Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Seeking my Fortune

The Isles of Scilly, known as the Fortunate Isles, lie 28 miles off the western tip of Cornwall and these mysterious islands, thought by some to be the lost lands or Lyonesse or even the final resting place of the legendary King Arthur, form Britain’s only archipelago. A strong maritime climate means relatively mild winters and early springs, whilst in summer the soft sandy beaches and the gardens of Scilly become a sub-tropical paradise, a world away from their mainland cousins. 
The wildlife is particularly rich, splendid and unusual, and this plus the geographical and historical features of the islands make the Scillies unique, their special qualities recognised by a number of international designations and protections. 
Each end of the year, in spring and particularly in autumn, the Isles of Scilly play host to a huge migration of birds, some expected and many others blown far off course, making landfall on these islands in the middle of the ocean, under the watchful eyes of thousands of enthusiastic bird watchers that flock to the islands for the "Scilly Season". A bonanza of rare and exotic species, sightings of which are only dreamt about on the mainland.

Living alongside the birds and the seals, the Scilly Shrews and the red squirrels, are the people of Scilly. A life of contrasts; tending to the varied needs of Islands full of tourists in the summer and the annual influx of birdwatchers, whilst facing the brunt of Atlantic storms through the lonelier winter months, and being the first to pick the nodding yellow daffodils each spring. 
And for just four weeks this October, the population of the Isles of Scilly will be increased by one more: Me.

The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust (who manage a large proportion of the land across the island, including many of the uninhabited islands, and provide a valuable service to birdwatchers and other visiting wildlife enthusiasts) and A Focus On Nature (a network for young conservationists) are offering a unique opportunity for a 18-30 year old with a passion for conservation to volunteer alongside the wildlife trust, on the islands, for 4 weeks in October 2014. 
The ‘Ornithology Internship’ will include interacting with visiting birdwatchers, writing up daily experiences, using blogs and social media, contributing to the evening Bird Log Meeting, and building communication skills whilst representing the organisation.

I am very excited to announce that I have been chosen for this opportunity!

It is taking a little while to truly sink in, but I cannot wait to step off the Scillonian III ferry and explore all that the islands have to offer.

I am very fortunate in the fact that this trip of a lifetime will be part funded: AFON will contribute to travel costs to get too (and home from) the Isles of Scilly, and the Wildlife Trust providing accommodation for the duration of the 4 weeks. 

I will however have to raise the funds to cover the remaining costs of the trip, including food/drink and living costs for the 4 weeks, accommodation for one night between home in Sussex and the harbour at Penzance in Cornwall, and purchasing clothing and equipment that I have recently been coping without. This will include base-layer-clothing, waterproof outerwear, and extra memory cards for my cameras to mention a few items.

The experience itself will be a fabulous opportunity to put into practice and hone the communication and engagement skills that I have developed over the past 18 months during my Visitor Services Traineeship with the RSPB.

So I look forward to seeing any of you who may be making your own trip to the Isles of Scilly this autumn, and for those of you not able to journey across the sea, please keep an eye on the blog here, and I hope you will enjoy sharing in my experiences through the photos and stories I plan to share.

As a final note, if anybody would be interested in helping me raise the funds that I need/sponsor me, or donate specific equipment, you would be most welcome. Please don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss your ideas!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Hedgerows and harvest

Tomorrow brings the first day of September. 
For the past week or so we have been noticing that the mornings are growing chillier, there is dampness in the air, and the wind gathers in dark clouds and showers from the southwest. 
Ash Keys, Oak Acorns and Sycamore Wings hang brown in the trees, their surrounding skirts of leaves are dusty and worn. 
In the hedgerows and waysides, hands of elder berries bend the boughs low, and bobbled brambles are swelling black beside ochre spotted leaves. 
I spotted the first autumnal fungi today, protruding through the leaf litter that has lain more or less undisturbed all summer-long, already nibbled by night-time mice and slugs.  
The Jay, the painted crow, flies back and forth across the lane with acorns for his stash, whist Robins, still showing signs of late summer moult, relearn their songs. Spiders patient-wait in their webs of silken thread, strung with beads of gold or silver light. 
The harvest has been fruitful, early, the combines and tractors working overtime to bring the precious crops home to the barns. 
When the wind blows from across the fields, Thistledowns keep drifting in the kitchen door, perhaps they are in fact fairies, drawn in as I am by the smell of stewed apples?


