Bird’s Eye View

I love a hedgerow. I mean, a real hedgerow, tangled like a long lean jungle with mysterious flowers and bizarre fungi at its feet, cloaked with white blossom in the spring and stuffed with berries throughout the winter. The Surrey countryside used to be full of such hedgerows, dividing pasture and hay meadows and abuzz with all kinds of life.

A few buttercups

Was. It’s not a coincidence that the gorgeous scene above with its thick hedgerows separating chalk grassland meadows is in a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and thus fully protected – and thankfully also managed by a very good landowner. The more typical state of a hedgerow these days is this:

Hedgerow CF

Mechanical flailing is not only ugly. It wounds the hedgerow and shrinks it, and outright kills any invertebrates or mammals that get in the way – or birds. Breeding birds and their nests are strictly protected by law, but that hasn’t stopped one of my local landowners trying to flail hedges in summer. Flailing also tends to happen every year, which stops the hedgerow producing berries. In the past, hedges were cut by hand once every three to seven years, and only a proportion on any given farm would be cut at a time. That was the practicality of hard work, but it was far better for wildlife – and for local employment, come to that.

And now, it is bitterly cold and migratory birds that have flown over a thousand kilometres to overwinter here are looking for food that’s been flailed out of existence. We cannot carry on abusing the Surrey Hills like this, or accept a situation where residents with 30 foot back gardens are making space for nature while landowners with 200 acre golf courses (or vast horse liveries) do not. But my immediate concern is keeping some birds alive. Food, shelter and water is what they need.

LLT 13 Feb 21

This unreasonably cute bundle of feathers is a long-tailed tit, an extremely social and talkative miracle in miniature. In the summer, they weave bottle-shaped nests out of cobwebs; in the winter, they huddle together and try to keep warm.

LLT2 13 Feb 21

Even smaller is the goldcrest, which at 5.5 grams is about the same as a 20p coin. 

Goldcrest 13 Feb 21

I’m keeping a particular eye on the redwings, our Icelandic guests. They are too nervous to approach the bird feeder but fresh blueberries at the back of the garden seem to have gone down well.

Redwing 13 Feb 21

And their English cousins, the blackbirds, pose against the snow.

Blackbird 13 Feb 21

The temperature seems set to rise this week but I hope greater awareness of the need to tread gently on the countryside grows with it.

15 thoughts on “Bird’s Eye View

  1. I hate flailing! The most unnatural thing ever, it’s plant abuse in the extreme!
    I encourage you to edit this post into a letter to submit to your local op-ed column of the newspaper. Or how about a FB group page for ‘Friends of the Surrey Hills?’ There is strength in numbers in effecting change.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry to hear that flailing is happening on your side of the pond too. It makes me wince! It’s also very bad for dormice, and somewhat for farmers since they are paying to manage hedgerows that don’t need annual management. In fact, they’re doubly out of pocket because the UK government will pay them to do the right thing. But force of habit is stronger than money, aesthetics and concern for nature, it seems.

      I am working with some other local people to put pressure on the culprits, and yes, media is definitely one option. There’s a local Facebook group for wildlife fans and I’m sure we’ll get lots of support from there when the moment’s right to ask for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I call the tractor with flail that comes around all our roads in late summer ‘The Leveler’ after the notorious tree-cutting, rainforest-felling machine in ‘Fern Gully’ a movie my kids watched in the 90s. It describes it well.
        One of the ‘wildlife enhancing’ practices (read sport hunting enhancement) is to use huge flails that come down on whole trees 20′ tall or less and shreads them into oblivion within seconds. It feels energetically worse than straight out clear-cutting, the whole area literally feels traumatised. It is palpable. Having read ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ I realized I was not imagining it. The disconnect of humans is so disheartening. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Ugh, sorry to hear that 😦 Yes, it is disturbing that people can do such things without a second thought. In the old times here (well, from about 2000BC onwards), wood was harvested through coppicing, cutting the stem but letting it regrow. My local woods are full of old coppiced hazel, still thriving and full of dormice. And hedgerows were cut by hand. I cannot imagine what the old farmers and foresters would think of today’s clumsy and destructive activities.

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  2. It’s too bad people are not more sensitive to what birds (and other wildlife) need. I see that you are also trying to take care of birds in this cold weather. We had a dump of snow last night that is making it very hard for the birds. I feel so sorry for them. I have lots of feeders out, and suet blocks too, but I wish I could warm everything up for them.

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    1. It’s been a bit tricky due to lack of ability to go shopping (we’re still in lockdown here) but blueberries and apples were a big hit, plus thankfully we were well stocked with suet blocks. Anything left overnight froze solid though. It’s now warmed up to -1c and it may even hit 11c on Monday. Crazy weather. Hope your birds (and you) stay warm and well fed.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. “Unbelievable” sums up too many local incidents in the last twelve months – it’s been bruising. It’s now hovering around zero Celsius so at least they’re no longer having to contend with the chill.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. People, in general, don’t see a big picture – some of them like to see birds flying around, singing in the spring, but don’t understand their importance in ecosystem. If birds would disappear – or if their number decreases – all kinds of insects would be all over the place and then farmers would need to dump huge amounts of pesticides on crops to keep the food supply going. Poisoned food, that is. We as humans, destroyed both animal’s and our own habitats because of “prosperity” and we already pay the price. But just a fraction of price at the moment, for it can be much worse.
    Oh, did I mention bees?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Quite. People are so busy and distracted that they fail to make the connections.

      The bizarre thing with hedge flailing is that it costs money (petrol), so as well as damaging the environment, the farmer is making himself financially poorer. But still it happens…


  4. Lovely pictures.
    We have by far not as many birds as during the last winters: Houses with no garden, bushes or trees are built in the neighbourhood.

    Liked by 1 person

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