From Antarctic sketchbooks to nearly-finished watercolour painted in the relative warmth of a Dorset shed:
A bit chilly on Gold Hill this morning at the Salt Cellar, my usual coffee stop
At The Newt, Somerset looking down the holloway to the orchards, from the high ground near the incredible Roman villa
My recent article for our lovely local magazine, The Spreadeagle:
I love it when we get migrants flocking across our borders. They contribute so much to our country. For the past seven years, I've had my eye on one particular very hard worker from northern Europe: a beautifully patterned fieldfare who takes up residency in our orchard every winter.
From November to March, he jealously guards the fallen apples that we leave in the long grass to act as food for any passing feathered friends. The thing is that having flown all the way from Scandinavia, our red-listed tenant doesn't see why he should share any of the deliciously soft and gently fermenting fruit with the blackbirds, thrushes and jackdaws who are equally peckish and fancy a quick meal whenever his back is turned.
Sven, as we call him, is slightly larger than a blackbird, and with his beautiful brown, grey and speckled plumage puffed up and his head held high, he brings to mind a sort of avian version of the actor Brian Blessed. His commanding presence allows him to bully all those who have the temerity to encroach on his patch. I'm amazed at the energy he expends as he bounds, flaps and screeches at his rivals. In fact, he spends more time scrapping than feeding.
Call me naive but I like to think that this is still the same bird I first noticed all those years ago. There's always just one Sven in the orchard, which is unusual for a species that flocks in large groups through hawthorn and holly trees in search of ripe red berries. I look forward to his arrival after a 2,000-mile journey and for me it has become a sign that "proper" winter has started. A marker to think that it's now acceptable to put the fire on. He is a reminder of how our seasons ebb and flow as well as a strutting disruptive influence on our much more civilised garden regulars; the blue tits, robins and wrens. I love how his colours provide a striking contrast to the neutral tones of winter frost and his "chacking" call is now my soundtrack to the season.
I'm more of a Tweeter than a twitcher, but a friend recommended the Portland Bill Bird Observatory website www.portlandbirdobs.com and now I'm hooked. Dedicated birders record diligently and daily the constantly changing cast of avian characters that pass over the promontory. As the most southerly part of Dorset, poking its nose out into the Channel, it is a gathering point for flocks, before their epic travels over the sea to and from Europe. Perhaps Sven uses this place as his staging post for West Melbury or he may take a more direct route east and head over the cold North Sea.
I had always thought that there are fairly consistent populations of resident birds in our trees and hedgerows but I now realise that this was a gross misreading of the situation. The website's daily tally of bird species grouping before their annual sea skim is incredible. We all know about swifts, swallows and cuckoos and their long distance commutes to Africa, but I was unaware, for instance, that our chubby woodpigeons get in on the act too. In recent weeks, tens of thousands of them have been creating squadrons that leave Portland for the continent en masse to spend time in France and Spain.
My now-regular visits to the Portland website have given me a new-found respect for the birds we call neighbours in north Dorset and their transitory nature. They don't belong to us, or any other country. The discreet arrivals and departures of these remarkable creatures is an almost subliminal visual cue to the shifting seasons and I am so grateful that all I have to do is look up for a reminder of how wise and subtle the natural world is.
Giant puffball mushroom for lunch? Our weird warm weather is encouraging this monster to grow next to the studio
This watercolour 'Polar swim' is from seven years ago when I became slightly obsessed with showing how climate change was happening, using a swimming polar bear to illustrate the point. These amazing animals can swim really well but they need pack ice to help them feed. The ice gives them the element of surprise to catch seals, their main prey. But sea ice is rapidly diminishing and the bears are having to paddle longer distances, sometimes hundreds of miles, to seek their food. This saps their precious energy and contributes to their death.
Ice at the North Pole freezes and melts through the seasons but is shrinking at a frightening rate. Over the last 40 years we have lost Arctic sea ice equivalent in area to 18 UKs due to man made climate change. That’s 1.5 millions square miles of ice. This has happened when we have increased the global temperature by just 1.1 degrees. Changing the natural cycle of freezing and thawing in the Arctic is not only affecting polar bears, it is changing the world’s weather patterns in unpredictable ways.
And yet, here we go again. COP27 is up and running and as its name suggests it has been meeting for 27 years. Are we any further ahead? Not really. What the scientists have been telling us about the dangers of climate change is studiously ignored by oil firms, weak flip-flopping politicians and sad conspiracy theorists. Climate change is no longer a prediction dismissed as fake news, it's here for all to see. Let's hope, at this final opportunity, enough actions are put in place to limit warming to 1.5 degrees – which is still going to drastically change our lives.