This week comes out a book called Wild Green Wonders: A Life in Nature, written by the man who is chairman of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and one of the country’s most respected and beloved nature writers – Patrick Barkham.
Patrick’s book is a selection of 20 years of writing for the Guardian, the newspaper for which the great Ted Ellis wrote, along with the EDP.
Each story, and there are many, is vivid, compelling, and makes us think long and hard about our environment and how it deserves to be loved and protected.
And Patrick follows big steps, or should I say, solid rubber boots.
Let’s start by taking a look at the life and times of Arthur Patterson, born in 1859, the youngest of nine children of a cobbler living in one of the old Yarmouth Rows.
He lived a lifetime. A peddler, showman, storekeeper, teacher, school attendance agent and book author, writing under the name John Knowlittle.
It was his books that gave Arthur a national reputation among naturalists.
Our Jonathan Mardle (Eric Fowler) wrote: “To my great regret, I only met him once, in his old age. He was a wiry little man, bearded, wrinkled and weathered, but very active and bright-eyed, like one of the Dunlins he liked to watch on the Breydon mudflats.
“Then he wrote me a letter and covered the envelope with sketches of birds,” he said.
“Arthur was a student of humanity as well as natural history and when he was 71 he wrote Wild Fowlers and Poachers as a memorial to the rough and illiterate race of punt gins, fishermen, swamps and eel fishermen who had been his boyhood heroes in the 1860s, and who lived in the precariousness of what they could haul, net and trap on Breydon Water,” Eric wrote.
He learned a lot from the old wild fowlers and fishermen. He lived with them, in his tarmac barge on the salt flats and his low, gray punt slipping silently through the water – though his weapon was binoculars rather than a rifle.
Arthur befriended a young man named Ted and it was he who helped type the manuscript for Wild Fowlers and Poachers in the 1920s.
It was Ted Ellis who grew up to be one of the most famous and beloved nature men to ever live in Norfolk.
It was October 1, 1946, when EAE wrote the first in a series of daily campaign notes that continued to engage, delight and inform EDP readers for many years.
A naturalist, a scientist and a marvelous writer…
Ted grew up in Yarmouth and learned a lot from Arthur before recommending him to Gerard Gurney for a temporary job in the aviaries at Keswick Hall, near Norwich. This led to him working at the Tolhouse Museum and then, at 19, getting a job as a natural history assistant at the Norwich Castle Museum.
In 1956 he was a natural history keeper at the castle, living in a cottage amid 150 acres of woodland and marshland at Wheatfen, Surlingham, with his gifted wife Phyllis and children.
Through his newspaper, radio and television columns, Ted has become a much loved and respected naturalist,
Jonathan Mardle describes him as a gentle, modest and independent man who has kept his integrity as a scientific observer and an artist of the spoken word.
He once asked him what might have happened if he had been born forty years later and had gone on to college and a career in research.
“I might have become a very boring man,” Ted replied.
Visit Wheatfen Nature Reserve and explore this wonderful and peaceful place in memory of dear Ted who died in the 1980s.
And it gets a mention in the book published this week by “our” today’s nature writer – Patrick.
He has already written a collection of wonderful books such as Butterfly Isles, Badgerlands, Coastline, Islander and Wild Child: Coming Home to Nature.
Now he has chosen a selection of nature stories from two decades of writing for the Guardian to collect in the latest book.
“These are mostly what I enjoy the most: venturing into the world with wide open eyes and an open mind and writing honestly about other people and their relationships with other species,” he says.
Patrick’s parents did the “Good Life” thing in the 1970s and he was raised on an acre and a half of land with goats, rabbits and plenty of homegrown vegetables.
Mum was a geographer with a passion for the natural landscape while my dad harbored a deep emotional need to be close to wildlife and taught environmental studies at UEA Norwich.
“With the attentive ear of a child, I absorbed their discussions about the destruction of hedgerows, the hole in the ozone layer and the need for people to live more sustainably,” he says.
Patrick worked for The Guardian, first reporting from Australia. He then covered the Iraq War for the Times, then returned to the Guardian, eventually becoming the natural history writer.
He now works for the newspaper and writes books from his home in Norfolk, where he lives with his family, as well as a monthly Take a Walk page for The Oldie.
The stories of Patrick’s new offering are a joy. Compelling and stimulating. Taking us to great places, meeting incredible characters, and… making us think long and hard about the challenges we will face in the future.
One of them, published in the newspaper six years ago, is titled: A Place to Mend the Soul: The Subtle Magic of a Norfolk Broad.
Patrick takes us to Hickling Broad, an internationally important wetland, home to endangered species such as the marsh harrier, the swallowtail butterfly and the holly-leaved water nymph (an aquatic plant so rare that botanists make pilgrimages for it). ‘admire).
Hickling – now cared for by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, is probably one of the 10 most important nature reserves in the country.
When Patrick visited, he saw a plaque bearing a quote from a certain Ted Ellis describing the Broads as ‘a breathing space for the care of souls’.
Wild Green Wonders: A Life in Nature by Patrick Barkham is published this week by Guardian Faber at £14.99. It is highly recommended.
Help the Norfolk Wildlife Trust
Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s latest project, which is doing such magnificent work, is to raise £600.00 to save Sweet Briar Marshes in the city and create A Wilder Norwich for All.
He is to acquire 90 acres of precious wilderness in Norwich and begin work to create a major new nature discovery for the city and its people.
The public call has just been launched and is funded by Aviva to the tune of £300,000.
As President Patrick says: “Imagine entering a secret wilderness marshland in the heart of Norwich. A place where kingfishers whistle, water voles swim and orchids bloom.
“A place of tranquility too, where city children – and adults – can connect with nature. It’s no dream – Sweet Briar Marshes is a miraculous treasure – but we need your help to save it,” he added.
A project that John Knowlittle and Ted Ellis would have loved to support.