(Re)learning in Lockdown

I grew up in a rural village and once upon a time I used to be quite good at identifying the wildlife I would encounter on country walks. During lockdown I have been realising just how much of that knowledge I’ve lost, pushed aside over the years as new, seemingly more relevant, information took its place.

 

Walking through our local woodland and out into the countryside over the last few months has inspired me to relearn some of those names that were once at my fingertips. Celebrating the everyday by paying attention to it, calling it by its name and learning about it.

I wanted to start with wild flowers and trees because those were the first things I learned to identify. The names still familiar, a form of poetry, even if I couldn’t quite remember the difference between Red Campion, Ragged Robin and Rosebay Willowherb.

To help with identification I dusted off a much loved childhood book, Exploring The Countryside by Michael Chinery, and used websites like The Woodland Trust and The Wildlife Trusts to learn more.

Here I share some of the images from my lockdown walks, together with some notes on what I’ve noticed and learned along the way.

 

Oak

An easy one to begin with thanks to its distinctive leaf shape.

'Oak trees support more wildlife than any other native trees. They provide a habitat for more than 257 species of insect, which are the food source for birds and other predators. The bark also provides a habitat for mosses, lichens and liverworts, and deadwood cavities for nesting birds and roosting bats. The acorns are eaten by a number of birds and mammals, including the jay, badger and red squirrel.'
The Woodland Trust

 

Ash

Like oak, I was confident in my ability to identify ash, the black buds a giveaway. Ash is a good forest tree as it lets light reach the floor, allowing other plants and flowers to grow underneath. Ash flowers appear before the leaves in spring, growing in spiked clusters at the tips of twigs. The species is threatened by ash dieback.

 

Ragged Robin

Ragged robin can be found in wild flower meadows and damp pasture, this photo was taken close to a brook. It’s nectar rich and popular with bees and butterflies. It’s becoming an increasingly rare sight as wetland habitats are disappearing. Ragged is an excellent description of the frayed looking petals.

 

Comfrey

Even along one short stretch of brook, comfrey comes in a wide variety of shades of pink and purple. It can be used as an organic fertilizer and is also used in herbal medicine.

 

Cow Parsley

It’s been an amazing year for cow parsley, white drifts of frothy white flowers. I’ve seen it in woodland clearings and on footpath edges. Cow parsley is a member of the carrot family and the leaves give off an aniseed scent when crushed. It’s attractive to wildlife and I spotted orange tip butterflies enjoying it on one walk.

 

Buttercups and bluebells

This combination, photographed here in the evening light, is striking and a reminder that nature knows how to put on a show! Bluebells flower early in the season allowing them to make the most of the sunlight that is still able to make it to the woodland floor, before the summer when the canopy of tree leaves provide much needed shade for other species.

 

Lost Words

 

The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris was a huge hit on publication in 2017. It came about in response to the news of the removal of everyday words to describe nature from a children’s dictionary. Words like acorn and bluebell.

 

'We’ve got more than 50% of species in decline. And names, good names, well used can help us see and they help us care. We find it hard to love what we cannot give a name to. And what we do not love we will not save'
Robert Macfarlane - thelostwords.org/book

 

For me, lockdown has been a wake-up call, a reminder to treasure the names as well as nature itself.

 

Shelly Dennison – Communications Officer

Quernmore landscape