Confined for now, but keep your eyes open

In my wildest dreams did I ever think when I set up this website that I’d be advising people not to take a walk. But current circumstances, like something from a disaster movie, dictate that really we shouldn’t go out into the countryside for our hiking fix. My last walk was in the Ashdown Forest (yes, I know, East Sussex… not Kent) on Sunday 22 March. And yes it was very busy with an atmosphere more of Easter holidays than a national crisis. It’s a beautiful place to be on a fine day but I kicked myself for suggesting it; there was always a high risk it’d be busy. So to reiterate the government’s advice:

  • Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (where this absolutely cannot be done from home)
  • Stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home

People should not meet friends or family members who do not live with them. Gatherings of more than two people (excluding people who live together) will be banned.

Of course the word ‘absolutely’ is up for debate and ‘who do not live with them’ is not exactly clear either given the comings and goings of adulty ‘kids’. It’s difficult to stay two metres away in a shop too, especially when the brave shop staff decide to check your receipt. But we get the gist. The full government guidance on social distancing is here.

All our sympathy and concern must be directed at those who are elderly, frail, have underlying health conditions and mobility problems. And then there are the self-employed, from musicians, actors to carpenters and yoga instructors, who’ve seen their incomes disappear overnight and little mechanism in place to compensate them at least in the short term. Many have pointed to the plight of the homeless, those living in abusive relationships, in poor quality housing among others. These are tough times.

Garden and street birdwatching

Goldfinch on my battered old seed feeder

Those of us lucky enough to have gardens might enjoy a spot of very local birdwatching: to that end, here’s my latest piece for Guardian Travel, which leans on the great experience, skill and knowledge of my friends Steve Gale and Dave, of these pages. Just prior to that I wrote a short piece on the Ightham Mote estate, also for Guardian Travel, as part of a round-up of National Trust gardens and parklands that at the time were remaining open. I guess the estate is still open seeing as it’s not fenced in but the NT has closed all its gardens now. Maybe this year the bluebells will only be enjoyed by true locals, not us more inner suburbanites.

If there’s any consolation to be had, it’s that local pollution levels have fallen markedly and we can hear birdsong now the whine of jets has disappeared. But I can’t wait for this to be over so we can all get out there (not all at once of course).

Update: Monday 6 April

In the past week I’ve written another piece for the Guardian around birds and wildlife, this time around watching webcams and using social media to deepen our understanding. An inspiration for this was the excellent Facebook (I know, I’m not a huge fan either) page and live show set up by Chris Packham and Meghan McCubbin called the Self Isolating Bird Club. In researching the piece I had a long chat with another Springwatch presenter, Michaela Strachan, who spoke to me from her house in South Africa, where she too is in lockdown. She was as delightful to talk to as you’d expect from her television appearances. The article is here.