Originally published June 2014
Hello everyone! The month of May turned out to be less than merry with wind and rain keeping us on our toes ’tween the sunny spells. Most of us will remember David Jason in rustic guise in the 1990s television series The Darling Buds of May. Many people of a certain age might even remember H.E. Bates’ 1958 novel which inspired the series. We do not have to be any particular age to appreciate Shakespeare’s Sonnet XVIII in which the famous line appears, and from where Bates drew his inspiration. It is not clear whether the Bard was referring to the blooms of early summer or to the flowers of the Hawthorn, also known as the May. Add the fact that, due to the vagaries of the Julian calendar, the fifth month was nearly two weeks closer to summer in Elizabethan times than it is now and the meaning behind the phrase becomes increasingly obscure.
Be that as it may (no pun intended!) there is no doubt that our little reserve has taken yet another battering over the last few weeks. Trees already weakened by the storms at the beginning of the year reached their ‘camel’s back’ point and toppled over, some even sliding down the rock face to end up in the pond. Unfortunately we can do nothing more than making the area safe at this time of year. We cannot move or clear anything as a fallen tree or bush very quickly becomes the perfect habitat for ground and lower nesting birds. It is illegal to disturb specially protected birds or to destroy any nests or eggs without a General Licence and, quite rightly, access rights defer to the needs of the Feathered Folk. Between the 1st March and 31st July dog walkers are required to use short leads when enjoying a stroll on Open or Common Land.
A few days ago, as if to emphasise the importance of sticking to footpaths at the moment, I came across the remains of an egg shell close to the Quarry Wood pond. It was identified with consummate speed by Lizzie, one of Crowhurst’s knowledgeable young ecologists, as belonging to a Mallard Duck (Anas platyrhynchos). Regular walkers in the Reserve may have observed the pair that return to us every spring, I am delighted that we have evidence that they are breeding.
The RSPB website states
Mallards and their nests are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird, or to take, damage or destroy its nest, eggs or young.
Therefore, it is important not to chase away a duck that has started nesting, since she must be allowed access to her nest. If you find a nest full of eggs, you must not interfere with them. A failed nest can be cleared and remaining eggs destroyed later in the year, once it is absolutely certain that nothing will come of the contents.
Now that times have changed and egg collecting is now illegal, it may surprise people to know that even those eggs from nests that have been abandoned cannot be kept. Bird boxes should not be cleaned out until after the 31st July and any eggs left in them should be destroyed. It may seem extreme but it is a legacy of our past activities. Let us strive to give our birds every chance to survive in a world where the odds are stacking up against them.
Keeping to the paths is also beneficial for our diverse flora. Amongst the wilting remains of this year’s fantastic Bluebell display the stalks remain with their green pods full of black seeds. Sadly many of the Bluebell woods are showing signs of stress due to constant trampling, as if the Spanish invasion is not enough of a threat! Our Wild Garlic and Spotted Orchids have also gone to seed, ensuring some lovely spring colour next year. Meanwhile Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon) and Red Campion (Silene dioica) are brightening up the woodland floor. We can look forward to July when our Sweet Chestnut follows the example of its equine namesake which is already in full bloom, alongside the creamy flowers of the Thorn trees. Which is where we came in!
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sonnet XVIII William Shakespeare 1609
So there we have it, enjoy all of Ma Nature’s bounty, but do keep a respectful distance.
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