The countryside feels dank and mouldy. Stains of brown sludge pockmark the fields where, for weeks, ephemeral ponds had appeared after the endless rains. Moss is everywhere. Many fields are under the plough as the farmers race to replace drowned winter crops, and vast flocks of gulls follow the tractors snapping at earthworms as they’re unexpectedly gouged into daylight.

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The plough constantly scrapes and smashes against the flints that lie thickly strewn over and under the earth. Most of the glassy, grey-blue flints are the size of a man’s fist, but some of these fossilised sponges are as big as a car’s tyre. This is not a place for the plough and arable farming, but that’s where the money is today. The cheap horsemeat, illegally sold, is another wound to the struggling livestock farmers. The plough is conquering the countryside even if the flints fight it.

Today, sponges grow under Apollo’s golden sun in the Aegean, but, once, Hampshire had a similar climate. But even now, we have our own small glisters of gold-primroses are glowing in the hazel woods and the unheralded lesser celandine clads the banks in yellow. Despite the gloom, spring is about to be unleashed.

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