Doug Kennedy – The Earth's fragile beauty sustains us

Bluebells at Aston Rowant

Another bright, cold morning with the temperature only 4 degrees at 8.30am. We had a little rain over the weekend, but the ground everywhere is extremely dry and cracking. What happened to April showers? Over the past week, the trees have burst into leaf: even oak trees starting to grow foliage which seems very early.

I drove to Aston Rowant NNR, parking at Aston Woods. The mature beech trees’ leafless canopies spread like a vaulted cathedral roof from their tall, grey trunk columns, apart from a few saplings which caught the sunshine and bore newly emerged foliage. The Celandines dotted the floor like yellow stars, but it was too cold for Wood Anenomes, whose flowers hung like fragments of white cotton.

The bluebells are early too, but were not entirely extended and of an intense blue, contrasting sharply with a rape field in the background. There were blackbirds, the odd chiff-chaff and lots of great tits flitting between the trees as I walked deeper into the woods. I stopped at an extensive carpet of bluebells and lay down on the dry leaf litter with my camera, carefully framing my shot and focusing. I wanted to capture that blue, and the delicate form of the florets with the mass of colour behind: it isn’t easy to get it right. There was a leafy beech sapling in the mid-ground, and I managed to combine its lime-green foliage with a close-up of bluebell flowers. There was only bird song and visual beauty.

I drove on to the main NNR car park and wandered onto the grassy slopes. The brambles and shrubby plants were in early leaf and seem to be extending their range and getting bigger, so I wonder if maintenance is being cut back, rather than the scrub? The only flowers I saw were a few dandelions and some hawthorn blossom. A beige-coloured hare hopped into sight, but sadly turned behind a rise and disappeared again quickly. I had wondered if this bright weather that had brought the bluebells out early had done the same for the chalk grassland, but it seems not.

As I approached the car park, a kestrel hovered above the verge, looking for breakfast: I stopped, but it soon moved on.

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