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The Metaphor of Birds

Headmaster, Simon Lockyer, looks back over the first week of summer term set against a somewhat different RHS landscape.

Our school clock tower I hear described as many different things; iconic, intimidating, impressive, imposing. It is certainly a distinctive landmark on this part of the Suffolk.

If you have been here for sometime or perhaps looked up earlier in the year, you may noticed that there were frequently a flock of black birds souring and apparently playing on the eddies and drafts that are created around the tower. These birds were jackdaws, a member of the crow family and are known for their intelligence; a function of their large brain. The birds are also known for their sociability, which is why they seem to enjoy gathering and playing around the peak of the tower, like aerial acrobats.

The first sign that something had changed came four weeks ago, shortly after the school closed when the jackdaws very suddenly disappeared. No more aerial acrobatics and noise; just clear skies. Now it is said that the presence of the ravens protect The Crown and the Tower of London; a superstition holds that "if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it."

Now I am not suggesting the departure of the jackdaw at the RHS tower heralds impending disaster, in fact the answer to why they had disappeared is simple and became quickly apparent. Perched on the edge of the tower was a similarly, if not more impressive bird – a peregrine falcon. Many of you will know something about the peregrine falcon; capable of travelling at over 200 mph, it is the fastest bird on earth and the fastest member of the animal kingdom. Where the jackdaws may be aerial acrobats, the peregrine is the avian equivalent of a fighter jet.

Peregrines are by any judgement impressive birds; physically they are highly adapted, they are top predators but they are also recognised for their resilience and adaptability. Twenty years ago, the peregrine was under threat due to pesticide use, persecution and habitat destruction however they have learnt to adapt, adopting man made structures instead of natural habitats. Today, whilst still comparatively rare they are well established in the UK and are a valuable indicator species of the health of the environment.

For us the tower is symbol of strength and the schools place here in Suffolk and the birds that are associated with it, who have made it their home are perhaps also important symbols. The jackdaws will return in due course alongside their sense of sociability and fun as they enjoy the tower just as we will return with the fun and energy that comes from being at RHS. And as for the peregrine, it is genuinely exciting to see; a bird that was once under threat, making the tower its home for this season; a bird that has overcome adversity through intelligence, adaptability and resilience in just the same way as you and I will.