Wildlife in Lockdown by Verity West

  • At the start of 2020, who could have predicted what would happen? I was getting excited about the Wild Marlow public events we had organised for the year, the planned projects we had been working on and the upcoming launch of the Wild Marlow Gardens Campaign. Then Covid-19 struck!

    All the uncertainty, confusion and fear over the ever-changing information and advice was unsettling to say the least. As an employee of local conservation charity Bucks, Berks & Oxon Wildlife Trust, the decision to be furloughed very early on, to help safeguard the financial security of the Trust, was a difficult one, but I hoped it would only last a couple of months at the most and give me a good opportunity to put some more work in for Wild Marlow.

    I am fortunate enough to live in a very quiet rural area on the outskirts of Marlow, surrounded by woodland, open fields, lakes and a short walk to the river Thames. But what was usually my sanctuary fast became a source of anxiety, as I was fearful to walk my usual routes due to the volume of people and being unable to distance myself adequately on the narrow paths. Even my local nature reserve could not help me at this time due to its popularity. So, as instructed, I stayed at home, not even taking my daily exercise. Obviously this did not do much for my wellbeing! Being isolated from Nature, the thing that I am so passionate about in my work and personal life, was really hard.

    Here is where my involvement in Wild Marlow kicked in to save me. During the month of April we had the opportunity to post ‘30 Wild Marlow Days’ in a local Facebook group, to help raise awareness of the group. This was a fantastic exercise that made sure I was doing something every day while being reminded of the importance of wildlife. Researching some interesting facts about so many different species was brilliant fun and informative at the same time. I quickly realised that continuing to learn, even though I was away from my expert colleagues, was a really positive thing for me. There is rarely a working day that goes by when I don’t learn even a tiny nugget of information, even if I am not aware of it at the time! Reading, researching and learning has been so much more enjoyable than I remember it being at school.

    Then I took to logging what wildlife I could find in my garden, and what fantastic weather I was rewarded with to do it in! First I kept a log of all the birds I could see from my garden. Being at home made me more aware of just how many birds visit my feeders, so I made sure to fill them up regularly. This has been especially wonderful to witness from my temporary workstation, overlooking the feeders, and I regularly get distracted by the comings and goings of mating, breeding and fledging activities.

    It was heart breaking to watch the cancelled Wild Marlow event dates pass by, especially when we had worked so hard, but keeping myself busy with wildlife projects was my plan. I built a new and bigger wildlife pond, transporting eighteen frogs from the old pond to the new one. It is now thriving and something I am really pleased with. I have been creating better habitats for the visiting hedgehogs and to add to the two houses (they don’t use!), they now have a large hidden area of old branches and leaves to snuggle up in, as well as feeding stations so they don’t have to compete for the food with the neighbours’ cats. There are more sources of water for various species, with bird baths, bee water stations and shallow bowls to go with the pond, all topped up with rainwater from the water butt. A new log pile was created with a small stumpery planned soon and a fruit tree planted for blossom and fruit, plus lots more nectar-rich plants for the pollinators. All these projects  as well as some others, meant that my garden was eligible for the Wild Marlow Gardens Campaign Gold Award, and I was very pleased to receive my blue campaign heart to display in my garden – although I am still undecided on the perfect spot for it.

    So now it is mid June. I really miss my place of work and my colleagues but there is no prospect of a back-to-work date any time soon. However, I feel wildlife has played such an important role at this time, giving me practical projects and learning, as well as the joy and wonder I get from seeing and observing nature, especially when it’s something new. The highlight for me so far has been visiting BBOWT’s Homefield Wood early one morning, when the Military Orchids were displaying at their best. A first for me, and such a rare sight in this country, it was truly amazing to see these stunning plants up close, especially as this orchid is the logo of Wild Marlow, chosen when Wild Marlow began in the summer of 2019.  

    I really hope Wild Marlow can come back even stronger next year, with an even better calendar of events for us all to enjoy, with many people having realised during this lockdown time, just how important wildlife and nature really is. Having a bit of wildlife in my daily life has been a saviour for me and while I continue to participate in The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild campaign for June, in reality, I will continue to take part in 365 Days Wild!

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