Walking along one of the boardwalks at Rainham with the sun washing your face and nothing demanding your attention is, in my book, one of the greatest luxuries in the world.
If you ever get the chance to experience this level of bliss, then treasure it. There's something primal about the wide open space, the untamed grass and reeds and the quiet busy-ness of nature going on around you. It seems far removed from the conflicts raging round the world or the anger and frustration clouding our economic future.
Even the buildings conspire to give a feeling of tranquility, like the Purfleet hide, which seemingly floats on the serene mirror-surfaced pool at its side. A visit to Rainham helps me put the muddle of life in to perspective. Its hides are actually temples of contemplation and renewal. Nothing about them fits the label 'hide'. Car manufacturers convinced us that clumpy cars are exciting MPV's, so I'm asking you to join me in a campaign to change the tag 'hides' with DP's; short for Discovery Pods. Share the love with #RSPBLondon
It's been a while since I was last in Rainham's Purfleet DP. Walking in is like stepping on to a stage as the large window and countoured landscape suggest you are the centre of attention rather than the wildlife.
That day, there were swifts sweeping over the water, hoovering up flying insects attracted to the water surface. It was one of those moments where you just stand and gawp. Any dragonfly, water vole or frog looking through the glass must have thought what a rather stupid and vacant race mankind is .. and probably wondered when I'd start performing.
Have you ever wondered where our swifts go when they leave the UK? A Belgian study tagged some swifts and the birds journey reads like a tourist itinerary.
One particular bird, lets call him Pierre, left Belgium and three days later arrived in NE Spain where he supped and dined for three days before moving along the trade route to Morrocco. Here, Pierre again paused for a couple of days enjoying the souks and the calls of the Iman. Another three days brought Pierre to the edge of a monsoon storm in west Mauritania. This slowed Pierre down so it took him five days to skirt the storm before arriving in southern Mali. A brief pause and then five more days to the insect rich winter feeding grounds of the north Congo basin.
The unbridled joy of witnessing night after night of national pride, the full frontal exposure to the best of humanity, has left me wanting more.
As a confirmed curmudgeon I do not normally indulge my tribal side, but I was lifted-up and carried along on the shoulders of giants as the Olympics and then the Paralympics inspired me to cheer, leap to my feet and cry salt tears of wonder and admiration as athletes pushed themselves to the limits.
I haven't wanted to let go of that euphoria, but its evaporated in the heat of swerving and avoiding roadworks that have broken out across London, like some scabby plague pimpling the Capital's streets and erupting in giant sores capable of bursting bike tyres and snapping spokes.
The Olympic world created a dream London. Full of happy people, fields of wildflowers, darting wagtails on the running track and playful coots sparring with grebes; even the Thames seemed to sparkle like a silver medal, turning to gold as the sun set.
Looming strikes, unhappy people and a return to the twin-obsessions of the weather and the economy add to a general feeling of fatigue. Top-less and bottom-less Royals have provided some distraction, but I need some wholesome happiness to get me ready for winter.
The chilly mornings are a hint of what's to come. Soon we'll be ankle-deep in falling leaves and short of daylight hours. This is the time to start planning work on any outdoor space you may have. Whether it's a windowsill, balcony, back-yard, shared space or garden. Consider where the sun strikes, lines of sight and don't forget it's three dimensional so height is important too. Think of the structure and how to prepare winter shelter, spring colour and nectar, followed by lush summer greenery and maybe a harvest of herbs, veg or fruit.
Live the dream and make it a reality. That outdoor space can become that special place you retreat to when the scabby roads and unsmiling faces become too much. As Mo Farrar put it.. "It's all hard work and graft", but obviously worth it judging by his infectious smile and the public shows of support and respect.
It was cold, dark, noisy and there were flashing Police lights all around me. I was loitering in a car park in east London usualy frequented by young men in expensive cars who don't take kindly to people staring at them. But today, that car park was full of people like me, politely shepherded by a small army of smiling, high-fiving Police Officers as we all waited amicably for the Paralympic torch to arrive. It was no wonder that when I got home I reached for some pain killers.
The average bathroom cabinet, if that's where you keep your stash of painkillers, quite often contains diclofenac; or used to. Laws have been changed in many countries and diclofenac is being dropped, not because it's harmful to humans. Quite the contrary. It's an effective anti-inflammatory. However, it causes liver failure in vultures and is one of the main reasons these amazing, if not cuddly, creatures have been dying at an alarming rate.
Saturday, September first is World Vulture Day. We should celebrate them. They played a starring role in the old Jungle Book movie and in real life, they clean carcasses of dead animals so fast, there's no danger of disease from the rotting corpse. That was before diclofenac entered the food chain. Not only is it an effective drug for humans, it's good for animals too, so domestic cattle, sheep and goats across Asia were also given it. When these animals died, vultures did what vultures do and ate the diclofenac impregnated corpse. It all sounds nasty and horrible, but not as horrible and nasty as the consequences of the loss of these carrion eaters.
Since vulture populations crashed, cases of rabies and other diseases have increased, as have packs of wild dogs and rats. They're taking advantage of the new sources of food previously cleaned away by vultures and it's resulted in their populations expanding. It's had a negative knock-on effect on people.
