In a scruffy clearing in Cleckheaton woodland, a middle-aged man breaks into a sonorous chorus of the folk standard ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’ Towards the end, from a nearby thicket of ivy, a wren joins in. It doesn’t keep to the tune – or seem to know the words – but it’s a lovely way to round off another wonderful Read Regional event.
I’ve done four, now. At Headingley, I unconvincingly impersonated a jay and showcased my feared fast-bowling action to demonstrate how chaffinch song sounds like a bowler’s run-up (it really does, I promise). Up in Haltwhistle, I was taken on a splendid ramble through the forest and farmland of Hexhamshire: we listened to just-arrived spring warblers (chiffchaff, blackcap, willow warbler), and a pied flycatcher sang for us. A gig in Horbury, near Wakefield, took me back to my home-town library, which I hadn’t been in for twenty years. Back then it was all bristly carpets, pink cardboard library tickets and fearsome librarians; now there are coffee machines and everyone’s lovely. This was the library that made me a reader, first, and then a writer.
Our stroll around those Cleckheaton woods – the kind of semi-urban West Yorkshire habitat I’ve been birdwatching in all my life – was a great reminder that you don’t have to go far from home to listen to birdsong: the blackbirds, blackcaps, song thrushes, robins and wrens were all in splendid voice.
At all of these events, what’s struck me is that people are really keen to talk about birdsong, and birds, and nature, and looking after the natural world. Everyone’s got a story about the blackbird in their garden or the starlings on their rooftop, and everyone wants to know what they can do to help. Sometimes it just takes a little nudge to kickstart people’s enthusiasm. It’d be fantastic if my talks and my book could help with that. One of the main messages in A Sweet, Wild Note is that we can form valuable relationships with the wild things around us without necessarily being experts; sometimes all we have to do is pay attention.
To find out more about Richard Smyth’s A Sweet, Wild Note and his upcoming Read Regional events click here.