Thursday 12 July 2018


It Is a fact of life,if you keep poultry, you will have rats. In fact if you keep almost any kind of stock you will, sooner or later, attract rats. Apart from the obvious health hazards associated with rats they are a major nuisance in that they chew things and they dig holes all over the place. They nest in hay or straw stacks and generally do a lot of damage. The most effective way of dealing with a rat population is to poison it. You go to your local agricultural dealer and buy a box /bucket of rat "Bait" which you then administer and after a few days when you notice that the said bate is not being eaten the rats will be dead or dying. Of course, we old country boys who have dealing with these creatures for years also pursue them with air rifles and terriers, and some, even use ferrets for a bit of ratting. All good fun, but not really effective in getting rid of a rat infestation. 

Having had poultry of some form or another for most of my years on this earth I have used rat bait for as long as I care to remember. As with all things there are right and wrong ways of using these substances. It is, of course, important to ensure that other animals cannot,and do not, eat rat bait. It will, for example, kill a dog. It, therefore, always needs to be used with caution and by following the instructions on the container it comes in. In order to protect wild birds, and indeed poultry, the bait should be administered in covered containers into which rats can gain access but, other creatures cannot. These containers have inner compartments which help to prevent spillage if the container is knocked over or overturned. So there you have it, all fairly straight forward, you may think,and yes it should be. Well it used to be until, that is, the politicians got involved.

Let me say straight away I am not a political person and the following is not political in that sense. I have a fairly simple view of politicians, of all shades and persuasions, I don’t like them. For the most part they are dishonest chancers, most of whom have never had a proper job or done a decent days work. I would be more inclined to trust a secondhand car salesman. If you think this is all a bit extreme let me remind you of the expenses fiddles and the fact that nearly all of them got away with it claiming ignorance or misunderstanding. Excuses that would, most certainly, not be available to you and I in similar circumstances. If all that were not enough look at their lavish redecoration expense for grace and favour housing and their,even more lavish, "fact finding" trips around the world. Not to mention, the many corporate jollies and gifts they receive. All, of course, perfectly legal … nice. 

What, you may ask, has all this got to do with rats ? Well, I discovered, a few months ago that rat bait legislation was changing. I found this out when I went to buy some in the usual way, and was told, by the person serving me, soon I would need a certificate / licence to continue to purchase rat bait. That was the first bit, soon thereafter, came another announcement advising that the strength of rat bait was going to be reduced.

Having been using rat bait for over fifty years, one might consider, I knew a little bit about its use. However , I took one of the glossy brochures providing all the info a user needed to comply with the new rules. It quickly became apparent that in order to gain the, now necessary, certificate of competence an exam was required and a fee of £65 would have to be paid. So, a new bureaucratic system costing people, that neither want or need rat bait instruction, a hefty sum and, no doubt, lining the pockets of those providing the advice. I declined their kind offer refusing to be ripped off in this appalling manner. Consider if you will, some months in the winter, when rats come in from the fields and hedgerows, it can cost me in the region of thirty pounds a month to keep them down, I only have three acres. Goodness knows what the costs are to a large farm, they must be huge.

It would appear that a number of politicians, I haven’t bothered to find out who they are, succumbed to lobbying by an ornithological society claiming misuse of rat bait was killing wild birds. This might well be the case, there are, and always will be abusers and misusers of almost anything you can think of. Sadly that is a fact of life. It is also a fact of life that those same abusers will not comply with the rules and will not take, and pay for, a test. All that is achieved in such situations is, quite simply, careful users, following the rules, will be penalised and hit in the pocket. Just look at what previous political bans have achieved, pistols are banned in this country, more gun crime than ever before. Knives for young people under eighteen are banned, more knife crime than ever before. A whole list of drugs are banned, the country is awash with illegal drugs. Quite simply, banning does not, and never has worked.

The problem is, politicians always know best. I did consider writing to my local M.P. and, after due reflection, abandoned the idea. I don’t write to M.P.s often, only twice in the whole of my life. Each time it proved to be a complete waste of time and paper. You see, on both occasions I was wrong and did not fully understand the matters about which I was writing. I was told the M.P.s were right, it just so happens that both are no longer M.P.s, having lost their seats. One having been involved in a scandal over mistakenly buying and expensive carpet on taxpayer funded expenses, who then retired, and the other being kicked out by the electorate for basically being a complete waste of space. The good news is, the latter did get a Knighthood for his failure, you know it makes sense, lovely system we have! Incidentally, both of the matters I wrote about did come to pass and the fears I had expressed were realised. I fear we have two as well as four legged rats in our midst.

