The past fortnight has provided food for thought. Longer days and a good deal of sunshine has brought much of the countryside swelling into life; we’ve even made huge progress in the past few hours. But where there has been progress, there has also been delay. The dryness and the heat has parched the hill so that it has become a barren waste of crackling undergrowth. I cut a few experimental peats on Tuesday morning and returned this afternoon to find them dry enough to burn already. This process might usually take up to a fortnight in a normal year, and the hagg is already dry enough to cut again.
The grass is yellow and the sedge heads have parched into dry, ashy scaffolding. When I look for running water to fill up my crow drinkers, I sometimes have to walk several hundred yards before I find even a trickle. Insect life is very thin, although there was a brief shower on Monday which brought crane flies out of the moss like a blizzard. The constant East wind has dried the hill to within an inch of its life, but many of the breeding birds have already cast in their lots. In this uncertain moment, there is little grass to shelter or conceal wader chicks, and the ditches will soon be too dry for probing. In fact, the cows are still being fed on the hill and the sheep with twin lambs are now getting supplementary pellets.
Compare this with last year when the hills were green and full of flowers by mid May. There are some marsh marigolds and primroses in the wettest areas, but aside from a single flake of lousewort I found on the hill this morning, the ground looks much as it did six weeks ago. The difference is not so pronounced in the bottom of the glen where the bluebells and blackthorn are putting on a staggering display, but my galloways live at 400ft above sea level and are still hungry for silage and cake every day.
The only real winners have been the hares – there are leverets in almost every field, and my wife and I have enjoyed watching a very diligent mother return to suckle her three youngsters on the lane below the house over the last week. She sits upright and they cluster in between her front legs in the half dark; hares are usually so secretive and obscure that I almost feel that I shouldn’t watch this moment of tenderness. Hares have such varied and unpredictable fortunes in Galloway that I’m now getting a rare opportunity to study them in more depth.