December signals the close of the year and I have spent some time looking back over 2019. It began with my sixtieth birthday and has been dotted with visits to gardens and wildlife habitats in places as diverse as Dartmoor, Kent, North Wales and the Cotswolds. Sunny weather and blue skies have brightened every month, making walking and garden-visiting a joy.Mind you, searing heat, drought, high winds and torrential rain have never been far away.
In October an unexpected parcel arrived, kindly sent by a former Teme valley resident who has long since moved away. We share a love of the valley and exchange news from time to time. The parcel contained a journal from the Worcestershire Naturalists’ Club dated 1959. The year of my birth, what a coincidence! There were articles on subjects as diverse as a Worcester earth tremor, a Grimley mammoth’s tooth, Ombersley geology and ancient pottery excavated from the cellar of Worcester’s High Street branch of Marks & Spencer. The longest article comprised a list of all the birds known from Worcestershire, with a few comments about each one. A total of 245 species made the list, of which 144 were thought to be seen every year.
Even in 1959, the fall in numbers of a variety of bird species was laid at the door of developments in agriculture, forestry and land drainage. The West Midlands Trust for Nature Conservation had been set up the previous year, its aim being to spearhead awareness of such issues. Loss of wetland, the use of weed-killers and insecticides, machine-trimming of hedges and increased road traffic were all viewed as negative influences on bird life. On the other hand, there were high hopes for the 1954 Protection of Birds Act,which it was felt would curtail the detrimental activities of gamekeepers.
In 1959 buzzard were just starting to be seen again.After a hundred years’ absence from Worcestershire, 16 were spotted circling near Tenbury. Another bird of prey, the hobby, was described as “a fine little falcon”, but had not bred in the county since 1936. How lucky we were to see one on a Teme Valley Wildlife Group walk at Knighton-on-Teme this July. Ravens were rare in 1959. Only two nests were known in the whole county, one at Stanford-on-Teme and one at Malvern. Now I regularly see them flying over my garden. A chough was thought to have been seen on the Malvern Hills in November 1959, although the report was later discounted. In 2019 a chough was spotted there again. This time it was confirmed, and is the first county sighting since 1826. Back then one was recorded at Lindridge in the Teme valley, but sadly only after someone had shot it.
This year, at Llandudno, I saw my first chough. Acrobatic flight, jet black feathers and red feet and bill make this an elegant bird. In Kent I saw ten different types of orchid, all in flower, and all in a single day.In the Cotswolds I saw chocolate-box villages whilst walking the Warden’s and Windrush Ways. Then on Dartmoor, in brilliant sunshine, I saw an unexpected and totally stunning landscape. What a birthday year 2019 has turned out to be.