NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

Tell me, is Stourton Caundle the centre for woodlice?

Is No.1 Goldsneys the centre for them in the village?

As I expelled the latest half dozen from the kitchen one morning, I decided it was about time I found out more about the little wretches and, for those who are similarly afflicted, here is what I learned.

In the garden they are part of the army that helps to break down rotten wood, fallen leaves and anything else decaying. In the house they get going on damp timbers and mould. So what are they finding in my house? As far as I know I have no damp timbers – and mould? Surely I would have seen signs of it by now if I had that. Apparently they also feed on the general detritus that we don’t know we‘ve even got. Ok, but surely I don’t need an army of them to clear up what I can’t help leaving behind?
They are crustaceans, not insects, and can live for up to two years. I can’t help wondering what person who hadn’t got anything better to do found out this fascinating fact, but I for one have no intention of giving any of my residents a birthday party of any sort and certainly not to celebrate its second one.
Why are they now in the bedrooms as well as downstairs – I’ve never seen any climbing the stairs Apparently a Pest Control company could be called in to finish off a really bad infestation, but if things get that bad, I’ll move out and leave them to it.
The other day I was talking to a friend about the fires in Australia and she was telling me the way the aborigines used to start them deliberately in a controlled way. In those days there was seldom the catastrophe that we have seen recently.

It took me back to my time in Devon.

Do hope that you will forgive my occasional lapses into those days but such a lot of what happened during the twenty years there shaped a lot of my life.
We were seven miles from Dartmoor and Hatherleigh had its own moors, the Upper and Lower Moor as it is known. In entirety it spread to around forty acres, but the Lower Moor was just three.
Not much, you’re probably thinking, but that was a very special and precious three acres for it was culm grassland, something that is as valuable and unusual as the rain forests in Peru. It is land that has never been cultivated and the range of flora and fauna there was, and I believe still is, marvellous.

In my time there I found 136 varieties of flowers through one year

Five of those being rare or unusual, and hence a vast amount of other life.
I found a dormouse still in its nest, watched kingfishers on a tree by the pond, watched grass snakes swimming both in the pond and in one of the boundary streams, followed a whole family of bank voles through the grasses for the full width of the area one hot afternoon, found a pair of dippers nesting beneath the little bridge and listened to stonechats.
And all around, curlews flew each year and once we saw a flock of 22 golden plovers arrive.

The trouble, I quickly noticed, was that bracken and tussock grass were beginning to take over

The farmers no longer had the facilities to swale it as they used to, hence in the first three years of my ‘discovering’ this place (lots of people knew of it so I hardly discovered it), three of the precious rare flowers were being swallowed up by the stuff.
Being considerably younger then and with a distinctly interfering nature, I took it upon myself to try and do something about it.
I wrote to the Devon Wildlife, Defra, and the Parish Council, I wrote about it in the local paper. I even gave talks to local Women’s Institutes about the flowers I found there and led a walk, attended by some forty people across it to show them why it was so valuable and why it should be treasured. And of course I approached the Moor Management Committee.
This was comprised of local farmers and various other locals whose lineage to Hatherliegh went back into the mists of time and who, I am sure were thoroughly fed up with this new kid on the block making such a nuisance of herself. They were very polite though some must have raised an eyebrow when I suggested that since there was no longer the time or manpower to do it as in the old days, would they mind if I, who knew nothing about swaling, took it upon myself to organise a party to do it for them. They agreed – reluctantly – and, through notices in the parish magazine, I rallied all the troops I could muster to join me and Brian one fine April Saturday morning. I think there were about 25 volunteers, armed with things like broom handles with pieces of carpet or rubber attached to them, which, in theory were to control the flames, and we began our first and last efforts in swaling.
The idea was to do one third of it, as it had been done in days of yore, but a wind sprang up from nowhere and before we knew it, it looked very much as though the third would spread to the whole. A passing farmer came to our aid. He told us what to do and almost single-handedly saved the day.
After that, in desperation, I recruited the local pack of brownies and their leader and they had an evening leaping on all the emerging bracken crooks they could see. They had a wonderful time, but they missed a lot and it didn’t really help that much. Alas, the rare flowers had disappeared by the time we moved here, swallowed up by bracken and tussocks, and although it was still a wonderful place, many of the butterflies and a few of the insects had disappeared with them.
Some of my happiest memories were on those three acres and when I can‘t sleep I still ‘walk‘ round it.
I just loved it.

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.