The strange and disturbing times seem to have become the new normal but I have accepted that rather than continually moan about life or get distressed about our impact on our natural world that instead I should concentrate on the areas where I might be able to make a difference. Actions like moderating how much I consume and considering where exactly does it come from.
Actions like trying to raise and promote local issues that we can all attempt to influence. For Francis and I those issues tend to centre on the countryside of Surrey and we would encourage you to look at, with a more considered eye, your garden, your street, your local countryside. Find out who owns what, who manages what and ask questions whilst offering time to help.
By all means revel in the wonder and joy that countryside and wildlife enriches us with but just maintain a level of heightened awareness about our impact and realise that very little of our environment can be “left alone to look after itself”.
For all the glory to be enjoyed with views to be enjoyed at Newlands Corner
Or St Martha’s
Try and be aware of the details, the last of the summers Chalkhill Blue Butterflies
Sheltering in the grass amidst dozens of people and dogs.
Harebells and Robins Pincushions, the former an increasingly rare beauty and the latter a wild rose plants response to the activity of a tiny wasp larva. Both amazing!
Try and remember that your actions impact not only on the wildlife but on other happy wanderers like yourself. In other words its back to behaving responsibly!
I have no idea what the cause of the rash of fires during the exceptionally hot bit of August but I do know from experience most are likely to be as a result of the carelessness or outright stupidity of a small number of people.
Barbecues or a casual disregard as to disposal of a cigarette butt can have devastating consequences. Does anybody actually need to be told not to light a disposable barbecue in the countryside? If you are not in a clearly marked bbq safe area then DON’T LIGHT THE BLOODY THINGS!
The major fire at Chobham Common was covered by the media not because of the damage to a National Nature Reserve but due to the risk of some rather nice housing. Yes, I do understand, but there had already been a big fire at Thursley National Nature Reserve and several other heathlands and a little coverage of these fires possibly relating to climate change and peoples ignorance of fire risk in the south east wouldn’t have hurt.
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…
or his son Linden showing me the wildlife in his garden.
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.
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.
Walking local paths has revealed new pleasures
and striking connections
In a tiny glade next to housing or more predictably along the Wey navigation.
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.
And not only first Kingfisher along “our stretch” but this discrete surprise
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.
I was truly gobsmacked to find…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The ordinary can also be beautiful, take a look at all the things you often ignore.
Colours and textures on a pigeon really can be stunning.
More to come soon but in the meantime just get out there!
Having already bigged up the year as one of exceptional blossom, showing off my favourite garden tree was irresistible!
The last few days has given many opportunities to walk and enjoy the natural world. Admittedly my work increases my justification to be out and about but fortunately this has only meant travelling a few miles by car on a couple of occasions.
Like many people the increase in time available for a stroll or even just to stop and soak the atmosphere is something I am relishing, the pleasures and joys of discovery just keep coming.
Returning to the military ranges at Ash, with more families than ever before, allows one to appreciate space. Big skies, views , and I mean VIEWS, that I don’t believe can be bettered in Surrey.
It’s become a truth that now the overflying of aircraft
is more unusual than the possibility of seeing special birds like Tree Pipit
Out on the open heath many of the birds are either very discrete or rather unimpressive to look at (like the pipit). Most of the “little brown jobs” make up for their lack of glory plumage with 2 tactics depending on the habitats occupied.
Out on the wide open heath the tactic is to launch up in to the sky and advertise with song. Woodlark, even more than the similar Skylark, take the ascendency to extremes; I have witnessed many disappear out of sight in to a blue sky with the ethereal song drifting on the breeze. A Woodlark song can carry miles, both advertising to a mate and staking claim to a territory to rival males. Not all flying songsters go high, some like the Tree Pipit use a short acrobatic display from a song post to spread the word to a wider audience. Another species that employs this tactic is the Common Whitethroat, a species that looks to be having a good year. Every walk I’ve undertaken over the last 10 days or so has been punctuated with the scratchy song of the Whitethroat. It seems that where there’s a bit of scrub, thorn bush, hedgerow, there’s a plucky bird throwing itself in to the air to deliver, well let’s be kind, the best marketing message to a passing female Whitethroat.
