Country mouse on heathland

There are no snakes in Ireland. Apparently, they were banished by St Patrick. This might explain my Irish wife’s wariness of these slithery creatures, but, being surrounded by heathland in her married life, she’s right to be on the lookout for adders, slow worms and grass snakes. They love the sandy soil and dry conditions.

The heather makes a particularly fine display at this time of year. The shades of dusky pink through to rich purple hug the contours of the neighbouring common. Local groups have repressed the bracken, silver-birch saplings, rhododendron and some of the gorse.

Heaths only form when competing plants are removed on poor acidic soil. In England, heath now covers less than 0.3% of the land area, but as well as being a haven for nightjars and the very rare silver-studded blue butterfly, it makes a delightful place to wander. We make a strange sight in our shorts and serpent-proof gumboots as we wander about inhaling the sweet scents; I can understand why bees are so beguiled and why heather honey tastes particularly good. Children with small ponies seem to be attracted, too: bugs and insects aren’t the only ones who like the neat piles of silver-birch logs.

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