Archive for January, 2017

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Major Project: Roe Deer Stag Drawings

After unleashing my dip pen and ink at a cafe in Portsmouth train station (top) I came home and drew this Roe Deer Stag (bottom), based upon an image from the British Deer Society website. These aren’t quite the diamond encrusted antlers from the description in a previous blog post but I had an overwhelming urge to draw this deer. I think he looks like a little prince decorated with the colours and patterns of a woodland summer. I’d love to draw more of the wild life from the Westwood Local Nature Reserve in this style.

A Roe Deer Prince with his loyal Robin who sings to him every morning…

Images from top to bottom: pen and ink sketch of antlers and branches, colour pencil and pen drawing of stag + the same image with the robin on his back (created in photoshop), final watercolour and ink painting of the Roe Deer Prince with his Robin.

Major Project Roe Deer in the Westwood Local Nature Reserve

Since my walk to the Westwood on Wednesday morning I found out that these droppings (left) are from a Roe deer. I mentioned this to my Dad who reminded me of these Roe deer stag antlers we’ve had on our kitchen wall since I was a child.

“They are small and elegant with a summer coat of reddish brown turning to grey, pale brown or (occasionally) black in winter. They have a black nose, white chin and white rump patch with a short tush in females. Roe deer exhibit a bounding gait when alarmed. Antlers are rugose (rough or ridged surface), short (less than 30cm) and have three tines (points) on each.”

It’s a happy coincidence that in my previous post I’d written, ‘cluster of trees, it’s branches looked like diamond encrusted antlers from a mythical stag, standing tall and noble like a king at his coronation’ that these droppings were found just by these trees! I’m looking forward to drawing these antlers and would like to create an illustration to accompany this description of the trees.

I have also carried out some research on the Westwood and found some useful information on the Hampshire County Council website.

Westwood Local Nature Reserve

Experience a taste of the countryside at Westwood Local Nature Reserve. Not far from the bustle of Southampton’s city centre, Westwood is a tranquil green open space offering fresh air, natural delights and a surprising history.An enchanting blend of ancient woodlands and rolling grasslands covers 150 acres next to the captivating Netley Abbey. Discover a flourishing wildlife in the rich mix of natural habitats; explore a fascinating local heritage; and enjoy some beautiful views across Southampton Water towards the lush New Forest.

Events and Walks

Westwood’s rangers run a fun programme of guided walks, events and school activities throughout the year. From exploring native wildflowers on a woodland walk to building your own camp fire on a bushcraft session, Westwood’s events are great for all the family.You can also explore Westwood simply strolling through the woodland paths. There are two way marked trails for walkers, and a designated cycle route. Picnic sites offer a tranquil resting place, and from atop the Mound and the Grange Fields you can enjoy sensational views across Southern Hampshire.

History at Westwood

The tranquil site you see today hides a surprising history of human activity.Westwood was formerly part of a large estate in the ownership of the Cistercian monastery of Netley Abbey. The site joined the Abbey via four conduits; large banked ditches designed to carry water which fed the fishponds, filled the wells, and ‘flushed’ the toilets of the Abbey. The remains of these conduits can still be seen through the site today and one is a scheduled ancient monument.Westwood then went into the management of local farmers who used the site as coppice woodland, cutting hazel stems from the woods each winter to make hurdles and charcoal. By the late 18th century much of Westwood belonged to Mr Cleverly, who also owned nearby Grange Farm, now the site of Netley’s popular Mill House pub.During the Victorian era houses were erected along the southern edge of the site; Marina View, Hilton House and the now demolished Lake House which took its name from the ornamental lake that stood in its grounds. That lake is now Westwood’s main pond and the Bamboo and Greater Periwinkle plants that surround it date back to the Victorian period. Until the Second World War the rest of the woodland was managed by a gamekeeper on behalf of the Chamberlayne estate, and was most probably used for shooting.When the war reached Britain the spitfire factory at Woolston needed protection from enemy bombing and Westwood was an ideal site for an artillery emplacement. The natural cover of the woodland edge was perfect for concealing this Z-battery and looking through the undergrowth you can still spot the largely intact bases of this emplacement.From the end of the 19th century gravel extraction took place until part of the site became an area for refuse disposal. Following the restoration of this landfill Hampshire County Council and Southampton City Council took management of Westwood in 1986 and the ancient woodland and restored grasslands were opened as a public space.The site is now a flourishing Local Nature Reserve, rich in wildlife and popular with visitors, but take a stroll through the woodlands and across the fields and you can still discover the pieces of history that have made Westwood what it is today.

