Haws - the fruit of Crataegus monogyna -
a life-saver for birds, particularly migrant winter thrushes.
To all of you across the pond - a belated HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
My son arrived at our house yesterday in a towering rage, wheeling a bicycle with two flat tyres. One of the local farmers, it seems, was using a flail machine to cut his roadside hedges and as anyone - apart from my son - knows, whichever way a hawthorn twig lies, there will always be a spike pointing upwards.
It would be unreasonable to resent the farmer for hedge cutting - a necessary chore to keep the growth dense, to size and stock-proof. But does it have to be with those hideous and dangerous flail slashers? And does it have to be now, when hedgerows are larders for wildlife?
A juvenile blackbird enjoys ripening Amelanchier fruits in our garden.
Good farmers are careful and timely, overhauling their hedges and ditches with minimal damage. They avoid trimming in autumn, when wild fruits and seeds are so vital for sustaining birds, mammals and invertebrates; then, when they do cut, they manage the task with minimal intrusion. But there are one or two bone-headed cretins who haven't a clue about conservation and worse, a few callous bastards who don't give a damn about wildlife, beauty or bicycle tyres.
These idiots seem happy to smash and mangle verge-side shelter belts, injure hedgerow trees and, of course, wreck the hedges themselves. One in my previous village would wait until the wild blackberries were ripe and luscious, and would then get out his vicious, dangerous, hideous flail slasher and bugger everything up, not only for those wanting blackberry and apple crumble for Sunday lunch, but also wrecking things for late butterflies, arriving migrant fieldfares and redwings, resident thrushes, wrens, tits (whoops, pardon missis, no double entendre intended) voles and field mice - not to mention bees, hover flies and other invertebrates.
Since farmers receive more than £2billion in subsidies, allegedly for stewardship of the land, perhaps there should be more careful policing of just how that dosh gets spent. Farmers who turn out to be crap at such essential husbandry should be trained, perhaps, or at the very least, educated. One wonders, though, how much of that £2billion goes towards the next BMW, rather than on building up skylark numbers, making life easier for barn owls or encouraging verge-side cowslips.
But enough ranting! Stop it! Stop it!! Stoppit!!!
The bountiful summer of 2006, when berries of wild privet hung like grapes.
No, what I really wanted to say was that the autumn berries seem to be holding out remarkably well this year. We have cotoneasters still in full fig, lots of hollies burgeoning for the coming festivities, viburnums, hips, haws and so on. Lots of colour, lots of joy!
I wondered how such bounty had come about, when spring was so vile and the past summer so wet. In previous bad years, I seem to remember that yields were poorer but perhaps, since this is the second wet summer in a row, all the excessive growth of 2007 has resulted in more fruit. Plants have a remarkable ability to adjust their behaviour to prevailing conditions - even though they'd be pretty crap at scratching an itch!
Purging buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica, food plant of the
brimstone butterfly, but also provider of food for autumn birds.
I was trawling through my picture library and discovered a batch of images shot on 21st November 2006, in a nature reserve on Thurlby Fen. The summer had been an exceptionally warm and dry and the most familiar, showy fruits covered the scrubby vegetation in staggering profusion – blackberries, rose hips, hawthorns, honeysuckle and startling scarlet bryony berries. But there was also a rich band of tenors and basses, supporting these jazzy trebles. Cloudy grey dewberries – or were they dewy grey cloudberries? – dotted the knee-high undergrowth near the hedge bottoms and on the normally nondescript wild privets and purging buckthorns, black, gleaming berries hung like ripening grapes.
The birds were treated to a sumptuous banquet, that winter, and I returned to the reserve dozens of times, feeling sure that such abundance would attract our handsomest winter migrant birds – the waxwings. But did I see one? Did I heck!
As a PS - I don't know what pushed me into ranting about farmers at the top of this post. I was inspired, indirectly, to write about the berries by this world famous AWARD WINNING JOURNALIST designer and hatstand . He usually ends his posts with a note on what he is listening to and what he was doing this time last year - hence my trawl of piccies from the past.
I listening, by the way, to our central heating boiler which is sounding distinctly odd. Brewing up, I suspect, for its usual Yuletide malfunction.