February 2010

Even though I had to be out and about in the car, with one trip upcountry, I still thought January’s snow was so beautiful. For just a few days, everything is swept clean, covered by a delicate layer of natures Tippex. Imperfections are brushed away, leaving a dazzling, twinkling blanket of freshness. This blanket of white lends a new dimension to how we observe our wildlife. There was a brand new, snowy white page laid over the fields and beaches that allowed us to see what had been out and about when we were tucked up warmly at home.

Along the ridge between St Just and St Mawes we were amazed at the wealth of animal tracks. Rabbits had explored beyond their normal domains just under and around the bramble patches in huge numbers (or maybe there was just a few hyper active bunnies under there!). Hares had been lolloping across the fields, far more determined in their tracks, clearly on a mission, with only an occasional flurry of investigation through the snow. Also highly focused were the tracks of at least one fox, which may have been the same one that was foraging on the small plot of land just across the road from us during broad daylight. He may have been taking a leaf out of his urban cousins’ book, and considered that the poor pickings necessitated a more audacious hunting stratagem. We hear them barking regularly during the night, and I reckon there are at least three that live within shouting distance of our house. Down on the beaches the larger treads of Gulls, Ducks and Waders crisscrossed the white-topped sand and stones, webbed feet showing their load spreading abilities as Herring Gulls stalk across the top of snow whilst smaller birds with un-webbed toes make heavier work of it

One morning whilst the sun was still very low we could easily pick out the tiny shadows lying within the tracks of various birds; small birds (LBJ’s to bird watchers and twitchers alike) like Robins, Dunnock and Finches leaving the shelter of the hedges to forage at the margins of the snow left their tiny scratches in the soft snow. Further out the tracks became more substantial; our Thrush population is hugely increased at the moment as is there diversity. Our resident complement of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes have been joined by great swathes of Mistle Thrushes, Field Fares and Redwings. If anyone does spot a ring Ousel, please let me know then we will have the full set! (It’s a fairly rare visitor to northern upland moors and unique in that, in the thrush family it is a summer visitor)

So, lots of evidence of the wildlife that surrounds us laid bare for us to see, and then slowly it fades back into the fields and leaves the blackened hedgerows to shelter the first signs of spring. Already we have seen early primrose’s regretting their precociousness at being out so early. On one of our favourite walks we saw how one sentinel snowdrop had been joined by hundreds of its compadres, to shy yet glorious effect in a sheltered copse of woodland carpeted by collapsed ferns and ivy.

Many of you will know that the RSPB and National Trust have been working with local farmers to reintroduce Cirl Buntings into the area. I have been reluctant to report on such an important development, primarily because I know so little about it, and, in its early stages I knew that discretion and a low profile would probably do more good than harm. But, there comes a point in any project when you have to gear up and spread the message more widely, so I am delighted that Nick Tomalin, the RSPB’s Project Officer, has agreed to contribute occasional articles on the progress of this important project. I look forward to liaising with him.

But, why is this an important project? Surely the presence or absence of one fairly nondescript Bunting is, in the overall scheme of things, not of great importance. Well, yes, I think it is important, not least because biodiversity is such an important measure of the health of our environment. Environments with diverse flora and fauna are so much more resilient to disease and pestilence. With more interlinked populations of plants, birds and animals all relying on each other, the whole becomes stronger. Managing our countryside to deliver a rich and varied wildlife means we are actually managing it, nurturing it to be able to sustain ourselves in the long run. Monocultures have had their day and we need to recognise our place within a diverse, strong and balanced environment.

Small wires have little strength on their own, but mix up enough of them and they can hold up bridges!

Ian Bennett

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