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I got off to a flying start as we sped along beside the river Exe three sacks of winkles, the day's harvest of a man wading about in the mud. I know my winkles. I once collected a sackful during a morning's work from an estuary in Cornwall, but neglected to tie up the end of the sack. When I came back in the afternoon to pick it up they'd all escaped and were nowhere to be seen.
Winkles aren't mentioned in the guide, but seconds later I spotted an ''elegant'' fallow deer, then another, then a herd of perhaps 200 of them, assiduously grazing in the grounds of Powderham castle, their fluffy white under sided tails glowing orange in the late afternoon sun. They weren't wild ones, but a wonderful sight all the same. "Look!" I said to the chap sitting across the aisle absorbed in his broadsheet. He looked, saw, cocked his eyebrows and returned to his paper.
Sadly, the statuesque heron was not at his post when we crossed the river, and the besieging army of moles were remaining in their tunnels, as we were in ours, soon after departure for quite some time. As we started moving again and headed out into open country, however, I kept an especial eye out for Muntjac deer (Muntiacus reevesi), not having knowingly seen one before. To help me identify these small and secretive animals, the leaflet had a helpful colour photograph with a caption telling me that the Muntjac is also known as the barking deer.
Armed with a handy leaflet, binoculars and insect repellent, Jeremy Clarke tries out the 'nature trails' launched on 10 of Britain's busiest rail routes last week
After three quarters of an hour, however, we were already at Haywards Heath and I hadn't seen a thing. Well, I'd seen a few cows, and a pair of magpies, and an old washing machine (vetus machina lavans), and an orange hoarding advertising a travel website, and a man ambling along with a shotgun under his arm, but there was no sign of any of the exciting mammals and birds detailed in the London Brighton page. Perhaps the man with the gun had shot them all.
And here deep in the Sussex commuter belt
It was only as the train pulled into Brighton station that I spotted one of the creatures highlighted in Tracking Wild Britain a seagull. What sort of gull remained a mystery. For although seagulls get a mention in the guide, no individual species is identified; they are airily dismissed by the catch all phrase ''various gulls''.
At Burgess Hill, a uniformed lady came through the carriage holding open a large polythene bag and inviting passengers to lob their rubbish into it. I showed her the relevant page in Tracking Wild Britain. If anyone could vouch for the claim that if one paid attention the London to Brighton service was like an east African safari, it would be this woman, Angelina, who went there and back all day, like a yoyo. "Have you, in all the time you've been working on this service, ever seen any of these animals?" I said. She Men Canada Goose Chilliwack Bomber White Nz Online wrinkled her nose and studied the text and the photographs on the opposite page, then shook her head doubtfully. "Not even a rabbit?" I pleaded. About rabbits she was definite. "No," she said. ''Never."
'As the train pulls out of Victoria and you cross the Thames, look out for the statuesque grey heron standing motionless at the edge of the water waiting for an unsuspecting fish to pass by.'' A typical sentence, this, from Tracking Wild Britain, a handy new leaflet, jointly compiled by the RSPB and Mammals Trust UK, highlighting which birds and mammals the weary commuter can expect to see on 10 of the busiest rail routes if he troubles to look out of the window.
Unlikely as it may seem, the London to Brighton run, according to the leaflet, is teeming with wildlife. Once he's got the statuesque heron (and maybe even the unsuspecting fish) under his belt, and if he keeps his eyes peeled, the commuter might also see cormorants, foxes, squirrels, rabbits, Muntjac deer, roe deer, and peregrine falcons. And that's not all. ''Encircling central London,'' the leaflet goes on excitedly, ''are populations of moles, which tend to be found in low lying land, rarely coming to the surface, but remaining in their tunnels and conspicuous by their tunnels' excavated earth molehills.'' Armed with leaflet, binoculars and insect repellent, I joined the scrum for the 5.15.
Unfazed and on a roll now, I eagerly scanned the sea at Teignmouth for pods of cavorting bottlenose dolphins. But that was it as far as Hayle in Cornwall where I saw a bewildered looking Canada goose standing alone in a meadow. Maybe I was sitting on the wrong side of the train or just plain unlucky. Anybody want to buy a pair of binoculars?
I went back on watch. Another claim made by the leaflet is that: ''Rail routes can provide green corridors for wildlife.'' But the embankments had been denuded of vegetation by fire, chain saws, and mechanical flails and sprayed with weedkiller. Every day, three million people in 20,000 trains hurtle through them at speeds of up to 125 miles per hour. Surely, no shy, secretive Muntjac deer in his right mind would make a leisurely migration along one of these corridors.
Bitterly disappointed, I took another train to Exeter, to see what wildlife the Exeter to Penzance line had to offer. The route to Exeter was not included in the guide so I didn't look out of the window. From Exeter onwards the guide promised wildlife a go go, including ducks, geese and swans; herds of ''elegant fallow deer, easily distinguished by their fluffy white undersided tail''; the ''elegant'' little egret; ''buzzards circling on raised wings or perhaps sitting on posts at the side of the railway"; plus, incredibly, bottlenose dolphins, which ''travel in groups of up to 25 and delight people lucky enough to see their playful behaviour".
"Do horses count?" said Brigitte, seated opposite, helpfully. "Were they wild ones?" I said, hopes soaring. She rather thought not. Alex, the Polish refreshments trolley lady, had not only never seen a Muntjac deer, she also had no conception of what one was. She knew what a rabbit was, though, but said she had yet to see one from an English train.