Lost in France

Musings on the French countryside, photography, science, and the meaning of life

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Macro photograph of Bee Orchid shot in Penne, Tarn, France
Macro photograph of Marbled White shot in Penne, Tarn, France
Macro photograph of Six Spot Burnet moth shot in Penne, Tarn, France

This area of my web site is dedicated to an attempt to convey the natural beauty of the area in which I live and a sense of what there is to lose, and has been lost

I spent many years 'not seeing things'. In fact, most of the time I did not truly see anything. Just ocassionaly, while staring out of the train window on my daily commute to work in London, or when in the 'lab looking down a microscope, I would 'see' a sunrise or suddenly recognise the beauty of the landscape through which I was travelling, or see the wonder of the parting chromosomes in a dividing cell.  Now that I have more time, I have discovered another aid to 'seeing things' - the viewfinder of a camera. Not only can you see the beauty of the object before and when, you bring the camera to your eye, but you can also later see details hidden from the eye. If I can provide you with a single glimpse of some of the hidden beauty that surrounds us, I will be happy.
Our brains equip us to make our way in the world. If you study our senses you will find that they are exquisitely tuned to the detection of change - we immediately detect the tiniest movement in the periphery of our visual field, the faintest scent that wafts under our nose, or the quietest of sounds occuring in what is otherwise silence. However, we are almost oblivious to things that have a constant presence, or that change only very slowly. This is how it is that we are barely aware of how the natural environment has become impoverished. We even deny that things are not as they were; that the number and diversity of the plants and animals have reduced, and the climate and environment have changed....but they have.
I strongly believe that if we were able to travel back in time, we would be shocked at the state of our environment. Sadly, time travel is not possible. However, we have our memories and the ability to see how things have changed by comparing one geographical location with another. When I was a child, I was able to play on the Chequers Estate in Chiltern Hills. One abiding memory from trespassing on the Prime Minister's home territory is the sound of the insects in summer - the hum and the buzz that has now all but disappeared. It was not the sound of one bee or a fly, but the sound of hundreds or thousands. Remember what a nuisance flies were? The fly-blown lampshades, and the lace covers for milk jugs, cheese and meat? Where did they go?
Perhaps, if you are much younger than I, or unfortunate enough not to often visit the countryside, the loss of insects has not struck you. However, if you travel to a rural area in France, where the population pressures are low, and farming is on a  smaller scale, you will immediately discover how the South East of England has suffered.  Here, in rural France, you don't see one butterfly on the wildflowers on a road-side verge, but hundreds. They rise in a cloud as a car drives by. Not just hundreds of the same species, but dozens of different species. Loss of habitat, the use of certain insecticides and agrochemicals, large scale farming and monoculture, have decimated the wild-life of Southern England. If you doubt it, look at some of the pictures here. It is not too late to change things. Read on and I will try to suggest how.
Lost in France - the beauty of the Tarn

I am an ex-academic with interests in science, photography, the environment and the making of things

A very brief CV: I am 'en retraite' and live  part of the year in France near Penne in the Tarn, and part near Lewes, Sussex  in South East England. I was formerly a Professor at University College London, Head of the Physiology Department, and latterly Dean of Life Sciences and Head of the Preclinical Medical School. In my retirement, I am spending my time observing and photographing nature around Penne, Vaour and St Antonin Noble Val, inventing and building 'things', and keeping an eye on how we treat the environment and one another.

Photographs and all other material is the copyright of the author and may only be reproduced with his express permission.

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