A strong scent drifts down from the trees. Familiar, but I can’t place it. Intense, almost sickly, it has stopped me in my tracks before. This time, I can’t let it go, I have to know. Even the lime, the latest tree in the wood to blossom, is now setting seed, I know of no flowering plants in the wood at this time of year. What smells so intensely sweet? Enlisting Mark’s help, we search, moving up the scent plumes like inept, oversized, moths.
Mark finds it, pushes the branches of the beech towards me. The leaves are darkly mottled – sticky. I breathe in thick, gloopy warmth – it is honeydew, dropped onto the beech leaves by a myriad aphids in the branches above. And suddenly I am back, walking the tracks in New Zealand, another forest, earlier times but the same sugary aroma. There, it is scale insects that drop the honeydew onto the beech trees. Experiences collide, the plants and animals that we worked to eradicate there are precious in our wood. Species we are losing here thrive and rampage through the woodland of Aotearoa, pushing precious endemic species to extinction. The memories come in a blast, the irony of the situation resurfaces. Both habitats out of kilter because of humans, species that are out of place there are out of space here. A juxtaposition of emotion, the conflict of holding a baby hedgehog in New Zealand, knowing the damage it could do to the ecosystem if left alive, aware of how we would fight to save it back in Britain. Others too – plants, mammals, insects – it requires a complete change of perspective to see the endangered as dangerous. Memories pound on. Strong emotions, beautiful landscapes, gruelling days of conservation work, breathtaking experiences, exhilarating wildlife encounters. All these things unlocked by the scent, evoked by honeydew, the link between our woodland and the forest we worked in many years ago, halfway round the world.