Welcome

This site has been created to promote and protect the wildlife and countryside around the village of Bridge in East Kent, England. Much of this locality lies within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We hope you find the site informative and that it inspires you to campaign for the protection of this precious landscape for future generations.

LOCAL VIEWS
simmentals and sussex

simmentals and sussex

Once again we have cattle on the fields of Great Pett Farm. This is a welcome sight for many villagers who enjoy the sight and sounds of them in our countryside. The pale creamy coloured cattle are Simmentals, the breed that were here previously, and the darker mahogany coloured cattle are the Sussex breed. Search for ‘Sussex’ or ‘Simmental’ in the search box on the right to see our previous articles on these breeds. (Picture copyright © BridgeNature.org 2017)
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pruning the Rec. willows

pruning the Rec. willows

Willow trees on the Recreation Ground near Patrixbourne Road have been pruned. Three trees in total will be subject to some major thinning work with the saw. This is for both safety and aesthetic reasons and although the trees look a bit bare as a result, new growth will resume again vigorously in the spring, just as it did thirty years ago when they were pruned before. To see our previous article on these trees click on ‘Read More’ below. (Picture copyright © BridgeNature.org 2017)
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vote on the Revised plan

vote on the Revised plan

A revised plan for a new development of 40 houses on farmland between Bridge Recreation Ground and the A2 has now (5 Nov 2017) been posted to all residents in Bridge. Also presented with the plan is an offer from the landowner to donate the freehold of the recreation ground to the parish if the proposal goes ahead. The parish council has invited villagers to vote for or against the proposal at the village hall on Saturday 25th November. To see the plan and further details, click on ‘Read More’ below. (Picture copyright © BridgeNature.org 2017)
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gove blasts pesticides

gove blasts pesticides

In an exclusive piece for The Guardian (9 Nov 2017), UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove has voiced support for a general ban on the neonicotinoid pesticides which are being blamed for killing off bees and damaging the farmed environment. The UK previously opposed an EU ban; but Mr Gove writes, “with more and more evidence emerging that these pesticides harm bees and other insects, it would be irresponsible not to restrict their use”. Click on ‘Read More’ to see his article. (Picture copyright © BridgeNature.org 2017)
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The value of Natural Capital

Farmland, woodland, animals, clean air and fresh water are assets in what ecologists call our Bank of Natural Capital. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

“It is time to recognize that human capital and natural capital are every bit as important as financial capital.”
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General, United Nations

The term Natural Capital describes planet Earth’s stock of natural assets including geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is not a term with which the general public are particularly familiar, yet it describes something upon which all our futures depend.

From our Natural Capital we obtain the food we eat, the water we drink, medicines, the energy we use to light our homes and keep us warm, the fuel needed to produce our goods and power our transport systems, as well as building and manufacturing materials of all kinds. These are all things that we can see and use; but also provided by Earth’s Natural Capital are things we don’t necessarily see and appreciate, like the ability of forestry to prevent flooding and provide climate control; the carbon absorbing properties of peatland; the pollination of all our crops and wild plants by bees: and let us not forget the vast spectrum of pleasures, inspiration, and health giving activities which we humans gain from our connections with the natural world.

As everyone knows, spending or wasting too much of one’s financial capital can lead to debt or bankruptcy and, in consequence, poor health and even total collapse. The same applies to abusing Natural Capital; it needs to be preserved, used wisely and regenerated wherever possible. In our modern, highly developed world, we are used to seeing industrial projects and commercial enterprises of all kinds valued by their financial cost, but what of their impact on our planet and our nations’ Natural Capital?

The value of Natural Capital, and the cost to us all if it is lost, is something which ecologists are now suggesting should be considered in everything we do, whether it be expanding our cities, building power stations or mass producing cars. The financial aspects of all these things may be relatively easy to calculate, but assessing their cost in Natural Capital is not so easy and, in any case, commerce prefers to see the world through financial accounts not ecological concepts. Inevitably conversions are made into hard cash. Tell an economist that bees are under threat on British farmland and it may mean little; but explain that the value of bee pollination to British crops is £200 million a year and alarm bells start ringing.

Yet, even if they are effective, such cash conversions can be crude, they don’t really measure the true value of our natural assets. We need to learn to value them for themselves. If and when we start to do so, and adjust our priorities accordingly, so that all our human activities are assessed not just in financial capital but also in terms of our Natural Capital, we may find that there are alternatives in all kinds of fields which cost more financially, but use less of our natural resources and turn out to be more cost effective in terms of what really matters to our future.

