Having swapped the intimate delights of Turnpike Fields for the grandeur of the mountains and lochs of Scotland for a few weeks, it was with a air of expectation that I unlatched the gate and once more ventured onto the Fields. I always have a feeling of expectation when I do so, but my first reaction, on this occasion, was one of a little sadness at the loss of our natureful grasslands. All neat and tidy it may be, with the field edges denuded of their wildlife corridor where the hedge had been cut. A survey of the green sward, looking like a municipal park, revealed few wild flower species, in stark contrast to last year when over 30 were found at this time of year. Gone too were the butterflies, bees, beetles, crickets and field voles. No chance now of following up on last year's survey of life in the grasslands. The Mound, however, stands as a sanctuary for bio-diversity in the top field. From a human point of view there is always next year, but from nature conservation let us hope that this year's lose will not cause irreparable damage and that nature will show its irrepressible ability to bounce back, provided, of course, the mower is kept at bay.
But despite our inept understanding of nature's way, it always offers to put a smile on our faces. A quick look at the Mound shows how, in the absence of the grassland, small creatures have taken to it for refuge. All round the edges you can see entry points into the area. Who are these creatures now calling this home? The little runs in the grass indicate that, field voles and mice as well as rabbits now live in the sanctuary of rosebay willowherb, thistles, marestail and nettles.
The cutting of the grass has revealed one remarkable sight linked to one of last year's notable nature phenomenon. 2020 was a Mast Year. That is it was year when Oak trees across the UK produced an abundance of acorns. The trigger for this is still one of nature's mysteries, both in terms of how the abundance is produced and the fact that Oaks throughout the UK seem to know to do it at the same time. The interval between Mast Years is also variable. Certainly, the weather conditions in Spring have something to do with it, as this will aid the female flowers to produce the acorns and pollination is by wind and a warm, dry Spring can produce the right conditions. But do all the Oaks communicate with each other through the extensive network of mycelia throughout the earth. It is difficult for us to understand it on a nationwide basis. Why they do is, perhaps, easier to understand as it is a very effective way of regeneration. It is called "predator satiation", which means there are just too many for the squirrels and jays etc who feed on the acorns, and therefore a good number survive to grow. In a normal year the number of acorns produced helps to regulate the numbers of the predators. It is one of wildlife's wonderful balancing acts.
What the cut grass has revealed is that it has worked! All over the fields will be seen tiny oak trees peeking up through the grass. Most are around or near the parent trees, but some have made their way further afield. Of course, like all young life there is still many dangers ahead before they grow to a safe height and size. Small mammals living on the Mound may nibble them, insects may devour then, particularly the Oak Leaf Moth caterpillar and parasites may attack them. Then again humans may strim or mow them to death. At a time when, quite rightly, the planting of trees is seen as an urgent and essential action to repair the damage caused by human activity, it is wonderful to see the natural world taking things in its own hands. Of course it has been doing this for hundreds of thousands of years, long before humans thought that they know better. It leaves us with the question of how we respond to nature's time-honoured ways. With the principles of "wilding" now firmly established in ecological strategy, the natural world shows us that given half a chance, it is up to the task. All it needs is time and our patience and cooperation.
So small and fragile you make your genesis amidst the grassy earth;
Already declaring in tenderness the form and substance of your worth.
Nearby overshadows your parent tree scarred with two hundred years of life,
With broken bough and roughened bark witnessing the years' bitter strife.
Already linked to nature's hidden entangled life beneath the soil;
You announce the next generation of hope on this mortal coil.
Your tender resilience and ancient lineage summons our awe-filled song;
Two centuries on, may your mighty trunk stand proud and strong.