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.

Mixed Basket

I seem to have been away from WordPress for a long time, and the seasons have moved on. Autumn is my favourite time of year – it’s almost like a graduation ceremony for nature, where all the plants get to show the goods that their flowers and leaves have been producing during the summer.

Berries and seeds! Blackberries dot the brambles, at least until they find a higher calling as part of a blackberry and apple crumble.

Blackberries 8 Sept 19

They’re so abundant that there is plenty for both people and wildlife. Blackberries appeal to anything with a sweet tooth, including foxes, dormice and badgers. The parent plant is fantastically prickly but is actually more complex than it seems; there are about 300 micro-species of bramble in Britain alone.

Not that everything in the hedgerow is edible for mammals. Bryony berries have a sparkle, but are bitter and toxic.

Bryony berries 8 Sept 19

And on high chalky slopes grows the most infamous plant of them all: deadly nightshade or belladonna. Thankfully, its giant berries are unmistakable.

Deadly nightshade2 QH 4 Aug 19

On the other hand, hazelnuts are good for the health, and are readily consumed by nearly everything. Happily for mammal surveyors, the toothmarks on the nut show who has opened it. This one was chewed by a dormouse.

Dormouse hazelnut 16 Sept 2018

And, there are sloes, the fruit of the blackthorn tree, used for jellies and jam.

Sloes 8 Sept 19

It is good to reach autumn. Looking forward to seeing how the season unfolds.