from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday 26 February 2014

'falling into understanding' (review of John Burnside's new poetry collection)

Oh, the treat of the new John Burnside collection (All One Breath, Cape 2014), newly arrived in my hands, alongside the Yann Tiersen album Les Retrouvailles, via the postman.

Waiting for the new Burnside is like waiting for your turn to jump on the stick-swing-on-the-rope above the deep opaque quarrypool.

I open it at random: 'Devotio Moderna', where he's speaking (as I read it, but one is never completely certain with this poet) of the possibility – actuality – of his own one-day death. 'It comes across as something / ancient, stark / caesura and the light that signs me out / from everything I know about this world.'

Of course, the book is dark (this is Burnside). Of course it's full of the usual paradox and ambiguity in and of being human – Burnside excels at that. 

I know that entering it will feel like falling off the rope-swing and being Pablo Neruda's 'dark stone that the river bears away'. And I give myself up to that; for you can't read Burnside with your fingers crossed and one foot on terra firma; or at least, I can't.

And, like me, his year-twin I believe, he is feeling his age: 'It must be a kind of weathering, not to regret / the life he's lived: the histories of smog // and birdsong, lost; the long / subjunctive of the missed and overlooked / lost in the local theatre of self- // as-prodigal' (that line-and-stanza-break!). ('1x, A New Anatomy').

This is Burnside's home territory: grief, terror ('coming loose / and drifting, like a leaf, / into the fire'); loss, death, the 'careful neglect' of 'unheimlich' love; what it means to live within and apart from the natural world; the regrets (or otherwise) about it all juxtaposed with insight, self-knowledge and, in the end, acceptance.

The poems deal, as always, with what might have been, as well as what was and arguably could be, or is; Burnside is always aware of the invisible lives lived on the other side of the tarnished mirror, the other side of the street, beyond the woods. And then there are the many faces of the self: '...a pause for the briefest / rehearsal of someone else / at the back of my mind'.

As always, he interweaves profound abstraction with the carefully-observed details of the world around him. I love this, from 'v11 Self Portrait as Picture Window':

First day of snow, the low sun
glinting on the gate post where a single
Teviot ewe is licking 
frost-melt from the bars, the other sheep
away in the lower field, the light on the crusted
meadowgrass that makes me think 
of unripe plums so local an event
it seems, for one long breath,
that time might stop...

I wonder if others have noticed how there's been a subtle transition in the way he uses quotes (from philosophy, psychology, Shakespeare, the Bible)? Before, it seemed to me, he'd borrow them, to punctuate, or illustrate, his thinking (I mean this as a felt sense, not a literal truth). Now, I'd say, he's 'in the lineage' – taking his place, so that the quotes are intertwined with his own words and his own words continue them unbroken. Standing in the stream.

But this poet is not a depressive; and nor do I find him a depressing read. For me, he has something of the wisdom of a Buddhist master: look, this is how it is, he says. There's this; and this. 

So he can finish 'Devotion Moderna' with the rich colours of life, of passion: 'and every window / strung with coloured lights, /crimson and gold, / to tell the lives of others'; or, as well or instead, '...falling, through slide after slide, / into understanding.' ('A Frost Fair')

Tuesday 25 February 2014

50 reasons not to date a poet (Betty Generic)

Light relief for you (however, if you didn't get through the badger cull blog, do not pass 'Go' and do not collect £200). 

This one's not mine, but is reblogged from 

It made me smile.

I'm itching to intervene, add, alter, comment and generally hijack it – but I repeat, it's not mine. (By the way, I NEVER wear white shoes. On the other hand, I suspect I abuse asyndetons all the time.)
  1. In search for that elusive metaphor, poets can be somewhat 'eccentric.'
  2. They have deep conversations with animals, clouds, and Grecian Urns.
  3. If you date a poet everyone will think you are the jerk they are writing about.
  4. You will be the jerk they are writing about.
  5. Excessive use of  'Poetry Hands.'
  6. Excessive use of  'poetic licence.'
  7. Excessive use of  'melancholy.'
  8. Excessive use of  'apostrophes.'
  9. They collect antediluvian words that have not been in circulation for at least 100 years or more.
  10. They look for opportunities to insert obscure words into conversations just to rebel against the modern world.
  11. They think children’s films and books are sublime.
  12. They refuse to care where the remote is.
  13. All  their furniture will be positioned around windows for them to stare out for hours at a time.
  14. Your parents will think they are possessed.
  15. They are possessed.
  16. You will lose all arguments, or feel so guilty you wish you had lost.
  17. They will secretly judge your metaphors as similes.
  18. They carry a notebook everywhere and let everyone see it but you.
  19. They hoard pens and refuse to let you borrow them.
  20. They are obsessed with incredibly depressing films without happy endings.
  21. They listen to every single kind of music you can imagine, even Brazilian monkey howling listening for universal truth.
  22. They keep conversations going way too long.
  23. You will never know if they agree with you or are just following you down the rabbit hole to see how crazy you are.
  24. They will visit other rabbit holes.
  25. They can’t keep secrets.  It will come out thinly veiled and mythologized in their poetry.
  26. It takes a least a week to a year for them to form their opinion about something, and that opinion is subject to change.
  27. They speak in rhyme all the time.
  28. They talk to everyone, which a lot of people find scary, especially at the grocery store.
  29. They don’t understand why if murder, rape, slavery, and genocide are illegal, then why is war legal?
  30. They think people need to be protected from Monsanto, instead of protecting Monsanto.
  31. They do not understand why group “X” is all of a sudden hated by everyone.
  32. They don’t understand the global threat of Dandelions and why we must eradicate the threat with toxic chemicals.
  33. They refuse to care what celebrities are fighting on twitter, or at least they pretend not to care what celebrities are fighting on twitter.
  34. They are rebels and purposely wear white shoes after Labor Day.
  35. They think espresso machines and tiny cups are magic.
  36. They look at life as a mystery, but when they look at you like a mystery, it makes you think there is something stuck in you teeth.
  37. They will make you empty out your head and your heart like they are junk drawers and question everything in them.
  38. They cannot live without passion.
  39. There will be drama.
  40. They crave plot twists.
  41.  They fear no-one will ever understand all their allusions.
  42. They mine for emotional shrapnel like diamonds.
  43. Their euphemisms will never measure up.
  44. They can only live in or visit cities with poetry open mics.
  45. What ever is wrong, they have a tea for it, and probably a cookie, definitely a wine.
  46. They attempt to interject malapropisms into every conversation.
  47. They have their own antagonist and nemesis.
  48. They sneak dord into conversations in an attempt to make it a real word.
  49. They abuse Asyndetons.
  50. But the most important reason never to date a poet is that poetry is an addiction, and before you know it you will be hooked.

