I had parked up on the side of a single track road and was sitting on the verge gazing out over miles of bog and heather to the mountains beyond. Everything was shades of brown, from tawny through to chocolate, save the blue of the sky and its intense reflection in the stream winding across the moorland. The breeze ruffled the rushes and a skylark towered up, pouring out its self-sustaining optimism, as if the song itself was dragging it heavenwards. A little while later two red kites flew languidly from left to right across my view and then disappeared. That was about it; mostly nothing moved.
I was about to go when I saw something catching the light about half a mile away, drifting low over the ground it was coming closer, and there it was: a black-tipped, ghost-grey hen harrier, twisting, fanning, dipping, always closely attentive to the ground it was covering; carefully minding its business – a reclusive, preoccupied moorland aristocrat. It gradually and meticulously worked its way down the valley, until it too exited stage right, leaving me contemplating 360 degrees of wild open space with nobody in it. Space to think, breathe, walk, look or just sit and be; it doesn’t matter. It seems wonderful in our crowded islands to have so much open country, inhabited by wild creatures and plants, just there – freely available to the curious.
However, wild landscapes such as these have been used and abused by humankind for 5000 years or more so they are much changed from their original state. Even now they are variously sheep grazed, drained, burned, cut, shot over, planted with conifers and polluted from the air. All of these activities are to a large degree restrained or encouraged by legislation, regulation, government policy and public money – which brings us to politics.
When I got home I sifted through the election leaflets posted out by the parties contesting this constituency and was frustrated and saddened to see that nature and the environment barely got a mention, and that is in the Snowdonia National Park! It is as if we, politicians and electorate alike, take for granted our beautiful countryside, seeing it as an unchanged and unchanging backdrop to our lives that needs little or no attention. Yet it is estimated that 60% of British wildlife species are in decline, so unless we pay careful attention to how such places are managed and used we may end up with an empty stage on which we can reminisce with our grandchildren that ‘there used to be skylarks here and even hen harriers’.