Monday, 15 August 2022

Woodland storm damage not as bad as feared (but I’m still suffering)

Woodland storm damage not as bad as feared (but I’m still suffering)

YESTERDAY, the forecast was for snow but it didn’t happen, not that we’d have minded. It simply drizzled in silence.

We therefore waited until today to take a short walk near home and to be careful as my lower back pain (I believe it to be lumbago) is proving to be a hindrance.

My doctor tells me that it should dissipate soon but if it continues for another few weeks to make another appointment. Here’s hoping…

After breakfast, I step outside to sit down and watch the birds in our back garden.

There is much activity. The resident jackdaws appear to be modifying an old magpie’s nest in a large ball of mistletoe in the tall robinia tree. They’re very busy going in and out like
yo-yos.

Tiny goldcrests occupy all our evergreen trees. For such a diminutive bird, these can be quite aggressive, punching above their negligible weight.

Wrens and dunnocks sing out of sight. I find it difficult to understand how such a tiny bird, the wren, can be so loud.

Last year we had blackcaps overwinter. So far, I have not seen or heard and am starting to worry.

Elsewhere blue and great tits feast on peanuts and a robin belts out a sublime melody to an audience of wood pigeons and collared doves.

Greenfinches and goldfinches trill in the trees and a blackbird and song thrush join the chorus. A green woodpecker laughs and I’m glad to hear it after a comparatively long while.

A multitude of red kites play “tag” very close above me and a black-headed gull floats past with no clear ambition.

A herring gull with distinctive black wingtips spins in the sun.

All the birds are sizing up nesting sites, whether in shrubs, trees or inside or on the tops of rooves and chimney pots. I’ll be keeping an eye out.

On our way back from the surgery we cross a small section of Balmore Walk (formerly known as Balmore Park) in Caversham and see how nature is progressing on one of the final Chiltern Hills outposts before the underlying chalk and clay meets the River Thames.

All the trees on the crest were not affected by the recent storms and remain resolute.

As we pass some allotments to our right, I’m pleased to see that a native hedgerow that I proposed years ago is looking in fine fettle.

Mixed and native, it not only affords great protection to the allotments but also wonderful nesting sites for our resident and visiting birds. It looks a treat so thank-you to our friend Dave Kenny for being instrumental in its creation.

We head home briefly to feed our voracious cats before deciding to venture out in the car.

Because of my back problem I can’t go far so we decide to visit Harpsden Wood and assess the storm damage.

Leaving the Henley Road and driving along Woodlands Road from the Lower Shiplake turn is always a bit of an eye-opener. On one side big houses, on the other open countryside.

We pass through an avenue of established sycamore trees and as we approach the woodland I’m filled with a sense of dread, visualising devastation.

We leave the car on the left-hand side of the road on a slippery muddy patch.

As I get out, I grab one of my lightweight walking sticks from the car boot and we enter the trees.

Rosemary and I love it out here. Only a short distance from Henley town centre, the wood is buzzing with nature and the promise of another spring, the resurgence of life in all its sylvan forms. We notice some roadside casualties but all is not lost. In fact, the wood is largely unchanged. What a relief.

I note the long-fallen trunks of silver birch, oak and beech which have been rotting slowly over the years with the help of various fungi, beetles and tinier creatures and are covered with emerald mosses. This is how it should be.

The natural world progressively returns the nutrients to the forest floor to be absorbed by future generations. The cycle of life.

There has been some damage from the recent high winds and gales. A number of oak and beech trees had succumbed to fierce blasts to reveal ambitious root systems in the clay and flint.

Surprisingly, there are no fallen cherry trees. I would have expected them to be one of the first species to have taken the brunt. But there they are, as proud as punch, promising exquisite spring blossom to look forward to.

This is an exceptional wood, a taste of what thousands of years ago would have enveloped all that we know now.

Thankfully, the Woodland Trust is the present custodian and what a good job it does. The majority of fallen trees are not within the woodland but chopped up beside the roadside to allow traffic to pass and to reinvigorate the earth.

All along our short walk we have been treated to the flights and songs of small songbirds from chaffinches to great tits.

A buzzard weaves through the trees, carrion crows and jackdaws rise in cacophony high above the canopy.

As we make our way back to our car, we note the early nearly pure-white flowers of blackthorn, the emergence of bluebells and lords-and-ladies waiting for the off.

Many of the roadside trees have been sprayed with fluorescent numbers. I don’t know what these mean.

Back home again, I sit outside waiting for the re-emergence of our bats, mostly pipistrelles.

A robin sings as the light diminishes. Foxes and badgers will be abroad as the sun sets and all turns magically dark and the stars appear.

Life on Earth has taken such a long time to develop, so let us cherish it. Nothing lasts forever.

vincent.ruane@hotmail.com

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