Nature and Cambridge

I live in Cambridge, with access to nature not more than a few hundred yards from the middle of the city. Yes, it’s flat around here, but when you walk from the middle of town onto Laundress Green and follow the footpath onto Sheep’s Green, you can feel how you are dropping down a level. The land floods at certain times of the year, and the fact that it is low lying is easy to guess from the Willow trees (which love contact with water in a high water table).

This cow, posing by the willow tree is on Sheep’s Green. The white fence you can see in the right of the frame is part of the guard rail for the bridge that runs over a little stream that never dries up.

I tried to find out how Sheep’s Green got its name. Apart from the obvious that the land was used for grazing, I didn’t find anything. I have never seen sheep there, but there is a herd of cows that drifts this way and that across the space once Spring is established. And this little fellow is one of the herd – the others munching and lying around about.

I do know something about sheep and cows – and how they cannot occupy the same space – at least not happily.

If you ever watched films or read about the enmity between cattle ranchers and sheep ranchers, here is what’s behind it, and it wasn’t just that cattlemen hated sheep ranchers on principle.

Hardly a day goes by but when I walk beyond Laundress Green I see cows. And that is a lot to do with why I walk that way. I am ready to photograph them because they are alive and interesting and make nice graphic shapes with the contrasting colours in their bodies.

I think even without lockdown I would wander that way. But with lockdown there wasn’t an awful lot going on – and cows munching without a COVID care in the world took my mind off things.

I see they have their own version of oppression, needing to keep on eating. Munch, munch all the time. Their bodies are built with their necks and heads near the ground. They can hardly lift their heads much above horizontal without an effort. 

Do they see it that way? Do they think about it? Do they lament that their noses are deep in the grass filling their vision? Or are they content with their lot?

Yesterday, maybe it was the air, or the temperature, or the breeze carrying away the noise of traffic in the distance – who knows – but when the cows were close by me I could hear so clearly that lovely crisp tearing sound as they ate grass.

The Range Wars

And the sound brought to mind the reason or one of the reasons for the wars between cattle ranchers and sheep farmers in the American West. It’s entirely possible that some character spelled it out in one of the many Westerns I saw on TV as a boy. But if they did, I didn’t hear it.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned the reason for the enmity, and it’s down to this. Cows twist and pull and sheep nibble.

Sheep have a lower set of teeth, and no teeth in the top jaw. Instead they have a hard upper palate. They eat grass by cutting it. Their bottom teeth snip off the grass against the anvil of their upper palate. And they can cut the grass very short.

Cows wrap their tongues around the grass and pull. The grass doesn’t have to be very long, but it has to be longer than the length left by sheep after eating. Hence the cattle versus sheep wars in the American West.

Keep To The Footpath

So what’s the point of this article? It’s this. How much access to the countryside, to nature, do most people in this country have? And how important is it to have a connection with nature? And how important is it to consider how people feel when they can get oh so close to nature but not in nature?