Wonderfully natural sight in the city centre

PUBLISHED: 07:47 19 November 2008 | UPDATED: 22:37 15 June 2010

I attended a very interesting conference recently, writes James Chubb, EDDC education ranger.

I attended a very interesting conference recently, writes James Chubb, EDDC education ranger. I know, it sounds like a contradiction in terms, but this one was more than just a lot of hot air. It was actually well worth attending. The morning consisted of a series of presentations about the Devon Biodiversity Action Plan, or BAP, and gave a broad overview of conservation work going on in our county. Working solely in East Devon, I sometimes feel a little closeted away from the rest of the county, so it's always interesting to get together once in a while and see what your neighbours are up to. Things are looking good out there, I can tell you.Lynne Kenderdine, of the Devon Wildlife Trust, gave a particularly interesting presentation about County Wildlife Sites and their vital role in local wildlife conservation. Did you know that 250,000 hectares, about one per cent of Devon, is classified as a County Wildlife Site; a designation with no legal muscle or legislative framework. Most County Wildlife Sites are in private ownership and, by and large, they are all the better for it. There may not be any legal precedent why a site isn't bulldozed and built on, but the vast majority of owners, once informed of the intrinsic value of their land, are responsible in their future plans. And so it is that a great deal of Devon's wildlife is in protective management through a system with not much weight behind it apart from a moral plea. These sites may not boast the rarities of a SSSI, SAC or SPA but, as far as providing stepping stones for biodiversity to flourish across the County, CWSs are essential - long may they continue to thrive!Lynne's presentation got me thinking about making space for wildlife around us, and the fact that a formal nature reserve designation is all well and good for protecting the sole site of an immobile plant or sluggish slug, but the bigger, more flighty things need something a little more holistic.As I was making my way back from the conference I witnessed a spectacle which brought this into immediate clarity. The biggest flock of long-tailed tits I have seen for many years were feeding in the trees surrounding Triangle Car Park in the centre of Exeter. A less likely spot for something so wonderfully natural, one is hard pushed to find in Exeter. The noise the birds were making was so loud it actually drowned out the passing traffic noise! About 25-30 long-tailed tits were flocking, presumably due to the sudden cold snap, making their way through the trees in search of tiny flies and spiders to fuel their minute bodies. A long-tailed tit call is a high pitched piping whistle, which by itself is a weedy but very endearing noise. The collaborative efforts of these two dozen birds was a cacophony which lifted my spirits and made me stop and gawp skywards for several minutes. It brought a big smile to my face and, for me, illustrated starkly one reason why living consciously alongside wildlife is so important - even in towns and cities. A few hundred metres away was the desolate glass and concrete of the new shopping development, and yet here was a little oasis of reality benefiting from the slightly warmer climate of a city centre. What a welcome sight!East Devon is fortunate to have many glimpses of such nature. And most of these are on a much grander scale than the one I have just described. But, in the same way that herbs grown in a window box on a block of flats taste better to their cultivator than a packet from the local shop, so a splash of wildlife in our immediate environs can be as special as a breaching humpback!So thanks to everyone for putting on such a good show; to County for hosting the conference, and to those little birds for making it all seem a bit more real. Take a moment to look up and recognise all the wildness that surrounds you at this moment, everything that is within your sensual reach that has not been put there by a person. See if it makes you smile too.

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