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  • Writer's pictureKate Morley

The necrobiome

Updated: Nov 23, 2022

This year the autumn colours seem a little late here, it’s almost as though the trees are having a final hurrah after the astonishing drought we’ve seen.

One thing this autumn seems to have brought to the land is an increase in death. Death is a constant here but as the vegetation hunkers down for the winter, the passing of life becomes all the more apparent. In the last week I found this deer, dead on the path near the pond. It was a strange discovery as this time it hadn’t been hit by a car and from the camera trap footage seems to have been an older doe which was staggering around and from the near complete lack of teeth seems to have met it’s ‘natural end’.

But in terms of Rewilding is there such a thing as a ‘natural end’ or is it part of the new beginning or continuation of the spiral of life? What does death bring to the system? Death is so missing from our landscape with carcasses taken and tidied away. The necrobiome is the community of species that are associated with rotting carcasses; this can include microbes, insects, nematodes, fungi and scavengers. I’ve got in the habit of occasionally picking up roadkill animals and last year was amazed to see butterflies landing on a deer carcass. Supposedly this is a common occurrence and butterflies often feed on carcasses to obtain essential salts and amino acids which they cannot obtain from flowers. Carcasses also provide refuge, energy and water for other insect populations, as well as fur being used by birds during nesting season.

Unfortunately, this week we also found this juvenile polecat just down the road, as many people have said we should be heartened to see that we have regularly squashed hedgehogs, badgers and occasional polecats as it shows we have a ‘thriving population’ in order to see them dead on the road… however I always worry that this one could be the last… It's amazing to see these animals so close and to marvel at their form. We brought the polecat home, the thought of seeing its body mangled by each passing car seemed disrespectful.

A quiet spot of reflection today saw the discovery of this black bird beak and feathers seemingly a small feast for a Sparrowhawk. We occasionally get a glimpse of it flying along the bottom track and the periodic pile of feathers of its various meals give a good indication that they seem to be thriving here, and breeding Goshawks in the valley will probably keep them in check.

Perhaps it’s my Catholic comprehensive schooling or my gothic Heavy Metal infused adolescence but I’ve always had a morbid curiosity of death, but with age I see it as an intrinsic part of life. A reconnection to the natural processes of life, also means a reconnection with death and hopefully society can move away from its Victorian approach to endings and think in a more cyclical and holistic way.

These visual displays of death make it easier to explain to my six year old daughter, the recent death of the Queen, as well as our dearest friend, Bob, over the summer. Bob was my Gramps’ best friend and spent so many hours here at Hill Crest. Often in the ‘sheep-grazed’ days he’d be up here chainsawing away with shorts on and foregoing ear protection on the thought that those inner ear hair cells that hadn’t succumbed to the aircraft carrier guns of his naval days, could take a pounding from the noise of a mere chainsaw.

He was one of those souls who was ever present and a constant, and his death has left a huge hole in this place. He loved this place, this land and we loved him.

A number of years ago I came across this poem by Nicholas Evans in his novel, The Smoke Jumper, entitled Walk Within You:

"If I be the first of us to die,

Let grief not blacken long your sky.

Be bold yet modest in your grieving.

There is a change but not a leaving.

For just as death is part of life,

The dead live on forever in the living.

And all the gathered riches of our journey,

The moments shared, the mysteries explored,

The steady layering of intimacy stored,

The things that made us laugh or weep or sing,

The joy of sunlit snow or first unfurling of the spring,

The wordless language of look and touch,

The knowing,

Each giving and each taking,

These are not flowers that fade,

Nor trees that fall and crumble,

Nor are they stone,

For even stone cannot the wind and rain withstand

And mighty mountain peaks in time reduce to sand.

What we were, we are.

What we had, we have.

A conjoined past imperishably present.

So when you walk the woods where once we walked together

And scan in vain the dappled bank beside you for my shadow,

Or pause where we always did upon the hill to gaze across the land,

And spotting something, reach by habit for my hand,

And finding none, feel sorrow start to steal upon you,

Be still.

Clear your eyes.


Listen for my footfall in your heart.

I am not gone but merely walk within you. "

RIP Bob Gillard 1931 - 2022

Further reading:

Rewilding death: The plan to restore the necrobiome. BBC Future Planet

Rewilding- The radical new science of ecological recovery- illustrated edition. Paul Jepson & Cain Blythe (2021)

The Smoke Jumper by Nicholas Evans (1999)

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