Whitethroats followed me to Chobham Common! In fact, not really surprising, similar habitat equals similar birds. The land of Woodlark, Dartford warbler, Stonechat, Tree Pipit and soon to be arriving Nightjar also serves up the right recipe for Whitethroat. Another bird also follows the presence of Whitethroat and some of the other highly visible songsters, The Cuckoo.
I had thought that Whitethroat were the most likely candidates for a Cuckoo to parasitise but that may well be assuming a link with Whitethroats on the basis of “visibility”. Goes to show assumptions can be misleading as the research compiled by the BTO indicates that the 4 most frequently recorded host bird species are in fact; Dunnock, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit and Reed Warbler. Still leaves me with a few questions as, of those 4 only the pipit is really found on the open heath. Hmmm, I love a mystery.
During my wanders it seems that its not just Whitethroats that appear to have arrived in good numbers, Blackcaps, Garden warblers and Chiffchaffs are making lots of noise Not strictly “little brown jobs” but certainly discrete and hard to see these three join the group of birds that use the other, a second technique of attracting a mate and defending a territory; stay hidden but shout loud!
More Whitethroats along the river near Send and Old Woking. The flood plain is dotted with scrubby thorns and bramble patches perfect to display flight from and been seen and heard.
Here the supporting chorus is different from the heath. Sadly Skylarks and Meadow pipits are increasingly hard to see or hear but closer to the river and the wet bits 2 more “hide and shout” warblers can be heard, Sedge and Reed warblers. Often found fairly close to each other neither has what you would call an attractive song, more scratchy stuff!
If you’ve never walked across this area please do! But do get a map and try and stick to the paths. It’s steeped in history and much of the area is protected both as common land and protected flood plain. It would be a wonderful idea to join up the management and protection of this beautiful are right through from Woking to Guildford and then on to Godalming.
The value to local people of the river meadows is also reflected in the number and age of churches, worth a visit on their own.
Some of the meadows are cattle grazed, would be nice if it was all, and of those that are it was good to find the Surrey Wildlife Trust Galloways are back on the land given to SWT by Crest Nicholson, the national construction company. Yes it is possible for big companies to do good things! But it has been quite a while since a gift of this type has been made, sadly.
The more you look the more you find. A Reed bunting was no surprise but a Wheatear at the top of a tree (spotted by my wife whilst I was staring up at a Woking Peregrine) was.
The more you look……
More and more damselflies are on the wing or waiting in the sun for their new form to dry and harden.
As you may have gathered I am fascinated by all of it, the natural world, and I love the images that are created where the natural and manmade worlds meet. As we crossed the river I noticed these tenacious couple of plants growing in chinks in the bank piling. Nature adapts.
And nature rarely gives up.
Listen More, Hear More, Look More, See More.
I might be a bit angry about some of the things going on, or not, in Surrey’s countryside but if we don’t all get out and enjoy it at the minute how are we going to understand just how important it’s protection and management really are?
Spring and the weather can bring great peace and not a little joy if you have the opportunity to get outside in a garden or into local countryside for an exercise walk.
My problem, according to my wife, is that I get distracted by nearly everything that we encounter on our daily walks. Admittedly I am fascinated at changes, small and significant, that get noticed when you walk a route more regularly than usual. A quick stroll gets longer and longer……
It might be the effect that a change in light or the colour of a cloud has or it might be watching the Magpies riding sheep.
This year spring flowers and bloom on trees look more abundant almost as if whilst we are catching our breath, nature is slowly exhaling. Frosts have done some damage to the local magnolia blooms but even they have continued to produce more.
Celandines are still producing yellow carpets on verges and in woods and the next wave, wood anemones and bluebells, are beginning to burst forth.
Textures and shapes can draw you in and might inspire wether the bark of an alien tree
Or the magic of unfurling leaves.
I hadn’t really considered just how fantastic the process of leaf growth actually is. From small buds, then swelling ones of all shapes and sizes there comes forth these miracles of natural engineering. Each vein a sign of a fold that had formed whist still tightly contained in a protective case. Each species evolved to produce a specific folding pattern, magic!
Great pleasure in realising that local can just be stunning and surprise you with bits of history and culture that you kinda assumed you should have known.
