Birds at the bottom of the garden

As of today, I’ve been living in my new house a week! It’s not the biggest or the most glamorous, but it’s certainly enough to feel like home. There is also a generously sized garden that oozes potential. Currently, the grass is several feet high and tickles the midriffs of the two apple trees, but I’m determined to make it a spot both we and our neighbouring wildlife can enjoy.

Zahrah and I have already had debates over whether the grass should be cut at all. While she favours the truly wild, I prefer neat and tidy with areas that the wildlife can still feel at home in. My plan is to cut the majority of the lawn but leave a wild patch at the bottom, so all kinds of creatures can still seek sanctuary in its grassy depths.

I’ve noticed several species of garden bird already, namely robins (Erithacus rubecula), blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and great tits (Parus major), but I’m sure we can attract more with a range of bird feeders – millet for dunnocks (Prunella modularis) and finches and sunflower seeds for the tits and hopefully greenfinch (Chloris chloris). As well as this, we could fit some nest boxes to the apple trees to encourage nesting birds to stay.

Now we have such a secure garden, Zahrah suggested setting up a camera trap to see what nocturnal wildlife we play host to. In an urban area, it’s possible we have hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) and maybe red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), something I’d be thrilled to see. After managing to photograph a wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) at Kingmoor Sidings nature reserve not far from here, I’m optimistic we’ll get to see a lot more once we’ve set some tasty bait.

As for the lawn itself, I’d love to create a winding path out of the stray slabs we’ve found lying around. The garden is large enough for a compost heap too, something else that would attract a range of species. I’d love to cultivate a pond, but feel like this may be beyond my skill set! However, it would be lovely to plant some flowers and inject some colour into the otherwise very green garden. Although not the prettiest, stinging nettles are well known for being excellent attractors of the red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), comma (Polygonia c-album) and small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae). Other good plants for butterflies include garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and marjoram (Origanum vulgare).

All in all, I see some exciting things on the horizon for our little garden! After living in halls for a year and the only green space being the faded carpet of my room, I can’t wait to unleash my inner gardener and make our patch the perfect wildlife haven.

A Childhood In Nature

Having been interested in media for a few years now, I always knew photography would feature heavily in my future. I’ve been taking photos since I was a child, using various contraptions from my first phone – a cheeky little Sony Ericsson – to my Canon 700D.

First it was flowers in my nanny’s garden. While my parents chatted over tea in the living room, I’d escape through the back door and snap away at anything that caught my eye; at my grandparents’ house there were thousands of things to draw attention. Flowers of every colour burst from the soil, climbing up garden statues and the old hollow tree by the compost heap. My camera grew hot from use; I’d get down on my belly and shoot the best macro I could muster. Though most flowers were indistinct blurs on my screen, nothing would dampen my interest.

Another of my preferred subjects were my cats. At the time they proved nearly impossible to capture in frame, even more so in focus, but now I can’t thank them enough. Dear Esme and Milly proved essential challenges that trained me in the art of wildlife photography. Though they couldn’t quite be defined as wild, their stealth forced my camera to shoot quicker.

Soon, my attention digressed from my cats to their garden quarry: birds. What started as a vague interest in capturing wood pigeons and sparrows on the bird feeders soon bloomed into a huge passion. I began to pore over guide books and attempt to sketch what I read about. I’d sit out in the garden as still as possible, camera poised, and try to focus and snap as quickly as I could. I’d write notes – in my very best hand writing – about any nests I found, and where I’d seen my subjects hopping through the garden.

Over time I began to recognise different visitors, and sparrows became dunnocks. The secrets of nature were beginning to unfold and a whole new world was exposed. Blue and great tits chirruped at the feeders, while a lone robin waited for the scene to clear. As the days grew shorter I would bring out more clothes to wrap around me, eager to see if any new visitors would join the old. One of my most treasured memories was the arrival of redwings one snowy day in December, which I watched from the landing window with binoculars glued to my eyes.

By the time I began A Level photography, my knowledge of British birds was extensive. I would attempt to share my passion with the other keen photographers, who regarded my work with polite but false enthusiasm. While they researched Mario Testino and Nick Knight, I explored the works of Laurie Campbell and Andy Rouse. My portfolio was filled with nature, from singing chaffinches to magnificent oaks. Among the other photographers in my year I was alone in my obsession of the natural world, but that didn’t dissuade me. I bought more and more books on birds, beginning to form an impressive collection.

