The Fall and Rise of Nature

One of the things I love about the green spaces in urban Hastings (St Helen’s Wood, Alexandra Park, Newgate Woods) is the rich variety of exotic and unusual trees planted decades ago, many helpfully labelled. Many of these are now magnificent, sturdy creatures of stature.  

However, one such tree that I’ve always enjoyed watching through the seasons each year – an Indian Horse-chestnut – came down in last week’s storms.

A native of the Himalayas, the Indian Horse-chestnut (Aesculus indica) is popular in many parks and estates in the UK, where it was introduced in the mid-19th century.

Although in some ways I’m sorry to see the tree fallen, this is not the end of the story.

One of my favourite posts in an old blog of mine is Twist of Fate (do please take a look) – my attempt at poetry about a fallen trunk in Alexandra Park that continues to give life.

Rewilding pioneers Isabella Tree and Sir Charlie Burrell describe how, in their early days of rewilding the Knepp estate in West Sussex, instead of cutting down a previously grand old – now rotting old – oak, made the counterintuitive decision to leave the tree to its own devices – “our first lesson in sitting on our hands and leaving Nature in the driving seat.”

They watched a whole new universe spring to life, as beetles, other saproxylic (dead wood eating) invertebrates and woodpeckers began to find a home and nutrition in this dying habitat.

Voles took up residence in the rabbit warrens amongst the tree’s roots, and a heron frequently perched itself on a lower limb that overlooked a lake.

Isabella and Charlie learnt to leave fallen branches from other trees on the ground – encouraging the natural process of fertilisation for the trees.

As Isabella puts it, “Death became a different kind of living.” [1]

Most spiritualities have a healthy and hopeful outlook on death and dying. My own Christian faith has resurrection hope at its centre. Nature (God’s first “Bible”[2]) has always shown us this, with its patterns of renewal, revival and resurrection amidst its ostensibly messy system of decay and dying.

I write this while struggling with a bereavement myself. Putting these reflections together turns out to be an important cathartic process, reminding me of the hope that I hold.

It’s thought that the Victorians are to blame for our obsession with tidying up. Tidiness may be useful in some contexts, but it spells disaster for ecosystems.

In Nature, nothing is wasted.

Dead wood and fallen trees become sources of vital nutrients, create fresh habitats for new visitors, and give rise to all kinds of life.

The collapse of the Indian Horse-chestnut is by no means the end, either of its own life or that of others. In fact, it might just be an auspicious sign of new beginnings.

I just hope and pray now that the authorities don’t decide to tidy the fallen tree away, but leave it to do what Nature does best.

(Photos all mine, but no copyright!)


[1] Wilding by Isabella Tree (London: Picador, 2018).

[2] See my recent blog post Nature – the first Bible

Advertisement

And Heaven and Nature Sing

Joy to the world! The Saviour reigns
Let men their songs employ


While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains


Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy

And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing


And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

Nature singing with joy to their Source this Christmas Day (all photos taken in Hastings, today – 25th December 2021).

Butterflies in the Belfry

I’ve written before, in Life out of Death, about the wildlife habitat that is the ruins of the strikingly photogenic Old St Helen’s Church, one of the oldest buildings in Hastings. During last year’s hot summer it was a joy to see the old, disused graveyard teeming with butterflies.

I rarely use filters but Old St Helen’s Church is just made for photo effects!

This summer I’ve been longing for a chance to go back and see the butterflies there again, take some more photos, and check on the prevalence of the Common Blue that was so…common there last year. It’s been predicted that this is going to be a bumper year for the brilliant blue, British butterfly, yet I’ve seen very few so far this summer (although plenty of Holly Blues).

Today I managed to grab a few minutes to visit the site and was pleasantly relieved to see quite a number of Common Blues there again.

Common Blue, today

Even more excitingly, though, I spotted at least two Brown Argus (and took the photo below). Like other butterflies I’ve reported on in previous blog posts, this pretty, petite butterfly is a species I’d normally associate with the countryside, especially downland, so to see them populating this wild patch of urbanity is sheer delight.

Some time I intend to make an attempt at writing some reflections I’ve been pondering about the harmony of man and nature. But for now suffice to say that this little area, although abandoned in terms of its original use as a place of worship (but now conserved by Sussex Heritage Trust together with local community groups), is thriving with living colours of the Creator, giving rise to a different expression of worship.

One in which nature sings with vibrant wings.