Everyone has different reasons for moving to the country – health, walking, peace, simplicity, land to grow things etc. Mine is wildlife. I simply want to be able to step out into a more natural world than my small garden or the local parks and manicured nature reserves of my previous life. Yes, there’s plenty of places to escape to on the fringes of Bristol but only through the medium of the car.
I can safely say that in this respect, the move has succeeded beyond wildest dreams. Wildlife teems here. Where in Bristol, we’d get a few hardened blue and great tits on our feeders, here entire squadrons plunder fat balls, nuts and other treats. We worked out that it would cost us over £500 a year to feed them at the rate they were eating. They are now on rations.
Siskins leave the safety of the surrounding forest to raid the niger seed while great spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches chase off the tits whenever they feel hungry. Green woodpeckers prefer to raid the countless ant nests – like mini termite mounds – throughout the garden and bullfinches, seldom seen in Bristol, flock in our hedgerows. Their contact calls are the squeaking of silver hinges.
The birdlife is tremendous – we arrived in early June at the tail end of the dawn chorus but the combined orchestra of song thrushes, blackbirds, blackcaps, robins and chiffchaffs was still deafening at 4am.
I see sparrowhawks almost every day – the surrounding habitat – woods, hedges, pasture, meadow, river and wetland – support plenty of their prey species. Meanwhile, ravens croak overhead as they row across the hill on urgent business known only to them.
While tackling the veg bed (my first big project), I attempted to suppress the grass and dock with flattened cardboard boxes from the move. Now, whenever I lift these, slow worms uncurl. The golden males are particularly lovely. The little pond has dozens of smooth newts and I’ve found both frogs and toads all over the garden. No snakes yet.
But it’s the insect life that truly teems – out of and in the house. After all the weeks of rain, butterflies have appeared – 11 species so far and I’d expect this to double by summer next year. But I particularly love the bumblebees, which take advantage of any break in the bad weather to potter from flowerhead to flowerhead like old ladies out shopping.
At night, moths invade the house, the small ones ending up in spider webs and devoured by spiders so big you can hear their footsteps.
Talking of footsteps, I’ve sometimes dread putting on wellies for fear of what might lurk within. Left under the porch, the sweaty, cheesy innards attract all manner of evils. I once discovered a wasp the hard way – boy did it enjoy pumping its poison into my foot. It was agony but gruesomely fascinating.
Worse are the cold, mucusy landmines known as black slugs (most are orange) – Arion ater – my arch-enemy. Squelch one of those biggies in your welly and that’s 15 minutes of your life gone cleaning up.
And that’s just the house and garden. There’s a whole world of rivers, canals, hills, woods and moors to explore within 20 minutes walk from the door. When I think about that, I’m too excited to sleep.
(Not much wildlife to be seen atop my local mountain – Blorenge – but I wanted to prove that it doesn’t always rain in the Brecon Beacons)