Got any grandchildren? asked the Scoutmaster, pausing at our table in the cricket club.
He dipped his hands into his pockets and offered a fine collection of “conkers”.
“We’ve been picking them off the horse chestnut trees,” he explained. “They’ve been falling and damaging people’s car windscreens.
“Our kids just fiddle with electronic games, barely notice it’s autumn,” complained a young parent, looking out on a deserted cricket pitch.
Yes, the season’s changing. Outside the window this morning I spotted a grey squirrel running along our fence after raiding nuts from a nesting box.
But where have all our garden birds gone?
A vole occasionally scales the bird table for seeds. However, the only feathered diners have been wood-pigeons, ring-necked doves and magpies.
We grew an ivy hedge high and thick enough for blackbirds, blue tits and sparrows to nesting in. The occasional wren, thrush and finch also visited, along with starlings, until – as autumn grew colder – our favourite, the robin, reappeared.
One year our blackbirds had a brood of big, fluffy chicks which stumbled about on garden furniture until finally taking flight.
That’s why I’m regularly to be found scattering lion-dung pellets from the garden centre – to scare off moggies. However, the water in the bird bath remains high, and their food largely ignored. Other gardeners echo similar dismaying news.
We’re fortunate that, around us, there are lots of trees. Many urban roads now lack them while, increasingly, neighbours’ gardens are little more than parking areas. It would be a tragedy to further loosen our affinity with nature.
That silence in the garden is a chilling warning to become closer to the seasons and natural life, just as our grandparents were – and wiser for it.
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