William Powell Country

Late Summer Wildlife

Rural Matters

Article written by 29 August 2013

Late summer and perhaps time to take stock of the wildlife in our part of East Anglia. Amazingly it is the migrants who appear to be absent, who presumably were still in the Southern hemisphere when our local wildlife was taking the brunt of the grim late winter.  Our Swallows when they did arrive spent days sheltering in the work shop and never produced a clutch of eggs. Our Chiffchaffs and Spotted Flycatchers never did arrive. Although my hearing could be blamed for simply not recording my little friends singing their hearts out high in the big lime as usual. However my eyes would not miss the acrobatic dancing of the fly catchers as they chased crane fly from the garden fence. An early sighting of a female Reed Bunting did not transpire into the male taking up residence in the ditch line below the barn this summer and only once did I see a Whitethroat.

Turtle Doves have a strong hold some half mile away but none called on those till May mornings within ear shot of the house. Last year’s youngsters would not swell the population as in some years, to take up residence in our blackthorn cover. Or perhaps they had been driven away by the numerous pairs of territorial Wood Pigeons I have accumulated – a sight I have often seen.

Over winter I feed the pigeons and countless other wildlife, with the chickens, out on the paddock. I will admit to feeling a little sorry for the pigeons as winter went on and on and their rape feeding areas were covered by snow. They were pursued from dawn till dusk trying to get a few ‘beakfulls’ of the mega rape crop. Shot at by day on the fields and in their roosts at dusk. However somehow, these resilient birds came through to spring in fine condition much to the annoyance of the farming community.

As a boy, I remember you could knock them down with sticks around the fields of kale and sprouts – in those days their only winter feed, as their condition became so poor. No more now! The numbers increase year on year and to find a thin wood pigeon is a rare occasion!

Now at last, we have the fine hot weather of the English summer and our birds and animals are living in the heaven of the British Countryside. It is only too easy to forget what the parents of this new generation have had to endure over last winter and this spring. For months they sat night after night in the frozen branches of our barren woods and hedges with whatever cover they could find, with dwindling food reserves. Without those of us who feed our chickens, ducks, game and the few remaining outside livestock few would survive. And perhaps of course we should not forget Mrs Smith with her bird table! Even our friend the urban Wood Pigeon has learnt this is a good place to visit.

It always amazes me when roaming our large areas of open natural country (usually called wildlife reserves) free from mans supposed bad influences, how little wildlife actually exists. Interestingly, despite one of the coldest, wettest springs on record our local wildlife appears to have survived to proposer in a more populated and intensively farmed country, rather than the migrants who have originated from large, uninhabited natural countries of the world – why? Could it be that their few human neighbours are less interested in their wellbeing? Have they struggled to get here through bad weather or failed to survive in the expanses of the more natural world where perhaps they little help from mankind giving or producing food?

One thing that is blatantly obvious – without man’s help and influence much of our local wildlife would simply not exist here in East Anglia today.

It is true, the past man’s intensive agriculture led to a decline in our country’s wildlife and it is true that some of the early agro chemicals shortly after the war were indeed harmful. It is impossible these days to understand the pressure to produce food in our country now awash with food from all over the world. However, farming has now become an extremely environmentally aware business and is now critical too much of our wildlife. Without the diversification of cultivation and food production there would be little in the way of food for so many of our native birds and mammals.

At last we have some fine summer evenings to sit outside and watch more of what is going on around us. It is interesting to examine what we see as it moves to its night time quarters.  Also what it is dependent on for its survival and where it has been feeding. When it comes down to it so   much is dependent on the farming that is going on around us and primarily the grain production of East Anglia, the bread basket of the UK.

As we sit, Wood Pigeons, Collard Doves and a host of House Sparrows fly continually across the pond in front of the patio. They have all fed throughout winter on grain from the surrounding fields put out for ducks and chickens. The brown hordes flush from the crop and disappear into the blackthorn to avoid the Sparrow Hawk.  Chaffinches sit in the Ash tree and a Yellow Hammer sings its song in the hedge above the summer house, all enjoyed the grain of the duck food bin over winter.  A collection of European water fowl dabble and dive for grain on the pond below the patio. Moorhens and visiting Mallard cruise sheepishly amongst the brambles of the far bank waiting to enjoy the grain feed when we have retired to the house, all will soon be out on the stubbles of the arable fields once more.

Flocks of Starlings arrive to roost in the security of the blackthorns above the pond, having spent the day feeding on the pig farms milled grain. They circle nervously then dive to  join the  early arrivals now secure in the dense thicket.

Black Headed, Lesser Black Backs and Herring Gulls can be heard flying high overhead heading for their estuary roost. Set wings they glide for miles into the distance to the East.  They have spent their day feeding out on the first autumn pea cultivations – land now being ploughed ready for the winter wheat crop. The Gulls will soon be joined by our friends the Starlings and vast flocks of Golden Plover returning from their summer protected breeding grounds on the Grouse moors. Their winter feeding dependant on the cultivation for the winter wheat and our grain. So many other birds will flock for food on the broken ground, Swallows and House Martins pick off insects as they are disturbed from the rooting debris by the vast tractor. As darkness comes the fox will follow the plough in search of small mammals and worms hidden till now in the rich East Anglian soils.

Our Swallows drift out over the pond in search of a drink after the dust of the open field workings and prepare for roost.

As dusk approaches flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws flight to their roosts overhead in long straggling lines. They have spent the day pulling down the farmer’s wheat crop yet to be combined. They will soon be following the stubbles with the Wood Pigeon, Stock Doves, Collard and Turtle Doves. The latter preferring the smaller seeds of the oilseed rape crop where flocks of finches will arrive to start to build their autumn fat reserves.

Yes, so much of our wildlife is dependent on man and his farming of the East Anglian countryside. Whether it is the Pink Footed Geese of North Norfolk relying on the sugar beet crop, the Stone Curlew relying on the cultivated Breckland or the Brent Geese relying on winter wheat of the Essex marshes.

Perhaps it may be time to re write the books telling the British public how bad farming is for Wildlife.




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