Lest We Forget

The sun’s shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that’s still No Man’s Land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man.
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned

(Words from “Green Fields of France” by Eric Bogle)

 Many thanks to Gavin for his piece this week.

This week in the Muir of Dinnet NNR blog we’re taking time out from our normal subjects to talk a little bit about our partnership with a Reserve in Picardie in the north of France – the Landes de Versigny – and to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, which began on 1 July 1916.

Last year we were pleased to sign up to a simple agreement of co-operation with Landes de Versigny not only because it has lots of habitats which you’d easily recognise if you are familiar with Dinnet. You can learn more about  here http://conservatoirepicardie.org/les-landes-de-versigny

Picardie has some lovely mixed countryside and looking at this view of meanders in the river Somme valley it would be easy to forget that it is also a landscape which has been witness to terrible tragedy and carnage in the past.

Picardie

A stark reminder of the awful carnage of the Battle of the Somme is the memorial at Thiepval.  Sitting in a landscape covered by seeming endless rows of war graves, this memorial  – designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and erected in 1928-32 commemorates the 72,194 Allied soldiers who died in the battle and whose remains were never recovered.  Their names are engraved on 64 limestone panels on the 16 pillars which make up the memorial.

thiepval memorial

Another of the important battlefield sites which is still a focus of attention today is known as the Lochnagar crater or “mine”.  This marks the spot where – on 1 July 1916 – the Battle was triggered at 07:28hrs.  Allied soldiers instigated the battle by detonating massive explosive charges  – more than 25 tonnes in total – which had been placed underneath the enemy trenches at the end of long, deep tunnels dug from the Allies trenches. The trench where the digging took place from was known as Lochnagar Street – hence the name of the enormous crater.  Of course from the name of the trench we can guess that at least some of the soldiers were from our local area here in Deeside.

crater

Since we first met up with our counterparts in Picardy we’ve been pleased to welcome them to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire on two occasions and have introduced them to some of the wonderful sites the north-east has to offer, such as Forvie, St Cyrus, and Glen Tanar NNRs as well as Muir of Dinnet itself.

picardie visitors in the Vat

Although distance and language are a bit of a barrier, at least electronic communication makes keeping in touch easy these days…like the blog.. and we’re hoping to come up with some joint projects that we can work on together at a distance – perhaps even involving our local schools or communities – let us know if you have any ideas.

Meanwhile, back at Dinnet, we’re entering the mid-summer lull with a sense of uncertainty. Like  everyone else, we’re not yet sure what the implications of the “leave” vote will mean for us and the environment and countryside. You could drive yourself crackers wondering, so we’ve just been taking a leaf out of the wildlife’s book and just getting on with it! It’s the start of the summer holidays today so we’ve been making a concerted effort to hammer back the long grass and bracken alongside the paths. Its much nicer to walk along a path when wet grass isn’t emptying half a pint of cold water down your trousers! And many, many thanks to Annabel and Daryl, who strimmed like heroes to help cut it back.

Bracken strimmed down

Bracken strimmed down

The woods are going quite. Fewer birds are singing but you still hear the odd squeaks of young birds and the alarm calls of their parents. There redstarts were ” hooweet-tak-tak” -ing furiously at us for being too near their fledglings.

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We’ve also seen lots of young blue and great tits this week.

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And this year’s graylag fledgings just look like geese now, not fluffy goslings.  They are surprisingly hard to spot in among the water lilies! There are about 30 geese in the first photo.

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They have been spending a lot of time on the shore, moulting out their summer plumage. All the ducks have….and there are feathers (and goose poo) all over the place.

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But my favourites were the newly fledged wrens. They are properly tiny but still “machine gun” you with their alarm call, just like the adults. Small bird, big voice- and attitude.

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The squirrels are losing their ear tufts in summer too…this on just has a few long hairs left.

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Its also the season when the grass is at it’s height. Not that you’d need to tell any hay fever sufferers that! Though often overlooked, grasses can be surprisingly attractive plants, with tufted hair grass being one of the prettiest. Look out for it if you come and see us this weekend- just bring a hanky if the pollen gets you!

grass

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