The State of Nature and Dartmoor’s Nightjars

This speech made by Iolo Williams to the Welsh Assembly  is absolute dynamite. He is talking about Wales but actually what he says applies to all the rest of GB.

And this year, each time I walk on the moors there seem to be fewer creatures to see. I hoped it was my imagination but I realise now it isn’t.  At least this spring we do still have a cuckoo and only last week I saw the peregrine…

Meanwhile, the nightjars, after their migration to Central Africa, have returned to breed in their usual homeland of cleared conifers on Dartmoor. Last week I heard only the one. Last night there were several. A relief! Arriving at dusk the blackbirds were still battling it out to be the last to stop singing. (There really is an unmistakeable extra phrasing to their song in this forest, compared to the one who sings in my garden, and that is they add in a churr and a call of Kee-ik, the sounds of the nightjar. Now, as they fall quiet just as the nightjars start up this is very interesting: they must be  listening from their roosts ie in their sleep and have heard this sound from when they were chicks, even from inside the egg and it is hard-wired into their brains and comes out as part of their unique song. The song of this forest. )

With the half moon bright in the sky the night doesn’t get very dark.  Does a half-moon concentrate the light? As it grows a little darker the day-time birds eventually fall quiet (a cuckoo cuckoo-ed once)  and the nightjars start their churring. Sometimes from down on the ground and sometimes from up in a tree. (The cleared forest is only an area surrounded by standing trees and, in any case, have re-generated all over the place.)  After a while, each bird seems to fly to another perch. A pair came to fly round us where we stood, hovering like a kestrel in the still air, jinking downwards and sideways before flittering off a little further and returning. The male has a white flash on the wing (like an RAF plane roundel). They flew round our heads about five times before vanishing. As we crept away homewards another one circled overhead then suddenly dropped to the ground. He flew back up into a tall tree and continued to churr. Looking back to listen again at the gate, it seemed the whole forest had turned into a chorus of creaking, as if for an hour we had glimpsed a different world, a parallel universe. And one that Iolo Williams and others like him are fighting to save…  it isn’t too late, not quite.



About Rebecca Gethin

Rebecca Gethin is a poet and a novelist. Cinnamon Press published her third collection, All the Time in the World in 2017. Another pamphlet is forthcoming with Three Drops Press. Her second novel, What the horses heard, was published by Cinnamon Press in May 2014. Her second poetry collection - A Handful of Water - was published by Cinnamon in 2013. Her first - River is the Plural of Rain - was published by Oversteps Books in 2009. Her novel Liar Dice won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award in 2010 and was published in 2011. She lives on Dartmoor and writes occasional pieces about wildlife and nature. Her poems appear in a variety of poetry magazines and in several anthologies.
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3 Responses to The State of Nature and Dartmoor’s Nightjars

  1. Roz Bound says:

    thanks becky – this is very moving – I am sending it on – love, Roz

  2. E.E. Nobbs says:

    I’ve sent it on too.
    Beautiful, serious writing.
    I will now be always wondering – if the half moon concentrates the light.
    I haven’t had a chance to watch the video yet.
    That photo is exceptional.
    Thanks, Becky.

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