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A summer of wildlife encounters

Red kites are becoming a common site around England thanks to countryside conservation  Red kites are becoming a common site around England thanks to countryside conservation © Shutterstock

Hacking out in the countryside is bound to allow many wildlife encounters, hence the importance of preserving rights of ways - but that can be discussed another time… It is thrilling and special to capture glimpses of wildlife as it reminds us that we do share this planet, and of the critical importance of countryside conservation. But, I would like to write most specifically what we horse riders see, and in which situations, because it forms a basis of our work at CPRE.

Plenty of times, I’ve cantered on the byway behind my house and a large red admiral would appear and capture my imagination. Other butterflies - cabbage whites, orange tips and ringlets - and various types of bee would be frequenting the byway, attracted by the wild flowers, trees and hedgerows. Wild flowers like willowherb, herb robert and the ox-eye daisy were a massive part of summer's colourful scene – nestled amongst bindweed, thistles, mulberry, hawthorn, blackthorn, English oak, silver birch and brambles to name just a few!

On a ride around the countryside near Abbots Ripton, great birds of prey such as the buzzard and the kite graced the skies and provided incredible interest. We were very pleased to see that the local buzzard on our byway seemed to have found a mate. We also had green woodpeckers about, often seen near the stables, along with the wood pigeon, song thrushes and blackbirds. Other species were seen in specific places, such as the warblers that flew from the reeds and sedges on the edge of the permanent fallow land on the lane. The hedges and the outbuildings at the yard tend to boast populations of tits, and the skies over the farmland and fields have house martins and sparrows. A heron was also spotted around the dykes – both are iconic features of the Fens.

Lizzie's horses Patrick and Tzar
Patrick and Tzar grazing in their wildlife-rich patch of countryside

My last blog covered the joy of seeing foxes, but I mustn’t neglect another amazing animal – the deer. We were in a pine forest in Norfolk, and through the trees we could see it – all majestic and silent. It carried on browsing as we rode past. I think this one was a red or fallow deer. Seeing any deer is special – and we’ve seen the muntjac deer a couple of times on home turf - but seeing a more traditional breed in its forest was very memorable! Other mammals – rabbits and squirrels, weasels and stoats - frequently run across our path but are, to my mind, no less special for that.

It is no wonder that my appreciation for wildlife and conservation stemmed from the horses. House and field mice are caught in glimpses in the feed room - sometimes with a shriek if they are in the feed bins! Toads hide in the poles next to cross-country jumps. Spiders, flies and other insects are around the stables, and on the fields are found earwigs, ladybirds, shieldbugs, moths and caterpillars. Seeing the changes to the land through the summer was incredible – the rich tall carpet of different grasses and flowers were unmissable when we looked at the long-empty fields. Even changes in the grazed land was fascinating – for a while buttercups dominated the scene, forming a yellow carpet.

These are the reasons why countryside conservation is important to me – because the opportunities for recreation and wildlife to co-exist and thrive are always there in the countryside. I’d love other people to take on the sport or riding and appreciate the benefits of being out and interacting with the countryside and other species. I’m sure other horse riders notice and appreciate all of the wildlife around them. I’d love others to be as lucky as I am.

 

Find out more

The British Equestrian Federation's participation programme, Hoof, aims to get people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities into horse riding.

 

Lizzie Bannister volunteers at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Branch of CPRE. Want to get involved with CPRE? Find out more in our Ways To Volunteer section.

Opportunities for recreation and wildlife to co-exist and thrive are always there in the countryside




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