Saturday, 20 June 2015

Berwick Wildlife Trust Open Day

Regular readers of my blog may remember that I have always derived much comfort, in the face of the vicious local, national and international politics afflicting Berwick, from the herd of swans who swim serenely to and fro across the border, and that I have always admired the work of the Swan Trust with their  motto 'caring for wildlife both sides of the border'. So when I saw that they were having an open day I resolved to go. That was earlier today, and I was not disappointed.

The Trust was originally formed to protect swans from injury and the effects of pollution, but it has branched out to cover all kinds of wildlife and is officially called the Berwick Swan and Wildlife Trust.

It now has premises out on the industrial estate, named the David Rollo Centre in memory of a local vet who did a great deal of unpaid work for the Trust. Today the centre was housing: three adult swans, two cygnets, a brood of ducklings, two owls, assorted other birds, several hedgehogs, and a fox cub. The man who was answering questions said that they can't cope with otters, badgers, seals or deer. Seals are sent down the coast to Tynemouth or even Norfolk. Otters and anything large are taken in by the SSPCA (like the RSPCA only Scottish rather than Royal) over the border, who have more space and a bigger pond.

This cute little chap is a herring gull chick. They have lots of those. Apparently at this time of year a lot of chicks injure themselves by thinking they can fly when they can't. How sweet this one looked as he tried to flap his fluffy little wings and squirted out the contents of his tiny bowels! It was enough to make you forget that most Berwickers don't want herring gulls to survive, including me most of the time. Only, with timing so perfect you wouldn't dare make it up, one of the adult brethren of these little balls of fluff flapped his large noisy wings and emptied the contents of his large soggy bowels all over me as I walked through the town centre later this afternoon. That's right, on my head. I had to go straight home and wash my hair. Last year I lost a handbag to a seagull's forcefully ejected waste products. Still, as the man said, 'We are a wildlife trust, we can't discriminate between different kinds of wildlife.' He even claimed that numbers of herring gulls are falling. If they're falling in other parts of the country, that may be because they've all moved to Berwick.

This cygnet came into the centre because his mother rejected him and tried to drown him. Surely a case for avian social services. One of the adult swans was knocked down by a car on Holy Island causeway after the driver tried to cross before the road was clear of water - yet another example of the damage done by idiots who think they know better than the tide table.

The fox cub was adorable. There is still a division in rural areas between those who hunt foxes for sport and those who rescue and nurse injured foxes. A small child covered her ears in horror when the Trust worker explained that they feed the cub on day-old chicks, which seems to prove that pro-hunting propagandists are astute to use photos of hens ripped apart by foxes to support their case. Hunting is now technically illegal but hunts are doing everything they possibly can, up to and sometimes beyond the limit of the law, to carry on as before. The Conservative party once promised to re-legalise fox hunting when it was returned to power, but it seems to have quietly let that drop. The hunting-shooting-fishing lobby likes to describe its activities as 'the traditional country way of life'. Actually, the people who give their time and skills free to the Wildlife Trust are just as much true country folk.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Berwick Castle At Peace

I am conscious that my last few posts have consisted of intemperate ravings about the general election, and feel a need to redress the balance. So here are some pretty pictures of the ruins of Berwick castle on a lovely summer evening (yesterday, in fact).

Despite its importance as a border fortress, there is not a lot left of Berwick castle, because it was inconveniently occupying the site deemed most suitable for a railway station by the Victorians. I have always admired the confidence in progress that led them to feel no qualms about knocking most of it down. A fine view of the only surviving outer wall can be had from the northbound platform of the station. It continues down the hill to the river, as seen in this picture.

Some local tourism activists would like to rebuild the castle, or at least erect a gift shop amid the ruins. This seems to me to be: a) barmy b) expensive and c) unlikely to attract visitors who have the option of any number of other castles within half an hour's drive. Castles are pretty much ten a penny in the English Borders. As somebody who grew up in the shadow of one of the most imposing, Alnwick, and regularly played on the beach beneath another, Bamburgh, I have serious castle fatigue. When we went on holiday to Wales during my teens I moaned all the time about being made to tour another load of castles - built of course for the same reason, to maintain English control over another nation of the British Isles. But lots of people from more peaceful parts of England love the things.

That bird obligingly alighted on those stones at just the right time. When a composition like this comes together in a fine evening light, I remember why I came to live in Berwick in the first place. On a wet Wednesday in January, the ruins just look, well, ruined. There are a couple of benches strategically placed for admiring the views that also provide a home for the local drunks, hence the fine scattering of broken glass all over this ancient monument. In the right mood I appreciate this for the same reason I appreciate the Victorians knocking the rest of the thing down. Life goes on. Some of the activities of medieval people that we research today would have been disapproved of and censored in their own time.

If you want to know about the history of the castle, read Jim Herbert's blog, Berwick Timelines (linked to in my sidebar). It's more his sort of thing than mine. He has all the dates and facts about the history of Berwick at his fingertips.

These rooms on the lowest level of the castle, used by the soldiers on duty to keep warm as best they could while keeping an eye out for the enemy, are the only rooms to have survived. I always find it a little creepy when walking past them to the river bank, as shown here. The atmosphere in the tunnel is dark and dank even in the summer. The local drunks treat the cells as convenient waste disposal chutes for their cans and bottles, and the metal grilles installed by the conservation bods make it impossible to reach and remove them. Yes indeed, life goes on.