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England

In the late autumn of 1893, one of the driest years ever known, I went to the weir pool above the wood, and found the shepherd fishing. The river was lower than had ever been known or seen, and on the hills round the "dowsers" had been called in with their divining rods to find the vanished waters.

In the Thames Valley there are two very distinguished breeds of sheep - the Cotswolds at the head of the watershed, and the Oxford Downs, near Wallingford. Wallingford lamb is supposed to be the best in the market. There are also the Berkshire Downs sheep, but these are, I think, more obviously cross-bred, or else of the Hampshire breed. The Cotswold sheep are probably a very old breed. They are evidently the original of the woolly "baa-lamb" of the nursery, with long, fleecy wool. The Oxford Downs are a short-woolled sheep.

"Please, sir, a man wants to know if he can see you, and he has brought a very large fish," was the message given me one very hot evening at the end of July, at the hour which the poet describes as being "about the flitting of the bats," plenty of which were just visible hawking over the willows on the eyot. Thinking that it was an odd time for a visit from a fishmonger, I was just wondering what could be the reason for such a request when I remembered a talk I had had at the ferry a week or two before on the subject of the continued increase of fish in the London Thames.

Of the thousands who boat on the Thames during the summer few know or notice the beauty of the river shells. They are among the most delicate objects of natural ornament and design in this country. Exquisite pattern, graceful shapes, and in some cases lovely tints of colour adorn them. Nature has for once relaxed in their favour her rigid rules, by which she turns out things of this kind not only alike in shape, but with identical colour and ornament. Among humming-birds, for instance, each bird is like the other, literally to a feather.

Among the happiest results of the modern feeling about birds is the conversion of the whole of the Thames above the tideway into a "protected area." This was not done by an order of the Secretary of State, who, by existing law, would have had to make orders for each bit of the river in different counties, and often, where it divides counties, would have been obliged to deal separately with each bank. The Thames Conservancy used their powers, and summarily put a stop to shooting on the river throughout their whole jurisdiction.

Now that every large town and many small ones are adding new reservoirs, often of great size, to hold their water supply, these artificial lakes play an important and increasing part in the wild life, not only of the country, but of cities, and even of London itself. Immense reservoirs have been made near Staines, and others are being added close to the London river.

In the still gossamer weather of late October, when the webs lie sheeted on the flat green meadows and spools of the air-spiders' silk float over the waters, the birds and fish and insects and flowers of the best of England's rivers show themselves for the last time in that golden autumn sun, and make their bow to the audience before retiring for the year. All the living things become for a few brief hours happy and careless, drinking to the full the last drops of the mere joy of life before the advent of winter and rough weather.

Osiers, the shoots of which are cut yearly for making baskets, crates, lobster-pots, and eel-traps are a form of crop of which not nearly as much is made in the Thames Valley as their profitable return warrants. Properly managed they nearly always pay well, and, in addition, they are very ornamental, and for the whole of the summer, autumn, and winter are one of the very best forms of covert for game. They are commonly seen near rivers, especially in parts where the ground is flooded in winter.

Those familiar with the valley of the Thames and with the wild population both of the riverside and of the adjacent hills, will set down the carrion crow as the typical resident bird of the whole district. On the London Thames as high as Teddington it keeps mainly to the line of the river itself, on the banks of which and on the market gardens and meadows it finds abundant food, while the elms of large suburban residences give it both shelter and a safe nesting place. The bird is also commonly mistaken for a rook, and so shares the privileges of those popular birds.

Except among the select few, generally either enthusiastic boys or London mechanics of an inquiring mind, who keep fresh-water aquariums and replenish them from ponds and brooks at "weekends," few persons outside the fancy either see or know much of the water insects,[1] or are aware, when floating on a summer day under the willows in a Thames backwater, of the near presence of thousands of aquatic creatures, swift, carnivorous, and pursuing, or feeding greedily on the plants in the water garden that floats below the boat, or weaving nests, tending eggs, or undergoing the most astonishing t

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