Many smiles

Summer greens

I confess, I can tend to get overly involved with the politics of the countryside but in my defence I never lose site of the joy that the natural world brings me.

We are not entitled to use the countryside as we want, our “rights” do not give us the right to abuse it.

The last few months have reinforced that I am a lucky, a fortunate, privileged man. I live surrounded by wildlife and have some special friends with whom I am privileged to share time with. There is so much pleasure in learning from people who know “stuff” and can communicate that knowledge, whether it’s my friend Adam, sharing his Richmond Park wilderness…

Special discoveries await

or his son Linden showing me the wildlife in his garden.

Just one of Linden’s Grass snakes!

Incidentally, children can often be the best and most joyful teachers. The evident passion in Linden for all things natural, and his frankly humbling knowledge is truly inspirational. Children who catch the wildlife bug early are probably are greatest hope, if we can give them the time they richly deserve.

Sue and I have continued to walk locally often and the new discoveries just keep coming as do the unexpected connections.

More peace in the countryside has meant more visible wildlife.

Roe deer at peace

We have encountered Roe deer in many places and yes , to my wife’s consternation, they have returned to the garden! Lily flowers and now anemonies have been neatly munched. The stag has rediscovered sour apples.

Taste good?

Walking local paths has revealed new pleasures

Tulip Tree

and striking connections

Purple Loosestrife

In a tiny glade next to housing or more predictably along the Wey navigation.

Precarious Purple

The river and navigation have proved a regular joy, always something new or surprising. Countless times we have walked near Triggs lock but the last 2 visits we have seen Kingfishers which is another bird that grabs everybody’s attention. We witnessed a heron fall in the river catching fish, having we think forgotten that he was on a raised bank! Didn’t let go of the fish but lost all elegance climbing back out.

Calmer heron!

And not only first Kingfisher

Lady Mandarin

Walking paths new to me across Stringers Common provided confirmation that wildlife will hold on in the tiniest of areas which at first glance look devoid of anything interesting. Next to housing and in urgent need of just a little management are a number of tiny glades.

 

In the midst of these are just enough of the right plants for some stunning butterflies.

Large Skipper

I was truly gobsmacked to find…

White Admiral
Silver Washed Fritillary

Trouble is my mind then spins off in to all directions, how could you get locals involved? Could you persuade the Parish council to take some responsibility from Surrey County Council? Another challenge for another day.

Further encouragement to get out locally.

Little bit of heaven

Spending much more time in the garden as  summer arrived and the birds got quieter I much greater understood why. Many adult birds are beginning to moult but all birds old and young are concentrating on food. Hempstead’s garden has been alive with family groups, everything from tits, finches and sparrows on the feeders to young Blackcaps, Robins and Blackbirds pillaging the soft fruit. Young Jackdaws and Crows have entertained with a constant cackle nagging for more food, despite being clearly big enough to feed themselves. The lawn has also been the local health clinic, providing ants and sunshine for pest control.

Preparing for treatment

The lawn and ants have also provided food for a couple of old favourites and a novel copy cat.

Green Woodpeckers are well known for feeding on ants and here they can spend hours hopping and using their powerful beak and amazing tongue.

What you looking at?

I find them both beautiful and somehow a bit dumb looking. Maybe they just look like they have been banging their heads against the ground just a little too much.

And they move funny!

Parent and young are in the garden as I write.

The copy cat is that a young Great Spotted woodpecker has also been feeding on the ants which was a new sight for me.

Apologies for the poor quality but the hops were fantastic!

Hopping pecker

The ordinary can also be beautiful, take a look at all the things you often ignore.

Wood Pigeon

Colours and textures on a pigeon really can be stunning.

More to come soon but in the meantime just get out there!

 

There are Reasons

After you have visited any nature reserve and enjoyed the wildlife that live there, do you ever ask yourself why that particular species is present at that site and what are the reasons why it is to be found there? To understand the reasons, it helps to have some basic knowledge of what a species needs to survive and prosper. From this kind of knowledge, we humans can start to help the wildlife by providing things that it will need to prosper like food, breeding sites, protection from predators (security). Most nature reserves will have a management plan that will work to support a maximum bio-diversity within their given area of management. It’s a lot easier said than done but that is the general aim of them and I have seen the benefits of management plans  carried out on reserves I have worked on and visited over the years.

I adopted this approach when I started work on my own reserve a couple of years ago and already decisions I made two years ago are starting to show some positive results.

When I began working on the site a couple of years ago I decided to try and establish a field edge type habitat that would border the scrubby woodland area.  I had been given some bee and butterfly friendly seeds and as they grew my mind began to wonder about possible species to plant that may attract certain insect species. I thought about butterfly species that I knew were found in the local area and thought about plant and flower species that these species needed. After a few ideas, I chose a couple plant species to try and establish and by the end of the first summer I had sowed some Yorkshire Fog seeds and planted a mature Red Valerian. These two plants are very different but have an equally interesting benefit for the insect community

Red Admiral on Red Valerian

Red Valerian is a flower that familiar to many gardeners and particularly to people of south west England where it commonly grows in walls and railways sidings, in fact all over the place! It is a native of the Mediterranean and was introduced to the UK about 400 years ago and is now relatively common in the southern UK. It has long been noted that a wide variety of insects love it and it was joked when it was given to me that I may get a visit from a Hummingbird Hawkmoth. I secretly hoped that this would happen and contented myself by watching various bee species and the odd Red Admiral paying a visit to this source of rich nectar. Then my wish came true the other week when as I stepped out of my front door a Humming bird Hawkmoth flew in and fed for about 2 minutes on the Valerian and then rapidly flew off. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. I instantly thought of what had been said to me when I was given the plant and thankfully had been able to video the moth and was able to show it a few weeks later to the person who had given me the plant. They seemed quite impressed as well! This little action had paid off and this elegant species had paid me a visit and hopefully they may visit again in future years.

