As surreal as all our lives are at the moment, there is a definite comfort in seeing how the natural world has just carried on regardless. The high point of our year, our elderflower harvest, starts today. It’s the culmination of months of continuous hard work to keep our plantations in tip-top condition.
Although we are running a reduced harvest this year, visitors to Belvoir will still be able spot some large and slightly peculiar looking boxes sitting in the Table Top and Car Park plantations. These aren’t the result of some dodgy home-schooling carpentry – they are actually barn owl nesting boxes, and are meant to look like this!
As all our plantations are run organically, with no weedkillers or pesticides ever used, they are quite literally jumping with mice, voles, shrews, insects and hares. And lots of barn owls.
It’s not surprising because mice, voles and shrews make up the mainstay of a barn owl’s diet. Our plantations make a perfect habitat for these furry, little critters and, when picking flowers, if you look carefully you can see their tracks in the long grass – like miniature motorways – and the entrances to their underground nests, usually protected by brambles.
We tend to glimpse the barn owls only at night; sometimes, towards the end of winter, they come out in the day but that only happens if they are really hungry and aren’t finding enough to eat overnight.
We don’t expect the owls to use the new nesting boxes this year because they still smell too strongly of humans. But we reckon that after about six months the smell will have gone and the boxes will have melded in with their surroundings.
In the meantime, we are praying for a bit of rain. After a ridiculously wet winter (which the elders loved) we have had hardly a drop rain since lockdown began and the ground is now so hard that it has cracked. But we have been through this before and the plantations – and all their associated wildlife have survived – and no doubt will again.