August Nature Journal
August has been great for two reasons. First, I handed in the manuscript for my second book at the end of July, so after months of sitting inside on my computer I was finally free to go outside! The second reason is that I'm completely feeble and found the July heatwave way too intense, and while August has been warm it's had that cooler edge that drifts in at the start of autumn. It's such a lovely temperature that we've now booked our wedding in for August next year! *pops prosecco*
I've been riding the horse into the Hangers this month, watching the berries emerge from the hedgerows. I've picked blackberries and elderberries which are now in the freezer, and in a mission to reduce my trips to Tesco and source my food more ethically, I'm going to simmer them down, freeze and defrost them through the winter to replace the frozen blueberries we sprinkle on our porridge. Find out more on hedgerow berries in my first book Food You Can Forage.
Yesterday I only went to the livery to bring in the horse and muck out the field, but it was such a beautiful morning I couldn't resist going for a ride and ended up roaming about for two hours. I found a huge cluster of hop flowers growing beside the road and made a mental note to come back and collect some - brewing wild hop beer is still something I'm longing to try after enjoying moderate success with a batch of nettle beer a couple of years ago!
Earlier in the month I visited our local lake to lounge about drinking coffee with my pal Mark. We found the last summer clutch of Egyptian goslings floating about in the water, as well as a group of teenage cygnets looking lary. The swifts left for migration earlier in the month, but the swallows are still hanging around at the livery after their final clutch of chicks fledged a couple of weeks ago.
I've been looking after the family schnauzer Tinks this week, who likes to sit by the window and growl at passing pigeons and squirrels. One morning I heard her growling at the window and went to see if there were squirrels outside burying hazelnuts, but instead saw a bird sitting on the hedge. At first I thought it was a pigeon before realising the back feathers were all wrong, then I thought it was a kestrel, but in the end it turned out to be a sparrowhawk, just two metres from our first floor living room window. I watched it for two minutes before it leapt up and flew across to the electricity box across the road which is surrounded by hedges and, consequently, a flock of house sparrows. My view was then obstructed, but on listening to the sparrows let out a collective scream, I'm assuming the sparrowhawk enjoyed a small lunch.
One of my favourite encounters this month happened when I was walking a section of the Serpent Trail, a winding footpath from Petersfield to Haslemere that joins up the heathland habitats along the western Weald. Tinks and I had just reached the edge of a field when we looked over the hedge and saw a herd of deer moving around. At first I assumed they were wild, but when we moved closer we saw the path cut through a red deer park, and when I later looked online I found they were a venison supplier for Waitrose. Most of the herd looked startled when we walked past the fence, but I suppose their proximity to a footpath must have familiarised them with humans because after a minute or two, a few of them approached the fence and let me stroke their lovely faces.
I don't know much about deer farming, but as far as raising animals for meat goes, this seemed like one of the more natural ways to do it. They were free to act like a roaming herd, except that the males had their antlers chopped off. The females were kept in a separate enclosure with a de-antlered male, and I could see he'd been rolling in the muddy bank along the river because he was caked. A little later in the year, this could be a sign of the deer rut starting, an annual event when the males display their dominance over rival stags by adorning their antlers with foliage, bellowing and urinating in mud, before rolling in it to anoint themselves with the scent. Deer of both sexes also wallow in summer to remove moulting fur, so although I could feel autumn on the air, I think they were probably still in summer mode.