Louise K. Wilson – Camouflaged

Since the last posting, I have made several more trips to Dukes Wood. The residency has been spread over repeated visits but a few consecutive days in mid June allowed concentrated time to make recordings, walk, observe, take photographs and read. When the skies opened – as they did with vigour – I sat in my car or in the Museum and read the better part of the history of Dukes Wood during the Second World War (1). It is an engaging story but seems so intangible now, especially the tight layer of secrecy under which the oil drilling first took place in this rural place:

The small well pumps that British civilians had so aptly nicknamed nodding donkeys and other field equipment, including tank cars and trucks, continued to be protected from air raids of the enemy by fresh coats of green paint that blended with the green of spring and summer pastures of the English countryside. The heavy foliage of the great oaks, beeches, and yews formed a natural camouflage so that the secret operations were not noticeable to a pilot who did not know that a producing oil field actually lay hidden below the big trees of Sherwood Forest. (p187)

It was extraordinary to me how much ground cover had grown up in the last few weeks. In places, the Wood is unrecognisable as smaller discrete ‘landmarks’ are obscured. Though hardly large, it is still surprisingly easy to lose bearings. The main task has required treading a now familiar track in order to open the remaining uncapped well. This has become Herculean – it has resisted opening on several occasions, but this has now been achieved to all intents and purposes (with the gallant help of Kevin and John from the Duke’s Wood Oil Museum). The exact location can’t be disclosed but it is somewhere on the ground beneath the canopy visible in this Google Maps screen grab (below).

Google Map

Grasses

During an opportune conversation with some folks from the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust (camped outside the Museum to have their sandwiches one lunchtime), I met Michael Walker (Living Landscape Monitoring Officer) who opened up the possibility of listening in to bat sounds at Duke’s. He subsequently sent an email with example files of the surprisingly melodic calls of pipistrelles (they ‘sing’ in summer apparently – with 3 or 5 notes in a trill). He explained the differences in bat detection devices – my simple heterodyne ‘batbox’ in relation to his more sophisticated device that works on the principle of time expansion – recording all frequencies simultaneously. I look forward to an imminent walk after sunset to record these enigmatic mammals – to listen to what ordinarily can’t be heard.

Walking along the track up to the Museum, I stop to look into a man-made pond.  Looking closer, it is teeming with tadpoles (Sam later told me his father witnessed the cacophonous mating frenzy weeks earlier). I put some hydrophones down into the water to record their activity (both my professional Dolphinear hydrophones and later, a rough and ready homemade contact mic). It is an entrancing audible world to listen in to: a beautiful, humorous sound of manic and rhythmic scratchings. I have been back since – to see how much the passing of time (just a few weeks) and the increased growth of these creatures (I spotted one juvenile frog) might affect this sound. The year moves on.

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(1) From The Secret of Sherwood Forest: Oil Production in England During World War II by Guy H. Woodward and Grace Steel Woodward (1973).

 

By Louise K. Wilson

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