Skylarks, Skyfall and Soldiers

Well, since yesterday’s post about the Skyfall set garnered more hits on my blog in a day than I’ve had since I started blogging in October, I guess there’s a greater appetite out there for JB trivia than there is for nature in Surrey. I figure if one person looks at the set pics and also pauses to appreciate an image of nature, then that’s a good thing – and I know some of you have – so I’ll keep posting photos and updates about the Skyfall set.

We walked at Hankley again today, and it was a hive of activity. There were soldiers everywhere; lying in the heather wearing helmets covered in foliage, shooting at each other in the woods with occasional shouts of “Regroup, regroup!”, crouching at the side of the track to let vehicles pass, rifles at the ready.

Work seems to have really stepped up on the sets – we’ve been there at the weekend before and nothing much has been going on, but today all the sets were buzzing with workmen. They’ve built a new structure near to the lodge/monastry – just a small plywood shell so far – and another area with a couple of very tall hedges that look as though they’re going to be used to film a garden scene. They are also constructing what looks like a grand gated entrance, up on the ridge. The plywood structures are in place and the ‘gateposts’ (plywood shell with a layer of plaster stone) are all made up ready to put on, sitting in the area of the marquees and army huts. We walked over to the ‘chapel’ today to have a nosey and take some pictures. It’s at an earlier stage of construction than the lodge, so I’ll keep taking pictures as it develops. I do find it interesting to see how a plywood shell can look like an old building, in the space of a week or two. It really is fantastic fakery.

My chat with the construction workers today seemed to disprove the theory circulating online that the ‘monastry’ is going to be blown up on March 12th. As far as the workmen know, filming will occur over around three weeks, and it’s likely that they’ll blow it up at the end of that period.

I’m glad we walked across to the chapel today, as it meant that we crossed an area of heath that has recently been burned. Whether this occurred naturally or was a controlled burning, I don’t know, but if it was a naturally/arson occurring fire, then they managed to contain it well. Heathland is incredibly vulnerable to fire, and in dry periods the damage is absolutely devastating. If fires occur in summer, as they did recently at Frensham (where they have been filming Snow White & The Huntsman recently), the whole ecosystem is destroyed – not just the plants but the nesting birds, adders and other reptiles too. In the short term, it’s devastating, but in the long-term, the ash nourishes the poor soil and regeneration does occur quite rapidly. Initially you get moss and lichen cover, followed by seedlings of heather, gorse and that prolific coloniser, the silver birch. I love how it looks at this stage – a landscape in minature. The pictures show this – gorse seedlings spreading out like starfish in shallow water, and a heather seedling thrusting up from the moss like the grandest tree in a forest.

For all the frenzied activity on the film-making and military fronts, my heart was gladdened by the fact that the birds really couldn’t give a toss about the humans and their pointless escapades. The air was full of the song of the skylarks, and everywhere you looked, you could see them; rising vertically up into the air, pouring out their cascade of bubbling song, plummeting back to earth as though the weight of the world were suddenly upon them, flitting around the burnt ground, fluttering around each other negotiating airspace. Just gorgeous. I tried to film them, but my camera’s not nearly good enough. It’s lovely to know that regardless of what else is occurring on the heath, all they care about is pairing up and finding a good spot on the ground to nest in.

I did see lots of one type of bird, flitting about the place and perching at the top of bushes to sing. I assumed they were a chat (stonechat or whinchat), but when I looked more closely, they clearly weren’t. As it turns out, they are reed buntings. Took me ages to identify these – wouldn’t really expect to see them here, since there’s a notable absence of reeds. Maybe they were on their way to nearby Thursley or Frensham, both of which are the wetland habitat they prefer.

Ok here are some pictures of the day; an utter mishmash of nature, military and fantasy. Hmm… maybe they’re not that different after all.

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