Any Real Change?

We begin 2021 in a worldwide turmoil that Covid 19 has bought upon us all and there is a long way to go before much of humanity can return to what is known as normal. In the fast-paced modern world that much of the nine billion humans were living in before the pandemic, I have found the slowing down of life very interesting and the way people have reacted and behaved as a result of this equally fascinating.

There were many articles last year, during the first lockdown, about how many people had discovered their local wildlife because it was quieter and people had more time to actually observe wildlife around them. It does seem reasonably obvious to me that this happened to some people and this is a good thing in general. I have spent much of my life trying to educate people about the importance of nature and the habitats that wildlife lives in. Many of the things that have had articles written in newspapers and magazines in the last year, are things that I, as a person who has watched wildlife for my whole life and worked in nature conservation for a number of years, has naturally done all my life and I did feel happy and encouraged that some people had made these ‘ new ‘ discoveries. Some of the articles that I read have, I fee, given somewhat of a false impression and made me think about some of my own observations of my fellow humans and left me as usual somewhat in the middle

Fragile places

When I read some of the articles about how some people had suddenly been able to hear birdsong and how some of our native wildlife has benefited from the much reduced human activity. This point alone is a very obvious and beneficial for our wildlife. It’s obvious because less, noise, pollution and disturbance will always help the wildlife that humanity has generally destroyed and marginalised for thousands of years. I will be fascinated to see the data on how our wildlife benefited from the quiet Spring of 2020. I, like many other conservationists, have always been aware that if wildlife and their habitats are given a chance to survive; they will do well, survive and hopefully prosper

Safe from Disturbance? by Steve Duffy

From a personal perspective, I’m not totally convinced that there will be a new wave of conservationists emerging as a result of Covid 19 lockdowns. There are many factors that can encourage people to take an interest in ‘ wildlife ‘ and they include where you live, if you have children, time availability and individual passion. I’ve met plenty of people over the years who I can only describe as armchair conservationists and claim to be interested or care about wildlife because they watch David Attenborough programmes on TV but don’t go out to look for wildlife, belong to a conservation organisation, sign a petition or have done any type of conservation work in their lives and this recent claim that more people are becoming more interested in nature and wildlife may well be true for some people and without wanting to be totally negative, anybody that has become interested  in wildlife and conservation during the last years lockdown can only be a good thing if it helps people’s sanity and  creates more awareness of wildlife in general.

Feral Pigeon by Steve Duffy

Some of the reasons I have doubted the sudden conversion of the general public has come from my own observations of the general public and friends who have told me of vast amounts litter left at various beauty spots they had visited. From my own observations, there was the usual teenage abuse from littering, vandalism and worrying livestock. Young people have had, like all of us, an unprecedented situation with the lockdowns and though their options were severely narrowed and it was almost inevitable that some problems would occur with the youth. It did depress me even more when I saw similar behaviour from alleged adults and I was amazed on more than one occasion when I witnessed littering by adults that was equally as bad as some of the teenager’s messy activities I had also seen over last summer. 

In general, I feel there is still a considerable way to go before more people start taking natural history and the conservation of it, more seriously in their everyday lives. The people who have made these discoveries about nature in the past year should be encouraged and hopefully they in turn may help to get more people to take more of an interest in the environment in general. We can only wait and see what happens over the coming months and how the world reacts to dealing with Corona 19. Let’s hope people do take more interest in the environment and its wildlife whatever happens in the foreseeable future. We shall see

Expert waiter!

Time for Thought

Winter Dawn 2

Having bumped in to a lovely couple earlier this week, who confessed that they read our musings, I promised that I would shrug off the writing malaise and once again start posting. Francis has also promised to pull a literary finger out!

Not only did Cathy and Tony inspire a return to the keyboard but they have sent me examples of their joint passion, photographing the natural world. The photos are great illustrations as to what you can find on your doorstep and just how beautiful small things can be. At this time of such anxiety and greyness we all need to find solace and refuge in the natural world. My thanks to them both for reminding me of that and for letting me share their photos!

Taken recently and very local to my home.

Giant Club Fungus by Tony Ford
Magpie Inkcap by Cathy Ford

The wonder to me is twofold, Tony and Cathy are not professionals, the photos you will agree are just great, and just how gloriously intricate the natural world is.

Well, you may ask, now you’ve just been lazy and shared someone else’s photos what exactly have I been up to the last few months? I have been fortunate that certain aspects of my working life as a consultant have continued but simply moved online. Like many others the only relief from indoor routine is to walk most days, locally at present but up until the New Year a little further afield.

