The Countryside About Us November 1997

posted 31 Oct 2017, 07:32 by Chris Hoare
It has been a good year for thistles! Land that remains uncultivated for crops or ungrazed by animals quickly produces a good establishment of Scotland’s national emblem. There are of course a good many varieties of this plant. The most aptly named, I suggest, is “spear thistle”! Like most things in the natural world, even thistles, so hostile to bare legs and unwary hands, provide a rich source of food in their downy seed heads. Sometimes they quickly disperse on a brisk autumn wind. However, this September with many windless days the thistle heads were there for which ever bird wished to feed off them. The thistle flower has already provided nectar for a good number of butterflies. Now it was the turn of the birds. Walking along the footpath that links Kings Hill with Swan Lane through the meadows that is the summer home of some fine horses, one can see large areas of thistles. Nothing unusual about that you might think, BUT what I saw was quite the largest flock of goldfinches I had seen for many a year. A rough estimate suggested at least 50 birds, a real “charm” this being their collective noun. It is a nervous bird which is difficult to approach over open ground but easily identified. The yellow flash of their wings in flight, and a glimpse of their red and white heads is unmistakably “goldfinch”. They flew over the thistle heads like a gaggle of excited school children on an outing!

Nothing is more reminiscent of autumn days than the distinctive smell of stubble fields being ploughed. Quite often long before the damp “earthy” smell reaches your nostrils the evidence of ploughing is in the air. Walking towards Windwhistle along the footpath by the mere, and well ahead of me, I could both see and hear a great assembly of gulls. Newly turned furrows provide a rich picking for these squabbly flocks. A field that had previously produced a crop of oil seed rape was being ploughed. How dry even the newly turned furrows were, but it still yielded a good feed of worms for the gulls. I have known of a particularly bold bird get itself partly ploughed under the turning furrow such is their anxiety to be first in the queue.

We now live in an age when new schemes, new methods and new terms to describe them, is almost a daily occurrence. Agriculture isn’t spared from the revolution. One of the biggest schemes affecting food production is collectively known as “traceability”. It would not surprise me that the day will dawn that the cow that produced the milk you drink for breakfast could be identified! We have come a long way since the cows were milked by hand. When machines were first introduced it was claimed that the main benefit, because the bucket had a lid, was keeping the cowman’s cigarette ash out of the milk!

Earl Soham’s rainfall was a meagre .29” (7.5mm) in September.

Roger Sykes