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Living in “The Wind in the Willows”

“The Wind in the Willows” was one of my favourite childhood books and now we seem to be living in it.

This week has seen radical changes in the land around the house. Fergus the tree surgeon arrived on Wednesday with some frightening machinery and along with Tom and Robbie set to, making the road and parts of the wood safe again. There have been high winds even this early in winter and several of the trees had begun to lean dangerously. Across the road the trees arched over and were banging on the roof of the Majestic. It was a job for the professionals and they did us proud.

Clearing the Road

Before Fergus tackled the wood I had a discussion about the other residents. On Sunday I went out to call the dogs last thing at night. A large bird swooped over the wall from the wood, gliding silently straight towards me. I’ve never seen a barn owl in the wild before and certainly never that close. It was probably partially blinded by the security light as it was only 10 feet away when it blinked and veered off abruptly. I stood for a moment, open mouthed and filled with wonder.

We were fairly sure it was nesting in the wood and concerned we might disturb it or – worse – destroy the nest. Fergus cut the falling tree with extraordinary care, located the nest and made the remainder safe. He even left part of the high trunk to make a perch for the owls. Off to one side we have a badger’s set. Actually more like a badger mansion I think. It has several entrances, a flat area where they pull out bedding to dry in the morning and a walkway across the top, now catching some sun. We had thought to carve a seat from the fallen log but now will leave it alone so they can live in peace.

A mansion for Badger

Well, that’s Owl and Badger. Ratty we’ve been tussling with for months and as long as he stays away from the house we are happy. Sadly Mole (or one of them) met a sticky end a few weeks ago. I found a tiny corpse by the back door. Perhaps an offering from the same animal that left a field mouse by the front door last month. We had a host of frogs and small toads in the spring and through the summer. They got into the garden and we were very careful cutting the grass, giving them time to hop away. And the first animal we saw was a weasel, strutting through the garden one evening. Quite a cast I think and fit for a book!

Feral Dogwood on the march

We have let the garden go for a while and the grass was way out of control. Jacqui is forbidden to use the strimmer or mower and I have no shoulder ligaments left so can’t do much. Enter Des, one of our lovely neighbours. He got the grass down and piled out to compost in the wood and tackled the feral dogwood too. Much to our surprise we found a small stone boundary deep in the hedge. The dogwood had broken though and was several feet past it, rooting into the gravel of the drive. It looks rather ragged at the moment but Des assures us it will grow back thicker and can be shaped next year.

Both Fergus and Des are very knowledgeable and have expertise and ideas for the wood. We all agree the ash, over half of the trees, has to go. It is heartbreaking, ripping the centre out of the wood but we are making plans to build back. As the land slopes the rain tends to gather at the road side and this isn’t good for many trees. We do have some willows there however. I fancy putting a double line along that boundary to dry the land a little and act as a natural barrier if the road floods. Fergus showed me how to take cuttings so we can plant from our own trees. I’m looking forward to that this winter.

As well as willow we are looking at oaks (my favourite), birch, a couple of Douglas firs and sycamore of course. In the middle we hope to make a centrepiece with Canadian maple, copper beech and fruit and nut trees, mainly for the birds. It would give the wood a new heart and add a lot of colour and different shapes. I read a saying recently – “He who plants trees knowing he will never sit in their shade has begun to understand the planet”. We won’t see the wood come to its full glory but we will make a start and hope others will treasure and nurture it.

Here’s to the planet – and living in “The Wind in the Willows”.