Friday, May 17, 2013

Highland sojourn.

Today will be the last of my being in Northern Scotland;  not in some remote glen , but on the edge of the Beauly Firth backed by agricultural land and mixed woodland moving into the hills beyond. Quintessential countryside that possibly never serves to attract people for a birding holiday, but rich and rewarding for the delights it has on offer.

For me, as I've said on previous occasions, the opportunity to walk along a "typical" country lane with Common Whitethroat, Greenfinch, Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow to be seen and Great Spotted Woodpecker, Bullfinch, Chiffchaff and Siskin calling from nearby woodlands, is pure enjoyment. Admittedly the experience is nothing special, in that it doesn't include some speciality or other, or is that the case?  It seems to me, with the benefit of hindsight spreading over too many years nowadays , that these unofficial stretches of our mostly undesignated general countryside are beginning to be particularly especial reservoirs of value. That contribution of importance began to emerge many years ago, but its value and significance nowadays begins to be of inestimable importance. With too many hedgerows gone already, copses stripped out, other areas left to simply reach a level of dereliction, these areas are those playing host to remnant populations of our "common" wildlife heritage. Too often, such remnant patches stand isolated amongst a stereotypic landscape of intensive productivity, in other instances they constitute a patchwork quilt of variety and, thankfully, such is the case in this area. Having expressed some general doom and gloom, I also feel there is room for some optimism too. Actual examples and reports of  "mini-projects", or simply changes in management processes, by individual farmers are there to be found if you look for them. Not enough, but that will always be case when evaluating something from a position of self interest. The task is to ensure that we, the public, express our appreciation of what we see around us to ensure losses are minimised. In that context, the intention expressed in the Queen's Speech whereby the current most  " Non Green UK Government Ever "  is to push forward on deregulation measures sounds ominous in the extreme given their previously expressed attitudes towards the countryside. Thankfully such potential measures would have no implications for the immediate environs here!!

Two general matters. Yesterday saw the 70th anniversary of the Dambuster's raids in the Second World War. Whatever your position relating to such celebrations, one aspect stands out prominently in my mind on each occasion some anniversary arises. The practice runs during the war to test the bouncing bomb were made in the Peak District. Whenever an anniversary occurs it is customary for the last remaining Lancaster bomber to over fly the reservoir areas involved. On three occasions, because of this,  I've had the privilege of seeing this magnificent aircraft in action. The first, many years ago, saw a friend, Major R.Weeks ( Rtd), and now deceased, and myself in a woodland north of Sheffield checking some mammal traps. His head suddenly snapped up and he said, " That's a Lancaster!"  We raced to the woodland's edge and, yes, there it was moving past, its throaty engine sound being the trigger that had belied its identity. The overall area, on the edge of the Peak District near to Penistone,  often operates as the "gathering ground" previous to the actual fly over of the reservoirs further south at an appointed time. To see the aircraft at close quarters is a memorable experience in itself,  to hear its unmistakable engine roar and witness how comparatively slowly this great beast moves is remarkable. To realise how easy a target the planes themselves must have been is a testament to the crew who flew them. No red mist stuff here, simply a dedication to routine duty. Other present day conflicts demand the same sense of selfless contribution and ,in my opinion, it demands at least a thought, if nothing else, from all of us for those who are in such situations.

The second matter concerns dogs!!  Having been pulled off my feet once this week by two exuberant sheepdogs spying a Roe Deer away down the lane, I was amazed when one of them went ballistic in the house, barking excitedly. Looking through the window, two Roe Deer suddenly erupted from behind the hedge 50m. away across the garden and ran into the nearby wood. How on earth do dogs detect such things? Passing horses have the same effect (!) , but at least they clip clop!!!!