Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Gardening, etc

I happen to be lucky enough to have a large garden, I suppose it is in the region of half an acre and I enjoy looking after it. Since we have lived here I have endeavoured to create a wild life garden in order to encourage both birds and insects, butterflies and bees. This has involved planting quite a lot of trees. Many years ago when we lived in Surrey we belonged to The Cottage Garden Society and, as members, we attended their summer evening garden visits. These were always very pleasant as they involved a tour of a garden followed by a picnic, a good old natter and a plant buying opportunity. A very good way of obtaining plants at a reasonable price. I recall a visit to a particular garden which was owned by a chap called Trevor and his partner. It was, as you might expect, created in the cottage garden style and it was stunning. But the thing I remember Trevor telling us was that gardens should be a series of rooms. His theory being, you walked from one room to another and each one was different, planted with differing sorts of plants and providing a different atmosphere and experience. This impressed me and I have followed that idea ever since. Incidentally, Trevor had written a number of books on the subject and was an acknowledged expert in his field. Sadly I don't remember his surname. 

In any event, my tree planting has been in an effort to construct a series of rooms and I now have a garden which provides that experience. Each area being different from the previous as you walk through. The main area has a lawn and a flower bed planted with cottage garden plants, roses around the house and lots of large pots and containers full, for the most part, of bee and butterfly attracting plants. Several honeysuckles and a buddleia complete the insect feeding stations. It works, on a sunny day all of the above are covered with several species of bees and we also have a healthy butterfly population. The trees create, if you like, the walls of the rooms. I also have a Japanese garden, a large pond, which is enclosed and covered and a wild area with just a few paths cut through it. The pond area is enclosed with fence and netting overhead as we have a local heronry and I have even had the odd visit from a kingfisher. Not to mention, one weekend when we were away, a devastating visit from an otter. The trees I have planted consist of oak, field maple, willows various, cob nut and walnut and the odd hawthorn and blackthorn which I have allowed to grow into quite large specimens. All in all they attract a wide range of birds and an occasional, unwelcome, grey squirrel. Why unwelcome ? These non-indigenous pests are omnivorous and therefore they eat the eggs and fledglings of song birds, indeed any birds,not to mention the damage they do to trees. 

My back, and boundary hedge, has a big and, so far, healthy elm tree group within it. I hope they have a degree of resistance to the dreaded Dutch Elm disease. So far, and they are now over thirty feet in height, they have remained unscathed . In most cases, I am told, the disease strikes before the young trees reach twenty feet so each year I watch carefully for any signs of illness but so far so good. My hedges around our field, which is beside the house and separated by a driveway, contain a variety of trees and shrubs and a good quantity of brambles which acts like a magnet for birds and insects especially when they are fruiting. So all in all,we manage to attract a wide range of wild life. This year, nesting in the garden, we have had three lots of bluetits, two great tits,three robins, a wren, three blackbirds, a pied wagtail and numerous sparrows. The sparrows nest in a large old clump of clematis which was here when we bought the place, it is very dense and provides the birds with shelter and, no doubt, some warmth. Apart from nesting in this mass they also roost in it throughout the winter.The above accounts only for the nests I have discovered in the garden and sheds, in fact I have a blackbird with fledglings in my workshop as I write. I am quite sure there have been many more nests in the hedges around the field, but my days of rummaging through thick and ancient hedgerows are, sadly, long gone. 

Readers, if there are any, that follow my jottings will perhaps recall in a previous article my comments regarding the rabbits which had taken up residence in my field and my fears that they may have succumbed to the fox or disease. Well, I am happy to report they are still around and doing well. In fact, the other morning when I went out to feed the animals one of their number had come to the top of the field in an area near the feed shed. He got a bit of a shock as Humphrey, my terrier was with me and gave chase. The bunny made it safely to the bramble patch at the bottom of the field with time to spare. The trouble is, now Humpers knows we have rabbits he keeps clearing off in search of them every time he comes out with me which is twice a day. I don't imagine the rabbits are in any great danger from him but if Bertie, our lurcher, gets involved it could be another story. Oh well, as they say, that's life in the sticks.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Surveys

As of the first of April life changes in the Yeomans household in that I begin undertaking wildlife surveys again. First there are the transect walks on behalf of Butterfly Conservation and these take place between the first of April and the last day of September each year. One walk each week and, since I cover Duncliffe and Fifehead woods, I am committed to two walks a week. Duncliffe being the longest with eight sections and Fifehead has five sections. Certain conditions have to be met in order that a walk can take place. The temperature has to be over thirteen degrees, the amount of sunlight has to be taken into account as does the wind and time of day. Walks take place between 1045 and 1545. It is usually possible to fit the walks in but there are the odd weeks when the weather and conditions are just not suitable and a walk is missed. So far this year all of my walks have been completed but last week was testing. 

