Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Local patch 26

Hunched over the keyboard all morning, I have to get outside to stretch my eyes and uncrack my spine. From Burrow Mump we take the Parrrett Trail. At 79ft above sea level, the Mump stands high above the surrounding levels and moors at the meeting of the Rivers Tone and Parrett.  Along the Parrett there are diggers again. Heaps of shining, slippery mud have been scooped out and the banks are being shored up, propped and packed. Four winters ago these precious defences were overcome. Even on this flood plain, which has been managed and ordered for a thousand years, there was too much water with nowhere to go. The moors became an ocean and for weeks the landscape was returned to its ancient ways. Crops and animals and livelihoods were lost. Roads disappeared. People used boats to move between the lake villages. Salt Moor and Curry Moor sank beneath the floodwaters of the Tone and the Parrett and they dried out only very slowly. Politicians, farmers, conservationists and the rivers authority were all blamed. Blamed each other. Fear has a long memory.

Today, the rivers look tame as they slide between their dredged and bunkered banks. We turn our backs on the Parrett and take the Shepherd's Drove, boots ringing on the ground. The mud is frozen and glitters. The skeleton hedges are bright with winter thrushes. They are snaffling the last of the berries and surround us in clucking, cackling groups. The redwings will soon depart and by next month the fieldfares will follow them north. There are still great clouds of lapwing on the watery meadows. How good it is to see them. Their numbers have declined by 80% since the 1960s and they are a species of conservation concern. But here on the Somerset Levels they overwinter in good numbers. Their cries carry on the breeze as they practise their tumbling, flipping displays in round-winged flight, flashing black and white.

Along the rhyne a bird explodes from beneath our feet and hauls itself into the sky in a sharp, steep trajectory. The snipe relies on its perfect camouflage-plumage to stay hidden, only revealing its bright belly and long, long bill as it shoots skywards.

We turn towards the village and the hedgerows are alive and chattering with tiny birds. Robins sing loud and long. Sparrows fuss and fidget deep within the blackthorn. There are buds and petals and catkins - and a haze of green at the base of the stems. Large clumps of snowdrops are well established in the bank and the first primroses are opening in the sun. Here is a sense of spring. She is zinging through the lanes, waiting to arrive. The beast from the East might be roaring across the land this week, but he won't stay for long. The birds know it.

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