*This article was inspired by http://naturalcapitalforum.com organisers of the 2017 World Forum on Natural Capital, in Edinburgh. Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisers of the forum.

No picture necessary

‘No hedgehog’ montage by BridgeNature.org 2017. Hedgehog image copyright © FreeStencilGallery.com.

One evening, back in the sultry days of summer, a neighbour phoned to tell me that she had rescued a young hedgehog.

Having apparently tumbled from the verge on Mill Lane it was lying curled up in a ball in the middle of the road when she found it. She picked it up and gave it a few moments to recover, but since it appeared to be somewhat unresponsive, she called a hedgehog rescue centre for advice on what to do. My neighbour was advised to take the hedgehog to a place of safety, provide a dish of cat food and a tray of water and monitor it for 24 hours. If it seemed healthy the next day it should be released back into the wild in close proximity to where it was found.

The following day my neighbour called me again, asking if I wanted to come and see the hedgehog. Perhaps I might like to take a picture, she suggested. In the early evening I went to look, and there, enclosed for its own safety in a small cage, was a young hedgehog, apparently healthy and fully recovered from its ordeal. For a moment or two I contemplated taking a picture, but the hedgehog was shy of me, and wary of the daylight. It hid away in an upturned pot which had been thoughtfully provided to give it shade and some sense of cover. It would not have appreciated being disturbed and distressed for the sake of a photograph.

I thought for a moment. The creature had been rescued from the road, protected and fed. It was about to be released again into the wild. Was a picture really necessary? What would it be for?

Asking the question “What is a photograph of an animal for?” leads us into another important question, “Is the picture for the animal’s benefit, or for our own amusement?”. The act of protecting wildlife is conservation, and my neighbour had accomplished that task admirably. A good picture may inspire us to take an interest in wildlife, but we must always remember photography in itself is not conservation.

And so, later that evening, the hedgehog slipped unnoticed back into the countryside, healthy and anonymous… no picture necessary.

Of signs and scenery

Under orders. A plethora of ugly, bossy signage can create an oppressive atmosphere. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

NO ENTRY, KEEP OFF THE GRASS, TURN LEFT, TURN RIGHT. Whatever a sign says, very often there is another message written large within the words, and it says, “Pay attention to me: I want to tell you what to do”. We see signs all over the place, everywhere we go, in the city and in our rural fields. Even advertising signs for things as unimportant as pop songs and fashion wear pass daily through our countryside on buses and delivery trucks, telling us what we need to buy and imposing themselves upon our scenic vistas. People living in the metropolis may have grown used to signs and accept them as part of daily life in the busy urban hive; but do we really need so many cluttering the countryside and our small villages? What are they all for?

Theme park countryside. The placement of this supposedly educational sign spoils a rural beauty spot and the view of the Little Stour at Littlebourne. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

At their best, signs are necessary and useful: they keep us safe, prevent us from getting lost and guide us on our way. One obvious example might seem to be street name signs, but in fact Japan has managed without them for centuries, so even these aren’t quite as essential as we might assume.

LIVESTOCK LOOSE, PLEASE CLOSE THE GATE, KEEP DOGS ON A LEAD and other such signs in the rural landscape make it clear that we are on a farm: the farmer may rightly deem the signs necessary to protect livestock, but ironically they only become so because of the careless stupidity of an ignorant public who have become so used to signage that they don’t know how to behave on working land unless they see a sign telling them what to do.

With the exception of these types of notices, our working countryside is generally clear of signage litter; our farmers have better things to do than plant signs. But the same cannot be said for our rural roadside verges, parks, recreation grounds and public places, all of which are littered with self-important signage. Many of these signs are poorly considered and simply express a need to be noticed in an individualist orientated, yet alienating modern commercial culture which has no regard for the demure.

We have been informed that CCC have requested the removal of this unauthorised advertising sign in a field on the approach to Bishopsbourne village. It has now been covered. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

British panning law requires that signs above a certain size need planning permission before they can be placed out in the countryside: placement without authorisation is a criminal offence, and thankfully Britain’s farmland is spared the rows of huge roadside advertising hoardings that litter the roadside in various countries on the continent. This is particularly important here in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and our designated Conservation Areas, where the commercial interests of private enterprise should not be allowed to damage rural amenity assets which are of immense value to local communities and the nation as a whole.

The face of a tree

Beech tree, Mill Lane, Bridge. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

If you look closely at this picture of the big old beech tree on Mill Lane, you may be able to see a face. Can you see it? No, I’m not talking about the bit of the trunk that coincidentally resembles the profile of a human face: I mean look really closely, to see and understand the true face and features of a tree.