On our “patch” is a beautifully sited very old church, more on that another time, and whilst walking through we are beginning to find what to us are fascinating little mysteries. For example, a small sign pointed the way to the above grave marker. That means you just have to find out why he is of note, doesn’t it? Much to our surprise, and a little embarrassment to be honest, Sidney was an artist of some repute and has a gallery celebrating his work in a local building. The upstairs of the very building where my daughter went to play school! Who knew? Definitely a place to visit when the restrictions are lifted.
Little dramas play out, some of them not to script. After leaving the churchyard via a beautiful old gate in need of some repair,
we first encountered what looked like a very lonely Egyptian Goose, not what you expect in a Worplesdon field,
but a couple of days later
happy days, there was 2! Probably a bit late for babies as the first clutch Ive seen this year was in January near Chobham.
More sun, more flowers, more butterflies.Last Sunday first Holly Blue
and yesterday, with the first Garlic Mustard flowers, appeared my favourite Orange Tip
Remember, look for the small and easy to walk past, use all your senses, it really is, still, a beautiful world.
The other day as I walked through town, I got stuck for a few moments in a large group of people and as I waited for the people jam to start moving a Pied Wagtail landed on the edge of the crowd and busily started feeding in amongst the crowded pavement.
I have seen this many time over the years and always been in full admiration of this smart, fearless and distinctive little birds. And if you take a look at the life and significance of this species we find another interesting story of our native wildlife. Pied Wagtails can be found in virtually any open habitat in the UK and I have personally seen them in many different habitats from town centres to mountains along with farmland, reedbeds, airports, rivers, beaches, sewage farms, gardens and once on a ferry off Scotland to name a few. They are birds of open country and avoid wooded and heavily vegetated areas but can be found readily in what I call human habitats.
It’s probably worth pointing out that Pied Wagtails are a sub species of White Wagtail, which is a species commonly found across Europe and occur from Greenland to North Africa. They are also found across Asia and have recently been found breeding in Alaska. There adaptability to varied habitats has probably helped them spread across most of the northern hemisphere The White Wagtail appears to be very similar in appearance to our Pied Wagtail but has a distinctive paler grey back and greyer wings. Behaviourally they are identical and I recall from a childhood visit to Venice, seeing White Wagtails on St Mark’s square. The pied sub species that we in the UK know, is only found in UK, Ireland and on the coasts of northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands and nowhere else in the world. which shows the global importance of the birds we see here in Surrey.
One of the reasons I’m writing this article is purely because I find watching Pied Wagtails a very entertaining experience! When they are feeding they are very active and I have witnessed them flycatching insects in many locations from riverbanks to agricultural fields and seen them running as fast as possible trying to steal cake crumbs from feral pigeons. They are mainly insectivorous feeders and will gather in areas where there is a good supply of invertebrate to feed on. They will also eat human scraps which attracts them to our towns particularly during the winter when insects are far less numerous.
Nesting birds also show a great variety in choice of nest sites. Nests can be found in a number of interesting locations including cracks in walls, straw bales, under loose tiles, in stone walls and in a tractor cab that the adults successfully raised young from even after the tractor had been used and my friend who was using the tractor, saw the adults flying into the cab whilst the tractor was moving. They are very committed parents. They normally have two broods of 4 – 6 eggs each breeding season and post breeding flocks can often be seen feeding on playing fields in late summer and early autumn.
Birds that breed in northerly areas of the UK will migrate south during cold weather and during the winter some birds can be seen on the Atlantic coasts of France, Spain and Portugal and a few make it as far south as Morocco and Tunisia.
Like a good number of small passerine birds; Pied Wagtails roost communally and can gather in large numbers to use chosen roost sights. Up to 4000 have been seen in a single roost and as I have witnessed just before they go to roost they will gather in flocks in the surrounding area and be very vocal before flying to the roost site.
The choice of roost sites is another sign of this species adaptability for many of the roost sites are located in urban areas and I know of 3 roosts locally which are all in town centres. The one in Guildford is truly amazing as it is located in a few trees next to Friary Shopping Centre and one of the busiest roads in town and I have found it a quite surreal experience when visiting the site in the winter months, witnessing these small birds just sit quietly as people talk and walk by and rush hour traffic roars past. I also find it quite amazing how few of the passing pedestrians actually notice the 100s of Pied Wagtails a few feet above their heads.
