“Stupid June”

A little unfair but the flurry of growth that marks the spring has died down into quieter times in June. Many of the birds are fledged and the young are  making their own way in the world. My bird-table has became a focus point for downy feathered blue tits, great tits, robins, great spotted woodpeckers, jackdaws, wood pigeons, goldfinch and starlings; a jay has taken to visiting, no doubt availing himself of tasty small bird’s eggs. The moorhens on Larkfield Pond are now nearly as big as their mother and ducklings at Plough Farm are just about able to fend for themselves. The hedgerows are full of the sound of hungry chicks calling and there is constant traffic between nest and forage by the parents. Predators have also been busy, buzzards, no doubt meeting the demands of their own broods, circle ominously high in the skies; foxes and owls add sinister calls to the soundscape of the night.

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Roe deer

Walkers in the countryside will be familiar with the incidents that befall wildlife; nature can be cruel, as every countryman or woman knows. This tale has a happy end. We were walking across fields, passing a thick covert of woodland, when a young Roe Deer leapt in front of us and galloped over the grass towards the road, clearly spooked by our presence. It then seemed to disappear and we wondered where it could have gone. Five minutes later, by now walking along North Breache Lane, we heard scuffling in the hedge and saw that the deer was trapped in the mesh of a fence. Every effort it made worsened the situation, as the animal became more panicked. Jackie said that it would soon disentangle itself and we should wait further down the road, so that it might calm down. So we went a bit further on but it became clear that it was still stuck; I decided I had to do something, although I confess I had no idea how I was going to free a frightened, kicking animal. It could not be left and so I started to cross the ditch to get to the deer. It was wonderful to be so close to such a beautiful, gentle looking creature. My main thoughts were, however, not aesthetic at the time and I was not sure how it would react to me being so close. As I got near the animal, miraculously, it struggled free of the wire, fell into the ditch, righted itself and dashed away down the road, as right as rain.

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The Church-yard

In church-yards the deep roots of place are manifest; the transience of our lives meet with symbols of ancient times that remind us of the passage of time before our own. To stop and think as we look at grave stones of people long gone, who have lived their lives in the village or to consider the great age of the old yew tree, now so bowed by age that its huge weight rests on lower branches touching the ground. Thomas Gray, in his ‘Elegy in a Country Church-Yard’ captures this reverential sense when he writes, ‘And all the air a solemn stillness holds’ and he goes on to meditate in this solitary place, on the way in which fate had determined a humble life for the buried dead. Yet, he speculates:

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Hawthorn or May

Hawthorn is excellent hedging; it grows thick and its sharp thorns deter live-stock escaping and prevents predators getting into fields. It shares these properties with Blackthorn, which is also a common hedge shrub and both plants festoon the hedgerows with white foliage. Blackthorn flowers early in February, while Hawthorn waits until late April or May, so now is a good time to see the beautiful May blossom, (May is the common alternative name for Hawthorn), flamboyantly colouring waysides. Hawthorns have been part of the English landscape for hundreds of years and may date back to neolithic times. The name itself derives from the old English haga, meaning hedge, whilst thorn was an extant word which became linked to it, probably in the twelfth century. Middle English records the word hawethorn. This etymology points to the antiquity of some of our hedges. They are great habitats, particularly for nesting birds, their thick impenetrable nature offering considerable protection. In fact, it is difficult for even the keenest eyed naturalist to identify parent birds, as one usually just gets a quick glimpse before the bird disappears into the darkness where a well-hidden nest has been built.

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The Cuckoo

A Cuckoo calls, as clear as church bells on a quiet evening. It is 27th April and the first one I have heard this year. We walk further on in Lower Canfold Wood and hear it again. Is it the same bird or another one? Only males sing the familiar ‘Cuck-koo’ and are marking out a territory of about thirty hectares. Crossing Bookhurst Road into Upper Canfold Wood and Sayers Croft, we hear it again, more distant but unmistakable. The bird is elusive and as I look up into the trees I recall that Wordsworth had no better luck in catching sight of it:

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Woodlands in April

I am sure that all the residents of Ewhurst are very glad in this time of lock-down to live in a village which has easy access to beautiful countryside. Walking in the area one is struck by the number of people who are out enjoying it: families with young children, young couples, students and school children who would normally be in stuffy classrooms, dog walkers (and even the occasional cat, as one neighbour told me, joins in the daily ritual of exercise), retired folk, cyclists, birdwatchers, pond dippers; they are all out there.

