My house in Hellingly is a short drive from Ashdown Forest, which is a forest in a historical sense rather than arboreal. Originally a hunting ground for King William and the Normans, the last 900 years have produced a curious mix of seemingly wild yet highly managed heathland and woodland. The birdlife is fabulous, and although my brother has seen a Dartford warbler (he has a maddening ability to casually mention that he spotted an extraordinary thing while out on his bike rides) it is the one place I often see linnets.
Linnets are another bird where their decline in recent years has been marked and now they are a Red List species. They feed on weed seeds and insects, two foodstuffs which are sadly lacking in the natural environment due to the ‘tidying up’ of our landscape. Pesticides and herbicides affect our birds indirectly as even seed eaters have to feed their young on soft food such as caterpillars; sparrow populations are suffering because of the same problem.
They have a very pretty song, and were kept as cage birds in the 19th century, although they were given legal protection in the early 1900s. I have a Reader’s Digest ‘Field Guide to the Birds of Britain’ which I bought from the legendary Camilla’s Bookshop in Eastbourne. I love secondhand books, and I love secondhand field guides even more. This one was obviously given as a gift, and I an imagine the doodle in biro on the frontispiece being done by Mabel while on the phone to her mum. It’s completely charming and makes me realise the value of books as gifts:
The male linnet I have painted is in his summer plumage, and I can imagine him singing his melody from the top of a gorse bush on the Forest.