Embracing Our Precious Countryside - Living in Yorkshire's Nature Triangle

I love living in the countryside. I think green and natural spaces are essential to mankind, and our need for them shouldn’t be down-played or side-lined…

People living close to green spaces, or having regular access to them, show increased happiness, and better mental and physical health – quite startlingly so in fact! *

Connecting with nature is essential to our health and happiness

People are meant to live in nature. Did you know we can see significantly more shades of green than any other colour? This is because, evolutionarily, we needed to be able to identify leaves and plants, for our survival – so we are physically evolved to live in nature.

I always wonder why, if it’s wrong to deprive animals living in captivity of their natural environment, we don’t extend the same courtesy to ourselves, and take the time to reconnect with nature.

Yorkshire's butterflies

I love that since I got a dog, I can walk daily in the countryside close to my home. I experience the changes of the season so much more now.

And I really feel like Spring has returned to the fields near me this week… 

Even though the weather has been anything but Spring-like, I’ve watched dozens of tiny birds flitting along hedgerows, looking for nesting materials, and cheeping all the while.

I’ve spotted the barn owls, out searching for food for their young in daylight.

I’ve heard a woodpecker several times, hammering in a small copse of trees, and even seen it once.

And most importantly to me, I’ve heard and seen lapwings out on the fields this week.

Lapwings aren’t usually seen as the most exotic of birds, but they’re actually one of my favourite – and extremely beautiful and unusual looking when you actually take the time to look at them.

Such a beautiful bird up close - very distinctive!

They are one of the first birds I learned about, when I first started school. I used to see them in flocks out on the Lincolnshire fields when I was gazing out of the schoolroom windows... 

The teacher must have asked me why I was looking out of the window, and with the innocence of extreme youth, I told her…

So I ended up learning all about lapwings, and doing a little school project that involved me sitting in the playground on my own and drawing all the different birds I saw. Isn’t that a wonderful way for a school to encourage a genuine interest!

Soon after, I moved to Wales, and didn’t see the lapwings anymore. I think they must have taken on a kind of mythical status for me!

So I was so happy when we moved out to our current home, out in the East Yorkshire countryside, to see and hear lapwings again.

They’ve got a very distinctive call - ‘pee-wit’ – which accounts for the lapwing’s common name of Peewit.

And a very recognisable wing-beat with a kind of ‘flip-flop’ of black and white – once you’ve seen it you can totally understand why they’re called ‘Lap-wings’.

Lapwings tend to like lowland fields, especially if it’s a bit wet, as they’re waders. They nest on the ground, and raise their young here too.

We used to get plenty of lapwings out in the fields when we first moved here, but now usually only one or two pairs each year.

In recent years the farmers seem to have ploughed their fields just as the lapwings have started raising their young, and I worry about what happened to their new family when the ploughs came….

This year, though, the fields are already ploughed, and planted with a grassy crop that has already started coming through. This means the lapwings can create their nests and rear their young without the disruption of ploughing.

They are very protective parents and will try to draw you away from their nesting area if you happen to walk a little close for comfort.

Summer in the beautiful fields near my home

Since I’ve been walking out in the fields near here (nearly a decade now) I’ve experienced for myself the decline in species – less lapwings and skylarks for starters... 

And that’s nothing compared to the fact that the 2013 State of Nature report, (compiled by scientists and researchers working with 25 leading wildlife charities) says that:

‘60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.’

Even the once-common hedgehog is now seen as an endangered species in Britain, with continuing drastic rates of decline. And of course our vital bees are also dying out... 

Without our bees to pollinate our crops our very food would be at risk. It would also affect wildlife – without the wildflowers that ‘feed’ the insects lower down the food chain, many of our much-loved wild birds and animals could also die out.

But luckily, as we know about these threats, we can work towards lessening their impact – creating safe natural places for wildlife, and planting nectar-rich flowers to encourage and support our bees.

Planting bee-friendly flowers is a wonderful way to help bees, and all our wildlife

I’ve been spending time this winter thinking about nature, and exploring local natural places and reserves.

I’m so lucky as where I live in East Yorkshire is right in the middle of the Yorkshire Nature Triangle.  We have a unique natural landscape – lowlands, which would have been damp marshland for much of the year before the land was drained for agriculture.

There are lots of interesting wetland areas, and dryer heathland areas too, some of which are nationally rare types of habitat, even though they would have been widespread here hundreds of years ago.

Much of the land is naturally damp, and drains and canals are cut into the landscape to assist with draining for agriculture

We’re within the York Valley, where the River Derwent creates ‘Ings’ (flood plains) to either side, filled with water birds in winter, and lush grasses and flowers in summer.

We have the meeting of the Rivers Ouse and Derwent, where they flow into the River Humber, and out to sea – so more wetland areas for the birds.

And to the north and east of the area are the Yorkshire Wolds, chalky hills which seem to touch the skies. Beautiful, unspoilt, and rich with their own wildlife and flora, including butterflies and orchids.

Chalky hills in the Yorkshire Wolds

As a child I remember a school trip to someone’s parent’s meadow, where rare wild orchids had been spotted.

As young children we crouched down in long grass to peer closely at the precious flowers, taking care not to touch them or get too close in case we damaged them…

We held our breath and spoke in whispers, in case we disturbed this most delicate of flowers. A beautiful moment of discovery that captured the true meaning of awesome.

Wild orchid flower (not photographed in Yorkshire)

I hope as I start to explore our natural places more as an adult I can recapture these feelings of wonder at nature. Because our nature is wonderful, and it makes us feel good to connect with it.

I’ll be looking out for our native species and recording them in my art, so I hope I can bring you some of the excitement, joy and wonder of our nature, too.

I’ve already started creating artworks for my new Yorkshire Nature series. I can’t wait to share the final artworks with you...

Sneak peek of a wren I've been working on recently - appearing soon in a finished artwork

P.S. I think I'll be including a lapwing in my new series of artworks soon, don't you..?

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