Each spring I wake up in the same place. Our hollow in the big old Hawthorne tree overlooks a large pool of water. When the sun is out, the water looks blue and glimmers, sparkles, and dances in the light. When it rains, the water looks grey and loses its shimmer.
One of my favourite games as I flit from brightly-coloured bud to brightly-coloured bud, sipping delicious nectar here and there from the flowering plants that line the water’s edge, is to watch the shadows cast on the surface of the water and make up stories about the shapes.
A noisy plane flying overhead is a menacing shark patrolling the water for his prey. The shadow of a plastic bag wafting in the breeze caught in the lower boughs of our Hawthorne tree is a fairy waving her magic wand to make the stormy water calm.
The shadows of the sails of the boats gliding effortlessly and silently across the water in the annual sailing regatta are pieces of soggy pizza tossed into the water by a boisterous family of humans who had enjoyed a barbecue by the water’s edge. The family had forgotten to take their empty cans of beer, crisp packets, and plastic bottles home with them. The malleable debris now floats arbitrarily across the water, harbouring itself in uneven dikes on the shoreline.
The older and wiser of the freshwater creatures that live by the water’s edge know to avoid going near these overlooked plastic objects. As venturing too close runs the risk of ingestion of contaminants, or entanglement, both of which have slain many a young fairy shrimp, dragonfly, damselfly, water beetle and pond skater, whose inquisitive innocence heeded them no warning.
This year when I woke up from hibernation in our hollow in the Hawthorne tree, there was quite a different landscape.
There were no shapes cast onto the water’s surface shimmering under the sunlight. There were no naive young damselflies, dragonflies, fairy shrimps, water beetles and pond skaters to warn about the dangers of the humans’ rubbish cast thoughtlessly into the water. There were no sailing boats coasting the water with hefty sails forming shadows resembling pieces of soggy pizza. The planes flying raucously overhead could no longer be transformed into intimidating sharks stalking their prey in the water, because the water was no longer there.
The water had been replaced by heavy machinery working through the night to build a protective waterproof wall across the damaged dam. For 188 years, the old dam acted as a barrier to restrict the flow of water into the nearby town.
Mighty industrial pumps working tirelessly to drain the last of the muddy puddles from the now empty bowl, had driven the frightened freshwater creatures out of their habitat.
Helicopters hovering above, unloading thousands of sandbags in a desperate, last-resort bid to shore up the disintegrating structure, had sent the frogs, toads, salamanders, turtles and snakes, whose families had lived on the reservoir’s periphery for generations, fleeing from their homes.
The dazzling glare of lights of news crews from near and far, desperate to be the first to report the latest drama from the forlorn former beauty spot, had startled the Willow Tits, Wood Warblers, Hawfinches and Nightjars from their nests in the nearby woodland, forcing them to fly into new territories with new dangers.
As I had slept obliviously in the hollow of the Hawthorne tree, a cascade of rain that the man stood in front of the camera at the side of the reservoir described as being equivalent to a month’s worth in four hours, led to the near collapse of the old dam that controlled the water that the Hawthorne tree looked out on.
Changeable weather is nothing new in my habitat. Without the contrast of bright sunshine and cloudless blue skies quickly interrupted by darks clouds menacingly rolling in, an overcast sky, and the inevitable gentle pitter-patter of rain on the lake, my favourite game making up objects out of the shadows on the water’s surface wouldn’t be so much fun.
I overheard a lady who looked important and who has been visiting the reservoir regularly since the collapse of the dam, tell a man that the volatile weather that caused all the chaos, happened because of the effects the activities of humans are having on the planet. Having watched so many of my wildlife friends be destroyed because of the plastic debris washed up on the lake and the black pollution that splutters from the planes that fly noisily overhead, I can’t say I was surprised to hear the lady pin the blame on the actions of humans.
As I had slept soundly during that vicious and relentless downpour and its disorderly aftermath, my wildlife compatriots had been forced to abandon their comfortable habitat in search of a new suitable home.
With machinery and mud now sat in the place of the water, and the mass of wildlife that once lived here having perished or moved on, the plants that have managed to survive have lost their vibrancy, their potent fragrancy, and are shadows of their former selves.
As I flit from wilting flower to wilting flower, the nectar I need is pitifully scant. Without nectar I cannot do my job. I cannot pollinate the plants that were once flourishing in my home. Without pollination, the already wilting plants are likely to meet a suffocating demise. Without pollinators like me, the nuts and fruits humans rely on for a healthy diet are at threat.
Without sufficient nectar, I feel frailer and frailer.
They call this muddy, messy, skeleton bowl of former water Toddbrook Reservoir. I call it the Manmade Wildlife Massacre.