Early butterflies are Brimstones, orange tips, speckled woods, common and holly blues with the odd red admirals and peacocks. I have also been fortunate enough to record the lovely little small copper which has appeared again in a meadow beside Duncliffe woods. Last year I was recording the odd one or two of the small coppers but so far this year it has been eight or nine which is very encouraging. The meadow in question is, incidentally, of an old unspoiled type containing lots of wild flowers. Just like meadows used to be before farmers began the widespread use of pesticides and weed killers. 

In general terms last year was a fairly good year for most butterfly species and increases in numbers were recorded in these parts for most. However, the small tortoiseshell did not do well with numbers dramatically down.

At the same time as the transect walks begin so do the dormouse surveys and I attend two of those. One in a small copse called Oysters copse which belongs to the Wiltshire Trust for Nature Conservation. The other is Goblin Coombe in North Somerset where the surveys are undertaken by members of the Somerset Trusts mammal group. Both areas are of old woodland and contain a wide variety of trees and shrubs and contain the elusive little dormouse. The first survey in Oysters proved negative as far as dormice were concerned. However, almost half of the dormouse boxes surveyed contained nesting tits. Blue tits, great tits and marsh tits. One wonders how on earth these little birds find the entrance hole to the boxes as they are located at the back of the box and against the tree trunk. Bird boxes, of course have their holes facing outwards and are obvious and easy to locate. But find the entrances they do and then occupy the boxes for just over a month until the fledglings have flown the nest. The other, less welcome, squatters are bees, These take over the odd box or two and are usually very aggressive when disturbed. 

I missed the first Goblin Coombe survey due to a post opp. infection but six individuals were recorded. The second survey, Mays, took place yesterday and we were lucky enough to record nine individuals. Some boxes had two mice in them and one had three. All were torpid and remained fast asleep during the process of sexing and weighing them. The smallest weighed ten grams and the heaviest seventeen grams. All were in good condition and, clearly, had survived the winter hibernation. It never fails to thrill when a box is opened and inside is a little dormouse they are just the most delightful of little creatures. Although all nine were found to be asleep this is not uncommon as the dormouse has the ability to induce this state of temporary hibernation as and when they feel like it. No doubt, when the weather is a bit unfavorable or perhaps when food is scarce. They can remain in this torpid state for a few hours or a day or two which is quite handy. When found the mice feel very cold and one could be forgiven for imagining that they were dead. Often they are snoring and occasionally the warmth from the hand of the surveyor will cause the mouse to partially wake. All quite charming. So there you have it, that’s what surveying is all about as far as I am concerned, a joy to be involved in. Anyone reading this and thinking they might like to get involved can do so by contacting their local Trust for Nature Conservation. In my experience I have found them to be helpful and willing to provide the necessary contacts. The good news is you don’t have to be a member if you don’t want to. 

Friday, 3 May 2019

May 2019 local election

Binsted, Bentley & Selborne
ASHCROFT David Arnold The Conservative Party  1029 Elected
BURFOOT Barbara Anne Labour party  192
CARTER Ken The Conservative Party  889 Elected
PRICE Jane-Frances Margaret Labour party  266
RAVENSCROFT Lynne Liberal Democrat  839

Monday, 15 April 2019

More fishing

Having watched a group of young people, all with their heads down, fiddling with tablets and mobile phones it occurred to me just how different life is today for our youngsters. As a result I got thinking about the stuff I and my friends did in Kingsley when we were of a similar age to the above mentioned group. I suspect the modern youngster walks very little and spends hours sitting with their gadgetry exercising only their fingers. It seems the newspapers are, almost daily, warning us of an obesity crisis among our youth. Trust me, there was no such crisis in my childhood days. Not least because we walked miles every day in order to perform some task or another, fishing, birds nesting, collecting nuts, blackberries, fungi etc. depending upon the season and or time of year. We left home after breakfast and, for the most part, did not return until tea time. Apart from all of the exercise we didn't have anything like the food available to us that the modern child enjoys, the war was not long over and rationing went on for quite a while. 

The fishing aspect of our activities, apart from the village pond, took place in the river at the back of the common and extended from Shortheath Common and Oakhanger all the way down to the rear of the Sleaford garage. That is a lot of walking, no doubt, amounting to many miles. 

Of course, we didn't do the whole length in any given day but we did cover long distances in pursuit of the wild brown trout which was plentiful in the river in those days. 

