The Copythorn Oak stands for communities of wildlife and people, and the ways in which the two are intertwined.
Take Binsted’s birdlife. Finches, tits and other small birds feed gratefully in Binsted’s gardens, and dip in and out of hedgerows carefully laid by villagers to provide nourishment and shelter.
You can’t protect the birds from from each other, of course. Those small birds in turn provide food for sparrowhawks and other raptors. A merlin was recently spotted eating a pigeon. Buzzards are chased off noisily by crows guarding their settlement of nests on the edge of Binsted Wood.
Sometimes, birds seem to exist in another universe. A kite, mewing in the sun-lit mist of a late-summer morning, glides towards Hundred House Copse, unmoved by the human watching with awe from the lane below.
At other times, our worlds connect memorably. There is an amazing story in the Binsted book, told by Jean Hotston, who came to Binsted in 1943 as a ‘land girl’. She made many friends and met Fred, the man she would marry. But one Binsted character, already living at the farm, took a disliking to Jean: Joey the rook.
Joey “used to perch at night on a shelf in the scullery and if I went near he would shout ‘Go away’ and flap his wings”, Jean recalled.
Fred had rescued the young rook when it fell from a tree. Joey the rook was well-known in the village, pulling clothes pegs off washing lines, pinching food from bicycle baskets and tormenting the village cats. Despite the nuisance it was a sad moment when, one day, Joey followed Fred’s mother to the train station and never came back.
Hoped-for returnings are a feature of birdlife here.
At dusk, barn owls glide ghost-like along the hedgerows that line Binsted Lane, their young waiting hungrily in oak tree homes.
Swallows and martins are seen in gathering numbers at this time of year, sweeping above Arundel’s watermeadows and across the fields of Tortington and Binsted, preparing for their great journey to Africa. For us, the melancholy of their imminent leaving is eased by the knowledge they will return in Spring.
Binsted’s barn owls, should we fail to protect their hunting grounds, may simply never return.
Read more about Binsted’s wildlife here