A Rookery, Displaced


The loss of any wildlife habitat will cast a shadow over my heart yet, in truth, there are times when we have to accept that humans need both progress and profit. Lest we forget, man creates and tears down wildlife habitat continually with no real adverse effect. We call it farming. The sown crop, the ripe crop and the stubble provide three different habitats over a short period of time. They will be home or sustenance to a range of creatures as the crop develops and is harvested. We are used to seeing this and so it doesn’t concern us unduly. Occasionally though, you spot something that will make you stop in your tracks and question the sanity of what you see.

There is a four mile circular walk near the village of Ringland, outside Norwich, which we sometimes use to run the lurcher. The wife and I hadn’t walked this circuit since Christmas and I set off with my camera and some vigour in my step on this chilly Good Friday. Out on the deep plough around the Old Rectory, dozens of rooks foraged for worms and leather-jackets. Along the hedge lined track, house sparrows trilled in the blackthorns and chaffinches darted across in pairs. The mating season is at full height and a magpie flushed up from the floor in front of the dog carrying a twig in its beak. I watched it bob across the flood meadows lining the River Wensum and alight in a willow by the river. The nest was nearly complete without a leaf yet on show.

We followed the path, scouring the reed beds lining the snaking Wensum for barn owls, which we often see here. Coal tits protested our presence as we passed and green, yellow flash of greenfinch plumage drew my mind to the football match I was looking forward to later. The Canaries would be away at The Seagulls. Suddenly my wife stopped and recalled the lurcher. Her hearing being much better than mine, she had heard an engine. We stepped out from the tunnel of blackthorn and ivy to be met by a tragic sight. The one acre copse we expected to pass had been levelled. The landscape was a pile of chain-sawed boles stacked like pick-a-sticks. In the middle was a JCB and a chain drag, hauling the trunks clear for collection. Ash and elm and alder lay side by side. It wasn’t the felling of a wood, though, that had shocked us. We live in a highly forested area and we appreciate that this, too, is a crop. It was the felling of the rookery that had left us with open mouths. I looked further on to the half-acre copse on the left of the path, the second half of the rookery. That too had been felled. An angry feeling built within me as all I could see was pure vandalism and I needed to know why this had happened. The rookery has been established in these trees for a generation. Why fell the trees during nesting time? I was puzzled, too … as the rooks were still out there on the fields.

We walked on, trying to enjoy the scenery yet both sad at the loss. We crossed a cattle meadow and emerged onto open fields to take the path back to the X-Trail. Looking to my right, I saw a sight that brought a huge grin. On the end of a wooded slope, overlooking the river, was a brand new rookery. At the peak of the hill stood a huge stack of timber. We stood there for a while, watching the rooks commuting between plough land and wood. Another couple passed us and I asked if they were local? They were. I asked them what they knew about the tree-felling and they assured me that the arborists had started before nesting time and the birds had abandoned the copses before the trees came down. On the downhill trek to the car I reflected on the folly of my earlier ire. I am a hunter and more than many, should understand that someone depends on that crop. Rooks are a resilient species and looked as though they were thriving in their new home. My attention turned next to the yellowhammers singing on the hedgerow. Then to the new spring bean shoots to my left and a horde of raiding woodpigeons. I saw the ivy-strangled pit in the midst of the field and thought “Now that looks a good spot to stand a net!”

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Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, April 2015

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