Monday 24 February 2014

the badger cull: overview & update

If you can, please share this blog, or alert others to it. After the spectacular failure of the two pilot culls in 2013, and given that DEFRA has had to revise downwards its figures for 2012/3 on incidents of bovine TB, we need to press for an end to this wholesale, barbaric and senseless slaughter of badgers.

UPDATE in April 2020:
After the latest idiocy in the most recent update here, the news from Sept 2019, I became too depressed about what was happening to badgers even to follow the news, which I assumed could only be worse. Well, now, March 2020, there has been a decision to phase out the cull and work towards implementing a vaccination scheme. Excellent news. Who'd have thought it.

LATEST NEWS:, what do you know? As DEFRA finally announce plans to continue culling to the tune of approximately 60,000 badgers, it's revealed that bTB has risen in some of the early cull arears since culling began. Yes, risen. What does it take?

October 22nd 2018

On Radio 4's Farming Today this morning, a group of senior vets says (or rather confirms) the cull IS SIMPLY NOT WORKING. You can hear the badger piece at about 9.12 minutes in (approx 3/4 of the way).

SEPTEMBER 2016: DEVASTATINGLY, despite all the efforts of those of us who oppose the badger cull, it's now being rolled out in 7 more areas, one of which is our own patch in South Devon. If you feel angry, upset and helpless, as I do, here's one small way to help offset it: and we may need similar help ourselves on our much smaller patch of land.

If you're on facebook, there are many anti-cull groups. Do find one and join it.

JANUARY 2016: so far the badger cull – which has not been effective – has cost £23 MILLION. That's right. Soon, the Government will roll out the cull over 9 counties, with the aim of killing approx. 40,000 badgers. And guess what? It will fail to curb the spread of bTB. DEFRA have a public consultation site, but ONLY UNTIL 16 March 2016. You need to speak of why you don't support the cull: vaccination is cheaper and more humane; badgers have a right to live; the case is not proven; the risks of shooting on public land to people and other animals, etc. The site is here:

DECEMBER 2015: The Government has given the go-ahead for the badger cull to take place over nine counties, unconstrained by time limits. So far nearly 4000 badgers have been killed, at a cost to the taxpayer calculated by The Mirror  to be around £7,500PER BADGER.

JANUARY 2015: DEFRA is intending to go ahead with badger culls again, this time probably in Devon and earlier in the year, despite all evidence that shows it's ineffective. It's also unbelievably costly. An implication of the date change is that many more cubs are likely to be culled. WHAT is this about? UTTERLY unacceptable. If you feel so too, please sign this petition asap:

APRIL 2014: Most recent info is that Owen Paterson has put on hold further culls in the Westcountry (see first para), but will continue with those already in motion in Som and Glos.

There's an excellent article on the failings of the badger cull and Owen Paterson's inability to recognise the facts in The Ecologist, here

Bovine TB and the badger cull
The badger cull, rolled out in Devon and Cornwall this summer, 2014, after its inconclusive and controversial trialling in Somerset and Gloucestershire in 2013, is a highly complex and emotive issue. 

It’s one that has brought out more public opposition than almost any recent issue, with 80% of the British public polled coming out against the cull. 

The anti-cull petition, raised by Brian May, ex-Queen guitarist, had seen a quarter of a million signatures by June 2013. The hope was that it would stop the trial culls. It didn’t, and these happened – but turned out, for many reasons, to be largely ineffectual in terms of their aims (number of badgers killed), and utterly inhumane in their application.

It’s also, of course, devastating to farmers to lose whole herds of cattle to TB; especially when the herd has been built up over generations. Some farmers face bankruptcy if their herd is slaughtered as a result of positive TB tests. Current policy dictates that after a positive test, a farm must effectively be locked down, with infected cattle carted off to be destroyed, along with, in many cases, same-herd animals who are later found to be clear of the disease. The financial and emotional toll on farmers is huge. Worse, an average of 20% of the test results for bTB is incorrect*. 

