Diary - September 2007
Let's not forget local knowledge in
My heartfelt sympathy goes out to all those
affected by the dreadful flooding during July. The incessant
rain brought devastation and heartbreak to many in the countryside
up and down the land. We can only hope that lessons have been
learnt by those who plan and build housing and those whose job
it is to make sure our flood defence plans are adequate.
Country people’s knowledge, gained through
generations of observing the behaviour of streams and rivers
and their relationship with flood plains and surrounding countryside,
is invaluable and consultation with these ‘experts’ is
vital if we are to cope with further disasters.
Too often the views of ordinary countryside
people are ignored or considered insignificant by developers,
bureaucrats and politicians who have different agendas. The force
of nature should never be underestimated – nor should its
healing powers or ability to help us. By using nature’s
resources, such as wetlands, and the planting of grasses, trees
and shrubs in appropriate places, we will also find solutions.
Of course it’s terrible when floods hit
our homes but it can be catastrophic for farmers who see their
crops ruined and their livelihoods threatened. I asked Humphrey
Phelps how he has been affected and his pertinent account is
this month's issue. With further bad news emerging just days
later for livestock farmers regarding foot and mouth disease,
all in all it’s been a bleak summer for many in the countryside.
Pay change to limit lark rise?
Woodlarks are returning to bred on England’s
farmland in greater numbers than at any time in the last forty
years. A new national survey has found woodlark numbers in the
UK have risen by eighty-nine per cent in the last ten years.
The rise has been driven by work to provide suitable habitat
by improvements to the size and condition of lowland heaths and
good management of forestry plantations.
Increasing numbers of the birds now appear
to be moving on to farms to breed, with many nesting on set-aside
land. There are fears, however, that the imminent loss of set-aside,
because of changes in the way Europe pays its farmers, could
limit the woodlark’s spread unless suitable alternatives
The results of the survey, carried out by the
BTO, RSPB, Natural England and the Forestry Commission, show
an estimated 3,084 breeding pairs of woodlark, compared with
1,633 pairs in 1997 and the low point of just 241 pairs in 1986.
Traditionally a bird of heathland, farmland
and more recently forest plantations, the woodlark was red-listed
as a species of conservation concern in the 1980s because of
a drastic decline in its range over the preceding twenty years.
Much of the decline coincided with the loss of traditional, mixed
farmland in the south, west and Wales, along with the loss of
heathland habitat throughout the UK. Today, the bird’s
strongholds remain England’s lowland heaths and forestry
plantations, where they thrive in clear felled areas.
Stork arrives at cranery
A broody bantam hen has been the perfect foster
mum for a Sandhill crane born at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve near
Fakenham in Norfolk. The Sandhill’s mum, a juvenile aged
two, laid two eggs in May as building work for her new home,
the Pensthorpe Conservation Centre, was nearing completion. Cranes
do not normally reach sexual maturity until age four or five,
so a fertile egg was not expected (the male bird is three). Cranes
are very protective of their nests and would have been disturbed
by the construction activity, so just in case the eggs were fertile,
they were placed under a broody bantam hen.
Miraculously, one of the eggs was fertile.
The bantam incubated it for twenty-eight days and continued as
foster mum once the chick hatched. Both foster mum and chick
are both doing very well. Once the Sandhill chick can maintain
its own body temperature, it will be moved to an area where he/she
can associate with its parents in the cranery.
The Pensthorpe Conservation Centre, features
a purpose built cranery, housing the largest collection of cranes
in the UK, including eight of the world’s fifteen species.
Sadly more than half the crane species are considered endangered
or threatened either directly or indirectly by man.
I have a great fondness for dialect words,
phrases and sayings and I’m lucky in that being editor
of a countrywide magazine means many new (to me, anyway) regional
delights head my way on a regular basis. Sometimes I don’t
know what’s more difficult – working out what’s
being meant when it’s written down, or when it’s
actually spoken in the ‘natural’ tongue. An accompanying
translation is usually most welcome. In this issue Madge Green
reminds us of some long-used regional names for plants (and I’m
sure you have many more to add). She lists Fliberty Gibbet as
an alternative name for mallow – I remember a female acquaintance
being described as something of a ‘Fliberty Gibbet’ by
an elderly relation. I took it to mean she was someone who rapidly
flitted from one thing to another – what this has to do
with a mallow or how the phrase originated is beyond me. Perhaps
readers could let me know.
A real countryman
I was saddened to hear of the death of Phil
Drabble OBE on July 29, aged 93. He was a real countryman, and
wrote some marvellous pieces for this magazine. Raised in the
Black Country, he later lived in – and wrote mostly about – the
countryside of north Worcestershire and at Abbots Bromley in
south Staffordshire. The former One Man and His Dog presenter
and his wife Jess purchased a derelict cottage and ninety acres
of neglected ancient woodland and turned it into the Goat Lodge