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Nature Engagement & Cycling
by Susan Clark
In week three of e-biking to work, a chance encounter with a fox leaves Susan Clark asking why we don't do more to stop habitat loss and protect our wildlife
In my lifetime I have witnessed the arrival of supermarkets and computers in our everyday lives, the long over-due prosecution of men who thought groping young girls (and worse) was part of the perks of being a celebrity in the seventies and - something I have long suspected - a shocking and steady annihilation of the glorious countryside I grew up in.
The first time I ever rode a bike by myself, I was five. And what I remember most about that is how I wobbled down the country lane, stopping to pick and eat those scarlet red wild strawberries from the hedgerow.
The next time I had anything other than a passing fling with two wheels, a whole decade and a bit had passed. I had a rusty old no-gear bike someone had donated to the family. It was a Ladies' bike and being the eldest girl and the one most hankering for independence, it sort of became mine.
I called this bike Rosie and relied on her to get to the best summer job I ever had. I would cycle a round trip of 15 miles from my remote and rural childhood home in the middle of nowhere to the nearest town and spend the day moving medical record files from one office to another. I loved this job, mainly because aside from the joy of cycling there and back again - which felt like a kind of wild freedom back then - I would spend my lunch break nibbling through a limp peanut butter sandwich and reading the medical records of everyone I knew or had ever heard of.
It was a revelation. But that's a whole other story ...
Today, when I e-bike to work (and this has now become a part of my normal routine) I am cycling through the exact same kinds of Devon lanes and past the same early summer burgeoning hedgerows. But with more of my life now behind me than ahead of me, I ride with a heavy burden.
Earlier this summer, a 25-strong group of British wildlife and conservation charities joined forces to publish The State of Nature report which goes some way to answering many of those no longer rhetorical questions like: How come I haven't heard a cuckoo this year (or last)? And how can we have lost so much of our native wildlife in the same time frame I have been on the planet? How didn't I notice> Where was I?
So, I am cycling up the lane on one of those gloriously sunny June mornings (just before the weather broke) and as I turn the corner at the top of the hill where I can turn off the power and freewheel down the sloping lane, I catch a familiar whiff...of fox. And there ahead, I see the bush and bottom of a youngish animal who has no idea I am behind. And so for a good few seconds, the fox carries on strolling down the lane looking like he has more rights than me to be there.
This has happened before but is rare. I once stumbled across a very young badger going about its business either unaware or unconcerned that I was so close by; I once sat and watched an Artic Hare checking out the terrain on an old forgotten pathway, again seemingly unconcerned I was so close I could have reached out and touch the tip of its ear. And not so long ago I walked into a neglected woodland to see four fox cubs playing in the sunshine on a log.
As a young child I knew these encounters were precious - understanding without having to be told that it is a privilege to be so close to wildlife - and as an adult, I feel it even more so. But I also feel ashamed.
It's not hard to work out what's gone wrong over the last half century or why we've been destroying the environment. People want more - of everything. They want it cheap - even when they have the money to pay a fairer price. And they want more money - more than they want anything else. Whatever the cost to anything else we might be sharing the space with.
The other day I rode past a farmyard. Actually, that's not the right term. 'Cow Slum' shed would be better. I was shocked by the skinny haunches of the cows that were limping their way to milking, and I was haunted by a phrase I had come across earlier that week where someone referred to intensively farmed dairy cattle as skeletons with milk bags.
But mainly I was depressed. If we do this to our livestock, what hope for the wild animals that (mostly) have the good sense to keep out of our way. No wonder they're all checking out ....
Susan Clark is Managing Editor at The Ecologist. Follow her: @suzresurgence
She is riding the Compy e-bike on loan from Power Pedals. Details here:http://www.powerpedals.co.uk/our-products/enduro-b.html
For a summary of the UK's State of Nature Report see here:http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/summary_tcm9-345844.pdf
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