The transition from school to university was where I truly discovered that I wasn’t alone. There were other young people that cared about wildlife and wanted to photograph it. BA(Hons) Wildlife Media has brought nature enthusiasts together. One of the highlights of my first year studying this incredible degree was my trip to the Isle of Carna, back in May. Spending five days living, eating and learning with six other wildlife aficionados was an unforgettable experience.

Since that trip one of my lecturers, Heather-Louise Devey, has become an inspiration for me. Her enthusiasm for nature and passion for conservation has made me realise just how much I want to be in this field. During my stay on Carna, I wrote vigorously and designed my own magazine about the experience with articles and my own photos. Heather has motivated me to pursue writing, and it has become something I really want to develop and take into my work life. While I still love photography and want to incorporate it into my media work, I think my writing can be a significant part of my career in this industry. All my life I’ve written stories – I have my mum to thank for that – and now I think I can put all those years of practice into something for wildlife. There are nowhere near enough young people interested in nature; I intend on changing that.

Magazine Module: Finished!

Producing an eight page magazine for one of my university modules was a number of different adjectives: exciting, fun, stressful, time-consuming, sometimes maddening. After weeks of editing and tweaking, it’s finished and I submitted the final piece yesterday.

The brief was fairly open – all we needed to do was write three articles about wildlife locations in Cumbria, then add a contents page, editor’s letter and design the front and back cover. Sounded simple enough, but Adobe InDesign is both a blessing and a curse. No error goes unnoticed, no matter how miniscule. For a neat freak and general perfectionist like me, this was quite refreshing at first. But even I grew exasperated at the exactness of the letter spacing, margin size and colour matching. Eventually, InDesign and I became friends, and now I feel fairly competent using an industry standard design programme that I’d never used previously.

This has been one of my favourite modules so far, and I’m really happy with the end product. Here’s hoping my lecturer is too!

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 11.07.27Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 11.07.40Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 11.07.51Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 11.08.02Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 11.08.14

Down on the Farm!

I’d always planned on doing volunteer work when I came to uni. It was just something I thought would add something to the whole experience.

So, when the University of Cumbria Students’ Union posted about volunteering at Wetheriggs Animal Sanctuary, I leapt at the chance. I’d be able to spend time with animals and be doing something worthwhile at the same time – a winning combination for me.

Making New Friends
Making New Friends

It certainly wasn’t glamorous work, but it was work that needed doing, and I feel proud to have helped out a small association for the day.


My duty consisted of cleaning out the bird enclosures. I spent some quality time with ducks, chickens and quail, most of which had been badly injured and rescued by the charity. Wetheriggs runs a rehoming service, and even while we were there a couple came and adopted a group of chickens, so I know all the birds will eventually go to new homes.


The sanctuary also kept larger animals out in the paddocks. An array of sheep, horse, goat and alpaca came to greet us as we were taken on a tour of the grounds. There was even a rather ruffled group of turkeys who didn’t hesitate in making themselves heard.

The Face of an Angel
The Face of an Angel

It was a really enjoyable day and I got to meet a lot of new people from the Lancaster campus of the university. We were given stylish canary yellow volunteer shirts and I wore mine with pride as I shovelled up dirty sawdust. A good day’s work!

Cheesy grin
Cheesy grin

Please go and visit the sanctuary’s website, they’re doing so much good work!

Taking the Plunge (and taking a while to resurface)

Tomorrow begins my fourth week at university. I did it; I passed my A levels and at the end of September found myself on the long road from Hertfordshire to Cumbria. Now I’ve settled in to my new life in Carlisle, where I’ve begun studying Wildlife Media, my dream course.

I’m ashamed that it’s been so long since my last post. I have no worthy excuses; the days seemed to have slipped away without my knowing and before I knew it, it was October and I realised I hadn’t blogged since April.

To the loyal readers I once had, I’m sorry. If you continue to read my posts after such a long break, I truly thank you. If not, I don’t blame you for abandoning such a sloppy blogger.

We’ve had our lengthy interval. Now, I shall proceed into the second act. In some ways this is apt, seeing as I’ve just turned a major corner in my life and begun my degree nearly three hundred miles from home. Already I’m changing. I’m relying completely on myself, and even going so far as to introduce myself to a cookbook.

So here’s to the next act. If I have any audience left, I hope you enjoy.