All of us who work on Norfolk Wildlife Trust's education team believe that contact with nature has the power to help anyone and everyone. We work with schools, we work with families, we work with adults, we work with people with severe mental illness, and today Gemma and I worked with prisoners at Wayland Prison.
Things began well. As Gemma opened the door of her posh, liveried NWT vehicle I heard crossbills flying by. In fact the whole day, the first of three we're spending there this week, was great. Today we were talking bugs. We pitfall-trapped, we pond-dipped, we sweep-netted, we made solitary bee nestboxes, we identified and we laughed.
It's a cheap point to make but what touched us most was the concern these tough blokes, all of whom have fallen foul of the law, showed for even the tiniest wild animals. Each bug was gently studied and returned to its habitat. When a dopey young hedgehog was found in the long grass it was lovingly picked up and put in a quiet corner in a box.
So it was that, at the end of the day, I found myself heading west towards King's Lynn to take the hapless hedgepig to the RSPCA's East Winch Wildlife Centre. The NWT education team has a great relationship with the wildlife hospital and we've often worked together at events, including several behind-the-scenes tours, with a chance to feed seal pups, for our junior members and our volunteers. The hedgehog, not the first sickly specimen I've taken there, was duly weighed and admitted and, in response to a request from the prisoners, I kept his case number so that we can find out how the little fellow fares. So much for hard men.
The A47 between Swaffham and Lynn was ablaze with flower: stands of delicate pink musk mallow and tussocks of brasher common mallow, fields of sharp mustardy wild parsnip and - a perfect chromatic foil - clumps of dusky grey-blue field scabious.
Reaching home, as every day through the high summer, I saw turtle doves outside Morisson's: this evening a male parachuting in display from a street lamp and another flicking across the bypass. It's rumoured that the founders of this colony were released by a local breeding project. I'm not a fan of unplanned releases but, released or otherwise, I count myself lucky to see turtle doves every day of the summer.
I added a new vertebrate to my list today, illegally. Dipping the wildlife pond at Wayland Prison we caught a splendid smooth newt, plus many newtpoles. Then one of the prisoners yelled that he'd caught a crocodile. It was a great crested newt, a first for the pond. Not having a licence to handle GCNs we quickly returned this spectacular animal to its habitat and beat a hasty - legally required - retreat.
It doesn't do to fall foul of the law, especially in a prison.
New at Wayland Prison today
great crested newt