Loving the Alien
The Yare Valley is well known to me being positioned within easy striking distance of the eastern suburbs of Norwich. There as a growing lad I, together with my mates, regularly cycled its narrow windswept lanes throughout the seasons seeing, smelling and tasting its wild delights. Its charm is a subtle one, a gentle one, like so much of this Norfolk of ours. A shallow rolling landscape affording wide open views over the long sloping valley which gives way to a landscape of rich marshland bordering the slow moving river. It takes a while to thoroughly appreciate its raw, sometimes bitter beauty, but over the years its essence has penetrated deep, to my very soul in fact.
If you could compare photographs of how it looked when I used to gaze at it from the high point near Strumpshaw, taking a rest after a hard days cycling, or when we arrived tired and hungry at Buckenham Halt after a full day traipsing across the marshes you would probably say that it hasn't changed much. And at a superficial level you would be right, but in fact much has changed and happily for the better. There are more hedgerows now, and the roadside trees planted in the 1980s are beginning to mature, breaking up the landscape and providing welcome breeding, feeding and roosting sites for the local birds, insects and mammals. Where only trespass was the option in our youth, Public Bridleways, well-marked and maintained, now criss-cross the hare-friendly fields. And of course the marshland itself is now largely managed by the RSPB who ensure the whole wetland between Brundall and Gt Yarmouth is governed for the benefit of wildlife. What a wonderful positive piece of news.
On a whim today we found ourselves slowly motoring the network of byways hoping to stumble upon some of the wild inhabitants of this mercifully un-crowded area. We were not disappointed. But the species that entertained us most were all non-natives, some long standing and familiar inhabitants of our countryside, some relative newcomers, but all introductions from elsewhere.
The first of these interlopers came in the form of a pair of Chinese water deer hunkered down in a field of winter sown cereal. These ever increasing animals are very appealing with their teddy bear countenance and oversized ears. It wasn't many years ago when the sight of one would mark something of a red-letter day, but now they seem to be expanding quite rapidly and certainly ranging ever wider from their traditional wetland homes. This new-found boldness may herald their undoing should they begin to have an impact on crops. I often wonder if sightings of these animals sporting well grown tusks and spotted in the half light of dusk or maybe in the headlights of a passing car are responsible for rumours of big cats roaming our countryside. It would be an easy and forgivable mistake to make.
|Are they dogs? Are they big cats? No they're deer with big ears!|
|You can see how people could think this is not a deer|
Next a small group of brown hares, a well-established member of the British fauna, but probably introduced by Roman invaders, caught our attention as they loped lazily around each other. This area is a real stronghold for hares and during early spring it is quite easy to see a score or more engaged in courting activity. With patience one will often approach close enough to allow full appreciation of its oversized eyes, ears and legs. A favoured animal and always good to see.
|Brown Hare - Aren't they gorgeous?|
But it was a pair of cock pheasants that really engaged and entertained us as they sparred with each other in the waning light of late afternoon. We watched this macho pair posturing and clucking at each other for some time, neither prepared to give way and admit defeat. Occasionally one would lunge at the other resulting in a brief aerial joust, but I think the whole thing was a little half-hearted, perhaps too early in the season. Things will no doubt get more serious as spring advances. Looking at these birds close to through the viewfinder of my camera I could admire the complexity of their head plumage; a startling orange eye set in jowls of shocking scarlet flanking a bright white beak set against a head of deepest green all highlighted by a necklace of purest white. Quite a package.
|Who's a pretty boy then?|
|Shame about the depth of field, but they were so close.|
Add to these mammalian residents the sight of fields covered in gulls, plovers both green and golden, crows and geese, with marsh harriers and buzzards patrolling above and you have a scene rich and full of interest. It's ironic really. In a couple of weeks’ time we are going to visit Extremadura in Spain where no doubt every bird and animal we see will be greeted by an ooh and ahhhh! We will (quite rightly) think it is a marvellous place full of exotic creatures, yet just a few miles from home we have something comparable, maybe not in grandeur, but certainly in diversity. It doesn't really matter that some of these creatures are not native to our shores, they have all carved a niche for themselves and add interest and colour to the landscape. It takes an effort to open your eyes and really appreciate what's on your doorstep, but take the time, lift the veil from your eyes and soak it in. I'm so glad I live here.