The delivery man glanced up from sorting out paperwork for the fridge he’d just wheeled in from his van. “Nice view you’ve got there,” he said, looking down the garden to the field beyond. I politely concurred, suspecting that he probably wouldn’t be interested in hearing my views about the ecological desert that is most arable land in this country.
Superficially, of course, he was right. It is a nice view, compared with what the majority of houses in Leicester look out onto. I certainly appreciate it, and from my south-east facing window I can have the impression of living in the countryside and forget about the urban sprawl to the north and west.
But the aesthetic is only one aspect of a landscape. Once you look deeper than the immediate ‘nice view’, this is a landscape increasingly devoid of its natural inhabitants. Birds are perhaps the most obvious indicators of this. Yes, there are Buzzards, a few Skylarks, the occasional Raven or Red Kite, but it’s mostly just big flocks of Woodpigeons, along with lots of Magpies, crows and the expected common Passerines. Most of which aren’t as common as they used to be.
Always be aware of Shifting Baseline Syndrome.
When we moved in eight years ago there were still Willow Tits, Yellowhammers and Tree Sparrows here, and I once saw a small covey of Grey Partridges two fields away from the house, all seemingly the last remnants of populations now gone.
And further back, before we lived here, what would have bred in and around these fields then? Thirty years ago, Turtle Doves without a doubt, probably Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers as well. Forty years ago, Corn Buntings; fifty years ago, Curlew and perhaps Snipe in the wetter parts; sixty or seventy years ago (before the house was built), Whinchat and Redstart.
What else will be gone in another thirty years?