Cel­e­brat­ing the fa­mil­iar

Win­ter­time de­liv­ers a rich­ness of wildlife that we shouldn’t over­look, says the Nor­folk Wildlife Trust’s wildlife evan­ge­list, NICK ACH­E­SON

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

The won­ders of na­ture on our doorstep

IN THE strip of win­ter-worn grass at the field’s edge a Fabergé pheas­ant crouches, his round back enam­elled in the low light of De­cem­ber. A pheas­ant: or­di­nary ex­traor­di­nary. Any walk in the coun­try­side in Nor­folk, any drive along our lanes, will see many pheas­ants. So many we do not look; we do not think. To­day I look; I think.

The look of this thing at my feet is spec­tac­u­lar: his crown the green of bull kelp beds, his face a holly berry red, a vel­vet vi­o­let tear be­neath his eye, the black-meshed cop­per of his breast and back fad­ing to the blue of a sum­mer dawn upon his rump. Spec­tac­u­lar. This is an Asian beauty in this Nor­folk field, therein a sec­ond strand of ex­traor­di­nary. How pheas­ants reached the UK is a mat­ter of con­jec­ture. Their nat­u­ral range reaches east from the Cau­ca­sus to Manchuria and north­ern Korea. Many believe they came to our is­land with the Ro­mans. Cer­tainly they ex­ist in our his­tor­i­cal record prior to the blood­ied ar­rival of the Nor­mans. Since then they have been a favourite food and a favourite bird of Bri­tons. Or­di­nary and at once ex­traor­di­nary.

The pheas­ant springs up at my too-close ap­proach through the grass and scut­tles away, his barred tail aloft, his back a star­tled ram­rod. Re­main­ing in the field, where sheep chew the leath­ern leaves of beet, are wood­pi­geons, hun­dreds. These came here by their own agency, no doubt re­colonis­ing from the warmer south as soon as woods moved back to what we now call Bri­tain when the ice with­drew. They have lived with us here for thou­sands of years and, like the pheas­ant, we pay them no at­ten­tion. I stop to look.

Each has a field of fur­rows at its neck, as the mud will when the beet is lifted. The feath­ers on this fur­rowed neck are bur­nished; not the solid satin green of the pheas­ant’s head but a frost of green like the hoar which glis­tens on the sugar beet this win­ter morn­ing. Below, each pi­geon’s neck bears a snow­drift, star­tling even in this Ad­vent gloom, which melts on to the breast in a mulled wine stain of pur­ple. Each pi­geon’s eye is a bead of cit­rine glass, its pink beak warm­ing to an am­ber tip. It is a bird of bold beauty. Or­di­nary ex­traor­di­nary.

In the many ar­ti­cles I write for Nor­folk Wildlife Trust, “rare”, “spe­cial­ist” and “unique” are words I use of­ten. Many of the wildlife habi­tats we have in Nor­folk are in­deed rare, their species spe­cial­ists; they may in­deed in some cases be found nowhere else in the UK or even the world. Dur­ing the course of a year I spend hun­dreds of thou­sands of words on bit­terns, spiked speed­well, milk pars­ley, stone curlews, cranes, ot­ters and pro­lif­er­ous pink. It is right that I should do so, that we should keep these rare species and their pre­cious habi­tats at the fore­front of our me­dia cam­paigns. With­out the work of con­ser­va­tion­ists to pre­serve them, such rare be­ings would be lost.

Fewer words are spent how­ever, on the com­mon­place crea­tures, the or­di­nary and ev­ery­day, each of which is in its way ex­traor­di­nary. Imag­ine, as an adult, gaz­ing on a mal­lard drake for the first time, or a goldfinch, or blue tit. These are birds of daz­zling beauty, to ri­val any sun­bird or man­akin of the trop­i­cal forests. Imag­ine, never hav­ing seen one, catch­ing sight of a spring field of dan­de­lions or creep­ing but­ter­cups, blaz­ing gold on a bright spring day. Imag­ine a rail­way’s bank, star­tling ma­genta with the blooms of rose­bay wil­lowherb, if you had never be­fore wit­nessed such a thing.

As an­other year spent with wildlife ends, I give thanks for the com­mon­place. For the rab­bits which bound from me as I walk the hedge, the black­birds which flute the sum­mer through from rooftops in my street, the cow pars­ley which makes May’s verges blousy, for the worms which churn the black river-val­ley soil of my north Nor­folk gar­den. It is for them that I am a nat­u­ral­ist. It is for them, whether I no­tice it or not, that I get up each day ex­cited by the wild. It is for them that I am com­mit­ted to con­ser­va­tion. It is for them, I hope, that my small words speak.

As a year of rab­bits, cow pars­ley, wil­lowherb and fine pheas­ants ends, I wish you the same in the one to come. May yours be a life in the com­pany of wild things, the or­di­nary ex­traor­di­nary.

Goldfinch at Hard­ley Marshes

A mal­lard at Wrox­ham en­joy­ing the wa­ter

Pheas­ant at Lud­ham

Wood­pi­geon on the Nor­folk Coast Path signpost be­tween Wells and Stiffkey

Cow pars­ley at Wolter­ton

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