The RSPB has worked with others to find solutions to the problem and we've made progress. Alternative drugs have been identified. Vulture sanctuaries established with successful breeding programmes. We've increased awareness of the problem and secured lots of help across Asia. But it's not enough. We haven't saved the species yet.
More money is needed to fund this work and to fund all the work the RSPB does here in the UK and abroad. You'd expect me to say that wouldn't you. But we can all strive to do more. The decline of vultures was never an intention of the manufacturers of diclofenac. Nor is the scarcity of sand eels in the North Sea the aim of fishermen trying to make a living. Nor is the tidying of gardens and public spaces an evil conspiracy to rid London of sparrows or blackbirds. It just happens and eventually someone notices. Thankfully, the RSPB has noticed drops in kittiwakes, swifts, insects and river fish. While others argue for short-sighted action, such as giant airports or culls of cormorants, we're looking for real solutions to the root causes of the changes that are impacting on our lives.
Killing cormorants because they're taking a high proportion of the dwindling numbers of river fish after people polluted the rivers and over-fished the seas is not an answer. Increasing emissions by building bigger airports for more subsidised air travel is no way to address climate change that results in extremes of weather, higher sea-levels and poor food growing seasons.
Take a Paralympic torch and shine light on many of our modern day issues. Be inspired by the human spirit exhibited in the Olympic venues over the next few days and you'll soon realise that we can all do a bit more; push ourselves that bit further; aim higher and overcome the false assertions that threaten to rob us, and future generations, of our natural inheritance.
It's a bit like Sleeping Beauty rousing from her slumber .. I was so captivated by the Olympics (and will soon be an armchair expert in Paralympic sports too) that I had failed to notice, time had passed.
Our garden birds, flitting busily around feeding their young, have completed their short-lived intensive parenting period. That means they've entered meltdown and effectively vanished. Where have all the garden birds gone? They're far less obvious at this time of year.
It's the lull between the exhausting period of new parenthood and the coming survival marathon that will be winter. It's their time of rest and plenty. I suppose this perceived scarcity of blackbirds, sparrows and the like is deepened by the departure of swifts and other summer migrants; for they have gone (sigh). The good news is that, like The Terminator, they'll be back.
Which brings to mind Boris Johnson; the Air-Terminal-ator. Everytime this bright idea of a new airport teriminal in the Thames Estuary comes up, planners and developers suffer from a strange form of amnesia and everyone else has to step-up to perform a familiar old dance to the ragtime tune of 'been there, discounted that'.
Let's consider threeof the salient points:
Forget any commitments to reduce CO2 emissions; the frequent fog blankets; irreplaceable habitats unique in scale and importance in Europe; the hundreds of thousands of migratory birds that will pose a threat to jets; or the irreversible damage to both the landscape and the river.
Why is it that like those garden birds, it's when they're gone that we want them most. We haven't yet lost the Thames Estuary. Why not use this Bank Holiday to re-discover its majesty, its diversity, its unexpected riches and its contrasts. It's part of our national pysche and we'd all be far poorer if it was scarred by any development of the scale and impact of those proposed by Johnson and Foster.
My new neighbour asked the other day if we'd tied apples on to the tree in our garden. I wasn't surprised by the question. Should I have been?
It wasn't sarcasm. It was a genuine question and yes, the apples do look wonderful now that they're turning a bright rosy-red.
My partner explained that they had grown there but aren't quite ripe. When they are, we'll share the harvest. My neighbour has never eaten an apple fresh off a tree.
There's a major discussion to be had about where our food comes from, how it's grown and the nature of farming.
About 7% of the UK's total financial worth.. about £88billion a year.. comes from food and farming. Growing and processing all that food requires a lot of people (estimated four million UK jobs), a fair bit of land and lots of resources: mechanical; physical; chemical and of course, natural. Statistics are of course meaningless. What matters to many, most probably, is whether they can get a good value meal when they want it. But there's the rub. What is a good value meal?
Is it value in relation to cost? Value in relation to taste? Value in relation to where the produce has come from or how it was grown and harvested? My apple crop is not great value for money if you judge it by yield. It is great value if you think it''s started a new relationship with a neighbour, who'll get to taste an apple untouched by pesticides or herbicides and who may now be wondering where other food comes from.
My tree looks great. It's supported bees, hoverflies, wasps, some greenfly and probably many more bugs too numerous to mention. Great tits, blue tits, robins, a wren and blackbirds perch in it and may well get to the apples before I do. It's a valuable addition for the wildlife in my garden.
We owe a lot to the farmers who produce our food. Most farmers also care for the environment and are passionate about the well-being of their livestock. They need a good return on their investment and know they have to look after the land and wildlife that helps maintain a natural balance to produce quality crops. People who can afford it are willing to pay a premium for food grown this way compared with more industrially produced foods. That premium is an investment in our countryside. Part of the heritage we'll pass to our children. We'll be talking more about the value of nature over the next couple of weeks.
So, let's support our UK farmers. In association with the Telegraph newspaper, we're asking people to vote for the UK's most wildlflife friendly farmer. There's a shortlist to review and the deadline's looming.