We live in the countryside, not in a pantomime or a children’s story: the characters which inhabit our landscape are every bit as real as they are in the stories we read as children, in fact more so, but they do not live and work and think in the anthropomorphic (human-like) ways those children’s authors would have us believe.

The fox is not ‘bad’ because he kills chickens, and he is not somehow cruel or wasteful because he will kill all that he sees running round him, in excess of what he can carry away to eat: he simply reacts impulsively to certain movement, much as we do when we swat at a wasp buzzing around us.

Similarly, the cat is not ‘lazy’ because it spends half the day sleeping, it is conserving energy for when it is needed; the magpie is not ‘evil’ because it steals young birds from nests; the badger is not ‘vicious’ because it defends itself from dogs; and sheep are not ‘stupid’ because they don’t understand our motives and stick together in a herd for safety. All of these animals are just being animals, living according to their own make-up and needs.

Trees on the other hand, are seldom judged on their motives, apart from Leylandii, which are generally demonised for their rapid growth (although they are just being trees and it is we who have bred them and planted them in the wrong place). Trees are often loved for their presence, but rarely appreciated for any personality beyond a visual appearance. Yet modern science has discovered that trees really do send messages to each other; they breath, they drink, they reproduce; they play home to millions of other living creatures; they sing and dance in the wind; they travel great distances by cloning themselves with seeds. Yet no one tree is ever exactly the same as another: who could deny that they have personality?

So, when we look at a tree, or any living thing, we must appreciate it for what it is and the character that it has, not some personality imposed on it by folklore, Disney cartoons or children’s stories. If we look really closely at a tree we will see a face, the face of a tree, a formation of features which present the visage of a wonderful living thing, not the eyes, nose and mouth of some imagined human-like persona, which the tree is not.

The treasure in the fields

A detectorist in a field in Bridge this week. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Seeing a detectorist with a metal detector searching for treasure in the middle of a huge field, one might be reminded of Easop’s fable ‘The farmer and his sons’.

Knowing he was about to die, an old farmer summoned his two sons to his bedside and pleaded with them not to sell the farm when he died. He explained that the land had been in their family for generations, there was a great treasure in the fields, and it was waiting to be discovered if only they did the work to look for it.

After the farmer died his sons gathered their tools and began digging all over the land in a quest to find the buried treasure. They did not find it, but their digging had been so thorough that they had prepared the fields for the next growing season. Furthermore, they realised that working on the land had given them a new purpose in life: so they planted seed; and when their crops ripened the following summer, the farm duly offered up its bounty, just as the old man had promised.

This tale was being told, no doubt by elderly farmers to their children, in Ancient Greece 2,500 years ago, but it is astonishing how the concerns and moral values within are still so relevant and so extraordinarily pertinent even to this day.

Messing with a model farm

Farmland at Highland Court Farm is under threat from a new development proposal. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

In recent weeks residents of Bridge and other local villages have learned details of a proposal for a huge new development at Highland Court Farm, which is in Bekesbourne parish, but just across the A2 from Bridge Down and Bishopsbourne. The development is intended to include 300 holiday homes, 150 retirement homes, a business park and innovation centre, a leisure and artisan food and drink hub and new facilities for Canterbury Rugby Club and Canterbury Football Club. On a map all this is even larger than it sounds: it looks like a big new village on our doorstep.

Some voices in Bridge have suggested that this development would be “good for the local economy and businesses”; it would “provide jobs for local people”. While the scheme would presumably offer employment opportunities, it appears to come with its own retail, restaurant and bar facilities, which are so far described only in the most vague terms; but it may be so big and so self-centred that it would take trade from local village businesses and leave us with nothing but a nightmare in traffic, infrastructure and service facility problems to deal with, along with the loss of local green fields. But, even if all the supposed positives are correct in their assumptions, is this kind of development really a good thing for a rural area like ours?

Highland Court Farm lies within its own Conservation Area and the entire development site lies within Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an area designated in 1968 for protection as an agricultural landscape, not just because of its visual appearance, but because of its importance to agriculture, our cultural heritage, the well-being of the British people and the national economy. The land in our AONBs provides outstanding benefits to many aspects of British life including: green space for rural experience, leisure and education for people in our cities; tourism; wildlife habitat; natural resources; and, most importantly of all… farming. In a country of dwindling countryside which no longer has enough farmland to feed itself, AONBs are a vital strategic resource which, once lost, can never be replaced.