Local churchyard Yew

For those of you that know me well there will be no surprise that I returned regularly to Chobham Common but also continued to explore pastures new like the Hurtwood and further along the river Wey. Just being out in the natural world is life enhancing and it’s clear that most people “get it”.

View from the Hurtwood
Along the Wey

Professionals, Doctors, therapists, politicians, Chris Packham, David Attenborough, the Royal Family…………. Everybody now has strong opinions about the countryside and how wonderful it is!

The irony to me is that at the very moment when everybody seems to be waking up and smelling green that very few people are left working in the countryside as guardians to ensure that increased numbers of visitors don’t damage the very thing that they purport to enjoy. Please don’t label me as a killjoy but with the reduction in funding and staffing levels for most organisations responsible for managing the countryside the situation and the air of neglect is becoming an increasing problem.

Hurtwood Motorway!

I accept that this is my personal view but there has to be a better way of organising countryside management in the south-east and in particular Surrey. It is a good and great thing that so many people are now enjoying the local countryside but there are consequences if there are not enough rangers, wardens, parks police whatever you wanna call them. Yes, if I’m feeling positive, I’m delighted that most people understand that they have a responsibility towards other people and the wildlife and habitats that they encounter on their walks. If however I wish to be more pragmatic and perhaps realistic then it is clear that there are many who are either ignorant of their responsibilities or choose to quietly ignore those responsibilities. It is this group of people who can be nudged are encouraged to behave responsibly in the countryside by the very presence of Rangers and the like. This also goes hand-in-hand with the fact that sites that are staffed are usually better managed and invite people to behave well. Simple things like litter free car parks and paths, regularly cleared dog poo bins, wet spots on tracks dealt with, well-maintained noticeboards way marking and a clear and concise means of getting help all encourage responsible and engaged visitors.

What’s wrong with a hedge?

The absence or near absence of site staff across Surrey countryside also encourages those visitors who have no intention of accepting any responsibility for their actions. Illegal motorbikes, BBQs, fireworks, vandalism and a whole gamut of antisocial behaviour (at best) has increased. Sadly it also means that the worst of “normal” visitors know that they can ignore common sense with very little fear of retribution. I have witnessed mountain bike riders creating new routes on already degraded slopes, I have witnessed horseriders in areas where they simply know they shouldn’t be and I have witnessed illegal and potentially dangerous flying of drones in areas with lots of other visitors. Sadly I have also witnessed inexperienced or careless dog walkers taking great risks in areas where there are domesticated stock.

Security along the Wey?

There is much however to celebrate. Children out walking with their parents and jumping in puddles kicking leaves and getting muddy. Increasing numbers of people aware of the wildlife that they share their world with which in turn has led to a huge growth in the sharing and enquiry of images and incidences witnessed by the curious of all levels of knowledge.

Unusual Bungalow visitor

I have learnt that walking the same routes regularly has meant that you really begin to notice small changes additions and absences the reappearance of old friends.

Egyptian Geese return

It’s also possible to be constantly surprised at events in your own garden good surprises and sad realisations.

Only 2021 deer!

Shamefully I can confess that this is the first year that I have participated in the big RSPB bird watch! With three adults or staring out of the windows and a rather good track record for birds in the garden you would think we wouldn’t have many surprises or learn much. We assumed wrong! The brief appearance of one starling at the feeders reminded me that they have been largely absent from our garden for months I wonder why.

Further surprises included a flock of Redwing in our hedge a pair of Chaffinches at the feeders. The latter was an alarming reminder in that during the course of the last 25 years all the finches in my garden have become a rare treat and now only arrive as the odd pair when previously, shortly after moving in,I could attract flocks of hundreds of mixed finches onto the lawn which in turn cost me fortune in purchasing sacks of birdseed!

Home in the Snow

Amazingly, to me, I have also joined Facebook! Really for one purpose to join and read/participate in a group Save Surrey Countryside. If you are a social media user do have a look.

Stormy Sky

My thoughts over the past few months have really centred or coalesced round ideas that may encourage the powers that be to think again about how they manage the countryside and importantly, how they work together to deliver a much more sustainable, well stewarded environment for all us Surrey residents to enjoy responsibly. More on this topic to come.

Keep experiencing the natural world, just try and enjoy it responsibly!

Winter sunset