What shall we do today? Exploring the Thames Wilderness.

Guest post from Richard Mayon-White, co-author of Exploring the Thames Wilderness (with Wendy Yorke).

I wake up on a sunny morning and I want to be in the sunshine and by the river. My thoughts go straight to Exploring the Thames Wilderness, our new book detailing 150 nature reserves within one mile of the River Thames, all the way from its source to the sea. Where do I want to visit today? I am lucky to have several nature reserves within walking distance of my home in Oxford.

It has been fine and dry for a week, so there is no need for boots. Just sling my binoculars around my neck, put an apple in my pocket, pick up my camera and off I go. First place is an easy choice – the Trap Grounds Town Green (site 29, page 59 in the Thames Wilderness book) is within 200 yards of my house and is on my way to the Thames. The Trap Grounds site has been transformed in the last few years thanks to volunteers. Formerly a waste land, now it is a pretty mixture of woodland, reedbed, meadow and ponds making habitats for a variety of birds, bugs and plants.

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The way into Trap Grounds Town Green

On to Port Meadow (site 27, page 56) where the open space makes my spirits soar to join the larks singing overhead. I follow the Thames upstream to Godstow, for a chat with Sarah, the lock-keeper, to catch up with river news. Then to Kings Lock for a short break at the Visitor Centre. Should I cross the weir to look at Pixey Mead? (Site 23, page 54). I decide to continue to Eynsham Lock, so that I can do my River Warden duties, checking on the state of the river and Thames Path. All is well with very little litter to collect on my way. At Swinford Bridge and Meadows (site 19, pages 50 and 51) I am spoilt for choice: do I go for lunch at the Talbot Inn at Eynsham, or walk through Wytham Woods to the White Hart, or continue along the river to Pinkhill Lock? It is too early for lunch and I have not been to Pinkhill for several months, so let’s go there.

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Swinford Bridge near Eynsham

Pinkhill Meadow (site 18, page 49) has a bird hide overlooking a small lake. A few tufted ducks and coots are quarrelling amongst themselves, while a mallard dozes in the sunshine on the gravel island. Most active is a little egret fishing around the shallows, stirring the mud with its foot before striking down with its beak. I am reminded of food. After eating my apple, I walk around Farmoor Reservoir into the village for lunch and catch a bus back to Oxford.

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Pinkhill Meadow Lake

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Exploring the Thames Wilderness: A guide to the natural Thames is out now! Order your copy and start to discover the natural beauty of the River Thames.

Sample a few pages from Richard and Wendy’s new book.

Happy Hagfish Day!

Today is Hagfish Day, the fourth annual celebration of ‘the beauty of the ugly’, which was started up by the fish fans at WhaleTimes.org to introduce people to some of the weirder creatures that inhabit the seas.

The hagfish is just one of the stars of our book How to Snog a Hagfish! (Disgusting Things in the Sea) by Jonathan Eyers. To find out just why you wouldn’t want to get close enough to kiss this eel-like beastie, check out this video:

Interestingly, hagfish slime is similar enough to egg whites for you to use it in your soufflés…

But the hagfish is only one of hundreds of bizarre species featured in the book. There are fish with transparent heads and visible brains. There are shrimp that can smash their way out of glass aquariums. There are sharks that glow green when they come for you. There are sea cucumbers who can turn themselves inside out. There are starfish whose legs detach and crawl off to start up a new life on their own. And then there are the wonderfully named Seaweed of Death from Hana and Bone-eating Snot Flower.

You can read more about the book on the author’s blog: JonathanEyers.com