The other great joy, as far as the river was concerned, was tiddler fishing. This was done in the feeder stream which ran from, north of the village, behind Dean Farm under the B3004 and down hill towards where Mr and Mrs Waters farmed, before entering the river. It was the area behind the Waters farm which was the most popular with us as, in those days, it teamed with small fish. I suppose the close proximity to the main river contributed to this abundance. At the time my best mate, Lewis Batty, lived in the old chapel cottage. The cottage had a tinned roof lean-to and it was in this that we housed our collection of containers holding our fishy captives. The stream in which they had been caught was not a deep one, probably for the most part, about a foot deep. Not having lovely waterproof footwear available to us then we simply took off our shoes and socks, rolled up our trouser legs and paddled, this was in the summer months! In order to capture the tiddlers we used jam jars, bottles and netting, if we could get it. There was, I remember, a significant ridge worn away under the bank of the left hand side of the stream as it flowed to the river. Under this all manner of little fish would take refuge from our efforts to catch them. But catch them we did and we did so by pushing a jar into the ridge cavity downstream and them by means of a hand of foot slide the fish towards the jar causing the tiddlers in front to dart down and into the waiting jar. We caught dozens, in hindsight, far too many. There were bullheads, loach, (these we referred to respectively as dog and cat fish ), sticklebacks, minnows, small trout and very occasionally, fresh water lampreys.

It would interest me greatly to learn if there are still tiddlers in the stream and if so, do today's village boys go fishing for them. Sadly, I suspect the answer to both questions is a no, however, I would be absolutely delighted to be wrong on this assumption. The last time I visited Kingsley, a little over a year ago, I attempted to drive over and have a look at the river, a task that was always possible when I lived in the village, but found the way barred by military barriers. Not only that but whilst I was attempting to turn around a small detachment of rifle carrying troops came jogging up the path. It would appear the military has taken far more control of the common than in days gone by. Apart from occasional maneuvers, and they were very occasional, and the odd military radio lorry, not much was seen of a military presence. People used the common pretty much as they liked, is it still so? I am aware that the common is now designated an S.S.S.I and I wonder if that has had an impact at all? I would be very interested to learn the answers to these question, perhaps some kind soul will let me know.   

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Fishing

On Friday of last week my brother Don and I went to our local reservoir for our first days fishing of the season. It was a pleasant day, calm and quite mild. We got to our destination at 0800hrs and having paid for our tickets we pottered off to our usual fishing spot. We had been fishing for, I suppose, about five minutes when another angler appeared on the scene and came over to have a chat with us. All quite normal, most fellow anglers will stop to pass the time of day and to enquire as to the state of the fishing and to get an idea off what fly or lure the fish are being tempted with ….or not, depending on circumstances. So having observed the usual social niceties the newcomer moved along the bank a few yards down from where Don was fishing and began to prepare to fish himself. 

All perfectly normal and acceptable. This chap did not introduce himself and we had not met him before. After a few moments he began telling us his fishing life history: where he had fished his best catches, places to avoid, it went on and on. All the while, of course, Don and I were trying to concentrate on our casting and presentational skills and, of course, trying to catch some fish. Eventually our companion began to fish himself but the chatter went on ….and on …and on. In short he didn't stop, hardly taking the time to catch his breath. We were treated to his theory as to the best fly to use at this time of the season and a constant questioning as which flies Don and I were using. We then got advice on the weather and he shared his doubts with us that none of us were likely to catch a fish that day. One wondered why he had bothered to turn up since his forecasts were so pessimistic. However, turn up he had and we were the lucky recipients of his company and angling wisdom! 

Time passed, and having heard Don and I talking to each other our "friend" began calling us by our Christian names. Very nice. The chatter went on and on. The dismal forecasts got more dismal with every half and hours that passed. I seriously began to think it was time to throw myself into the water and try and catch a fish by hand. I didn't voice my feelings but a few moments later having told us that we should all remain positive and try and make the situation a little humorous he actually asked if we had access to a wet suit. This, obviously, provided the humour he felt was lacking and he chuckled away whilst making similarly silly, and very humorous suggestions of a similar nature. 

One of the joys of fishing is the peace and tranquillity it provides, yes, it is good to catch a fish but there are usually plenty of other things which contribute to the pleasure of the day. The bird life being one. Where we were has a very healthy water bird population and amongst them are Great Crested Grebe. They are fascinating birds and I can happily watch them for hours. When they dive beneath the surface of the water it is always a bit of a challenge to predict where the bird will eventually resurface. It is quite amazing how long they are able to remain submerged. Also, at the time of year in question, there is the song of blackbirds and thrushes and various other smaller resident birds to cheer up the day with. That is, of course, if you can hear them undisturbed. By now our new found companion, let's call him Wally, was still chattering away on subjects which he clearly felt he was an expert . I don't really know why the name Wally came into my head, but on reflection I think it fits just right. By now Wally was beginning to get on my nerves and I seriously considered moving to another area. I changed my mind feeling that if Don and I moved on Wally was just as likely to follow us, probably in the (mistaken) belief that we may know something and were off to a better spot. 

