Monday, 16 December 2019

Estate which understands this precious and irreplaceable world

Estate which understands this precious and irreplaceable world

THE sun is out and I’ve many errands to run but then I get a phone call from my pal Dave Kenny, who has recently returned from an expedition to the far north of Scotland.

He wants me to join him and take a look at one of our favourite woods as he’s concerned about possible damage to the nationally scarce mezereons that grow on the Hardwick Estate and we both cherish.

We want to make sure that they have not been crushed as a result of recent tree felling.

Thankfully, we discover they have not been touched but we’ll be keeping an eye on these rarities.

A large number of ash has been cut down and we see why. The boughs that criss-cross the ground have tell-tale blackened heartwood as a result of ash die-back disease and maybe the potential to infect their brethren.

I feel very deeply for ash. These trees have such a folkloric history, imbued with mystical associations.

I love to stand in a forest as the keys fall. I hope that some will grace our woods, lanes and hedgerows long after my passing.

We count the rings on the stump of a recently felled tree — 80 years old and slim-trunked before an untimely death. We can only surmise that poor soil was one contributor to such slow growth but it’s so sad to see.

We find a notice at the valley bottom that details a replanting programme. It is inspirational.

The estate has been planting a wide variety of native broadleaf tree species to replace the ash.

I quote from a portion of the notice: “This area has been replanted with oak, lime and cherry, with some whitebeam, maple, alder and wild service tree. We also hope to establish some natural regeneration of beech, although its success is proving difficult as the south of England experiences more droughts than it has in the past.

“We live in unprecedented times but we hope that this wide mix of trees will enable future generations to continue to enjoy this beautiful woodland.”

Well done, the Hardwick Estate and so well written, If only other local landowners had such an understanding of our precious and irreplaceable natural world. The Hardwick Estate is also quite remarkable inasmuch as it has provided the nature lover with many permissive paths. Use them, I implore you.

A few days later and I am meeting my new friend Rosemary Henderson.

It’s another bright day so off we go into the woods near Stoke Row as I want to introduce Rosemary to another delightful part of our landscape.

It is quite muddy underfoot as we walk through birch, beech, alder and oak trees.

Rosemary spots a lone tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum), a species of St John’s wort, showing off its dark autumn berries.

The shape of the wood changes subtly. Colonising birch gradually accede to oak and beech. An ancient woodland boundary gives itself away with evidence of age-old control.

As the ancient hedge was left to its own devices some of the more vigorous and now strangely shaped trees have risen to dominate what sunlight there is.

There is so much moss on the trunks of fallen and living trees. Lichen, a good sign of a healthy environment, flourishes on the boughs of blackthorn. We dive into the warmth of the Unicorn pub for a bite to eat and a pint.

Walking back through the heather and gorse-spangled common is a delight. After about 20 minutes we arrive where we started and look down upon a huge colony of fruiting broad-leaved helleborines. We’ll be back come July to see them in all their floral glory.

Rosemary drops me off back in Caversham. Later at dusk, as I sit outside with my mother at her home, a young hedgehog snuffles along without fear and in full view so I dash inside for a dish and fill it with special hedgehog food and place a small bowl of water alongside.

A tiny wood mouse appears from underneath deep cover. This little short-sighted animal receives a small but not insignificant amount of grain that would normally have been thrown in daytime to dunnocks, blackbirds and robins.

The mouse eats a few grains, dashes off and comes back time and again to build up its hidden winter larder.

The young hedgehog eats so much that on its way home it is sick, just like a child that has consumed too much cake. Well, we’ve all done that, I suppose. I just hope that our little friends have a sense of humour, too.

Vincent Ruane

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