Mendip Times – May 2017

This column was originally published in the May 2017 of the Mendip Times.

It is as if everything green in the countryside is being pulled upwards, with spring really beginning to make itself known. How wonderful to be at this time of the year when , despite the odd bit of weather set back, we can look forward to the summer. Gone now the grey of winter and in its place the hope of spring. There are the early dandelions, the golden celandine and clumps of pale yellow primroses in the hedgerow bottom. Whilst in the woodland bluebells begin to cautiously show them selves above ground. In this months copy you will also find that Sue Gearing’s walk around Black Down and Burrington Ham has a bluebell theme. Its well worth a visit.

There is a whole new generation of creatures being born into, what is for them, an uncertain world. We all need to be aware that we are not the only ones out there and our actions can at times cause problems for others. It’s pleasing to see lambs and ewes in the fields, already the lambs are forming small groups to chase about and play. There is also some serious learning going on, with play fights and the banging together of heads. I make no apologies for raising the subject of our impact in the countryside, especially at this time of year. Please make sure that dogs are always on the lead around livestock. I know I preach to the converted here, but there are many others who visit the countryside, seemingly unaware of the damage that can be caused by a dog off the lead. Well behaved they may be, and walking at heel, but I’ve found a dog’s selective hearing to be a powerful distraction at times.

I haven’t seen an adder this year, but the recent fine weather will certainly have got them on the move. Snakes don’t come very high in my top ten of wildlife. Not through any problem with their purpose or being, but more because of my phobia. I have become used to them over the years but still maintain a healthy respect for these reptiles. Basking on a wall, they will remain motionless until  threatened. Their defence is to retreat or strike , depending on which is the most practical. The strike is a last resort, but be under no illusion however, they will strike if escape is not an option… We all have bad days, so look before you sit or put your hand down, (and don’t forget the dog as well).

Many years back in the days of the Mendip Wardens, Tina Bath and I were clearing cut vegetation from the condenser flues at Charterhouse. Tina found a rather large grass snake beneath one of the piles, which needed to be moved out of harms way. Her approach to snakes is much different to mine, she has a fascination with them. Carefully picking the reptile up she advanced towards me with a delighted and menacing look, intent on tormenting me. The snake ‘played dead’, lolling its head back with mouth open, but this was not enough, so it employed  another means of defence and emptied it’s gut all over her! This foul smelling fluid with an aroma of rotting fish and putrefied meat was enough to get Tina retching….Oh how I laughed, but professional to the end, she carefully deposited the creature in a safe place where it could make good it’s escape. Maybe snakes aren’t quite so bad after all!

I find the countryside to be a place of inspiration, enjoyment and at times comfort. For me the greatest pleasure is being able to share these things with others, that is why I write this column and that is why I work with school children who come out to find a little more about the countryside. I was fortunate to have grown up at time when life seemed a little slower on the land. I had free reign to wander where I wanted to around the fields and woods on Hales Farm, and in doing so I  learnt a lot about the countryside. These memories stay with me still, but they are  lanes that I can never walk again. That is why I don’t want to waste those memories and experience. Knowledge needs to be shared and experience related. To this end I have started what I hope will be an ongoing relationship with a group of young people who suffer with anxiety and depression. Today’s world is far away from the upbringing I had.

How do we unravel the complexity of modern life with all its expectations and pressures. One way is to take a step out of the environment that creates such things. The countryside can bring the calm and comfort so often needed. People feel happier in a green, quiet environment and we should make use of it. So get your walking boots on, pack some sandwiches and get out there. The area you thought you knew so well will often come up with the most amazing surprises.

Finally, this month’s picture is of a female adder taken several years back, by Andy Chamberlain at  Charterhouse . We called her ‘Lil’ after the young lady who overcame her fear of snakes whilst working with Wardens as part of the Princes Trust Project. Lil asked me if she could see this snake , who was always on the same bit of wall. So alongside me, she stood and watched the snake. After several moments she turned and said..”There , I’ve done it! You can call her Lil now”. Lil lived on for a good while after , and was always still and quiet so that the school children staying at Charterhouse could see a real adder.

Don’t forget to come and visit the Environmental Youth Awards exhibition. It’s below the commentators box on the main ring, during this Years Royal Bath and West Show at the end of May. Hope to see you there.

Posted in Mendip Times, News