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Coping in the Countryside – Post Lockdown

Logo: Holkham
Holkham's dunes (Andy Bloomfield)
Holkham's dunes (Andy Bloomfield)

2020 will undoubtedly go down as one of the most dramatic years our country has faced probably since the Second World War. A World-wide pandemic and the catastrophe of thousands of deaths here in the UK, dealing with a forced Lockdown for those fortunate enough to stay virus free, alongside all manner of civil unrest; sometimes it didn’t feel it could get much worse. Out in the countryside it seemed different, a slight cause for celebration almost. In many instances it was like nature sighed with relief. The sun shone relentlessly, the skies, normally like a cross stitch of vapour trails, were painted only with ever changing cloud formations. Just as nature intended as air traffic all but disappeared. The pronounced lines between man-made and enforced urbanisation alongside the natural world became blurred. Birds, plants and animals started to move more freely, establishing themselves where previously they had been unable to colonize. Nature started to spill over the boundaries from where it had been banished.

One evening's litter - should the sign say - or leave for someone else to collect????? (James Cowan)
One evening's litter - should the sign say - or leave for someone else to collect????? (James Cowan)

Post Lockdown we find ourselves in yet another different world. The countryside is open to all and everyone wants a piece of it. Being locked up and told not to travel is something few in this country have ever experienced and now seems the time to get out there, enjoy the open spaces, flock to the beaches, explore those green lanes and take in all that fresh air. It is good for the soul without question. And this is where the population has become divided. For those that work in the countryside, be they farmers, wardens, rangers, game keepers or simply those that just care, have had to face another seemingly country wide pandemic that for many of us is even more apparent than the results of the often fatal coronavirus. Rubbish: litter from day trippers on a scale that again most of us would have deemed unimaginable, has become the norm. It shows a total disregard and lack of care and respect for the beautiful places large numbers of people are now descending upon.

The rare sight these days of a Ringed Plover with a chick (Andy Bloomfield)
The rare sight these days of a Ringed Plover with a chick (Andy Bloomfield)

Amidst the horror of all the discarded trash, there are fire sites and barbeques in abundance. The results in such a hot period of drought have been inevitable - beauty spots and nature reserves ravaged by fire. Totally unacceptable surely? On top of this, anarchic car parking has taken hold, creating accidents on narrow roads and denying our precious emergency services access. These services are themselves overstretched with first time visitors, desperate to visit the last wilderness areas that are frequently romanticised in the media without highlighting the dangers. Tidal salt marshes and offshore sand bars are as dangerous as ever and this has been proven with ever more frequency since lockdown, with lifeboats and coastguards taking the brunt of it. Everyone is desperate to get to the great outdoors regardless of the consequences. Wild camping has surged with fires and rubbish again going hand in hand. Nesting bird enclosures, vital in giving ground nesting birds such as Terns and Ringed Plovers a chance at survival, are blatantly ignored. Where nature started to spill over, it is now being pushed back further than where it started. For those of us that work in the countryside it has now become the norm for most of our days to be taken up with clearing up, trying to maintain the beauty all come to enjoy. The answer has got to be greater widespread education from an early age. Remember Keep Britain Tidy? Those of us old enough will and that mantra from back in the 70s stuck. So, let us start again! Let’s ban instant barbeques, let’s get the Government debating the ravages of the countryside. Signage and interpretation are all well and good but often only those concerned will read and comply, the perpetrators of this new epidemic of environmental stupidity do not.

The subtle beauty of Holkham NNR with Matted Sea Lavender (Andy Bloomfield)
The subtle beauty of Holkham NNR with Matted Sea Lavender (Andy Bloomfield)

Here at Holkham we have suffered more so than in the past and in a small window of time, making it seem all the worse, but certainly not to the degree of sites on the south coast. The cleaning up of Holkham beach and dunes has been constant, wardening has been essential to guard nesting colonies of Little Terns and prevent fire. We have already seen egg and chick losses of Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers due to dog and people disturbance, although others have simply sat it out, saved by the few extra metres of safety our simple enclosures offer. One particular day I spent several hours with my faith in humanity lost as I watched dogs chasing Oystercatchers, collecting a truck of discarded litter and turning away illegal wild campers. Yet in doing my duties I marvelled at the abundance of Matted Sea lavender and Sea Bindweed (both subtle coastal plants of North Norfolk) as chunky Dune Chafer beetles courted amongst the marram grass. A Hobby flashed by overhead sending the Little Tern colony noisily skyward for a brief moment before they returned to their precious eggs. It instantly restored my faith and mental state. Nature soothes the soul and sights such as these are sometimes all that are required. It’s what makes us want to work in conservation and continue to fight a sometimes fraught battle in maintaining a countryside where nature can still thrive.

For more information about Holkham visit www.holkham.co.uk

Andy Bloomfield, Senior Warden, Holkham NNR

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