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Bug Woman London

October 19, 2023
by the gentle author

We are getting close to our target now after raised an astonishing £33,663 to relaunch Spitalfields Life Books. The crowdfund page remains open until we reach £35,000.



I am proud to publish these extracts from BUG WOMAN LONDON – a graduate of my blog writing course who has been publishing posts online for nearly ten years now. The author set out to explore our relationship with the natural world in the urban environment, yet her subject matter has expanded in all kinds of ways. Follow BUG WOMAN LONDON, because a community is more than just people

I am now taking bookings for the next writing course, HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ on November 25th & 26th. Come to Spitalfields and spend a weekend with me in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Fournier St, enjoy delicious lunches and eat cakes baked to historic recipes, all catered by Townhouse, and learn how to write your own blog. Click here for details

If you are graduate of my course and you would like me to feature your blog, please drop me a line.



Dear Readers, there is something magical about owls and they are often nearer to us than we think. The two chicks above were photographed in Kensington Gardens, of all places, and there are Little Owls there too. And there are Tawny Owls in both of our local cemeteries (St Pancras and Islington and East Finchley) and probably in Coldfall Wood too.

The prime time for owl ‘conversations’ is in the spring, but there is something particularly spine-chilling about hearing them at this time of year, as the nights draw in and Halloween approaches. Of course, for the owls themselves the calls are many things, but mostly they are a way of helping the male and female owls to establish their territories in preparation for the spring breeding season. The ‘tu-whit, tu-whoo’ call is the two owls duetting, and typically it’s thought that the ‘tu-whit’ is the female’s soliciting call, the ‘tu-whoo’ part the male answering.

However, I learnt that male owls can also make the ‘tu-whit’ call (though at a lower pitch than the female does), and both sexes can answer. Which just goes to show that just when I think I have something about the natural world nailed down, it turns out to be more complicated which is a source of some pleasure.

Owls can tell a lot from one another’s calls, not just the sex of the caller but their size, weight, health and level of aggression. These are all important factors in choosing a mate. Will they be able to defend and hold a territory? Are they good hunters? Males with the highest levels of testosterone call more frequently and for longer, and this is often related to the size and quality of their territories.

The combination of the two owl ‘voices’ is a signal to other owls that the partnership is working, and that they are cooperating in defending their territories. It is hard work providing for owlets, so this teamwork is essential.

Although the cry of the owl has been seen as a harbinger of doom since before Shakespeare’s time, for me it signals that something in the ecosystem is working. If it can support two tawny owls, then the rest of the food chain is likely to also be relatively healthy.

The woods at night are an interesting soundscape but note that at this time of year you are most likely to hear the owls just after sunset, rather than at the dead of night. It is definitely worth going for a dusk walk, just to see what you can hear and see.




Dear Readers, I was rushing off to a meeting when I was stopped in my tracks by this little rodent all alone in the middle of the pavement. What on earth was s/he? With those tiny ears it was not a mouse and I wondered for a second if s/he was an escaped gerbil but then it clicked. I was looking at an East Finchley bank vole.

Two young women popped out from the house and we all looked at the vole. I was worried because you would never normally get this close to a wild rodent, bank voles are very skittish and can climb trees and shrubs. My Guide to British Mammals says that they ‘walk and run, often in quick stop-start dashes’, but not this one.

“Do either of you girls have a box?” I asked. I knew that the vole would get eaten by a cat or pecked to death by a magpie if s/he was left where she was. Neither girl had a box, so I dashed back home to get one. I thought that we needed to check a) if it was actually some kind of rodent pet and b) if it was a wild animal. I would keep it safe until after dark and then release it if it was well enough.

When I came back, the mother of the girl was also there and all four of us stood and gazed at the oblivious rodent. “He’s rather sweet”, said one of the girls. I always find it heartening when people are not scared of small furry things.

I scooped the vole up and popped them into a box. I got the slightest of nibbles – which did not break the skin – so I felt as if there was still some feistiness left, a good sign. I told my long-suffering husband what was going on and left him to find food/shelter/water etc for our guest.

When a message went out on the Whatsapp for the road, the little rodent was quickly christened ‘the Community Vole’.

When I got back, the Community Vole was having a little nibble at some muesli but clearly they were not well. There was that slight tremor I have seen before in mice that have eaten something poisoned, either by rat/mouse poison, or from their food plants being sprayed with pesticide or herbicide. But bank voles only have a lifespan of a year, so s/he could simply be getting to the end of their natural life. I realised that s/he was much too weak and wobbly to be released into a night-time garden full of cats and foxes. Plus, if s/he was poisoned, anything that ate them would also pick up some of the toxin.

Meantime, the street was full of suggestions for Community Vole’s name.




But in between the jollity there was genuine concern for the well-being of this small animal.

I put some bedding into the box, made sure there were various kinds of food (grass, grapes, cashew nuts, sunflower seeds), covered the box and found a quiet spot for it. If the vole rallied by the next morning, I could release them. If they were still unwell, I would see if I could find a vet. But in my heart I knew that this little one was on its way out.

Next morning, they were tucked up in their bed, dead.

People were genuinely sad that s/he had died. There are an estimated twenty-three million bank voles in the United Kingdom but there is something about seeing an individual animal, or person, that activates our empathy. It is easy to dismiss whole rafts of animals as ‘vermin’ and frighteningly easy to do that to people as well. But when we hear the story of one creature or person we can somehow understand and start to build connections. Maybe that is how we save ourselves, one story at a time?

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Cherub permalink
    October 19, 2023

    The story of the little vole made me sad this morning, but I’m glad this little creature was shown kindness in his final hours. Kind deeds cost nothing.

  2. October 19, 2023

    Two great stories, albeit one was sad… Thank you, Bug Woman.

  3. Gilbert O'Brien permalink
    October 19, 2023

    Some interesting and entertaining stories here, but in the end the fact that the writer feels obliged to anthropomorphize her animals to the extent that she imposes her woke ideas of gender identity on the poor unsuspecting creatures make me certain I won’t read her again. If her focus is gender identity, let her write about that; if it’s about the natural environment in an urban setting, write about that.

  4. October 19, 2023

    Loved learning more about owls. They are present in our very-rural region, and now I feel better informed about their wonderful calls-and-responses. I think it is probably my favorite outdoor sound. I love to hear the cadence, seemingly bouncing from one hill to another.

    A good friend, photographer Sarah Blodgett, has specialized in bird photography
    (avian photography?) in recent years, and has produced some of the most beautiful photos of these creatures. She has such patience, to wait from afar, and not disturb them……..and as a result has captured them in a whole range of activities. My favorite portrait shows a little solitary owl who has just dropped off to sleep, looking so cozy and at home within his tree trunk.

    Thank you, Bug Woman — and GA.

  5. October 19, 2023

    Thank you, Gentle Author! And for those wondering about the language in the piece on the vole, you can read an explanation of what I was trying to do below.

  6. Dave Hall permalink
    October 19, 2023

    Thank you Bug Woman , as I started to write this I heard a Barn Owl….anyway , I was particularly touched by the Vole story .
    I live near Tel Aviv and sadly the term vermin is frequently used by so called leaders and their supporters on both sides.
    Youre story reminded me that their are still a few decent thoughtful people in this world.

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