Go West …

Go west, and on the way you can see:

Colour appearing on the verges

Colour appearing on the verges

  • Blackbirds with beaks full of food; second broods, presumably.
  • An old, sparrow-thin lady, looking disproportionately worried as road works are set up near her home.
  • An idiot cyclist getting the turnings muddled up in Tidmarsh. That’ll be me then. Sorry about that, Ford Ka driver, and thanks for cutting me slack.
  • Relatively few cars and even fewer pedestrians; again prompting thoughts of this as a ‘golden age’ for cycling.
  • Friendly people when and where you do come in contact with them.
  • Colour on the verges: not in overwhelming amounts and not everywhere, but in many places the monopoly of purely shades of green is being broken up.
  • Red Kites galore, as far west as Aldworth at least.
  • Crop spraying tractors; having seen the drivers in the cabs of these things wearing air filter masks in the past, these days I always try to hurry by without breathing in. It can be a test.
  • Several examples of well-mended roads. West Berkshire seem to do the job pretty well. South Oxfordshire should come and take lessons.
  • An old and sweaty fat man on a bike, heaving himself up hills. That’ll be me then.
  • And rain clouds gathering further off to the west, engendering a sense of satisfaction in getting a decent length ride in, in time.

Colour and Death

The strong sense of fullness in the lanes continues – that’s the best way I can think of to describe it. The combination of mild and wet weather seems to have made everything growing at this time of year grow that bit extra.

All this growth is overwhelmingly green – very little other colour strikes you at a casual glance. Look more closely and there is variety but by and large it’s subtle, tucked away amidst all the other vegetation in its many shades of green.

Red poppies are an exception: they do grab your attention. It seems to me you’ll find them as stragglers in hedgerows and verges, en masse in some fields – I think mainly, but not exclusively, among cereal crops.

Striking red poppies

Red amongst the green

In the context of a field of crops, poppies are, of course, weeds. I’ve been told that if you see a field without them it more-than-likely means they’ve been poisoned to death. Pesticide is just a selective poison, going by a marginally nicer name.

When you see acre upon acre of weed-free field, as you can around these parts, it is probably masking a lot of poisoning. I suspect that’s another of those things we’d all do well to bear in mind. No, that’s not a knee-jerk ‘old hippy’ thought: that our collective long-term track record on poisoning land isn’t great isn’t really open to dispute. What’s been deemed safe at one point in time has often turned out to be quite the opposite a few years down the line.

More personally, I once met a government scientist in Henley who told me he wouldn’t eat anything grown on flat land near the Thames because of the amount of pesticide run-off from neighbouring hills that’s now accumulated in the soil. Chance encounters like that stick with you. He had no axe to grind, nothing to gain in telling me that.

Boring Caring

I’ve been reading about butterflies being in decline in Britain. That’s one of those stories – it’s telling you something that you knew but that you didn’t realise you knew. Cycling around, in my garden, out walking – wherever, I’ve been registering that butterflies are fairly rare but not consciously. They’re rare enough to make me want to try and grab a photo when I see it.

A Comfrey flower with a butterfly

A Comfrey flower with a butterfly - another huge gap in my knowledge as I haven't a clue what sort it is

As is often the case, the loss of habitat is the issue: the normal bad, short-sighted farming methods; too many people and nature-unfriendly gardens; not enough people caring. It’s the same old story. It’s boring in its familiarity – which means it never makes it on to the widespread general news agenda. There is no effective, loud voice for the caring in any ongoing way.

Riding today – the lanes of Berkshire and South Oxfordshire – and there was another case of only now noticing the obvious: I’d never before realised how green the hedgerows become once the white flowers fade, how rare any other colours are. Rhododendrons are an exception but they’re not native. There are some other colours to be found dotted about but you have to look hard to find them – clover for example. Perhaps it is different elsewhere in the country but now I’m thinking about it, I can’t recall ever noticing a bright ‘natural’ hedgerow anywhere that I’ve been in Britain.

I thought bees and other pollinators were attracted to colours as well as pollen itself or, rather, attracted by colour (and scent) to pollen. Perhaps I have it all wrong, or perhaps these days hedgerows are as ruined and thus nature-unfriendly as our farmed land.

I don’t know if it’s a reflection on me or simply a reasonable reaction to how we live that I’m inclined to believe the latter more than the former.

Rhododendrons - non-native but successful if they find the right conditions

Rhododendrons - successful non-natives

A clover flower

Clover - a spot of colour