I recently downloaded the Wildlife Trusts app onto my mobile phone. It shows events happening near you, and Wildlife Trusts reserves across the country, with information about each one, and directions of how to get there. I’ve noticed some reserves close to home and today went to visit one on the way back from work.
It had been a hot and sunny day, but now, heading into evening, the air was beginning to feel close, and the heat building felt a little oppressive. I was heading for Chawridge Bank, described on the app, as “a small area of old Berkshire grassland… There is a wealth of insects, and large ant hills are found as a result of the ground being left unploughed.” I was interested to see this small reserve. As I headed down country lanes, the traffic thinned until I did not see another car. I pulled into the byway, noting the “unsuitable for motor vehicles” sign at the entrance, a sure sign of a byway open to all traffic, nothing would stop our 4×4 down one of these, but today I was in a VW polo! I carefully negotiated the large pot holes and came to the reserve entrance. The visitor directions note to park on the right past the reserve entrance, being careful not to black the lane for farm traffic. At this time of year however, there was long grass and other vegetation growing thickly on the verge, making it difficult to do so, although I did manage to pull the car up on to the verge within the lane, hoping that I wasn’t blocking it.
By now, for some reason, I was beginning to feel a little uneasy. I was in what felt like the middle of nowhere, completely alone, no one knew where I was, and I wasn’t 100% sure that the car would not block the road to a large tractor. Hoping that on a Friday evening this wouldn’t prove to be a problem, I went into the reserve. It’s unlike me to be scared to be alone, although it is unusual to feel so isolated. Even when I am alone, it is often among other people. In the park at lunchtime, there are people around, and even when I have walked alone, you see people regularly. Here, I felt like I was the only one around, and for some reason that made me on edge. I had every right to be visiting the reserve but it felt slightly illicit to be there. Chastising myelf for jumping at shadows, I started to pay more attention to my surroundings. The call of a green woodpecker, laughing at me, brought me back to where I was, and I started to notice the detail of the grassland.
The ground was uneven and across the area, was covered in large ant mounds. There were trees covered in beautiful lichen, blackberries and dog roses in flower and elder trees, their creamy blossoms perfuming the area with a sweet, summery scent.
I relaxed and started to enjoy the solitude, the peace and quiet. I wandered through the reserve, noticing the small details, including these bees buzzing around a hole in the ground (made by rabbit perhaps? I saw one dart across the grassland, and it looks too small for badgers.) I wondered if their nest had been disturbed by the digging, one of the bees looked to me like a queen bee, huge and beautiful.
Musing over, I stopped to collect some elderflowers on the way out of the reserve, and this evening I started to make elderflower cordial, following this recipe from the BBC: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/531660/homemade-elderflower-cordial
The house smells amazing, as the elderflowers steep in syrup.
Phil had his own wild moment today. When he went to check on the tadpoles in our garden pond, he found a bumblebee struggling in the water. He picked it up on the end of a stick, and placed it on a flower. The bee was still struggling so Phil dripped some of the sugar water from our bee waterer into the flower and watched the bee sip at the sugar water and noticeably perk up. The bee then tried to take off but crashed back down to earth. Wondering if the flower was too low for the tired bee to lift off from, Phil placed it on the plum tree, and watched it sit on a leaf, clean itself and flutter its wings experimentally, before taking off and flying away. One bee successfully saved!
This evening we cooked in the sunshine, barbequeing in the garden, with a Friday night glass of wine and a wild book. Perfect start to the weekend!