But this is not the case everywhere. The British Trust for Ornithology reports that “Until 2005, greenfinches were one of the most common birds at our garden feeders. However, hit by the disease finch trichomonosis, they are now a rarity in many gardens and their population has declined by about 35 per cent.” BTO makes the point that trichomonosis “can be spread between birds at garden feeding stations so it is very important to regularly clean feeders and bird tables”. Self and others please note.
Chaffinches are very common in the UK, a strikingly pretty bird – even the female, which is less brightly coloured than the male. This October example is probably a male after its autumn moult.
Interestingly, the name of this finch comes from its seed eating habit and the ‘chaff’ that is generated thereby.
Tree sparrows are much scarcer in the UK than the more common house sparrow. The RSPB differentiates them by the “chestnut brown head and nape (rather than grey), and white cheeks and collar with a contrasting black cheek spot”.
The RSPB reports that “the main populations are now found across the Midlands, southern and eastern England”, which explains why we never see these birds in Cheshire, and we did see this example at RSPB Fairburn Ings in Yorkshire.
Apparently, populations have very much declined in recent decades, no doubt significantly attributed to the reduction in the number of insects. Wake up, people, modern farming is slowly killing the natural world.
The Wensleydale Railway runs between Northallerton and Redmire through green and pleasant Wensleydale in Yorkshire. Redmire is only a small village, but our tourist information indicated that there were waterfalls here, so we decided to seek them out. Not an easy task. There are no signs, so we had to resort to asking friendly locals where we could find them.
You go through the attractive village and down a countryside track for about half a mile, and suddenly find yourself in this beautiful and peaceful green oasis. The River Ure tumbles down through rocks and low falls into calm stretches banked by trees and sheep-mown grass.
Over the fields you can see in the distance Bolton Castle, indeed this riverside and footpath is a part of the Bolton estate.
Just one family was there on a Sunday morning, enjoying a paddle and play around the waterside. Walk along the path up by the falls themselves and you are on your own to enjoy the ambience, bathed in greenery and the sound of running water.
Pied and grey wagtails flit between the rocks, feeding on insects accompanied by quick swooping movements. By contrast, black-headed gulls follow long gliding paths and sweep up their prey.
Of course, the river here is nowhere near as spectacular as at the more famous nearby Aysgarth Falls that attract the crowds, but the falls at Redmire are just as special in their own way. Relative inaccessibility contributes to their charm.
Tourist notes: The Wensleydale Railway is being extended to Aysgarth, at which point Redmire will probably have even less visitors. The Bolton Arms in Redmire does an excellent lunch.
Whilst in Yorkshire recently, we visited Easby and Jervaulx Abbeys, reminders of the time when Cistercian monks and abbots were at the heart of medieval life, dominating much of the local economy and providing sustenance and refuge for the poorest.
Jervaulx is particularly attractive, as its privately-owned, extensive ruins are not set out quite as clinically as the National Trust norm. They have been designed to be incorporated into a semi-natural garden setting, evoking the romanticism of ruins of the Victorian era. The result is magnificently different in this calm and peaceful setting.
Jervaulx (corruption of ‘Ure Valley’) was one of the great Cistercian Abbeys of the north. Sadly, the last abbot of Jervaulx, Adam Sedbar, was implicated in the ill-fated rebellion of the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ against Henry VIII in 1536. Having seen off the rebels, Henry took his revenge, executed Sedbar and ordered the Abbey buildings to be destroyed. All those great gothic arches were undermined and brought down.
When we see such acts of vandalism performed today in the Middle East, we should perhaps remain aware that our own history included similar acts when we were dominated by the despotic mindset of an all-powerful king. Most of today’s humanity has fortunately grown beyond what we regard as a primitive ‘medieval’ mindset.