Category Archives: nature writing

Storytelling for a Greener World

I have been involved in this new book and rather than ramble on myself, I’ll use the Press Release to tell you about it!

And you can buy your own copy at: Hawthorn Press


Since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring brought environmental wellbeing to widespread attention, pollution, global warming and animal loss have risen. Despite rising environmental awareness, nature needs more care than ever.

Storytelling for a Greener World explores how storytelling and story-work enable meaningful change. Stories can help us re-connect with each other, with our environment, and ‘to see a world in a grain of sand’. Whether it is a friend describing a skein of geese in evening flight, the tale of the man protected by a tree, or children getting inspired by kittiwakes, such moving stories invite meaning and action.

The crystal clear Introduction explains the core principles and methods of story based learning, with helpful examples. Chapters by some of Britain’s finest storytellers provide a treasury of over 40 engaging stories to retell as well as:

-Clear descriptions of creative story work, activities, approaches and tips.

-Explanations of how storytelling engages people and aids learning about the environment; Analysis of successful story-based sessions.

-Advice on how to choose sustaining stories and develop innovative story work.

The 21 authors include well-known storytellers, academics, environmentalists and facilitators who have pioneered story-based learning in nature reserves, museums, botanic gardens, schools, companies, NGO’s, universities and communities. This authoritative book is an essential resource for anyone using storytelling in their work.

Editors: Alida Gersie, PhD, widely published author on story making for change, initiated and directed postgraduate arts therapies programmes worldwide, advises managers and thought-leaders on how to improve outcomes in health, environmental learning, sustainable development and the arts. Anthony Nanson, ecological storyteller and award-winning author with MA’s in science and creative writing, which he teaches at Bath Spa University. Edward Schieffelin, PhD, Emeritus Reader in Anthropology at UCL, has done research among indigenous people of Papua New Guinea for many years and worked intensely with WWF South Pacific on issues of rainforest destruction. Jon Cree, ecologist and environmental educator, chairs the Forest Schools National Network. Charlene Collinson consults on sustainability and futures thinking with government and business.

Authors: Malcolm Green, Nick Hennessy, Eric Maddern, Gordon MacLellan, Ashley Ramsden, Hugh Lupton, Chris Salisbury, Helen East, David Metcalfe, Chris Holland, Sara Hurley, Mary Medlicott, Martin Shaw, Kelvin Hall, Kevan Manwaring, Fiona Collins and the editors above.

I just loved these personal stories from the front line, teasing out what constitutes good practice both in the design and in the delivery of storytelling … In essence, it is an inspiring toolkit that will enrich the work of people who already use storytelling, and will encourage others to get stuck in. Jonathon Porritt, Foreword 



Storytelling for a Greener World: Environment, Community and Story-Based Learning will be released on 1 May 2014, with a launch at Kings Cross, London. A pre-publication celebration will be held in Stroud, Glouc. on 11 April: talks by Alida Gersie and Jonathon Porritt, who wrote the Foreword





Once And Future Giants: book review

Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth’s Largest Animals

Sharon Levy

Oxford University Press, USA; 2011

ISBN; 978-0-19-993116-3



I have a deep and abiding affection for mammoths and an awful creeping suspicion about our ancestors’ role in their extinction. So I started reading  Sharon Levy’s book with a mixture of wariness and excitement.


Both were justified.

This is a fascinating read, exploring the changing landscapes of an Ice Age and post-Ice Age planet, mostly from the perspective of the megaherbivores. My mammoths were there – and so were herds of large grazers, mastodons, ground sloths, giant kangaroos in Australia, moa in new Zealand, Aepyornis in Madagascar – and giant tortoises just about anywhere else that didn’t have any of the others. Mixing sound observation with deduction and careful parallels with modern ecosystems, Levy dives into the ecology of those prehistoric landscapes. It makes fascinating reading: from the sheer physical impact of herds of mammoth (and all the other) to their role in maintaining biodiversity, their vulnerability to predation (yes, we were there, too, alongside sabretooths and giant eagles) and the decline of, especially northern, ecosystems in their absence. It’s not that long ago: 10,000 years – and less, hundreds in some cases – is not long in ecological terms and that absence is still felt


