The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

A remarkable journey of survival and resilience, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating shows how a small part of the natural world can illuminate our own human existence and deepen our appreciation of what it means to be fully alive.

The following is an extract from the first chapter of this incredible story of a friendship between a critically-ill woman and… a snail.

Distant sound of an ambulance siren. Distant sound of doctors talking. My eyelids heavy as boulders. I try to open them to a slit, just for a few seconds, but they close against my will. All I can do is breathe.

The doctors will know how to fix me. They will stop this. I keep breathing. What if my breath stops? I need to sleep, but I am afraid to sleep. I try to watch over myself; if I go to sleep, I may never wake up again…

When the body is rendered useless, the mind still runs like a bloodhound along well-worn trails of neurons, tracking the echoing questions: the confused family of whys, whats and whens and their impossibly distant kin how. The search is exhaustive; the answers, elusive. Sometimes my mind went blank and listless; at other times it was flooded with storms of thought, unspeakable sadness and intolerable loss.

Given the ease with which health infuses life with meaning and purpose, it is shocking how swiftly illness steals away those certainties. It was all I could do to get through each moment, and each moment felt like an endless hour, yet days slipped silently past. Time unused and only endured still vanishes, as if time itself is starving, and each day is swallowed whole, leaving no crumbs, no memory, no trace at all.
I had been moved to a studio apartment where I could receive the care I needed. My own farmhouse, some fifty miles away, was closed up. I did not know if or when I’d ever make it home again.

In early spring, a friend went for a walk in the woods and, glancing down at the path, saw a snail. Picking it up, she held it gingerly in the palm of her hand and carried it back toward the studio where I was convalescing. She noticed some field violets on the edge of the lawn. Finding a trowel, she dug a few up, then planted them in a terracotta pot and placed the snail beneath their leaves. She brought the pot into the studio and put it by my bedside.
“I found a snail in the woods. I brought it back and it’s right here beneath the violets.”
“You did? Why did you bring it in?”
“I don’t know. I thought you might enjoy it.”
“Is it alive?”
She picked up the brown acorn-sized shell and looked at it.
“I think it is.”
Why, I wondered, would I enjoy a snail? What on earth would I do with it? I couldn’t get out of bed to return it to the woods. It was not of much interest, and if it was alive, the responsibility — especially for a snail, something so uncalled for — was overwhelming.
My friend hugged me, said goodbye and drove off.

These field violets in the pot at my bedside were fresh and full of life, unlike the usual cut flowers brought by other friends. Those lasted just a few days, leaving murky, smelly vase water. In my twenties I had earned my living as a gardener, so I was glad to have this bit of garden right by my bed. I could even water the violets with my drinking glass.
But what about this snail? What would I do with it? As tiny as it was, it had been going about its day when it was picked up. What right did my friend and I have to disrupt its life? Though I couldn’t imagine what kind of life a snail might lead.

I didn’t remember ever having noticed any snails on my countless hikes in the woods. Perhaps, I thought, looking at the nondescript brown creature, it was precisely because they were so inconspicuous. For the rest of the day the snail stayed inside its shell, and I was too worn out from my friend’s visit to give it another thought…”

Find out what happened next…

Elizabeth Tova Bailey The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

National Outdoor Book Awards – Natural History Literature – 2010

Books for Better Life – Inspirational Memoir – 2011

William Saroyan International Prize for Writing – Non-fiction – 2012

“This slim, thoughtful book is a miniature masterpiece.– The Independent

Sound-of-a-Wild-Snail copy

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Get inspired for Earth Day

Are you all excited to celebrate Earth Day on 22nd April? Here are some quotes from our favourite authors to remind you why it’s so important to celebrate and protect our Earth this year.


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For your chance to win a free copy of Garden Awakening visit our Twitter page before 22 April 2017.

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5 reasons why cycling to work is a great choice

5. Cycling keeps you healthy

Regular cyclists add over two years to their life expectancy and are 50% less likely to experience depression. It keeps you slim and fit: just an hour of cycling at a moderate pace burns 400 calories. cycling-148956_1280


4. Cycling means a less polluted journey

Research shows that car occupants are exposed to 2-3 times the level of pollution of cyclists. This is because your car’s ventilation system sucks in the toxic emissions from the exhaust of the vehicle in front.




3. Cycling saves you money

The costs of running a car or buying a season ticket are enough to make anyone’s eyes water. Invest in a bike once, and your transport is free for the next few years.



2. Cycling is quicker and offers more flexibility

Neither train delays nor traffic jams affect you when you’re cycling. You can leave home knowing exactly when you will arrive at your destination.


