults return to East Africa around July, with the offspring following in September. From photographs, in the looks department - particularly because of size and head - I think they resemble the collared dove, but a cuckoo in flight, with its barred undercarriage, can also be misidentified as a sparrowhawk or a kestrel. Thrilled as I am to have heard the bird again after so long, I'd really love to see one next time.

Legend has much to say on the subject of the cuckoo. It is supposed to sing from St Tiburtius' Day (14th April) to St John's Day (24th June).
A very old book I have includes omens connected to birds, and of the cuckoo it recommends noting from which side of you the call comes. If it comes from the right, you may expect prosperity; from the left, prepare for disappointment. In my case it was straight ahead. Apparently the quarter from which you hear it will indicate the direction of your travels during the ensuing year. As 'my' cuckoo was calling from the north, I'm hoping not to travel too far in that direction. Any more than 30 miles and I'll be in the North Sea!

I remember bits of a little rhyme my mother used to chant to me about the cuckoo. And it went something like: In July time to fly, In Au-gust away I must. I can still hear her voice putting the stress on the '-gust' to make it rhyme with 'must'.

In his poem To the Cuckoo, William Wordsworth said: 'O Cuckoo! Shall I call thee bird, Or but a wandering voice'. So perhaps he found them difficult to catch sight of too!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The Day of The Dolphin

Dolphins are some of the most fascinating, intelligent, and beautiful animals on the planet. I have always been drawn to them since I watched the 'Flipper' TV show as a child.

I later realised that the poor dolphins used on the show were in captivity. I guess that when you're a kid you just watch the show to see the dolphins do stunts and tricks - I never considered that the poor animals were suffering. I know better now.

However I am happy to report that one of the trainers Ric O'Barry became a marine activist when one of the dolphins became depressed and committed suicide by refusing to breathe. He has campaigned for the last 38 years against dolphin captivity and against the horrific 'dolphin drives' which take place in Japan every year.

My first real encounter came about ten years ago whilst on holiday in California. My family and I were wading out into the rolling surf and then from the corner of my eye, about six feet to my left, I spied two dolphins bursting from the waves! They were close enough for me to see the water shimmering on their skin and their 'smiling' faces. I couldn't believe how close they were, or how beautiful. Since that time I have been lucky enough to see them at least five or six times fishing for breakfast along the Californian coast, but at a distance.

Then around five years ago I saw a programme on TV about the Moray Firth bottlenose dolphins. My husband and I went up soon after for a few days to try to see them, and once again we were lucky. I remember the weather was awful, cold, grey and tipping down stair rods!
I was spying through binoculars from the car at Chanory point, and because of the steamed up windows I had to do a double take. Was that a fin I just saw? Yes indeed! Without a moment's hesitation I jumped out of the car and raced through the driving rain along the shingle beach to where they were heading.
At the end of the point was a man with a huge camera set on a tripod soaked to the skin, and another man walking his dog. We chatted excitedly as we watched about ten of the magnificent creatures hunting for salmon just a few feet from the shore. After about fifteen minutes they swam further away , but it was such a wonderful experience. I'll never forget it.

They seem to have the ability to fill me with joy and wonder, and I know they have a similar effect on others. This is why I find it particularly distressing to find these creatures trapped in ridiculously small pens made to perform tricks, and also that they are still hunted by some.

There are about 45 types of dolphin in the world, the largest being the Orca or killer whale. They live from between 20-45 years in the wild but only 4-10 in captivity. They live in pods and are very social animals. The Moray Firth boasts around 130 resident bottlenose dolphins and many porpoises. Sadly hundreds of dolphin and porpoise die ' by-catch' worldwide every year. This simply means that they are caught in trawling nets and drown.

The WDCS (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society) have two free sites in the Moray Firth you can visit. They seek to raise awareness about providing a safe environment for these animals. They also campaign against whale and dolphin captivity, and against the hunting of whales and dolphins.

