A sunny start to the day greeted me as I wandered up to the top of Caudwell Lane to lead a walk around Murton with local residents who are collectively campaigning against proposed housing in the area.
North Tyneside Councils local plan suggests 3000 houses will be required in this area, removing the greenbelt which has kept the individuality of small settlements. Having lived in the area since my teenage years, this has been part of the countryside that nurtured my own interest in natural history. I have walked, cycled and ran through these fields and hedgerows, drawn by the variety of things I would see whilst sweating, grunting or hobbling.
I will freely admit the prospect of gardens, roads and suburbia here are not exactly welcome, albeit recognising that the location of my own home would have been just the same once upon a time.
Whilst waiting for the group to gather, robins sang from the bushes whilst redwings flew over, probably recently arrived on migration. Up to 500 greylag geese flew south as the group formed. Our cohort wandered westwards along public rights of way noting more robins, small groups of linnet and groups of winter thrushes (blackbirds and redwing) feeding on elderberries. A low flying kestrel caused concern as it drifted through one of the two aged apple trees in the sparse hedgerow, their ripening fruit hanging heavy.
It looks to be a good berry year and the birds are starting to make use of it and there were blackbirds, redwing and a single song thrush amongst the hedges. Goldfinch and house sparrow lurked silently deep in the depths, but the wren didn’t like being so close to us. Just as well the cover was there when a beautiful male sparrowhawk appeared, only to be mobbed by linnet and jackdaws, making his way towards New York. Close examination revealed the history of the hedge where hand layed branches showed the intimate care taken, sadly replaced by flails and the loss of winter food.
Peppered with discussion about the fear this lovely mosaic of habitats will be lost, the walk proved the value that is placed upon urban fringe countryside far outweighs the immediate or visible elements. It is personal wellbeing at the core, a connection with the environment that is easily overlooked.
The walk back to the start point (without the tractor that had broken the silence earlier) threw up a small tortoiseshell butterfly, late for the year. Even better were the skylarks ascending, the carousel of sound greeting us and highlighting the quintessential nature of countryside that will be lost should this productive ground be lost under concrete and brick. Worth a fight I think.