Thursday 26 March 2020

Lockdown day 3 - my "authorised" cycle ride - time to think

I decided to take a break from the allotment today. There's still things to do, weeding and chopping up the mountain of hedge clippings into lengths small enough to compost, but I decided that today would be a cycle ride.

Now, the Government are still allowing cycle rides directly from your house as long as you keep at least 2 metres from other people and only go with members of your household. However, I did find that quite a lot of cyclists had the same idea today but in general they were coming the other way, and those that overtook me gave me a wide berth which was what was expected.

Spring has definitely arrived with new leaves and buds coming on the trees and bushes and blossom in the hedgerows, buttercups in the grass and plenty of daffodils by garden walls.

This location, near Bolton Percy, is of one of my favourite places to stop for a few minutes. As long as there is no traffic or a distant train it is so peaceful to watch the stream for a few minutes and allow the local birds to get used to you and come closer.

This time it was some skittish Fieldfares flying up into a nearby tree, it was quite odd to hear a Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), a summer visitor to the UK from Africa, and then see Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) which are winter visitors from Scandinavia and further east.

 I keep coming back to this tree. On the face of it, it is nothing special, just a common tree by the side of a public footpath. But there is something about the symmetry that appeals to me and I have taken a number of photos in different lights and used software to produce different effects using this tree.

Trees in general give me a sense of permanence, of knowing that - barring storm damage and human activity- they will be there long after I am gone, and many of them were growing long before even my grandparents' grandparents were born. They support a huge range of biodiversity, from lichens to insects, birds and mammals, all manner of species. I have never understood why some people, upon taking ownership of a house or land, seem to have an immediate urge to chop the trees in their garden down. We have a hawthorn tree in our garden that produces wonderful pink blossoms in the late Spring, and birds nest in it and forage for food.
Close up, trees can appear unworldly, the grooves and patterns of the bark produce a map not unlike those of a distant moon.

This close up of the tree above is where a branch once was, but you can imagine that it was a view of an impact crater, taken from space.

Whilst not the circumstances you would wish on anyone, I do wonder whether the present coronavirus outbreak will give us all a chance to re-evaluate our relationship with the natural world. Fewer people are out and about, which is of course a good thing, and as there are fewer people working, the traffic is light, and the world is quieter. Pollution levels are down in major city regions and even the canals in Venice are clearing as no boats pass to churn up and pollute the water.

Millions are working from home, and surely many businesses will see that employees can be as productive, even possibly more productive as when in the office, do we really need to go back to the crowded roads, the full to standing public transport, the pollution and noise? Of course, many do have to travel for work and that's fine, we depend on many professions in our daily lives, but do we all really need to be in an office or indeed have to spend hours in a city centre or out of town retail park buying stuff we don't really need or may wear only a handful of times?

After a couple of months of breathing cleaner air, of quieter surroundings, of being able to hear and see more of the natural world, do we really want to go back to business as usual?

We also need to understand that those some call low-skilled, and those some regard as unwelcome in our country are indeed some of the most essential workers in our economy. Our food security in these islands depends on those willing to work long hours in fields and greenhouses, in our farms and factories, a global threat means that we cannot depend on nearly 50% of our food being imported, down from nearly 80% in the 1980s.

Maybe this will also be the spur for some to start growing their own food. Of course, unless you have a couple of acres or more, you cannot be self sufficient for all your food needs, but the benefits of growing some fruit or vegetables at home, the freshness and indeed the mental health benefits of gardening are well understood and for children, seeing their own plants grow into nutritious vegetables is of course educational and fun.

Those of us who come through this virus unscathed have a duty to ensure that the world that we live in, the economy that we power, the services that we use and those that serve us, are all sustained in one aim -  for the better, more peaceful and more sustainable planet we all wish to live on.

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