Category: Uncategorized

Village Voices Nature Note: Fruits of the Season

In the Just William stories the hero was once asked to empty his pockets to see if there was incriminating evidence of some misdemeanour in them.  He turned them out but all they contained were conkers and a bit of string.  Good for him.  I’ve been happily filling my pockets with conkers on recent walks, too. I love the bright mahogany colour and polished surfaces and the gentle ‘ping’ they make if one drops onto a hard surface; but above all I love their tactile qualities –   the heft of them in the hand and the soft, slippery feel when you jiggle a few of them round together.  Deeply therapeutic, and a reminder that touch is the first of the senses we acquire in exploring our world, and also the last to go as the others fade. It’s also the only one of the five senses that isn’t based on just one sense-organ but gives us an all-round bodily awareness.  I must confess to being a bit of a tree-hugger for the same reasons.  Don’t think I’m promiscuous, mind you – I have my standards. I’m especially attracted to trees with heavily corrugated barks like oak, sweet chestnut and black poplar.  If you run your hands over one of those you can almost feel the life running through it and share something of its ancient strength and endurance. 

Photo: Jeremy Mynott

Oaks, of course, also give us acorns, another sensory delight, with that satisfying spherical shape, topped off with a rough warty cap.  I also collect acorns in my pockets at this time of year and add them to the conkers to dress a bowl with autumn’s finest fruits.  There is a tiny perfection about them, which was celebrated in a wonderful image by Julian of Norwich, the fourteenth-century visionary (and author of the first book in English by a woman).  She held an acorn in the palm of her hand and declared it a symbol of the whole, living world.  

Conkers used to be a common children’s game (hence William’s piece of string, I expect), before well-meaning authorities decided that it posed an insurance risk.  We paraded our best conkers in competition, trying to convert a oncer into a twicer, or even a champion tenner.  This led to all manner of underhand tactics like baking or pickling them to improve their concussive powers, but it did at least give children direct some contact with nature.  We learned some years ago that the Oxford Junior Dictionary was dropping words like Acorn, Bluebell and Conker in favour of the new children’s ABC of Attachment, Blog and Chatroom. A terrible warning: lose the experience and you lose the language too.

Jeremy Mynott

Village Voices Nature Note: the Human Factor

I was walking along the sea-wall the other day when I caught sight of a red kite cruising over the fields.  Wow, what a gorgeous bird, glinting red and gold in the late afternoon sun.  An aerial genius too, constantly adjusting its speed and direction with the subtlest of tail and wing movements.  I noticed a young person approaching me from the other direction, so I pointed up and shouted excitedly, ‘Look, red kite!’  No response.  Then I saw why.  He was bent over his mobile phone, his eyes about six inches from the tiny screen, and he was wearing a large pair of headphones that were tuned into some throbbing beat music, audible from yards away.  Blind and deaf to the world, effectively.  The incident reminded me of some troubling research I had read about.  An Oxford Professor had conducted a survey of his first-year biology students to discover what knowledge they had of the natural world and where they had learned it from (books, TV, parents, friends, school, social media or wherever?).  To his amazement, 42% of them could not even correctly name five British birds.  Can you believe that? At Oxford and studying biology …

What does this say about our changing relationship to nature?  The new technology makes it possible to insulate yourself entirely from the living world around you.  Yes, you can communicate ever more easily from within your private bubble to like-minded friends who may be miles away.  Communicate after a fashion, that is – the exchanges one overhears (‘I’m on a train’) don’t seem to be very rich in content.  

You can even write about nature now without ever experiencing it.  I tested this out by asking the new AI wonder, ChatGPT, to draft me a ‘Nature Note’ for September.  You can see the result in the facing column (or below on mobile screens).  It’s quite impressive as a technical exercise – it works by scanning thousands of documents and then regurgitating a secondhand summary based on word frequencies.  But that’s also why the prose is so bland and clichéd, with nothing personal or particular to bring it to life.  ChatGPT doesn’t understand anything or feel anything.  And there’s one give-away mistake in that it mentions the migration of Monarch butterflies – an American species!  Anyway, I don’t feel redundant just yet.

