This recent spring was very noticeable for one particular aspect and, no, not the drought and cold winds. We have always had 12 April in mind when it came to some regular annual visitors. Some years it was a little before and some it was a couple of days later, but they always came. Then, about seven to 10 days later, another old friend would arrive to cheer everyone up. Following them was the group that arrived a bit later still, stayed about 10 weeks and were then gone again, never outstaying their welcome.
I’m not talking about family or friends; these are even more welcome to stay for the summer! You will have guessed it, I am sure. It’s the swallows, cuckoo and, now missing from here the past year or two, the ever travelling swifts.
They have all become much rarer in recent years and several theories abound. My own is quite simple. It’s the lack of available insect food, which in this area is very noticeable, and the obvious reason for much of that would appear to me to be because the cattle have left so many of our farms. No longer the dung pats strewn across the meadows to attract flies and other insects. It makes for much relief in houses but at the same time it reflects how scarce food has been for many species. How many ducklings survived their early hatch this Spring?
The swallows are no longer nesting around the old dairy buildings, gathering mud from ‘washing down’ puddles around the dairy, repairing their old family nests; no more their constant twittering in the roof of the milking parlours. No longer are they swooping low around one’s feet amongst the cattle in the meadows, disturbing flies for the birds to catch, or flying high as the pressure rises to feed on the myriad insects rising with the summer air currents. The swifts will obviously have also struggled for the same reasons.
Doubtless there are other reasons. Very hot conditions further south; crossing the Sahara must be hard and, perhaps equally risky, avoiding gunmen in the likes of Malta, Spain, Italy and Portugal must claim the cuckoo and many other larger birds. But what to do about it, as there appears absolutely no EU interest in deterring the slaughter as these creatures migrate north or south?
What then to do to get our summer visitors back? Offer a home for a few loads of farmyard manure to be dumped in odd corners across the farm? Possibly, as long as one doesn’t get reported to the local council by a dog walker whose dogs have romped in it, while they forget, of course, those little ‘parcels’ their own pets have left around the farm during their visit.
More annoying still is the fact that many of these dogs are very often in groups of half a dozen, clearly being walked by so called ‘professional’ dog walkers who justify their fees by allowing their ‘cares’ to run wild around farmland without a ‘do you mind’ to landowners and are very often quite aggressively rude when asked to put the animals on a lead, since none appear trained. But sadly none of this solves the problem of those almost lost ‘harbingers of spring/summer’ does it?
We now have the new borehole operating. Watering lawns, filling spray tanks and running for a few hours a week topping up my old duck pond near the farm buildings. It is not being done for ‘wild swimming enthusiasts’ but to provide a haven for the numerous wildfowl, including moorhens and coots attracted by the water. The borehole supply has been tested as free of salt and other ‘nasties’ and safe to drink, but still has a bovine ‘nose’ to it, which is not surprising after 120+ years of dairy cows living above it. But at least we know it would not kill us if we had to drink it in an emergency!
We filled the pond up to a reasonable level and are now monitoring levels to see what the water uptake is from the surrounding trees and the rate it simply filters into the earth beneath. The idea then will be to just top it up through the dry spells until winter rains fill it again.
The more money people purport to have the less keen they appear to pay their bills… I suppose that could be why they have so much of it! One thing I have noticed over the years is how, generally, farmers are better at paying their invoices on time, as opposed to those outside farming, who often appear to take a pride in owing money.
We have noticed this increasingly in recent years as now, with no need for providing feed for the cattle, we have diversified a little, leasing out some land, buildings, or other assets. Some people who one would imagine would be good payers surprise us with their excuses and general disinterest in honouring the terms of their agreements. Do they think it is clever? I don’t know, but word soon ‘spreads’ in the countryside, meaning it will become much harder for some of them to get good staff or find craftsmen, plumbers, electricians, builders or carpenters in emergencies when those skilled folks have been forewarned that they will struggle to get their money.
In the first week of May we gathered for our first games of bowls, still very dry and damned cold, but still they turned up, like the swallows used to! Since then the weather has relented, the green has greened up and allowed a tight cut every day or so, and we have a group of aging blokes dreaming of the Olympics. Dream on!