Strokes of Havoc …
An evening walk takes me past gloriously uncut verges of ox-eye daisies, buzz and insects – but this is a perilous joy. Just as nature is at its most vibrant, productive and protective (of bees, butterflies, the unnamed, sustaining bugs, nestlings, voles, and even leverets, hedge hoglets and fawns) so many of us feel the need to cut it down and tidy it away.
Occasionally, it is necessary or desirable, if you are that sort of person – and perhaps, if you are, you provide a home for nature elsewhere and really, I’ve no beef with you; we all need a ‘mosaic’ of habitats. But, here we go: a little open, sloping wood, that yesterday was full of birds’ nests in thigh-high bramble, with insects (and evening moths) all over tall, soft, pink and white campion and the frothy surf of cow parsley, with adders under unfurling bracken (a remnant population – you can see why) is wrecked. This is one of the few places I still see hedgehogs. A petrol strimmer, tractor and flail has gone (with difficulty, I imagine) all over it. There is just a grim, mashed mulch of vegetation and shattered, uprooted old stumps under the trees and earth scraped bare.
Silver-washed fritillaries should’ve emerged any day and the spotted flycatchers (that came from Africa, over Maltese guns) have lost their food source. It makes no sense. Did it provide work? Or look, to someone, untidy?
I would quote the poets at you: ‘if we but knew what we do, when we delve and hew, hack and rack the growing green … Strokes of havoc unselve the sweet, especial rural scene’. But Hopkins wrote that in 1879 and we do know what we do. We know damn well what we do.
I walk through woods and wade through nettles until the light is almost gone. Then I sit on the down and hug my knees in despair. Above me, a grey lozenge moves: a big brock badger is out. I sink down to watch his approach. His silvery body blends into the chalky grasses, but his face is a bright-striped, disembodied shield, flashing towards me. He is absorbed in rootling earthworms and I commando-crawl closer. He disappears in a patch of nettles and I think he is gone to ground when I see a tall nettle waggle wildly like a dog’s tail when you’ve just got in. I am just feet away. His dished face appears in profile as he pulls and stretches a worm until it pings out of the soil like an elastic band, spraying me with crumbs of earth.
He trots over the ridge, into the night sky. I get up stiffly, my hand pricked with thistles, to start the long walk home in the dark, avoiding the desolate wood, my heart altogether lighter. See? What nature does?