Philip Snow - the artist inspired by Cheshire's birds and terrain

PUBLISHED: 00:16 03 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:29 20 February 2013

Kingfisher stream near Tabley

Kingfisher stream near Tabley

HRH Prince Charles is just one of the many fans of the artist and writer Philip Snow who is inspired by Cheshire's birds and terrain WORDS AND PAINTINGS BY PHILIP SNOW



The print version of this article appeared in the January 2012 issue of Cheshire Life

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It is great testimony to Cheshires varied landscape and wildlife that it can still inspire so many artists, naturalists and walkers to explore and depict it. As my own ageing, ex-pat and accident-prone limbs now make many walks impossible, it is often down to the huge number of sketches, memories and photos amassed over many years to provide the stimulus.

And especially at this moment in time, as we seem to be re-entering the real winters of my childhood on Cheshires suburban north-east boundary, when the River Bollin and Dunham Parks appeared the height of wilderness!

I suspect that Cheshires great variety of landscapes stems mainly from its geology, with fertile flood plains squeezed between the hard millstone grits and limestones of the Pennines and the Welsh hills, further bifurcated from north to south by the beautiful Sandstone Trail ridge [which incidentally provided words and pictures for my first Cheshire Life Wildlife Landscapes article, 30 years ago].

I used to especially love long weekend rambles through many such parts of Cheshire, while restarting my art career at Manchester Polytechnic, and the challenge of painting wildlife in its correct habitat, or even among famous views.

The bleakly beautiful Pennine edge was especially attractive to my old Thoreau-esque hippie self, with its remote farms and snowy moors, punctuated by thrusting rock forms and necklaced with organically rambling stone walls. This first picture is based on such rolling foothills near Mellor, with laughing green woodpeckers flashing across the snowy track, and isolated farmsteads providing a glimpse of essential human end of the day warmth.

These are just one of the farm/country birds that we are losing, in many places, while ironically their great-spotted cousins are often thriving if mainly because of our peanuts! And that masks the main problem: many garden bird numbers are only going up because many country bird populations are going down.

Drastically. But not this next one: the gorgeous jay. Formerly a skulking woodland bird, oft persecuted as any of the crow tribe were for their love of the occasional egg or chick, jays are now commonly seen - or most often heard screeching - in most parks and large gardens.

These are in Green Walk, Bowdon, where I lived for several years while doing my BA at the Poly - and incidentally watching many urban foxes. We had one particular winter that provided many scenes of great winter beauty, from near-frozen Bollin weirs to the particular attraction of 1st Dunhams birches among the pristine snows, let alone out among the hillscapes of Cheshire.

So that brings me to a picture of one of the worlds most successful omnivores, seen here by Raw Head on the superb Sandstone Trail, by Bickerton Hill. The rich red sandstone of the ridge provided an appropriate foil for a Red Fox, and the flat plain across to the Welsh hills, its rich larder.

Winter is notoriously hard on water birds, and I did not see kingfishers for many years after that most famous of hard winters, 1963. Mind you, I was more preoccupied with skating home from Lymm Grammar along the Bridgewater Canal, playing ice hockey on King Georges Pond, or whizzing around Altrincham Ice Rink to the sounds of the Beatles. And it was birds of a different feather that distracted me most of all!

Nevertheless, the sight of the now rather incorrectly named common kingfisher has always thrilled, whether a single bird by a modest Cheshire stream, near Dunham, as here, or seeing autumnal hordes of them on Turkish estuaries, or others among everything from Asian jungles to Welsh rock pools [the latter sedately fishing for prawns].

Although long resident in North Wales, I still visit family in Cheshire and the haunts of my youth, and several of my dogs have enjoyed walks in the Dunham Parks over the years. Although they are rather changed from the 1950s and 60s, they still hold enough natural beauty to stir, and especially the sight of the fallow deer among the snowy bracken although red squirrels are now sadly missing, since at the very latest, I think, in 1960, when I last saw one there.

It is both parks statuesque trees, particularly common beech and lime, English oak, sweet and horse chestnuts that provide such a superb foil for the deer, and even one has to admit, that much-vilified interloper, the grey squirrel. Then theres all the fungi associated with the trees, with colourful exotics like fly agaric, purple blue-legs, or blewitt, and several exotic boletii, all providing extra visual stimulus. Harking back to woodpeckers, all three species of them, and many other woodland and water birds can be seen in the parks.

Thankfully, one of our most charismatic mammals, the Eurasian Otter, is on the way back in many parts of the UK. Cleaner rivers are the main reason, with less persecution a good second. We can now see them in many former haunts, as here on the Dane, even meandering through cities when the rivers are fishy enough, and that also means urban common kingfishers and grey herons can be seen in places as formerly industrial as Stockport, or as busy with leisure craft as Chester, or the Ship Canal.

As we witnessed last year, winters especially as unpredictable as ours, can bring big problems. Yet they also reveal great beauty. But dont forget to feed the wildlife that so complement the various snowy scenes. We will be helping many birds tremendously, and I suspect they are going to increasingly need it.

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