Glimpse of Hummingbird Hawkmoth

 

Now the other species I mentioned earlier is a grass species called Yorkshire Fog, which is quite a common species in native grassland areas and field borders. It is an elegant species that has a delicate feel and look to it with light greens and subtle pink flushes and sand coloured seed heads.

Yorkshire Fog

To a lot of people, grass is a weed and not much use for anything but to the naturalist eye glasses are an important part of the ecosystem they occur in. This is the reason I took a gamble and planted some Yorkshire Fog seeds as I am aware that the Small Skipper butterfly, which occurs locally to me, lay their eggs on Yorkshire Fog. I felt it was a long shot that they may turn up at my reserve due to the availability of sunlight which was limited but none less I planted some seeds and the following year they grew and flowered. This year I noted that it had spread to a few other locations and again thought about the Skipper butterflies. And then one morning when Steve had popped round, he suddenly said look at that skipper and there was a Small Skipper feeding on some Black Knapweed. To say I was delighted was an understatement. Since then I’ve had one other possible sighting and have a distinct feeling that they may colonise the sight next year.

Small Skipper visits

These examples of plants I have put in my reserve show you some of possibilities that can be attained with some planning. When I started planning the area I obviously thought about wildlife I was hoping to attract to the area and up to now it seems to be working. I have been researching other plant species to plant in order to attract more life to the area and it certainly seems to have endless possibilities. I know I won’t be bored. Plants are a vital part of our world and without them there would be no life at all so if you have any space I suggest you plant some flowers and you never know what you may attract.

Access and Conservation, conflict or essential partners?

 

Unsurprisingly,  the impact of Covid has led to lots of research and much media coverage continuing to show what for many is common sense; access to the countryside or at least open space is essential for the physical and mental well being of all us humans.

Yes, I do believe acknowledging and promoting the benefits of the countryside is a good thing but…………it’s just not as simple as that.

We live in a world which seems to feed anger, anxiety, stress, polarisation and this constant and all pervading sense of edginess. It seems we are all expected to have a view on absolutely everything and then defend that view even if we don’t know what we’re talking about and have clearly been shown to be wrong. And under NO circumstances should you apologise or acknowledge a mistake or admit fault.

I just don’t get it!

It is human to make mistakes, to misjudge, to jump to the wrong conclusion but it is essential that these mistakes are acknowledged, even quietly, in order that we can learn from them and move on. There is much truth in the old adage; you only learn from your mistakes. Trouble is we seem to have a decreasingly small communal memory to learn from.

Modern news and social media operates on volume (all meanings of the word!) and turnover and this encourages, almost forces, people to take a view on often incomplete, inaccurate or completely out of context, stuff. Stuff that is often irrelevant to most people or much more important than people realise.

What, you might ask, has all this got to do with Secret Surrey?

Francis and I share many values and may well disagree on a few but central to both our core beliefs are 2 ideas.

Acceptance, and no little joy, that we humans are part of a staggeringly beautiful and awesome world. This world is not there to serve us as some kind of resource larder and will continue to reject us if we continue to treat it as such.

A cohabitee!

Secondly, change for the better is most effective when it starts at a local level and then gains momentum. Recent events have clearly shown the positive power of the individual and local community projects to effect change.

Further discussions on green philosophies can be found elsewhere but will attempt to explain why I am so concerned for the Surrey countryside right now.

As more people had time and were encouraged to get out and exercise more and more people did just that with some clear differences in how they behaved.

Many people chose and continue to choose to use the outside as an outside gym, track and velodrome, no bad thing and clearly good for health but please don’t try and tell me that this is a clear indication that this group necessarily appreciate looking after the countryside and the wildlife that we share it with. I’m sure some do but using the countryside for exercise and leisure can lead to abuse. Don’t get me started about littering or the conflict caused between different “user” groups! Back to the bad old days of cyclists v dog walkers v walkers v joggers and the assertion of one individuals rights over another. Why do we seem to have a minority of blinkered individuals that assert what they see as their rights without accepting any responsibility for their actions or their impact on others, let alone on the countryside?

Why cannot the litter offender grasp the if you arrive in the countryside with “stuff” then take any remaining stuff back home with you? To litter in many places in Europe is simply unacceptable and doesn’t happen. I accept that there also some countries where litter and rubbish is a problem but that doesn’t excuse the supposed enlightened citizens of the UK.If something arrives with you when you enter the countryside either consume it or take it away with you. Its not rocket science, its the same stuff you arrived with just less!

Just at the moment in time that a lot of people are “rediscovering” the countryside where are the Rangers on the County Council Estate? Well, right now there are none!

Let me repeat that, THERE ARE NO RANGERS on the SCC estate. Some of the busiest countryside sites in the county have no site based staff to gently police the public and unsurprisingly a minority of idiots are now taking advantage. More idiots dropping litter, more anti social behaviour, more fly tipping, more wildfires due to idiots lighting barbecues in inappropriate places (will somebody please ban the use of disposable BBQ in the countryside?) and just more unreasonable, inconsiderate and rude behaviour.

Yes I know we are in the mist of a crisis with health and economic but for goodness sake can everybody just behave with a little more respect for the countryside and wildlife. And understand that looking after both costs money, even the basics, and that not having site based staff costs all of us much more, again in every sense, in the long run.

Refuge and playground