It’s a living landscape which thrills Norfolk Wildlife Trust evangelist Nick Acheson
With eloquent evangelist Nick Acheson
Isaw a miracle today; a miracle in Breckland. I stood by a quiet road, flanked by dark blocks of conifers, and, as the winter sun began to warm the Februaryfrigid air, the sky was filled with taloned folk.
Most here were buzzards, brown and bulky, broad wings raised, swaying like novice cyclists as they threw their lazy loops across the sky above my head. The buzzards’ breasts and underwings were varied, some cocoa-dusted and some whitely rimed, each bird bearing a feathered fingerprint.
In the distance, approaching, a sparrowhawk. Far smaller, with a long, sharp-cornered tail, he tore along a dotted line made by the beating of his wings.
The buzzards in their swirl ignored him. He, though, circled with them twice, gaining height, and flapped off on some chaffinch-slaying errand. Moments later, his space in the stack of hawks was taken by a kite, and then another, these two great droop-winged birds tilting their foxy tails in the warming air.
Fifty years ago this would have been a miracle indeed. Fifty years ago there were no buzzards left in Norfolk. Nor were there any kites, though they had once been common. Sparrowhawks were just beginning to recover 50 years ago, having also disappeared from Norfolk; in their case thanks to the lethal effects of nowbanned pesticides.
That’s why these hawks above
“If you’d have told my schoolboy self that, in my lifetime, peregrines would be a common sight in Norfolk, I would have laughed”
my head today were such a joy. That’s why their presence in the Brecks, and everywhere in Norfolk, thrills me, gives me hope for nature and its recovery. They’re back, these wild people of the sky, they’re here again and welcome.
Peregrines have nested now for several years on Norwich Cathedral. Last year they bred on Cromer Church too, and other pairs are dotted round the county. If you’d have told my schoolboy self that, in my lifetime, peregrines would be a common sight in Norfolk, that several pairs would nest here, that I would see them over my house from time to time, I would have laughed.
I never saw a peregrine in my Norfolk childhood. I saw my first peregrine, aged 20, on the
Oxfordshire Downs while I was away at university. I never saw an otter or a badger in my childhood either. They too were almost nonexistent here.
My first otters were on Fetlar, when a university friend and I spent the summer holidays volunteering for the RSPB. My first badger ran across the road one dusk in Wytham Woods, also in Oxford.
Both animals have since re-established themselves in Norfolk. Last year I watched badgers at their sett in midNorfolk, pinching myself that these gorgeous creatures could again be seen here.
I saw Norfolk otters several times last year too, and could easily have seen many more had I gone to look for them. There are otters back in every Norfolk river. Where they belong.
All this shows what is possible, what we are capable of achieving, when we put aside prejudice and choose to live harmoniously with the natural world. The task ahead is massive – objectively the 20th century was a disaster for wildlife in the British countryside – but at Norfolk Wildlife Trust we believe in wonderful things and in acting to bring them about.
We believe in what, with our partners at The Wildlife Trusts, we call a Nature Recovery Network: a UK-wide regeneration of wildlife habitat, allowing wild species and wild to flourish right across a biodiverse landscape. We believe in connecting areas of habitat, in restoring lost habitat, in creating new habitat.
We believe the wild belongs beside us everywhere in Norfolk, including in our hearts. We’re hugely grateful for more than 90 years of support from the people of Norfolk.
We’re thankful to our members, our donors, our partners and our colleagues. We’re excited for the future and we look forward to your support for years to come. Together we must keep kites, buzzards and sparrowhawks in our skies, otters in our rivers and badgers in our quiet woods, and together we must secure a vibrant future for wildlife everywhere across our beautiful county.
ABOVE: Thetford Forest LEFT: Common Buzzard Buteo buteo FROM LEFT: An adult sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus in an urban garden. The bird is standing on a collared dove that it has just killed Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus