When ‘Little P’ was a baby we lived in a house perched on the side of a valley. Our nearest neighbours were sheep and every day the valley came alive with birdsong. In Springtime both of us would sit outside in the sun just listening. ‘Little P’ propped up in her pram enjoying the warmth of the sun on her downy head. One morning we heard the distinctive call of the cuckoo ringing through the valley. It was my first time to hear it in reality but it was an instantly recognisable sound. Even ‘Little P’s eyes widened as though she knew she had just heard something special. So, for the duration of our Spring and Summer in that house, we heard the cuckoo every morning at the same time regular as clockwork.
I was thinking about this recently while reading an article by Michael McCarthy about the bird population in the UK. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/26/wildlife-modern-farming-insects-birds
Pesticides used in modern farming have reduced the insect population and as a result the bird population. Over the past fifty years in the UK 56% of farmland birds have disappeared from the countryside. Pretty shocking statistics. In Ireland we are also suffering the effects. ‘Birdwatch Ireland’ have an action plan in place to try to save the 19 species of farmland birds under threat from changes to our biodiversity. These are the birds that use farmland for feeding and breeding, birds like curlews, corncrake, lapwing and plovers.
Nature has always been a huge part of my life and especially birds. As a child my Dad used to take me birdwatching. I can still remember the excitement of sitting quietly for ages then finally seeing a plover or a heron through his huge heavy binoculars. We used to watch Eamon De Buitlear programmes together and read ‘To the Waters and the Wild’ at bedtime. It’s important to me and to Little P’s Dad that she also grows up close to nature. She already loves birds. Willie Wagtail and Robin Redbreast are her favourites. She can see a heron fly over the house most mornings and she loves watching the little finches bathing in the puddles. It makes me very sad to think that she may grow up in an Ireland with significantly less of those perfect little creatures. Maybe the cuckoo she heard as a baby will be the only one she will ever hear. Maybe her children will never get the opportunity to hear one at all.
I know at this point I should finish with a rabble rousing, inspiring paragraph about how her generation can save the environment from destruction. How I will raise her to make a difference in the world. How I’ll fill her with such a love and respect for nature that she’ll dedicate her life to preserving it. Some days, thankfully, that is exactly how I feel. But today I feel less optimistic. A bit defeated.
Maybe the statistics in that article just shocked me. Maybe I’ve just pulled one too many pieces of plastic from our beautiful beaches. Maybe, like Michael McCarthy, I’m worried that most people just don’t see this as an important enough issue. Maybe, I just feel too small as one person against the vast wheels of industry, intensive farming, or giant corporations.
So tomorrow I’ll go back to fighting the good fight but for today I’m going to bring my little girl outside to listen to the curlew and the gull. To watch the robin and the wagtail do battle over the seeds. To see the blackbird wrestle with a worm and the magpie guard his nest. And I’ll hope that she will still be able to see them when she’s a young woman. Or, at least, I hope that she will remember them.
This post was also inspired by Michael McCarthy’s book ‘Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo’