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JANUARY: “Ecology is bigger than one field and one farm. We need to work across many farms and many valleys." English Pastoral, An Inheritance by James Rebanks

Spot the pond! “Brought a load of coals from Blyton 9th January" "Tom started school 26th January" Catching rabbits 26th, 27th, 28th January Took a load of tates to station for Roberts 29th January" This was the life of a Lincolnshire farm labourer in 1886. On New Year's Day 2023,  we were playing games and eating rather too much. George North, the 1886 farm labourer, was "leading manure" - and he noted in his "Bad Boy's Diary" that the weather was "fine and mild". Games and food. Leading manure. I know which I'd rather be doing!  Where does the time go? In the Industrial Revolution from the mid 18th century through to the mid 19th century, many felt that their lives were changing too fast - and they had little or no control over their destinies. Few with power were listening to their pain. Today we are losing control yet again. Those of us who want to help improve our planet for future generations are powerless. Thi

October - "To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour" - William Blake from "Auguries of Innocence"

Not giant molehills... piles of leaves being transferred to near the hedgehog house!

The kitchen is full of the fragrance of ginger and the less pleasant smell of hollowing out turnips for lanterns. The pumpkins are up next! Hallowe'en will happen and then October will be over. What a month it's been!

Exquisite skies!

As the country has come to terms with the death of Queen Elizabeth and the emergence of Charles as monarch we've also seen interesting goings-on in the Westminster Parliament. Even those who purport to have no interest in politics have been a little unsettled about the whole thing. Far and away the most worrying outcome is the less than hopeful future we now have for our environment. As it stands, neither the Prime Minister nor the King will attend the Cop27 Climate Conference in Egypt next month. 

Nature's own artwork

Winter, Spring and Summer have been warmer and drier than average for Britain. In July there was a heatwave affecting all of England and Wales and most of Scotland. My mother was struggling so much with the heat in Lincolnshire that I feared for her health - thought about fetching her, kicking and screaming, to the north of Scotland!!! Mum has never shared my passion for Scotland but we were definitely more comfortable here in Caithness than family and friends doon sooth! And - this is very important - our First Minister will be in Sharm El Sheikh some time between 6th and 18th November for the crucial conference which is expected to address finance and fossil fuels. Whatever your views on Scottish Independence, it's undeniable that we have, with the SNP working together with the Green Party at Holyrood, a conscientious lead on environmental issues. 

Tired, but still lovely

Growing up in what was a rural backwater until the mid sixties, I couldn't possibly have imagined the present danger to our planet when I played along the hedgerows and the disused railway lines, the dykes and rivers, on the common land and the turbaries. I loved my Lincolnshire home and the changing seasons, the big skies and the crisp light. I knew nothing of climate change - didn't realise that the smoke coming from the factory chimneys in nearby towns and cities was poisoning the air people were breathing - or that emissions were heating up the planet towards danger levels.

Perthshire morning view

But I know now. And I want my country to be out in front when it comes to addressing the serious problems we have worldwide. We have to work together with every nation to stop the killing and, one day, end all wars, but Planet Earth isn't only the stage for these events - it's our home and the home of all Nature as we know it - and some we don't yet know! We don't know everything. Imagine a turtle without its shell or an eagle without its feathers - now think of a world with insufficient pollinators and not enough H2O.

All is not lost as long as we act now. We can make the difference necessary to preserve this beautiful world for future generations - we can, with thoughtful collaboration, improve it! I want these islands to be up there with the major players on the world stage - taking responsibility.

Perthshire waterfall

While the power struggles continue we have watched the trees lose their leaves and we've said farewell to the summer birds and greeted the winter visitors. On Thursday I saw a redwing flying from the apple tree into the kitchen garden. The fieldfares will more often be in groups but I've often seen one single redwing. Travelling between Epworth and Belton in the winter months it was common to see a group of fieldfares searching for seeds and berries to eat and hosting a single redwing amongst their number. Fieldfares and redwings belong to the same group as thrushes and it's not difficult to see that when you observe their habits and movements. They come to us from the forests of Northern Europe and stay until the springtime.

What stunning autumn colours in Perthshire!

All of our birds have been singing out this month. You could never say the pheasant's call had melody but whenever I hear it I want to call back. I've heard the pheasants all my life and the sound is always welcome - not pretty, but welcome! A  pheasant strutted through the wildflower patch in the little back garden one day at the beginning of the month - I hadn't the heart to ask it to leave especially when it had made me smile so much.

On the same day I identified a bullfinch in the Whitebeam. There may have been others but I couldn't be sure. It came back on consecutive days but there were no others with it then. We are so fortunate with the variety of birds here. They all seem to give us a try and some stay. Some, like the siskins and chaffinches, will continue feeding when I'm just feet away from them. Bob Robin teases me and lets me think he'll stay but then he darts off into the ivy - but not very far away at all - and then the whole thing happens again!

Our surprise visitor

One bird I've never seen alone is the long tailed tit and in the middle of October we saw a group of them in the whitebeam at breakfast time. I think they look like tiny winged badgers!