The notion that development on fields at Highland Court Farm would be good for the economy might suggest that those fields are just waste ground, waiting to be built over: they are not, this is working land growing crops including apples and plums for our food industry, the largest industry in the UK. This land has a role in the national chain of employment for pickers, packers, drivers and workers of all kinds across the country in food and drink manufacturing (Blackcurrants for Ribena are also grown here). Furthermore, these fields provide green space between our urban developments; they provide a vital wildlife corridor and habitat; and they contribute along with all the other parts of our AONB to an essential land resource which is being constantly reduced by unnecessary development.

In their promotional material the developers say that the farmland here is currently “intensively farmed” and “of poor ecological value and species poor” {We would like to see the evidence which backs this up}: with this development they want to “create an environment that is species rich and that becomes an exemplar of how development can work in harmony with nature”. That would indeed be a worthy ambition in a different, less valuable location, but in one of the most protected landscapes in the United Kingdom, wildlife habitat enhancement would be beneficial, but there is simply no need to bring building development into the equation.

We do not believe an important farming landscape next to a heritage asset on Kent’s protected North Downs would be more valuable to Kent or the United Kingdom if it were converted into a couple of sports complexes, a restaurant and some rows of second homes for rich holidaymakers placed next to an industrial estate. It makes no sense at all, unless we only value our national countryside in terms of the financial profit which can be generated by building over it.

Highland Court Farm achieved a valued heritage status because it was built as a ‘model farm’, an experimental farm which, at the time, practiced the latest methods in early 20th century agricultural efficiency, in combination with an attitude of welfare for workers and best practice in the enhancement of the local countryside environment. If there is to be any restructuring of this farm and its environs, surely it should be as an evolution of this model, in what The Campaign to Protect Rural England call a ‘new model farm’, using modern exemplary farming practice and our new understanding of the current ecological imperatives, to work for the very same ideals and principles as the previous model.

Ironically, the new proposal presented by the developer does include an admirable scheme for varied habitat enhancement for wildlife across the area, and an organic farm: exactly what the CPRE are calling for in the ‘new model farm’. Fabulous! So why not just roll that idea out across the whole landscape and scrap the plan to build anything?

AONB: not just a pretty face

The proposed site for building between the A2 and Bridge Recreation Ground is within our AONB. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Bridge village and much of the land around it is located in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an area designated in 1968 for strict protection as an agricultural landscape. ‘Beauty’ in this sense was intended to describe a working, bio-diverse agricultural landscape, not just a pretty one.

Whenever new housing, commercial building or industrial development is proposed in or around Patrixbourne, Bridge, Bishopsbourne and villages on down towards the coast at Dover, all the relevant authorities check to see whether or not the proposed site lies within our local AONB. If it does, special protections apply. Generally, only agricultural buildings and, under exceptional circumstances, affordable homes for local people should be allowed.

Section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 also confirms a general duty on all local authorities to ‘have regard to the purpose of conserving or enhancing the natural beauty’ of AONBs when coming to any decisions or carrying out activities relating to or affecting land within these areas. Development on any large scale is supposed to be refused out of hand, but sometimes, much to the annoyance of conservationists and many residents, the authorities let it go ahead: this is appalling.

A sketch map of the approximate area of The Kent Downs AONB. Not to scale. Re-use prohibited. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

There are now 46 AONBs in Britain, each of them has the same protection status in law as a National Park. So, what is their value, and why are they worth protecting in this way?

The land in our AONBs provides outstanding benefits to many aspects of British life including:

  1. Farming. Farming is the single most important industry in this country. Not only does it feed us, it produces the raw materials for our food industry, which is the largest industry in the UK. The agri-food industry employs nearly four million people and adds £108 billion in gross added value to the economy (1). In comparison The City of London provides £48.1 billion (2).

  2. Natural resources. While other AONBs provide resources like granite and slate and store water in lakes and rivers, the Kent Downs AONB has historically provided clay for building and chalk for lime, and it stores fresh water deep underground. It is also one of the most wooded AONBs in the country: timber has been grown here and used for agriculture, building and industry since the dawn of civilisation. Farmed bio-fuels are are now targeted as a growth sector to provide fuel for clean energy for homes, schools and businesses. We cannot afford to lose the land on which to grow this new resource.

  3. Rural leisure space. It is now well established that leisure time spent in the countryside, including short breaks, trips to the seaside, walks, dog-walking, horse-riding, mountain biking and all kinds of other outdoor pastimes, provide wonderful and vital relaxation with many health-giving benefits for modern people living busy lives. These are all activities for which our AONBs have been specifically preserved.

