I’ve returned to Wakehurst on a bright autumn day to see if the rumours are true. One of my areas of research for this project was looking at nests. And that’s why I’m back today. I’ve heard birds have nested in the work I made. My godson showed me a blurry photo on his mobile, and now I’ve got to see this for myself.
There’s a carpet of cyclamen in flower under the huge dark trees as I enter Wakehurst, and all around are glorious autumn colours in the leaves. It rained all morning so visitors are few, but the sky’s brightening now.
It’s over a year since my residency here. The piece I made for the timber-framed buildings (which are next to the Millennium Seed Bank) ‘Meadow Weave’ was due to be taken down at the end of last year. But it’s been kept in place and I’m pleased to see it’s stood up well to the batterings of the weather. As well as the inevitable handling by curious visitors (the tall ones with long arms).
It’s made of looped hay rope, using hay grown at Wakehurst, about 70 metres of rope in all. It references agricultural uses of hay/straw rope, and hay-making communities.
As I enter the timber-framed buildings, I’m happy to greet the robin, perched on the edge of the work, facing me. The piece itself is a bit stretched and distorted out of shape from rain dampening it over the months and by the handling by visitors. Other than that it’s stood up well, and has proved itself more robust than I might have expected.
I notice a nest on the side beam next to the work in the corner under the eaves. On inspection I reckon it’s a thrush’s, possibly a song thrush, being a bit too tidy for that of a blackbird. An iconic and favourite British bird. This spring’s creation, the nest would have housed several dark-spotted blue eggs.
However, the nest I’ve heard about and have come to see is quite different from this one. Large and unkempt, a shallow construction of dark-coloured twigs, it was made by a pigeon or dove. The amazing thing about this nest is its placement. It’s been built right on top on my hay netting, snug up under the eaves. It rests on the work as on a large hammock.
There are two large-ish white eggs, so white they’re almost tinged blue. I can see that the nest has been disturbed, by human hands certainly. And there’s also a spider’s web on the nest that tells me the parent birds are long gone; and the eggs are stone cold. The nest would have been well protected from predators. But not from us pesky humans.
I hear later that pigeons often make more than one nest and don’t incubate them all. I momentarily feel consoled. But closer examination shows me that these eggs weren’t far off hatching, so the likelihood is that the parents were disturbed. I really hope the thrushes had more success.
At first I feel that these nests are a kind of avian vote of confidence in the piece I made. I love the reciprocal symmetry it seems to suggest, the safe harbour the work appeared as to the birds. However, on reflection I have mixed feelings, more nuanced, with tinges of regret.
I’m reminded of an article I read recently about wildlife thriving at Chernobyl. The site is now ‘rife’ with elk, roe deer, red deer, wild boar, foxes, wolves, and others. A rare Przewalski’s horse and European lynx have also been found, which were previously gone from the region but have now returned. There are also reports of European brown bear in the exclusion zone. European brown bears haven’t been seen in that region for more than a century.
But here’s the rub: “It’s very likely that wildlife numbers at Chernobyl are much higher than they were before the accident,” says Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth in the UK. “This doesn’t mean radiation is good for wildlife, just that the effects of human habitation, including hunting, farming, and forestry, are a lot worse.”
Read the full article about wildlife at Chernobyl here
And you can read other entries about my residency at Wakehurst here