RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Landscape that gave Constable such inspiration

My weekly walk takes you past the Arundel wildfowl collection and nature reserve, which is open every day except Christmas Day and is a compressed version of my walk, an absolute must for anyone interested in the open air and wildlife of our county.

Ever since this was established by Sir Peter Scott, son of the Antarctic explorer, in 1975 together with two other UK centres at Washington and Martin Mere, the aim has been to enthuse people with the exquisite beauty of wetland birds and flowers and so encourage their conservation worldwide.

The epicentre of this vision of Scott’s was Slimbridge on the Severn estuary where scientists and education staff work full-time on the wetland biosphere.

WWT leased 60 acres at Arundel from the Norfolk Estate and Scott landscaped these water meadows with pools and curving paths, hides facing away from the sun, and a collection of the world’s wild water birds.

Over the years I have enjoyed close-up views of swans and geese, ducks and waders, all going about their private business which in the wild would be almost impossible

to see.

So good is the landscaping and so pure the water that flows from springs out of the chalk hills that you can photograph these birds as though they were on some Scottish loch or perhaps the outback pools of Tasmania, or the lakes of Manitoba.

Scott was a driven man: champion yachtsman, glider pilot, decorated naval war hero, wildlife artist of the highest calibre and output, author, conservationist, explorer, even pop-song writer.

His achievements were chronicled not only in his autobiography The Eye of the Wind, but also in Elspeth Huxley’s biography Peter Scott, published by Faber and Faber in 1993, with its introduction by Sir David Attenborough who claimed Scott as his hero.

While you are passing this little paradise of birds, do lift your eyes up and beyond to the hanging woodland named Offham Hanger.

This was also the haunt of the landscape artist John Constable, whose last work of all was Arundel Mill and Castle, hung in the Royal Academy in 1837.

The wonderful map and story of this parish, South Stoke, in the millennium book mentioned in my walk this week, tells us what Constable wrote just before he died: “I long to be amongst your willows again, in your walks and hangers… the trees hang from excessive steeps and precipices… I never saw such beauty in natural landscapes before… the meadows are lovely, so is the delightful river… but the trees above all.’

The eye of the artist gives the sum of this lovely place, which nearly 200 years later has hardly altered. I say it is even better now with its crucible of worldwide water birds so close for us all to enjoy.