I Grew Marigolds

Some blogs are hard to write. Sometimes the tone or the wording can be difficult to achieve, or the subject matter requires some research and careful handling. Sometimes I’m just not sure what it is I’m trying to say. This is one of those. So I’m just going to type what I’m thinking, and hope you’ll forgive me if I ramble.

I think this post has been a long time in the making, but only now does it feel right to give it some air. It’s a post about identity I suppose, about cares and priorities, about passion and balance and focus. Yes, time to give it some air.

Last night I read some news and media items, shortly before heading to bed; three of which I shared on my facebook/twitter pages. I slept poorly, and woke early. After an hour of tossing and turning, I have tiptoed out here to my desk, where I can watch the day lighten gradually through the condensation on the window, and attempt the wrangle with the thoughts in my head.

Have you seen the ‘State of Nature Report’? I whispered that. I wanted to grab you by the shoulders and shake you hard and shout it. Have you see it, have you read it? Have you! But I say it quietly, sadly. Fearfully. Because I know how you’ll feel when you have read it, at least I think I do; and I’m sorry for you, and for me.

The news isn’t good. Of 8,431 species assessed, one in seven is at risk of extinction in the UK.

Just off the south coast of England this week, a Lithuanian-flagged, Dutch-owned, super freezer-trawler capable of taking on board 6000 tonnes of fish has been operating with huge nets and a fish pump – efficient, deadly, and legal. I don’t need mathematic, scientific or ecological degrees to see the insanity at play here: there simply isn’t ‘plenty more fish in the sea’.

Also this week, four men in Wales were convicted of badger baiting, a barbaric act uncovered by secret and brave investigative reporting by the BBC. Tens of previous convictions between them, video evidence of the cruelty and violence they considered acceptable… they received sentences of between 20 & 26 weeks. Wildlife crime prosecutions rarely see substantial punishment.

I didn’t hear a cuckoo this year. Or see a spotted flycatcher. Or hear a nightingale.  The hilltop ash trees the local rooks have nested in for centuries were felled this summer; claimed by dieback disease. The ones by the old railway line will soon follow them to the timber lorries. In Brighton, Dutch Elm Disease struck one of the oldest elm trees in the country. Only last month the horse chestnut tree has been classified as a ‘vulnerable’ species across Europe, its conkers crushed and muddied in the gutter, no longer recognised by the children that once prized them.

Are these the headlines I should be raising my voice to?

This year I wrote blogs and instagram posts on gardens and rowan trees, listening to blackcap song and a sense of home, on making chutney and poetry. I grew marigolds and marrows on my allotment.

1 in 7 species at risk of extinction. 6000 tonnes of fish. They felled the rookery. The reality of the state of nature rattles my words, flaying and winnowing, making them appear paper-thin like seed head husks that the harsh light bleaches. Rainforests burn, and I type ‘there is a change in the air’ and go outside to cut back the brambles encroaching on my garden.

Perhaps focusing on the small details; the way the dunnock has learnt to use the hanging seed feeder, the first ripening of hawthorn berries, the germination rate of my allotment carrots – perhaps that is my way of counterbalancing and dealing with the enormity of 1 in 7 species at risk of extinction. Or 6000 tonnes of fish. Or am I just burying my head in the sand?

I look back at the State of Nature Report, and note the ages of those delivering the headlines – 15, 17, 21, 16, 17….

A lot has changed in the last 10-15 years. As a young teenager my passion for nature conservation and the environment flamed bright, but I was hardly ‘cool’, hardly ‘mainstream’. In-fact I was a ‘weirdo’, ‘freak’, ‘odd’, and they made sure I knew it. But I didn’t care, and I made sure they knew it. At 16 I wasn’t asking my parents to take me to football matches or music gigs, but instead spent my weekends tramping round nature reserves, holding placards at demonstrations, and writing letters to my local press.

This year, at 27, I watched the Marches for Nature in London, the Fridays for Future school strikes, the Let Nature Sing/Nightingales in Berkley Square demonstration. I smiled, then drove home from work, flicked the kettle on and wrote a blog about the poetry of swifts scything over the garden’s sky.

Maybe I missed the point. Maybe I should’ve been there too.

It’s a case of economy of emotion, I tell myself. And anyway, in such a cacophony of voices, if everyone raises their voice it’ll just become an intelligible din. Far easier perhaps to plant a few more bee-friendly flowers, re-hang the bird feeder, retreat back indoors and make yet another cup of tea. Even that is a risky business – where did the tea come from, did the farmers get a fair deal, did the plantation destroy valuable wild land, is the box of teabags wrapped in plastic, do the bags themselves leak micro-plastics to poison us all? Suddenly my drink tastes funny, I think I’ll pass thanks.

It’s taken me two hours to write this far. It is now daylight outside. A grey squirrel is raiding the walnut tree across the green, and closer to, in my front garden I can see I need to refill the peanut feeder again. The little details, that help us comprehend and deal with the things we don’t want to think about. 1 in 7 species at risk of extinction. I didn’t hear a cuckoo this year, and they felled the rookery.

Anyone else want a cup of tea?

2 Replies to “I Grew Marigolds”

  1. I’ll have a cup! It makes depressing reading, all of it. Not just the report (which I’ve yet to get my hands on, just the headlines are bad enough, and the assessment on Channel 4 news the other day) but the relentless stream of nature we are losing and destroying and that so many seem not to care in the slightest. I’ve been concerned ever since I read ‘Silent Spring’, now over 40 years ago, and for most of that time those of us that cared were, as you say, just ‘weirdos’. The only bright spot I see is that the crisis seems to have gripped the imagination of the young, and that the movement to do something is growing in a way I never thought I’d see. I do have some hope!


  2. I understand how you feel and share your concerns. I see signs of hope in movements like Extinction Rebellion and the School Strikes but our capitalist infrastructure is going to resist change that curtails their ability to make money whatever the cost.


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