Hares in places never seen before

lights out

Back in October 2006 English Nature ceased to be, so in the August we put together a newspaper to celebrate some of our achievements. I came across my treasured copy this morning and thought you might like to share some of our more humorous stories…

First up, the North East Team.

Conducting a site visit with a consultant and DEFRA to discuss a great crested newt case, wearing (unknowingly) a hard-hat with an ‘I’ve been to diggerland’ sticker on it.

Convincing a keeper that our advice on managing his blanket bog would not affect grouse numbers, whilst one of the few remaining grouse got up from under my feet, leaving most of its feathers behind and others falling off as it flew away.

A lady phoned to tell us she had found a moth that looked very rare. A Conservation Officer advised that the museum would be interested in seeing it and so explained how to ensure its safe-keeping overnight. When I returned to the phone to relay this information, the lady said “Oh, I am sorry, my cat has eaten it”.

A Director arrived at the office with his large pilot’s case and was delighted to be greeted with a cheerful “Ah, we have been waiting for you, come this way”. Only to be led to a disembowelled photocopier needing repair by our new receptionist.

Evacuating a huge shared office complex and calling out the bomb squad to dispose of what turned out to be a punnet of strawberries.

On receiving a phone call from children who had found a bat, I was about to launch into the standard advice when they told me that the problem was that they did not know what to feed it, so had tried a bowl of cereal which the bat had promptly fallen into and was now covered from head to toe in milky sugar puffs.

Now a few from the Wiltshire Team:

Our Deputy Team Manager and Assistant conservation officer parked the 25 year old minibus on Parsonage Down National Nature Reserve, and left the doors open. Heifer number 25 got in and ate the keys. No spare keys left, so the bus had to be rescued by a flat bed truck. Subsequently featured in the Times…

Pesky stone curlews ruined a local village celebration of the Queens’ 75th birthday by nesting next to a beacon stopping it being lit. A Conservation Officer had to explain this to the villagers.

A nameless Wiltshire Team Manager addressing the Team at a Team Building event stood back and stepped on an English Nature sheepdog’s tail. The dog duly responded with a bite to the Team Manager’s inner thigh – priceless!

A small child covered in elephant hawkmoths at a moth evening.

During the foot and mouth crisis one of our Conservation Officers made the immortal quote to the local press. “There are hares in places we have never seen before”.

I will share some of our ‘nature successes’ stories in later blogs but it is interesting how the story of something that went wrong is so appealing and memorable.

An age of innocence and wonder

fairy dell

Evidence that I was always interested in nature from an early age. Back in about 1964 a photographer from the Sunday Sun (a North-East England Newspaper) approached us in a local park in Sunderland and asked if we would pose for a photograph. This is the picture that was published that Sunday. Although captioned that we were catching sticklebacks, the bucket is full of water boatmen who’s ability to walk on water was far more interesting to us than a few easy to catch fish.

We were out on our own, exploring the park, beach and seafront at the highly responsible age of seven. That’s me in the middle, Stephen on the left and Stuart on the right. I love the detail of my knitted jumper and the fact that Stephen obviously didn’t have a handkerchief.




Gallipoli – “the flies are terrible, worse than the Turks”



At the end of 1914 my granddad, Ernest Donaldson, joined the army where he began his training and stayed in tents at Aldershot until January 2nd 1915.

The sequence of events that led to him joining the army went something like this:


Jun 28th Archduke Francis Ferdinand assassinated at Sarajevo

Jul 28th Austria-Hungary declares war against Serbia

Aug 1st Germany declares war against Russia

Aug 3rd Germany declares war against France

Aug 4th German invasion of Belgium. GB declares war against Germany

Aug 12th GB declares war on Austria-Hungary

Aug 23rd Japan declare war on Germany

Nov 5th GB declares war against Turkey

Luckily from 1915 onwards he kept a diary and most days captured what would have been his twitter or facebook status. A few years ago I set about transcribing most of his daily thoughts. So it now seems appropriate, exactly 100 years later to publish his personal story. Part one – Gallipoli… [copyright @rondon all rights reserved]


Jan 2nd

Went to LLANDRINDOD WELLS. Made an allotment(will) leaving everything to my mother.

