Brian Fereday’s Nature notes were written on his monthly walks around our farm trail, which is a popular family walk near Kendal. Brian lived and worked in this landscape and knew it intimately. We are lucky to have his records of the changing seasons and the comings and goings of the flora and fauna throughout the years. Here we revisit his February walk. This month’s entry is particularly interesting to revisit, as it depicts clearly the change in weather over the years.
On the day of my monthly visit to the farm trail, another Atlantic storm was approaching from the south-west. A bitter wind was increasing and the rain was falling before I had travelled halfway around the farm trail. To the north and east above the Kent and Lune valleys, the hills were hidden by clouds but enough could be seen to realise that there was snow lying from the previous night’s showers. Familiar conditions, experienced on many of the walks this past winter. In fact, with the slightly lower temperatures on some days with wind exposure and wet ground – little has changed in terms of emergent plant species over the past month.
Walking down the lane from the car park the Wild Arum or Cuckoo Pint is pushing through the soil under the hedge; yet through no further than last February despite the milder winter. Other plants appearing in the old hedge line are Nettle, Jack by the Hedge or Garlic Mustard and there is a green film of Chickweed and Goosegrass seedlings over the soil in places.
Down by the hen sheds the wind became more fierce and I was surprised to see the hens coming out to greet me in such harsh weather. On the hill behind the hen sheds, a covering of slurry had been recently applied and feeding there were many hundreds of gulls. They lifted off as I walked past and the air was filled with birds. The gulls and a few crows were picked up by the wind and blown out of control into spiralling, chaotic formations.
Reaching the shelter of the woodland around the pond I was greeted by the wistful song of a robin as he sat watching in a thorn tree. Planted in the early 1980s some of the trees in this woodland have been marked with orange paint indicating they are to be felled. This thinning is necessary in order for the remaining trees to develop crowns and thus form the landscape trees of the future. There are hard choices to make when marking a wood to be thinned for the future as those chosen to stay will be there for a very long time. Barring storms or disease they will be there for future generations to see. Apart from the need for thinning for the welfare of the trees in the plantation; the act of letting light to the ground and producing a more open aspect allows a shrub layer to develop beneath the trees. This provides important shelter and food for birds and animals and replicates the structure of a true woodland.
Into the open field through mud-and-water-filled human footprints. Low Park Wood is muddy too in this amazing winter. The Bluebells and Dog’s Mercury have changed little since last month. The catkins of Hazel are early and at their best now but prone to battering by rain and wind but some of the Hazel really glow in the woodland. Some of the tree buds are expanding and changing colour especially the Willows along some of the tracksides.
This time, because of the wind and rain, there were four birds to be seen. However, near to the top part of the wood a buzzard was circling in the wind above the trees. It displayed great talent in dealing with the wind in such an exposed place. Perhaps there was a female bird admiring from nearby. I wonder if they are coming back to nest in the Spruce trees in the middle of the wood. Over the past years, they have nested across the main road in the woods alongside Sizergh Castle drive.
Out of the wood and the swish of tyres on wet roads. I turned left towards the farm and alongside the wall boundary between wood and field. At the top of the hill, the wind and rain struck. I head down and back to the farm and car park unable to see much of anything. With talk of storms becoming less severe, I hope you venture out on one of those days of late winter, early spring sunshine. Find a sheltered place in full sun and just observe while you
absorb some of the life-giving solar warmth that all animals need.