Our patch of the Weald
View southeast over the area covered in the website. This is typical High Weald countryside, with a rolling, sometimes more steeply pitched topography supporting grazing, orchards and woodland. Elevations are 25-85m, rising to 100m in Hemsted Forest off to the right of the pic. The mixed woodland in the middle distance is managed and is home to some of the Tawny Owls that feature on this site.
HARD TO BELIEVE, but neither owls nor microphones, or sound recordings and nice pics, are intended to be the main topic of this site. They have just been a way of getting started on the daunting task of making a website.
The topic I'm working round to is the human influences that shape our english countryside -- specifically, an approximately 16 km2 (6 square mile) area of the High Weald of Kent, England. This means everything from the people who live and work in the area, or pass through or fly noisily over it (from the small local airports) in the course of work or pleasure, up through the many tiers of local and regional government to the national government at Westminster, and beyond that the European government in Brussels. It is a tiny corner of southeast England, but my hunch is that it can be usefully held up as a mirror to the whole.
Why do this? Well, it did all sort of begin with the Tawny Owls, and to some extent they and their fate remain the inspiration. But our interest, and concern, has extended to other wildlife in the area, and from that to the natural environment ... and from that to the forces, now chiefly human, that shape the countryside. Obviously it starts with the farmers and the local councils, but no one who listens to the news can fail to realise that increasingly the directives that determine the way the countryside develops and evolves come from a range of agencies at higher levels. These provide the framework in which landowners, farmers and foresters operate and in which planning and development take place.
So yes, you could say that the life of a local tawny is influenced by decisions taken in Ashford, Westminster and Brussels. Perhaps not as much as the life of a local cow, but it is that unsettling perception of invisible political forces at work in the fields and woods through which we walk that infuses this website. Equally important are economic forces, some working in tandem wih the political directives from higher up, as in farming subsidies, and others more localised and immediate, as in the decisions the owner of a wood makes to maximise his or her return. And there are more, which this website will explore. Some of these forces may seem distant and abstract, but they are as real in their effects as the wind and the rain.
Our own interest is that both of us have families who live locally. Corinne's family home is actually in the area we are describing, and my family has lived for many years in nearby Cranbrook. It is an interest that has grown through many long walks, as a result of which we have become aware just how much the area's unspoilt, secluded and peaceful nature is a direct result of the fact that its single-track lanes discourage the passage of through traffic. Possibly this is also why it is the only place we have ever heard Turtle Doves...
Despite the website's name, there is no religion lurking here! The clay is the Wealden Clay that underlies the area, and of course the implication in the name is that it is the clay from which everything arises and to which one day all will return, God or no god.
Seven-spot Ladybird surrounded by several 16-spot ladybirds, Tytthaspis sedecimpunctata. Detail below.
Dragonfly photographed with my new camera (Panasonic FZ30).
THE AREA DESCRIBED HERE IS OF SPECIAL INTEREST because access is provided by a series of single-track lanes which are little used by through traffic — see pic at right. Many similar areas in Kent and neighbouring Sussex bounded by busy main roads are crossed by two-track lanes which tend to be used as “rat-runs”.
This makes the area unusually favourable for wildlife, which is safe from the often fatal effects of fast traffic. Parts distant from the main bounding roads, or sheltered in dips and valleys, are also relatively free from the increasingly pervasive 7/24 traffic noise. This is good for creatures that use their sense of hearing to avoid predators, or, like owls, to locate their prey. And apart from a sector in the north around the Benenden Chest Hospital, which is densely lit at night, the area is little affected by the glow from street lighting.
Clearly, this unusual situation will be threatened if there is excessive development in the area, or if the lanes are widened. The preservation of the quality of the natural environment in this and the few other remaining similar areas in the Southeast will be possible only if local boroughs and councils, residents and the general public appreciate their value and act consciously to prevent their gradual degradation and disappearance.
To draw attention to such areas by using this as an example is the primary purpose of the website.
The area is traversed by three or four quiet lanes used for access by farms and the few local residents. The lanes are all single-track and little used by through traffic. This is the lane past Stumble Wood, part of the Hole Park estate, which owns a number of farms in the area.
For another view of one of these idyllic lanes, see the Owl Nesting Diary page 16, bottom.
You can help these creatures . . .
One of our greatest rewards has been to make it possible for the female Tawny Owl shown on the right to raise families successfully. For three years running she and her mate lost their chicks because they were using old crows' nests. At last, in 2006, she used a nestbox we put up nearly 18 months earlier. The result was two chicks that survived and fledged — the previous six had all fallen from their precarious twig platforms.
This whole saga started in 2003 and is described in the section on Our owls. A further reward was that the mother owl tolerated my presence and let me film her near the end of the 2006 nesting period. The camcorder still on the right shows her watching her first fledged chick in a nearby pine tree (lower pic).
In clean, managed woodlands Tawny Owl chicks fall from the nest for one very simple reason, which is explained in an article here. There may be other reasons for nest failure, but this one appears to be why so many flightless tawny nestlings are found on the ground in the spring. They aren't stupid, they don't jump suicidally; it's just an accident that becomes almost inevitable if the parents are using the abandoned nest of another species.
That's why there's now a largish section on how to look after and release a rescued orphan. You shouldn't attempt it if circumstances aren't right, but the checklist on the first page gives the information needed to decide if it's a realistic proposition. That's followed by much more detailed info on care and release than you'll find elsewhere.
This season's nesting events are recounted in the Tawny Owl Nesting Diary 2008. It would be still more wonderful if others are inspired to put up owl nestboxes as a result of reading it. Owls are highly observant, curious creatures and keep close tabs on their territory. If they like a box they're likely to use it, though you may have to be patient.
Nestboxes for Tawny Owls is an extensive section with guidance on everything from choosing a site through making one yourself to boxes on sale on the internet.
There's an illustrated guide to the first 100 days in the life of a tawny chick. The photos show how the owl develops from a tiny chick to an adult at five-day intervals.
August 2008 — Release of two owls
The best outcome of finding an orphan is, naturally, to see it established back in the wild. In an exciting new venture, two tawnies, both daughters of the mother owl shown above, have been set free in a nearby wood. It's early days, and we're keeping our fingers crossed, but so far they're doing well. Illustrated report starts here. Let's hope there'll be lots more to tell.
Our wonderful mother owl — mother of 9 chicks so far that we've got to know more or less closely.
This fledgling, reared in the safety of a nestbox, didn't need to be rescued!
These two kiddies did need to be rescued. But now they've got a nice wood of their own.
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