Hello everyone! All who are familiar with Kipling’s great adventure story, Kim, will know about the Great Game. Then, it alluded to the rivalry between the British and Russian Empires in India and Afghanistan at the end of the 19th century, shades of which we can relate to in our present troubled times. A marvellous story, but in my opinion the greatest game is played out every year by our British Fauna and Flora, that of survival.
When you consider the vagaries of the weather in this country compared to the constant climatic conditions experienced in, for example, the tropical rainforest, or even the desert, regions of the planet, you might appreciate how much of a challenge this game is.
Whereas some animals and plants have evolved to battle with the most hostile conditions around the globe, ours face a cunningly devised contest where they can be lured into a false sense of security one week, only for conditions to change and they find themselves fighting for their very existence.
The first few months of this year have seen the game played in its most ruthless form. A relatively mild January was followed by the rather oddly-name Beast from the East, an extremely cold snap that, coincidentally, came over from Russia.
The RSPB has voiced major concerns over the ‘false start’ that many of our wild birds such as Starlings, House Sparrows, Blue Tits, Chaffinches and Blackbirds had in the race to nest and mate. The momentous drop in temperature, by as much as 20o C in the South of the country, left many species short of food as insect populations suffered; water too is a problem when the mercury is constantly below the zero mark.
History has shown just how the birds suffer in prolonged and harsh winters. In 1963 conservationists counted the avian fatalities in the thousands, and the mid1980s saw numbers of Blue and Great Tits in Eastern England drop to a record low after a bitter spell. To be tempted to emerge early and then face the worst wintry conditions for many years seems like an injustice on a cosmic scale.
It is not just the birds that are often the pawns in the Great Survival Game, amphibians too have been lured into the early-mild-spell trap. Frogspawn is actually a lot tougher than it looks when dealing with low temperatures. The fact that it is 99.7% water means that heat is dissipated into the surrounding water at a slow rate. However, even the largest clumps will not survive a prolonged period of freezing.
I was very pleased to see that our Quarry Wood Croakers waited until the Eastern Beast had dropped our corner of the country from its maw. No sooner had I finished congratulating the frogs on their sagacity when the Beast’s smaller relative came over bringing another cloak of snow and ice.
As I sit here looking out at the insects dancing in the rays of a spring sun and listen to the Feathered Folk get back into their stride, I can’t help feeling some trepidation at all the talk of yet another cold spell due to hit us in a week or so and provide us with a white Easter. Whoever is setting the stakes for this round of the game is doing so with a ruthless sense of competition.
The mild start to the year seems to have boosted the number of wildflowers that have sprung up in our little reserve. Large clumps of Primroses are giving us the first splash of yellow on the woodland floor and I am positive that that we have more Bluebells than ever coming through this year. Even the Early Purple Orchids seem more numerous in their little patch, something that we have not recorded before. By the time you have perused this scribble Dear Reader we will know if these early signs fulfil their promise or will the Beast have a final victory in its Swan Song.
We Quarry Wooders like to remain optimistic about the durability of the denizens of Ma Nature’s realm, providing that we can reduce the anthropogenic intrusion into their lives. As a token of our faith in their ability to win the Great Game we will be holding our Moth Event on April 15th this year. Do come along and see what delightful species we can induce to rest in the trap for the night.
How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
Sonnet 97, William Shakespeare
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Original Quarry Wood photography: Lorna Neville