For years I would patrol these little ponds looking for water beetles, dragonfly larvae and tadpoles, and it was one of the things that I was looking forward to doing again when I came back to North Devon seven years ago.
But to my disappointment the ditches were all either dried up or hopelessly polluted. I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised really. The water table has dropped, most of the marshes have been drained to create usable farmland and there are many more cars on the roads than there used to be.
When I was a boy I cycled all around the area but it just wouldn't be safe now. There are just too many cars on the roads. I remember back in 1972 a schoolpal of mine deciding to start a new hobby of collecting car license plate numbers. He was overjoyed to have written down 21 different ones passing through Woolsery in a single day! I thought then that this was a singularly pointless excercise, but I certainly wouldn't attempt it now. But if I did, I expect that we would amass well over a thousand in the same length of time.
Now, where there were once dozens of little self-contained ecosystems, there is only one left.
Corinna and I have set ourselves a little task for 2012. We are going to follow the progress of this one remaining mini stream throughout the year, and try and make a record of its inhabitants through the seasons.
Now, at the risk of sounding like Lloyd Grossman (who severely irritates me - but that is another story), what animal would use this obviously well worn trackway up the bank and into the hedge?
Well, I know that we are talking about Huddisford Woods and that since we got DNA from hairs found there, there seems no doubt that at least one big cat inhabits the area, but this trackway was made by something smaller - probably a fox.
Finally, look at this. As we have been noting in recent posts, the world really does seem to have been turned upside down. This red campion is supposed to flower between May and October, but was photographed at Huddisford yesterday afternoon. Is it a late straggler from last October? Or is it a very early flower that thinks it is May? Either way, it should not be flowering in January, and is an early sign that all is far from right!