During the nineties, my daughter could lie on her bed and gaze up at the to and fro of house martins that nested in our eaves. One year, I counted twelve occupied nests. In summer, if our upstairs windows stood open, we often woke to see the curtain-shadow of a martin perched on the casement as we listened to the gentle budgie-like twittering of the nestlings. Autumn was signalled by the gathering of dozens of birds on the wires above the garden. When I redecorated the front of our house, I carefully painted round the empty nests.
Now though, we search - often in vain - for a house martin in amongst the swallows and swifts that still favour the skies of our little valley. I shall remove the sad remains of the nests when I repaint but fix up some artificial ones, in the faint hope of attracting them back.
Back late sixties/early seventies, the bus journey to school took us past the the former De Havilland's airfield near Hatfield. From the top deck we saw that the open grassland was covered with black and white birds: lapwings, or peewits, as they're sometimes called. At the time, I took little notice of the huge numbers. More recently, flocks of lapwing could be seen gathering in the fields between Wingfield Green and Chickering woods. But last summer, M. and I became absurdly excited at the sight of a solitary lapwing strolling through the dunes at Holme, such has been their decline.
Yet, in the garden, we regularly hear the mew of buzzards overhead - where once there were none...
Is this fall and rise of species just nature's way? Could a change of land-care practices reverse this? Or is there something more worrying going on?
More than eight million Britons belong to one of the nature conservation organisations - proportionately - and significantly - more than any of our European neighbours. Despite this, according to the multi-agency document, 'The State of Nature' (2016):
The report reveals that over half (56%) of UK species assessed have declined since 1970. Of the three taxonomic groups assessed - vertebrates, invertebrates and plants - a higher proportion of invertebrates are declining than other taxonomic groups, with 59% having declined since 1970. Dr Mark Eaton
Listen to, and question, this superb speaker and author of national repute about nature conservation in our region, on Wednesday November 14th at 7:30pm.