To celebrate our wedding anniversary, I booked a night away in a village in Devon. It was some time after making the booking that I casually dropped into conversation that the only 'wild' population of Beavers in England just happens to be located on the river that runs through this village.....
Wow (said M), what an extraordinary coincidence.
Otterton is a lovely place. It's a proper old-fashioned village stuffed full of thatched cottages a few minutes from the sea.
It just so happens that friends of ours run the mill by the river. We hadn't seen them for ages so we dropped in for lunch, and while the boys droned on and on about profit margins and business models, I nipped off to their shop which is jam-packed full of local arts and crafts type things and bought some new tins to keep sewing gubbins in.... Badgers and bees- appropriate, no?
After lunch we headed off to walk along the river and look for the Beavers. This small group of animals were recently the focus of much media attention when Natural England ruled that they could remain on the river if they proved to be Eurasian Beavers and disease-free. The Devon Wildlife Trust duly caught and tested them and they were returned to the river with clean bills of health and descent.
Beavers were hunted to extinction in England and Wales by the sixteenth century (for their fur and oils). Populations remain in Scotland but the Devon Beavers are believed to be the first to be established and to be living wild in England in over five hundred years. They are what's known as a 'keystone' species, meaning that they provide a fundamental role in the ecosystem and without them, it changes considerably and not for the better.
Needless to say, we didn't see them. They are mainly nocturnal creatures, and the river has an enormous footfall of people out walking along its banks so the disturbance from people and dogs is considerable. I wasn't duly surprised that they kept away. We did see a Kingfisher (always nice) and a heron...
Some sand martins diving in and out of holes in the sandstone cliffs that line sections of the river...
and also (most surprisingly) a Grass Snake swimming along the river...
We headed down to the sea afterwards, because, although I am a Chalk Girl, I crave The Sea if I haven't been beside it for a while (note the 'beside', not 'on' which is an important distinction :o)). Probably something to do with being part of an Island Nation.
M had every intention of swimming (honestly, you can't keep that man out of the sea between the months of March and October). I don't like swimming in the sea. I imagine octopuses and sharks and people weeing. This is not an unreasonable fear (especially the last part) because several years ago while swimming off a Greek island I watched horrified as a small girl did a poo on the beach which got promptly picked up by the waves and sucked out to where people were swimming where it bobbed about a bit. I have never forgotten the Poo Incident. It haunts me still whenever I contemplate sea-swimming. M just laughs whenever I remind him of this, he laughs too when I get frightened by the possibility of octopi.
My best thing to do by the sea is shell-seek. That way you are most likely safe from sharks, octopusses and unhygienic doings. I like shells Very Much (and bits of driftwood and polished glass and mermaid's purses and strands of seaweed). So we were all set to happily divide into our respective activities when we noticed large jelly-like blobs all over the shore.
An entire fluther (great word, and I much prefer it to the other collective nouns for Jellyfish which include Smack, Smuck, Smuth and Stuck, which are all Rather Unsightly words), were dead on the beach. Apparently, it's been happening all along the Dorset/ Devon/ Cornish coast this summer, something to do with warmer than usual waters. These are Barrel Jelly fish, and their sting is very mild, similar to a nettle. They can still sting after they are dead, although nothing happened when I touched one to see :o)
The Jellies were enough to make my husband change his mind about swimming, so he walked to the end of the rocks (which were slippery and therefore deemed dangerous enough to be an acceptable Manly Occupation for him- he managed to scrape his ankle open on some rusty nails as well, and then poured scorn on my scoldings by saying that cutting yourself at the sea is probably the safest place to do it because of all the salt that abounds).
I went shell-seeking, which is not a manly occupation, but as I'm not a man we won't let that worry us unduly.
Seaside Stuff duly topped-up, we returned to the pub and got changed for supper, which was delicious. It being still light at ten we decided to try our luck with the Beavers again and after walking a mile or so along the river, saw someone coming towards us so I asked him if he knew where the Beavers were.
Sure (he said), I've just been watching them. Come with me, I'll show you where the Lodge is.
So we followed him half a mile further along the path and ducked under some branches and he pointed out the Lodge (Beaver for house). Can you see it?
Nope, nor could I.
Which is just as well because not everyone is thrilled to have wild Beavers back in Britain. The Angling Trust have been very vocal in their opposition, with doom-laden prophecies of disaster for river ecology and fish, most if not all of which (ecologists say) is nonsense. As fish and Beavers have adapted together over millenia I suspect there won't be the problems they are predicting, and certainly not from a handful of Beavers on one river.
Anyhoo, it turns out Mr Beaver had been swimming about not five mins before and we'd just missed him :o( The lovely chap showed me the pictures he'd just taken on his phone and we had a good old Beaver Gossip (which M found very amusing) before he wished us good night and we carried on up the river to try our luck further. To no avail as it happens, but it was lovely to be by the river as darkness gathered and wols started hooting and at least I had seen the Lodge and been within five minutes of a real live wild Beaver.
How did you know he'd know where they were? M asked curiously, as we wandered back under the light of the moon with no torches because by then we'd got our Night Eyes working properly.
He had bins round his neck, I said (in some surprise that he'd needed to ask). What else was he going to have been watching?
It made me realise how very second-nature ecology stuff has become to me. You recognise another one of the species without the information really registering. We all have the same slightly distracted look in our eyes, as if, all the time we're talking to someone, we're still tuned in to non-human sounds- the whisper of the wind, the sigh of the river, the calls of birds, the squeak of a mouse, the flutter of butterfly wings. And we all drop our voices and soften our footfalls instinctively when we draw near to wild things, something I've noticed non-ecologists don't do. By the end of the weekend I had M conversing with me in whispers, although admittedly this was after some considerable piss-taking about sounding like David Attenborough among the Mountain Gorillas...
The very next morning we were up bright and breezy at 6am (no relaxing and lying in bed on our weekends away, eh?) to head off up the river again and see what dawn (ish) might bring us in the shape of large furry people with big teeth and flat tails.
We sat and watched the Lodge for half an hour before I got bored, so we had a nice walk along the river instead before returning to the pub for a full English Breakfast.
On the way home we collected the doggy people and L from ma's where they'd spent the night and when we got back both the dogs collapsed on their beds and promptly fell asleep for FOUR HOURS which is UNHEARD OF. While they were snoozing and M was cutting the grass and L was reading, I made up a pair of PJ shorts, because by that point I was feeling quite tired too and didn't fancy any more zooming about. I can't sit down during the day unless I'm occupied and I only stop to watch TV or read if I'm ill, so sewing gives me something to do while sitting down.
I didn't have enough material for a whole pair, so the front is different from the back. I rather like them. This week at sewing club I am going to make a pair of linen trousers :o)
We were all knackered as it turns out so the house was silent by nine pm, which is unheard of here. Even L was in bed promptly.
What a top weekend, and now I know where the Beavery People are I shall return at dusk another time (with a cushion).....
Hope you all had a lovely weekend too,