There is a lot of information out there on the internet. My concern here is to present an overview of the main facts. (A great deal of the legwork for all this has been put in by Ama Menec, founder and chair of the active Totnes Badger Vaccination Action Campaign Devon-wide badger vaccinations.)

The rationale for the cull

The badger currently has ‘protected species’ status.

The argument for the cull is that badgers carry the bTB bacterium which then infects cattle. We know that both species, along with several others, can carry, and succumb to, bTB. Independent vets and scientists have pointed out that we don’t know, however, that this is a one-way transmission; and that it is as likely to be the other way round.

What’s more, the Government’s own 9-year scientific study, undertaken by the chief vet, Professor John Bourne, and overseen by Lord Krebs, concluded that the badger cull would not be likely to be effective; or at least not until a minimum of 70% of the badger population had been eradicated. (This was far from achieved in the pilot culls in the summer of 2013; see below.) See also:

The evidence that badgers can pass bTB to cattle was the work of one scientific experiment so contrived as to never be possible in real life. 4 badgers were purposely infected with bovine TB by forcing them to breathe in live bacteria as a vapour (which is the main form of transmission). These badgers were then imprisoned in a very small shed with 8 young calves for many months. This experiment has not been repeated by any other scientist, and the result of this one experiment by Professor Cath Rees of Nottingham University has been used by Owen Paterson to claim up to 16% of outbreaks of bovine TB in cattle being caused by badgers. Ama Menec discussed this with her at this event. 1.pdf at London Zoo in October 2013. 

The RSPCA says: ‘More than 30 of the top animal disease experts describe the cull as a “costly distraction” that risks making the problem of tuberculosis in cattle worse and that will cost far more than it saves.’ As an aside, right now, the RSPCA is threatened with a possible clampdown on its ability to prosecute in cases of cruelty, after bringing a case against David Cameron’s (illegal) hunt (the Heythrop Hunt pleaded guilty).

Nonetheless, DEFRA under Owen Paterson went ahead and authorised a cull last year, with the NFU and Natural England being responsible for its implementation. (It will not be a surprise to many to know that the people involved with the cull are those who are also most frequently involved with illegal hunting with dogs, and with the pro-hunt Countryside Alliance.)

However it is transmitted, TB doesn’t normally kill a cow; what it does is put the milk and meat offline for sale – although in fact we know that bTB-contaminated meat did enter the foodchain, probably predominantly in schools and hospitals, last year, and even though we know the risk of a human catching TB from cattle is less than 1%.

Even more ironically, cattle that have been vaccinated against TB cannot be sold for meat.

The actual risk to humans is minimal; pasteurizing milk or cooking meat properly guards against humans ingesting and being infected with bTB even if the source animal is infected. ‘The Health Protection Agency has confirmed that the risk to humans is negligible (so small or unimportant as to be not worth considering)’.

And we do have a bTB cattle vaccine; currently being field-trialled, it could be available for this summer; but DEFRA will need to give it the go-ahead.

The pilot cull

The trial culls were carried out in Gloucestershire and Somerset.

The Gloucestershire pilot badger cull, licensed by DEFRA to Natural England, achieved a reduction of not quite 40 per cent in badger numbers over more than 11 weeks of culling, DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson admitted. (The intended, and needed, total, was 70%.)

The cull was halted just five-and-a-half weeks into what was originally intended to be an eight-week extension to the initial six-week pilot. An overall total of 921 badgers were killed over 11-and-a-half weeks. This represents a reduction of just 39.19% in the estimated badger population of 2,350 before culling began; significantly short of the original target of a 70% reduction in badger numbers, despite the fact that the pilot was almost doubled in length. (Farmers’ Guardian, 2 December 2013.) DEFRA is still determined, however, to continue the cull.

‘Humane’ killing and a significant omission

It should also be noted that although the apparent rationale for the pilot culls of badgers by shooting was to ‘test the humaneness or otherwise’ of the method (how many badgers does one need to shoot to find that out?), it would also have made sense to have tested the badger corpses, to see what percentage was actually carrying the virus. This would be the only indicator of DEFRA’s assertion that badgers are transmitting the virus to cattle. This testing was not at any point carried out, surprisingly; and their bodies were cremated.

 (See this earlier post:

Of the humaneness of the method, Ama Menec says: ‘The remit of the 2 pilot badger culls was to test the humaneness of killing by shooting free running badgers. Humanness was to be established by listening for screams and other sounds of distress as the badgers died, but only 0.1% of all kills were observed by independent monitors and half of those were actually telephone interviews with individual cullers after the shooting for the night had finished.’

Newest findings
Since Ama compiled the data, two new items that further undermine the rationale have entered the arena. The first is that DEFRA admitted that they had got the statistics on the actual incidence of bTB wrong: there were fewer incidents than their publicity had originally stated, in 2013:

‘The number of herds that are not officially TB Free (non-OTF) due to a TB incident has been significantly revised downwards for 2012 and 2013. There has been a small downward revision in the number of new herd incidents.’ (February 12th 2014;

The Ecologist of 14th February 2014:
‘In mid-January DEFRA silently released the news that it had been overstating the figures for the incidence of bovine TB due to “glitches in data entries” since September 2011.