Westwood Wildlife

Westwood comprises a rich blend of natural habitats. Ancient woodlands including hazel coppice and oak pasture; streams and ponds; marshes and grassland all provide haven for a diversity of plants and animals.


Rare native plants still thrive in Westwood. Wood Anemones, Primroses, Violets and Wild Strawberry have all been recorded through the woodland, and each spring you can enjoy stunning carpets of Bluebells. The grasslands are home to Cowslips, Yellow Bartsia and Toothed Medick, and a diversity of lower plants such as the rare Alder-Silk moss are also present across the Reserve.


The grasslands of the Grange Fields support many species of bird. Barn Owls hunt through the twilight hours and Skylarks, Linnets and Meadow Pipits have all been seen breeding in the grasses. In the woodland you may see a Nightingale, Songthrush, Bullfinch or Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, and both Dartford and Grasshopper Warblers have also been spotted across the Reserve.


The rare Hazel Dormouse is resident in Westwood’s coppice woodland. It is thought to be the only surviving Dormouse colony in Southampton, and even this small population is fragile due to the small amount of woodland available and its isolation from larger wooded areas.


Several rare beetles live in Westwood’s Bluebell Woods, all of which appear in the ‘Red Book’ of Britain’s most threatened invertebrate species. Butterflies flourish across the site; Marbled Whites and Clouded Yellows are prominent and White Admiral, Brown Argus and Silver-Washed Fritillary can all be spotted.

Habitat Management

Management at Westwood aims to conserve habitats and enhance wildlife. Woodland areas are coppiced to benefit wildflowers and resident Dormice; shrub clearance maintains the open nature of the pasture woodland; invasive plant species are removed to preserve our native plants; and grazing and hay cutting improves the diversity of the grassland for flowers and invertebrates.

They also have a section about Westwood Volunteers – this would be a good opportunity to find out lots more information about the wood including the plants and animals within it.

Volunteering at Westwood is a rewarding and valuable experience. Our volunteers help us to expand the scope of work we undertake, to keep the park in prime condition for visitors and for wildlife. It is also a fantastic opportunity for the community to help their local environment, whilst gaining useful hands-on training and experience in countryside skills.You can be involved in all aspects of park life; from practical conservation work, to biological studies, to events and education. You can become involved as much as you like; on a casual basis, weekly, monthly, or even as a full-time volunteer training for a career in conservation. For more details on volunteering opportunities, tel 02380 402534.

The Friends of Westwood

Our Friends Group is a dedicated team of local volunteers who give up their time to help us look after the Reserve. They keep an eye on the park, informing us of any problems and making sure the site is in good condition. They also assist on practical tasks, events, wildlife surveys, and are instrumental in large funded projects to improve Westwood. If you would like more information about the Friends of Westwood, or are interested in becoming a member, tel 02380 402534.


There’s also an unofficial facebook page for the Westwood which has lots of interesting photographs of people’s experiences there. Including evidence of some mysterious little wooden sculptures in trees. No one seems to know who put them there!

Major Project: Stories #2

Documenting my relationship with nature day by day:

18th January 2017

I woke early this morning because Jayne was leaving for work at half past seven. I made a start on the washing up once she’d left as I gazed in a half sleep state outside at the frost covered garden steaming in the sun.

I could have gone back to bed for another hour…”Or I could take Freddie for a walk to the West woods,” I thought. I decided the latter was the more sensible option, considering that I would no doubt be spending most of the day sitting inside drawing. Coat, gloves, boots, lead, dog.

I’m always nervous about taking Freddie for walks on my own because he can be very unpredictable on the lead around other dogs. I wanted to test whether this fear aggression was caused by being held back, pulled taught on a leash, sensing my anxiety. So I crouched down and took off his collar as soon as we reached the entrance to the woods. “Here we go, let’s see if this works and behave yourself!” I whispered to him.