Levy weaves research from different disciplines to make a coherent and compelling argument for the vital role of giant herbivores in maintaining viable and diverse ecosystems and while work on extinct animals has to be speculative, she draws carefully on current research on extant equivalents to fuel her arguments and to lend weight to discussions. You only have to look at how wildlife “management” missed the long term impacts of elephants on East African landscapes to appreciate that those large animals have been deeply misunderstood, their impact seen in the short term and to realise how little we really know about even the largest of our terrestrial neighbours. Looking beyond its immediate subject matter, Once And Future Giants is a celebration of the intricacy and subtlety of natural systems, in constantly reminding us that modern science hasn’t been looking at these processes for long enough to grasp the depth of the processes and that, where the knowledge survives, traditional cultures can fill in a lot of the spaces – and equally that traditional knowledge is not infallible and in the end reflects upon practices that helped humans survive – sometimes at the expense of other species.

Elephants feature again in the final aspects of the book: the reintroduction of large herbivores. That could mean returning lost species to familiar landscapes – beavers or moose in Britain, perhaps. “Rewilding” inevitably gallops onto the pages.This is fascinating, exciting and provocative work: essentially, allowing animals to get on with it with minimal interference (and even less “management”). In western Europe there are notable examples in the Netherlands and an interim stage can be seen with the feral, or half-wild herds of ponies and aurochs-like cattle in used in some nature reserves. This then feeds into discussions about the presence or absence of predators and opens up old discussions for Britain about our native ponies, feral sheep and goats and soaring numbers of deer. But always we come back to what counts as a megaherbivore: big, hefty and doing a job that seems to have been lost. And we step straight into Australian controversy  with camels and water buffalo possibly replacing lost marsupial giant kangaroos and wombats (in tandem with Native Australian fire-setting regimes). We meet reintroductions advocated for reindeer, musk-ox, horse and bison in other northern climes and some ambitious plans for Siberia (at least they still have wolves and occasional tigers). One of the most charming campaigns is the spread of the Bolson tortoise in the deserts of the American south-west. Large, but not a giant, it still trundles in as the biggest herbivore in its small world and has enthusiastic champions among ranchers and environmentalists. And elephants – dreamers talking of replacing those lost Columbian mastodons with African elephants in continental America, letting them roam over the rangelands and start rebuilding older, richer ecosystems.


And my mammoths? Acknowledging they have gone (regardless of excited claims from gene-spliced scientists), the passing of those heavy-footed, hairy herds is marked with a sigh – at least by me


A book to be recommended. Fascinating, rich and readable it gives the reader a lot to think about, discussions to have and arguments to pursue – if only with oneself!

Models in photos, made by:

Mother and baby mammoths: Papo

Ground sloth: Schleich

Mammoth herd: Papo and Schleich

a long slow walk into extinction...

Storytelling tour: Wild Tales And Animals

Wild tales and animals

Stories in school with Creeping Toad September 2013

celebrating the Year of Natural Scotland here are old stories, new adventures and impossible fictions about the wildlife of Scotland


From heroic mice to wrens, eagles and mysterious trees we’ll meet stories that encourage us to look with new eyes on the world around us and remember that there are stories inside the humblest of creatures and the most ordinary of plants, and that we can all have adventures too


I am Gordon MacLellan – Creeping Toad – allegedly one of Britain’s foremost environmental art and education workers…and I tell stories as well! Take a look at the Toadblog:


Between 2nd and 13th September, 2013 (and probably again in November), I will be working in the Highland area (at least) and is available for bookings….


