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Tales from the Farm – Of Significant Scientific Interest

Nature at its best – the glistening colour spectrum of fresh water muscle shells.

“TV’s favourite gardener”, Monty Don, inspires Jez Rose, a frustrated behaviourist and amateur gardener, to grow a new life, as detailed in Tales from the Farm. Monty Don’s book inspired Jez to buy a farm in the countryside, create his own garden and write about the joy, obsession and mud.

Our nearest largest town, Peterborough, is attempting to become “the UK’s environmental capital”. I’m still not quite sure what that means because we don’t have a food recycling bin collected (which is fine by me as I’ve become obsessed – and a little protective – with making our own compost) and they don’t have a tram or electric buses, that I’ve seen.

However, it’s as bold a statement as it is intriguing, so I’ll keep you all informed! We do have a lot of wind turbines but they’d be silly not to, given that a lot of this area of the country is flat. I’ve just realised that I’m sub-40 and carrying on like a retired librarian: is there something about mid-30s that propels you into composting and building log stores? I’ll ask my therapists.

Anyway, I need to explain the picture of the shells.

There’s a dyke, which runs along the side of the road leading to our house, all along the boundary to the farm and continues on up the road. Its purpose is to help drain the fields and prevent widespread flooding. Apparently they were once hedgerows but during the war, all “wasted” space (hedges, fences etc) were removed in agricultural areas, so as to maximise the crop yield.

I recently learnt that the dyke on our road has an SSI order on it, denoting it as of Significant Scientific Interest. Apparently it’s because of the wildlife and microorganisms within it, including fresh water muscles. When we walk the dogs, we often find empty shells on the banks, having been prized open, the contents eaten and discarded by herons. Just after I’d planted the laurel hedge along the front of the farm, I saw a water vowel looking proud of himself and cleaning his whiskers. Cute, I thought. Until I realised that he was responsible for digging into the freshly planted laurel bushes to eat the roots. Gun, I thought. I haven’t seen him since I leant over the fence and told him what I wanted to do with him if he continued to eat my plants, finishing him off by stuffing him with laurel leaves.

Things finally feel like they’re beginning to get a little better here: the weather is turning into early spring, which means bird song, a subtle lift in temperature – and SUN! The sunsets and sunrises are the most striking I’ve seen in this country, entirely uninterrupted. Spring bulbs are beginning to peep through the mulch and grass and the first signs of the new lime trees coming into bud, along with the roses and apple trees fills me great pride and excitement.

It all reminds me of one of my favourite metaphors, of the oyster. A professor asked his students if they knew how the beautiful pearl in an oyster was made. Many suggestions were offered: did it give birth to it? Was it man made? Is it an egg? A growth? Putting them out of their misery, the professor told how one tiny grain of sand, which gets into the oyster and embeds itself within the soft inside, begins to agitate the oyster. It irritates and grates, causing the oyster to produce a protective membrane, which gradually hardens and forms – a pearl. Every natural pearl starts as a grain of sand.

The lesson?

That even the most beautiful and finished of products, which we can in turn appreciate in awe, take some irritation and challenges to create the finished product. Something worth remembering this week at work – or in our case when you discover the well that feeds your house with water has so much iron in it that it is turning white clothes orange and degrading the bathroom fittings and requires a complete filtration system… More on that another day.

Jez Rose is a behaviourist, broadcaster and Faculty Lead for The Good Life Project; a research project evidencing the impact of nature on health, behaviour and wellbeing in the workplace and in education. Broadcaster Kate Humble and the Soil Association are ambassadors for The Good Life Project. For free brain tricks and behaviour fixes, visit:

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