‘The numbers of herds “not Officially Free of BTB due to a TB incident” – non-OFT for short – would have to be revised significantly downwards for 2012 and 2013.

‘And just this week, with just as little noise, fanfare or press release, the revised numbers appeared.

‘While there were some minor revisions to the numbers of new-herd incidents and the number of herds under movement restrictions, the real shock comes in the figures for the non-OFT herds.

‘During the very period that Paterson had claimed that BTB incidence was increasing, the number of non-OFT herds - those considered to have BTB or to be at serious risk of BTB - dropped.’

The second news item is this. The Ecologist continued: Figures released from Wales show that their vaccination policy, coupled with biosecurity measures, has brought the incidence of bTB in Wales down by 24%. (

The financial cost

The cost of vaccinating is significantly lower than that of culling badgers. The Farmers’ Guardian of January 6th 2014 says: ‘Wildlife charity Care for the Wild has released figures suggesting culling badgers in the two pilot areas of England last year cost £7.3 million, which equates to £4,121 per badger culled.

‘Vaccinating badgers in the five-year Government funded Welsh badger vaccination programme was calculated at £662 per animal in its first year.’ ( says: ‘An injectable badger vaccine, BadgerBCG, became available for use in March 2010. Research has demonstrated that vaccination of uninfected badgers can reduce the severity and progression of bovine TB in those badgers. Vaccination does not provide complete protection against infection. However, it is not necessary for all individuals to become immune before infection can no longer sustain itself in a population. The principle is to vaccinate a sufficient proportion of uninfected badgers so immunity is developed at the population level. Repeated vaccination of a population should result in a decrease in the level of disease, over time, and the potential for the onward spread of infection to cattle and other badgers.’

The side-effects
Clearly the biggest side-effect of the cull is the potential loss of an ancient and iconic British species. It has also been pointed out that, far from eradicating the disease in badgers, culling will likely result in a further dispersion of the badger population.

This ‘perturbation effect’, as new and perhaps infected badgers move into old and now vacant setts, could result in further spread of bTB.

What’s more, as Ama has said, ‘The removal of the protected status of badgers will enable developers to build on green belt land, thus raising land prices. If a developer is not obliged to do an environmental audit, and does not have to build an artificial sett to re-house badgers the way is clear to just bring in the bulldozers.’ campaigners-warn-of-new-scheme-that-would-allow-housebuilding-in- biodiverse-areas-8919217.html

During the Somerset badger cull dozens of non-target species were shot, including many owls, mostly tawny owls but also one or two barn owls too. The cullers were using animal sounds to communicate with each other in the dark, mostly using tawny owl calls. The RSPCA has some of these owls; most were removed before the RSPCA could collect them.

Many farmers who oppose the cull fear to speak out because of possible ostracization or reprisals. Farmers also fear a consumer backlash. Many of us who oppose the cull have stopped buying dairy products and meat from farms and producers who are in favour of the cull. This will clearly have an effect of farmers’ income, and even the British economy, if we shop for imported dairy produce and meat (and there are of course also risks involved in that).

‘They fear such widespread killing of wildlife could trigger a “PR disaster” for an already beleaguered industry, particularly following the fallout from the recent horsemeat scandal, not to mention memories of the foot and mouth debacle – with its images of burning carcasses – still lingering in the public’s mind.’ (*

A cull hits the local economy very hard, particularly the tourist industries that many rural communities, including farmers, rely on. When the public hears bullets with an up to 2 mile trajectory are being used to kill British wildlife, they have no desire to take their annual holiday close to a badger cull zone.

The reliance on tourism in Devon and Cornwall is considerable, and is an extremely important part of the rural economy. In 2013, the badger culls started on an August bank holiday; one of the busiest days of the rural tourism industry’s year.

When the Welsh government first proposed a badger cull in Pembrokeshire there was a sudden and dramatic fall in visitor numbers to the area. When they announced they would go with a 5-year badger vaccination programme instead, visitor numbers rose to higher than the previous levels.

The role of the NFU (National Farmers Union) as put forward by Ama Menec

It should be said straightaway that there is a small but vocal group of farmers who do not support the cull (see * above). Also, only a small percentage of farmers are actually represented by the NFU.
However, the NFU has become the body through which the cull is implemented.

