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Tales from the Farm – Heartbroken

“TV’s favourite gardener”, Monty Don, inspires Jez Rose, a frustrated behaviourist and amateur gardener, to grow a new life, as detailed in Tales from the Farm. Monty Don’s book inspired Jez to buy a farm in the countryside, create his own garden and write about the joy, obsession and mud.

Our first loss at the farm; a beautiful female who died while collecting nesting material.

This last weekend was a little bitter-sweet on the farm.

The weather was glorious for the start of Spring; almost like a Summer’s day. That meant huge amount of progress outside in preparation for the bees arriving – there was a lot to finish in the jungle area and I was especially keen to get the last few plants still in pots from our move into the ground so that they could benefit from the warming soil and sunshine.

I was walking back to the greenhouse and now that the vegetable garden, where the greenhouse sits, is enclosed with woven hazel fencing, I didn’t see the bird until I had turned the corner. There on the floor, laying motionless on the gravel path, was a beautiful female chaffinch. No visible signs of trauma but in her beak she was still clutching some nesting material that she had foraged. Next to her stood her mate; an equally beautiful male chaffinch.

As I stepped closer, the male hopped away but still stayed close; he perched on a raised bed about 3 feet away and stood, his head cocked, watching me and his mate. I very gently approached her, hoping that perhaps she might be stunned – had she flown into a window of the greenhouse perhaps? It didn’t look like she had, so I scooped her up, laid her on one of my hessian sacks and left her on top of a pallet outside. I suspected as she was still quite warm that whatever had happened to cause her untimely death, had only recently taken place, so I felt that the male, clearly still waiting for her to recover, needed to see or spend time with her.

With a heavy heart, knowing that there were likely to be eggs or perhaps even young waiting for the return of their mother, I carried on with my garden chores. All the time I couldn’t shake from my mind the image of that male chaffinch waiting for his mate; a heartwarming and yet heartbreaking act of avian loyalty. I’m not sure that I’ve ever experienced so much synergy to nature before but I suppose a combination of things continue to compound and exacerbate that: the results and continual research for The Good Life Project; the blood, sweat and aching body that is going into renovating the farm and living in the countryside and of course our ever-closer bond to nature: keeping bees and being regularly visited by more than 30 different species of British wild birds. We feed them and they come – and are becoming ever more inquisitive to us. I suspect that within just a few weeks we will be feeding chaffinches by hand. You respect them – they respect you. I was once told by one of my professors that it is a human privilege to touch an animal, not a human right.

Later on that afternoon I remembered that I had left the female chaffinch outside and thought it was best to dispose of her. I had no idea what I should do but as I approached the area of the garden where I’d left her, some 4 hours earlier – there was the male. Still mourning. Still hoping.

I left her out overnight; it didn’t feel like it was quite time for him to say goodbye.

The following day I went to clear her away for good and there he was – stood on the roof of the barn, looking at her still: her mate. It was truly heartbreaking. Never have I been witness to a bond so strong in wild birds.

And so it is with those we love and those we work with. Over time our relationships develop in one of two ways: they either grow or they deteriorate. Effort, dignity, love and respect are the ties that bond and create ever-lasting and memorable relatiosnhips.

You respect them – they respect you.

Jez Rose is a behaviourist, broadcaster and Faculty Lead for The Good Life Project; a research project evidencing the impact of nature on health, behaviour and wellbeing. Ambassadors include broadcasters Kate Humble and the Soil Association. For free brain tricks and behaviour fixes visit 

One Comment

  • Louise Potts

    Oh my goodness, I’m fillin’ up! Beautiful and cruel all at the same time, that’s love for you.

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