In the hedgerows all is busy. The sap is rising, leaves unfurl, blossom blooms and the farmland birds are in the throes of brooding a next generation. Last week we laid our final hedge for five months - April 30th is officially the end of hedgelaying, we start all over again in September. At around 10.30, each day, my business partner Richard Gould and I take a break. We sit on the tailgates of our trucks and in between slurps of scalding tea from our flasks we shut up and watch the world around us. Hedgelaying is hard work, you get wet, raked and torn. Old hawthorns love to skewer you, blackthorns stab like a foil and dog rose is rabid. The pay off for this pain are the moments of peace, sat with my friend, watching the wildlife that surrounds us as we take a rest. This last hedge was out in the true wilds, on the edge of the Brecks. To our left lay an old stag head oak, little owls whoop, whooped and jackdaws popped out of nest holes like whack-a-mole. Egyptian geese wheezed away, these gaudy chain smokers are incongruous tree nesters. Greylags nibbled about in the marshy wet beneath the tree, the gander on guard, one eye upon us as we in turn watched him. Buzzards mewed, mobbed by carrion crows that are in worrying abundance. Lifting my binoculars I spied three roe does laid in the vibrant wheat, a buck browsed on the hawthorn buds in a hedge some 60 yards from them, his coat tufted and unkempt thanks to him moulting out his winter jacket. Nearer to our couch, a young muntjac buck acted in a manner I had never seen before. Head down he bucked and span in a tight circle. He lifted a hind leg to scratch at his head, then repeated the process again and again and again. Richard is a fine naturalist, a Purdey Award winner indeed (the Oscars of game and wildlife conservation) yet he too had never seen such a thing before. I learned later that the muntjac was probably exhibiting the signs of having nasal bot fly. I urge you not to Google nasal bot fly on a full stomach! Our attention was then caught by a couple of hares. The doe lolloped in front, behind her, followed a love struck jack. The doe stopped to accommodate her mate, he gratefully accepted, and after a vigorous but notably short coupling, the long eared Lothario finished his duty- springing off his love’s back with a joyous kick of his back legs. The couple repeated the process a further three times, with exactly the same conclusion, the jack hare leaping off in a very smug manner. The doe stood for a fourth time, her mate clambered on with less gusto than before. He tried, by God did he try, however at the conclusion the joyful spring was absent, all swagger was gone. The jack slid off like a beaten man and lay panting, white belly up, for a full minute. The doe meanwhile went nonchalantly on her way, her boyfriend now a dim memory, his duty done!
The reason I note these wonderful things is because they all took place mere yards away from a public footpath. There has been much talk of late that there should be more access given to the public. “Right to Roam” has become a political chant from people who claim themselves to be environmentalists. Trespass they say is no crime, as if humans have some divine right or prerogative. I could not disagree more. Our wildlife needs space to call its own. Of course it has to share that space with the occasional farm vehicle operative or gamekeeper checking his feeders. But keepers tread carefully as do decent farmers, because they know their patch and the creatures who dwell there. I argue, that for ramblers to walk wherever they will, however carefully they may tread, is yet another pressure placed upon our hard pressed wildlife. It is, after all not as if our walkers are short changed. Suffolk boasts 3,500 miles of paths and 12,000 acres of open access. The secret to getting the most from this abundance of freedom is not to tramp for mile upon mile at break neck speed expecting to see wildlife at every turn. Instead “hold you hard boy”. Keep to the path, stand still with your back against a tree, or crouch in the lee of a hedge. Keep quiet and watch. There are wonders around you within spying distance of every footpath. Of course if you want to legitimately gain access off the beaten track you could become a hedgelayer like me, but did I mention how prickled you get, and I won’t even begin to complain about what its like when the sleet goes down your back in winter!