England in Particular

Cuckoo, Cuckoo!

So, the cuckoo is becoming rarer, joining the list of thrush, lapwing, sparrow. Envoy of spring, symbol of optimism the call of the cuckoo evokes the pang of both memory and anticipation of bright days of warmth, growth and green. Though ephemeral, and rarely seen, the cuckoo's importance to us lives in literature, songs and stories, many of which are particular to place. We thought he was a fixture, sure to return. We don't know what of ecological significance is indicated by their demise.

What do you see and hear out of your window, at home, at work and in between? What meanings does it have for you? Ordinary nature, commonplace culture, the quotidian landscape: taken so much for granted, our everyday surroundings feed our senses, hold our memories, lift or break our spirits, as well as playing host to our needs and wants and lives. What people value in their own place is often a revelation to wandering professionals. Each of course, has much to learn from the other, not least that the commonplace needs our care.

Common Ground has encouraged people to explore, express and celebrate what places mean to them through projects such as Parish Maps, Community Orchards and Confluence. Running though all of our work has been the idea of Local Distinctiveness, a term we coined in 1984, and discussed in a conference book in 1993. Many professionals have found it helpful, we see it (though not enough!) in landscape policy, arts practice, building and highway design guidance, heritage activity, community development. But Local Distinctiveness is best described by local people themselves.

For us local is vital ­ the neighbourhood, parish, street, since crucial too is the significance of detail. The layers, accumulations, accretions and ghosts - patina - gives depth, as does authenticity (in the old, repeated and new ) buildings, landscaping, festival, food. All of these things add something to the identity of the place.

Our work is about to take a new turn. We are working towards a big book on Local Distinctiveness. As this new website england-in-particular.info evolves we shall champion ideas and seek local stories, details, examples, observations. We should welcome your help.

We all have much to do, much more than the good people of Dorset who, in order to capture the spring, made cuckoo pounds, rings of trees to capture the bird, and the men of Marsden in Yorkshire, and Gotham in Nottinghamshire, who built a circular wall for the same purpose. The bird, of course, flew up and though the stories remain below, the memory is not enough.

Read more about events and legends connected with 'the merry cuckoo, messenger of spring'.