A Corncrake, once so common around Borstal Heath
Many hundreds of people have asked us – including our own dear Jackdancinginthegreen in Fiji (see first post comment) – what on earth happened to the Borstal Heath corncrake chorus that used to ring out across the land? They are obviously sorely missed and so we feel we should own up to what is a terrible tale of misjudgement. We take heart from Woody Allen who said: “if you’re not failing every now and again, its a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” That may well be true but in our case our innovation didn’t help the dear corncrake.
The Borstal Heath Wildlife Group, normally so dedicated to the preservation of wildlife, on this occasion failed these charming little birds. They no longer croak delightfully in our fields and we have no one to blame but ourselves – and most particularly Ethel. She may look like a cross between Miss Marple and Widow Twankey but don’t be fooled – behind those round glasses are fiercely sharp eyes on the look out for any money making venture and behind that fulsome bosom is a heart of steel. Her pin up is Alan Sugar.
Ethel has had a long held ambition which her meagre pension has never allowed her to fulfil. Before she dies she says she wants to follow the Chippendales around the globe. How sweet we thought – exhibiting this fine collection of furniture throughout the world. A little further investigation however revealed that it was a different sort of Chippendale that attracted her attention – but I move on. Suffice to say when Ethel has a goal NOTHING will get in the way, not even the sweet corncrake.
After working day and night Ethel, now known as Enterprising Ethel, came up with a marvellous idea – or so we thought at the time. Back then corncrakes croaked away in the lush pastures around BH throughout the summer months. At times the sound was deafening there were so many. Some find the sound harsh and tuneless and I must say they are quite persistent – on many occasions I have mistaken the corncrake chorus for choir practice at our local church. People would flock from miles away to see listen. It was remarkably like Glyndebourne, families would spread picnic blankets and couples would open champagne and oysters and we would all lie in the warm sunshine and marvel at the croaking resonating through the air. (Sometimes it actually was choir practice everyone was listening to but no one seemed to notice!)
Ethel began on a small scale, catching just a few buckets of corncrakes on the quiet and making them into tasty snacks for our visitors. They quickly became known as the delicious Crunchy Cut Corncrakes. People didn’t realise they were actually made from corncrakes, they thought we were having a bit of a joshing joke and that they were actually made from pig fat! They were wonderful snacks – each bite burst with bucolic flavour, it was like crunching into a pastoral symphony. Lightly salted or sour cream flavour, they evoked in one’s taste buds all that is sumptuous about rural England. Church bells, wafting meadows, tinkling brooks – in one crunchy morsel.
Ethel’s new found snack was a resounding success and people queued as far up as the M6 to buy packets. Beefy Betty could down 4 family sized cartons in one siting. The price rose but the queues never got shorter, in fact orders started coming in from all over the world! Even from as far away as Fiji! (Just a minute – isn’t that where Jack …)
The entire village was brought in to keep the supply of corncrakes piling into Ethel’s kitchen and her enormous chip pan. We had to use the agricultural equivalent of trawl nets to keep up with demand.
When our local RSPB rep found out he was incandescent! I have never seen fury like it! When he could speak without spluttering he told us that this amount of exploitation could not be sustained. But what about local tradition and indigenous rights we cried! But by then it was too late. The supply of corncrakes quickly dwindled, the crowds thinned and the croaking chorus gradually declined to a single rasp. It was all over.
Oh how foolish we were! Blinded by greed and the thrill of enterprise we caused the demise of the croaker in the fields.
So let this be a lesson to you all. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness,” says Keats. I am sure that on still summer evenings when the bustle of BH has died down and we take our rest, I can still hear the faint croak of a corncrake somewhere on the wisp of the wind. It does make one’s mouth water…