Thursday, 15 June 2017

A Sobering Thought

I leave the car at Pilton Green, cross the road, and walk south over the fields towards the sea.  I’m heading for Paviland Valley and then Kilboidy, in the hope of hearing a yellowhammer sing. They were once a certainty along here at this time of year; maybe three or four singing males, but they’ve gone from most of their regular haunts on Gower, and I walk more in hope than expectation.

The land around Great Pitton Farm is barren, years of intensive arable farming have ensured that little wildlife survives here. Along the hedgerows, and in the ditches, there are remnants of what it must have been like; red campion, meadow buttercup, foxglove and a clump of bloody cranesbills, one of Gower’s specialities. In a tiny corner of an enormous field a small patch is free of the plough. Wildlife thrives here; a wash of buttercups, more red campion, white clover, massive docks, butterflies, and a cluster of blue-tailed damselflies shows what can happen if we give nature a chance.

At the top of Paviland Valley everything changes. Gone is the worn out farmland, and in its place limestone cliffs with gorse, rock-rose, bird’s foot trefoil and singing whitethroats.

On the top of Horse Cliff a carpet of pink thrift growing between outcrops of golden lichen-covered limestone is just beautiful. On the inland slopes, shaded from the wind, there are brown argus, common blue and wall butterflies. The view west from here towards The Worm is spectacular. I’m alone again looking at what is surely the best view on Gower. Below in the sheltered cove the water is crystal-clear blue, and I watch seals under the water. But there’s something amiss. For as long as I can remember, fulmars have nested on the cliffs opposite, but there are none today. The usual wheatears and rock pipits on the rocks below are not there either. Kilboidy feels empty.

On the cliff top above The Knave I enter a nature reserve. The world changes once more. Dense gorse, insects, flowers, more butterflies and a skylark rises; all is not lost. A boisterous family part of six choughs gives me even more hope, and sitting proud on top of the gorse is my yellowhammer. It’s the only one I see all day, and I speculate on their future. Could they become extinct as a breeding bird on Gower? A sobering thought.

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