I wake up to the sound of bird song.
I lie with my eyes closed, trying to identify individual singers as they all compete outside my window. There’s a blackbird’s high trill and a blue tit’s peep, a turtle dove’s soft purr and a nightingale’s melody. A cuckoo sounds briefly, such a distinctive call.
I resist the urge to leap out of bed to peer out of the window. Cuckoo’s are difficult to spot but they’re a common enough sight now, that I don’t need to jump up at the off chance of seeing one. When I was a child, I never saw one, rarely even heard that distinctive announcement of spring. When I phoned my son a few days ago to tell him that I’d seen three cuckoos on a woodland walk, he hadn’t been surprised. They were heading towards extinction, I told him. That was years ago, he claimed, like he does when I talk about old TV shows or the price of chocolate bars. It’s all this rewilding, tree planting and woodland management, he claimed. Cuckoo numbers now, are ten times what they were a decade ago.
I smile as I sit up in bed. I can hear a robin and a sparrow, then the harsh cry of a green woodpecker. I swing my legs out of bed and walk over to the window, not quite as spry as I used to be. When I open the curtains, soft dawn light spills over me. The sky is a clear peach with rosy clouds and a few orange streaks.
Birds flit around my average rectangle of garden. There’s a goldfinch on the bird feeder and a handful of starlings at the edge of the pond. The hedgehog, who had been hibernating in the woodpile, is snuffling around the bottom of the bird feeder. A family of house sparrows are hopping along the thick privet hedge.
The grass is growing long again, buttercups, vetch, cornflowers and clover spreading through the long stems. The apple tree blossoms are swelling and the fruit bushes are thick with bright new leaves.
I lean against the window sill and remember when the garden used to be just an area of patchy grass. Weedkiller, pesticides and slug pellets had created an almost lifeless desert, for all it was green. Now, there was a diversity of flowers and plants, colour and forms. There were plenty of places for nature to thrive.
It was only a few square metres but that was all that I had influence over.
This was the little patch of space where I could make a difference.
When I started to think about all the gardens on my road and all the gardens in the town, I thought that making just a little bit of difference might start to add up.
Suddenly, the song birds fall silent and scatter into cover. A sparrowhawk swoops down, narrowly missing a slow sparrow. My jaw hangs open. The sparrowhawk dips its head to take a drink from the pond. Then it launches back up into the air and is gone. In my father’s time, sparrowhawks were almost extinct. Reintroduction and breeding programs have brought them back from the brink.
I turn away from the window and head downstairs to put the kettle on. I’ll have to remember to phone my son later and tell him about the sparrowhawk. He helped me dig that pond. At the time, we’d no idea the beautiful change we’d be making to our lives and the lives of so many others.
I wanted to start the Visions of Hope series with something close to home. Many of us have a garden or access to a bit of green space. A few small changes in these spaces can start to add up, to make a difference. It's something that many of us can do directly, can do today, or this week. We don't need to wait for politicians or global policies and we'll directly reap the benefits.
If you missed the introduction to the Visions of Hope series, you can read it here.
Please share in the comments any gardening tips, suggestions, successes or wildlife sightings.
Links to further information:
https://www.rspb.org.uk/ RSPB for bird identification and suggestions for giving nature a home.
https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/ The Wildlife Trusts for nature based activities and tips for wildlife gardening.