Roe Deer young family, Sun Lane

“What will the generation after you blame you for then, I wonder?!” My Dad fires out across the dinner table, in an attempt to turn defence into offence during  an almost customary battle of words.

‘The family who prays together stays together’ was not only a familiar adage but a practical philosophy during my christian upbringing. And if prayer was the brickwork of our family home, then a good old fashioned topical debate over Sunday dinner was the mortar. It’s a framework we all too easily slip back into every now and then. 

“I know exactly what our children will blame us for!” I deflect back without hesitation, “our passivity to a flailing planet” and as the words escape my mouth, the mood changes, as I feel the unexpected sensation of H2O spreading and filling my lower eyelids. We change the subject. 

The problem is it’s getting harder and harder to ignore. Globally we see the irrefutable symptoms of a planet in a chokehold, while locally natural treasures are plundered for profits that none of us will see. 

“What’s that sound daddy?” our youngest pulls me out of my latest thought-train of pointless inaction-able pondering. 

“Oh that, that is a curlew calling, beautiful isn’t it.” I reply, relieved to be asked something I can answer. 

“Is carlo rare daddy?”  There’s a long answer, a short and an easy answer. I choose the easy answer, “good question” I say jovially, but the short answer sticks in a loop in my head, because very soon the curlew calling over these fields will be very rare indeed. Pretty soon these fields that the curlew call so assuredly over, that the lapwing dance and fight over and the barn owl majestically hunt over will be under 480 residential houses. 

It is not without irony that the preceding years of disputes and appeals contributed to a boost in biodiversity here. A land under less intense management turned into a habitat that was reminiscent of those almost unrecognisable observations of Richard Jefferies. An equilibrium began to emerge, not unlike the one described in Isabella Tree’s Wilding. But how long would we get away with it?

As the Curlew returned in late March, my excitement bubbled at the unmistakable and for many, iconic sound of Europe’s largest wader. Two barn owls started appearing in the late afternoon sun and scoured the boundaries for careless voles. Several roe deer, still in their winter coats emerge from a smaller, overgrown patch and tentatively graze on the shorter greener grass. It won’t be long now before the lapwing start prospecting and common toads begin their return march to the adjacent nature reserve (formerly a local tip). 

Then, seemingly from nowhere comes the news of an archeological dig. 103 test pits over the 64 acre site.  Days later the diggers, fluorescent clothing and shiny hats crash in. It’s the beginning of the end.

Just like a road traffic accident, at first I try not to look but find myself being drawn back to this catastrophic scene. Two pairs of Curlew appear most mornings and spend the day in an almost tragic game of hide and seek, moving between fields  that the diggers move in and out of. By the end of the first week several lapwing have begun their mesmerising displays, the deer have vanished and the barn owls stay well out of sight until peace is restored. What will happen next?    

There are so many questions to be answered and so many points that need to be expressed. But for now, all I can do is mourn the inevitable loss of a land that time will forget, of a birthright lost and an inheritance squandered.

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