Thursday, 24 May 2012

Is it summer yet?

This is always the busiest time of the year here and it really gives me a "buzz" to show people the place looking its best, full of birds and visitors too. So it was yesterday, when we had a coach party of birders, another of school children, and a couple of hundred other customers on a day on which we had our midweek volunteers working flat out in the garden and the Great Meadow. To you this may sound a bit too busy, but the site soon absorbed all the people who had mostly come for a last chance to see or hear nightingales; which they did!
Which ranger do you think this is?

The Little Paxton Scarecrow Festival is upon us again. We take part every year, just to show willing really, but our entries are nowhere near as good as some in the village. This year, one garden has a whole olympic squad of scarecrows. The Wildlife Trust has a great version of Lord Rothschild on the Education Centre varanda.

All year I struggle to balance the wishes and needs of the public with the need to give some undisturbed space to wildlife and this is the time of year when it is most critical, but also when it all seems to work well, so it's a delight for me to see people and wildlife working pretty much in harmony, for once!

My guests yesterday were from the RSPB's "Nature After Minerals" team. They work with the gravel companies to negotiate the best deal for wildlife on sites that are not in the hands of conservation organisations, and to produce manuals for those in the industry who are concerned with restoration after their quarry is worked out. We went "up north" to look at the quarry area which we hope will be ours in the future and we were treated to views of a male peregrine and a very tame female wheatear. I reckoned that she was on her way to Greenland or even eastern Canada. I always find these encounters amazing; like finding a leopard up a tree. 'World class stuff. The people in the photo are Debra Royal (NAM Communications and Events Officer), Carolyn Jewell (NAM Programme Manager), John Mills (NAM Planning Advisor), Liz Harris (NAM Restoration Advisor). 

A highlight of nightingale week for me was on the Sunday when Ann Scott had arranged for her friend
Peter Partington hard at work.
Peter Partington to come along and be our wildlife artist for the day, It turned out to be a very busy day so Peter was kept at work producing paintings for visitors and generally being a point of interest for many more. I've always been a bit of an artist myself and I'm sure that my love of wildlife was fostered through the works of Peter Scott, Charles Tunnicliffe and Eric Ennion. Peter's work is very much in that tradition and I would love to own some myself. I could have had a Peter Scott for £30 in 1960 and it would be worth about £5,000 now. My dad didn't have two weeks wages to spare at the time. Worse still, I met Eric Ennion in Salisbury and could have had a picture of a stonechat for £3.00. I would have had to walk 20 miles to get home if I had bought it, but it would have been worth it and the inevitable week in the dog-house!

But for me art isn't about investment; its about inspiration. Perhaps its partly about lifting the ordinary world up onto another plane that some call "The Sublime" where every encounter has an aura of heightened significance. That's how I feel every time I see a bullfinch or hear a nightingale. How can we bottle that? Through art.

Moist conditions favour fungi.
If you want to have a keepsake of that sublime encounter, a photo won't do; you need a painting! A picture paints a thousand words, after all.

But, if you are of a literary bent, you could argue that a poem paints a thousand pictures ( I made that up, by the way). As a young teacher I was inspired by contemporary naturalist poets like Ted Hughes, Ted Walker and the Victorian romantics like Wordsworth, More recently I've been reading up on our local ploughman poet, John Clare, so that I could be all poetic with the children on our Nightingale evening. It really didn't work (blank stares of disbelief) and so I soon gave up being all arty and pretentious and resumed to my normal loveable self. That didn't work well either, but luckily I could hand the kids over to Debbie so that she could work her magic on them.