NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

The hottest February days on record

Well, that got us all fooled, didn’t it?

All that sunshine in February, sitting outside to drink coffee and admire the flowers, whilst bees, loaded with pollen, staggered from flower to flower and eager sparrows collected beaks full of nesting material. Even, I heard, swallows making landfall in Dorset during the last week in February.
Whoever heard of such a thing?

But through all the rejoicing and reporting about this, there came a darker warning.

So many insects were hatching early that they would doubtless be killed off when we get some frosts (which we surely will before spring is half way through) so that any bird thinking that it was about time to raise a family would be very short of something in their larder.
How, I wondered, as did many of my friends, had the swallows managed to come back here in time to enjoy the hottest February days on record?
Google has its uses. Whilst I could find no direct answer to my question, the general consensus seems to be that it is due to climate change, not just here, but all over the world.
So if you’ve been thinking that there is a telephone chat line set up between here and Africa just for swallows, I’m afraid you’re wrong. And it seems, on looking at various sites on Google, that they have been doing odd things since 2004. That bit of news had escaped me.
Even so, I don’t think I can remember a year when flowers have looked so spectacular. In the gardens crocus, hellebores and daffodils dazzled us and hedgerows and verges have burst into colour with primroses, blackthorn and celandines. One of my daughters calls celandines the ‘Me Flower‘, because as soon as the sun comes out they glow richly and seem to stretch up and shout ‘Look at me, me, me.’ A good name I think.

My assistant ‘Jenny’

I have been given a way to walk for short distances round the village – well, not the whole village but just a little way from home in most directions.
My ‘assistant’ is a four wheeled trolley thing with a seat, which I have christened Jenny because I can’t help feeling that to say the word ‘trolley’ gives the impression of an aid for an old person!
And no, I don’t consider myself old.
So Jenny and I trundle to the triangle, taking me past Janie’s wild bank. Sleepers keep her garden from tumbling down this bank and into the road, and on this there was a bracket fungus that had obviously had its day and in its decomposition was dribbling a sort of thick jelly-like slime. She has two others that haven’t yet reached this stage.
Bracket fungus are very common and come in a variety of forms and shapes, usually on dead or dying wood, but often on quite healthy trees. I’m afraid I don’t know which is which.
Also on her bank were two quite stout twigs which I thought were woody enough to be a garden shrub, but she told me that they were the remains of last year’s evening primroses. I’d no idea they got so woody – even the seed husks. She has all sorts of things in her little conservation area – dog daisies, knapweed, periwinkle, primroses, campion, bluebells, to name just a few.
She says that she has to manage it carefully otherwise nature’s thugs take over.

As March approached, everything was coming out in a rush

I found a caterpillar strolling idly across the road. I was very sorry to see two very squashed toads. They were quite near each other and I was vaguely beginning to think we may have to put up a ‘Beware. Toads crossing’ sign if I found any more. I found two collar dove’s eggs too, one broken, one whole.
Foolish birds.

The problem of my lack of birds in the garden has been solved.

Nothing to do with the excess of food in the wild, but Chas, just round the corner, has been feeding them on sunflower hearts which I hadn‘t.
“Ah,so it’s your fault!” I said when Jo told me and lo and behold, they gave me some to try.
Within minutes of my putting them out, I was surrounded by goldfinches.
They love them. If you’ve only got niger seeds, they may ignore them, but with both out there, they just can’t get enough.
And with them come the chaffinches, greenfinches, dunnocks and various other winged and feathered creatures. Problem solved. A huge thank you to Chas and Jo. Meanwhile a blackbird with two, sometimes three, flirtatious females come daily.
With memories of Mr Bocelli, I offer sultanas and raisins for them, hoping they get to them before the starlings. It would be so nice to have a successor to Mr Bocelli.

Fuming (quietly)

Did you read in the press recently that a solitary and anonymous dog walker in the Peak District complained to the Health and Safety Executive that a small herd of 27 beautiful, gentle highland cattle had threatened his dog? And so the farmer has been forced to have them all sold or slaughtered. What is the world coming to? No word of warning to the owner of the dog that he would do well to keep it on its lead if he sees cattle (or sheep) but, with this extraordinary reaction by the HSE, people have been robbed of the chance to see these beautiful creatures.
They have been there without a hint of trouble ever since the farmer’s grandfather introduced them over 40 years ago. They have been on the face of BBC Look North’s weather programme, their shaggy faces have been photographed countless times, they have given enormous pleasure to ramblers who take a route to make sure they see them, but perhaps most importantly of all, they have played a vital role in the management of the area. Their cloven hooves make neat little holes in the ground, allowing it to breath, thus helping wild flowers to grow and they eat the long, rough grass and keep it short so that a wide variety of wild life can flourish.
Leave it to itself and it will soon become an area of rough scrub, brambles and bracken in no time and the diversity of wild life will be cut drastically.
Makes me fume. (I’ll try to do it quietly.)

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.