Thursday 18 December 2014

Harvest Mice

During my childhood in Kingsley the local Harvest Mouse population was healthy, I know this, because there was ample evidence of their presence in the form of their ball shaped nests in corn fields and around the hedges bordering corn fields. In addition to this they were easily seen in Bill Lamport's barn. The barn, which stood at Jude Farm, beyond the Straits opposite Kingsley Nurseries. In those days, and I don’t remember the year, the barn was relatively new. It stored bales of straw. Sitting quietly upon the bales, it would not be long before those tiny and, in my view, enchanting, little creatures appeared for the watcher to observe.

The Harvest Mouse, as a species, was first discovered / recorded by Gilbert White. Gilbert White, of course, wrote White's Natural History of Selborne which featured the wild life of his parish just a few miles from Kingsley. White being the vicar for Selborne for many years. Like many of his class of the day White wrote. There are many classic works written by vicars over the years but White's Natural History has sold and been published more than any other book. Indeed, I recently read that White's book has only been surpassed, in publishing terms, by the Bible. Quite an achievement.
I have numerous editions of the book in my collection and I am pretty certain the reason the book has obtained such a following is due to the fact that White's powers of observation were faultless. Well almost so, he did rather mess up with swallows, which he thought hibernated in the mud at pond sides during the winter months. Not withstanding this the rest of his work was very accurate. Clearly Selborne had a good number of harvest mice and White found them.

For the most part these little creatures live in and around corn fields, they feed upon the grain and nest amongst the stalks of corn. Like a lot of things, modern farming techniques dealt quite a blow to these mice. Combine harvesters had a huge impact upon Harvest Mouse numbers. It would, however, appear that they adapted to the challenge by building their nests in tall grass and hedgerows. I have no idea what the current population in Kingsley is like. I have a feeling that a lot less corn is grown in and around the village nowadays so who knows ?

During the time of which I write there was a well known T.V presenter and writer by the name of George Cansdale. George specialised in all things to do with animals and pets. He wrote several books of which his Book of Pets was a treasured possession of mine. Sadly long lost. Unlike many pet books this one dealt alphabetically with all sorts of animals, not just the normal domestic varieties. Of course, times were different, and catching wild animals for pets was nothing to be frowned at them. Most village boys had, at some time, caught fledgling birds, lizards, newts and tiddlers of all sorts. Keeping tadpoles was an annual event for many of us and some actually went to the extent of catching grass snakes. Not I, I hasten to add, I have never had much of a liking for snakes. So, the point being, for country children catching and keeping various species of wild life was not unusual or illegal. In George’s book he went into the detail of how to catch and care for all manner of wild things, including the Harvest Mouse. These tiny creatures, he wrote, quickly became tame and got used to being handled. This I can confirm to be the case, unlike other mouse species, these little beauties did not bite very much at all especially if the person holding them handled them with care and didn’t hurt them. Although I caught many I didn’t keep them as pets it was fun just to catch them and then let them go. I once had a black and white mouse bought from a pet shop and it spent most of its short life trying to find ways to die, so mouse keeping lost its appeal for me.

So, dear reader the next time you find yourself in a straw barn in or around Kingsley sit quietly for a few minutes, listen and be patient. These little creatures, in spite of their tiny size make quite a lot of noise so you generally hear them before you see them. The wait and the patience is well worth the trouble. Scampering about and using their, comparatively, long tails to climb they provide a delightful and captivating display. I hope they are still around Kingsley and that some of you get the chance to see them.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

December Crimestoppers

Here we are with Christmas snapping at our heels all over again. It doesn’t seem possible; we’ve only just put away the tree from last year and finished the Easter Eggs!

As our shopping centres start filling up to bursting point with shoppers, Police are out in force to dissuade those inclined to help themselves, from committing crimes. People caught helping themselves in stores WILL be arrested and prosecuted.

There is an assumption from some thieves that stealing from shops is a victimless crime. Clearly that is not the case, and we all finish up paying increased prices to cover the cost of those who help themselves. In the current economic climate, smaller traders particularly can ill afford to have their stock stolen.

Often, shoplifting gangs will travel from outside the area to target a town, fill their bags, and then move on. Police will be at bus and rail stations targeting those that thought it might be a good idea to travel to Hampshire to steal someone else’s Christmas.

Whilst being jostled in the throng, it is easy for a pickpocket to have your purse or wallet out of your bag, or pocket. Avoid using a back pocket for your wallet, and keep your handbag zipped up at all times. If you have a zipped pocket in your jacket, that will also slow down any would-be thief.

