This Other Eden
(This article first appeared in the January 2014 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)
January 1st may be ‘hangover day’ for many, but for me it always marks the start of the year list so its barely light when I open the blinds. This scares one of the neighbourhood cats out of my tiny blessed plot and I get on the road heading for a couple of my favourite places.
Two minutes from home is the seafront and I glance out at the massive array of turbines set in the silver sea and wonder how many tired migrants their blades swept up this autumn.
I reach the edge of town where the demi-paradise of ‘set aside’ was replaced by a vast fortress of greenhouses. The thin soil was scraped away as hydroponics need level ground. Captured rainwater is insufficient so the nearby marsh is slowly being drained of every drop of groundwater.
Magpies were scarce birds when I was a lad, but these days they seem to suit every habitat. As I drive down the dual carriageway they are evident on every road kill. The fields on both sides of the road are always full of weed-free cabbages because the land is scoured with acid after each harvest, re-ploughed and immediately re-planted with the same crop year after hapless year.
Closer to my destination are roadside orchards – every tree too artificially stunted and thin to develop nest holes. Rejected by the supermarket buyer, the fruit lays on the ground picked over by flocks of winter thrushes. Just as well as the nearby unfenced fields and are already greening with winter wheat – no berry hedges or stubble clad, seed rich feeding grounds here.
Soon I am nearing my goal… the remnant grazing marshes that may again stretch along the entire coast of my county to the envy of less happier lands – if they stop building cramped and crowded houses on the flood plain. But first the road takes me over the very spot where I cast my novice fishing line. Where carp sucked snails from the underside of lily pads now lies tarmac. The other carriageway swallowed up the place I first saw a troop of Long-tailed Tits leave their moss and gossamer home.
Its now fully light and I can see across the hedgerows to the exposed mud of the estuary. A robin sits and rasps out a song atop the ‘Private – No Entry’ sign where I roamed as a child. I park in a layby and step across the burnt remains of a mattress to plonk my scope between a soggy cardboard box and the unmentionable detritus left by a couple who should have got a room. On the far side of the creek a black and white line of 150 avocets shows what can be done if we care for this earth… they were not here when I was young.
My year list is thirty something long when I move on to my next destination… where winter raptors abound and seed-eaters thrive thanks to shores of sunflowers and maize planted as cover for the gun-fodder French Partridge and Common Pheasants.
Last stop of the day is a haven of what could be, if all the farmers gave up agri-business and went back to farming. The only privately owned National Nature Reserve in this realm positively bursts with Peewits and Pintail, Greylags and Golden Plovers. I am there in hope of Short-eared and Barn Owls.
Watching an owl silently drift across the marsh in fading light gives me hope that this sceptic isle will be re-built against infection by nature herself if helped by the hand of man.
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