Cronk… cronk, a raven calls overhead, making my spine tingle. Another joins it and they whorl around one another. They cronk again, grating against the mellifluous noise of red kites and redwings calling around me. I stand here rooted to the spot, beaming from ear to ear and trying to come to terms with the event that I have just witnessed.
It is a chilly December day and I have escaped the house to visit my favourite nature reserve, Grangelands and The Rifle Range. I open the gate and am struck by the beauty of this place, as I always am. This is my patch but it is ever-changing and I feel I will never really know it. I am struck by how fluffy the clouds seem today, standing out from the blue sky around them. The chalk rolls out from beneath my feet and is dotted by ant hills. A green woodpecker ascends from the ground below me, yaffling as it does so and I am instantly transported to a summers day. Unlike summer however, this place appears devoid of life. However this could not be further from the case. A party of passerines passes through this sweeping landscape, feeding on the seedheads below, chiming as they do so.
This crisp leaves crunch underfoot and I come across an ancient sweet chestnut tree. I stop and wonder what changes in the landscape this tree has seen, how much life it has supported over the years. The tree embraces me as I climb up and sit on one of its limbs, giving myself time to think. I jump out of the tree and can’t resist turning over the dead wood beneath. This seemingly dead piece of wood is teeming with life. Fungi weave in and out of the wood, supporting a vast array of molluscs. A pill millipede curls up like a hedgehog, pretending I am not there. A sea of springtails leap from every inch of the surface of the log and I return it to its original position. I continue my walk and spot a kestrel hovering motionless in the wind. I remove the binoculars from my bag and focus in on this exquisite animal as it drops into the tussocks of grass behind a juniper bush. I bounce back to the car across the chalk grassland, tussocks of soft wet moss squelching under my feet. Revitalised.