Jan 12th

I bought Polly’s [my grandmother] engagement ring

Transferred to South Wales Borderers

Mar 29th

We were fully equipped for 1 Company and first draft but it was cancelled. Had to parade every day until orders came. Askew was our sergeant.

Mar 30th

Just the usual rout march etc. Pictures at night.

Apr 1st

At the Pavilion at night, it was great – a revue – one of the best that has been here.

Apr 2nd

No parade today. Dave, Dick, Archie and I went for a long walk, it was a lovely night.

Apr 5th

Roll call, then dismissed. The weather was glorious and the sports went off fine, took Sybil [don’t ask] Top of the list with 32 points.

Apr 6th

Raining like hell, pictures at night. Sybil went away, a very nice girl, promised to send me a photo.

Apr 10th

Received orders, examined by doctor – passed fit. Had to give our kit in. Dick and I were a bit late, and got left behind. Talk about rotten luck, spent a miserable day. Everything can go to hell.

Continue reading

Ask the Audience

coventryEarlier this week I gave a presentation to the, student led, Proactive Project Management Conference at Coventry University.

Following a useful talk on Change Management by Jane Cosgrove of DHL, I decided to follow her lead in asking the attendees questions to build  greater engagement.

My first question (and remember the background of the students was mostly engineering/project management)was ” How many of you use TRIZ?” Answer – None. “How many of you know what TRIZ is?” Answer – None.

A little later, after explaining the cynefin framework with examples pulled  from their own context, Which cynefin domain do you think ‘putting on a conference like this’ should be? No votes for anything else other than ‘complicated’.

Participatory storytelling about Natural Capital


In November I ran a PNI (Participatory Narrative Inquiry) -based workshop at the Valuing our Life Support Systems Summit #VOLSS at the British Library in London.

The summit, hosted by the Natural Capital Initiative (NCI), brought together 250 scientists, policy makers and business representatives to debate how we can better preserve the elements of nature on which human society and the economy depend.

Knowing that we (Sarah Chimbwandira, director at Surrey Wildlife Trust and myself) had less than an hour in total, we designed the session to maximise the participative elements. I trimmed out my introduction entirely, saying they “could find out more about me on-line if they so wished”.

Our promotion of the session via a pre-conference blog by Sarah on ‘Natural Capital needs relevant stories to be told as well as good science‘, together with mentions on Twitter and at previous sessions meant that we were oversubscribed, which was exactly what we wanted.

A very brief overview of the excellent progress so far of Surrey Connects, by Mark Pearson the CEO, set the scene and we were off with hand-cut hexagons and sharpies (other marker pens are available).

The participants were invited to capture their thoughts and feelings about the current state of ‘Natural Capital’ and then, in reverse (to disrupt linear thinking) they were asked to complete a hexagon for each of the key decisions, events and turning points that had led us to where we are today.

I ran around the tables to encourage participation and keep the energy and progress as high as possible.

Next they were asked to “imagine in two years, if everything that could go right (in relation to the adoption of Natural Capital), does go right. What would that look like?” Then, again in reverse, “what might be the decisions and events that might need to happen?” I added that “the first step might be the most important to focus upon”.

NCnarrativeQuickly moving on, nominated storytellers told the story of their table to two, separately, visiting groups in around five minutes each.

NCinquiry Finally and perhaps most importantly of all they were invited to reflect upon the similarities, differences and surprises between their own story and the two new versions they had heard.

The overall view was that the stories were fairly similar (not really surprising as this was half way through day two of the conference) but that they differed considerably on perspective ie economics, natural environment and business – focus.

A quick comparison of the ‘first (important) step’ suggested by each of the six groups reveals:

  • Communications, starting at where people are at
  • Identify all critical Natural Capital Assets
  • A miracle!
  • Increasing consumer awareness
  • More pilots to test
  • Communication between Sectors

What do you think? I think this is a good set of first steps to ensure the ‘Natural Capital’ approach proceeds with caution and is adaptable and resilient in the face of uncertainty.

Feedback was hugely positive. Cheat sheets were eagerly taken away.