  • The NFU only represents only 18% of British farmers. The remaining 82% have no official representation. At least 50% of the NFU’s leaders are bankers and financiers, not farmers.
  • The NFU mostly represent large agribusiness.
  • They are not elected by the British public and as such are an unelected quango within our British government.
  • You cannot see the NFU constitution unless you are already a member of the NFU.
  • Members can vote in leadership elections but it is not compulsory for the management to listen to the view of their members or take account of their vote.
  • Our government has handed over the pilot badger culls to the NFU to run and oversee.
  • Their principal income is through monetary services such as selling insurance. This source of revenue has been greatly knocked back by the badger cull as customers vote with their feet and have gone elsewhere for their insurance, as this is their only method of being able to express their disgust with the badger culls. This has been particularly noticeable in the market traders’ insurance part of their business, most especially farmers’ market traders who have turned away from the NFU, and who are meeting the public daily most of whom are against the badger culls.
  • The NFU offices are in the same building as DEFRA and the two departments have adjoining doors.
  • The NFU also has very strong links with the Countryside Alliance which, like the NFU, is a non-elected lobby group.
  • The Countryside Alliance is committed to the overthrow of the hunting with dogs ban and the protected species status of badgers and
  • The badger culls in 2013 started late because the NFU found it difficult to get the 70% minimum land area taking part. In an effort to recruit more land, there is anecdotal evidence of farmers being threatened with physical violence and with having their feed supply terminated.
  • Once the culls were underway, because the cull quota wasn’t being reached, more pressure was exerted on the remaining 30% who refused to take part to get them on board. This included trespass by cullers onto land not taking part in the badger cull just to get the numbers up.
  • Hundreds of these cage traps were taken out of West Somerset into North Devon at the end of the Somerset badger cull. Sales of cage traps for badgers have since gone through the roof in the West Country, to the point where none can be bought from farmers suppliers in Devon as both they and their suppliers have sold out. Farmers have obviously realised this is the only way to successfully kill their badgers, even if it is illegal, and there have been reports of stockpiling of cage traps in North Devon in preparation for a badger cull in Devon.
  • Despite already being banned as particularly inhumane, the NFU have encouraged DEFRA to explore gassing as a means of eradicating the nation’s badgers. The AHVLA (part of DEFRA), are presently carrying out experiments on gassing badgers. This article explains why gassing should not be used:

The real culprits
The change from small rural farms to large-scale industrial intensive farming methods has had a devastating effect on the welfare of our livestock (and our wildlife), and therefore on the food produced from it.

There is the high administration, on all but organic farms, of hormones, antibiotics, growth-promoters and so on.

There is the intensive breeding of bigger animals, with a higher milk-yield, and often a more frequent milking regime.

There is the cost in terms of physiology to the cow of carrying a bigger and heavier udder to meet quotas. This has an effect on the bone structure and the hoof of a cow.

There is the fact that many dairycows spend their whole lives, and others their winters, on concrete, in stalls that were built for a smaller cow, away from natural light, air, and grass.

There is the emission of 60 litres of slurry per cow per day in such close quarters, plus an almost equal quantity of mucus, in both of which disease is carried.

All of this will affect the animals’ ability to withstand disease.

There is the high level of maize in their feed, which is known to undermine their immune systems (this is true too of badgers, who love maize).

And for grass-fed cattle, there is the fact that the drinking troughs are rarely, if ever, cleared out and cleaned.

There are also biosecurity measures that are frequently ignored in cattle transportation, in cattle markets, on some farms, by cullers.

What we can do

  • Spread the word
  • Buy organic dairy and meat where Soil Association certification means that higher welfare standards are guaranteed, and talk to the producers and suppliers about the issues. Find out their policies on the badger cull
  • Better still, become vegetarian or vegan; reduce your reliance on animal products
  • Add your name to cull protest sites, petitions, etc and your numbers to protests
  • Write to your MP, and Owen Paterson
  • Anyone keeping cattle, or with badger setts on their land: consider, if you don’t already, using or putting out mineral licks for both cattle and badgers. this will help up their immune systems.
Badger ecology (Ama Menec)
  • The Eurasian badger (Meles meles) is an omnivorous native mammal, (not carnivorous as reported in some of the press), which has lived in the UK for 250,000 years. In other words, badgers have been here in the UK as long as humans.
  • Most badgers live for around 4 years in the wild.
  • They are a social animal living in clans with a dominant pair who do most of the breeding for the group. They do not breed like rabbits; there is a strong social hierarchy that prevents this. Cubs are born in ones and twos not in huge litters, and the delayed implantation of sow badgers ensures all cubs are born at the same time. The average number of cubs born is a sett is around 4 per year.
  • Badgers are fiercely territorial, marking the borders of their land with scent to tell neighbouring clans that this is their land. These borders are checked regularly and scent marking refreshed. Badger culling breaks down all social barriers and encourages movement of badgers across the county; the ‘perturbation’ effect.
  • Badger setts can be in continuous occupation for a very long time, which is clear evidence of long standing stable social groups. Large setts can be well over 1,000 years old and the existence of badger setts can be traced in all British town names which include the word ‘Brock’.
  • Badger numbers do fluctuate with seasonal and climatic changes, and the availability of food. Their main food source are earth worms and other soil based invertebrates. If there is flooding of land they are forced to move on if they cannot access their main food source, as was seen in 2012 with the flooding of the Somerset levels, where badgers moved to higher land, sometimes into towns.
  • Badger numbers are not ‘out of control’ as often reported by West Country newspapers and the farming press. For centuries badgers have been persecuted for ‘sport’ in badger baiting, leading in the 1970s to a very near extinction in many parts of the UK. This was addressed by the ‘Protected Species’ act. Since the 1970s the numbers of badgers has recovered to the optimum number that can be supported by the local food supply. Given the hierarchical nature of their breeding, where mostly the dominant pair breed, badger culling, particularly where one or both of the dominant pair are killed, will lead to further dramatic fluctuations in the badger population.
  • There is no such thing as a ‘hard boundary’. Badgers are primarily suited to digging, but they can run well with turns of speed up to 30 mph, climb very successfully and can swim across rivers if they need to, including tidal estuaries.
  • Badgers only produce around 1/2 a teacup cup full of faeces and urine per day. Their faecal deposits form part of their territory boundary markings as ‘latrines’ and are deposited in small scrapes in the ground, usually under trees where the undergrowth is sparse or non existent. These latrines are shared by other members of the same clan.
  • Badgers are very hygienic animals and will air their bedding material in the sun to remove pests before taking it back into the sett. They are known to use strongly scented material such as wild garlic in their bedding to deter fleas.
  • Around 50,000 badgers are killed on the roads in the UK every year. Tests of these badgers have found bTB rates to be very low indeed, with rarely ever any visible evidence of the disease.
  • Badgers are often accused of causing the decline of the British hedgehog population, by those determined to demonise our native badgers. This accusation is denied by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, and it is worth pointing out that badgers have co-existed with hedgehogs for many millennia. The decline of the hedgehog population directly corresponds with increased intensification of farming, increased use of fencing, rising traffic levels in the UK and the rise in the use of pesticides.
  • Farmers and gardeners are often annoyed by badgers digging holes in their search for food. However, the farsighted will realise the badgers’ search for grubs and other soil-based invertebrates is often more helpful to us than harmful, feasting as they do on leatherjacket and cockchafer grubs and other ‘pests’ of the soil and crops.

