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The story behind our star photo

7th November 2018

This post highlights the story behind the cover image featured on our upcoming issue of North East Nature.

I took this ‘Nutkin’ shot at that ‘not-so-secret’ ‘secret’ spot most of you will know about at Derwent Reservoir….and I am confident that all of you recognise and understand the ‘Nutkin’ reference.

In 1903 Beatrix Potter published her second book, the Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, as a first edition of 10,000 copies.  Millions have followed in the intervening century.  The book was the first present I remember receiving – NB:  quite sometime after 1903!   Its political and violent themes flew straight over my tiny head but like so many others I was completely captivated by its beautiful and accurately rendered illustrations.  Together with Potter’s later Tales, Nutkin inspired in me a lasting interest in the natural world.  I am sure I am not the only one, although I wonder how many are actually prepared to admit to this?

Like our local Bewick with his earlier Aesop and related works,  Potter’s art that made her an important and successful propagandist for the countryside and its inhabitants – particularly our dwindling red squirrels.

This year NHSN, quite rightly, spotlighted the contribution of little-known female naturalists to our region’s knowledge.  By contrast, Potter’s books brought her instant and lasting worldwide fame but as a children’s author, clouding her contribution as a ‘serious’ botanical illustrator and early mycologist that went on to become an important conservationist.   Perhaps we should refocus the existing spotlight on her work as well as acknowledging that a century of reprints pushed her Tales readers into the millions thereby inspiring a great many to take a closer look at the natural world for themselves?

Last week I missed a photograph that would have united Potter’s research area with her art.  I watched a red squirrel eating with great relish the stalk of some type of boletes mushroom then pin its saucer sized lid onto a short bare twig high in a Scots pine to finish later on.  A minute later it took up another and did it again…. frustratingly in a dark patch of bracken and quite beyond reach of my macro lens.

But a missed photo isn’t the point of this story – now I have to learn more about fungi and it’s all thanks to Miss Potter.  This feels like an admission on some type of 12 step programme.  Now it’s your turn – admit what sparked your early interest in the natural world?

– @Shakytripod (Blurry Photo)