My reflections afterwards were that:

  1.  The pilot session we (Sarah, director of Surrey WT and Mark CEO of Surrey Connects) had been vitally important to test the instructions, timings and examples of outputs).
  2. I would have preferred a session right at the very start of the conference as an ice-breaker, test the temperature of the ‘crowd’, and chance to reflect on what was important before the first speaker started to influence our thinking.
  3. It is right to sacrifice ego and glory to maximise the participatory nature of such a session. Participation, instead of listening to one person make a point or observation generates engagement, involvement and ultimately personal satisfaction.
  4. Natural Capital is a new and emergent force. A PNI approach to developing where it might go, what it might look like and which systems it may overturn, seems to me to be the perfect match to develop a bottom up, grounded but revolutionary ‘Natural Capital Ecosystem’.

If you are interested, my full report on the session, complete with all the outputs,  every hexagon, is available on the Natural Capital Initiative website. We hope to be doing a lot more in this hugely exciting area in the coming months, so watch this space.

[This post also appears on our new Participatory Narrative Institute Blog over at PNI2.ORG – please have a browse and register on the site if you are at all interested in joining us to see what a difference we can all make, with working with stories]

All Hope Abandon

conference phoneI must have attended more than twenty of David Gurteens Knowledge Cafes over recent years and the feedback is always the same “I had a really good time”, “It was great to talk to other strangers”, “I made some great new contacts”, “what interesting conversations”. David has built up an awareness of what makes a good participatory event as he explains in his current newsletter in an entry entitled ‘Nothing new about the knowledge cafe‘.

Now, I have attended several quite large conferences recently and the amount of time, which could have been used to participate, engage and connect has been tragically wasted.

Over at Knocko, Nick Milton unscientifically, but in my mind convincingly, calculates ‘Why knowledge transfer through discussion is 14 times more effective than writing‘.

So, in a similar vein, if a conference of 102 attendees:

  • holds two panel Q&A session each of 30 minutes duration, only 2 people are fully engaged at any given time, meaning that 100 person Hours of Opportunity for Participatory Engagement (HOPEs) are wasted.
  • allows two coffee breaks of 30 minutes, and an hour for lunch, each described as ‘for networking’ but without instruction to “meet and greet new connections”, at least 50% simply meet up with the people they arrived with or work with or check their phones wasting a further 100 HOPEs
  • endures five minutes of all 12 of the presenters telling us about “the number of people who work for us”, “my qualifications include”, “I know there there are too many words on this slide but …”, this results in the wasting of another 100 HOPEs

300 hours of participatory potential energy wasted just for a few words of instruction “ find someone you don’t know and introduce yourselves” or advice to presenters “ Please don’t include slides just for the sake of it”, “stories not bullets” and replace question time with “At your table or with your neighbours, reflect on what you have heard and discuss”.

Are all our efforts to improve conferences hopeless? Reflect on this and discuss.

Hope is an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large. – from wikipedia

Bob Hope had a PGA Golf tournament named after him which had a recent refocus and is now designed to bring the idea of “participatory wellness” to life for people of all ages

Story-Trophic cascades

Perhaps it is working with TRIZ that has improved my analogous thinking but I watched this incredible video about ‘How Wolves Change Rivers’ and thought:

If Trophic Cascades are brought about by re-introducing a previously removed key species in an ecosystem, what might be the analogous effect of re-introducing storytellers, or even better PNI (Participatory Narrative Inquiry) facilitators who work with stories, back into a community.

I have just delivered the first of two experiments to run a Story Based workshop locally with local business friends who run their own small businesses. My intention was primarily to share with them a few of the lessons, methods and tools I have learned that have made a difference to me. From the feedback I have received I achieved the impact I so desired.

What surprised me was the amount of collaboration that occurred during the event and ‘cascaded’ onto social media afterwards. Unlike previous workshops where I have purposefully asked pairs to look for common ground or potential creative combination ideas, I never directly mentioned it this time.

It has only been 48 hours since the workshop ended and already I am aware of a surge of contacts via email, twitter and Facebook. Invites have been received to join google hangouts and physical Friday afternoon business networks. Three books and one painting sold. One participant going live on the radio and internet TV as a nutrition expert with potential to have a new career as a text jockey.

Now if one workshop with 8 participants can generate a cascade of collaborative energy this strong in 48 hours, just imagine if this was carried out in your area with your local businesses and if these businesses were coached and facilitated to build further relationships using stories we could change more than just rivers …