Thursday, 22 June 2017

Local patch 11

In June, when the days are as long as they can be, RSPB Ham Wall hosts its annual yoga evening. Last year we were washed out, postponed to a chilly July evening when we creaked our way through the exercises and wrapped up in warm fleeces at the end.

This year we unroll our mats under a blistering sun and quickly seek out the shadier spots. We meet in a small clearing between the elder and alder and willow. Our gentle-voiced instructor suggests stretches and shapes and we put some of the movements together into routines. It is a quiet and peaceful activity. We focus and breathe deeply and let our minds spin. There is the fresh, green smell of plants and leaves and, once on the ground, the warm, mineral scent of the black earth. Beneath our feet the ground has a forgiving, flexible feel. Peat retains water like a vast, vital sponge. We are standing on precious ground. The peat is the remains of ancient mosses and sedges, laid down thousands of years ago. It is formed very slowly and torn up in a heartbeat, and so the reserves of the Avalon Marshes protect it as an endangered habitat.

The sound of the breeze in the reeds is Ham Wall in an earful! It sighs and scrapes and hisses; there is a rustling in the secret depths as the creatures settle for the night. Watery birds gabble and cluck on the pools and in the rhynes. Coots and ducks are fussing and splashing. A cuckoo calls in the distance and, from time to time, a single booming bittern punches the air. The sedge warbler's rambling conversation is the soundtrack of the evening, with Cetti's warblers joining joyfully. Marsh frogs warm up their voices and start their croaky evening song.

We turn our faces to the sun and concentrate on our senses. I visit Ham Wall often, always keen to know the latest sightings: what is about? What will we see today? Visitors ask, 'what can I see and where can I see it'? We fuss with our binoculars or cameras or telescopes, aiming for better views and sharper pictures. How marvellous, then, to spend time with our eyes shut and our ears and hearts open.

Ham Wall is a feast for all the senses.

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