Autumn quiet

I was recently lucky to spend some proper time down on the marshes. I say lucky because so much is happening at the moment that I rarely get time to just be in the place. I rush down to check camera traps or to make sure things are okay, but am forced to dash back home, or to a meeting. This is particularly true of the southern field. It is the less obviously pretty of the two sites, and I must confess that in summer at least I give it less of my attention.

But this weekend was different. How wonderful to spend a few hours in one small space and take in the rhythm of the changing seasons. As late summer turns to autumn things quieten down on the marshes. The grass turns brown and begins to flop. The riotous buzzing of high summer gives way to an occasional chirp. The flowers are over and the birds are leaving. The summer shift already on its way and the winter one not yet arrived.

It is a time of year, when to be honest, I would hesitate to bring someone to the land. I would worry it would disappoint, show too little of the potential both of the Levels and of the process of rewilding I am undertaking. The fields can appear dank, and quiet, and sometimes ugly.

This was how I felt as I first arrived. It was a grey, still day. Nothing moved (apart from the ever-present heron that lifted itself from the ditch as I arrived). Little sang. The whole landscape felt sad. But as I walked around, feeling low, life and change and interest began to reveal themselves.

First was the water mint growing in the scrape for the first time. A small thing, but a beautiful one. I love its sharp fresh smell. The other site came to me with orchids and bugle, self-heal and ragged robin. This one came with thick grass and little else, so the arrival of this little herb is all the more exciting.

Then as I walked through the grass I spotted a huge wasp spider, the first I have ever seen. I have often been asked if they lived on the land. So yes, they do, I have a picture.

Along the hedgelines – now expanded far from where they started – hawthorn tangled with teasels, alder and blackberry. The odd small bird started to appear. Goldfinch, a late wheatear. At times the whole area can feel alive with birds. I have seen flocks of at least fifty finches descending on the thistle heads. This time whatever was there showed itself slowly. As I turned to walk a different direction the fox broke cover from the reeds where it had been sheltering – bounding away through the long grass. I see it often, but it always excites. I know her cubs have probably slept and grown up in this field too, and I’ve watched them following her on the trail camera. A few minutes later and just a couple of hundred meters away I disturbed another family – a roe deer and her fawn. They have been with me all year and it was good to see the baby doing well, even if it was hard to make it out through the long growth.

Seconds after the deer, I saw a hare leap across the ditches and dash through the short grass of my neighbour’s fields. Grey on deep green. A skylark fluttered out my way, followed not long after by a snipe – dashing out from the young reeds that have colonised the middle of the scrape. Having felt the land empty it now seemed to be full of life. Not the frantic vibrancy of late spring and summer or the noisy abundance of the winter flocks, but the quiet, ever-present life of somewhere that is a refuge for the ordinary creatures that live in the landscape. I wondered what else might fall out if I could pick the field up and shake it.

There is no real point to this blog, except to say that there is little better for the soul than to be really alone and able to look at the things which share our world. And we need to make more spaces where they can do that, and where we can share their lives.

I am giving all my spare time at the moment to an organisation I have set up called Somerset Wildlands. The plan is simple – to buy land and make space for nature to do its thing. To bring back wildlife and wildness and to build a network of those who want to do the same with their own land. Please do take a look, and donate, sign up and support. There is so much we need to do to stop the environmental collapse happening around us. We need to reduce our consumption – particularly of meat and plastics, we need continue to change the energy system to a renewable one, and reform farming. We need to reconnect with nature and reintroduce lost species. But we also need to just make space, and take the time to sit and watch.

Reeds and sedges
Scrape starting to gather vegetation
Water mint
Wasp spider
Hedges and umbellifers
Just beside the ditch lines
Stark boundary between my field and the neighbouring one
Ragged robin, still in flower over on the other site.

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