I adopted a dolphin when I was up there, and for as little as £4 per month so could you! My dolphin is called Rainbow, and I receive a picture and reports on her progress each year. I also receive a very interesting and informative magazine every three months. See the link below if you would like to find out more.

I hope you enjoyed the day of the dolphin, and I hope it's made you want to find out more about these magnificent creatures.
Mandy :)

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou

Virginia McKenna told me she loves this poem and sees no greater sadness than a bird that has the wonderful gift of being able to fly trapped in a cage. I whole-heatedly agree with that sentiment.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Otter Lutra Lutra

I remember wanting to have a pet otter in my bath after watching Ring of Bright Water when I was a kid- also of course starring Virginia McKenna. And I also remember Tarka the Otter and how I cried at the end- I can still remember it- a bubble shook the surface and then another. And then no more... something like that.

A friend of mine did an otter project with Snowdonia National Parks as part of her MSc. I spent the summer counting Sandwich Terns into a colony where they were nesting with Black-headed Gulls- I was actually looking at something called Kleptoparasitism which is food piracy. And my friend was at the same time tracking otters in Snowdonia. Except sadly they are so elusive all she was able to study was their spraints (poos to you!)

What wonderful animals they are- I dreamed of seeing them in Scotland when I visited Mull. I was supposed to take a trip with Lee and we loved Scotland so much. It took me a couple of years to be able to finally take that trip after he died and I ordered otters one morning in his honour. And he came through- because there they were. We rounded a corner to find a mother and 2 cubs playing. All I can say is WOW. I had a little tear and thanked Lee.

So I will leave with some lovely pictures of otters:

One of my other favourite animals is the playful but elusive otter Lutra lutra

Who wants to tell us about your favourite animal tomorrow?

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Hear Marilyn Fountain on BBC Radio Norfolk

Well now the craziness of the Hay week and all that fun is slowing down we need to keep the momentum going and get a copy of Gentle Footprints into everyones' homes. It's such an extraordinary book- as says Paul Blezard amongst others- so we need to get it out there. Tell everyone you know.

This evening Marilyn was interviwed by BBC Radio Norfolk-

Listen by clicking here: CLICK

Great job!

Anyone fancy Blogging about some other animals- perhaps ones that never made it into GF? The Week of... how about The Otter... what lovely animals they are- I might Blog about them this week- if anyone else wants to think of an animal and some more Weeks of I am up for it?

And those photos of Hay coming this week as well...

Also of you get the chance do check out Brian May's Save Me website- click- HERE

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Brilliant Hay

My goodness, wasn’t it brilliant though? Debz and I had already had a great week staying on a lovely farmhouse – with amazing puppies – and we were pretty lucky with the weather too. The atmosphere at Hay is brilliant. People sitting around reading books. Books everywhere. And other interesting activities too.
The climax came of course on Friday 4 July. We Bridge House staff met Virginia McKenna at the Swan hotel at 11.00. We chatted to her until it was time for her and Debz and her assistant Lauren to go up to the Festival site to record the programme for the Book Show on Sky Arts. She is a lovely lady.
It was exciting, too, later in the day, meeting the other authors who came to the event. Putting faces to names was of course great.
The highlight even of that day naturally was the book launch itself. And it was our book launch. The event opened with the words “We are here today to launch this extraordinary book…”
Later, watching the recording of The Book Show I heard the same words again.
Extraordinary book.
Well, that was what we aimed for. That is what we achieved. At least two high profile people have now said that. And about a thousand people watched its launch.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Virginia McKenna launch at Hay Festival

Event 305- the Barclays Wealth Pavilion. This is the biggest venue on site- holding a max of 1800 people. You can imagine how I felt the first time I went it- to see Nick Sharratt as it happens- the artist for Jacqueline Wilson. Then I remember thinking- really? When this whole idea came to me to launch at Hay I had only even been to the winter festival which is a much smaller more sedate affair where events happen in the shops. When I enquired about launching there back in December that is how I saw it- I had no idea what I had done! But I'm so glad I did!

