17:30 EST, 22 November 2013
17:30 EST, 22 November 2013
Damp. Leaf-drippingly, foot-squelchingly, anorak-drenchingly damp. The landscape has become a great, glistening vista, polished by water so it shines in the weak autumnal sun.
The heavens have opened, it’s stair rods, lashing down, cats and dogs, bucketing, hammering with rain. Il pleut. In short, it’s been raining. A lot.
This has a dramatic impact on the countryside of course. A little bit of rain is a wonderful thing, but a great deal of rain rampages through woods and down hills.
Pretty little streams, all twinkling rapids and gurgling pools, instantly become nasty roaring hoodlums, snarling and tearing at the landscape that tries to contain them.
Miserable? No, soggy autumns offer a perfect playground for visiting wildlife…not to mention little creatures of your own
The arrival of the rains is the earth re-booting, clearing away the fripperies of the summer, stripping the landscape of anything delicate, to create a blank muddy canvas prepared for the arrival of winter proper.
The woods around Old Mill Creek suddenly seem truly ancient. It’s not just their appearance – although with mottled leaves and wet moss that alone gives the feeling of great antiquity – it’s the sounds and smells. The trees echo to the metronomic drip of water off sagging leaves, and the air is heavy with the odours of moss and fungus.
Too much rain in too short a period can be very bad news for our wildlife. River dwellers such as voles can have their burrows destroyed by rising waters. Much the same applies to any animal that makes its home in a hole or a den, and after really heavy rains the landscape is full of scurrying nomads seeking a new residence.
According to the RSPB, around 700,000 geese arrive here in the autumn, a vast squadron taking over our waterways and upsetting our ducks
Even animals such as otters – the ultimate water hunter whose lithe grace seems to be crafted from liquid itself – will struggle to hunt when rivers become swollen and muddy. This is, of course, one of the worst times of the year to be flooded out of your shelter or to be short of food, as frigid autumnal nights begin to take their toll.
Ludicrous as it may seem, many species of birds only arrive in the UK at this time of year, creating a clamour on our ponds and lakes. The UK is an important overwintering site for six species of geese alone – including Canada and Brent – escaping the bitter conditions of northern Europe and north America.
According to the RSPB, around 700,000 geese arrive here in the autumn, a vast squadron taking over our waterways and upsetting our ducks.
The rain and wind create ideal conditions for them, with the air temperature positively tepid compared to what they experienced in the departure lounge.
Though it’s a distant memory now, we’ve also enjoyed the rare beast that is a scorching summer – lots of rain replenishes our water table, the deepest reserves of our islands that depend on fat raindrops and full rivers.
The appearance of numerous shining puddles on the track outside our house has presented limitless opportunities to our two-year-old daughter Isla, who leapt into a puddle the size of a Jacuzzi in her best party frock yesterday.
Defeated, I carried her indoors, to return moments later with both of us dressed from head to toe in waterproofs. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, and after a hilarious half hour or so I can tell you that jumping in muddy puddles has much to recommend it.