Wet days and sodden land; as muddied rubber boots squelch their way through the fields, a sense of relief is felt at sharing the land with so many trees. The five thousand trees and shrubs planted on the fields eight years ago now bring rich benefits for everyone and everything in the village.
Slipping and sliding ankle-deep in mud is no more a hindrance in these once-quagmired fields. The trees have absorbed the water deeper into the land through their root systems and so the surface flooding is over. There are no lingering puddles of surface water, just a gentle squelch underfoot.
The underground streams bubble up to the surface in several places across the fields. The plantings of yellow flags, figwort and goat willow slow their flow and distribute the rainwater more evenly across and through the land. Wet and sodden fields now dry more quickly; adding a diversity of plants to the fields means nature knows what to do. This nature ‘knowing what is best’ approach means less flood areas in the village as water flows are slowed and diverted into the underground aqueducts for the next year.
Only an adjacent treeless field has flooded, where the numerous sheep have puddled the Yorkshire clay earth below the cropped grass and moss. The sheep-wrought lake would have been perfect for skating in cooler centuries but sadly not now as we continue to warm the earth with such efficiency. Still, the lake provides further top-up water for underground aqueducts and summer-long waters for scrapes, ponds and vegetables in the garden. Such a well-organised and natural watering scheme provides ongoing water collection for later use.
Out of Africa
The woodland areas, hedgerow and immediate surrounding fields now hold up to 12 bird species on the British Trust for Ornithology’s 2023 Birds of Conservation Concern ‘red list’ and nine on the amber list, either feeding, foraging or breeding. Some 21 species of bird that have almost disappeared from other parts of the UK seem to thrive or are arriving to thrive, an unexpected dream resulting from the focus on nature’s needs.
The visitor that was the star of the late summer season was the ‘spotted flycatcher’ with two nests in the adjacent fields and garden. Late August saw spotted flycatchers exploring fields hunting for insects and over the weeks into September they nested in several other village locations. That this scarce migratory bird from Africa has made an enclave within the village is a source of excitement and delight.
The flycatcher’s arrival is especially important, as other migratory birds like the swift and house martin are no longer seen nesting in the village and are rarely seen over the summer months. As little as seven years ago, hundreds of martins and swallows perched on the village rooftops in the weeks before their migration to Africa – such a rapid decline in numbers over this time. Maybe none at all will visit within five years and they will become a mythical visitor for the generations to come.
Then a magical seven-year moment happened in the first week of December. A much hoped-for dream that a rare migrant bird might visit the numerous berried trees and bushes, not only fieldfares and redwings. The dream bird was a waxwing from Scandinavia. Their sound was heard first on the last Wednesday afternoon in November at precisely 2.30pm and then a flock of 37 waxwings swooped into the fields to explore the foraging possibilities. Breathtaking moments were savoured as they settled on the ‘Joseph Rock yellow berry’ sorbus ash and helped themselves to their ‘dream berries’. Timid and easily unsettled, they tucked in and gave a show lasting 90 minutes, at times only 30 feet away.
The local mistle thrushes, who were caught unaware, came to investigate and realised their ‘berries’ were being taken. Guardian birds of these sorbus trees now rallied to the threat and gathered to scare off any birds, including these ‘strangers’ that only visit these shores every decade or so. Shrill rallying calls across the fields enjoining others to fly to attack and protect were heard through the day. Sadly, the mistle thrushes won and after two days of trying to access the berries, the waxwings headed south, leaving some great photos.
The only trees still with an abundance of berries adorning them are the ‘Joseph Rock’ as the mistle thrushes’ daily tactic is to scare off all birds and just eat a few berries daily themselves. It is not unknown for mistle thrushes to starve themselves to death in their attempts to protect their berries although they fail to realise that the berries themselves are gradually ripening and rotting and cannot be kept forever.
Emptying the larder
Bushes and trees are now stripped of berries across the ten acres. At least an acre of planting is for the winter food larder and the fieldfares and redwings continue their gorging, with the last cotoneaster berries at the north end of the fields ready in January 2024.
It looks as if the larder is running low and so the mistle thrushes defend their rowan berries, such that there are still plenty of them after three weeks of defending from sunrise to sunset. The waxwings have returned again as there is still food to be had on these rowan trees. They must have slipped in while the mistle thrushes were taking some downtime and the guerilla raid was conducted successfully! Three mistle thrushes appeared like drones, once again aiming to chase off these invaders, and so they have departed again.
We await the grey starling’s return over the Christmas period along with the two barn owls that have danced at sunrise across the paddock field … such excitement similar to the arrival of Father Christmas! The raptors have taken to the sky as the weather has improved and the red kite, buzzard and kestrel all turn in over the dry days as there is plenty of grass and small mammals for the taking.
The house still required some decoration with winter greenery and berries; there is always some holly with berries and this year is no exception, although it required some searching for. Our visitors had left us with just enough! As the year turns, we wonder what nature will bring forth for the coming year.