And though thou seemst a weedling wild –
Wild and neglected like to me –
Thou still art dear to nature’s child
And I will stoop to notice thee
For oft like thee, in wild retreat,
Arrayed in humble garb like thee,
There’s many a seeming weed proves sweet
As sweet as garden flowers can be”
John Clare, “To An Insignificant Flower Obscurely Blooming in a Lonely Wild”
Seeing a buzzard mobbed by a crow over my head while waiting for the bus at the end of my road in North London last week set me thinking about how nature in London has changed even in my time here. I had never seen a buzzard in London before, although checking out sightings online I found others have regularly seen them too. Over the past few weeks I have seen a vast array of flora and fauna without venturing that far from home, just by keeping my eyes and ears open.
One of my favourite nearby haunts is the Lea Valley, beloved by many contemporary writers from Iain Sinclair to Gareth Rees (aka @hackneymarshman ) in spite of all the recent Olympic induced changes. A birthday outing up the Lea Valley, this time to just beyond the M25 culminated in a field of Early Marsh Orchids.
Elderflowers were in full bloom and the wild roses just appearing.
Terns patrolled up and down the watercourse, almost disappearing in side view, supremely elegant and poised.
In a pool near the river the first water lilies of the year were appearing.
At the water margins flag irises glowed in the dull light of a cloudy day.
In places a froth of vegetation clouded the view of the water.
The growth was surprisingly lush for what was only the cusp of spring and summer.
A little grebe was in full view, in between rapid disappearances underwater.
After my marathon bee spotting sessions last year I should see how this year compares.
Russian comfrey is abundant along the towpaths, reminding me of the ongoing (and to me dubious) debate about immigrants and aliens (in the plant world).
This debate and the sight of pylons reminded me to go back to Richard Mabey‘s book The Unofficial Countryside, especially the recent Little Toller edition with its cover painting by Mary Newcomb and introduction by Iain Sinclair. When writing in 1973, Mabey there first commented on the suspect disdain of many botanists and others for so called alien species, non natives.
Mabey also gave full credit to Richard Jefferies who even in the 1870s recognised the value of the unofficial countryside and its wonderful variety of flora and fauna in his book Nature Near London. This is now available in another beautiful series of reprints by Collins, with an introduction by Robert MacFarlane, and he is now finally widely recognised for being a pioneer. Prophets are I suppose by definition unheeded in their own time.