I was fortunate to grow up in the New Forest, now a National Park, and be the the daughter of one of the two Head Keepers whose responsibility it is to manage the wildlife of the region.
I have many memory snapshots of the years spent accompanying my father in his work, or just for leisure:
- walking across heathland in deep winter hoar frost, my toes stinging with cold inside my wellies as I crunch the dry bracken beneath my feet;
- on a summer walk unexpectedly discovering a fox, curled asleep in the curve between branches of a pollarded tree, and later finding another fox lying sprawled along the limb of another tree;
- sitting late into the evening with my back against a tree, waiting at what we thought was a foxes earth… only to watch, heart beating madly, as a badger walked within touching distance of me;
- helping my father feed the Fallow Deer at Boldrewood Deer Sanctuary, privileged to be that close to truly wild animals.
Today, the stories are echoed, as although I no longer live in the New Forest I have returned to Hampshire, and my father, now retired, still lives in and spends many hours in the forest. Now, with a third generation to teach, I’m more willing to listen to the explanations of how habitats have developed, and how changes (for better and worse) in management techniques are still influencing different parts of the forest.
Birds feature more heavily in my interests than they did during my childhood, the product of several late teenage holidays in the Cambrian Mountains around Tregaron watching the Red Kites, still a rarity in the late 1980s. Now, due to successful release schemes we have twice seen Red Kites over our house and local dog walks in NE Hampshire. Raptors of any sort are fascinating to watch in flight, or mantling a kill up on the heath as recently happened when we watched a Kestrel at work.
With the advent of the digital camera and the macro lens, the real thrill is to capture a picture of mammal, bird or insect, in crisp precision as they go about their daily life. Ringlet butterflies rise in clouds from one favourite field for a brief spell in summer, and diurnal Six Spot Burnet moths add to the colour of the summer heathland flowers.
Even our small suburban garden has excitement; the last two summers have brought us Stag Beetles, and this winter a Greater Spotted Woodpecker, the occasional Blackcap and Goldcrest and a flock of Long-Tailed Tits has joined the scene of more common Titmice, Chaffinches, Gold and Greenfinches on the feeders outside the windows.
With time this blog will hopefully be smattered with a pattern of wildlife sightings and references, and perhaps too I can capture for posterity some of the valuable knowledge of habitats, wildlife and their interaction with man, that my father shares from time to time.