I walked on along the seawall.  A curlew called as it flew over, red admirals fluttered among the late-flowering brambles.  Then to my delight I found traces on the bank of an otter – in the form of a fresh spraint, which had a sweet fishy smell to it.  There isn’t an app for that experience.

Jeremy Mynott
8 September 2023

ChatGPT ‘Nature Note’

September’s Splendour: Embracing Nature’s Transition

As the summer sun gradually softens its rays, September arrives, signalling the beginning of a captivating transformation in the natural world. With its gentle breezes, vibrant colors, and a sense of tranquility, this month offers an enchanting invitation to immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature. Let us explore the wonders that September has in store for us.

One of the most captivating sights during September is the gradual change in foliage. The lush green canopies give way to a stunning array of reds, oranges, and yellows, painting the landscape with a mesmerizing palette. Walking through the woods or strolling along tree-lined paths becomes an exquisite experience, as the falling leaves create a symphony of rustling sounds beneath our feet.

September is a month of abundance, as it marks the peak of the harvest season. Fields and gardens are brimming with ripe fruits and vegetables, offering a perfect opportunity to indulge in the flavors of nature’s bounty. Farmers’ markets and roadside stands proudly display their harvest, providing a chance to connect with local growers and support sustainable practices.

September also heralds the start of a remarkable journey for many species of birds and butterflies. As they prepare for their long-distance migrations, flocks of birds gather in awe-inspiring formations, painting the sky with their graceful flight. Monarch butterflies, with their delicate wings, embark on an epic journey to warmer climates, creating a spectacle of nature’s resilience and adaptability.

With the arrival of September, forests beckon us to explore their hidden wonders. The air is crisp and invigorating, making it the perfect time for hiking, camping, or simply taking leisurely walks amidst towering trees. The forest floor becomes adorned with mushrooms and wildflowers, adding a touch of whimsy to the landscape. Nature enthusiasts can also witness the rutting season of deer and the playful antics of squirrels as they gather acorns in preparation for winter.

September brings with it the autumnal equinox, marking the transition from summer to fall. This celestial event reminds us of the delicate balance in the universe and the importance of embracing change. It is a time to reflect on our own lives, shedding old habits and embracing new beginnings. Many cultures celebrate this equinox with festivals and rituals, highlighting the significance of this transition.

September is a month of profound beauty and transformation, where nature effortlessly captivates our senses. From the vibrant foliage to the abundance of the harvest season, every aspect of this month invites us to appreciate the wonders of the natural world. As we bid farewell to summer, let us embrace the arrival of September with open hearts and open minds, ready to immerse ourselves in the splendour that nature so graciously offers.

Blue Moon at Shingle Street

31 Aug 2023
John Dryden took this spectacular photo of the special Blue Moon at Shingle Street. Visitors often remark how clear the skies are and how many stars they can see, which is due, at least in part, to the relative lack of light pollution - let's endeavour to keep it that way!

Parking Restored for 2023

All parking at Shingle Street is permissive parking on residents’ land. An area of this parking at the southern end of the hamlet, providing c10 parking spaces, was damaged during the dry summer of 2022 and visitors’ cars were becoming stuck in the shingle, requiring the spaces to be closed.

A Sustainable Development Fund grant from the Suffolk Coasts and Heath AoNB has supported residents to repair the damaged area and reopen the land to parking again.

The work was undertaken by 8 volunteer residents and involved: digging to prepare the ground, the supply and manual raking out of 18 tonnes of aggregate material and, finally, car-rolling to bind the material. It was a good workout for all involved, young and old alike, and, once finished (!), all said they enjoyed completing a great job together.

Preparatory digging
Raking Out

With our thanks to:

Suffolk Coast and Heaths

Background: Shingle Street receives in the order of c30,000 – 70,000 visitors every year yet it is one of the most fragile and sensitive areas for biodiversity within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AoNB. Visitors highly value their experiences at Shingle Street which provides significant wellbeing and tourist public value. Most visits (anecdotal >c95%) are made by car which are only possible thanks to parking areas provided by the residents’ community.