(Roselle Angwin, for the Totnes Badger Vaccination Action Campaign [TBVAC Devon-wide badger vaccinations], and incorporating data from a comprehensive survey and summary by TBVAC’s founder and chair, Ama Menec. You can see Ama's speech at the Birmingham badger event here:

Sunday 23 February 2014


Or maybe they're 'gayagea'? Here are two more pics of the instruments (the first again, and two of the second) that I mention in my last blog (there you are, Miriam!). 

Public artist Michael Fairfax has made these beautiful instruments for humans and wind to play. These are two of the three he's currently making, each with one of my haiku carved into it.

Michael will upload the sound of the instruments at some stage. Meantime, you can see more of his work at

Michael, whose father John Fairfax was a poet and also co-founder of the Arvon Foundation, and I have been working collaboratively together since an Arts Council England 'Year of the Artist' project in 2000-2001 where we worked with a group of artists collectively named Genius Loci on a year-long residency at Hestercombe Gardens in Somerset.

Later we worked on a project at the Cotswold Water Park, South Cerney, near Cirencester; one of the most significant sites of fossils in the country. Devastatingly, Jurassic-era ammonites the size of cannonballs are routinely smashed to make aggregate for our roads. I've written about this in my book Writing the Bright Moment; and here is a sonnet from that time and place in my life (published in my first collection, Looking For Icarus):

iii Cotswold Water Park: The Gravel Pits

I remember the date, but not the start. I remember
the grimy Cotswold spine road, fume-filled, fast;
the roaring dust-tracked lorries; Cirencester
at our backs. The roadside verges’ foliage

choked and blasted; wild carrot, yarrow, cinquefoil
ragged by Big Mac boxes, beer cans, plastic.
A badger’s rictus. Centre of operations: earth’s multiple
hysterectomies, entrails scooped and piled for us

to try to read 160 million years before it’s crushed
for gravel. We scramble greedy with gaping
bags for ammonites big as cannonballs, as fists.
Within, the ancients said, a dragon sleeps; if woken

triggers storm. Driving back, beneath our wheels her body parts.
Thundergods roar, stake lightning through our complicit hearts.

As far as I know a short poem of mine is inscribed still into some vertebrae-like glass and metal sculptures embedded into the cycle-track along the 'Spine Road' through the Park. A different project there included a workshop writing haiku onto flags, which we then towed along the cycle track.

Michael and I also lead a fun workshop day together at Branscombe Mouth on the East Devon coast, playing with text and land art. If you fancy experimenting outdoors with us, even if you have no previous experience of writing and don't consider yourself to be an artist, click here:Branscombe Day

The libretto I spoke of in the last post is very much a work-in-progress; which is to say it remains conceptual, but will gradually take shape. 

© Roselle Angwin text; Michael Fairfax images.

Friday 21 February 2014

light and sound

Driving back across the moor for the second time in two days, the weather couldn't have been different. In soft late afternoon sun, the long flank of Cosdon, Cawsand Beacon, stretched out lazy, an animal basking. Cosdon hosts the source of five Devon rivers at its muddy Cranmere Pool, high on the north moor: Teign, Taw, Tavy, Ockment and Dart all rise here. 

'You find yourself here again / as if in dream', I wrote in River Suite, of Cranmere Pool. 'This bleak bog / black and ochre home to cotton grass and kestrels / shaped flints, a sheep's skull // in the absences where small deaths press / (scatter of fleece like dirty snow / a spike of bone, a tangled wreath of feather and sinew) // where the winds prowl / where the buzzard's cry falls through space / and there's no ear but your own to catch it...           


Past Cosdon is the friendly little hump of Meldon Hill, softly rust-golden, rising out of the gorse and bracken behind Chagford. A row of tall old willows, flaming red against the afternoon. And then the nostalgic drive through the Wrey Valley between Moretonhampstead and Bovey Tracey: such a beautiful wooded valley, its pastureland either side of the B road studded with chestnut, blue roan, black and dun cattle, and granite boulders. For five years my daughter and I lived in this valley, high up and tucked into trees in our beloved wooden thatched house (rented), full of light, and dogs, and occasionally bantams. A wild swarm of bees thrummed in the double-skinned walls as the house woke up to spring.