The pheasants are not the only larger birds spotted this month. While we were in Perthshire a heron came so close I could see its old man face and the intense look of concentration when it had just taken off. Like the pheasant, the heron has been with me forever. Driving along the water courses around Sandtoft in the Isle of Axholme, I often counted as many as ten on the bank sides.

The owls have been calling too and I was more than excited to spot a male hen harrier twice in one day. We're quite used to seeing the female - she doesn't seem to mind us sharing her patch at all but this is the first time I've been able to positively identify the male here.

The gnarly tree - providing great shelter for different birds!

The other bigger bird we've seen a good deal of lately is the sparrowhawk - not big enough - and certainly not slow enough -  to cast a shadow as a warning to the little birds! I know it has to eat but I get quite upset when I see one of my gorgeous little blue tits in its claws. It comes in like an arrow. Blink and you miss it.

And the tiny goldcrest? He's back too. He'll have to be very careful.

The bats are not only hanging from pictures and cupboard doors for Hallowe'en, they're also flitting around outside, not just at night but in the dark mornings as well.

While the bats fly around the Wild Wood, these cones from the trees fill the floor.

So, in spite of losing our summer visitors, our skies are still very full. Yesterday, as I was tipping the kitchen waste into my newly created compost corner, I heard a racket from above me and looked up to see a massive formation of geese flying south.

And I shouldn't leave out the flocks of jackdaws, rooks and crows - they really are ganging up together now. Last year, I put up a video which Clemency had taken of a starling murmuration. I saw a small one this month but it was probably at the beginning of the formation so I'm watching for a fully formed starling murmuration as the days shut down - earlier now until the turning of the year.

This morning, Clem saw a flock of lapwings overhead and we talked about how beautiful these birds are. I've an idea their feathers used to find their way into ladies' hats and that their eggs were considered a delicacy. I know they belong to the plover family but I'm unsure whether lapwings' eggs were eaten as other plovers' eggs were. I'd like to know.

Fungi are everywhere at present and they are striking. When I was a first year student at college in Ripon, Yorkshire, I realised that the fungi in the parks and lanes around me were all different. I'd not really thought about it before - until then fungi were either toadstools or mushrooms, simply poisonous or edible! I started to study them - I wasn't so interested in naming them - although some have wondrous names! It was their strange and fleeting beauty which fascinated me. They were - are - a work of art. I started to look up on tree trunks for them and I realised that I'd overlooked so many until then. They don't always catch the eye but, once spotted, the eye will rest on them and acknowledge their artistry - clever little things! 







Perthshire fungi

Lots of berries this autumn! And I've never seen so many elderberries - there is an intensity of blue-black, with just a hint of redness from the stalks, in the Caithness hedgerows at present. When I was young, people used to say that, when there were lots of berries in the autumn, there would likely be a hard winter to follow because the abundance of food in the countryside was Nature's way of preparing human beings, animals and birds, for the harsh weather ahead. Preserves were made and fruit was dried and stored. I always get a feeling of disappointment when I see apples rotting on trees by the wayside. Bullace trees too are often untouched these days. Maybe rising prices will see a turn-around for these gifts!

Judith teaches in Caithness and there is an apple tree in her school grounds. This year, instead of the children using the apples as missiles, she taught them how to make apple chutney. I understand the aroma was quite pungent throughout the school but I think everyone considered it a successful exercise! Waste not want not! And how marvellous to teach children to value the apples!

Pungent apple chutney simmering away

Our own apple harvest has supplied us with cooking apples to see us into the winter. Thankfully badgers don't easily climb trees. At the beginning of the month we were surprised, only slightly amused and, I have to say, a wee bit disappointed to find our potatoes had been dug up and eaten. These were the ones growing in the ground. Alongside the badger debris are little mole runs and hills. The potatoes  which were planted in tall bags have done well - and are delicious. The badgers came again and finished off the rest of the potatoes. We encourage wildlife so we're not complaining - we're just going to be a bit more canny next year!

What we salvaged of our potato harvest!

The deer and the fox have been visiting - and sometimes drive the dogs mad when they go outside in the dark for their final comfort break. They are roe deer which come into our little wood, we've seen the red deer on the hillside but they haven't come near the house. I always question the sense behind the roe deer's behind. It's far too striking a white! If it weren't for the white, or sometimes cream, rump, we wouldn't necessarily know a deer was there. Many's the time one of the children has tried to show me where a deer is grazing and I haven't been able to see it until it jumped up out of the undergrowth and flashed its behind at me! Where's the wisdom in that?

Nature can be comical and can pose many questions. I have so much I want to learn about this amazing world. I'm learning something new every day - just by observing.

Trailing nasturtiums

Friday, 28th October ended with the most remarkable night sky. The milky way, stars and planets were punching the darkness with their brilliance. There are nights when you just want to stay and soak it all in and maybe wish on a star you've chosen from amongst the billions. Friday, 28th was one such. And I wished for a hopeful world - a place where optimism can push forward the potential remedy we have  waiting in the wings. We know what we should do. I want us to start now.

Glory be to God for dappled things—
   For skies of couple-coloured as a brindled cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
       And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
       With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

                                     Praise Him. 

(Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Comments

  1. I loved your October Blog. You shine an entertaining and informative light on the world of Nature and beyond. Thank you, Susan. xxx

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