Originally published March 2013
Hello everyone! Our countryside is so full of life at present it seems as if a huge, multi-faceted, sentient being wakes up to greet us in the early hours of the morning. The weather is sending out the annual flurry of confusing and often diametrically opposed messages to our fauna and flora on a daily basis. One day the tranquil surfaces of our ponds are disturbed by frolicking frogs getting into full courtship mode, the next minute their ardour has been cooled by a layer of ice. The spell of bright, mild weather also prompted our wild flowers to put their heads up above the parapets. Wood Anemones, Wild Garlic and Bluebells have covered the woodland floors with a verdant carpet of fresh new leaves; a premature display of Spartan-like hardiness as the temperature dropped again and ice crystals formed.
Taking a walk through our little reserve or along our lanes has been a decidedly deafening experience of late. Bushes and hedgerows have become temporary centres of an Avian cacophony as small birds squabble, flirt, feed and seek suitable nest building materials. The harsh caw of Rooks is heard first thing in the morning, well in advance of the Dawn Chorus (see April 2009) and the familiar alarm call of the the Blackbird makes us feel as if we are trespassing as we stroll along the muddy paths. I was lucky enough to observe three Buzzards taking to the air on a gloriously sunny day in the middle of last month. Their silent wheeling and soaring seemed to me almost cautious and experimental as if trying out muscle and feather for the first time after a long period of inactivity.
Each year I am amazed that, given all the activity of the feathered folk around us, so few nests are actually visible to us. We are all familar with the annual Rookeries appearing high in the trees and the odd nest built by a daring Blackbird in a garden hedge. But what did Blue Tits and Robins do before garden centres filled their shelves with rustic bird boxes? How did Barn Owls cope before the advent of the internet with its copious pages of specialist box designs? Well it makes sense that the lower down to the ground a nest is built, the better hidden it needs to be. Thus, Robins and Wrens tuck their nests away in thickets, dense scrub and small cavities in trees or rocks. Blue Tits nest in any small hole in a tree or wall and Barn Owls, in the absence of an actual barn, will nest in hollow trees and rock crevices. However the sad truth is that given the ongoing destruction of the woodlands and hedgerows around us, we are reliant on man-made nesting sites to keep our wild birds in the vicinity.
Officially the nesting season starts on March 1st. A spell of mild weather, such as we experienced last month, can bring this forward by a couple of weeks and some birds like our beautiful Barn Owls will start nesting from early February. With this in mind, the tree and hedgerow clearances in preparation for the building of the Link Road come across as the highest form of habitat despoliation with a seemingly malicious intent on compromising the ecological integrity of the area. Not only were the woods hewn down with thoughtless abandon but the fallen trees, which by now will be providing nesting sites for numerous species, are being removed as the season starts in earnest.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 offers some protection to birds in this country by stating that it is an offence to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird whilst it is in use or being built. However, as in all legislation there are ‘convenient’ exceptions that may be exploited by the powers to be. In this case the Act states that it is not illegal to destroy a nest, egg or bird if it can be shown that the act was the incidental result of a lawful operation which could not reasonably have been avoided.
One cannot help but feel that this is pandering to those who cite the letter of the Law rather than the spirit. In any case I can’t be alone in thinking that the contractors are doing rather more than merely teetering on the brink of breaking both. Am I?
Image 1: Rook: by Sergey Yeliseev, used under Creative Commons License 2.0 / Image 2: Blackbird by Jyrki Salmi, used under CC2.0 / Image 3: Buzzard by Maurice Koop, used under CC2.0 / Image 4: Red Robin by Marco Bernardini, used under CC2.0 / Image 5: Wren by ehpien, used under CC2.0 / Image 6: Blue tit by Sergey Yeliseev, used under CC2.0 / Image 7: Robin nest by Julie Falk, used under CC2.0 / Image 8: Wren’s nest by floating ink, used under CC2.0 / Image 9: Blue tit nest by Nottsexminer, used under CC2.0