On Tuesday, though, Princetown on the high moor, site of the highest (and high security) prison in England, was, as so often, shrouded in thick fog. Which gave my long-time friend and creative collaborator and I an excuse to spend quite a time nattering over a late breakfast in a café.

Michael is a public artist, and we've done a great deal of work together. M's current project, after 'wind harps' made from living trees, is gayageums ('gayagea'?), outdoor stringed instruments for people or wind to play. He's made nearly two of three, each incoporating a haiku of mine. Here's the first:

This time, though, we're talking about a kind of soundscape libretto; my words to M's various quirky made instruments.

'I might be a bit worded-out about Dartmoor,' I say cautiously, having written a novel set here (published last year), various pieces of non-fiction, and numerous poems (including the long and comprehensive River Suite) about the moor over the last 25 years or so.

'Never mind,' he says breezily. 'The words don't really matter. We'll be turning them into sounds and patterns.'


So we set off, into thick and somewhat freezing fog. We were drenched before very long, waterproofs and all. Oh well.

Like a fairy tale, isn't it? – Yes, it did occur to us that we were possibly nearly lost, once.

However, despite the fact that Michael had brought his recording gear and his special non-violin bow in case there was a wire across which he might draw it (there was, but it was too wet), there were no sounds to sample. (– Well, the leat; but Michael said that was far too predictable. What do I know?) No ravens. No crows. No buzzard's cry falling through space. No distant dog, munching of turf by sheep, cattle, ponies. No wind on stone or rush. Not even a quad bike. Just muffling fog, apart from the nearby road.

Words from me? Mmmm. Soon. Maybe.

But then, just as we turned back, a slightly mysterious thrumming roar, both high and deep. Took us quite a while to work out that it was the bow poking out of Michael's rucksack, picking up our movement through air. 

Watch this space!

Monday 17 February 2014

a moment

The thing about meditating is that in the end, whether or not you're a 'good' meditator (whatever that might mean), it becomes more natural to drop into that place of stillness which we encounter when in meditation (and whether or not that is an occasional moment or a frequent long experience). I'm not saying it's easy to access, but I am saying it becomes a familiar quality of being without which, for me anyway, life feels too fully-charged, an unbroken stream of too-muchness.

My own experience of meditation, largely rooted in Zen mindfulness, goes back 40 years, to my rather harsh encounter with an all-male hardcore Soto Zen group when I first arrived, a fresh-faced naive country girl, at university. However, I'm far from being able to say I've meditated daily for the majority of that time.

What I can say is that the place of interior stillness is so familiar now that I can access it pretty much at will, pretty much despite what's happening in my outer life (and of course my inner responses to that outer life) – even if only for five minutes. When I can do this, the little currents in my life – a personal or professional rejection, a disappointment, a small unkindness from another, an unexpected bill – become what they actually are, a mere ripple in the grasses. I don't need to identify with the 'small' me.

When this stillness brings inner and outer life together, there's a deep sense of everything being aligned exactly as it should be; or rather, I'm in step with it all. When I can dwell in that stillness, things become foreground audible and visible that might otherwise just pass me by in the river of background detail.

In the field, above the orchard, above the veg plot, above the ash and oak from which I suspend my hammock-chair, right up at the top in a glade, brow of the hill, in the woodland margin, is my 'deep view'. Facing east, this is a spot that catches the morning light; we've placed a whacky asymmetrical bench there, hand-carved from a tree trunk. It's somewhere TM and I come to meditate on a sunny early morning.

To the left is a small yew tree at the margins of the margin; to the right a stretch of young native deciduous trees. Amongst these and in the old Devon bank are fox earths and badger setts. Sometimes, looking up the field, I've glimpsed a young fox, a roe deer, a hare, bathing in early sunlight in front of the yew.

The corner exudes tranquillity, and Ash, She-Who-Wears-Her-Grey-Matter-On-The-Outside, often looks up at me when we're walking the top path and then sits down beside the bench. I sit too, and we share a long moment, a long view.

At dusk on Saturday my daughter and I and both our dogs sat and shared that moment in silence.

Dusk is one of those moments where the earth seems to take a deep breath, everything briefly suspended in utter quiet, before rolling onwards towards night. I love catching that wave of stillness at its peak, before it unfurls into the future-present.

Things happen in that space. Or rather – we pay attention to the things that are happening there anyway and ourselves become what we always are: part of the unfolding cosmos in that moment. So I notice the single snipe that flies away inland from the brook at around this time, the dimpsy, the witching-hour.

My daughter gasps. 'Look! A shooting star!' I miss it; but together we see the second: a bright light I'd been aware of in the sky above us, noticeable and seemingly fixed among the stars, has suddenly dropped out of its orbit, leaving a hole in the night sky. Just as it enters the earth's atmosphere, presumably, it burns a sudden hot neon-green, then bursts into deep bright red-orange-yellow flame and, flaring, falls to earth, seemingly, over in the east. At this distance, it's impossible to work out whether it's huge and far away, or small and local, but it feels like a small gift, even as I'm aware that the night sky seems less bright without it.

