“I leant upon a coppice gate

      When Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter’s dregs made desolate

      The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

      Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

      Had sought their household fires.”

The opening verse to ‘The Darkling Thrush’ by Thomas Hardy – Which you can read in full here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44325/the-darkling-thrush 

Looking back now, it seems pretty implausible that a young adult who spent nearly every spare moment playing Grand Theft Auto would suddenly and inexplicably find themselves hooked on a book published in 1874 called Far From the Madding Crowd. 


Yet maybe these epic pendulum swings to and from the seemingly unconnected are something familiar to those who have known me the longest. 


Far from the Madding Crowd was a book that sparked a short fascination but enduring admiration for its author Thomas Hardy. 


Today, I find myself living in a village with faint, faint echoes of the landscapes so vividly and painstakingly described in Hardy’s books and poetry. One of the criticisms I’ve heard directed at Thomas Hardy is his lengthly descriptions and depictions. For me though, it’s what sells and sets him apart as a writer. His uncompromising determination to record a place and time, reflects a recognition of a world in flux and a responsibility to preserve it, warts and all.   


From harnessing fire to building 5G masts, I doubt there’s a generation in the history of humanity who hasn’t felt the dizzying effects of unrelenting change. But maybe it’s the changes we don’t notice we should find more nauseating. 


I recently passed a house whose eaves are a regular nesting and roosting spot for starlings. It wasn’t so much that the rooftop roost had been filled with expanding foam that disheartened me, it was the fact that no post-eviction provision had been considered for them.

If the homeowners were aware of the 66% decline in UK starlings would they have placed a nest box or two afterwards? How many people are even aware that this familiar bird is in such trouble?


Starling numbers are just a drop in an ocean of examples where drastic and alarming changes seem to pass us by with not much notice. Swifts have declined by more than 50%  since 1995, Curlews, Cuckoos (80% decline), a quarter of our native mammals and insects too are all facing dramatic and dangerous population declines. The problem is, most of us don’t see it, or the impact of it.  

More recently, my attention has been focused on our local climate. Waiting, hoping for a good frost to get out in and photograph. The problem is, with December just days away, we still haven’t had a good, solid frost. We’ve had a couple of very mild frosts but those didn’t even warrant a nectar card scrape along the car windows. Here in Burley in Wharfedale and anecdotally speaking, each year, appears to offer less and less hard frosts. It’s not just me that’s noticing it, however. It’s evident in the changes of some of our wildlife behaviour too. 


Now, I have to be careful here not to turn this post into something it’s not meant to be. It’s important to bear in mind that there are lots of different pressures and variables that can independently and/or collectively affect bird and wildlife behaviour. What I do want this blog article to highlight is, that when you start to get outdoors and watch and photograph your surroundings, it’s inhabitants, you start getting a more intimate picture of the silent, unseen changes occurring. 


I cannot help but believe the more people going out with their cameras and recording these local, small and largely unseen changes, the bigger the picture we’ll get to see. 


Of course, such observations will be hard to offer anything much beyond anecdotal evidence. And if you are interested in the hard science on the effects of climate change on the UK’s wildlife behaviour, this 50 year study offers a good starting point: https://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/news/fifty-year-study-shows-climate-change-pushing-uk-wildlife-out-sync  


While science offers a vital foundation and a tangible yard-stick for us, I really feel that until will are all able to contextualise it with our own observations, the harder it will be for people to care. And before we know it, our once-iconic birds, beasts, even localised frosts, will become just a subject of legend, found only in our local archives and museums…. 

A 2019 November Frost...

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