  1. Cycling is fun!

Remember how much fun kids have when they first learn how to cycle? You can have just as much fun cycling when you grow up. Just give it a go!


For more tips on how to start cycling to work, check out Rory McMullan’s guide Cycling to Work


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Leaf Prints- the perfect outdoor activity for spring and summer


IMG_4828=detailLeaf printing is the perfect family activity for spring and summer– when the leaves are fresh and full of moisture.  It teaches kids and adults alike to recognize leaves and their patterns. Leaf prints also foster your creative spirit!

What you need:

  • calico or cotton
  • scissors
  • a hard flat surface ( a tree stump or a chopping board will do)
  • a hammer, a mallet or a rounded stick
  • common, abundant plants WARNING: avoid poisonous species!


  1. Cut some calico or a white cotton sheet to the desired size. scissor-1794088_1920
  2. Find a hard surface that is safe to dent- a tree stump works wellstump-879652_1920
  3. Gather some fresh leaves and flowers. (Make sure that they are neither endangered nor poisonous)Exif_JPEG_PICTURE
  4. Fold the blank half of the cotton or calico over to sandwich the leaves and flowers inside.IMG_5130=detail
  5. Use a hammer to repeatedly hit the cloth all over. As you do so, a beautiful pattern will emerge.IMG_4837=web-ready
  6. Open out the cloth and remove excess plant material- and admire your lovely leaf print!IMG_4916=detail


To find more outdoor activities for the children, have a look at Marina Robb, Victoria Mew and Anna Richardson’s Learning with Nature.

learning with nature

Image credits: All images come from Learning with Nature apart from images 1 and 2, which are from


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5 tips on how to declutter and enjoy a greener lifestyle

There are many benefits to decluttering your life and your home. But it’s not just about having a perfectly clean home or reducing your attachment to material possessions. Owning fewer things also helps to save our planet.


  1. Buy less stuff! Buy second-hand

Most of what we throw away could be used by other people. Charity shops, boot sales and jumble sales provide a great service in giving our unwanted items another lease of life.



2. Refuse packaging when possible

Virtually every time we go shopping we are offered over-packaged items. Try to source loose items rather than prepacks or blisterpacks packaging. Your local greengrocer or farm shop are much more likely to supply loose and fresher fruit and vegetables, while local butchers typically use greaseproof paper which can be recycled or composted, rather that the plastic containers from the supermarket. In Germany, people routinely remove excess packaging at the checkout for the shop to sort out.



3. Buy Quality Goods when you can

One way to reduce the rubbish you put in your bin is to buy better quality products. Something really well made by a local craftsperson is going to become something to treasure for life, will help support your local economy and , besides will outlast cheaper, inferior products. Avoid goods that won’t last. You can also pick up bargains at second hand shops, furniture reuse projects and auctions to. Why not swap your unwanted items for something you do want? Try—it doesn’t cost you anything and you can then get something you need, even if it is a bottle of wine or some chocolates. Some designers now talk about anti-obsolescence: meaning designs that are easily repaired, maintained and upgraded so they are not made obsolete by changes of technology or taste.



4. Avoid anything you can’t reuse or recycle, where possible

For instance, many household and garden chemicals should not be disposed of in the dustbin. If you use materials which can be recycled or composted, then you aren’t left wondering what to do with a toxic substance.



5. Refill

Wherever possible, buy products in refillable containers. These include a range of soap products, washing-up liquid, washing machine liquid, multi-surface cleaner, cream cleaner etc. These items are most commonly found in local health food shops, check with your local store if they offer this service. Some food shops also do a wide range of loose food products (and they’re often cheaper), so that you can take what you need with minimal packaging – even bring your own. There is a great store in London called “Unpackaged” which sell everything loose and even provides reusable containers (at a cost) if you forget to bring your own. Check out for more information.



Adapted from Nicky Scott’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


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Urban agriculture

Today… what we can see is segregation. While organic and fair follows comparably high ecological and social standards, the way of the agricultural mainstream leads far away from widely accepted social values, with factory farming, food waste and degrading working conditions – the latter predominantly but not exclusively in the global south. By shifting these production sites to the fringes of a wider attention, an efficient repression of inconvenient consumer requests is possible. Unethical practices, which are not obvious to a city dweller’s eye are apparently not important and allow a cheap price.

On the producers᾿ side, the centralization and industrialization of the world agricultural market and an ever growing expectation of rising profits and yield returns by big agricultural corporations leads to improvements in efficiency which are following industrial production logics. By following this logic without regard to social values a cow or a hen is then treated like any other input needed for industrial production.

