Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Way is Shut!

Whenever I hear or see the words 'Footpath Closed' I cant help but think of the line
“The way is shut. It was made by those who are Dead, and the Dead keep it, until the time comes. The way is shut.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
I spend a lot of my spare time with my binoculars and telescope out in the countryside. With recent floods and adverse weather, as was the case after the 1987 storms and during the Foot and Mouth crisis in 2007, some footpaths are inevitably shut to public access.

The majority of people see an industrial style fence and 15 FOOTPATH CLOSED signs as a suggestion to perhaps find alternative walking pastures. Others as a challenge to their "rights"

I bird almost religiously, each evening on my way home from work, at a sight 6 miles from my home in a small town called Havant. The sight itself is a public slipway used by public vessels as well as frequent RSPB tours of the local reserve by boat. During the recent storms, much of the seawall was washed away or seriously damaged. At parts it is so badly undercut that a step in the wrong place could have you with a broken leg in Langstone Harbour with its famous rip currents. At every possible entrance/exit to the sea path that leads from the slipway to Hilsea 3 miles to the West, there are fences and signs explaining the problems. Each evening when i am stood surveying the waders and gulls, i see people squeezing themselves, dogs, children, you name it through tiny gaps in the fence or going to the extremes of walking down the slippery seawall and around the fence. Why??? It is clearly there for a reason.

I have on occasions questioned some peoples rationale(usually after being asked "what the f*@k are you looking at?"), I have had every answer from "I walk here every day" & "I pay for these paths with my taxes" as well as my favorite "its not that bad, its just health and safety gone mad". Why can these people not see that this is for their own safety for one, and that continued use of the paths when they are damaged, is going to further delay a renaissance of the clean, clear, safe path that they enjoyed before. No doubt these are the same people that leave gates open on a country walk and stroke the Rays at Blue Reef Aquarium despite the signs. Not to mention the real pet peeve people who ignore signs saying KEEP ALL DOGS ON LEADS...!!!!

Too many people are of the opinion that because it was once an accepted practice to do something that they can keep doing it now that perceptions have changed. Many of us have lived through massive changes in the accepted practice of many things; Racism, Feminism, Sexism I could go on. I am not suggesting for a moment that this form of trespassing is on a par with any of the a fore mentioned isms, I am suggesting that like the others it relies on a real ignorance from people who should know better.    

Having aired my frustration I have come to the conclusion that it is not these individuals who ignored the Footpath Closed signs but those who chose to ignore signs in general!    

Monday, 7 April 2014

The world is changing

My formative years involved a degree of birding but not anything like my interest today. As a youngster(6-13) I would go out on frequent occasions with my Godfather Merv onto Farlington Marshes in Portsmouth & with my £10 bins and Mervs expert guidance I would happily watch the waders and passerines that frequented the Salt-marsh and surrounding fields. If I am being honest, after an hour or so I was a little bored of looking at Redshanks and Ringed Plovers through Mervs scope and found myself scrabbling down the seawall onto the mud revealed by low tide! Here I found crabs(dead & alive) all manner of Molluscs as well as small brown birds happily darting around the tussocks of grass on the Salt-marsh. Could I have told you these were Rock Pipits as I now know they were? Of course not, but at that age I was just enjoying the wonder of everything nature had to show me. From time to time Merv would call me back up the seawall to see something in the scope. Bearded Tits as they were then known, before genetics revealed that they are infact not tits at all. Maybe a Marsh Harrier haunting the reedbeds in that way only a Marsh Harrier can. Or the creme de la creme of British birding which we now take for granted.... The Little Egret! All in all it was a wondrous time for me and I am privileged with having supportive parents and a highly knowledgeable and enthusiastic Godfather. Am I feeling nostalgic?.... Maybe, but what got me thinking about my upbringing surrounded by the natural world was my son. He is 6 months old in 2 days time and although he looks at me with that innocent and frankly adorable face I sit and wonder what his generations perception of the natural world will be. I am, at 27, one of the early members of a very sedentary and wasteful generation. My nephew, at 2 years old, uses iPhones and Tablets better than most teenagers and certainly better than me. A friends son at 4 years old has his own Tablet...... Why? What happened to digging a hole in the back garden, planting sunflowers with Mum and Dad and having a summer long contest as to whose grew the highest. I hope with what I feel is a great upbringing for me, I can pass on some of the passion for the natural world I have to my son! As a member of the BTO, RSPB, HWT and a trainee ringing volunteer, as a keen birder with twitching tendencies I hope that he is immersed enough to at least care what is around him, to care that the things he does and the choices he makes will have an impact. The thought of a silent spring is, in my books, unbearable, but with every passing year the reports of declines in our native wildlife gives this idea wings. It will be in my generation, if current trends continue, that we will witness the extinction of the Turtle Dove from our shores. A charismatic species that you could once upon a recent time see across the south of the UK, but is now limited to small pockets and even then rarely seen. So it is with a sepia toned nostalgic view that I encourage each and every person that has kindly taken the time to read this piece to take up the mantle, be it with your own offspring, a relative or even a friends children. Show them the wonder of nature, even if your knowledge is not complete your passion will inspire a generation. Your local Wildlife Trust will have a range of activities for the whole family, guided walks, pond dipping etc... The same goes for the BTO & RSPB check out the links below. I am not affiliated with these organisations just an avid supporter of their work.