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News and views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
Issue 5 Spring 2008
white heron

Memories of Provence

Paris had been wet, but the overnight sleeper had brought us south to a warm, sunny morning in Avignon. It was 1968, I was 15 and it was my first time abroad a bird-watching holiday in the Camargue. That morning Provence imprinted itself on my every sense Cézannes colours, heady aromas from the woods and lavender fields, the shimmering heat of the sun, the ubiquitous drone of cicadas. And in the ditches and riverside trees, small, sleek, brilliant white herons little egrets, birds which for me still evoke Provence as much as olive groves and vineyards, boules and Pastis. Southern France was then the northern limit of the range of these birds. Today they are frequently seen on the Deben.

We hear so much of the decline of many of our native species of birds, the voices of hope and regeneration struggling to be heard above the chorus of gloom, but the fact is there are positive things happening too. Dartford warblers now breed on the heaths around Woodbridge (none this side of Dorset when I was a boy), the well-publicised decline of the house sparrow has reversed (they have returned to many parts of our town after several years absence). Stone curlews have regained a foothold in the Sandlings for the first time in 25 years. Mediterranean gulls are now successfully nesting on some parts of the Suffolk coast. And on the Deben, as on many of the wetlands of southern England, the little egrets are now a very visible demonstration of changing ecological times.

Global warming alone cannot account for such a huge and rapid expansion of this species. The arrival of the little egret in this country, and indeed the other positive changes we see such as those I have mentioned, are all cause for celebration. Perhaps the more so because all have to do with the natural change in range and population to which wildlife is always subject, and not to human influence neither the destructive influence of which we hear so much, nor the benign consequences of habitat management by the RSPB and other conservation bodies which account for the success of other rare birds in Suffolk, such as the avocet and marsh harrier.

But am I alone in always hearing cicadas at the sight of the dazzling white egrets in Suffolk?