Nicola Shafer tells us how her love of the natural world led her to the publication of her new book
We are lucky to have beautiful natural local habitats. From our precious chalk grasslands to our rare chalk streams, from the beech woods filled with bluebells and wild garlic, to our ancient hedgerows rich with native species, to old oak trees and meadows, to the gardens and green spaces in the town.
My love of wildlife started as a child, encouraged by my parents and grandparents and a small flowerpress. However it is only since I got involved with the Green Plan, a collaboration between Watlington Climate Action Group and other local groups interested in conservation that I realised how much I didn’t know about ecology. I joined Watlington Environment Group and started to learn the names of flowers, the types of insects, the song of our birds and the importance of our chalk stream. Last year, I acquired a macro lens with which to take better photographs of our local wildflowers, and a whole new world of beauty opened up in front of my eyes. Previously on walks I might notice the flowers in passing but now, stopping to take a closer look the variety, colour, and structure of these wildflowers astounds me. Looking closer you often see that a single flower can be home to various small insects, and a food source or a resting place for a bee or a butterfly.
Thank you to Watlington Library for displaying Eleanor’s artwork from the book in July, and to The Granary Café for hosting an exhibition last month.
Wild Watlington, The Creatures of Watlington Parish is a tour of just some of what can be found on our doorstep. Written as a story book, it is full of information that will be appreciated by young and old alike, as we find out about the habitats that make up our landscape, and the creatures that share it. The book was illustrated by young artist Eleanor Short, who is a Year 8 student at Icknield Community College. Thank you to Watlington Library for displaying Eleanor’s artwork from the book in July, and to The Granary Café for hosting an exhibition last month.
In the last year, with the aid of apps, my grandmother’s guide to wild flowers, and patient friends with more knowledge than me, I’ve been able to learn a fair proportion of the flowers I find on the local hills and verges. In times gone past, we were intimately acquainted with the plants around us – what was edible, what was not, what could be used for a medical treatment, what could be used for warding off evil spirits, and what smelt good when added to bedding. Now most of us don’t even know the names! As a society we have lost so much of this knowledge, but it is worth the effort to reclaim it. Looking closer and recognising the flowers and plants around us bring a greater understanding and connection to our natural world and with it a greater desire to protect and restore it.
Around Watlington my favourite places for wildlife spotting are:
1. The Chilterns way through Greenfield and College Woods is beautiful and I often see deer there
2. Incredible wild flowers can be seen on the chalk grass of the Aston Rowant Nature Reserves
3. The Chalk Pits at the bottom of Watlington Hill is a quiet retreat to listen to birdsong
4. The Paddock behind Watlington Library is beautifully planted with pollinator friendly plants, a great place to spot different types of bees and butterflies
5. Watlington’s historical chalk streams and spring fed ponds such as the Willow Pond and Horse Pond host amphibians, invertebrates, ducks, and occasionally a water vole.