Old friends and new acquaintances.

Having promised myself to keep my ramblings, both literal and physical, to Surrey I hadn’t figured out that this leads to problems if I am away! However I am now pleased to say that it is now very likely we will be staying at Hempstead for at least a further year.

What’s changed in and around our patcher the last couple of weeks? Well physically, and rather sadly, the elderly and substantial apple tree in the front garden has quietly subsided to the ground. Still attached with bark and laden with fruit I am not going to clear yet in the hope that we can use the last crop. (they are the best apples in the garden). I suspect this tree dates from shortly after the house was built, 1911, and as you may know the best Bramley apples grow on an old tree. To my knowledge this wonderful tree has hosted a tit family every year for the last 24 and some years has also provided home for families of House sparrows, Blackbirds and Robins. A good friend and supplier to me and to the birds.

After a short pause in bird activity round the feeders, probably whilst many were in moult, numbers are rising again with the addition of some “non Hempstead breeding” species. A family of Starlings seem to have discovered the fat balls and my pleasure is tinged with sadness as Starlings nested regularly in my loft till a couple of years ago. The nest hole and habitat round us still looks good enough to me but it now seems unlikely that we will ever again see the autumn and winter flocks develop over the field rounds us.

Much is being said about declining numbers of some breeding birds and how that relates to the massive drop in flying insects across Europe and the further loss of marginal land from agricultural landscapes. It seems the blame is frequently attributed to intensification of agricultural practices and this is often in turn attributed to EU legislation embodied in CAP. To me this explanation is far too simplistic. There is very little intensive agriculture anywhere near where I live and there is still much undeveloped land including large areas of uncultivated military; yet there are still only a tiny proportion of the flying insects about as there used to be. I am old enough to remember it wasn’t long ago that ones car windscreen would be covered in squashed insects particularly during a summer like we have just enjoyed/endured.

I have little doubt that the causes for declines in insects and hence birds are largely anthropogenic but they are going to end up being a cocktail of atmospheric pollution/habitat fragmentation/interruptions to migration routes/hunting/climate change as well as industrialisation of agriculture ¬†and subsidy driven farming. Most real farmers instinctively understand the arguments for conservation, most profit driven agribusinesses simply don’t care enough.