  4. Rural educational facilities and experiences. Where do adults and children from our big cities go on school trips to experience the countryside and learn about farming, animals, trees and nature? They go to an AONB or a National Park. How would we ever replace that experience and education if we lost these important areas of protected countryside?

  5. Insights into our cultural history. Have you ever pictured England as a “green and pleasant land” with quaint little country villages, rolling hills, farms, ragged hedgerows, streams winding through lush green meadows, stands of hops growing on poles? These are aspects of our national heritage which our population treasure and millions of tourists come to see; but with massive pressure to build new housing they will be lost forever if we do not preserve them somewhere; where do we do that? In our AONBs and National Parks.

  6. Wildlife habitat. Due to housing development, and the pressure on farmers to produce more and more food, the wildlife of Britain has suffered massive declines in the last few decades: farmland birds have declined by 54% since 1970 (3) and some once familiar birds, like tree sparrows and corn buntings, have experienced population drops of 90% in that time (4). Those birds and other animals that remain need protected countryside in which they can prosper. AONBs and National Parks provide perfect places for wildlife conservation if they are used properly.

  7. Tourism. AONBs and the rural landscapes within them provide a huge attraction for tourists from the UK and abroad: they learn about different British regions and spend money in our local shops, hotels and restaurants. In total across the UK 156 million people visit AONBs annually, and these visitors spend over £2 billion in local businesses (5). The White Cliffs at Dover and the Kent fruit and hop fields of ‘The Garden of England’ are world famous locations, and they lie within our very own AONB.

The proposed site for building at Highland Court Farm is within our AONB. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Our local fields and woodlands are not lying vacant waiting to be built over, they contribute to our national reserve of AONBs and National Parks. These are essential landscape assets, yet they are being constantly reduced by unnecessary development. We must realise that it is in the interests of all of us to protect them for future generations: once lost they can never be replaced. Surely it is not just council officers upon whom the duty to protect this land has been imposed; as the current custodians of the landscape that responsibility falls upon all of us.

References:
(1) www.thomaswestcott.co.uk/news/418-the-importance-of-the-uk-agriculture-sector
(2) Sky News.com
(3) www.rspb.org.uk/Images/State of Nature UK report_ 20 Sept_tcm9-424984.pdf
(4)www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/623748/Wild_bird_populations_in_the_UK_1970-2015.pdf
(5) Landscapes for Life. The Association of AONBs.

Photographs, and cart of hay

The 20th century Hay Wain. To the modern eye this photograph does not have the charm of Constable’s original, but to the high society of his day his picture of ordinary country life was just as unremarkable. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

BridgeNature.org regularly receives praise for the photographs on display; more rarely do we receive vociferous, active support on the issues the website was set up to champion: the protection and conservation of our local landscape and wildlife. This is concerning, because one wonders if the right message is getting across.

This website was not created to exhibit photography for its own sake; it is not a gallery; for to display an art form in that way gives it ascendancy over its subject. Unless the subject is, or somehow becomes celebrated, the picture in a gallery steals the limelight from its model: the artwork achieves its own reality and the subject within is objectified, unrecognised, its very soul is stolen and displaced.

We all know Constable’s painting of ‘The Hay Wain’, it lives on in our minds as one of the most famous rural pictures in the world, and today on the Suffolk-Essex border the scenery there around Willy Lott’s house on the Stour looks pretty much as it did, carefully preserved in trust: but why? Is it for the sake of environmental conservation, to preserve the landscape that the painter so admired? Or is it in order to preserve a semblance of the famous picture? To whom or what do we pay homage?

The Hay Wain is of course a painting not a photograph, but if John Constable had ever owned a camera, he might have been obsessed by the images it could produce. He was passionate about depicting nature with scientific accuracy: he studied trees, he studied clouds, he tried to paint as “the mirror of nature” {Stendhal} to portray the naturalistic charm of the rural landscape in much the same way as many photographers do today; arguably, the very fact that they do so, stems from his vision and initiative. He would, no doubt, have wanted his much loved Suffolk countryside preserved, but, in this respect, what have paintings like the The Hay Wain actually achieved?

