A Hymn to Wildlife

Life and death in the forest



7/14/20234 min read

It may surprise you to learn that it is still a requirement in British schools to hold a 'daily act of collective worship of a broadly Christian character.' Consequently, as an ex primary school teacher , my head is still stuffed full of hymns. To this day if I hear stirring music, the words will come to me unbidden. Last week the strains of 'Onward Christian Soldiers ' were broadcast on French radio. It was only after I had joyfully burst into song that I suddenly shuddered at the imagery. But some hymns feel more appropriate. When there is a heavy frost for example, I love to sing the words of the 'Coventry Carol,' or a chorus of 'Glad that I Live Am I' on a beautiful sunny morn. Yesterday another hymn came to mind as we opened the shutters to let some cool air enter the house, before the intense summer heat would force us to close them again. As we were preparing breakfast we heard a dull thump, and immediately knew what it was. A bird had unwittingly flown into the glass. Sadly this does happen from time to time. A robin perhaps, or a finch will fall and stay comatose for a while before reviving and flying off. This time however it was a larger blackbird that had collided with our window. Unlike most birds who remain stunned but upright, this poor fellow lay on the balcony, with its claws stretched out , as if in rigor mortis. The prognosis looked bleak. After breakfast the bird was still there and the words of a hymn sadly came to mind:

"He(sic!) sees the meanest sparrow fall

Unnoticed in the street"

I reflected on how we share our forest home with thousands and thousands of creatures, from the hulking great sanglier to the tiniest ant. Life and death must inevitably be all around us, but generally it goes unseen . The forest closes up around it and life goes on. It is all part of Nature's balance. But when we do notice a death, it feels as though we have lost a friend. Sadly, we are all too aware that our presence here can unwittingly cause a fatality. A bird may collide with our glass; the mower may destroy a few grasshoppers or crickets; Léo may catch a bird or a tiny vole; or a small creature or insect may fall into the swimming pool and drown if we are not there to save it.

So what about our young blackbird?

I am glad to report that when we next checked on the stricken bird it was perched upright. A few minutes later it headed off into an adjacent skimmia bush. Sometimes there really are happy endings!

The young blackbird recovering from its collision
The young blackbird recovering from its collision

But some recent French news did not make happy reading. After a three year review a new ESOD list of pests has been announced. Any creature that is on this list( un espèce susceptible d'occasionner des dégâts) can be killed by shooting or trapping outside of the hunting season, in other words all year round. Rooks, carrion crows , magpies, jays and starlings are all named. Needless to say I feel indignant. I love to watch the rooks that congregate among our village plane trees, or the jays that gather acorns from the garden and drink from our pond. Why should they be considered pests? Last winter we delighted in watching a pine marten, with its soft white underbelly, creep onto our balcony at night to steal a fat ball from the birds. The pine marten is on the ESOD list too, along with weasels, stone martens and foxes. Yesterday a male fox barked plaintively from the edge of our garden all morning long. Did he know that he is now under even greater threat, I wondered? Needless to say conservationists in France are up in arms. La Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux(akin to the RSPB) calls it an ecological aberration, whilst in a survey 65% of the public stated that they were against this. It is widely said that if people want to better protect their chicken coops against foxes or weasels, they can do so without interfering with the ecological balance .

Thanks to Claire for this  picture of a fox and its cub
Thanks to Claire for this  picture of a fox and its cub
Young starling being fed(thanks Claire!)
Young starling being fed(thanks Claire!)

Now follow this link to see how we traced the creature that was stealing our birds' fat balls...a beautiful pine marten! How could we possibly wish it harm?

Pine Marten

I shall end this blog with more words from the same hymn. Whilst I personally do not follow any religion, these are sentiments that we can all surely agree with.

I Love To Hear The Robin Sing,
Perched On The Highest Bough;
To See The Rook With Purple Wing
Follow The Shining Plow

black bird perching on brown branch
black bird perching on brown branch