As consumers shouldn’t we ask ourselves at last why we tolerate all this? A considerable part of the power of the agribusiness is based on the lack of awareness of the consumer. If we do not know, we cannot act and even if we knew, sometimes there are social and physical barriers that hinder us: maybe the place of necessary action is far away or we do not feel responsible for the destiny of the people there. But meanwhile we have established a lifestyle, which relies almost 100 per cent on the limitless availability of food buying everything at any time, independent of season or region. For the sake of unlimited food supply we lost the direct connection to the producers of our food and also gave away the responsibility to care about the conditions of production. Globalized markets offer the necessary degree of opacity. Urban agriculture helps to reestablish direct producer-consumer relations and to reconnect with the place and the people to regain the capacity to act.

Can we learn from small scale mechanisms how to create socially and ecologically viable agricultural systems on a larger scale?

In the past decades there was a migration out of the western cities into the would-be rural idyll to realize the own utopia. Together with new, more sustainable lifestyles, new ways of living in community were tested. Now that migration has stopped and people are starting to develop new ways of living together inside their cities. New, urban movements arise. They are being established inside the corridors of political and economic power and the centres of media coverage as part of mainstream society. One component of this development is the urban agriculture and urban gardening movement.

(Peri-)urban agriculture – the production of foodstuffs inside or close to urban centres –is not new at all: the cultivation of food in highly complex agroforestry systems as part of a settlement structure was already known to the ancient Mayan culture which covered huge areas of present-day Mexico and Central America during their heyday (250–900 A.D.). Their ceremonial centres were surrounded by home gardens which can be imagined as a combination of housing structures, all sorts of forest trees for food and other purposes and smaller fields for growing staple foods. These systems were probably able to provide more than 10.000 people each with all they needed in their daily life.

The city of Tenochtitlan, one of the capitals of the Aztec empire was even populated by100–300,000 people in the 16th century (Chapin 1988). This ancient city, which is nowadays submerged by the modern constructions of the capital of Mexico, was provided with food by a system of floating islands, the so-called chinampas. By using the surrounding swamp ecosystem they were able to produce flowers, vegetables, fish and molluscs to cover all food demands of the entire city.

The ancient Americans were not the only ones to use urban agriculture as a strategy to achieve food security. Urban agriculture was particularly popular in times of crisis, the most recent example being the .victory gardens. of the Second World War. And especially where social security systems do not exist and subsistence has to reduce the risk of hunger, alternative farming concepts flourish in urban centres (Altieri et al. 1998; Baipheti and Jacobs 2009; Moustier 2007).

Conclusive statements regarding the yield potentials of urban agriculture are difficult to make. Studies frequently pick out only some aspects of urban farming systems in certain regions. A comparison of the data is therefore complicated, but suggests a pertinent potential within the range of perishable and high value products like vegetables and herbs. To date, however, it may be doubted that urban agriculture is able to significantly close the supply gap for the urban population. Under current conditions, such doubts are fully justified.

However, this is due less to flaws in the concept and more to the circumstances of today᾿ s cities. The question is not whether urban agriculture can make a city more self-sufficient. The only credible answer would be: certainly not! Rather, the question should be: In what circumstances and by what means and changes, would the future citizens of a city be able to become independent of food deliveries?. This point provides a challenge especially for local authorities and urban planners. A fundamental problem is the speculation-driven rise in the price of land in urban areas…

Undoubtedly it is time to rethink the relationship between rural and urban areas and the potential of cities to free themselves from the self-imposed and in future, disastrous dependence on huge amounts of important food supplies.

From Zoe Heuschkel’s essay ‘Urban agriculture – breaking the chains ‘ in Future of Food: State of the Art, Challenges and Options for Action



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No dirty secrets this Valentines

Food for thought this Valentine’s Day: Kate Blincoe’s excellent article on why imported flowers come with a hidden cost to the environment…

Running wild

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Take your average supermarket rose. That bloom was probably grown thousands of miles away – Columbia and Ecuador are major exporters of cut flowers. The result is that your well-meaning bunch of flowers this Valentines comes with a significant carbon footprint.

Those pretty flowers have other dark secrets too. Many are not grown under Fairtrade agreements, meaning that workers may be exploited. The International Labor Rights Fund found that more than half of Ecuadorian and Colombian flower workers suffered work-related health problems such as eye and respiratory problems due to high uses of pesticides and fungicides. In high season, working weeks of over 70 hours were not unusual.

Your rose, when cut, is then doused in chemicals to keep it ‘fresh’ for the flight and wrapped in masses of plastic. It will arrive with you already a week old, with quite a past. All for something that’s sole purpose is to…

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