Monday, 29 July 2013

Time flies, trees grow and we all get a little older

I spent quite a bit of time birding on Epsom Common in my youth (although the word 'birding' wasn't in use in the UK back then). I would get a bus to the Wells Estate (on the Ashtead side) and walk across the railway line and onto open scrub, populated by Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers and, in summer, Grasshopper Warblers. My walk would continue through mature woodland along magnificent wide rides until meeting the boundary with open farmland. After a loop round the stew pond (there was just the one at the time) I would wander through an open woodland scene, then further scrub, to the Cricketer's Green.

About five years ago I revisited this place after a gap of twenty years. I was stunned. I couldn't find my way around as it had all changed. Where once had been scrub there was now woodland. I stood looking about me like a lost soul. It had changed to the point that there was no familiarity at all. I tried to find the stew ponds (another had been created in the early 1980s) but I got hoplessly lost. I found this disturbing - a part of it was my 'loss' of a cherished beginner's birding site, the other was the clear demonstration of the passing of time. In my birding lifetime head-high scrub had matured into full-blown woodland. The Grasshopper Warblers had gone (along with the Willow Tits that I saw on every visit).

I then wandered into a parallel universe when stumbling upon a great clearing. This had once been mature woodland and, according to a notice, had been felled to try and encourage the remnant heathland flora to survive. Had I been brought here blindfolded and then had my ties removed, I would not have been able to tell you where I was - and this was a place that was one of my birding homes between 1974 - 1982.

The same has happened to me (to a lesser extent) at Dungeness, where the trapping area of my youth had sallow bushes no higher than head height and you could clearly see the top of the mist net poles across the site. Today, you could stand four birders on top of each others shoulders and still not see across the treetops.

Last night, at home, I went out to check the moth trap and felt some drips of water on my back. Looking up I relised that the ash tree in the garden has grown out and over the trap site - not long ago it seemed to be half way up the garden and nowhere near the trap. The need for tree surgeons beckons.

Time flies, trees grow and we all get a little older.


Gibster said...

I've only been doing Epsom Common for 27 years, young rapscallion that I am. I never knew it before the dam was reinstated and the Great Pond renewed. But I do recall standing at the Highest Point and seeing the Wells rooftops, Christchurch tower and tall pylons somewhere past Leatherhead. I grew up there as the scrub grew up. I knew every corner and hidey hole there was. Then they clear-felled swathes and I lost the landmarks I'd seen forming. For the first time ever I managed to become disorientated in my own patch. I don't like what Epsom Common has become. Clearly the groppers, turtle doves, nightingales, willow tits, lesser-spots, little grebes, gadwall, linnets, reed buntings and mute swans don't either. Luckily we have parakeets, so all is well again.

Gibster said...

So saying, Steve, it is still a wonderful place and I really do intend to drag you around it one day. Those Adder's-tongues are about done so you best be quick!!!

Steve Gale said...

I'll take you up on that Seth. Thanks.