It’s Springwatch time again – which in casa del Frolics is a great excuse to sit around the telly and find out a bit more about the wonderful wildlife we take for granted.
Another reason I enjoy it links back to my study days, and a module on the history of political thought.
For those who haven’t read Leviathan, or whose Hobbes is a little rusty, I’m – of course – referring to his description of the natural state of man* as being in:
continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short
Putting aside his detractors, this pithy phrase has stuck with me, and it always re-emerges from my subconscious whenever Springwatch (or other seasonal shows) come on.
Owl chicks have eaten weaker siblings, badgers have eradicated avocet nests, and nest cams show something being eaten to provide for something else.
Now, I happen to think this is good family TV, and am encouraging the kids to watch (though usually by recording it as they should be asleep!).
Our natural world relies on things being eaten, and that’s factored in to a species’ breeding – lots of eggs/cubs as some will die, some will be eaten, so just got to hope a few make it, and have time to breed before being eaten themselves.
I think it’s important for kids to know – and understand – this, and ideally the earlier they get used to this idea, the less harrowing it will seem to them.
I really believe that understanding the ‘nasty, brutish and short’ state of nature for most creatures makes you appreciate things even more.
If that cute mouse wasn’t so tasty, then there’d be less birds of prey. And it’s the same for less cute stuff – less slugs, means less hedgehogs.
This, in turn means you need to tolerate and even encourage them if you want the ones you do like to thrive.
I do want to try to encourage more wildlife into our garden, but our garden, when we moved in, was pretty pants: lawn and slate chippings on weed membranes covering every square inch of bare earth.
Whilst we’re still trying to work out what to do with I overall (a lot depends on winning the lottery so we can do some stuff to the back of the house that will shape the rest) I’m chipping away at some improvements, which will hopefully bring a bit of life back to it.
I also took down two palm tree type things that were horrific, and planted up some native pear and plum trees which will hopefully keep me well stocked with a variety of crumbles in years to come.
The logs from the palms have been left in a pile to rot down next to a patch where I have sowed some wildflowers, and am letting nettles etc have a bit of space.
Also, begun moving slate and planting some perennials/shrubs and am eyeing up a corner for a small wet bit (either bog or pond) to try to get attract some slug eating critters (and save my veg!).
I’ve tried to get the kids involved too. The boy has helped put together a couple of bird boxes, which is rather optimistic as I don’t think we have enough cover to attract any residents just yet.
I also make sure they help out with the feeding at the two feeding stations we’ve got, which seem to be a popular haunt of house sparrows, starlings, blackbirds, a robin and the obligatory collared dove.
I still need to figure out how to attract sexier beasts like hedgehogs – our fence is long and has concrete gravel boards which will need changing if I want to provide a access to them – but my main priority is getting some cover going. It will take a few years to establish, but make the place more attractive, and if I choose plants well, should provide food for visitors.
I’ve got a few little cameras that I’ve on occasion set up in the garden and wired into the house so the kids can see what’s going on.When the boy was off ill a few weeks ago, I stuck one up to the bird feeder and wired it back to the house for him to watch in the kitchen. He loved it, but wasn’t the ideal place for him to watch so I need to have a ponder and think about finding them permanent homes for them.
Until then, we’ll make do with Springwatch, and getting out into the woods, which is no bad thing.
* I’m simplifying this, but in essence he’s saying that outside a political community life is pretty grim due to human nature. It’s both his reaction to the English Civil War, and – I’d suggest – his own pessimistic view of the ability of people to behave.