There was some graffiti sprayed on to the gate and in my imagination I saw this as some ancient or secret language meaning, ‘Do not enter…or, enter at your own peril.’ The kissing gate to the right is always a challenge for Freddie. He approaches with caution, remembering that he must wait for me to open it and let him go through first.

We continued on the path for a few minutes before coming to a tree that had fallen down, blocking our way. We had to squelch our way through thick mud, underneath branches, snagged by twigs as they bent back, whipping arms and ankles.

The ground was frozen, crunchy underfoot. The silence made way for the sounds of birds cheeping and singing, rustling and whistling all around me. Every so often I would hear a “crack” and “splash” when Freddie walked over a icy puddle…his feet must have been so cold! His little head was covered in frost too where he’d been sniffing for rabbits the tall grass.

Every leaf, twig, branch and blade of grass had a dusting of frost and sparkled in the sun light. We neared a cluster of trees, it’s branches looked like diamond encrusted antlers from a mythical stag, standing tall and noble like a king at his coronation.

The red winterberries and yellow gorse flowers were the only vivid colours amongst the muted browns and greens of the landscape. However, as I looked up between the trees, the blue sky was so fresh and lively that the branches and twigs above looked like veins and capillaries stretching out in every direction. Blue tits and finches danced through the sea of colour as the robin sung to me.

The frost on a green bench, tucked secretly away revealed lots of tiny foot prints from a cat…evidence of their wanderings, adventures away from a domesticated life of tinned food and litter trays to the thrill of catching a mouse or an unsuspecting bird.

On my way out I happened across some wooden steps, reclaimed by nature, covered with leaves, moss, mud and ivy. They looked as if they could have been an entrance to some other enchanted realm where everything is covered in soft, lush mosses and lichen. Each cluster a microscopic ecosystem in itself, home to even more animals and

Posted by Daff Illustration on Wednesday, 18 January 2017


Major Project: Stories #1

Documenting my relationship with nature day by day:

17th January 2017

Since we cut down the bay tree where the wood pigeons used to nest, I feel so guilty when I see them pecking around in the garden; their home destroyed in a fit of determination to take back control of the space to grow fruit and vegetables. They give me that look. The one with the puppy dog eyes and a slight tilt of the head that says “Why?”. The blackbirds do it too, ever since I hacked away at the tangle of blackberry and raspberry brambles where they had built a beautifully tidy nest. Impenetrable. Protected from all predators, even the magpies.

I have to remind myself that if these birds were angry with me then they wouldn’t keep coming back, would they? On a frosty January morning I looked up to the enormous oak tree that towers above us and saw at least twenty wood pigeons sitting fat on it’s branches, cooing with satisfaction as the sun warmed their feathers. A pair of blackbirds flew over my head towards the feeders where they pecked away for a few minutes before returning to the safety of the hazelnut tree.

The seagulls circled nearby. We don’t live far from the sea, only a twenty minute walk, but these cheeky birds come here because of the local dump only a mile or so down the road, waiting for any scraps they can get their beaks on.

On my way to the train station, I decided to cut through Miller’s pond. I passed a woman with bright red hair and a green jacket taking her Scotty dog for a walk. She smiled at me and I could just about make out a “hello”, muttered under her breath.

As I neared the pond I could see a mother with her two children feeding the ducks. Then I heard him again, that familiar song. As the sun broke through the clouds the little robin sat on a branch, at my eye level with his red chest puffed out proudly. “Good morning!” he said. “I hope you enjoyed my song? Same time next week?”

I returned home that evening, the garden was quiet and still but I disturbed the peace. A fox that had been happily sniffing around the compost bins, leapt to attention and jumped through a gap in the fence.

Later that night I sat with Jayne, reading a book when suddenly,

“Can you here that? Shhh! Listen…”


“It’s an owl!” said Jayne, “But which one? A barn owl perhaps?”

We hurried to the computer to see if we could work it out from the recordings we’d found on a very useful website.

“No it can’t be..they don’t hoot, they scream! It’s must be a tawny owl, listen!”


I lay in bed imagining the mysterious bird in one of those tall trees surrounding the barn, head buried in to it’s chest, feathers preened in preparation for the hunt. I thought of it’s big brown eyes and patterned plumage, it’s wise gaze studying the ground and it’s strong, gnarled feet wrapped around the oak branch.