Friday, 27 July 2012

A chance encounter

When I lived closer to it, I used to walk along the Stort Navigation on the Hertfordshire/Essex border fairly frequently, roughly between Harlow and Bishop's Stortford. Note for non-Brits especially: a "navigation" in this sense is a river converted to make it suitable for barges, straightened in places and given at least partly artificial banks. The Stort is the original river. The area is surprisingly rural, with woods, fielda and marshes.

Since moving further away, I've become seriously interested in dragonflies and took the opportunity of recent sunny weather to revisit the Stort, reckoning it would be classic dragonfly habitat - and so it was. I was looking out for birds and butterflies too and had my binoculars round my neck.

A tractor was harvesting hay close to the navigation. It stopped. A powerfully-built white-haired man, naked above the waist, got out and came jogging across the field and through a rough gap in the nettles and other vegetation to join me on the bank. He'd seen my binoculars. He was the farmer. Had I seen the buzzard, he asked. Note to Americans: this is not the small vulture you call a buzzard, but a kind of large hawk, which was exterminated in Eastern England in the 19th century but has returned over the last twenty years. I hadn't. He said it often came down when he was working in the fields to take any prey disturbed by machinery. We chatted about birds. I explained my number one interest that day was dragonflies. He asked about that.

On my way back I did see his buzzard.

So why is that worth a post? Some farmers are still hostile to birds of prey, but he was seriously interested. More than that, he was working, stopped his machine and went out of his way to reach me and talk to me. I was impressed - humbled, really.

Oh, and the Three Horseshoes at Spellbrook had good real ale...

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