“Sorry, the countryside is closed”

This past spring has been like no other. The whispers of an impending lockdown grew throughout March, we watched as Italy, then Spain, struggled to contain their respective Covid-19 outbreaks and we knew the inevitably of action in the UK was coming. I have to admit that prior to the official announcement by Prime Minister Johnson on March 23rd I was sure that in any lockdown situation I would still be able to access the countryside, on my own, as I would be in the protective bubble of Raven, my faithful Land Rover and be in no contact with anyone else. It soon became apparent that this was not to be the case; we were permitted one hours exercise per day, as close to home as possible. All travel had to be deemed essential. 

For myself, living in central Ipswich, the countryside was now closed. 

It was only a couple weeks prior in early March that I began tours for the season, starting off with a fantastic Safari where we saw beautiful herds of fallow deer resting in the woods and strolling open fields, barn owls taking us by surprise as we watched for foxes, little owls on their regular perches, buzzards soaring the early spring sunshine and too many hares to count. And this was followed up with some wonderful time with the urban foxes on Urban Fox Safari; the highlight of which was with a university student, Alicia Demetriades, conducting a photo-study on urban foxes and she left with some fantastic photos and a successful project, see images below. And then the door was slammed shut on the season. Understandably of course and I fully respected the lockdown measures throughout. 

I, like many others, began to take advantage of the wildlife on the doorstep, noticing the subtle and often overlooked emergence of spring. The ferns in the front garden boldly uncurling, the copper beech bursting into life as it sparkled under the setting light of the sun, the nettles beginning their dominance of the small patch of untamed land on the park in front of my town-center house. 

A copper beech study by Philip Charles, taken from the doorstep.

And then there were the birds. 

This spring will be remembered for many reasons; for many it will be the mornings where there were no cars, no buses, no buzz from incoming motorbikes or the almost constant drone of aircraft overhead. Nature sang, it sang oh so sweetly. I did read in fact that despite the birds appearing to sound louder they were in fact singing more quietly – they adjust to the ambient sounds around them and as there was no competition from humans they did not need to sing at the same levels, even though each note rode the air to our ears that bit clearer. 

People seemed to have more time, time to look out the windows, or lay in the garden staring at the sky. I personally have not seen so many buzzards over Ipswich as I have done in the past 12 weeks! Is this due to an increase in number or down to the fact of having the time to look? I suspect the latter. 

And we are now in the period of the lockdown being eased, life will resume a new-normal and we will wait to see how this reflects upon the natural world. I do fear for young animals that have been born into the calmness of the lockdown, how will they fare as the world quickly starts up around them. I must keep faith in many species’ remarkable abilities to adapt, and determination to survive. 

Blue Tit fledgling born into the calm of the lockdown.

Notes from the field

Once the restrictions on travel were lifted I did indeed start to visit my favourite locations on the Spirit of Suffolk safari route, it had been over 2 months away and I was not sure what to expect. It was a delight to be back where I feel most at home, trickling down delicate country lanes that remained quiet, especially as I was often out of the door by 5am to witness the spectacular Suffolk sunrises.

Life in the countryside maintained its beauty, seemingly unaffected by the panic that surrounded its stewards and guardians. For me, the stand out highlight since a return to this landscape has been the abundance and superb viewing opportunities for the barn owl. On some mornings I was seeing 3 or 4 of the majestic birds with unrivaled regularity which was a delight for me, but, I remain saddened that I was not able to share these experiences with guests on safari.

Although those days are soon to come again as I look to begin Safaris on Wednesday 5th August initially for a ten day period.

I cannot wait.

Wonderful moments with Barn Owls in the spring of 2020

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