Sometimes we can be surrounded by beauty and become so used to it that we fail to appreciate it. I grew up in a small village surrounded by farms and woodlands. My childhood home backed onto a pig farm and it was never more than a ten minute walk to escape people and houses. I did not appreciate what I had. Looking back now my early life was like watching Springwatch. Most days I would see some combination of deer, badgers, foxes, hares, sand martins, swallows, bats and more in hedgerows, fields and woodlands but I never really looked at it. It was so much background noise. Like many of us I longed for what I didn’t have, big cities, fancy shops, cinemas and, later on, noisy bars.
It wasn’t until I had children and had to answer their questions of “daddy, what bird is that?” that I began to look at the natural world around me and really see what had seemed commonplace. It made me sit up and take notice and learn things I hadn’t known before. I could tell one gull from another and identify with reasonable accuracy the waders we saw at the shore. These things took on a new importance.
Three years ago, on my 50th birthday I went for a three hour walk around a small woodland near where I live, Telegraph Wood. I walked intentionally with my eyes wide open. I saw wrens for the first time in 30 years, noticed puffball fungi under a small stand of holly, crossed paths with a pair of fallow deer after following their tracks and found bristly badger hair on the fence following the far border. This reminded me that, as I looked for peace in the middle of an incredibly uncertain period, whatever we may like to think, we don’t really own this land, at best we are stewards and as stewards there is a responsibility on us to ensure that this incredibly resilient countryside is given every help to continue. This doesn’t mean preserving it in amber though. The British countryside is different to what it was 50 years ago and 500 years ago and a 1000 years ago. What it does mean is finding a balance between the needs of people and the health of the countryside. What does this balance look like? I think it is different for each of us. For some of us it’s feeding hedgehogs and birds, planting bee and butterfly friendly plants in our gardens, for farmers it might be leaving wild borders around fields planted with crops or reinstating varied hedgerows.
According to the Book of Genesis in the Bible humanity was given stewardship over the earth. This doesn’t mean the right to exploit it but the responsibility to look after it while living on it. For centuries we did this successfully and I’m pleased to say that we seem to be heading back to being good stewards again.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” John Muir.