Bright warm October days like today lend themselves perfectly to a late afternoon stroll. At this time of year the mix of low sunlight and the gently ambering foliage create a magical golden hue. The rustic browns of seed-heads and drying grasses are suddenly re-injected with life as the sun highlights hidden tones and projects their remarkable beauty as shadows on the ground. It’s a great time of year to see wildlife too with inbound and outbound migration of birds, mammals gathering and stockpiling seeds, nuts and berries. With a whiff of the impending winter gathering on that, slightly cooler breeze there is a mad scramble to feed and prepare for what is to come.
With my local edgeland just a three minute walk away, I couldn’t resist the temptation this evening and I was duly rewarded. Edgelands are a peculiar thing. The no-man’s lands between the truly urban and the truly rural that often appear empty of nature and life, littered with rubble and rubbish, the rudimentary railway line, empty, arable fields or flat mundane pasture. I’ve known my patch since I was very young but not in the way I know it or am beginning to know it now. I’m guilty of neglecting it, for years seeing it only as ‘just fields’ but my eyes in recent weeks have been opened. ‘Just fields’ it ain’t. It’s full of life.
Today having crossed the graffiti strewn bridge over the railway that separates my edgeland from suburbia and entered the second field via a rickety wooden style after only a matter of minutes (and with the aid of my binoculars) I spotted beyond the hedge a fox. A gloriously crimson red-coated fox, a picture of health and resplendent in golden sunlight. Scanning the bramble and hawthorn hedge line intently from the top of a small rise and following it down to the damp, boggy corner nearest me for any small mammal movement. Behind, a second fox followed before diving into a thicket of hedge and re-emerging to meet it’s mate in the same sunken corner and then gone, out of sight. I stood for a while, waiting with binoculars glued to my face but they didn’t reappear and so I reluctantly moved on. This fleeting glimpse was enough to rouse me from my usual Sunday blues mood and add a little extra spring to my step. I hadn’t seen a fox on this patch for a long time but like buses, two came along at once.
Heading towards the canal through un-grazed pasture the bare earth of the farmland on the other side of the hedge to my right plays host to a mix of crows, jackdaws and rooks. I’m particularly keen on the corvids, passing overhead their raucous calls the theme tune to every rural walk. A tree above the hedge line on the opposite side of the field to my left provides a perch for a juvenile buzzard suddenly the victim of an attack from it’s sibling. A brief squabble and they both take flight towards a small patch of woodland hugging the fields edge. In the distance the high pitched ‘kee’ of an adult, maybe a parent bird resonates around the open pasture land. I gaze skywards for the tell tell soaring on autumn thermals but I can’t find anything in flight within my binocular reach. The soft down of rabbit fur litters the field path telling me that buzzards here, as elsewhere are common now.
Over the locks and a waiting barge I ignore the tow-path and instead climb a fence and way-marker into another field of pasture. Towards the bottom of the field the river Sence flows and this is my next vantage point. On the wooden railway sleeper bridge I stop to take in the landscape. Ahead of me beyond a large freshly ploughed field are the sewage works surrounded by a small nature trail through scrub and young woodland but the sun is lowering and instead of advancing further I make this the end point of this evenings short walk. I can hear the chatter of finches all around making the most of the seed provided by cow parsley and thistle but it is a flickering and fluttering in a scruffy willow upstream that attracts my attention. A willow warbler. It’s heavily lemon-yellow blushed chest tells me this is a late Autumn juvenile. I stand for a while watching it flit up, down and around between branches manically hoovering up insects, getting it’s fill ready for a 5000 mile long migration south to Africa. A remarkable journey and an incredible feat of endurance for such a small bird weighing roughly the same as a box of matches. In previous years the willow warblers would have already begun their journeys but a very mild September seems to have delayed this one slightly.
I turn my attention back to the river. Knats dance like faeries in the last of the sunlight above the flow of the water, a sudden drop in temperature will put paid to any dancing in the coming weeks no doubt but for now they provide an otherworldly spectacle in the half-light with the gentle soundtrack of trickling water. This stretch of the Sence is wildly overgrown with willow, reed and bramble and you could be forgiven for thinking it looks a little scruffy but in this light and in such quiet it is nothing short of beautiful. A morehen scuttling from the undergrowth, taking to the water downstream clucks in agreement. Any notion of ’empty, lifeless edgeland’ is washed away now.
Below my feat, another world exist. An aquatic world. The waters have been made murky by yesterdays heavy rain but I can just make out the movement of an invadeer. A Signal Crayfish. For some reason I didn’t think these waters had it in them to sustain much in the way of extraordinary life, clearly I was wrong. Unfortunately though, fascinating as it is, the Signal Crayfish heralds doom for our native white-clawed variety. The disease it carries has wiped out large swathes of our native population, though I’m aware (after a bit of research) that small pockets can still be found on the Sence and Soar. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled.
The light fades and I decide to turn back on myself and head for home and a cup of tea. I’m filled with a sense of wonder, excitement. In this single hour I’ve seen an array of life I though I’d have to spend days, weeks looking for. A pheasant calls goodbye as I cross the locks and send rabbits scuttling for the hedgerows.
When I reach the railway bridge, the trodden beer cans, discarded carrier bags and bright lights of civilisation I don’t feel quite as blue this Sunday evening. It’s hard to put into words what I feel about this edgeland on a day like today. Pride I think. Enough pride to inspire the writing of this blog post.
My advice for this week? Find your edgeland and look beyond the ordinary. You might just find a hidden gem.