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 was to manage the wildlife of the area.
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 regularly see Red Kites over our house and walks in NE Hampshire. Raptors of any sort are fascinating to watch in flight – I could spend hours just gazing, given half a chance!
With the advent of the digital camera and affordable telephoto and macro lenses, the real thrill is to capture a picture of mammal, bird or insect, in crisp precision as they go about their daily life. A few years ago, we frequented a local field where Ringlet butterflies rise in clouds for a brief spell in summer, and diurnal Six Spot Burnet moths added to the colour of the summer heathland flowers nearby. But for whatever reason such sights change year on year – the Ringlets are now a rarity in the same field and the Six Spot Burnet’s are now a very uncommon sight locally. In one of those cases the cause could have been habitat management changes, in the other perhaps just colder, damper springs knocked the population on the head?
Our small suburban garden has excitement too; summers have brought us Stag Beetles, May Bugs and Rose Chaffers, and winter brings Greater Spotted Woodpecker, the occasional Blackcap and Goldcrest and a flock of Long-Tailed Tits which joins the scene of more common Titmice, Chaffinches, Gold and Greenfinches on the feeders outside the windows.
This blog is smattered with wildlife sightings and references, the occasional comment on habitats, wildlife and their interaction with man, that we learn from my father, or glean as our interests widen. Now we know we’re unlikely to move away from Yateley this side of retirement, we’re working on making our garden more wildlife friendly, discovering in 2018 that we have hedgehogs living here, and also that year, creating a pond.