It’s amazing how mountains – with or without snow – can inspire people. Nick Powell, for example, has a chalet in Les Gets in the French Alps, which he enjoys in winter and summer, skiing and ski touring when the snow is there and walking and hiking up when it’s not.
In his mountain walks around the Portes du Soleil resort of Les Gets, Nick Powell has identified over 50 wild flowers, reminding him of growing up as a child when wild flowers were abundant in the meadows he played in.
“They have in a large part disappeared,” he says, “giving me the idea of writing a children’s book so that they could engage in the joys of wildflowers once more.”
So this mountain environment helped to inspire the award-winning former TV company owner and chief executive to write Poppy Goes Wild – a delightful book about trying to return as much of nature to its wild state, known these days as “rewilding.”
Powell is “lucky enough to divide his time between living alongside the South Downs National Park in Sussex, and the wild-flower meadows of the French Alps”.
Appropriately, he is also actively involved as a financial supporter and fundraiser in campaigning work for the ski charity Snow Camp, which uses snowsports to help young people who feel trapped by inner-city life, and encouraging people to take part in Snow-Camp’s annual ski challenge.
His own daughter Elsa is a keen FIS ski racer. “At the unusually late starting age of 18, Elsa decided to pursue a career as a ski racer” he says. “Malcolm Erskine, who runs the British Ski Race Academy was quick to see Elsa’s potential and invited her to join his team.”
More recently she has been training with the Excel Ski Academy based in Austria, where Powell sometimes joins her to brush up his own slalom technique.
Nick has asked Joanna Lumley to endorse his book.
“Poppy is the child we all long to be” she says. “Brave, curious, headstrong, compassionate and the best fun in the world. Her love for wildlife will chime with children everywhere: an adorable book.”
Poppy, we’re told, is ‘on a mission to save her grandad’s farm by returning the countryside to a time when flower meadows grew wild and native animals flourished. Can Poppy succeed in helping nature to work its magic?’
The book is beautifully illustrated by Becca Hall, and her artwork reminded me of Raymond Briggs’ illustrations in the classic film The Snowman.
Poppy asks her grandfather: ‘Now Grandad, I know you have told me what life was like on the farm when you were a boy, but I love hearing about it so much. Will you tell me again, please?’
‘Of course I will’ he replies. ‘It was wild, Poppy, really wild!’ he replies.
‘It was such a different place. It was full of wild flower meadows, and there were more wild fruits and more wild berries to pick than you could ever eat. There were huge hares that could bounce right over your head. There were skylarks that would soar higher and higher in the sky until you couldn’t see them anymore, but you could still chase after them by following the sound of their beautiful song.
‘At dusk, I used to hide outdoors, trying to spot a peregrine falcon dive-bombing at 200 miles per hour. But my favourite thing of all was watching the otters race each other in the river.’
‘Well, guess what, Grandad? says Poppy. ‘I have got a plan for us to make the farm full of all those amazing things again.’
Fortunately, most ski mountains don’t need to be rewilded, but who knows – one day they might need a little help. I read somewhere recently that when ski lifts were first invented there was a cry from traditionalists that they would ruin the past-time of skiing, but luckily the opposite was true, although many skiing purists who thrive on ski touring are enjoying hiking up with no lifts during the Covid crisis.
Anyway, Poppy and Grandad do their stuff, working supremely hard to turn the environmental clocks on Grandad’s farm back.
‘Let’s take it in turns to say one thing we hope to see on the farm!’ suggests Poppy.
‘Okay, you start, Poppy.’
‘A beaver building a dam, mimicking a beaver gnashing its teeth.
‘Barn owls hooting,’ said Grandad ‘hooting like an owl’.
‘A peregrine falcon dive-bombing,’ says Poppy, ‘swooping like a bird’.
‘The coo of a pair of turtle doves,’ says Grandad.
‘Bats screeching,’ says Poppy.
‘The song of a nightingale,’ says Grandad.
‘A bull-frog doing big stinky burps!’ says Poppy.
Then Poppy adds: ‘Grandad, there is something else I would love to do. We should put on a Halloween Scare Night for visitors. We will have freaky hay-bale rides, screeching bats, howling foxes, eerie owls and slithering snakes … and that’s just for starters!’
‘As they strolled back to the farmhouse, one thing was for sure’ writes Powell. ‘Poppy and her grandad had already achieved a lot in starting to turn the farm wild again, but their mission to make the world a better place for wildlife had only just begun.’
Poppy Goes Wild is published by Little Steps Publishing at £14.99