NWT president releases long-awaited new nature book

Living in and loving Norfolk, Patrick Barkham with his children (clockwise from the top) Esme, Milly and Ted. 

Living in and loving Norfolk, Patrick Barkham with his children (clockwise from the top) Esme, Milly and Ted. - Credit: ©Marcus Garrett

Out this week is a book called Wild Green Wonders: A Life in Nature, written by the man who is president of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and one of the most respected and best-loved nature writers in the land - Patrick Barkham.

Patrick's book is a selection of 20 years’ worth of writings for the Guardian, the paper which the great Ted Ellis once wrote for, along with the EDP. 

Each story, and there are plenty of them, is vivid, compelling and makes us think long and hard about our surroundings and how they deserve to be loved and protected. 

And Patrick is following in great footsteps, or should I say, sturdy rubber boots. 

Let’s start by taking a look at the life and times of Arthur Patterson, born in 1859, the youngest of nine children of a shoemaker living in one of the old Yarmouth Rows. 

 Arthur Patterson aka John Knowlittle

Arthur Patterson aka John Knowlittle - Credit: Supplied

He lived quite a life. A pedlar, showman, warehouseman, teacher, schools attendance officer and author of books, writing under the name of John Knowlittle. 

It was his books which led to Arthur gaining a national reputation amongst naturalists. 

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Our Jonathan Mardle (Eric Fowler) wrote: “To my regret, I only met him once, in his old age. He was a little wiry, bearded man, wrinkled and weather-beaten, but very active and bright-eyed, like one of the dunlin he loved to watch on the Breydon mud-flats. 

“Afterwards he wrote me a letter, and covered the envelope with sketches of birds,” he said. 

“Arthur was a student of mankind as well as natural history and when he was 71 wrote Wild Fowlers and Poachers as a memorial to the rough, illiterate race of punt ginners, fishermen, marshmen and eel catchers who had been the heroes of his boyhood in the 1860s, and who lived precariously on what they could shoot, net and snare on Breydon Water,” wrote Eric. 

He learnt a lot from the old wild fowlers and fishermen. He lived with them, in his tarred houseboat on the saltings and his low, grey punt steaking silently across the water – although his weapon was binoculars rather than a gun. 

Ted Ellis: Much-loved naturalist and writer.

Ted Ellis: Much-loved naturalist and writer. - Credit: Archant

Arthur befriended a young man by the name of Ted and it was he who helped him type the manuscript for Wild Fowlers and Poachers in the 1920s. 

This was Ted Ellis who grew up to become one of the best known and most loved men of nature ever to have lived in Norfolk. 

It was on October 1, 1946, when E.A.E. wrote the first of a series of daily notes on the countryside which continued to engage, delight and inform readers of the EDP for many years. 

A naturalist, a scientist and a wonderful writer…

Ted grew up in Yarmouth and learnt a lot from Arthur before he recommended him to Gerard Gurney for a temporary job in the aviaries at Keswick Hall, near Norwich. This led to working at Tolhouse Museum and then, when he was 19, to getting a job as natural history assistant at Norwich Castle Museum. 

By 1956 he was keeper of Natural History at the castle, living in a cottage in the midst of 150 acres of wood and fen at Wheatfen, Surlingham, with his gifted wife Phyllis and children. 

Thanks to his newspaper columns, radio and television, Ted became a much-loved and respected naturalist, 

Jonathan Mardle described him as a gentle, modest and independent man who kept his integrity as a scientific observer and an artist in words. 

He once asked him what might have happened if he had been born forty years later and had proceeded, via A-levels, university and a career in research. 

“I might have become a very dull man,” replied Ted. 

Visit Wheatfen Nature Reserve and explore this wonderful and peaceful place in memory of dear Ted who died in the 1980s. 

Ted Ellis Nature Reserve, Wheatfen, Surlingham in the morning sun.

Ted Ellis Nature Reserve, Wheatfen, Surlingham in the morning sun. - Credit: Alan Hatton/Iwitness24

And he gets a mention in the book out this week by “our” nature writer of today – Patrick.

He has already written a collection of wonderful book such as Butterfly Isles, Badgerlands, Coastline, Islander and Wild Child: Coming Home to Nature. 

Now he has picked a selection of nature stories from two decades of writing for the Guardian to put together in the latest book. 

“They are mostly what I love best: venturing into the world with eyes wide and mind open and writing honestly about other people and their relationships with other species,” he says. 

Patrick's parents did the 'Good Life' thing in the 1970s and he was raised on an acre-and-a-half of land with goats, rabbits and plentiful home-grown vegetables. 

Mum was a geographer, and passionate about natural landscape while father nursed a profound emotional need to be close to wildlife and taught environmental studies at the UEA in Norwich. 

“With the keen ear of a child, I absorbed their discussions about the destruction of hedgerows, the hole in the ozone layer, and the need for people to live more sustainably,” he says. 

Patrick worked for The Guardian, first reporting from Australia. He later covered the Iraq War for The Times and then returned to The Guardian eventually becoming the natural history writer. 

He now works for the paper and writes books from his Norfolk home, where he lives with his family, plus a monthly Taking a Walk page for The Oldie. 

The stories in Patrick's new offering are a joy. Compelling and thought-provoking. Taking us to some great places, meeting  amazing characters and….making us think long and hard about the challenges we face in the future. 

One of them, published in the paper six years ago, is called: A Place to mend the soul: the subtle magic of a Norfolk Broad. 

Patrick takes us to Hickling Broad, a wetland of international importance, home to endangered species such as the marsh harrier, the swallowtail butterfly and the holly-leaved naiad (an aquatic plant so rare that botanists make pilgrimages to admire it). 

Hickling - now cared for by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust,  is probably one of the 10 most important nature reserves in the land. 

When Patrick visited he spied a plaque bearing a quote from a certain Ted Ellis describing the Broads as “ a breathing space for the care of souls.” 

Wild Green Wonders: A Life in Nature by Patrick Barkham is published this week by Guardian Faber at £14.99. It is highly recommended. 

Norfolk Wildlife Trust has announced its ambition to create a brand new nature reserve for Norwich,

Norfolk Wildlife Trust has announced its ambition to create a brand new nature reserve for Norwich, located on Sweet Briar Marshes. - Credit: Archant

Help the Norfolk Wildlife Trust

The latest project by Norfolk Wildlife Trust, which does such splendid work, is to raise £600,00 to save Sweet Briar Marshes in the city and create A Wilder Norwich for All. 

It needs to acquire 90 acres of precious wilderness in  Norwich and begin work to create a major new nature discovery for the city and its people. 

The public appeal has just been launched and is match funded by Aviva to a value of £300,000. 

As president Patrick says: “Imagine stepping into a secret wild marsh in the heart of Norwich. A place where kingfishers whistle, water voles swim and orchids bloom. 

“A place of tranquility too, where city children – and adults – can connect with nature. This is not a dream – Sweet Briar Marshes is a miraculous treasure – but we need your help to save it,” he added.

A project John Knowlittle and Ted Ellis would have loved to support.