All of a sudden I was into a fish which after a few minutes I was able to land. Wally became even more animated by this event. What fly had I used, how was I presenting it, did I pull it through the water slowly or with speed? The questioning was intense. Wally's predictions of doom regarding his chances of catching any fish became even more gloomy. Then, as things often happen, he hooked a fish. I went over and netted it for him reasoning, that if he actually got a fish, he might just shut up. No such luck we were now into the numbers game again, he was, he told us, very unlikely to catch a second or third fish and so on and so on. Don then got a fish and Wally hooked and lost another one. Sometime later I caught a second fish and the questioning from Wally began all over again. I'm afraid I had had enough, it was time to go home. Wally seemed quite surprised that I was not going to stay and try and catch three more fish which is the day limit for that fishery. Don decided to remain and I left him in the dubious company of Wally who was still rabbiting on. I wished him farewell and he said he hoped to see me again I smiled and thought I hope I am spared that delight. Well, you can't win them all ! 

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Jack Russell Terriers

Having written about my new puppy last month and touched upon Jack Russell, his terriers and The Jack Russell Club of Great Britain I thought it might be interesting to have a look at the present situation regarding "The Breed"? I put the word breed in inverted commas as I doubt very much if such a breed actually exists. A type, certainly but a breed I doubt it. 

As I understand it, a breed of anything has to have certain characteristics which remain true throughout any mating which may occur and all of those characteristics have to be present in each and every breeding. So, if for example, one selected a male from anywhere in the world and crossed it with a female of the same breed the resulting progeny would be the same as the two parents. Having had a considerable amount of experience in breeding terriers and, in terriers generally, referred to as Jack Russell's, I know that quite often the expected puppies differ from the parents, sometimes to an alarming degree. I don't know what the criteria is for establishing a breed. I would imagine a breed only becomes established when a particular group of animals breed true, consistently, over a number of years. I doubt if that is the case with many of the, so called, Jack Russell type of terriers on the market today. 

Having spoken to a number of enthusiastic terrier breeders over the years, and I mean real enthusiasts, not puppy sellers, it would appear, in general terms, they have to resort to the addition of out breeding periodically to maintain the type they desire. This could mean using, for example, a Lakeland Terrier or Fox Terrier in order to enhance particular qualities or strengthen a desirable characteristic. Having seen firsthand the vast array of farm yard terriers on the market, being sold under the heading of Jack Russell, I am unconvinced that any such "breed" actually exists. Since last month's article I have had the opportunity to have a look at the web sites of The Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain, The Kennel Club and The Parson Russell Terrier Club. Sadly, I am more confused now than I was before I started. The Kennel Club actually attribute, what they call, a Jack Russell to breeders in Australia. It would appear their standard for the breed was formulated by Australian breeders whom, the clubs literature tells the reader, took their terriers with them when they emigrated. The Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain's breed standard is actually accredited to The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America. Why they were unable to formulate a breed standard of their own I find mind boggling. Especially as they claim to have put together the true standard in England forty years ago. 

They also claim Parson Russell Terriers are now so rare as to almost have disappeared. But most incredible of all they claim the "true working Jack Russell Terrier" is, "Safe, where it always has been, long before the Sporting Parson bought one, in the hands of real working terrier men and women". Well, there you have it a type of terrier existed that was working long before Parson Russell obtained his first terrier, no doubt about that. However, it was not known as a Jack Russell terrier "long before the Parson bought one", it may have been called a Bill Smith or Brain Jones terrier or, indeed,any other name you care dream up but the type of terrier now known as a Jack Russell did not become named as such until the Rev Russell's terriers became the object of admiration and were unheard of before that event. One would think, indeed, expect a club claiming to represent a breed would, at the very least, not make such basic errors in its publicity material. The point they also appear to make regarding working terriers is a valid one but working terriers of the Jack Russell type were by no means unique to the Rev Russell. They were quite wide spread within the country community. Times were different as were attitudes and the landed gentry and rich hunted all manner of animals with all kinds of dogs. Much of what they did in those days would today be illegal and many of the species they hunted are protected. But, hunt, they did and they used the best type dog for the job and or the species they were pursuing. The Sealyham Terrier which originated in Wales was used to hunt fox, martin, polecat, badger and pretty much anything else that would provide some sport. It was quite similar to the Jack Russell terrier type in its shape and size and was quite different from the modern version, 