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November

Meteorologists, who love announcing the breaking of previous records, have told us that thisNovember is one of the warmest on record. On the last day of the month my wife spotted a Small Tortoiseshell on the wing and our apple trees are resolutely clinging to their green leaves. Many garden plants are still in flower, as there have been very few nights cold enough for frost.

The mild weather attracted a good number to the pond clearance and we managed to remove a mountain of debris from the central section, making it look much neater. There are only certain times of the year that this can be done, so it was pleasing to be able to take advantage of the volunteer helpers and the dry conditions. We built a five star bug hotel, with en suite, lake-side views and ideal accommodation for over-wintering! It struck me how easy it is to encourage wildlife to thrive if you just take a few minutes to set up habitats that suit them.

There are signs that the balmy climate has postponed hibernation in sleepy Ewhurst, to judge by all the posters that have sprung up over the village in the last few weeks. Both sides of the Polo Club debate seem to have hi-jacked the environmental ticket in their cause; I can’t help feeling that self-interest is a spur to these campaigners. There are, of course, many issues for the Green supporters and major investment plans could certainly have an enormous impact on the countryside in this area; but if you say ‘NO’ to every hint of development, I think you soon lose credibility. It is very important the Green politics do not become fragmented into parochial battles and that we look at the local issues in the context of the profoundly disturbing ecological changes which are on a global scale. Let us hope that those who have cut their teeth on this project will take up the green gauntlet in the future.

August

Welcome LEAP Bloggers. The first signs of autumn are here; I noticed that evenings in the garden are no longer cheered by the high pitched notes of the swifts as they wing the sky in pursuit of flies. Early in the month the rowan trees had bright red berries, presaging a fruitful harvest. This year the word summer has lived up to the promise of its name and there have been many glorious days, which makes up for the dismal weather last year.

Generally August is a quiet month for LEAP, following the Clear Out Day we have earned a rest. However, a group of footpath wardens spent one Saturday morning battling with the thorns of brambles and blackthorn along the path running from Old House on Ewhurst Green. Apparently blackthorn bushes have always been favoured as hedges to keep stock in, as it forms an impenetrable mesh: I think all the volunteers discovered this for themselves and had the scratches to prove it! Un fortunately we had to sacrifice a number of the sloe berries as we cut a passage through, which will no doubt upset the sloe gin drinkers. When all is said and done the footpath scheme is getting underway and hopefully we will be able to clear several more in the coming months. We are always looking for more volunteers to help us and it is remarkable how much a group can achieve in just a couple of hours.

The good weather has also meant that there have been lots of insects around. I have seen lots of different species of butterfly this year and there seem to have been many bees pollinating the flowers. I am told by Debbie Vivers that the honey yield has been good and that national concerns about the threats to bee populations do not appear to be a problem in Ewhurst. This might well be because we are lucky to have a richly diverse habitat, sustaining a wide range of plant species. Keen gardeners in the village also contribute and many introduce flowers which attract insects to their gardens, (a much better idea than block paving the frontage for car parking).

I believe LEAP should campaign and engage in debates concerning the environment. Our local area is home to many badgers, inhabiting very ancient setts; these endearing animals are threatened by culling on a countrywide basis and this seems a premature and misguided approach to a long standing problem. I am sympathetic to farmers who have to endure the vicissitudes of the weather, the depredations of pests and disease, as well as the unpredictable fluctuations of the economy, but reading the research on the expected success rate of mass killing I remain unconvinced that it is the best way forward. Surely there is a more humane, if more expensive way, to ensure that we can live alongside the natural world without crushing it for our own ends.

We welcome your comments on any of the discussions in our blogs and would love to hear from readers.