Wednesday, 16 September 2015

A place in the heart

David North, Head of People and Wildlife

I’ve fallen in love with a new place and the blame lies with a kingfisher. Home Meadow is part of the Mannington Hall estate and is a place I have occasionally visited in the past as it’s just a couple of miles from where I live.

Home Meadow, photo by David North
About a month ago I was out walking and decided to pay Home Meadow a visit. There’s a small hide that overlooks a beautiful quiet pond surrounded by trees and on entering the hide a kingfisher shot away from its fishing post just a few metres in front of the hide.  Well always nice to see a kingfisher and even a view of one flying arrow like, low over the water but away into the distance was of course a real treat.

Kingfisher, photo by David North
But five minutes later it’s back. Perched so close I felt I could have reached out and touched it.  An exaggeration of course, but you get the idea. What a joy. Twenty minutes of watching this jewel of a bird perched close enough for me to marvel at each iridescent feather. What a privilege. As it turns in the sunlight its back colours change from vivid turquoise blue to sea-green, though its vivid orange breast remains unchanged. A sighting like this is special and has encouraged me to make Home Meadow a regular haunt over the past few weeks.

These visits have changed my feelings about this place. Though I have seen the kingfisher on several more occasions all have been fleeting and distant views but these more regular visits, and my time spent quietly waiting for kingfishers, have given me many timeless moments, and opened my eyes and my heart to this place’s extraordinary beauty. Never mind a kingfisher but  have you ever watched a heron having a wash and brush up. Another extraordinary 20 minute wildlife show never to be forgotten.

The walk to the hide is along a boardwalk which circles through a very wet meadow. Home Meadow is after all the main player at around 10 acres not the much smaller pond. Though I have walked here before several times over recent years either my eyes have been shut, or perhaps it was not in at this time of year when late summer mistily and mysteriously drifts into early autumn. 

Rose-bay willowherb, photo by David North
Just a few weeks ago, or was it longer, as time moves in strange ways when you are falling in love, Home Meadow was all creamy drifts of meadowsweet and the blousy pinks of rose-bay and hairy willowherb. Then in a blink, or so it seems, it became sculpted with the towering, architectural umbels of angelica standing tall and proud over a sea of red knapweed flowers. Blink again and where knapweeds were dancing red in the wind now a great sea of dark seed heads has appeared and by some strange alchemy the fiery willowherb has turned to silky, silver feather heads. But amongst them, and the show which completed the capture of my heart, sway a thousand mauve-blue blooms of devil’s bit scabious to a background music of soft buzzing  carder bees over which migrant hawker and ruddy darter dragonflies dance  patrolling the flower flyways.

Devil's bit scabious, photo by David North
Home Meadow for the past few weeks has shown me a whole set of wonders – a different mood and new discoveries at every visit. This special place is one of more than 1,300 County Wildlife Sites found in almost every area of Norfolk. They cover a whole gamut of habitats, from woodland to wetland and everything in between. Nearly all have only survived because landowners, Parish Councils, or commoners’ groups have cared and put time and effort into managing them.  In the case of Home Meadow this protection has come from Lord and Lady Walpole of Mannington Estate, who ensure the meadow is cut each year  and have made it possible for visitors to enjoy its quiet and peace without damaging its fragile wetland by installing boardwalks and a small hide.

Home Meadow became a County Wildlife Site in 1991 and the Walpoles created the pond in 1986 adding the boardwalk and hide in 1993. I salute them, and all the other owners and managers of County Wildlife Sites, who play such an important role in preserving and protecting these special places. Special for wildlife of course, but many are also special places for people; full of wonders, of quiet, of beauty and of extraordinary joy.

A bad hair day for this heron? Photo by David North
here are many places I have fallen in love with. Does that make me fickle? But from now on Home Meadow has a place in my heart. A relationship that started in a moment of brilliant blue in a hide, has deepened through chance encounters with herons and is now a place I care for deeply. Perhaps a life long passion.

I hope you too have special encounters with wildlife that deepen into a life-time’s love of place. We are fortunate in Norfolk still to have so many places worth falling in love with, worth caring about, worth sometimes fighting for. In return they, like all good relationships, bring great joy, and if you are lucky and explore with an open hear then you may be rewarded when they touch you with their wildness and bring their mystery and magic to your life. 

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