What has happened to the Deciduous Forest?
We have already spoken of many of the animals to be met with in these regions, and of the climate and the vegetation that form the habitat. Of all the world’s ancient forests, it is this one that has been most altered by the presence of the human animal. Man began to use the land to grow food for himself. Space was required for this, so land was cleared of forest trees, making room for agriculture. The temperate climate, with its mild winters and moderate rainfall, was conducive to the growing of crops. Man soon appreciated the comfort of such a climate, where a wide variety of crops could thrive. The felled trees were soon converted to homes and barns to provide shelter for himself and his animals. This change converted the once ancient forest areas into a patchwork of cultivated fields and pasturage. And later, ever-increasing congested sprawls of urbanisation, not forgetting the quarrying and mining of the land.
Today, man is finally becoming aware of what has been lost over the progress of time. Is it surprising that we ask, “Where are the Forests now?” Conservation has become a last ditch concept to preserve for posterity the last remnants of these lost forests, their inestimable beauty and their native inhabitants.
Many of the wild animals were unable to adapt to the loss of their habitat, and simply died out. Other wild creatures learned to adapt to the changing circumstances and have maintained their family life successfully. Some were found useful to the farmer and became domestic breeds.
Progress never stands still. The day came when some of these domestic breeds were laid aside as no longer necessary for modern day requirements. Sadly, as a result, some breeds were neglected and were allowed to die out, lost to us forever. Others are on the endangered list and are marked as rare species. Our story today lies with some of these animals. The Conservation Movement has awakened interest in this area, resulting in some of these breeds being ‘resurrected’ to solve difficult present-day situations. Happily, they are back with us, doing most valuable work.
The name Spurn would not arouse excitement among the majority of readers, but for me, my attention was immediately arrested and long-ago memory sparked to flame. Once a year, I was taken to my father’s home for the summer vacation. The excitement was all embracing. There was the train journey north, providing the annual landmarks that captivated me. Around the age of four, I had acquired the odd fascination for tall structures. The specialities for me on the journey included the wonder of Boston Stump as we left the flat Fen country, the three towers of Lincoln Cathedral, the numerous working windmills and the tall factory chimneys of the city of Grimsby, our destination.
The following day, I eagerly awaited the tram ride to the neighbouring seaside resort of Cleethopes for my first sight of the sea. Rushing to the beach, the sight of that tall, black and white horizontally striped lighthouse across the sea, capped all else. Spurn Lighthouse! To me, it counted as the number-one wonder of my world!
Because it appeared that the sea lay between me and the lighthouse, and the clearly visible strip of yellow sand indicated a distant beach on a foreign shore, I was confident that this spectacular column was a lighthouse in France, a notion in itself lending fascination but, later, much terror!
The River Humber on the East coast of England, sets the boundary between the old counties of Lincolnshire, on its southern bank, and Yorkshire to the north. The great fishing port of Grimsby, some miles down-river from Hull on the northern bank, stands at the opening of the river mouth. To the north, the Yorkshire bank tapers and finally, as a slender finger of sand, swings south, curling almost the the centre of the river’s mouth and ending in Spurn Head.
One year, when my parents announced that they thought I would enjoy a trip across the Humber to Hull, they were mystified by the storm of tears that resulted. I well remember, even to this day, the panic I felt. I did not want to go to France, the idea of crossing the sea to a strange land was terrifying and I protested as loudly as my lungs would allow. This behaviour was so uncharacteristic that the idea was abandoned. Much water was to pass into the North Sea, washing Spurn’s bank, before I finally learned of my error!
Over the intervening years, many changes have taken place. I live most happily – and fearlessly too – far across the seas from my native land! The old Spurn lighthouse is now an empty shell. It was closed down in 1986. In the 1950s, the area was bought by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, and designated a natural nature reserve.
Even this seemingly remote stretch of sandy isolation, that extends into the Humber Estuary, is invaluable. The estuary attracts thousands of migrating birds that make landfall in season, feeding on berries from the sea buckthorn and insects, that themselves feed upon the wild flowers that grow on this elongated finger of sandy dunes. There are other feeders there too, whose dietary requirements are of immense importance to both man and beast. A flock of Hebridian sheep, members of a breed rare, which in 1973 were feared to be in danger of extinction by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
The violent storms of the North Sea are an ever-present threat to the slender peninsula. Situated at the tip, are the Humber Pilots’ facilities and the only full-time lifeboat station in England; not to mention the presence of numerous bird watchers, who use the many bird-watching stations.
Help was required to manage the sand dune vegetation, where the various species of wild flowers, which grow in sheltered spots, were endangered by the more invasive plants. Marram grass being one of them, but necessary, along with other plant species whose root structures knit tightly to hold the dune banks together. Specialised ‘feeders’ were required to browse selectively to preserve the precious wild flowers.
A flock of Hebridean sheep, belonging to Trevor Ball, a Yorkshire farmer, was taken to Spurn.
It is interesting to learn that Trevor had, at first, been attracted to the breed simply because he thought they would look nice around the place! Having got them, he found them to be lovely animals without a downside. He began to breed them. Now, he finds that there is a steadily growing demand for animals that have the ability to eat invasive plants. They are proving invaluable for nature reserve management. There are now 3,000 registered breeding ewes in Britain. Trevor was awarded a national ‘Green Oscar’ by English Nature, for his work ‘to preserve the Site of Special Scientific interest at Spurn’.
We will run further stories about the increasing use of Rare Breeds in today’s present farming scene. Trevor Ball has also brought back the White Parks, one of the rarest, and most ancient of cattle breeds in Britain. So rare, that when the Second World War broke out, a small group of them was shipped to the United States for safe keeping.
Thanks are due to Dolores Cook for awakening our interest in this subject.