Saturday, 16 August 2014

Garden of Delight

Above, the roar of yet another passenger plane across the cloud-broken sky, but even as it passes directly overhead, it doesn't quite manage to drown out the hesitant high notes of the robin, hidden in the overhanging branches of the trees, or the gentle preoccupied hum of honey bees in the warm-scented lavender.  

In the borders, bright bedding plants bask under summer sunshine.
Dark leaved, hot-bloomed exotics add a generous dose of spice and fire, whilst more familiar petals play with the
pallet; purple heads of verbena jut through sprays of yellow fennel, and bright dahlias float, like painted dragon-boats on a sea of montbretia.

Ahead, down the long broadwalk, beyond the flower beds where short mown grass opened out and rolled away beneath the green shade of trees, is a glimpse of reflected light, of victorian glass rising up from the edge of wind-shivered lake.

Picture on a postcard, flowers in your hair.
Let down your guard, forget the busy world, bare-foot in the grass.
Lie back and let the thundershowers roll, as the slow hours of summer pass. 

 All photos taken at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, London, England. 4th-13th August 2014 (Copyright Sophie-May Lewis/SophiEco Wild)

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Poem: Swift Departure

I noticed today, the swifts have left the town. Always last to arrive and first to arrive, these migratory visitors epitomise, for me, the fleeting nature of the long awaited summer. Their thrilling screaming cries and diving flight down the narrow alleyways and cobbled streets of my home-town are a highlight of my year, and I miss them when they are gone.

Swift Departure
No scything wings.
The song thrush, the town-crier sings:
They’ve gone! They’ve gone! They’ve gone!
The empty street gazes up at empty sky.
No screaming dives.
Sparrows, the street-urchins, chirp forlorn:
They’ve gone! They’ve gone! They’ve gone!
No angled shadow.
The starlings, the pearly kings, darkly mourn:
They’ve gone! They’ve gone! They’ve gone!
Around the eaves the wind blows hollow.
No longer spring, they’ve stolen summer;
The cloud-cutters, the city-swallow.

They’ve gone.

(Copyright Sophie-May Lewis)

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The garden at Five Oaks Cottage

Tucked away in a secret spot, along a hazel-shaded lane in the heart of the South Downs, is an unusual and quirky garden encircling a cottage near Petworth in the South Downs National Park, with breathtaking views across the Sussex countryside 

Today, the garden was soaked in bright July sunshine beneath clear, windless skies. The sounds of traffic and towns were replaced with the hum, buzz and chirrups of insects and birds. Managed organically, as a wildlife garden, the garden has been under the ownership and care of Jean Jackman (Twitter @Selfseeding) since she and her husband Steve brought the house on 1994. 
Since that first year, many hours of hard work have transformed the garden into a beautiful, thriving wildlife haven (quite a feat considering the heavy acidic clay soil). A past life as a plant buyer for a garden centre chain has given Jean the opportunity to amass a collection of unusual plants, many chosen for their architectural qualities, their scent or their intriguing back-stories. 

In fact, every plant in the garden seems to have a story or a reason for being there; the bamboo from a friends recommendation, the tree where the Owl perches on quiet evening, or a  mother's much-loved-favourite. Gravel and brick paths, where wildflowers often choose to self seed, take you on a winding journey through the borders, and lead through the garden to a glorious meadow. 

Tall golden grasses wave in the softest of breezes and yellow Birds-foot-trefoil peers out from the edge of the mown paths. 
Purple Knapweed is currently the star of the show, attracting a throng of insects. Bees hum from flower to flower, Hoverflies dance at the edge of your sight, and Butterflies flit on dainty wings; the Small White and the Common Blue, the Meadow Brown and the Small Skipper, and like a flying pocket-chessboard the unusual and beautiful Marbled White.    

An old crooked apple tree, with lichen covered branches, lazes at the end of the meadow, keeping an eye of the productive vegetable patch. 
A feature throughout the garden, is metal work, with quirky artesian gates and obelisks providing both a smile, and a perfect perch for sun-basking dragonflies.

Birds are here too, with Sparrows, Tits and a tiny Goldcrest, performing their circus tricks in high branches. 

I left the garden, for the shady drive down the hazel-lined lane, with a feeling of total relaxation, and smiling at the knowledge that even as I travelled back into town, bees and butterflies were still dancing between flowers of purple, yellow and white, beneath the summer sun. 

The garden is open through July, in support of Sussex Wildlife Trust.
To visit, contact Jean with your preferred date, via twitter @Selfseeding or ring 07939 272 443