Saturday, 28 February 2015

The RSPB: Giving nature a home

As anyone knows who regularly follows this blog I'm a big fan of nature and the natural world. Its beautiful and precious, not only in its only right but also in the way its fate and ours are in inextricably bound. Its for this reason (and to escape from the tedium of an office based role) that I decided to start volunteering for the RSPB.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was set up in 1889 as a way to promote the conservation of birds and the environment they live in. More recently the RSPB has expanded its focus to including all wildlife, for the simple reason that our environment and wildlife is so interconnected.

As such I started volunteering around Cardiff with a project designed to promote the idea of more children and adults coming directly contact with the natural world. This could include activities such children creating bird feeders made from vegetable fat and seeds to hang in their garden (a simple activity that can make a real difference to birds in winter). To directing people to simple nature based activities around Cardiff (such as a local flock of Pied Wagtails that have taken up residence in the trees on Cardiff high street come dark). Or even guided nature walks or spotting activities for children where we use sweep nets to show the types of creepy crawlies that kids love to see.

This type of work is important, as a recent study by the RSPB showed that just one in five children was found to be connecting to nature in a realistically achievable manner. Now you might be there thinking so what? But the fact is that for quite a few years now nature and wildlife has been in quite a serious decline and by educating future generations (and getting them enthusiastic about getting outdoors) we may be able slow or even halt this frightening development.

So if your reading this you might be thinking well what can I do right now to help? Well there are a number of simple steps that the RSPB recommend that you can do to help nature right from the comfort of your back garden. Why not start feeding birds during the harder winter months (although remember to clean the feeder regularly to stop the spread of lethal diseases), invest in a pond with shallow edges, plant trees and shrubs (particularly ones that provide fruit in the garden), made dead wood piles and when mowing the garden raise the high of the mower to provide more of a home for insects.

There are many ways for you to help nature and by taking practical steps and supporting charities like the RSPB you can make a real difference in to the natural world.

I've included some links to the RSPB website below with more hints and tip for giving nature a home.

Monday, 23 February 2015

The witches fingers

Hampered by a series of delays when it came to my blog posts and inspired by the cold and stormy weather out my front door. I decided to head outside to explore the effects that could be captured when the trees had lost their leaves.

The effects were rather eerie, thin branches reached across the sky seeking to claw the moon from the horizon. Tangles of branches caught on fire under the glare of golden neon light.

Sometimes the tangle of branches almost seemed to become a series of veins and arteries that threaded their way through the body of the night.

It was a eerie time to be photographing these witches fingers reaching across the night.

Friday, 13 February 2015


I arrived in Amsterdam in the afternoon after a refreshingly short journey from Brussels. Once my and my travel companion had checked in to the rather lovely (and more importantly cheap) Student Hotel we dumped our luggage and set out to explore the city.

Amsterdam is a wonderfully picturesque city if you can tear yourself away from its more hedonistic pursuits, home as it is to a multitude of canals that criss cross the city, beautiful architecture and a wealth of art and culture to explore.

We started our exploration of this side of the city at Anne Frank's House. The modern, crisp exterior gave way to an emotive insight into the life and mindset of an average teenage girl growing up in the most extraordinary and tragic circumstances as her and her family hid from Nazi persecution. One of Anne's wishes was that one day she would grow up to become a famous novelist by giving an account of these life experiences. It was both heart breaking and inspiring that her wish came true in the worst way possible.

And though she died believing she was all alone in the world, her words will echo throughout time as a voice of hope for her people, long after the words of the cruel tyrant that tried to silence them will tarnish and fade.

Afterwards we wandered the streets of the city before finding an absolutely delicious chinese restaurant to eat at. The food was tasty and the portions were extremely generous and by the time we left we were both suffering from a serious case of food baby.

We had decided that a trip to Amsterdam wouldn't be complete without enjoying one of the city's famous cafes. So we headed to the famous Benny's Cafe, the place was by a haze of weed and packed to high heaven so we took one look before turning tail and heading to the much more civilised Benny's bar across the way. There we purchased one of their 'special' cakes which I washed down with a beer. The music was superb and the place had a great atmosphere and afterwards I was throughly ready for a night out.

Unfortunately this was not to be the case as I made it through one drink before the cake took effect. Through my stoned haze I decided that this was probably not a wise plan and through happy accident managed to get the metro service back to my hotel before collapsing into bed.

We decided to take a relaxed approach to getting up the next day but still made it out the hotel in good enough time to explore the world famous Rjjks Museum. Home to a world renowned collection of art and historic pieces. We took most of the day browsing everything from chinese statues, 18th, 19th and 20th century art and pieces by artists such as Van Gogh and (rather famously) an entire section filled devoted to the works of Rembrandt including the absolutely stunning Nightwatch painting.

It was a great way to finish off my trip and after some food and drinks at our hotel we decided to call it an early night. I spent a long day on the Megabus home the next day and arrived back tired but glad. It had all been totally worth the effort.

Saturday, 7 February 2015


Incongruous, surprising and actually kind of exciting. These are some of the words I was not expecting to describe Brussels as my first impressions were a bit mixed. But as the old saying goes don't judge a book by its cover and with Brussels a little digging goes a long way.

After taking a rather restless journey overnight on the Megabus me and my friend pulled into the city at rather an early hour. We were greeted to the sight of the city's beautiful lit Grand Place, the city's central square. With its gothic architecture, wonderfully intricate stonework and great selection of shops and bars, it really is the beating heart of the city.

After taking some time to wander around and have some breakfast, we set off to our hotel to rest and recover. Unfortunately we promptly found out our check in wasn't until 3pm, so we dropped our bags off and went to the first attraction on our list; Brussel's famous atomium, a metal museum built to celebrate the city's world fair day.

We were ever so slightly underwhelmed when we arrived, as while the structure was no doubt impressive its price, slight gaudiness and location left me feeling vaguely unimpressed. Much better (although thanks to bad sign posting slightly harder to find) was the entirely inaccurately recreated Chinese temple and Japanese pagoda in the nearby park grounds.

After taking this all in we decided to try our luck with the Arc de Triomphe, a beautiful and large arch build in the 1880's as a pavillon of exhibition. The building and statues surrounding it were impressive enough but what made it even better was the art and history museum it contained. Large and exquisitely presented, it was filled with a truely impressive collection of art, statues, and historical artifacts from all over the world. It literally was so big we were still finding new sections a good three hours into exploring it. Leaving it we were surprised and delighted to find that the park behind it had been colonized by brightly coloured parrots.

After we left we chilled at our hotel before going out for a lovely meal at a local (and cheap) pizzera. Afterwards we ended rolling into a succession of gay bars located around the Grand Place where we met a fellow Brit and enjoyed a good night out.

The next day I was hungover so while my friend visited a comic book museum I chilled out in bed. We met in the afternoon and decided to explore the Michaelis et Gudula cathedral. Inside was incredible, with beautiful statues, architecture to die for, and golden religious artifacts lovingly presented. What was even more surprising was that parts of the floor had been laid with glass so that you could actually see (and visit) the foundations of the cathedral excavated below.

We finished our two days in Brussels throughly impressed and ready to move on to Amsterdam.