Monday, 8 April 2019

Vermin and Wildlife

It's pretend spring in England: a few days of t-shirt weather and a sunburn, then we wake up to snow. The animals are sanguine about it as I run around dumping straw and hay for them in the morning, finishing in time for the snow to melt in the afternoon. Eh. The good news is the snow makes the grass grow better; bad news is that it caught my plum tress in full blossom, so it's probably a second year of no crop for me.

This is also the time of year that we get a lot of calls from farmers. New lambs are vulnerable to foxes and crows so we're asked to deal with any that are attacking the flocks. Canada geese and rabbits are eating the new shoots needed for cattle which will be turned out to pasture in a couple of weeks' time. Trout fisherman want the geese gone as they stir up mud in the fishing lakes. The woodsmen are planting new trees so please could I trap the squirrels around new plantations?

Fenn traps are quick and effective. Even quicker when I get them by the head.

Vermin control is a big part of the gamekeeper's job, but a thinking person and a nature lover doesn't take a "scorched earth" approach to wildlife. By targeting just the foxes that are taking lambs or geese eating the crops, we keep the farmers happy without leaving a vacuum that incomers will fill. Vermin are only vermin when they're causing a nuisance, otherwise we leave them in peace.

We divide up the work among the team. The underkeepers manage problem foxes. I manage squirrel trapping. Volunteers who like to shoot and haven't access to their own land are put in touch with farmers to take care of rabbit population build-ups and pockets of squirrels too far away from my trap lines.

All the keepers shoot the Canada geese, and my job is to retrieve and butcher them. Most of it gets fed to the dogs as we get so many geese, and one can only face eating so much strong wild goose meat.

I retrieve a few geese pretty much every day now. We try and disturb them too much to sit on eggs. Once goslings start coming, we leave them alone. Killing the parent bird could cause the gosling to suffer and die.

Spud and Quincy are my Go-To goose girls. They both love swimming and they're big enough to manage a goose, which is a pretty hefty bird, especially dead weight and water-logged. Here's Spud in action-

(You might want to watch it with the sound off. I talk to my dogs too much. My trainer tells me off for it.)

This morning the boys sent me for two geese on the trout lake. As an experiment I brought Gertie the spaniel, with Quincy as my back-up. Gertie loves water and her swimming has improved. She might like retrieving a goose. Well, Gertie found it and brought it as far as the reeds but, as I guessed, it was just to big for her to manoeuvre out of the water. Quincy finished the job but credit goes to both dogs-

One goose was badly wounded, and it was definitely a "big dog" job to swim out and get it, as it would thrash and fight back. -

When I came home Molly was waiting for me on the stairs with this, like "I'm a good retriever too!"

You are, Molly, but you don't like water. Still, points for wrestling that pillow into submission, and looking very sweet.

It's cold and raining today but the birdsong is constant so spring must be coming. House sparrows and blackbirds are fighting territory wars that Games of Thrones would be proud of. Mike has just come in for a cup of tea and lit the Rayburn because he said "The dogs look cold". The dogs. Molly and Miss Betty, sat on fleece beds at my feet, both snoring. .

I guess I'd better go butcher those geese and cook up some pheasant eggs, so my cold dogs can have a hot lunch. Mike can have sandwiches.