Then – small rustles of roosting birds in the trees around us, headlights of a distant car on a distant lane, tumble of the brook in the valley – I become aware of the sound down near and over the brook of a bird I'm not familiar with: a deep burbling throaty ascending warble; deeper and unlike a curlew. (Anyone know what it might be? At dusk? – Not a small bird; not a frog or toad; and we're inland so not a salt-marsh bird or wader. I don't think it's one of the tawny owls, nor a barn owl, unless either of those has an addition to its more usual repertoire I'm ignorant of.) I realise that I've been aware of this voice for a few nights at dusk now; without bringing my attention to it fully I notice I've been puzzling slightly.

And then, icing on the cake, the full moon starts shouldering over the hill, its low dome pumpkin-coloured. And we're there witnessing. What a grace, this being alive.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

living the question

'Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue... the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.'  

Rainer Maria Rilke (from Letters to a Young Artist - I think!)

On my novel-writing course, I suggest that the journey of the protagonist is underpinned by a particular theme, which can be summarised in a key question.

This in turn is a characteristic of the 'quest', or the life-journey. Of course, a novel shows, 'writ large', the dilemmas of a human life, one way or another; pared-down, clearly, so that the architecture is more visible than it is in our own messy lives, in the detail of which we are so immersed that it's not easy to get an overview (this is partly why people seek out mentors, counsellors, coaches, obviously).

Once I mention 'quest', then there's a theme-within-a-theme for me, as – and this belongs in other posts, and my first non-fiction book, not here – then we're in the territory of the Quest for the Grail (yes, ok, and also eg Star Wars and other such popular takes on the quest theme, but expanding on that or those is not my purpose here). I believe that culturally the Grail myths, coming as they did not long after the revolutionary times at the end of the first millennium AD, are relevant to much of our current worldview, whether or not we're conscious of that. The reason it's relevant here is the fact that Parsifal, in some of the stories the main protagonist, was denied access to the Grail Castle the first time he encountered it, because he neglected to ask the question (he was too young, too innocent, to know that there was a question to be asked).

We could call entry into the Grail Castle the meeting with heart, with soul, with the possibility of a full, whole and integrated life that is about more than simply serving our own needs and the tugs of ego.

The first time I realised the importance of asking the question, and asking the right question, it was a major revelation to me that has gone on to inform my own life.

So I now also ask this question of participants in some of my workshops: 'what is the question your life is asking of you right now?'

The questions will change with time. The question/s valid in the first half of one's life, to do with identity, making a living, establishing a home, a place in the world, core relationships (in other words one's outer life) have less traction, less relevance, at mid-life.

Jungian James Hollis says: 'In the second half of life, whether through volition or necessity, we become obliged to read surfaces in order to go beneath surfaces, which is to say, become psychological beings. A psychological being is one who asks, what is going on here, what causes this, from whence in my history, or the history of the other, does this arise? Not to ask such questions is to be at the mercy of the autonomous, affect-laden ideas that Jung called complexes. These are energy-clusters which have a life of their own and, when unchallenged, put one's life on automatic pilot.'

So mid-life is a time when it's good to revisit, review and renew the questions. Now, our focus is more likely to be inward, or at least more inward: what are my core values? How do I want to live for the rest of my life? What is my soul demanding of me? What really matters? What do I have to give back to the collective? – these are all good juicy questions that invite us to live by putting heart and our knowledge of interconnectedness at the centre of our lives.


I shall be offering a workshop and an online course on LIVING THE QUESTIONS later this year; do visit my two websites: and

© Roselle Angwin 2014

Monday 10 February 2014

'the burning ground' & 'imago'

I don't mind promoting my courses but I find it SO hard to promote my own writing! But my publisher requests that I mention that from today for 3 days my two novels are available on kindle on Amazon (I know, I know) for just 99p. Amazon is good for authors in that it gets word out, and I've had some lovely reviews, which helps. The books are The Burning Ground and Imago, and this is the schedule, below. Please buy and/or tell your friends, dear kind lovely folks:


10/2 – 8am – 99p
13/2 – 8am – £1.99
16/2 – 8am – End


10/2 – 8am - $0.99
13/2 – 8am - $3.99 (Exception Imago $2.99)
16/2 – 8am - End

Sunday 9 February 2014

two Imbolc poems

At the edge of the woods and the water
 for the Inward Flame group, 2014

After John has sounded his great Cernunnos horn to awaken
the spring maiden, the silence is vaster and whiter than before
and falls on our faces like swandown, like new light;

and now there is just this – light coating the nakedness
of each sinuous beech twig above and beyond the stream,
the veering westerly sifting and shivering the ash crowns

on the horizon, and we here trying to track time, the cycles 
of time; and over the fence the jostling proclamation 
of snowdrops, the earth's great WE ARE shout –

then the gong's voice too fades away
and the wind and the water take over.

© Roselle Angwin, 1st February 2014

Every Breath
for R, who interrupted

February cusp. The restless sky suddenly bleaches
and young light blazes through stormfronts;
the wind arrives in breakers and swells,
tosses the trees on its airy sea.

Every second breath comes from ocean,

said the guy on the radio earlier, and the knowledge
that we breathe the same air, you and I,
becomes a felt-in-the-body truth.

But still what you think you heard 
as my voice in your inward ear
is your own deepest knowing:
live by soul, it says, or die.

© Roselle Angwin, 2nd February 2014

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