In more rural areas they often roost in reedbeds which offer good protection from land predators and water can actually keep a constant temperature and, in common with the urban sites, roost sites are chosen for warmth and security. Many urban sites are warmer because of the heat of electric lights, machinery and people in the area.
Pied Wagtails are a fascinating species and a familiar species to most people but like many bird species, they are declining in the UK and the reasons for the decline are all to familiar a story. The agricultural changes and mis management of riparian and wetland habitats has reduced insect numbers which in turn has seen numbers of breeding birds decline. There is hope that they will be able to use their adaptability in order to survive and although I feel troubled by all the birds that are in decline, I feel that Pied Wagtails will get through. Whenever you next see one and have some spare time I thoroughly recommend you watch and see what they are up to, you may get quite a show.
I know that I have been casting my mind back a lot more recently and this has been down to the constant number of reports I have read in the last few months that tell of the decline of many species that were common when I was a child in the 70s and the 80s. This fact really hit me hard the other day after watching the small flock of 21 Linnets on the Lammas fields in Godalming. The other factor is that I’m getting old!
After seeing these Linnets, I suddenly thought about when I was a child; part of my school summer holidays were spent in Raspberry fields. I was already supposed to be helping my mother pick the soft fruits but spent most of the time wondering about playing with the other kids there in the fields. There was a wheat field at the bottom of the raspberry lines. Often there were small birds feeding on the field edge and they would fly into the lines of raspberries when disturbed by noisy children. Often whilst walking along the lines you could hear a loud twittering, buzzing, whistling and trilling song of the Linnet. I distantly remember nests being found in the Raspberry bushes and remember seeing eggs and young in the nest. I also remember how efforts were made to steer a few bushes clear ‘of the nest site to try and let them carry on undisturbed. As I got older and starting venturing further afield in the Kentish country I realised that Linnets were relatively common birds of grasslands, farmland, hedgerows, coastal salt marshes, sand dunes and a few other habitats that can provide a good supply of seeds of both wildflower and agricultural type. Typical of the finch family, Linnets rely on a good supply of seeds to see them through the winter. The field near me does have a good supply of wildflower seeds and this is the logical reason why I have seen this little flock
Now I have to be honest and say my recent sightings haven’t given me the best views as it was in poor light and the birds were quite restless just before roosting. Linnets are members of the finch family and around 14cm in length that look quite slim in appearance. Their winter plumage sees brown streaks on chest and flanks with a white belly and a greyish head and brown flecks across brown wings with a medium length tail with a small notch. Male birds have a pinky buff colouration on the chest but the sexes are much easier to distinguish during the breeding season when the males have a bright pink chest with a flash of pinky red just above the bill in the grey head that all beautifully contrast with chestnut brown wings, a pinkish rump and white belly. Females are typically subtler and lack the pink colours but are beautifully streaked with browns and greys. The habitats that they breed in has to have thick cover for nest building and they like to build in thick hedges, Gorse and Bramble bushes to name a few. Here in Surrey they are often found breeding in stands of Gorse found on the heathland areas. Like other seed eating species, they change their diet during the breeding a bit to incorporate insects that they will feed to their young for vital proteins.
Linnets breed across Europe to north Africa and eastwards to central Russia. Birds that breed in northern and eastern Europe will migrate south and west during the winter months and some of these birds will spend the winter in the UK. In the past I have seen, in the early spring, migrant birds on the east coast heading north possibly on their way to Scandinavia or Russia.
