Wild thing

Winging it in wildlife iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and los­ing it with a gar­den pest

EDP Norfolk - - County Crossword - Rowan Man­tell rowan.man­[email protected]

It’s been wild, the past month. Not Prince of Wales Road on a Satur­day night wild. Not even Ibiza at the Blick­ling Proms wild. But find­ing out the dif­fer­ence be­tween a beech and a birch, a hawthorn and a black­thorn, wild. Yes, that wild.

I’ve been do­ing 30 Days Wild. It’s all about try­ing some­thing wild every day for a month (again, more giv­ing-it-a-go than liv­ing-it-large wild.)

The con­cept is from the Wildlife Trusts but it’s not about hav­ing to start every day at dawn on a Nor­folk Wildlife Trust re­serve, lis­ten­ing for the boom of a bit­tern or watch­ing for a swal­low­tail butterfly; or spending the month for­ag­ing for food and camp­ing out un­der the stars – de­light­ful as parts of this (the parts which don’t in­volve eat­ing net­tles and shar­ing a bed with in­sects and rain­wa­ter) might be.

‘That is a step too far for me, es­pe­cially while it’s so dodgy to walk on the gravel.’

As with all the chal­lenges I set my­self, rules can be al­tered, bent and back­dated. In the likely-as-Helles­don-freez­ing-over and Fram­ling­ham Pigot-fly­ing sce­nario of me at­tempt­ing a round-the-world challenge of any sort, I’d be the one declar­ing that Nor­folk is the cen­tre of the world and there­fore a cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the county is an ac­cept­able al­ter­na­tive.

The idea, I think, of 30 Days Wild is to take more no­tice of the wild stuff around us, and there­fore ap­pre­ci­ate it more and be more will­ing to look after it. This morn­ing two goldfinche­s flew from a gar­den tree as I cy­cled to work. The golden glow of see­ing the glit­ter of their wings was al­most matched by the glow of be­ing fairly sure they ac­tu­ally were goldfinche­s and I’d man­aged to do some proper grown-up wildlife iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Some days sim­ply see­ing things in my sub­ur­ban gar­den has counted to­wards 30 Days Wild, although the cat (or dog or fox or black-shuck-like-dev­ilan­i­mal) do­ing its dis­gust­ing busi­ness on the gravel drive is driv­ing me the wrong type of wild. A more ded­i­cated nat­u­ral­ist would learn about iden­ti­fy­ing an­i­mals by their drop­pings but that is a step too far for me, es­pe­cially while it’s so dodgy to walk on the gravel.

So I spot wild flow­ers and pretty sun­sets. I’ve been put in charge of teach­ing my two-yearold grand­daugh­ter the names of wild plants and an­i­mals and fig­ure that as she can iden­tify every one of her mul­ti­tude of tiny plas­tic Dis­ney princes and princesses, she can tell a for­getme-not from a fox­glove.

She’s taken this nam­ing things to heart and after a re­cent hol­i­day, ar­rived home with the news that the sea in Barcelona i s salty, the sand tastes of choco­late and the word for ‘cat’ in Span­ish is ‘flip-flop’. Wild. And wildly in­ac­cu­rate.

Back from the beach to the beech and birch, and I can re­veal that birches have sil­very bark and catkins, and it is vi­tal to re­mem­ber the po­si­tion of any black­thorns you find – be­cause they are es­sen­tial to the pro­duc­tion of sloe gin.

I’m def­i­nitely get­ting the hang of ap­pre­ci­at­ing the won­ders of na­ture, apart from the flip’flop threat­en­ing any cat on my gravel.

ABOVE: Bird­watch­ing gold - a goldfinch

BE­LOW: Fox­gloves

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