NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

By mid-April I had counted 14 different wild flowers blooming, including some early
stems of Cow Parsley, Stitchwort and Jack-by-the-Hedge. I suppose I shouldn’t have
been surprised ‒ after all, Bluebells were out a good fortnight early and near and
distant views were already dominated by the garish yellow of Oil Seed Rape. One warm
day in early April, five different species of butterfly flew round the garden ‒ Large
White, Orange Tip, Brimstone, Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral. They paused for a brief
inspection, found nothing of interest and flew off again.
I had news of the first swallow in the village on 12 April. I’m always glad when they
arrive and one warm day around the same time, a slow worm emerged from its hole in
the stone wall and hung lazily basking across some ivy stems. These creatures, which
are not worms, neither are they slow nor snakes, but legless lizards, can live up to 30
years in the wild and 54 in captivity. We have known this particular one since we
arrived here and I always recognise it because there is something slightly odd about its
tail.
Now here’s an interesting thing. We have had a small, round hole in our front lawn for some time, presumably the home of a vole or small field mouse, though it seems an odd place for it. Recently, all round the edge of this hole is being neatly cropped almost to the roots of the grass, as though whatever lives there is dissatisfied with the level that the lawn mower is cutting it. I keep watching for other signs of the occupant but I think I’m going to have to sit by it all night before I’m lucky.
I am slightly immobile at the moment so much of my nature watching has to be done from the car or in the garden, but drives round here are so full of interest that I seldom come home disappointed.
There is quite often a hare that seems to choose its time carefully to meet us as we drop down into Goat Hill. It takes a quick glance over its shoulder, ambles out of one field, hops over the lane in front of us, then disappears through a gate on the opposite side of the lane at a slightly quicker pace when it catches sight of us. He’s so big that just for a moment I’ve almost thought he was a small deer.
The hare was first introduced into Britain some 2000 years ago by the Romans (who else?) and is our fastest mammal, its long back legs enabling it to run at speeds in excess of 40 mph. Because it is only rarely seen in some areas, it gained a mystique that has led to all sorts of strange folklore, with pagan, sacred and mystic associations. As with much of British wildlife, they are threatened by changing agricultural practices larger fields with single cereal crops per year curtailing its round-the-year food supply and giving diminishing amounts of cover. We’re lucky to have them round here. Now, some sad news ‒ well, sad for us. One day recently when the breeze was just enough to blow the hedge around and the sparrows were making a commotion in it, a carcass of a blackbird fell out of it just beyond the French window. It was too far gone to see whether the claw on its right foot was damaged but I’m sure it was Mr Bocelli. Would any other blackbird have been so near to the window where he so frequently came for sultanas and company? We didn’t give him a special burial, but as he had given us so much pleasure in life, we put him amongst the compost so that in a way he’ll still be giving us pleasure after death. So who’s going to be next, I wonder? There are lots of blackbirds around but it will be interesting to see whether any of them attach themselves to us as he did.

A friend recently made an interesting observation. They have a large garden that, without obvious boundaries, melds into the Dorset countryside. Consequently a variety of wild life passes through. He was saying that in the past years he had seen no pheasant chicks and he was suggesting that this could be due to the number of pheasants that have been reared for shoots and have escaped. Such birds probably have no inbred maternal instinct and hence do not breed in the same way, or, if they do, don’t make good mothers. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Margaret Waddingham

About Margaret

Margaret WaddinghamI was born in Middlesex in 1935 and educated at a convent in Rickmansworth. In 1954 I moved with my family to Cranleigh in Surrey where I met and married Brian. We have two daughters and five grandchildren.
For 21 happy years we lived on the outskirts of Guildford, moving to Hatherleigh in North Devon when our children had fled the nest to get on with their own lives.

My love of writing goes back many years but it was not until I retired from RHS Rosemoor Gardens in 1995 that I was able to devote more time to this and my other favourite pursuits, gardening and the countryside.

For many years I was a regular contributor of short stories, poetry, nature and other articles to three women’s national weeklies, periodical regional magazines and local newspapers. I also had a book of the history of a neighbouring village and a couple of books of poetry published.

One day our daughters phoned to suggest, very gently, that they couldn’t get to us quickly in an emergency and that’s how we ended up in Stourton Caundle.

We couldn’t have chosen a better place and although Brian sadly passed away in 2018, I have come to appreciate the village more and more.

Genevieve (my mobility scooter for those who haven’t met us) and I wander the local lanes, drinking in all that is around me and when I can no longer do this I will still have a small, peaceful garden to sit in where nature comes to visit me.