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Walk on the Wild Side: the countryside code

We are very lucky in Forncett and the surrounding villages at this time of lockdown – we have so many quiet lanes and a network of footpaths to enjoy when we get out for our period of exercise. The lanes and roads are even quieter than usual now, making walking and cycling a real pleasure, with bright sun and the fresh green of new leaves to raise our spirits at a challenging time. It is the height of the bird breeding season and we can hear them everywhere, males warning each other off their patch. May is a good month to get up early for the dawn chorus – it’s a magical time of the day and the blast of song is so memorable. Birds that winter far away are arriving back and adding their voices to the mix – I’ve heard chiffchaffs and white throats. Will we get any cuckoos this year?

Nature goes on. And she needs our help more than ever. With so many more of us making use of footpaths one way we can help is to remember that birds can be frightened off their nests just by the sight of a dog – a natural predator – even if it is on a lead. This constant disturbance makes their nest sites more obvious to magpies, crows, jays and woodpeckers that can then eat the eggs and chicks. Many birds nest in arable and hay fields – skylarks, pheasants and partridge – or in the base of hedges like yellow hammers. Dogs running off the lead disturb these well hidden nests and help other predators find them. Please stick to the footpaths; field margins are there for wildlife and are not a right of way. We all know the constant plea to dispose of dog waste responsibly and yet how many of us have a walk spoilt by discarded plastic bags of dog poo thrown in the hedge or by a carelessly dropped crisp packet? I know of at least one permissive path near me which has closed in part due to irresponsible members of the public. If you were a landowner busting a gut to give nature a chance and had a permissive path on your land wouldn’t you think of closing it? Landowners can help too of course, by making sure public rights of way are clearly marked and kept open, so that we don’t blunder about when crossing fields with crops or livestock and near farm buildings.

Local path closed to the public.Photo A Rae.smLocal permissive path now closed to the public. Photo: A Rae

 We really need nature at the moment – the beauty, peace and sense of continuity which the natural world gives us in bucketfuls. She really needs us to treat the countryside with the same care, respect and love we feel for our families, friends and all the key workers at this critical time. Swallows will be returning any day with their cheerful chatter – a sign of good things to come for all who depend on the turning of the Earth.

April 2020

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