The rise of the fall is something to behold


After a period of flux, it looks like autumn has finally arrived. Most of the wintering geese are now in and during the last couple of weeks a huge influx of winter thrushes (fieldfares, redwings & blackbirds) has occurred. The odd swallow can still be seen, but most have gone now until next year.

The recent heavy rain and consequently high river levels has provided just the right conditions for a spectacular run of salmon up our rivers. The cauld on my local patch of Ettrick has been the scene of some amazing displays of leaping fish, but the ongoing reconstruction works and the resulting high perimeter fencing means that the public are, to a large extent, excluded. Let’s hope that by next year, things will be back to normal and this spectacular natural performance will once again be the tourist attraction that it rightly should be.

The other day I was pleased to receive a book in the post from Michael Braithwaite, who is an eminent botanist living near Hawick, whom I have known for many years. The book, published by the Berwickshire Naturalists Club and written by Michael, is entitled “The Wildflowers of a Berwickshire Bard (George Henderson of Chirnside 1800-1864)”. The book appealed to me on two fronts. Firstly, my wife hails from Chirnside and I know the area well, and secondly, local botany is how I first became interested in wildlife.

George Henderson was a doctor, poet and founder member of the Berwickshire Naturalists Club. His Berwickshire rural life was blighted by the “Lowland Clearances” when huge changes took place in the area’s agriculture. A new, more efficient plough was introduced, allowing increased cultivation of previously wild land. To this end marshes were drained, woods cut down and hedges dug out. As a lover of the local flora, his anguish can be felt through his evocative poetry, such as this example from Nature’s lament for Man’s Encroachments c.1840:-

Our bonny burn-sides they hae drained and dug,

The crook o’ the burn they altered too,

The green ferny knowes where the hare lay snug,

They hae cleared o’ ilka buss, and riven wi’ the pleugh.

It is a lovely read for lovers of the Borders countryside, interspersed with Henderson’s beautiful verses and some lovely old botanical illustrations. Many comparisons can be drawn between then and now, as much of our countryside is still under threat from changes in agriculture.

There are a limited number of books available for public sale, so if you would like a copy, send a cheque for £7 (made payable to The Berwickshire Naturalists Club) together with your name and address to Michael Braithwaite, Clarilaw Farmhouse, Hawick, TD9 8PT.