When I’m in Devon I live right in the centre of town but close to some wonderful green spaces. Large areas of them are due to be built upon and destroyed. The fields with hares? Houses. The Grade 1 Listed Church? Surrounded by houses. The fields where the Buzzards hunt? Houses. The Barn in which the Barn Owls nest? Houses.
Here’s my walk through these fields from 2017:
And a view of the magnificent Oak in winter in 2019:
It’s a tragic loss to the town.
As I walk out there just after dawn I see a sign stuck on a post:
There are currently due to be 5,000 homes built surrounding the town. Are the campaigners being too dramatic?
These Brown Hares think not. They’re chasing in one of the fields to be built upon.
This will be poor quality concrete and asphalt roads to dolls’ houses with paved front parking areas and minimal pedestrian access.
It’s only an hour after dawn and the Common Buzzards are crying to one another. They are so observant it’s tricky to get close. They nest in the woods nearby.
It’s an eerie cry, especially with the pair echoing each other across the valley.
The local farmer treats his fields with Glyphosate which kills everything. There’s just bare red earth there for much of the year. There are no wild flowers, no seeds, no invertebrates for animals to feed upon. It’s already an area of extreme wildlife depletion.
The countryside? There’s more wildlife on the verges of my local industrial estate.
In the woods I manage to find three Great Spotted Woodpecker nests. One of them must have been this year’s but I’m just too late. If they were successful the fledgelings will have left by now.
There’s a local political group to oppose the plans, www.newtonsaysno.co.uk. Here’s what they have to say:
Our objective remains the same: the Local Plan must be revised. And by revised we mean hung, drawn, quartered, torn apart by horses; its head put on a spike outside Asda and the remains thrown into a plague pit with the careers of the people who devised it.
It’s before 9am on a Sunday and there are three motorbikes racing through dirt tracks in the woodland. It would definitely give me a headache if I was a woodpecker.
On the edges, life tries to get a foothold.
I meet a dog walker out early and he starts a conversation about the loss of wildlife. “The land’s worth £5m as a dairy farm,” he says, “and £50m for houses.”
“Land’s worth what you can do with it”, I say, “and the problem is the wildlife has no value in money to anyone.”
He nods. I tell him about the motorbike riders in the woods, near the woodpeckers and the Buzzards. “That’s the farmer’s son”, he says.
There are a noisy pair of Jays in the field.
They’re so wary I’d need a hide to get any decent views of them.
Where should nature live? The plan is that the larger wildlife will ‘move on’ when the houses are built. Where, exactly, is it meant to move on to?
There’s a Cirl Bunting territory in the building plan area. There are fewer than 1,000 territories in the UK. Make that at least one less.
They aren’t making any more land. This isn’t the Netherlands.
There’s a tiny muddy puddle and an animal trough with a Broad-Bodied Chaser dragonfly in attendance.
Here’s a Skylark, ascending:
It’s been a glorious morning. Being up at dawn gives a different persepective to your day. I decide to go out at dusk too. It’s something I’d recommend everyone does; see a day from dawn to dusk.
I set off in the evening, past a large encampment of travellers occupying the football fields in my local park. As I ascend the fields I see a deer racing away.
I see the Buzzards and film one calling in the woods.
I sit down with a view of the barn. There used to be Barn Owls here but I haven’t seen them for several years. I’d like to photograph the Barn Owls but as they’re a Schedule 1 bird, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 it’s illegal for me to intentionally disturb them on the nest and I’d have to apply for a licence to photograph them.
It’s illegal for me to photograph them, but not illegal for the landowner to sell it to a developer and demolish it and build houses on every field in which it hunts.
As I sit there I see a huge beetle take to the skies. It’s a Stag Beetle, Lucanus cervus, Britain’s largest beetle. It’s now 10:30pm. I’ve been up since 4:30am. The moon has risen, lending a pure white light to the scene. It’s then that I hear the noise. There’s the sound of heavy breathing, as if someone’s snoring. I’m tired and for a moment I wonder whether it’s me. Then I wonder where the other person is. The sound’s carrying on the still night air. I Google ‘Barn Owl snoring’ and find that the sound of Barn Owl chicks begging for food sounds like snoring. My heart leaps.
And then a Barn Owl silhouette passes over me, swoops down into the barn to a reception of excited squeaks. This is a magical place and I’m going to enjoy it while I can. It’ll all disappear and this magical web of interconnected nature will be erased so completely it will be as if it has never existed. I aim to honour it while I can.