Country diary: An early morning commune with the corn buntings

South Downs, East Sussex: My dog and I seem to have the world to ourselves, alongside the lone song thrush and the box-fresh burnets

From my house I can walk to the shoulders of the South Downs, around farmland where corn buntings reside – a world away from my urban home. It’s my favourite place to walk the dog, but it’s been so hot lately that we have missed our adventures.

Today, she gets me up at 4.30am. We set off, past the sprawl of shops and car showrooms, then cross the big road into the scrub. We have the whole world to ourselves – the pink of the year’s first spear thistles, which shine against the bluest sky; the calls of chiffchaffs, greenfinches and whitethroats.

We cross the A27 into the Downs proper, where I catch a skylark on the wind as trucks thunder beneath us. We walk past pyramidal orchids and the tree where the song thrush sings, through the meadow where every other blade of grass glistens with a box-fresh six-spot burnet moth. Every step takes us further from the road and closer to the buntings. It’s not yet 6am.

The traffic recedes to a whisper. The dog woofs gently and I stop to give her a drink. I take in the view of Brighton beneath us – then there it is. I heard him for the first time only a few weeks ago. He sits in a hawthorn tree overlooking the barley field. His call is an impatient, guttural sigh. Or the jangling of keys in a pocket.

That there are corn buntings here is a sign of good farmland management. Red-listed, they eat seeds and insects, which are in short supply on more intensively managed farms, and make their nest on the ground, often in cereal fields that may be destroyed at harvest time.

But here – around the barley – there are field margins, hedgerows bursting with wildlife, nettles taller than me. Wild things are allowed to live here, and dogs and people are allowed to enjoy them. Will the harvesting regime be mindful of the birds too? I cross my fingers. The dog woofs impatiently – there are more things yet to see.

• Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary


Kate Bradbury

The GuardianTramp

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