The status of Linnet in the UK has been declining steadily since changes in agricultural practices have occurred since the end of the second world war. With the mass use of herbicide and pesticides and the ‘ cleaning up’ of agricultural land that has occurred in this time, many species of our native wildlife have badly suffered. Like many small seed eating bird species, Linnets have suffered with the loss of winter stubble fields that used commonly occur throughout our countryside. This habitat was a vital winter food source to this and many other species and good fields would often provide food throughout the winter. Linnets scientific name is Lineria cannabina which shows how long their association with seed supply has been observed, for Hemp used to be commonly grown as an agricultural type crop across Europe. Strangely enough back in 2000 a number of experimental Hemp crops were grown around Guildford and in the autumn, I observed a flock of about 150 Linnets along with various other finch species and House Sparrows all feeding on the hemp seed. I think this was one of the last stubble fields I have seen in Surrey. Interestingly enough from the mid 1980s the population decline steadied and levelled until further declines were noted from the mid 1990s and the reason being for this was probably due to the increased planting of Oilseed Rape crops that provided a vital seed supply for the Linnets. This point shows us how birds will adapt to new food supplies and on another level, this shows how government agricultural policy can affect the wildlife in that area but unfortunately most polices seem to have harmed our wildlife rather than helped it. Interestingly enough, of all of the local breeding Linnets I know of, are all in conservation areas and not on agricultural land. Proves the point really. I’m sure there are a few pairs on some farms locally but probably not as many as there used to be.
My recent observations have made me happy to know that there are still in the area and I will try to keep a closer eye on the situation this year and hopefully find a few pairs of breeding Linnet in the loyalty and look forward to hearing their amazing song in the spring being sung by a pinkie brown male bird in a Gorse bush. Keep your eyes and ears open for them when you’re out and about and you will see and hear what I’m talking about. Good luck!
At least 48 birds were observed going to roost the following evening. There’s a few more about than I realised which is good to see
I was recently asked a couple of questions relating to the benefits I find from going out in the countryside at this time of year, made me think about the countryside as the core part of my life, offering a constant amidst the surrounding chaos. In some ways I would admit I cannot conceive of living without knowing I am able to find solace and comfort in, and with, all things green and natural.
Over the last couple of weeks I have taken advantage of breaks in the rain to have strolls with my wife and then with my son. Though I love walking on my own the right company seems to add another dimension, shared experience and another pair of eyes and ears. As autumn progresses to winter the countryside quietens but there are different things to wonder at. Walking from Wood Street towards the Hogs Back might be muddy but in the crisper, colder light the sense of slowing down, pause, is palpable.
There is however new life and signs of continuing activity to be encountered.
It’s been a great year for many fungi which are increasingly fascinating my wife. Looks like a better field guide is needed. Good timing….
The time of berries is here but have to admit that most seem consumed by the time I write this. One consequence of this reduction in hedgerow food means my bird feeders appear to be used to excess. More on that another day.
I walked with my son Tom from Sheets Heath in a loop including the Basingstoke canal. Part of the area I roamed with friends in my youth, where it all started if you like. What struck me was this bubble of countryside hadn’t really changed very much over nearly 50 years. Trees must have grown and yes you can now walk over much of Brookwood farm, which was a real no no in my youth, but the feel of the place is as my senses remember.
Birds now tend to be encountered in small groups and as winter progresses these may join up to form large flocks to create the misleading impression of a quiet countryside, unless of course you bump in to one of these super flocks. On the day we did find a real surprise in the shape of 2 Firecrests! These gem like tiny birds were feeding in the trees by the canal but were too fast and tiny to capture on camera. I had never seen Firecrests locally and this was a real treat.
Sheets Heath is remnant of heathland that is one of the areas that has been grazed for a number of years and was, I think, the first road inSurrey to be cattle gridded. It is an indication that there may be reasons to object to grazing on heaths but in reality beneficial conservation grazing really can be become normalised over time.
We did notice one of the other effects of the blurring of seasons, the remarkable inconsistency of tree leaf loss, even between trees of the same species.
As we returned to the car a final surprise, lots of this fungus…
Haven’t noticed this species before, another reason for a new book!
Suspect both Francis and I now suffering a little guilt that we haven’t written for a while but there are times when the demands of life allow for little distraction.
Yes, we have been wandering about a bit and no it’s not because late summer and the advent of autumn is a quiet time for wildlife and we are short of subjects!
It would be easy to launch in to a rant about politics and the issues around biodiversity to which only lip service is being made but thought I would first quickly share the joys and places enjoyed over the last few weeks.
We walk the Wey navigation as pictured above, probably more often than anywhere else. The stretch we haunt never ceases to soothe my thoughts whilst providing endless little surprises.