So it was that my rat population exploded. Not having received their normal dose of bait, they did what rats do and bred. I found myself surrounded by the nasty creatures. Off I went to the agricultural merchant only to find the bait available to me was now being sold in tiny packages of a few grams and priced at the hefty price of a pound a packet. Translate that into the weight I once was able to buy, three kilos, and the price becomes eye watering. The agri merchants  are as bad as the M.Ps, never miss a chance to fleece someone. I had considered getting my future supplies of rat bait from France, where common sense still seems to prevail but, fortunately, I have found a supplier where I can obtain the normal stuff at the usual price ! Didn’t they do well. Rat problem solved. It would appear there are, would you believe, loopholes in the legislation so, pretty much, business as usual. 

Just a final thought, I doubt very much if the people this cock-up was aimed at are doing anything differently in terms of care. It might just be they are doing nothing at all and the rat population in their areas is growing apace. When, as I suspect it will, it reaches epidemic proportions you will, no doubt, be treated to the inglorious spectacle of the Honourable M.P.s responsible diving down their own rat holes and blaming everyone else.  

Tuesday 3 July 2018

Dormice Part Two

Since writing last month I have been involved in several dormouse surveys in both Wiltshire and Somerset.The aim of these surveys is to provide the P.T.E.S with a comprehensive picture of the ups and downs of the dormouse population and have data to make comparisons each year. If a dormouse box is found to contain a dormouse it is carefully removed from its position on the tree, having securely blocked the hole into the box with a bung, and placed into a large polythene bag. The mouse is then let out into the bag, the box removed and the mouse caught, weighed, sexed, aged and finally replaced into the box and relocated upon the tree from whence it came. All of this process is overseen by a licence holder and the mice are none the worse for their experience.The great advantage in handling dormice is the fact that, for the most part, they don’t bite. There are records in these parts of an exception to this rule in the form of a black dormouse which will administer a fairly savage bite if found and handled. The fact that the creature is black is, in itself, very unusual. 

Quite often when opening a dormouse box it will be found to contain a Wood Mouse or a yellow Necked Mouse and anyone foolish enough to pick one of these up, without extreme caution,will almost certainly be bitten and hard. Last year I was on a survey with a licence holder and a very young female student. The young lady in question had seen movement when checking a box and had placed the box into the polythene bag believing the occupant to be a dormouse.It quickly became apparent the mouse inside was a wood mouse. Having exited the box the mouse displayed no intention of returning to it. So, said young lady, declared she would catch it and pop it back into the box. I casually asked how she was going to achieve this to which she replied she would pick it up. Asked if she had ever picked one up before her reply was negative. I told her wood mice bite, but no, there would be no problem she said. In went her hand, grabbed the mouse, the mouse bit. It latched on to her index finger and sank its considerable teeth in deep. She will never do that again! Incidentally,biting mouse varieties can be handled, albeit carefully, by a process known as scruffing. This involves manoeuvring the mouse into the corner of the bag and then gripping it behind its head by the scruff of its neck. Thus it cannot bite your. This should only be done by a competent person ….bites are not nice !   

Over the recent surveys I have been involved in we have also found large numbers of boxes containing nesting blue tits, great tits and marsh tits. Also, on two occasions, bees. In the case of the birds it seems to me quite incredible how they find the entrance hole into a box as it is against the tree trunk and cannot be seen unless it is approached from the trunk itself. But,find the entrance they do, and then go on to rear their young within. Whilst mentioning the positioning of the holes in dormouse boxes, we found a whole range of the boxes,on a recent survey which had been turned around the other way. No doubt by some well meaning idiot who thought them to be bird boxes.

In most areas the monthly surveys do not take place in August as this is the month in which dormice are having their young which, when first born, are both tiny and pink.

If any readers are interested in becoming involved in dormouse surveys this can be achieved by contacting the local mammal group of your County Wild Life Trust. Details of leaders and dates etc. are to be found on the internet. On the website of The Peoples Trust For Endangered Species can be found a huge amount of information regarding dormice and the surveying process etc.. All of which is free to download. I am fairly confident that there will be surveys conducted in and around Kingsley as I know from my childhood there that dormice were to be found in many of the woods and hangers in that area. 

But, be warned, dormouse surveying is a very addictive practice, once you have found and handled one of these delightful little creatures you will be hooked for life. To hold a torpid dormouse in your hands and observe its delicate little features is nothing short of magical.