Because I accompanied Virginia McKenna and her assistant Lauren I had the whole Green Room guest treatment. I had talked to Paul who said I could do a short intro but he told me in The Green Room the organisers would prefer if he did the intro. But luckily he was still willing to let three of the authors read 1 minute extracts of their work and for the cover artist Colin Wyatt to present the original artwork on stage. I was in amongst the behind stage bustle while the instructions were issued and then I met the others in our front row reserved seating- and why not? They were the authors!

Because of the all the bustle I might not have taken it all in as much as I would have liked- I did see there were a lot of people there! And the buzz was amazing. Then the lights dimmed... and on came Paul Blezard with his intro and Virginia.

Boy she was good. She speaks so eloquently and with such passion. When she talked about how Born Free started with Poli,Poli the elephant I was fighting the lump in my throat. And when she was later asked to read her foreword and she reached the part about Elsa's death- there it was again.

Our readers were:

Mandy K James- All Things Under the Sky- debut short story published in paper form.

Hilary Taylor- Peace Crane- short story debut publishing success.

Abi Burns Homecoming- BBC Nature Writer of the Year.

I hope to have some photos to post later in the week.

They did so well- well done all!

Paul said he thought the book was extraordinary and excellent.

Virginia spoke about circuses and the plight of captive animals in such a wonderful way how could anyone disagree. Following a question about whether some zoos are good she was quite adamant that a good zoo is like a posh hotel but imagine if you were there and could never leave. NEVER. You are told what to eat, when to eat, your whole environment is controlled. It is chosen for you who your mate is and if you do breed your babies will be taken away. Is this right?

And when zoos say they are conserving species most zoos are full of animals that are not endangered to every one that is- and breeding programmes should take place in the wild- not in zoos. How is breeding animals to keep in cages helping them?

It was wonderful and I think we were all sad to find the hour was over.

Colin was then invited on stage to present the framed original artwork displayed alongside the cover and Virginia was genuinely surprised and delighted. She told me she wants to hang it in the Born Free office.

And so it was over.

I got to see how the guests are taken to the book shop- by car! How exciting- I felt like a proper author! Even if I was just accompanying our special guest. Then people just kept on coming... Virginia was off to one side in the part of the store they reserve for big guests- they call that The Green Room too. And she signed for over 90 minutes- double the time I was told. She was wonderful and took the time to speak to everyone. She made a few peoples' nights I think. Some of the authors also hung around the store and were asked to sign.

Finally after 8 we waked back to The Green Room.While we waited for the car we saw Chris Evans and Anne Robinson!

And we ended the day with a lovely meal and time to reflect with Virginia.

As far as I know we sold all but 2 books when I checked on the Sunday- including all the signed copies that she was asked to sign at the end.

What a perfect day- one I will never forget.
We did say we would like to do another animal book for Born Free and do it again- maybe in 3 years time!

Thanks to all of you for supporting us.

The reason for all of it: ELSA 1956 - 1961

More photos to come...

Monday, 7 June 2010

Making Hay- what a day

Wow! All I can say is what a week- what a day. This was my first experience of Hay and I am addicted. I felt so happy and so relaxed and of course the excitement about our launch mounted as the week went on. I had planned and prepared and organised everything and was determined it would all go to plan...

And it did.

I woke up on Friday with such excitement I was buzzing. The family and friends had all arrived the day before and we were ready. I sat painting my nails looking out into the gardens of the farm where we stayed savouring the peace of the moment. This was the day I had been preparing for for a year. And I knew even then it would be a day I would never forget- none of us would.

Home for the week

We met Virginia McKenna and Lauren at The Swan hotel after their drive from Surrey and Virginia was so lovely about the book and talked about her favourite stories. At 12.20 we left Gill and Nicola and Virginia, Lauren and myself were picked up and taken to The Green Room on the festival site. So suddenly I was seeing it from the other side of the marquees and I loved it! We were met by Judy from Sky Arts and taken to a tiny green room ready for the taping of the Sky Arts BOOK SHOW. On the show were also Alexander McCall Smith and Brian May! All charming.