The lure of Chobham in late summer on a fine day is too much to resist. Purple and pink pleasure…
And unbelievable blue..
Some of the colonies showing very poor numbers and others the best for several years. Rarely are wildfires good for heath but by chance one fire 2 years ago led to a great increase in flowering plants. Not all beneficial management is deliberate!
More annoying than distressing is the reappearance/germination of alien Pitcher plants which were thought to be pretty much eradicated 3 or 4 years ago.
Some alien or introduced species are harder to tolerate
Whilst wandering about on the NNNR it was pleasing to find another rarity
Not really a moss but a miniature fern, this lime coloured “tail” of a plant has been identified as meriting its own species recovery plan. Small doesn’t mean insignificant.
Autumn rains shouldn’t put any one off exploring, as we discovered.
The beginning of a rather wet walk was in Surrey, the National Trust car park at Black Down, but we did stray across the border in to Sussex.
Rain but with a light sky creates wonderful effects with the light through the canopy of trees and initially the walk along the ridge was sheltered under old beech giants.
As we arrived at the southern end of the ridge the rain eased and the view was breathtaking.
Standing high enough to be above fast moving cloud in the south of England felt truly surreal. The place is well named and celebrates the poet Tennyson who spent much time here. I like to think that his first reaction on arriving at this point was similar to mine, awe and wonder.
Though clearly a special place, one of the most beautiful I have ever been to (yes really), it simply doesn’t feel heavily visited. Please go, in any weather it will put an enormous smile on your face!
The views continued as the sun woke through and we returned through an open area of heath.
And yes I have also been out of the county for holiday……
And not even I can pretend that this was Surrey!
And yes wildlife still surrounds me at home.
Next post likely to be a tad more stroppy so here’s a photo of dawn 2 days ago to engender a little peace.
Over the many years of observing wildlife I’ve heard the phrase ‘never seen that before ‘ uttered many times either by myself or my friends with me. To me, this is one of the joys of studying wildlife and I always know that I will never be bored because there so many facts concerning the wildlife that is around us and without the best memory of our own observations or having so much time to continually observe wildlife we can never know everything about all the species that are present around us. The chance of observing something new is always a strong possibility whenever you go out to look for wildlife and if you see something new it often means you will learn something new as well.
After saying all that, sometimes you get to see things by people telling you of their observations. Over my many years of observing wildlife I have often looked at wildlife that others have told me about. The well-known grapevines amongst birdwatchers have existed for many years and have spread to many other groups of wildlife enthusiasts such as butterflies, dragonflies and moths. These days with internet, mobiles, pagers and various other modern communications; news of wildlife sightings can be shared with potentially thousands of people. However sometimes the old-fashioned way of people actually talking to each other still works and the other day this proved the case when my partners daughter returned home to inform me of loads of large moths in a tunnel by the playing fields in the village. After harassing me for a while, I walked down to the village with her to be directed to said tunnel. I jumped down into the nearly dried out stream and entered the tunnel and turned on the torch on my phone and was amazed to see a large number of Old Lady moths roosting on what you would call the roof of the tunnel.
My first word was ‘ wow ‘ quickly followed by ‘ I never seen that before ‘. Previously I had only ever seen single individuals and was unaware that they roosted communally in tunnels near water. I have learnt quite a bit about this species since I observed this roost the other day and the information that was given was by a teenager has also amazed me! It all goes to show that you can never be sure of what you can see out there and its sometimes worth investigating information that people give you as you could see something new or different.
I was very happy and grateful to observe these Old Lady moths and it re reminds me that you never know what you can see in the natural world. Keep your eyes and ears open and you never know what could happen out there.
One of the privileges of older age, for me, is that I get to walk round wonderful places with wonderful people. Walking a new or familiar place on your on is one good thing but walking in the company of someone who is “part of” a place is just a whole different experience. You share part of the vision and experience of a much more informed and passionate friend whose enthusiasm is thankfully all too apparent.
Over the last couple of weeks amongst my regular haunts
…..and some wonderful wildlife at home
…..some more familiar than required!
I have walked with friends at Richmond Park and Norbury Park. Both are, on paper, greatly protected public open spaces but both are sadly showing the signs of the pressures created by the reductions in funding at the “pointed end” of service delivery and conservation need.