In contrast to the adoration they receive today, Constable’s rustic scenes were not so highly admired by the English academics of his age and even the French Romantic Realist writer Standhal, who praised his style, went on to lament the fact that Constable chose to paint ordinary rural landscapes rather than the dreamy retrospective classical vistas of Arcadia which were the fashion of the day. The muddy, smelly agricultural landscape of England was taken for granted, unworthy of recording on a canvas; why on earth would it need to be conserved? Despite a plethora of worthy art and argument that attitude has persisted even to this day, and, in consequence, a wealth of the charming and invaluable working countryside of Constable’s age is now severely and irrevocably diminished.

In retrospect we might suggest that paintings like The Hay Wain have engendered the very notion of an ‘English countryside’ within the modern mind, inspiring generations of admirers, painters and photographers to appreciate it and try to capture it in art: but therein lies a deception; capturing an image of something does not preserve it in any real sense, it merely creates an impression of it and perpetuates the idea of its existence. Ironically, many of our old landscape paintings and photographs have proved more permanent than the landscape they sought to represent.

If Constable’s paintings, and all the photographs of our landscape that have followed down the decades since, have inspired a national mood of countryside awareness and conservation, we have to ask: why has the wider English landscape not been preserved with the same meticulous attention as has the scene there on the Stour at Willy Lott’s house? Are our artworks more important than our land?

Today we look upon Constable’s paintings as photographs of a Paradise lost: he gave us beautifully crafted ‘snapshots’ of his English countryside idyll, and in preserving them we try to deceive ourselves that we have preserved it all. We have not, and sadly we continue to let it melt away.

The most important flower

A Common Ivy flower cluster growing at The Butts, Bridge. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

If we were to try to consider which one of our native flowers was the most important, which would it be? It’s an impossible question to answer, because we would have to ask: most important for what, and for whom? The rose, with so much history attached to its symbolism, might be considered our most important flower culturally; yet the daisy family Asteraceae is by far the most significant numerically, with over 22,000 species in the clan; and what of the flowering trees, where would we be without them? But ask an apiologist which is our most important flower, and the answer may surprise you; for this ‘one who studies bees’ might say with some certainty that it is the flower of the Common Ivy.

Bees thrive in summer, gathering nectar from flowers of all kinds and incidentally taking with them pollen from the male anther of one flower to the female stigma of another in the process of pollination which, in turn, allows fertilisation for the reproduction of our plants. In this respect, bumblebees, honey bees, butterflies, hover flies and many other insects do an immensely important job in our countryside: every year, simply by going from flower to flower in search of nectar (their primary food) they cause nearly all of our plants, most of our trees and most of our crops to produce seeds for next year. But what happens in mid-September and October when all the pretty summer flowers have died?

A wild bee on a Common Ivy flower cluster, Mill Lane, Bridge. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Common Ivy blooms later in the year than most other plants, so it is virtually the only source of autumn nectar for bees and other insects. And what a good source of nourishment it is: Ivy grows everywhere and its flowers, which are tiny, yellow-green, and grow in spherical clusters, are laden with a rich nectar with a very high sugar content: the main ingredient these insects need. Some scientists have suggested that, without a final feed up on Ivy, most of our bees and many of our insects simply could not survive from late summer through to the next spring; and with no bees to pollinate the plants in spring, our environment would face devastation.

Common Ivy is often regarded as a garden nuisance: no one buys it for its blooms; few people even realise that it bears flowers, and certainly no one puts them on show in a vase. But this unassuming little bloom, which forms the flower-balls of the Common Ivy, just might be our countryside’s most important flower of all.

Nothing much to see

Pett Valley View. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Nothing much to see

Up on The Butts
one morning in mid-September
and what is there to see?

Nothing much
but the sun
and the waning visage of last night’s moon
a fleet of white cumuli drifting across the blue
and the shadows of them racing
like spectres over stubble fields
of corduroy and tweed

At the hedgerow
an audience of animated trees
jostles in the wind
applauding a restless sea of golden grass
that glistens and shimmers in the sunlight
as it rolls in wave on wave
towards a continent
of purple flowered marjoram

There on the distant hill
the Mansfield orchards
pattern the slope
with neat little rows of apricot
apple and plum
and the ancient trees of Whitehill Wood
define the far horizon

In the valley
a working party of rooks
has landed on the stubble
to glean spilled grain from the mud
and above them a buzzard
circles
watching their every move

Up here in the tall grass
at the style
a bank vole nibbles at a sloe
and a few heads of oxeye daisy
turn their faces to the sun
as if refuting the end of summer

No
there’s nothing much to see here
nothing much to see here at all.

*All content on this website is © Copyright Mike Burns-Stark 2017
for BridgeNature.org. All rights reserved.