A day’s visit to your school might include


storytelling performances: lasting up to 60 minutes for up to 90 children at a time


just give them a chance and stories and children absorb each other

stories outside! using the school ground, we’ll take storymaking out of the classroom and use the immediate environment, the day’s weather and whatever we can find to inspire words, create poems and shape a set of stories never told before (allow 60 minutes for a class session)


story and book workshops: taking a bit longer (allow 90 minutes for a class) as well as discovering those stories no-one has ever heard before, now we will build those into the books that no-one has ever read before and leave the classroom with a library no-one has ever visited before!


pop-up storyscapes: allow an hour for a class: gathering ideas, images and words we’ll make quick 3-d landscapes holding the essence of a story in a setting, key characters and the words that set the adventure running

tales of old Scotland: a collection of stories of Highland folklore and Scottish histories, of heroes and sorrows, bravery and the magics of sea, mountain and moor


your own themes and ideas: or are you exploring a particular theme that you would like to involve some stories in? pirates….tropical islands….ancient cave people…..where in our school would bears live?…castle adventures,  have all featured in recent Creeping Toad projects


I rather hope this isn't one of the heroes of old Scotland

Charges: £250 a day: includes storyteller’s fee, travel and materials. Can be paid on the day or I can invoice you


For further information:

visit the Creeping Toad website at


To book: contact Gordon directly at

or by telephone:

landline: 01298 77964

mobile: 07791 096857

sometimes new stories need ancient characters

Skulls! a book review

Skulls, an exploration of Alan Dudley’s curious collection

Simon Winchester

Black Dog & Leventhal, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1-57912-912-5

A beautiful book. It celebrates bone, with photographs that revel in the curve and the line, the sharp edges and deep shadows that make skulls so captivating.


Skulls is as rich and as stark as the bones it holds. There is minimal text. For each skull, we get the basic zoological information and that’s it. But that’s all that’s needed. I find myself drawn in, turning pages, skeletal browsing and brooding a bit. The collection itself presented is intriguing. These are all from the collection of a single man. Alan Dudley has a collection of 2,000 skulls and a passion for collecting that eventually brought him into court with a handful of skulls that had slipped into his possession in breach of international and national law


A reminder not to lose one’s own perspective perhaps. But then, open the book and revere the animals brought to you here, through the temples of their bones and be inspired.

Natural History Book Shop – you could get a copy here


Black Dog and Leventhal – the publishers


my own bones tend to end up a bit more festive...

A Wanton return!

Revised copies of The Wanton Green have just come in, so grab your cheque books, or contact me for paypal ideas and give yourself a treat (well, we think it is!)


From original blog posting:

Over the last year, I have been one of a team editing a book that has now been released. The Wanton Green is an exciting collection of essays from (mostly) British pagans exploring their relations to places


From the lost magics and holy waters of London to bleak Staffordshire Moorlands; from childhood adventures in Rochdale to faeries in Devon and Cumbria, a new book, The Wanton Green, offers readers a different perspective on landscape


As our relationship with the world unravels and needs to take new form, or maybe to reconnect with an older pattern, The Wanton Green presents a collection of inspiring, provoking and engaging essays by modern pagans talking about their own deep and passionate relationships with the Earth. With contributions from 20 authors that range from Druids to Heathens, from Chaos Magicians to Witches, Shamans and Voudou Mambo, Wanton Green brings voices from the diverse and growing Pagan community of Britain to the environmental debate and promises food for thought and inspiration for the spirit


Contributors include Emma Restall Orr, Runic John, Robert Wallsi, Jenny Blain, Melissa Harrington, Graham Harvey, Maria van Daalen, Susan Greenwood and Susan Cross. (Visit the Wanton Green blog for tastes of the treats within…)

All the contributors have forgone their royalties, allowing any arising to go to Honouring the Ancient Dead 


Ordering copies

a) direct from me £ 11.99 a copy, + £2.00 P&P for first copy and £1 per copy after that (cheques to Creeping Toad, or I can invoice you – 51-d West, Rd, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 6HQ, UK

b) from Mandrake, the publishers

c) through a local bookshop or on-line store



The Wanton Green: contemporary pagan writings on place

editors: G MacLellan and S Cross

 Mandrake Books, Oxford, 2011

ISBN: 978 1  906958 29 9


the walk to Lud's Church, can be marked by mud, sand...or icicles