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The Downs

Friday 15th October, grey still and cool. Birdsong returning to the garden, as it does at this time of year.

Sunday 10th October, clear blue skies, we take the 79 bus up to Ditchling Beacon. Wildlife spotting at the bus-stop (I'm easily bored), I started counting ladybirds on a garden wall. Ladybird larvae too, creeping around in curious numbers.

Peter: Are those the bad guys?

Gwyneth: I don't think we're doing that anymore, they're just immigrants now. (These East Asian ladybirds, where are they flocking from?) They've moved in, fait accompli.

Yes, indeed, they are harlequins. About this time of year they are looking for somewhere to hide, just like the natives: a bark crevice, a hole in a concrete plinth, to doze away the winter. What are the larvae looking for? I suspect they're about to pupate, how interesting, on a plastered concrete wall?; but here's the bus.

This is kind of a utility walk, for a day when we haven't the time to get further away from town. On the new turned earth, ready for winter wheat, Herring gulls are following the plough, doing like gulls are supposed to do in the Ladybird "What To Look For In Autumn": urban scavengers looking rather amazed at themselves

Hey, just look at us. How positively bucolic!
Still, it's nice to get out.

Walking from Ditchling Beacon, down to the village of Ditchling, a kestrel hanging below us, poised in the air; out the other side & across the downs to the Clayton Windmills, back to the Beacon by Steadman Common. Some of the time on the South Downs Way itself, always on well-trodden tracks, this is a part of the downs that has lost some detail, become coarsened by use rather than by agribusiness, on its way to getting the feeling of a municipal park, but even so, under these wide blue skies, a fresh breeze chasing around us, Sussex is still so beautiful. Ropes of translucent bryony berries, hawthorns thick with matt ruby haws, wild roses covered in flask-shaped carnelian hips, but no fungi, because no undisturbed pasture; no foraging except for some kindling.

I've had a nudge from the Sussex Wildlife Trust, must fill in the DEFRA questionnaire at surveymonkey. How do you feel you benefit from the natural environment?

What am I supposed to say to that. I don't care if I benefit or not. I want this beauty to exist for its own reasons, I owe the Downs, they don't owe me a thing.

Ich bin ein piece of the natural environment. I don't have a separate existence.

Which parts of the natural environment matter most to you?

Maybe I'll put TREES, lay off my trees you pedants, which is somewhat a dig at the Wildlife Trust itself, currently gripped by a passion for reverting to the ice age vegetation of this area.

No, I won't.


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