I live on the edge of a large tract of sweet chestnut coppice in the South East of England, which also has a number of giant old oaks and Scots Pine scattered throughout. 10 years ago when we moved here, we were seeking more space to grow vegetables and hadn’t really looked at the surrounding landscape. At first, walking into this enormous wood felt scary, I felt very alone and got rather lost finding my way about. There is a magnificent old Scots Pine just beyond the edge of our property which my sons nicknamed “Home Tree” after the giant in Avatar, a film so startling in its natural beauty that I dreamed about it for months. Home Tree became my landmark and I could usually navigate if I knew roughly the tree’s direction.
At first glance these working woodlands don’t seem particularly entrancing, they are after all working, not amenity, woodlands. Tractors lumber about, strangely silently when the muffling leaf canopy is on and I was startled many times when I heard the rumbling which I thought was far away, only to be confronted by a large metal beast forcing me to scramble into a bush, hauling the dogs in too to let the machine pass. They don’t stop for mere walkers.
Although there is a footpath that runs around the edge, there are many criss-crossing tractor paths which make walking far more entertaining. Their names have evolved as we have walked. There is “Duckpond Lane”, where once we saw a pair of ducks swimming on a large puddle. There is “Zombie Fox Alley” where our dog Harley kept finding a rather rotten fox carcass, no matter how many times I buried it, for rolling in. Look mum, “eau d’ fox”. Loggers Road is self-explanatory, Oak Alley the same.
Over ten years, I’ve come to know this woodland deeply, and what at first seemed devoid of interesting life actually contains many of our British species. Badger and fox dens, the foxes convenient to their preferred rabbit warrens. Birds of all types — I am sure I heard a rare turtle dove this year, the gentle “coo-roo” is unmistakeable. Deer. A pair of buzzards nesting in some tall chestnuts and getting mugged by irate magpies and crows should they dare to circle in a thermal. Sparrowhawks hovering over their partiular patch. In the Spring of 2020 the cuckoos called and called — I counted 8 different cuckoo calls. Little Owls nest here, as do barn owls and tawnies, also with their distinctive calls and of course the woodpeckers, both the mad greens with their red heads and the Great Spotted version who loves lurking in the oaks. Midges and bugs of a great variety and spiders, so many spiders, that swing their webs almost invisibly between the close trees and sit waiting. Until I walk into one, which triggers much flapping and puffing as I try to brush off the spider and its destroyed web. Common creatures, often common birds, but even more precious for all their being common.
We are gobbling up too many resources us humans, detached from the world of birds and badgers and spiders. I am as guilty as every other person of wanting to feather and cushion my own nest but oh, I do want to find ways of reducing my impact on this earth and also find ways of encouraging other people to understand what it is we need to preserve.