Two weeks ago today we spent another perfect day in the English countryside at Rutland Water. Here the local wildlife trusts and Anglian Water have a flagship conservation area. One of the icons is the submerged church from when the area became a reservoir but the other is much more alive and doing well. The Ospreys. We enjoyed watching them through one found pair of binoculars and the telescopes and web cam. I will dedicate a separate post to Mr and Mrs Osprey and the Osprey Project. Even if you do not get to see these magnificent birds the following are part of our fun in the sun day in the English countryside. And thanks to a very astute amateur photographer there is a bug to add to the botany. Well worth a visit to this beauty spot in the heart of England. It is also home in August to a vast International Bird Fair full of information, optics etc and places to find birds. All places we must continue to protect as best we can in Europe and beyond. Birds know no borders.
There surely is no better time to be in England than Springtime. And the Robert Browning poem resonates with me as there is such beauty in the English countryside and I do sometimes long for the green, vibrant and cool UK spring. But I don’t long for the tensions of countryside politics and various interest groups pitted against each other. I was also frustrated with a General Election Campaign that seemed to constantly avoid the environmental challenges we should be talking about and dealing with.
For various reasons we had spent longer than expected in the UK but this also meant we could travel further afield through the fields and discover some of the delights of Spring and meet up more with friends and family. I was also able to familiarise myself with more of the wild flowers here in the UK at this time of year.
The Yorkshire Wolds might not seem so dramatic as the moorlands of Bronte and Railway children fame but David Hockney captured their beauty on his return to the UK and during his stay in his home town of Bridlington. When I saw his exhibition in London I also had thought of retracing his ways through the Yorkshire wolds and we did this about two years ago. It is an area of Yorkshire I love and lived near for a while. http://www.yocc.co.uk
We managed a trip into the past of Skidby Mill and Beverley and then to see Zara the horse in her grand estate. There’s an old fashioned stable block and then woodland and parkland all around. For early May this was filled with wild garlic which stretched deep into the woods. At Skidby Mill there was an insight into the past and some milling of flour still goes on. The cowslips were out in the field by the mill and I had also learnt how to adjust contrast on the iPad!I had left the camera behind again as had done a lot of traveling by train. http://www.museums.eastriding.gov.uk
Barn Owl Beauty
There are some shots though that can never be captured but can be etched into the memory. As we were returning along one of the high roads across the gentle wolds from Scarborough I saw my first wild barn owl in flight along the hedgerow. As there were gulls galore in Scarborough I was transfixed by the strange shape in the distance. Just all wrong for a gull! As I drove nearer the Barn Owl it was very clear and it was flying along the hedgerow towards us and we passed quite close. It certainly wasn’t bothered by the car or was more intent on prey. I wanted to pull over and stop and glancing in the rear mirror saw the car close behind. When I glanced again the Barn Owl had turned around and was as flying back after the car. In my rear view window I had such a good glimpse of the wide face. Thankfully there was no one in front of me as I did linger a little too long looking backwards until the Barn Owl suddenly swooped down behind the hedge and into the field. Hopefully it had a good meal.
Barn Owl numbers in the UK were in rapid decline but there has been a great effort to reverse this and there have been successes as farmers, landowners, conservationists and many others have invested in ensuring there are nest boxes and suitable habitats. It seems so essential that party politics are set aside and all work together to ensure species survive and our planet maintains its glorious diversity. There have also been surveys and monitoring since 1932 but by the late 1980s numbers were reported to have dropped from between 5 to 9000 down to 1.400. There is now a national survey called Project Barn Owl and over many more nest sites that are monitored. Numbers have recovered but changes in climate and very wet weather can adversely affect the Barn Owl as rain does impair flight and the ability to hunt. 2013/14 and all the flooding was not a good time for them. http://www.barnowltrust.org.uk/
However I carry around with me on my iphone one of the first photos I took with it and edited for the screen. So everyday I have the face of a Barn Owl looking out on me! So I come full circle with my close encounters with the wild. This was taken at a British Wildlife Centre where rescued wildlife from these shores are kept and it does allow us to get up close to the secretive animals who try to live with us on this densely populated island.
When finding myself magically whisked away up the M1 motorway to Bedford we were then happy to stroll along the river and old market town and just relax after some weeks of busyness in London. I was also pleased to find Woburn Abbey nearby which I hadn’t visited since a childhood camping trip with my parents on the trusty steed, my father’s Harley D and side car. My love of the countryside was born from many of these family outings. The highlights were finding ourselves on the garden trail of Woburn Abbey Gardens, the low, the light was overcast and a cold wind and no camera. But I decided to try the iPad. So the following are my attempts on a more tricky and slippery camera in low light conditions. Inspiration to post was thinking about the blog of GardenWalk and GardenTalk and being on the trail of many of her fascinating blogs based in the USA. http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com There are so many wonderful gardens in wet and green old England and of course, Scotland and Wales. So here is a share on this one while in the UK. Woburn was one of the first stately homes to open to the public in the 1960s and the estate and gardens had been designed by one of the first and foremost landscape designers Humphrey Repton in the 1800s. Another high was to see some ‘young’ giant redwoods, very tall and planted in the late 1800s when it became a fashion and they were named after Wellington. Low down I found some of the wild dead nettles ( slightly different from my wild ones in Spain in earlier post) and a tiny cone from the mighty tall tree. This has set me off on some research on Redwoods. In 1999 I visited the Coastal Redwoods near San Francisco when I didn’t know much about John Muir or the different types of redwood. We enjoyed the cathedral of redwoods but I remembering wondering why they weren’t as gigantic girth wise as seen on old pictures! I now realise why. On exploring these trees in the UK a few years ago we found an avenue planted not far from Windsor in memory of Wellington. His name was to be used in the latin and the trees in the UK are sometimes referred to as Wellingtonia but Sequoia has prevailed. There is a fascinating website on Redwoods in the UK. This can help you find some of these great trees but at present none will achieve the width of the mighty ones in the USA. They can live for 1000s of years! The Kew Gardens website also helped me understand the differences between these species, leaves and cones. It is always useful for identification or confusion over names and of course Kew also has one of these giants. The walk through the gardens was fascinating and showed the love of plants and trees collected and planted out in different ways. Influences from China, USA, Japan, blossoms and Tulip trees. The ancient weeping beech grove, hornbeam maze and sculptures. We just managed to see the Camellias still blooming in the conservatory. A special day.
Of all the gifts you might desire,
I offer one—a wish that speaks of wonder,
bids you rest by the side of the wandering river,
watch it idle through meadows and fields, be soothed
by the opus of crickets and frogs, caressed with the velvet
dust of flight song, and feel earth’s soul.
Together, may you suckle the honey of pure wild fragrance,
lay your head on a pillow of russet leaves. Drawn by the truth
of the sun and dreams of the moon, the peace and beauty
of nature will be yours and you will reap a life simple
and magnificent forever, imprinted with love.
This is all I choose for you.
Dreams of a Wingless Child, Mary O’Connor © 2007; photo © 2013 Mary O’Connor