"Wilding" by Isabella Tree (2018): Please read this book

Do please read this book, if you haven't already.  It is well written and easy to read and describes the development of the Knepp estate rewilding project.  It also has some critically important messages that need to be spread far and wide.  Some 20 years ago, I visited the controversial Oostvaardersplassen grazing project in the Netherlands and I must now get to Knepp, as soon as the Covid-19 virus allows.  I've known about Knepp for some years and have been meaning to visit, but it hasn't happened yet.  Having read the book, I have a much clearer idea of how it came about and the struggles to achieve what is a critical initiative amongst the UK rewilding projects.  As a scientist that spent much of my career looking at farmland ecology and ways of maintaining biodiversity, particularly with field margins and hedgerows, this book challenges a host of underlying assumptions.  That is the key importance of the book for me.  However, the startling conservation successes with…

Botanising on the hills above Barton

I've spent the morning on this lovely sunny day up on the Mendips above Barton.  I was making a botanical inventory on three of the seven plots I look after as part of the National Plant Monitoring Scheme - see: recording scheme started a few years ago and has three levels of recording - wildflowers, selected indicator species or inventory - so anyone can have a grid square and can have a go.  My phone app tells me I was out for nearly 3 hours and covered 4.7 km, so that is good exercise for today.  It is amazingly dry on the limestone, so some plants seem advanced, while others, notably the grasses seem delayed.  It all looks very Mediterranean up there. I was lucky enough to re-find two nationally rare species in one of my plots - honewort (Trinia glauca and Somerset hair-grass (Koeleria vallesiana) are not exactly spectacular to look …

What is happening with Covid-19 in North Somerset?

Since surgery for prostate cancer in January 2019, I've been keeping a diary recording steps, alcohol intake and bodily functions.  Sometime this year, I started adding data on coronavirus.  The government publish data daily on numbers of cases and numbers of deaths at: since 16 April 2020, I have been noting the numbers of Covid-19 cases in North Somerset.  This morning, just for interest, I plotted the data in Excel and added a trend line, to visualise progress with infection. The result was surprising:

Instead of a reducing number of cases, the trend appears to be linear, indicating that there is a constant rate of infection.  So what is going on in North Somerset?  I don't have data for Bristol, where one might expect higher rates, but casual inspection indicates rather few new cases compared with North Somerset. In Bristol, the infection rate per 100000 people is 148.3.  In North Somerset, we have had 164.1 cases of coronavirus per 10000…

Food imports - email to our MP

E-mail to the local Weston-Super-Mare MP, John Penrose, sent on 15/05/2020:

Dear Mr Penrose
I rarely contact you, but following yesterdays Commons business in relation to the production and environmental standards of food that will be imported in the future, I am impelled to register my amazement and disappointment.  If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, surely it must be that obesity and type 2 diabetes are avoidable problems that impact the NHS and society more generally.  Logically, therefore, how can importing low standard cheap foodstuffs that often find their way into the highly processed diet of those most at risk to Covid-19 be defendable.  The lack of logic here is staggering.  This also seems to be a kick in the teeth for UK agriculture, who are obliged to produce food to high standards, and still compete in the world market, but now on a highly skewed playing field.  I understand from the press that the PM is taking up the issues of obesity and diabetes, so agai…

Restarting the Barton news blog

It's the 17th May 2020.  Coroavirus is creeping up again in North Somerset and this week, I had a telecall with my oncology consultant on the state of play with my prostate cancer.  Tragically, our dear friend Ruth Spalding collapsed and died a fortnight ago and her husband Mike came for a cup of tea yesterday.  We have been in contact a lot, but it was good to meet, albeit observing the 2 m social distance.  We sat outside, enjoying the great weather we have had since the lockdown, with louder birdsong and clean air.  With so much that has happened and with time at home to consider the state of the globe, the country and our circumstances, I feel it is time to restart a blog, with occasional posts on topics that need to be considered, alongside news from sleepy Barton.
Echium pininana (3 m) and Echium candicans not yet flowering

In between Mr B’s Reading Year: Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos by Patrick Leigh Fermor (2013)

We managed to get our copy the evening before release at Mr B’s own bibliotherapy session( and what a treat we have.  This posthumous publication has been eagerly awaited, the third section of Patrick’s year-long walk from England to Istanbul (Constantinople) made in 1935 when he was 18.This book has been finalised by Patrick’s literary executors, Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper, using completed sections and notes.They have managed a potentially very difficult task wonderfully well, creating something that is genuine.Yet again, the brilliant writing, the descriptions of people and landscapes, shines through.The lands and people Patrick meets are just fascinating.The book takes us from the Iron Gates on the Donau through Bulgaria, back to Romania, then down the Black Sea coast to Constantinople.
Interestingly, there are only scattered notes of his stay in Istanbul – no soaring descriptions of the architecture or the bustle of city life we enjoyed earlier th…

Books in between Mr B’s Reading Year: Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household (1939)

I first read this book aged 11 or 12, when it left me with an odd fascination for hollow ways and green lanes in the English landscape – picked up by others, including Hugh Thompson Green Road into the Trees, but more particularly Robert Macfarlane and his wonderful The Old Ways.  However, my schoolboy memory was also for a great adventure.  When this special reprinting in hardback by Mr B’s appeared (, how could we not get it?!We are now the proud possessors of copy number 41 of a limited edition of 500. The Introduction is by Robert Macfarlane himself and describes a trip with Roger Deakin (Wildwood) to Dorset looking for the possible site in Rogue Male {just found Holloway (2013) describing that trip and more is out}!
On a second reading, Rogue Male turned out to be a wonderful chameleon of a book.  OK it is a man’s book, but it has achieved something that is only rarely done – it is a boy’s adventure, an adult thriller, a spy story published on the eve …