No words today. Only quiet skies and a land growing warm and bright.
No words today. Only quiet skies and a land growing warm and bright.
The world is changing. Flowers are opening and birds are singing.
But no, the world is changing. Daily. The relative normality of my last post feels far away. I am certain that no one wants to hear more about coronavirus but I do have a thought and a challenge – then back to wildlife, I promise.
The thought: viruses spread fast, but information and disinformation have never spread faster. Science travels cautiously, but for certain sure, it tells us that this virus is not a laboratory product. Coronaviruses are typically hosted by bats, and SARS showed that they can jump into people via trade in wildlife; palm civets in that case, but there is some evidence that the critically endangered Malayan pangolin was the unwilling bridge for Covid-19. Or maybe it was turtles.
Truth matters. Whatever the origin of this particular virus – from the wildlife trade or not – there can be no more tolerance for criminals exploiting wildlife, anywhere in the world, for whatever motive. As this Chinese conservation group explains, ‘traditional medicine’ sometimes isn’t even traditional, not that market demand for pangolin scales and tiger bones is the only problem; the UK recently convicted an individual who illegally smuggled eels worth £53 million, and incredulously he didn’t even get a jail sentence.
Enough is enough. If novel diseases and a global extinction crisis aren’t sufficient for the entire planet to take wildlife trafficking seriously, perhaps we should at least remember the hundreds of brave rangers who have been murdered by the poachers who supply these criminal syndicates.
Let’s keep an eye on the science and keep informed.
The challenge: last week I was travelling in northern England, as I often do, or did before non-essential travel was stopped, when I woke up one morning to a window overlooking the Royal Border Bridge. It is hard enough to believe that the Victorians built this giddying viaduct with the technology available in the 1840s. But we have forgotten, perhaps, that the workers’ thoughts must have sometimes drifted to the global cholera pandemic then raging, not to mention smallpox, typhoid and tuberculosis. Some may even have known that southern Europe had recently experienced several waves of plague.
I’m not, of course, suggesting that we fight coronavirus with viaducts. For almost all of us, the heroic thing in this war is staying home, as I now am like millions of others. But I do like the idea that a pandemic cannot stop us doing amazing things.
This is the only version of 2020 that we’re getting, so let’s make the most of it even while we stay in our houses. Read books, write books, play music, learn a language, study history, look out the window and watch some birds. Learn the stars, listen to foxes and owls, watch butterflies visit a flower-filled windowbox. Find creative ways to protect and help the most vulnerable. Build links and friendships. Remember to pray and breathe.
The world is still there. Let’s use this time to learn how to appreciate it – and each other – more wisely.
And keep faith that the light will be given back to us.
Or: the afterlife of a tree.
It was older than me, probably significantly so. It was almost unnoticed in life, tucked behind a conifer – just its roots highlighted by fly agarics, those garish fungi of fairytales.
And then, Storm Ciara knocked it east.
Thus perished the silver birch of the garden’s right border. It had its revenge on the conifer from beyond the grave; the tug of its roots unbalanced its rival, which promptly followed it lawn-ward a week later in Storm Dennis. But while conifer wood is of limited value to wildlife and had to be removed, the birch trunk soon acquired a fan club.
This is Spindle, the garden’s resident comedian. He arrived last autumn as a gangly ‘teenager’ along with two vixens, who may well have been his sisters. His brush really was as thin as a spindle – not only was he suffering from sarcoptic mange (which causes severe fur loss) but he also appeared to have fractured the vertebrae. A few doses of Stronghold cured the mange, and his bones have healed, albeit at a strange angle.
Now healthy, he is full of mischief, and the birch is his innocent accomplice. He sneaks behind it to leap playfully on other foxes – and is also the perfect vantage point for scanning the world.
I have slowed down the ‘March in Flower’ idea because unfortunately most of our plants are still firmly asleep, but I will keep posting species as they awake.
Everything in nature is a cog that spins on something else. A little signpost, if you will. Last month, I was visiting a site on the South Coast when a wren trilled and a rabbit bolted from the hedgerow. Not random, not meaningless – they were set in motion by a force unseen.
Then it emerged!
Stoat, known as short-tailed weasel in North America. I very rarely see these restless little predators.
Today’s flower is also here because of a quiet nudge, albeit a more human one. Back in the Bronze Age, when Stonehenge was built and agriculture was benefiting from new tools, farmers inadvertently introduced a number of new plants into the British wild. Sweet archangel – also known as red deadnettle – was among them.
Today it grows quietly, finding a niche for itself on forgotten road verges, painting sweet colour in this reluctant spring.
Soon bees will fly here because of it.
Nature’s cogs keep turning.
And some bonus mammals. But to start, here is today’s flower: lesser celandine, the hopeful splash of sunshine on our puddle-strewn roads. Or, as William Wordsworth put it: telling tales about the sun, when we’ve little warmth, or none.
This has been a long, wet winter. But as Facebook readers will know, things have become rather exciting in the garden. The foxes have a neighbour!
A badger – the first one documented in the garden in forty years! While badgers do not disperse from their families as readily as foxes, they will do so under some circumstances. He has a healing bite scar on his rump, evidence of a family squabble no doubt.
As for the foxes, their breeding season has ended and cubs will be born very soon. Here’s one expectant mother whom I did not expect to see again: ‘Pretty Face’, the grand old lady of the garden. Not only did she stun me with a sudden reappearance after a six month absence, but she is heavily pregnant.
She is very small, but she is a survivor, and she is strong. The younger foxes who have moved into the garden in her absence are rapidly learning that she expects to be in charge.
I hope that her cubs inherit her irrepressible spirit.
It’s spring, so time to give this old blog a clean and bring some colour onto the pages. For March, I’m going to be looking at our wild plants as they gradually blink open. And I couldn’t resist starting with this: cherry blossom giving breakfast to a greenfinch!
The greenfinch is almost as much of a surprise as the blue sky. These beautiful birds used to be abundant here but trichomonosis – a disease spread by a protozoan – caused their numbers to crash. Good hygiene at bird tables can help prevent its spread.
12 – 16th December 2019, Andalucía, Spain
Doñana might host Europe’s rarest mammal, but it is most famous as a sanctuary for birds. And what birds! Swaying in the reeds, wading in the marshes, laughing in the trees.
Iberian magpie (formerly known as the azure-winged magpie)
Iberian grey shrike