Tag Archives: Dorking

Entering the world of commerce

This weekend I took a plunge (or, rather, dipped my toe) in the world of commerce. I have thousands of photos on my hard drive, a tiny fraction of which are (I think) quite presentable, but I rarely do anything with them. So when I heard that my church was organising a craft fair, it seemed like a chance to be brave and show them to the world, and see if the world liked them enough to buy them.

The first step was to find some photos good enough to sell. This meant trawling through my archives, which was a time consuming but pleasant occupation. I narrowed it down to 25 photos, mainly of British wildlife. But I had no idea which of these people might buy.

I thought Wild South would do as a name for my enterprise, and I knocked up a logo, incorporating oak leaves, as oaks are my favourite trees. What do you think of it?

Wild South logo

In the end I got 4 of each of the 25 photos printed as cards. I also got a set of business cards printed, with a different photo on the back of each. I  found a couple of bird images that would work as bookmarks, and got 50 double-sided bookmarks printed. I also picked 8 of my favourite photos to print out large, and mounted them. My plan was, if they didn’t sell I’d put them up at home (I’ve been meaning to do this for a while). I made up some themed packs of 3-5 cards.

Having never done this before, pricing was a bit of a stab in the dark. I knew what my costs were, but wasn’t sure how much mark-up to add – I wanted to make a decent profit for the charity, but didn’t want to be left with 100 cards at the end of the day.

Wild South stand at the craft fair
Wild South stand at the craft fair (excuse the poor quality photo – it was taken with my phone)

After a dry run of setting up my stall at home, I was ready for the fair. I was relieved when I made my first sale of the day, and it was encouraging that it was a good one. I got lots of compliments on my photos. By the end of the day I had sold about half of my cards, and 4 mounted prints, but only 8 bookmarks. Some of the photos completely sold out. Owls, British mammals and pretty flowers all sold well, while some of my more exotic photos barely sold at all.

My business cards were very popular – people liked being able to choose which photo was on the back. And I did have more blog visits than usual this weekend, although I don’t know whether that’s connected. The other stallholders were very kind and encouraging, and Dr C helped out a lot. It was also a great opportunity to talk to people about wildlife.

It was a hard day’s work, but not unpleasant or dull. I’m not in a hurry to do another craft fair, and it’s not time to give up the day job quite yet. But I ‘d do it again to raise money for charity.

Anyway, here are the top selling images from the fair.

Tawny owl, perfectly disguised in the dappled woodland light
Tawny owl, perfectly disguised in the dappled woodland light
Eagle owl
Eagle owl – there are a few pairs of eagle owls at large in Britain

Harvest mouse on seedhead Barn Owl

Hedgehog
Our national species
waterlily
Waterlily
Otter
Otter
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Box Hill and The Lark Ascending

My walk on Box Hill the other day was lovely. The sun was shining and the slope alive with butterflies. But I felt that something was missing. There was no skylark song.

I recommend you listen to this YouTube video while reading the rest of this post. You’ll thank me for it!

Skylarks are plain-looking brown birds, smaller and duller to the eye than starlings. But to hear them sing is to have your ear filled with molten silver, and your thoughts lifted to the heavens.

Patrik Åberg, XC27004. Accessible at http://www.xeno-canto.org/27004.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0

Skylarks are ground nesting birds, found mostly in farmland. A few years ago we visited Lundy, which seemed to be bursting with skylarks. Elsewhere in Britain skylarks are a rarer sight. Their numbers halved in the 1990s, and continue to decline.

The main reasons behind the plummet in skylark numbers seems to be changes in farming practices. The move from spring to winter sowing of crops, overgrazing and a shift from hay making to silage have dramatically reduced the habitat available for skylarks to breed in.

I missed skylarks on Box Hill because it felt like the right sort of habitat for them. But I think there was also a sub-conscious expectation that there would be skylarks there, because of its links to skylarks in poetry and literature.

The 19th century writer George Meredith lived on Box Hill, and wrote the poem The Lark Ascending that inspired one of my favourite pieces of English music, by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Vaughan Williams lived in Dorking, the town Box Hill protects and shelters. His The Lark Ascending is said to describe the English landscape in musical form, as well as capturing something of the soaring beauty of the lark’s song. While I love this piece, I hope it isn’t the closest our next generation gets to hearing skylarks.

Chalk grassland: Europe’s rainforest?

Sometimes places that look barren or dull can be full of diverse wildlife, on closer inspection. I am a bit of a tree fan, so it’s always been the woods of Box Hill, with their rare box trees, that have excited me. While the grassy slopes of the hill have appealed to me aesthetically, I assumed that the real wildlife was elsewhere.

The grassy slope to the summit of Box Hill
The grassy slope to the summit of Box Hill

A recent walk up the hill on a sunny day made me suspect I might be wrong.  What, from afar, looks like boring old grass, is actually a huge variety of plant species, including many different flowers. And these plants were buzzing with insect life.

An orchid and moth
Chalk grasslands are home to a huge range of plant and insect species

A bit of reading up on the subject has confirmed that my earlier assumptions were well wide of the mark. Chalk grassland, grazed by sheep and unfertilised, is one of the UK’s richest for plant and insect diversity. The poor, thin soil, and regular grazing, means no single species can dominate.  A square metre of chalk grassland may have up to 40 different plant species, leading to some calling it Europe’s answer to the rainforest.

The chalk grassland slopes of Box Hill
The chalk grassland slopes of Box Hill, looking towards the woods

This diversity of plants gives food and shelter to a wide range of insects.  41 different types of butterfly have been found on Box Hill, including some of the rarest in the UK. I didn’t even know there were that many butterfly species in Britain.

Chalk grassland is in itself quite rare. It is an internationally important habitat and is a priority in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.Besides the North and South Downs there aren’t many other large areas of chalk grassland left. Much has been lost in the last 50 years due to changes in farming, (intensification including use of fertiliser and over grazing), encroachment of scrub where grassland isn’t grazed, and development of land for other purposes. Only 1% of the Surrey Hills has remnant chalk grassland cover.

Looking south from Box Hill
Looking south from Box Hill

There’s been quite a lot of controversy locally about a recent Court of Appeal judgement allowing some chalk grassland to be turned into an exclusive golf club. Neatly manicured, fertilised and herbicided greens and fairways are deserts compared to natural chalk grassland.

While it may not have the immediate feel of the wild that you get in woods or at the coast, chalk grasslands are rich habitats, and need protection. Losing chalk grassland means losing a unique and fragile ecosystem, which we will be poorer without.

Looking from Box Hill towards Dorking
Looking from Box Hill towards Dorking