Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Rock Steady

I spent a few lovely hours at Steart Point on the Severn Estuary today recording for a natural history programme for Radio 4 - about the Severn Estuary funnily enough.

The island in the heat haze is Steepholm and we'll be going there in a few days time as well - a rock steady island in a very dynamic river.

It was so hot in the middle of the day and the atmosphere still and tranquil. The tide was very far out and about 1500 shell duck sat on the mud flats just where the sea formed a faint white fringe to the glistening mud. A bright red linnet sat on a fence post just below the hide, I'd been listening to it singing away for ages, then it popped up and perched on the wire looking gorgeous - but would it sing when I pointed my mic at it? Of course not! Painted lady butterflies skipped amongst the hedges and along the grassy lanes, lovely to see them all the way from Africa. How do these delicate fluttering wisps of insects make it all that way?

I was with naturalist Chris Sperring and BTO man Aonghais (Angus) Cook. We were talking about the amazing variety of bird life that uses the estuary, summer and winter. Winter is the spectacular time to come here and see thousands of waders roosting and feeding on the mud. The flat expanse can seem so harsh at that time of year but the freezing winds and biting cold of a winter wader watch seemed a long way away this afternoon, it must have been over 30 degrees. I felt very privileged to be watching birds in this peaceful, beautiful place.

A very happy cow seemed to be having a good day as well.

What will the proposed Severn Barrage do to the birds and butterflies here? Lots of research is being done to find out, but I suspect the harsh truth is that if we keep using energy at the rate we do now we will have no option but to build it, no matter what the consequences. So for now I am determined to make the most of this wild estuary, a glimpse of how things looked thousands of years ago around so much of our coast, and try not to imagine a shiny barrage stretching to Wales. I'm just glad the mud and the birds are here now and try to do everything I can to keep it this way.

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