When I was a small boy we moved from Birmingham to a small village in Somerset called Oakhill. It is now famous, or slightly famous for having a brewery. The house was quite a large one on the edge of the village and my earliest memory of it was of a wild overgrown tangle of trees and bushes that made up part of the front garden. To call it a wood would be too grand, but to my small boys imagination it was a paradise, a wild, untamed place that could be home to bears and all sorts of wild and wonderful animals. Of course the tangled woody patch could not be allowed to stay and my dad, who has that habit, found in many Tory voters of a certain age of wanting nature regimented and tamed, arranged for it to be cut down and a manicured lawn and rockery planted in its place. This trait became a source of conflict between us over the following years. My dad embarked on his tidying projects, battling and wrestling nature into submission, whilst I resisted and found myself accused of being lazy because I preferred wild and unkempt places. As I have grown older this desire to see nature untamed has got stronger. Not for me manicured lawns and well laid out flowerbeds. So you can imagine that I take a great delight in walking through Lightwood Wood and down through the remains of the reservoir. Severn Trent who own the land seem to have adopted a policy of letting nature get on with it, recovering its rightful place. The result is a riot, a chaotic but a wonderful tapestry of trees, wild flowers, bushes and grasses that not only create a beautiful landscape, but provide homes for plenty of animals.
In February and March the relic ponds seethed and writhed with frogs and then toads that had found their way via various routes to this vital spawning ground. Most mornings as the mist cleared from the frosty ground, a grey heron croaked and flapped its way along the ponds before sated heading back off to wherever it came from.
Now of course the woods and the bushes are alive with birds, hunting insects and seeds and frantically feeding their young. A family of buzzards loiter around the fringes and occasionally plunge into the clearings in the woods to snatch a vole or small mammal. A rook flies purposely over with what looks like a frog dangling from its beak, whilst the buzzard bored with the woods drifts upwards on a thermal in seek of something more substantial.
Away from the remains of the reservoir there is an old wood. Some of the trees, old infirm and sickening have collapsed in the various winter storms and now lie forlorn and crippled. One leans against a healthy one whilst another has been wind felled and uprooted its root ball, so that now it lies across the ground, and where its crown was, there is a tangle of branches, full of little hideaways and homes. Where the trees reached for the sunlight and proudly once stood, now sunlight streams down giving life to new plants, new species, so that the cycle of regeneration and rebirth can continue.
And all this has seemingly been achieved with little effort, with the minimum of intervention. Already siren voices are calling for the wood and the relic ponds to be cleared of their “stifling growth”. Cleared and arranged neatly so that some of us can appreciate the order that our intervention brings. Nature tamed, maimed to do our biding.
So I make a plea to Severn Trent. Ignore these siren voices, stay away from clearing and pruning and felling. Make a virtue of what you have allowed to happen here. Perhaps appoint or employ an ecologist or environmental scientist to record the changes, the rate of change, the species that move in first. Demonstrate that leaving it alone, letting nature take its course, can be done. And then just when everyone is feeling smug about it and you are getting plaudits and mentions on Springwatch, drive a couple of tanks through the undergrowth, clear a swath through the wood and leave a trail of broken shattered trees, forcing the regeneration process to begin all over again. Or let some wild boar lose and release beavers in to the ponds. But be brave and be different. The results will astound us all.