It is an admittedly personal view but one of the serious problems with conservationists is that we tend to be nice people who don’t want to cause a fuss. We, the public, get outraged by “obvious” harm to the countryside and wildlife like say, the threat posed by fracking or a new housing development or even fox hunting BUT the more insidious and obscured threat that financial cuts and neglect present to our environment is often ignored completely or invisible, packaged in political rhetoric.
It staggers me that no real comment has been made in response to the Chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper, admitting there is insufficient funding to properly manage the “in house” National Nature Reserves. These are a big share of the premier wildlife sites in the country. Within the conservation sector this fact has been accepted as reality for some years but now its out there on the wider stage what’s the response from the establishment? Deafening silence, and I don’t believe that’s just because of other priorities (can’t think what!), more that most politicians, local and national, seem to regard the countryside as verging on the irrelevant and a financial burden that shouldn’t fall on the public purse.
Richmond Park as a Royal Park was funded directly from government but now the Royal Parks are managed by a charitable organisation that receives much reduced direct funding. Yes, the Royal Parks have for years raised income from activities and properties and yes the Royal Parks have become pretty expert in this area of fundraising but, and it is a huge but, though the overall budgets for running the Parks have remained fairly stable the money available for the pointy end of service delivery (rangers, estate workers, policing ) has diminished and will continue to decline as the costs of fundraising and property management increases. This isn’t rocket science, its inevitable when you, in essence, shift funding from direct taxation to a much more indirect tax (charity fundraising and income generation). Crudely you get less bang for your buck! The irony of all this is its seems many politicians believe that making new charities to undertake those jobs that they regard as superfluous saves money, FOR WHO EXACTLY? Taxpayers? I think not.
Richmond Park is a simply amazing place, full of seemingly impossible contrasts. Herds of large deer and the violence of the Red deer rut surrounded by the most cosmopolitan London. Ancient trees, wonderful flowers ..
We also saw hunting Hobby and nesting terns, Sand Martins and Black Headed gulls.If you haven’t been go, go and walk away from the crowds, its a little piece of wildness amongst all the civility.
Don’t go and behave like the fools we witnessed.
Less budget for service delivery means less police and less rangers which means more illegal parking and more people approaching too close, even feeding, large potentially dangerous wildlife. Without bodies on the ground to educate and to enforce if need, then numbers of fools increase.
Norbury Park, once viewed as the jewel in the crown of the Surrey County Estate , faces a different set of challenges but the root causes are very similar to those at Richmond park. Central as a cause of continued challenges is the abrogation of responsibility by the landowner using the same mechanism of shifting the management of the countryside to the charity sector.
The agreement between Surrey County Council and Surrey wildlife Trust is approaching 20 years old but for the past few years a small number of councillors have decided to renege on the spirit of the agreement and push for reducing the “cash” contribution to £zero. I am very aware of the political justifications put forward but my bewilderment and anger is that the implications of this action are ignored and even worse disguised with empty rhetoric from ignorant politicians who continue to promote 2 falsehoods; the countryside in Surrey can pay for itself and they, the politicians, know how to achieve this. Defying advice and simple common sense seems to have become “de rigueur” for many politicians together with a complete unwillingness to consider that they might be wrong. For me an admission that a person was or is mistaken is NOT a sign of weakness but of strength and to be both respected and applauded.
So what difference does less money and hence less staff with often less knowledge actually make?
At Norbury Park I would point to the lack of detailed management like at the view point above. The view is now obscured by scrub, one of the benches is now viewless! As a conservationist the signs are there that lack of management affects Biodiversity, the open areas need to be regularly cut to maintain the quality of sward (in the absence of rabbit or domesticated stock grazing).
The remaining pockets of chalk grassland should be managed or they will disappear, with all the attendant species of insects.
Beginning to rage too much so I will write a short post about the wonder of Norbury Park but just want to finish this on pointing out another problem of lack of funding, the push to use the countryside to produce an income even though it conflicts with what we, the people, have as an image of that countryside.
There is an important conversation to be had to try and answer the questions
How do you adequately fund the management of publicly owned protected countryside?
Is it a legitimate expenditure of the public purse and tax revenues?