Hardley, where it is often confusing to define where the garden ends and the marsh begins. Tumble-down houses and rickety shacks, away from any bus route and Team Sky sorts wrapped in lycra, this is a village that by choice is cut off. The secret is out, and pre-storm Ciara as many as 10 large lenses littered the river bank firing at will. Their target- Winter ghosts. First, the classic Scooby-Doo type, as a Barn Owl responds to an ill-advised squeak in the grass and heads towards the onlookers. Another quickly joins the hunt, their formation a picture of double-edged stealth. But these year-round residents are not the key objective today, that honour is given to the Short-eared Owl. 3/4 of these can be seen from the staithe at the minute, floating like giant moths over the tussocks and edges.
In a recent article in The New Yorker, Jake Fiennes states "Everything is about edge". Hedges, ditches, scrub, forgotten tracts of land that link nothing and no-one. Fiennes, now managing Holkham estate, advocates an ecosystem friendly approach when it comes to feeding the nation. There is some land management here at Hardley today, and a bundle more historically, but looking out across the marsh it would appear to be very light touch. Driving around the y-shaped village, the farms themselves appear abandoned, only muddy tire tracks betraying evidence of wheels turning and therefore human intervention on this landscape, that is oh so very anti-man. This melting pot seems to please the Owls, as it does the wheeling Marsh Harriers. A single Red Kite, new kid on the block, shows off the famous forked tail as it perches high above the action. The Buzzards in contrast have been here for some time now, confident in their poses atop fence and gate posts.
I offer a nod and a smile to some walkers. A gentlemen exclaims to me, that he should set up a tea and coffee shop in the village to cater for the visiting birders. I think you would do well, I say. After sharing views through the 'scope, one ear-less Owl alights after an unsuccessful hunt. No matter, for the landscape is on side here, rough and ready to reveal its secrets.
You can read the full interview with Jake Fiennes here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/02/17/can-farming-make-space-for-nature
After a tough start to the year, the grieving process continues and comes in waves. I look out across the marshes with hope, the veering Corvids a reminder that life goes on.