Lauren and I were shown to front row couch seats- I can not tell you how exciting it was! Although when we realised we might be caught on camera we were a little distirbed- reapply your lipstick time! Then the lights dimmed and the show began. Alexander was on first. Then it was our Virginia and wow she did us proud- she was so fantastic talking about the book and how much she enjoyed it. I was sat there feeling so proud to think an idea 12 months before lead to The Book Show!!! And what a plug she gave us. Short clip here... Clip

After the show we spoke with Brian May and he was in awe of Virginia- he also is very interested in animals with his Save Me campaign (follow the link) SAVE ME -so some good networking.Of course I gave him a copy of the book and he seemed really interested in helping. So we took some photos outside! In fact as we did I suddenly realised we were drawing a bit of a crowd... whispers of isn't that Brian May- from Queen and Virginia McKenna...

Then it was back to The Green Room and another car back to The Swan to the Meet n Greet... before the big launch...

We had a large room and there were sarnies... and everyone got the chance to meet all the other authors and artists present, a book signing fest and of course the chance to meet Virginia- what a gracious lovely person she is.

At 5 everyone started the 15 min walk back to the festival site while I was lucky enough to go in the car with Lauren and Virginia back to The Green Room to meet Paul Blezard- that's when I knew it was really happening. What a buzz...

Details of the actual event tomorrow but here are some photos to whet your appetite!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Persecution of wild birds in the UK

It is shocking to many people that persecution of some of our most iconic bird species continues today and remains a real threat to their survival. In Homecoming I discuss the role of egg collecting in hastening the demise of the chough in Cornwall. Sadly, although it has been illegal to take the eggs of most wild birds since 1954 (and since 1981 to possess any wild birds' eggs taken since 1954) this issue is still a very real one. According to the RSPB, the breeds currently at particular risk from egg collecting include black-necked and Slavonian grebes, ospreys, white-tailed sea eagles, red kites and red-necked phalaropes. Egg collecting can become an all-consuming obsession and even the risk of up to six months in prison is not enough to dissuade the most determined egg thieves.
The systematic persecution of birds of prey also continues to be a huge problem, even though they have been protected for 50 years or more. It is particularly associated with management of land for shooting, in order to protect game birds. As the persecution - which includes trapping, poisoning, nest destruction and shooting - mostly occurs on private land in the uplands it generally goes unnoticed. Research shows that this illegal killing is having a major impact on populations of rare birds of prey - for example, golden eagles and hen harriers are absent from much suitable habitat in areas where moors are managed for grouse shooting. In 2009, bird of prey persecution was recognised by the government as one of the six top UK Wildlife Crime Priorities and it is hoped that there will be increased enforcement and penalties for those who threaten the future of these magnificent species.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Mining and landscape restoration

The area where my story Homecoming is set -around the St Just district in Cornwall - is inextricably linked with mining. Remains of pre-industrial and more modern mining activity are scattered over the wild cliffs and surrounding fields, but the legacy of mining is even more deeply imprinted on communities here than on the landscape. Along with fishing, mining was the main way of life around St Just and the fortunes of the local population has in many ways charted those of the tin trade.
Mines in the area include Levant (now owned and renovated by the National Trust), the fabulous Botallack (where ruined engines houses perch precariously on the cliffside) and Geevor (which closed in 1990 and is now a tourist attraction). Since 2006, the area has been part of a World Heritage Site, which recognises the unique impact of mining on the region's landscape and history. In many ways, the story of the chough in Cornwall reflects the decline and recent renaissance in the county's mining heritage - a real sense of pride in the area's heritage has been rekindled in the last few years. The coastline is exposed to the full fury of the elements, battered by wind and sea spray, and is haunted by more than a few ghosts.
Mining was a dangerous way to make a living, though for most it was a way of life, rather than just a job. Miners could often hear the roar of the sea above their heads as they worked in cramped tunnels which extended out far under the ocean. Sometimes tunnels collapsed without warning or machinery could fail - in 1846, a mine flooded killing 53 miners, then the Wheal Owles disaster of 1893 claimed 20 lives, including a boy. Probably the most notorious incident occurred at the Levant mine in 1919, when the man engine carrying a load of miners to the surface at the end of their shift broke, plummeting hundreds of feet and 31 men were lost. Countless men were injured or suffered long term health problems due to the working conditions. At Botallack, one miner who was blinded in a blasting accident continued to work underground though he was totally blind in order to support his nine children. There was, though, a great sense of comradeship which got men through the bleak times.
Perhaps surprisingly wildlife is now thriving in the harsh environment of the post-mining landscape. Along with the assault of the weather, life has to contend with the heavy metals which contaminate the soils. Amazingly, some plants can tolerate the metal laden ground and new habitats such as heathlands have been created under land restoration projects. The old mine buildings provide shelter for birds such as swallow and raven, while the underground shafts and tunnels are perfect roosting sites for bat species. Mining spoil heaps create south-facing slopes which are ideal for reptiles to bask and even the lunar-like landscapes of bare rubble is home to rare insects. While it could be argued that man's impact has scarred the environment, for me it is inspiring to witness how nature can reclaim a landscape and will take up the slightest invitation to move in, when industry moves on.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Chough Returns to Cornwall

In spring 2001, after an absence of 28 years, the chough returned to Cornwall. A small influx of birds arrived, possibly from Brittany, and three of these made their homes on the Lizard. Plans had been underway to release some captive-bred birds, but the natural return of the species made this unecessary (and indeed it could have harmed the fortunes of the species in Cornwall).
A year later two of the birds nested successfully - for the first time in more than half a century - and went onto raise around 46 youngsters, some of which can now be seen on the lizard or along stretches of the Lands End peninsula. In 2008, a pair of choughs raised young in West Penwith (where my story Homecoming is set) for the first time in 150 years.
There are now around 20 choughs known in the county, though details of nesting sites are not generally published to protect them from egg collectors. The RSPB and volunteers monitor and protect known chough nests. Conservation organisations are working to ensure suitable habitat is available on the cliffs to allow choughs to flourish once more. Grazing is essential to prevent invasion of scrub and maintain short open grassland and heath. The livestock used must be hardy and suited to the damp climate so native breeds like Highland cattle, Shetland ponies and Soay sheep are used. A mosaic of habitats is needed which can be provided by sympathetic farming - this also benefits many other species, including flowering plants and butterflies. Invertebrates found in dung provide an essential food source for young birds and farming without certain chemical wormers (which kill insects in cowpats) is another way farmers are helping these magical birds regain a foothold in their ancestral homeland.

Hay Flash

Hi Folks,

Well we've had our first full day in Hay- a world where everything is about books and everywhere you look people are sitting around reading books and all your favourite authors are in close proximity... what could be better!

This morning is to be the only rainy time for the rest of the week so Gill and I are on our lovely farm (well we wish it was ours!) and we're catching up before we do a walk and go into Hay for lunch and more events. Today is our quietest day.

We went to The Swan yesterday to 'suss it out'- it takes about 15 mins to walk to the showground so I am going to check that your comp tickets allow at least some reserved seating at the front so leaving the Meet n Greet at 5 should be fine- if not might be best you leave about 4.45 to get a good spec in the queue- but I can let you know about this.

I found out our venue holds 1500 people- yikes- although don't expect it will be full- but imagine... no best not to!!!

We are trying to spread the word in Hay and leave postcards around etc and I was excited to see our book on the shelves at the Hay Bookseller... this is the kind of Hay Fever I could live with! More soon...