I’m in from the field. The mud is drying on my cracked, leaky boots, my binoculars are safely snuggled up in their case, and my trusty all weather hat is hanging on the wardrobe door, grateful no doubt for a respite from guarding my head against sun, rain, and nasty little flies. My data is entered, the last few jars of beetles are gently decomposing in the garage, awaiting preservation, and my valiant weather-beaten, pigeon-poo-strewn, hedgerow-scratched chariot is looking forward to being thoroughly cleaned, at last.
Most unfortunately, this means I’ve run out of excuses for now to go outside, enjoy myself in the sunshine, see wonderful things, and still describe it as ‘work’. So I’m mostly spending my time scratching my head over the response of my bird data to a million and one variables, trying to make sense of an awful lot of numbers, whilst struggling to make a dry scientific report sparkle and sing like landmark Pulitzer-winning investigative journalism. It’s hard to be entertaining and witty in the third person, alas, whilst remaining both accurate and informative, so I’ll have to scratch that particular itch via the stylistic free-for-all known as blogging – allowing you, kind readers, to judge whether I am successful!
I must say though, that if I’ve really left everything so late as to not have any time at all to go out and enjoy wildlife, then I’ll have let myself down quite badly – after all, as an aspiring conservation professional, being somebody who is organised enough to balance two very important things would be a good asset to boast. And also, going outside and engaging with nature is, if we’re ‘wildlife lovers’, simply what we do. It’s who we are. It would be pretty hard to truly love something you don’t really know.
So I’m sure I can sneak in the odd bird walk. My car – and, weather permitting, my hat – can continue their well-deserved rest. There are red kites, yellowhammers, linnets and other beautiful things to be enjoyed just a short stroll away from my desk. As I’ve mentioned before, I can of course just watch and listen from the splendidly large rectory windows, though I must confess that my delight in such an expanse of glass was today dimmed a little by the unfortunate, but mercifully swift death of yet another young blackbird. Must put up some stickers or something.
It isn’t as if I won’t learn anything, because I will go out for short little walks with equally little scientific objective. When I consider the knowledge of many top birders and other amateur nature enthusiasts, there are several lifetimes’ worth of things I don’t know about even the most everyday wildlife. And when we go out into the field, we don’t just bring back observations and scientific knowledge, but perhaps best of all we learn something about ourselves. We learn what makes us tick, how we respond to nature in its unfiltered glories, ambiguities, and struggles for life. You have the quiet space and inspiration that nature provides to consider your own place in all of it. I hope that the personal harvest I’ve reaped from field-‘work’ this year will reflect that and be one of greater self awareness, confidence, contentment and joy, as well as all the practical skills I’ve learned and re-learned.
In the meantime, a more traditional sort of harvest is starting in the fields around North Waltham. Well, I say traditional, but oilseed rape has only been grown in the UK for a few decades and, round these parts at least, has rather caught on, swathing Hampshire in day-glo yellow for much of April. More on rapeseed later, if I get round to it, because it is quite interesting. Anyhow, I know that at least one local farmer has started to reap what he hopes will be his reward, since on my way back from shopping yesterday I caught a brief glimpse through the hedgerow of a rather stylish pale grey combine harvester (brand new I dare-say), trundling purposefully across a mature winter-sown rapeseed crop.
Whatever the destination of this particular heap of seeds, an early sighting of a combine was a timely reminder that for all us conservationists might go on about protecting wildlife, agricultural landscapes are supposed to produce something that has an arguably higher value to humans than the existence of other free living animals – food! It’s often said, as I think I have here before in one way or another, that there are plenty of ways in which healthy amounts of both of those lovely things can be produced in the countryside every year. An awful lot of work by very intelligent people has been done in the past to find ever more ingenious ways to do this.
That perhaps brings me back full circle to the reason that I ventured out this summer in the first place, besides the obvious credit fulfilling requirements of my MSc. I’m not yet one of those very intelligent people (I’d quite like to be!) but I’m working with some who are trying to improve the balance, to tweak the conservation engine as it were in order to do that conservation and farming thing even better. Not a very technical explanation of my research, I know, but I don’t want to bore you with more detail. Yet. I trust that in some small way I’ve been able to help.