Local pleasures

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It’s a tiny area, really. Just over half an acre. It takes me three minutes to walk round it.
But it’s two minutes from my front door, and even a tiny wooded area is better than pavement, so I walk through it quite often, trying to ignore the steady stream of traffic five yards away and listen out for birdsong.

Three years ago it was a complete mess. Overgrown, under-appreciated, and used as a dumping ground for takeaway boxes, beer cans, used nappies and probably worse. I would no more have walked through it than stapled my tongue to the floor with a rusty croquet hoop.

But then a group called Nature Vibezzz organised a couple of clean-up days, and this tiny bit of historic woodland (home, according to the blurb on the board, to native trees like Oak, Ash and Hawthorn as well as large exotics including Deodar, Weymouth Pine and Holm Oak and a small population of regenerating English Elm) was transformed. It became a secret pocket of pleasure. When it wasn’t full of litter, anyway; old habits die hard. About this time last year I walked through it and picked up over 30 pieces of litter; today the tally was just four. Four too many, obviously, but throw in a pock-pock-pocking nuthatch, a jay very keen to advertise its presence with edgy squawks, but also very keen to avoid me, and the thin piping song of a goldcrest, and it was enough to give a little boost to my morning.

But mostly it’s heartening to know that in these days of universal and perpetual wotsit and doodah there are people taking the time and trouble to preserve these sanity-giving places, to look out for the local communities that can so easily be swallowed up in the maelstrom of city life, and to try and make sure the next generation grows up with some sort of understanding of nature, no matter how urban their upbringing. Hurrah for them.

And hurrah for the nuthatch. They’ve been stalking me this week, popping up everywhere with their bandit masks and attention-seeking calls after a winter of silence. And this morning their voices were just a part of a gradually growing chorus – I’m not going to fall into the trap of saying spring is on its way, because obviously it’s still only January. But what with the birdsong and the snowdrops and the brightness of this morning’s sun it definitely feels like we’re a week closer to it than we were last week. Which is one of those things that sounds fatuous, but when you stop to think about it is actually a little sliver of profound wisd–

No. It’s fatuous.

I liked my nuthatch though.

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