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Poet's Perspective

Egrets, we have a few

Life and structure on the earth is ever shifting. The place does not standstill, though it does not move along in any timescale we can properly grasp. We are talking over thousands and millions of years. So, at the risk of banging a controversial gong, I can never fully get alongside the drive to reintroduce species.

Don’t get me wrong I’m all for conservation and protecting our planet. But we do live in a changing world and there’s a reason various species become extinct. They are no longer supported in their niche, whether that change has been exacted by a natural process or human activity.

The upside of a changing natural world is the joy of discovering new life in your environment. Not long after we moved to Tiverton, we decided to tackle the Exe Valley Way – the source-to-sea walk – especially as it literally goes past our front door.

We started at Starcross with the first leg into Exeter. When reaching the edge of Powderham Castle grounds I was astonished to find a small colony of white egrets nesting there. I was aware that, because of climate change, the bird had become a visitor to these shores since the early 1990s, but not that it had gone as far as to breed.

Now in the last few months an egret has become a regular visitor to the Exe in Tiverton, and I have occasionally seen one feeding down at the weir alongside the mallards, swans, and gulls.

I have always loved nature books. I still have my copy of Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water published for the first time in paperback in 1963, which I then bought with my hard-earned pocket money! I also have a 90-year-old Penguin paperback of Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborn, which I dip into. And in recent months I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Chris Packham’s Fingers in the Sparkle Jar and Dara McNulty’s Diary of a Young Naturalist.

All these books capture the authors’ absolute passion and love for the natural world and the joys of making discoveries. It’s the same joy I get those times when the egret turns up in Tiverton, this bright white spark in the usual collection of birds meandering around the river. Here is a poem about another egret I saw while on the bus into Exeter earlier this year.

The light of egrets

Out of the window smudged by rain by mud an egret perfect bright white winking in this dull shifting light, standing alone in a flood-watered field.

This surreal flash as the Exeter bus rattles through a countryside bruised by weeks of storms. All down the valley earth is opening her pores, bleeding over the land, ignoring aged routes carved out by streams, by the river.

I want to pin my mind to this. Flow free with it out to sea. Drift to the horizon’s edge where I can turn, watch the moon flood the earth with egret light.

Born in North Wales, poet & writer Paul Mortimer has lived in Tiverton for 13 years. His first poetry collection, Fault Line, was published by Lapwing in 2015, followed by Wind Voices from the same publishing house in 2019. He has appeared at several literary festivals and headlined at a number of poetry events in recent years.

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