Keep an eye on your shopping bags too. There are many distractions at this time of year, and if you have your young children with you, they too will be excited (even more excited than you!) and take more of your attention. It only takes a moment for someone to pick up one of your shopping bags and walk away with it. You may not even notice until you get home, and then wonder if you’re going mad as you were sure you’d bought…..

When loading your car in supermarket car parks, keep an eye on your trolley. Again, it only takes a moment for someone to walk by and take something from the top of your trolley whilst you are putting your handbag in the front of the car, or strapping your children into their seats. A bottle of spirits or even a joint of meat can easily disappear without you even noticing, and can be quite expensive to replace.

It wouldn’t be Christmas without mentioning drinking and driving. Of course, you can’t drive whilst unfit through drink or drugs at any time of the year and few of us would be foolish enough to do so. However, please remember that it can take some while for alcohol to leave your system so if you are driving the following day after a good party, you may still be over the limit.

If you suspect a drink driver or have information about ANY crime, please do not hesitate to give Crimestoppers a call on 0800 555 111 or log on to where you can also give information and remain anonymous. For those tweeters amongst you, please follow me @HantsCrimestopp for regular Crimestoppers updates.

 I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Monday 1 December 2014

A ferret called Eichman

Eichman was a large Polecat hob, that is to say he was a male of the species, the females are known as gills. He was about the size of a small cat and, having been well handled, was very tame as far as humans were concern. With all forms of animal life it was quite a different story. True to his species he was a ferocious predator and he didn’t much care what he attacked and killed.

Before he found himself a resident in Kingsley Eichman had resided in, what was then, Courage's Brewery. It would appear, at that time, the brewery was troubled by a serious cat problem. Much like feral farm cats the brewery population had found an acceptable habitat and settled in. It is quite possible that, in the first instance, the cats had actually been introduced to deal with a mouse or rat problem. However, and be that as it may, they did what cats do and embarked upon a highly successful breeding programme. The cat population expanded at an alarming pace. So much so that they became, at best, a pest and at worst a health hazard. It was decided the cat population had to be managed and this meant a drastic reduction of numbers. I am told the attempts to achieve this were half hearted and not very successful. I know not what methods were employed but it would appear that whatever they were was nothing short of a losing battle.

As a result of the above, and the ever increasing cat numbers, a member of staff, (I know not whom it was ), came up with the idea of introducing a ferret to tackle the problem. This, it was considered, would drastically reduce numbers and might, if they were lucky, encourage the cats to vacate the brewery buildings altogether. A presumed spin off was the likelihood that Eichman would deal with any rats or mice he may encounter whilst on cat reduction duties. This all went pretty much to plan, Eichman was adept at cat killing and on quite a grand scale. Large numbers of kittens went to meet their maker and overall the plan was hailed a success. However, all good things must come to an end and Eichman became the subject of some unwelcome attention from the cat loving element amongst the brewery staff. There were dark rumblings of action against the ferret and even darker ones of leaks to the local paper. The thought of the murderous actions of Eichman appearing upon the front page of the local rag was too much for the brewery management. Panic ensued and an order was issued banning the ferret from the establishment.

My brother Robin was working at the brewery at the time and one evening he arrived home with Eichman. As to his name, that came about as a result of the much publicised capture and abduction of Adolf Eichman from South America by Mosad, the Isreali Secret Service. Eichman, it will be remembered was a leading Nazi and had been responsible for murdering many thousands of Jewish people. He was put on trial and executed. The ferret began his cat control when, or shortly after, the real Eichman had featured all over the newspapers. His actions were laid bare for all to read of and as a result of all this and the ferret’s delight in killing things, the poor creature was given the name of Eichman.

He settled in at home and was taken for the occasional walk on a lead. Fitted with a ferret harness attached to the lead he would run along quite happily. On one occasion my brothers and I took him to the old railway line behind the copse which is located on the Kingsley side of the old line and is roughly below the Straits. Here there were rabbit holes and we wanted to try the ferret at a bit of rabbiting. Unfortunately no rabbits were found but on our return journey Eichman became very interested in a pair of white trainers that one of us was wearing. I don’t remember which one of us it was. The return journey was late and darkness had fallen, this, I suppose made the trainers rather more noticeable. The polecat was in no doubt the footwear was killable and he launched a number of strikes against the shoes as they passed his line of sight. Fearing a nasty bite to the wearer he was carried home without further incident. As far as I can recall he lived a good old ferrets life before passing on and, no doubt, dreaming of the glories of cat killing in ferret Heaven.