As Autumn arrives on our local Arun river the wind whispering in the riverside grasses is telling a story. Ratty from ‘Wind in the Willows’ is hearing it too.
As if suspended in happy reverie, the year is winding down and in the mellow sunshine autumn is colouring the scene once more. Stream-side sedges sway gentle in the breeze. A lone crow passes silently overhead. Apart from the quiet lapping of water, peace reigns here, but we do hear the sound of a plop into the water, Was that Ratty the water vole –messing about in boats? But I think I can hear Ratty saying, as in Kenneth Grahame’s ‘Wind in the Willows’:
Why can’t fellows be allowed to do what they like WHEN they like and AS they like, instead of other fellows sitting on banks and watching them all the time and making remarks and poetry and things about them?
Sorry Ratty—we must try to take you more seriously. You are so rare and precious and we’re so glad that you live here.
Yes, Ratty lives here. The stream that runs through our village eventually widens and flows into the river a few miles downstream. Both the rare water voles and endangered European eels are found here, as a local ecological survey informs us. This is one of only three known water vole colonies in Sussex. The whole Arun valley is a very rich habitat for wildlife.
This valley enfolded with the distant contours of the surrounding downs is a special place. We belong here, as well as Ratty and the eels, Kenneth Grahame’s Mole, the Badger and of course the inimitable Mr Toad! The Wild Wood is here too, full of adventure.
The Arun has a law of its own as it unmistakably reminds us with winter floods. This, despite much dredging and £8M spent on more flood defences. The resulting drowned flood plains create ideal habitat for winter birds, a rare and disappearing treasure these days. The river is tidal up to above Amberley.
But the river is telling stories to those who will listen:
Mole sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.”
What else might we see and hear? In the early morning a grey heron, a kingfisher perhaps. In the late evening a barn owl may be hunting over the meadows, or bats feasting on the riverside insects. According to the survey these are all here. Otters are present in a few Hampshire rivers, we may well see them here one day.
Upstream both the Amberley Wildbrooks and Pulborough Brooks are wonderful for winter water fowl and the Arundel Wetlands centre is popular with visitors and regular school parties. The reed beds here are full of sights and sounds to fascinate any youngster,
Overhead the last migrant birds have been leaving while other winter migrants will soon be arriving. Things are always changing. No wonder Kenneth Grahame’s Ratty was unsettled hearing the swallows discussing travel plans for the migration to Southern Africa. Our local ’Ratty’ may be disturbed by the local eels with their plans, when mature, of setting off to spawn in the Sargasso Sea. Happily, Ratty has decided to ignore the wander-lust of others and stay in the home place he knows best, like his friend Mole, who after a spell of adventure returned:
“eagerly anticipating the moment when he would be at home again among the things he knew and liked, the Mole saw clearly that he was an animal of tilled field and hedgerow, linked to the ploughed furrow, the frequented pasture,…. he must be wise, must keep to the pleasant places in which his lines were laid and which held adventure enough, in their way, to last for a lifetime.”
Sadly, and regrettably, we expect the inevitable. The proposed Arundel A27 bypass will cross directly across this area. We fear for this treasured site! The cost will be £250 M and a new barrier across the flood plain of this wildlife rich habitat, a huge price to pay for so little gain!
But whatever the plans of man the seasons will go on. As autumn arrives the leaves will be colouring and then carpeting the ground. Cameras everywhere are at the ready!
And for a happy ending, I think I hear Ratty:
“… sculling gently homewards in a dreamy mood, murmuring poetry-things over to himself,”
Long may he and his fellow water-voles continue to do so on our river and on an increasing number of others.