• di_wack

9 May : Talk on landscape change and its impact on wildlife since Keble Martin's time

Updated: May 17, 2019

Prof Patrick Dillon, at Holy Trinity Church, Woodbury Salterton.

Patrick Dillon referenced Keble Martin's life throughout his talk

What would Keble Martin make of the countryside today? He would be horrified, no doubt, at the loss of biodiversity to urbanisation and industrial farming.  But intrigued, too, by the few species that have benefited from these developments. Local resident Prof Patrick Dillon has been interested in wildlife and his natural surroundings since childhood, and gave a fascinating talk about the changes that have occurred in rural landscapes over the last 50 years.

He began by asking us to imagine what it would be like to leave our own house, full of its accretions of years of memorabilia, and return to find it completely cleared out, redecorated and re-furnished in a very bland, monochrome ‘IKEA’ style. That is how the landscape is now, he says, compared with 50 years ago: it is still green, but is divested of the rich variety of texture, colour and diversity it used to have – the structure is similar, but the detail is gone.

Patrick’s talk offered a wealth of personal observations, illustrations and information, describing and accounting for these changes, keeping the local context to the fore, and concluding with where to find the last glow-worms in East Devon (Weston Mouth). Throughout he reflected on Keble Martin's own life and experience, and how he might have reacted to the changes - shock at what has gone (the rich and unique flora of cattle-grazed drove-road verges; the reduced numbers of starlings, swifts, and spotted flycatchers), and surprise at what is now commonplace (rape flowers on verges; the rise of collared doves and wood pigeons).

Patrick also drew on memories and accounts of local people - such as Sally Elliott's dawn chorus records - some of which can be seen on the ‘Projects and articles’ page, with more to follow.

Something that stuck with me was Patrick's reference to Gilbert White - the famous eighteenth-century parson naturalist from Selbourne in Hampshire - who described talking with a friend under a yew tree in the churchyard one evening, and their conversation being drowned out by the sound of insects. Impossible to imagine now ....

The talk was very well received – here are just some of the responses:

  • “Patrick Dillon is very good value and I loved hearing about the dawn chorus and birds.”

  • “I was most impressed by last night's lecture. Having delivered and listened to far too many lectures myself, it was a real treat to attend one which was so well done."

  • "We both thought it was a splendid talk which covered all the points. Pity Keble couldn't hear it. On the other hand perhaps he wouldn't have wanted to as I think he would have been pretty upset...." 

Since writing this post, a Woodbury Salterton resident has contacted us to say that "glow worms were once common here, especially in the Dog Lane dips, and near some of the brushwood areas of the Common, but now extinct, I think.  We used to sit ... and watch them, as though dancers..."

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