The fields around the smallholding have all been cut now. This year, the local landowner grew oil seed rape and wheat, and I know the contractors struggled at bit to gather it in because the ground was so wet. A few days ago, when I walked across the footpath, I suddenly came across the combine harvester crouching in the corner of the field like some silent monster - and close to it were deep trenches where the wheels of the agricultural vehicles had got stuck in the mud. Now the harvest is finished, there are still a few stubbon patches where the crop can't be gathered, but on the whole the fields are bare with just the stubble poking up from the soil. The land is very open, and exposed.
This is not good news for the small creatures that've been using the crops as cover. Suddenly, rabbits are dashing around everywhere. And circling low overhead, are our new neighbourhood predators - the buzzards. Only five or so years ago, it was very unusual to see a buzzard in this part of Essex, but now it's quite common to see them. They sometimes fly low over the smallholding, and the geese and chickens, which are still getting used to them, know instinctively that they mean danger. The geese start cackling, and the chickens just freeze. So I'm alerted to them as soon as they appear.
I find it impossible to get close enough for a good photo, though - their eyes are far too sharp!
So I wonder, now, if other predators will follow the buzzards return (such as red kites, for example. There has already been the odd sighting of these birds locally). Sadly it's a different story altogether for the farmland birds such yellowhammers and skylarks. These are definitely in decline - and no wonder - because the hedgerows are still being pulled up in the local fields, and so their cover, and food, is being lost. I can only imagine what it was like until a few decades ago, when the birdsong and sightings of these birds must have been amazing around here.