Columnists

When nature feeds you must know when to look
Published August 16 2014
Rob Yorke’s Nature Notebook
Always look slowly over the edge of a bridge. I’ve done it all my life — perhaps all anglers do.
As I peer at the water a big fat brown trout is still under the bridge. Neither sunlight nor I are his
friends and he knows ust when to move. !e is always gone by ten in the morning" repla#ed by naive
youngsters" in#hes from a grey wagtail snapping up late summer inse#ts from the surfa#e.
$o wat#h wildlife properly you have to work when it’s the best time to observe it" getting #lose enough
to seeing how different #reatures run their daily lives.
$his is the time of year when nature knows it’s feeding time" before #old brown winter waters sweep
down from the %la#k &ountains" washing away any vestige of food until ne't year.
()eep *eep.+ $hat’s a fly,by from the lo#al dipper" hurtling upstream" dodging red,rooted alders to
rende*vous with its mate on a slippery midstream stone. -As a kid" on the banks of a .#ottish stream"
I remember making a rough hide of ro#ks to marvel at these dumpy yet sli#k a/uati# songbirds diving
under water to #at#h larvae and tiny fish.0
1verhead" a grunting goosander makes his way purposely towards the deeper pools up the valley"
where he will use his long red bill to grapple with fish. In the stream the young trout also have their
pla#e in the food #hain. $here’s a whiff of wind" and a tiny beetle falls from the bridge as the white,
lined mouth of the lead fish takes his pri*e. $he (plop’+ in the pool is ignored. %ut not by the grey
s/uirrel in the ha*el tree" whi#h has one eye out for #ob nuts" the other on a bu**ard wheeling near
by.
All of wildlife is filling its belly as I pass over the bridge.
See the wood
I’m lu#ky enough to own a sliver of woodland in the Welsh hills. It’s a pleasure" although it did #ause
me some angst when I #reated it two years ago. 2or generations" farmers had beaten ba#k the
bra#ken to #ultivate a grass field for gra*ing sheep and here I was fen#ing half of it off to plant trees.
%ut within days" red ants were at work building soft hillo#ks in the undisturbed grass as I got down to
planting my trees" not in rows but in random #lumps — mu#h to the annoyan#e of my father" a
former forester.
We %ritons love our trees" as our rebellion against the proposed forestry sell,off in 3ngland showed.
Yet #ompared with the rest of 3urope we have a sparse #overing of trees" and the Independent
2orestry 4anel" whi#h was set up to advise the government on how best to manage our woodlands"
seems to have been sidelined by other priorities.
I have de#ided to set my own priorities and I have big plans for my wood — it must provide a habitat
for wildlife" timber for my stoves" #over for game birds and lands#ape for my #hildren to play in.
It’s a long,term #ommitment and it may be that the future of the #limate finally de#ides whi#h trees
will do well. 3ven native spe#ies will survive only if they suit the soil" so I’ve gone my own way"
slipping in a few alien #onifers among the oaks and mountain ash.
Living side by side
!ow #an we do best for wildlife but remain realisti# about the fa#t that humans also have needs in
the natural world5 I was standing on the edge of a field in %edfordshire dis#ussing this with a farmer
— it was high,brow stuff before lun#h. We have to find room for food and wildlife in the same
#ountryside" so we must look at new" dare I even use the word" (intensive+ ways to make spa#e for the
wildlife.
.ome farmers have embra#ed agri,environment s#hemes that pay them to do work that helps
biodiversity. %ut" my farmer said" we still need modern farming pra#ti#es to help the spe#ies we are
en#ouraging to thrive. And others argue that these s#hemes are too pres#riptive" telling you what to
do rather than simply asking for an out#ome" su#h as a flo#k of yellowhammers or a gin,#lear
water#ourse.
What is the point of taking land out of produ#tion simply for it to be #olonised by rank grasses that
will smother the wild flowers that would provide a habitat for wild bees5 When Natural 3ngland
planted a large wild #ornflower field in !ertfordshire" right ne't to the &67" it was made possible
only by the udi#ious use of sele#tive herbi#ides at the right time of year.
.ome even suggest that allowing the use of inse#ti#ides su#h as neoni#otinoids" whi#h are #reated to
kill pest inse#ts" should allow for inse#t refuges full of pollen,ri#h grasses and flowers to grow
around" or even in" arable fields to enable non,target pollinator inse#ts — su#h as bees and hoverflies
— to thrive in non treated areas.
Agro,#hemi#al #ompanies and #onservationists should work together on this" rather than fearing the
use of #hemi#als and spurning the advan#es of #orporations eager to help.
Rob Yorke is a #hartered surveyor and rural #ommentator
Note - last paragraph corrected by The Times online