Wildlife secrets are waiting to be revealed in this meadow gateway. It was built many years ago for the convenience of the farmer, but was it?
The ‘hedge people’
‘The thrush is of quite a different opinion, so is the rabbit, also all the ‘hedge people’, down to the owl and the bat in the evening; they are equally persuaded that the gateway was constructed for them….while the carter merely drives his horses through and is scarce a minute passing; sometimes weeks go by and no human being comes near, they (the hedge people) are continually there and always using it. The gateway is, therefore theirs.’From ‘The Meadow Gateway’ – In ‘Chronicles of the Hedges’ by Richard Jefferies.
Wildlife Secrets revealed
Any gateway into a field is an irresistible invitation to pause for a while and watch for signs of wildlife. We are inquisitive people. Spending a few moments of stillness in our meadow gateway we will soon catch a sense of another world. One that has no time-tables, but just day and night and the changing seasons. No cart or wagon has passed here for months, but always there are the ever-active to-ings and fro-ings of the ‘hedge people’. This is their busy thoroughfare.
Some creatures pause in passing to perch on the topmost bar of the gate, the thrush to rest after smashing a snail shell in the road surface, a blackbird to dry off after a splash in the nearby ditch water. Later a stiff, over-dressed pheasant in its fine plumage may strut through followed by more diffident rabbits, field voles and other small creatures all joining in the traffic.
In spring this will be a busy thoroughfare for birds in the nesting season. In summer the swallows swoop low over the field and out through the gateway. Someone who lives in this hole will be passing through too!
As if to prove who ‘owns this gateway’, in the morning after a wet day or night, Richard Jefferies notices that there will be telltale footprints in the wet mud. Perhaps there will be the pungent smell of fox scat and rabbit droppings. Even more conclusively, in the morning after the winter snows, the tracks of rabbits and other creature are clearly seen passing though. The give-away evidence is everywhere. Everything is making use of this gateway, while the farmer and his workers are nowhere to be seen!
The wildlife cameraman has to sit still, listening and watching for hours, if not days. But he will see things that we never do. A night infra red camera will reveal the ‘night shift’ of the ‘hedge people’. The cast of hidden characters may include the cry of a vixen, the snuffling of a hedgehog, numerous rustlings in the long grass, the call of a tawny owl in the wood and perhaps a badger. A moth trap would reveal another cast of some of our 400 types of moth, most of which are rarely seen. A bat detector would be another wonderful modern piece of forensic equipment. What would Jefferies have made of that!
In the bonanza of acorn, hazel nut and hawthorn ‘haw’ season everything visits our meadow gateway. The rooks and crows, looking for acorns, walk around purposefully as if they owned the place. Squirrels furtively dart about gathering their share to hoard. Shy jays, whose shrieks in the branches give their presence away, arrive late to the feast. Last in the ‘pecking order’, timid mice will appear, anxious to have some leftovers. When all the acorns are gone, hopefully a few, buried by the squirrels and jays, will be forgotten, to grow on into oak trees.
In the small space of this meadow gateway is a whole ecosystem. All of nature is here if only we look and do some detective work.
Some years ago in a 30 year study of her small suburban garden in Leicester, Jennifer Owen found over 3000 different species of plants, animals and insects. What wildlife secrets might a thorough survey reveal in my own garden, I wonder? I’m sure I would be surprised, as I was in a recent post Under the Garden Gate .
Join me next time – ‘Autumn in Scotland’.