Grey squirrels, muntjac deer, canada geese, pheasants and himalayan balsam are all introduced species from regions far from this land and are some of the most commonly seen wildlife around the nature trail today.
Often these thriving introduced species are feared and resented and so much effort is made to remove them or at least control their increase. Before this effort is made, it is worth remembering all living species and their eco-systems are only a minor component of very long geological and climatological cycles, which we as short-lived animals cannot see but science has revealed.
Looking back in time, our area was once just one part of an enormous oak forest cut through by a tributary of the Severn that was probably rather larger and certainly much cleaner than it is today. In fact for thousands of years, the Severn and the Teme were probably broad sparkling rivers full of trout and salmon – the fishermen today would have loved them.
BUT before that, it the evidence shows the land was actually arctic tundra of the sort much loved by reindeer and musk ox. (Go and look at the woolly mammoth skeletons in the Shropshire Hills discovery centre at Craven Arms). Before that, the land may have actually been under an ice sheet. Geologists and other earth scientists and astronomers argue about how many Ice Ages the world has experienced but there have been at least four and maybe five. During the biggest of these, all life on land is believed to have frozen to death and most of ocean life also disappeared.
The last ice melted north of this area probably less than 20,000 years ago and humans moved to occupy the land soon afterwards, following the reindeer in a way of life that still survives in Arctic Siberia. When mammoths and reindeer died out, due mainly to climate change that saw grassy plains become forests, other game were hunted or tribes moved to live by the sea to become fishermen and shellfish collectors. Only at the end of the Neolithic era, around 4000 years ago in this part of the world, did farming become a way of life in our land. By then the bear, wolf and beaver were rare except in the wild mountainous lands of the North and west and would soon die out.
What we experience in our climate today reflects on human induced changes in atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and sulphur dioxide. There seems an almost universal agreement amongst scientists that this will cause a rise in average global temperatures, indeed it is already doing so.There is now acute anxiety about climate change and its impact on our lives. Which, in practise, we can do little about at least in the next fifty years. The gases continue to pour into the world’s atmosphere which life support is shared by the ever increasing billions of humans and never forget, also by the ever reducing wild species which actually evolved before our own.
BUT life is remarkably persistent – perhaps what we actually fear is the disappearance of those comforts of human life familiar to us. In reality, our lives are very much pampered compared to previous generations. Think about the life your grandparents had:- My maternal great grandmother had 15 children of whom seven died in infancy and she herself died at the age of 45, worn out by childbearing and relentless stressful poverty of life in Victorian London. Does that way of life reflect on our own lives today at all. Life and human society moves on and will evolve into something else over time. Will tomorrows’ humanity even miss cheap air flights? Who knows?
So let’s consider what was life like for the very first humans to come to these islands? Think of starving if you couldn’t find the food you sought in the great forest or missed your arrow shot too many times. Think of moving every time your quarry moved on, when alarmed by your predatory activities – you would have been a compulsory nomad, skilled at surviving and have had to become a multi skilled crafts person: a flint knapper, a fire maker, a potter, a hunter, a trapper, a skilled fisherman, a weaver, a maker of skin and fur clothes. Some evidence exists to prove that less able (the sick, disabled and elderly) were also cared for to some extent. Evidence also exists on carved bones and stones and painted cave walls to show that these hunters were often skilled artists too.
Were those first “British” humans migrants? Yes of course, but only in the sense that they followed their food because it moved around. These early colonists walked to what was yet to become an island, since the sea level was then so much lower due to vast quantities of water being locked up in icy polar regions. All the other species to share the land were and are, also migrants.The vast majority of our native species were actually living here on the land long before humanity came. It is now up to us how many of these wild species survive with us into the (warmer) future.
We have only one planet and cannot emigrate somewhere else and nor can the natural inhabitants of these lands.
Keith Falconer, February 2017
Squirrel photograph from Pixabay.
Keith Falconer is a local naturalist with many years experience of observing and photographing the wildlife of this region. He has an amazing knowledge of birds and bugs and all the creatures that live around us. Every few weeks he will be adding to this seasonal account of what to look for and listen to across our wonderful nature trail.