The Third Leader: Nature notes (by rail)

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The Independent Online

There is a view, much abroad at present, that this is a harder, nastier, less whimsical country than it was; that we have lost forever a world that now only exists on the television on Sunday evenings, full of gruff, kind-hearted folk, unhurried doctors, caring vets, wise vicars, smiling landlords and comfortably built policemen.

There is a view, much abroad at present, that this is a harder, nastier, less whimsical country than it was; that we have lost forever a world that now only exists on the television on Sunday evenings, full of gruff, kind-hearted folk, unhurried doctors, caring vets, wise vicars, smiling landlords and comfortably built policemen.

Down here in The Third Leader department, we know that this is not true. Every day we come across examples which show that the old Britain, where courtesy was as important as efficiency and where problems were solved with wit and imagination, still survives. Where else would rail companies, constantly under attack for delays in services, respond by producing a guide to the wildlife you might be lucky enough to spot, especially if your train is still, or moving so slowly it wouldn't startle a Muntjac deer near Burgess Hill?

Marvellous. Cormorants at Battersea, the Dartford Warbler - presumably near Dartford, Shelducks on the Stour, otters in Evesham: all non-human life is there. Inspired: who could be angry who sits in the drowsy peace of a summer afternoon just outside Chelmsford watching a questing vole on its plashy way?

The cynics, of course, are always with us: they will probably demand to know what happens if the voles are late, too, or the Shelducks miss their connection at Manningtree.

Down here, uplifted, we shall ignore them, musing on the binocular-bedecked travellers; on whether some carriages on the more troublesome lines might be turned into permanent hides; and on trainspotters finally realising they've got more chance of seeing a Golden Plover.

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