With the weather front named ’Ciara’ forecast to hit, I was determined to walk my woods today. As a countryman, shooting conservationist and wildlife lover my affinity with trees is immense. Not just because of the photosynthesis which sustains life on earth. Trees are far more than just oxygen generators. Adult oak, chestnut, beech, sycamore, willow, elm, yew and pine all create individual wildlife havens. From seedling, through sapling to maturity they offer sustenance and sanctuary. Bark harbours invertebrate life which feeds the tree-creeper and myriad other small birds. Their autumn fruits feed squirrel, jay, woodpigeon and me. Cracks, crevices, hollows, and holes on the trunks give a home to rodent and raptor, songbird and bat. The tangles of parasitic ivy provide roosts, all year round, for the woodpigeon. A bird that has become my most reliable supply of wild meat since the demise of the rabbit. In full leaf, the boughs provide platforms for bird nests and squirrel dreys. The wide parasols of the gargantuan beeches give me shelter from the searing sun or the summer storm. The gnarled old yews, with their waxy evergreen canopy, protect me from the batter of hail or sleet-shower. Even in death, many trees stand long enough to give a home to woodpecker or coal-tit.
Today, with the February die-back at its peak, the skeletal vulnerability of the wood was evident. Those readers who follow me on Twitter will have seen a short video I posted (something I rarely do). There are a few occasions when I can stand on my shooting permission and experience complete, utter silence. Even half-an-hour before a summer thunderstorm, you know the skies are darkening and can hear distant rumbles. Similarly, shortly before a blizzard, the wood will go quiet but the sky is so grey that the portents are obvious. This morning, in dull sunshine and not even a whisper of a breeze, the quietness was eerie. Every living thing seemed to have hidden, well in advance of the predicted arrival of Ciara. On the way back to my motor, after two hours walking, I put up a brown hare as I passed a large oak. As it bolted away, I moved in to study its ‘form’, its chosen bed. It had been huddled between the roots of a wide oak, on the eastern side, below the lip of the escarpment. The perfect spot to ride out the storm moving in from the west. I felt guilty and hoped the hare would return to this spot.
The final stop I made was to touch and photograph one of my favourite giants. This massive beech was probably seeded while Queen Victoria was a child. It has already survived the loss of a vast lower limb. It has roots that resemble huge talons gripping the earth tightly. Once again, along with its brethren, it will brace and bend in the face of tonight’s onslaught. I determined to be out here tomorrow to check how my friends, the trees, had fared.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, February 2020