It began in January 1983, six months after my return from a second sojourn in India, determined to recuperate my health before venturing abroad again. I became what one might call a committed yet, due to pressure of work, often only seasonal, Wildlife Gardener.
That year brought the first of many seasons studying succession in an ancient deciduous woodland. Creating clearings, largely for beautiful butterflies, on a lowly limestone knoll beside Morecambe Bay in north west England. Then in 1992 I was nominal chief of the IVF (the Indigenous Vegetation Front) on the tiny tropical island of Aride, a nature reserve choked by coconut palms, in the midst of the Indian Ocean. Between times I fell in love with the forests and peoples of Indo-China. Yet I was often back in England, and engaged in a little wildlife tinkering in the urban heartlands of north London. In ’95 love and work dropped me in downtown Vientiane in the Lao PDR. After starting our family in Glasgow, in 1998 Elsie and I moved out to an isolated cottage hidden among the primeval oak woodlands on the Atlantic coast of Scotland. After four years in the dampness of Argyll, Elsie began our drive south to “The Sun” in September 2002. But on All Hallow’s Eve my pathway to Africa was thwarted by rough seas off the Isla de Tarifa. Elsie said “That’s Enough!” So I found myself nurturing Nature, where once again eagled mountains meet the sea, in sight of Jebel Mousa near this southernmost of Europe’s mainland towns.
A week after the great Tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 I flew Ethiopian Airlines to Kilimanjaro International. It was but one small step up onto an aircraft, yet it was one giant conceptual leap in this man’s understanding of what Wilderness might be. Living in Equatorial East Africa for most of the last decade has taught me many lessons, some painful and protracted. One crucial lesson stems from a simple question:
What must we do to become Real Nature Lovers?
Well, my mantra might be: Biodiversity Begins at Home!
My Home, Your Home!
If you care about Nature, if you want to see it when on holiday for example, then why not welcome it back home, right where you live.
In these dismal times for Nature’s enterprise upon this planet, we who claim to care, should be working with Nature and certainly not aiding and abetting the great forces which are gathered against it.
We could call this movement the return of the Doorstep Naturalist
It could be a renaissance of the literate nature lover a species of human that, less than fifty years ago, was still widespread, especially in India, Japan and eastern Asia, Northern Europe (including Russia) and in parts of the Americas.
Our rented hectare, here on the slopes of Mount Meru, in equatorial Arusha, is now a dedicated Bird Garden.
We moved-in to the five year old house in January 2007. Over the past seven years we have managed it for Nature. For birds and, of course, by extension for wildlife, Nature or, if you prefer what could have been just a 90s word, for biodiversity.
In other words I have tried to maximise biodiversity per unit area.
If you decide to garden for birds you will be amply rewarded.
First off we stopped using chemicals in the garden. Then we allowed whatever plant wanted to, to grow, where it wanted to grow, until we could assess how vigorous that particular species was.
We soon found that we needed to constrain some of the aliens; although several are beneficial to the indigenous scene and of course some are very beautiful. One simply needs to manage their extremes of behaviour, their excessive, and sometimes aggressive spread. Outwit them, as if they were unruly children. Alongside some light policing duties (e.g. digging-out, pruning and weeding) one will most likely need to assist Nature’s restoration process. Helping her rewild, to the most dynamic equilibrium possible at your location, by assisting the return of some of the community who inhabited the land prior to it being intensively farmed and/or built-up. Thankfully in tropical Africa the imposition of ‘remote rules’ is somewhat less rigid than it is in many nations toward the poles. So one can still carry the occasional bag of earth, leaf-litter and fallen fruits from the remaining semi-natural areas ‘outside the wire’, back into the towns and cities.
What we have discovered is that we have created a very lively place. Especially for birds !
In addition to all the colours we now have a truly wonderful Sound Garden. The dawn chorus of birds, especially in the damper periods of the year, wraps our house in a symphony of avian sound.
I also have come to realise that colourful birds in a tropical African garden are very much like colourful flowers, the development of which, most people seem to agree is a major component, if not the main purpose, of traditional gardening. Furthermore birds move a lot, in fact one might say they dance.
So what you find around you once you develop an active bird garden is, in truth, an all-singing, all-dancing garden. It’s a place filled with a multitude of natural noises, with melody, and often with bright and beautiful bouncing colours.
As I wrote the last sentence an Arrow-marked Babbler, one of ‘seven sisters’ in the garden, hopped down from an open window ledge, proceeded right through this study bedroom, and casually exited via the open door!