Spring in our sanctuaries

Some people get their thrills from jumping out of aeroplanes and some get a buzz from riding huge waves, but to me there is nothing more exhilarating than an encounter with a wild animal.

I am privileged to have access to the League’s wildlife sanctuaries and even though I know them well, the wildlife that inhabits them continues to fill me with wonder. Checking 200 hazel dormouse boxes might seem an onerous task, particularly whilst being attacked by midges, but as soon as I find the first dormouse curled up tightly in torpor all else is forgotten. The chance that bees could be occupying a nestbox adds that little bit of extra tension.

Sitting out one evening at a fox earth on one of the League’s sanctuaries I knew that cubs were present, but I was very surprised to see not four, not eight, but 12 fox cubs came bursting out. This was far too many for one vixen, so there must have been two or even three sharing the residence. It was a proper fox crèche and I hoped just one mother hadn’t been left in charge of this riotous rabble.

My heart still races when I see fox cubs emerging from an earth, badger cubs outside a sett, or a young deer curled up in the undergrowth. A chance encounter with one of their parents during a quiet walk through the woods can be equally rewarding and often results in a stand-off, with each party trying to assess what the reaction on the other will be. At times like these our instincts, that we try so hard to deny, come to the fore and we once more become a part of nature.

Even insects can be exciting if we keep our eyes open. That flash of white and orange in your garden could be a male orange-tip butterfly searching for a mate and that fleck of blue on your ivy could be a holly blue butterfly basking in the sun. The strange tap-tapping on your window in the evening might just be the neighbour popping round, or it could be a cockchafer beetle, or “May Bug”, attracted by the light. The sheer scale and variety of insects that are out there means there is always something new to see.

Sometimes we don’t have to see the animal to feel that rush of emotion. The first “cuckoo” of the year, the hoot of an owl, the scream of a swift overhead and the melodious rattle of a Wood Warbler all have the ability to stir something deep inside us, if only we take the time to listen. It doesn’t matter if we live in a city or in the heart of the country, nature will be there too in one form or another for us to enjoy.

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