‘The Land’, Cowden, Kent, July 2015, 7-8PM, by Dora Clouttick, Rewilding Sussex
I find a spot on the land in the long grass and I sit. Road behind me, river in front. Breezes from the southeast carry the sounds of cows lowing, the setting sun warms my right side from the west. Sky overhead and earth below me and grass as high as my eyeline.
We acquired this land two months ago with funds given to us by those that love us, both living and now passed. Our intention is to invite back the wild. Learn, listen and watch here, love, laugh and cry, dance, write, grow, think, eat and dream. We scarcely know what we are doing. Buoyed up by things we have read, people we have talked to, ideas shared and whispers in our hearts. Spurred into actuation. I for one am hoping life on and in the land will show us the way.
There’s wildness here already, even in an overly managed and manicured field in a corner of Kent, spitting distance from Sussex. It’s dampened and you have to look for it. Rabbits, at least two separate warrens, can be found in the woods and down by the stream. They nibble on the short grass by the footpath at dawn and dusk. Woodpeckers live high in the oak tree that must be at least 200 years old. How wild was it when that tree first pushed its cotyledons up through the damp earth? I’ve seen the woodpecker’s holes and heard them at work and I’m wondering how to negotiate shared space in that tree for our tree house!
Last time we camped overnight I smelt what I thought was fox. As the night drew in we heard loud noises coming from the woodland corridor between the road and us. We approached torch in hand, heart in mouth. Two eyes glowed back, low to the ground. The tracker amongst us instantly retreated to find where a crossing might be. A quiet 20 minutes later he reappeared to report, badgers, one big and one baby. Perhaps it was badger I smelt not fox.
The sun is low now, making the grass fluorescents glow and hundreds of tiny insects (gnats?) are swarming in the 2 meters above the meadow. Their torsos are picked out glittering in the light looking for all the world like I am in the midst of a fairy rave in full swing.
We want to help the wild return. We want to help this place find its own balance again. We want to invite species to return by making space for them and re-introducing them where we can.
The field certainly looks wilder since we have taken over its guardianship. We stopped the early summer cut for silage and compared to the trimmed fields on both sides this spot certainly looks more naturally diverse. We just wanted to see what was here first, grasses mainly it turns out unsurprisingly. But when they are long like this dozens of butterflies flit through their canopy awakening my inner lepidopterist and making me reach for a net on a stick!
The longer grass reveals other secrets too about the visitors here, backed up by our inquisitively placed camera traps. The deer come through here. It looks like they lie down in the long grass, flattening it in areas and hiding out. They are not the only ones. At night the owls call and by day the pigeons flop by while the swifts dive and swoop. I almost stepped on a pheasant last week and the whole place is screaming out for a good game of hide and seeks!
How many generations of rodents have already taken advantage of this season’s unexpected long grass? Protected from the keen eyes and sharp claws of owls for once in their short lives.
We know there are wild boars near here. Will they ever roam again in numbers large enough to periodically feast on and learn from? Will there be enough again to regenerate the forests that have been felled with their grass destroying foraging? Or would we kill them all again first?
“Why have you bought a piece of expensive land in Kent?” asked the farmer’s wife down the road who kindly let us fill our water containers.
“We want to rewild it” I said.
She looked at me doubtfully but there was a wild glint in her eye!
What can I do? How can I help? What do you need? I ask the land silently with my heart. A tree creaks in the woods. A cricket trills in the grass. The canopy rustles. I wonder.
My science brain says I must be mad, talking to the intangible, ‘talking’ with my heart. But how else are we to reconnect with the wild if we don’t use our hearts?
And if it did come back, how much ‘wild’ could we take until we are scared and threatened and tame it all into submission until again we miss it so much our souls are unsatisfied and we don’t know why? Or, will it be a different story this time?
At minimum it is wonderful to just sit in a field and watch and listen and think. Slow down and notice. Try to understand the land and the other organisms we share it with.
The oak tree has light green new leaves at its branch tips. The ash is already heavy with hanging bunches of seed.
The ladybirds are hanging upside down from the grass tips. I can see at least five in the meter semi circle in front of me.
The sun is making a fire-cloud in the west and I’m off to meet my lover.