A guest post by Dr Susan Warren
Staying connected when we are apart
I have always walked on the streets, footpaths and bridleways around our home, so in many ways, the current COVID-19 ‘lock down’ on our daily activities has not significantly affected my walking routes. However, living in beautiful East Devon, I am also very lucky to have many other favourite walks a little further away, which are currently out of bounds. Over the past few months, Anna and I had walked many times on a path alongside the River Otter and down to the sea at Budleigh Salterton. With all the storms and rain, it was the least muddy path we could find, and also included a fab café stop at Otterton Mill.
We are lucky enough to have beavers on the River Otter. Once native to the UK, beavers lived in waterways throughout Britain. Sadly, highly prized for their fur, meat, and castoreum (oil), they were hunted to extinction. The last written record in England dates back to 1780. However, in recent times, led by reintroductions in Scotland, the beaver is once again returning to its former landscapes. In 2015, Devon Wildlife Trust issued a licence to release beavers into the wild on the River Otter, and I was lucky enough to be there to see these large mammals (think big springer spaniel), being returned to one of their former habitats.
Having these beavers living so close to us is fantastic. As they are most active and visible at dawn and dusk, and surprisingly elusive for their size, we don’t get to see them very often. However, it’s always fun to look out for signs of their activities. On our recent walks on the River Otter we’ve seen lots of evidence of their nocturnal gnawings, which you can see in the pictures.
However, whilst still rather novel and exciting, it’s not just the beaver activity that has caught our attention. We’ve also watched rooks flying back and forth to large rookerys in the trees high above the river. They have appeared particularly interested in one field, taking large beakfuls of moss/grass to patch up their nests, making them safe for the precious eggs to come. And further down the river, around the small estuary, over-wintering birds such as teal and wigeon have been busy grazing the short grass, fueling themselves before returning north to their summer breeding grounds.
As I’ve been walking the well-trodden paths near home, my thoughts often turn to this riverside walk, the beavers, the rooks, and the teal and wigeon. What are they doing now? Which trees have the beavers gnawed their way through? Have the rooks laid eggs? Have the teal and wigeon left to build their nests further north?
This year I will only be able to imagine what they are doing. I feel very grateful that I have attended so closely to the natural world on previous walks: the gift of ‘Noticing Nature’!
My memories of this place are so strong that I can see and feel into this landscape at this challenging time.
The rhythms of nature will, of course, continue to beat, regardless of my presence, and I can picture our non-human companions busy with their lives.
It’s very likely that by the time I get there again, the beavers will have had kits, the rooks will have fledged their latest nest of chicks, and the teal and wigeon will be long gone, busy with parenting their own broods in cooler climes. And the whole landscape will be different: plants and trees in full bloom and leaf, with butterflies and insects busy amongst them. The birds may have started to quieten down, and the riverside track will be dusty rather than muddy.
My return will feel like greeting an old friend. I know I will feel so thankful for its presence, both real and imagined. And hopefully, I will continue to walk along, with and through this magical, shared place, for many years to come.
Dr Susan Warren is an environmentalist and researcher, with life-long experience of joyful, awe-inspiring and very necessary engagement with the natural world.
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