The Kennel Club Sealyham which is short legged and square headed and probably couldn't chase its own shadow has no resemblance to the original terrier. Mrs. Alice Serrel, also of Devon, kept and bred a working type of terrier which was as near as could be to the Russell type. Her terriers were also required to run with hounds and, therefore, were long in the leg. It doesn't take much time or effort when researching the Jack Russell Terrier to realise the fact that the, so called, breed represented a type of working terrier which had been for many, many years popular throughout the west country and elsewhere. Used to bolt foxes, this type of terrier had to keep up with hounds and walk to the meet and back again. Sometimes the hack to the meet would have been forty miles and that's before hunting started. What all this boils down to is the fact hunt terriers had to have a huge amount of stamina and short legged little ratters would not have managed such a heavy schedule, often,several times a week.
Back to the Rev. Russell, he bought his famous terrier Trump from a milkman in Acton ! He also much admired the terriers bred by Devonshire couple Tom and Rubie French and would have appear "to have bought a number from that couple. The Rev. also admits, in one passage of a book I have,French often used Beagle, Whippet and Bulldog to add, correct or enhance various characteristics he desired in his terriers". So no breed there then, just a type.
Having researched, over a period of many years, the life and times of Jack Russell and read most of what is written about him I feel I have a fairish idea of the man and his character. Unlike many hunting parsons of his era he did not neglect his flock and, although not a rich man, he was kind to those in greater need than himself. Particularly so with the local gipsies. I have no doubt he would not have been impressed with all the fuss about a group of terriers masquerading under his name. Furthermore and, perhaps the greatest irony of all, the Rev. Russell was not named Jack, his name was,in fact, John.


Thursday, 17 January 2019

Dogs, etc

Sadly, in November our aged border terrier Fred died after a short illness. He had been a delightful little character and was much loved. However, he had a long life and remained fit until just a few days before he passed away. Not only did his death come as a surprise to us it was doubly so as we have an aged lurcher which we had completely expected to depart before Fred. Fergus, the lurcher, has been very unsteady on his feet for some time and for a while began losing weight. It does appear that he has found a new lease of life and, although still unsteady, he has put back the weight he lost and is now eating well again. All of this meant we were left with the elderly dog and, of course, our two year old lurcher Bertie, which I have previously written about. As we don’t expect Fergus to go on long into the future we decided that it would be a good idea to get a puppy. Having been used to company all his life we felt it unfair, when the time comes, for him to be left on his own.

We decided we would get a Jack Russell terrier and began to look for one. The first thing that struck me was just how much rubbish there is out there in terms of dogs/puppies. I have never heard of such bizarre crosses. Jugs, Cocker Doodle, Labra Doodles and many more. I can’t think for the life of me why people make such crosses. Most of our existing dog breeds have been bred for a specific purpose and have stood the test of time. Why mend it if it isn’t broke? I even came across several adverts for puppies which included crossing a perfectly good breed with Chihauhuas. What on earth are they trying to create? The truth is these people are creating mongrels with no apparent purpose for the breeding. It, however, quickly becomes clear the price for such abominations is always high. For the most part none of the puppies I discovered were on the market for less than £300. The truth is, if they have a worth at all, these mixes should not command a price any higher than £20. 

I eventually abandoned my internet search and began putting the word out between friends and acquaintances and I was lucky to get a fairly quick response from one mate whom knew of gamekeeper with a litter of terrier puppies and he assured me they were the right type. A visit was made to said keeper and a puppy selected. The litter was beautiful and an absolute credit to the breeder. So it was that we bought Humphrey a superb little tyke. He is everything we had hoped for and all that a terrier should be. He is proud and has a fair bit of attitude. He has taken to Bertie extremely well and they are almost inseparable. In fact we have been amazed just how much Bertie defers to the puppy. If Bertie is given a treat the pup grabs it from him and runs off and, most incredible of all, Bertie will even tolerate the puppy diving into his feed bowl and helping himself to Bertie's food. Dogs don’t get much more good natured than that. 

Humphrey is the sort of terrier I wanted, with beating in mind, for next season. He is of the confirmation of the original Jack Russells which the old parson was famed for. Humphrey will be about twelve or fourteen inches at the shoulder when he is mature, with straight legs and a good rough coat. His ears are not held up but bend over at the tips and he carries himself like a dream. Having said all this, and I am aware that the Jack Russell is now recognised as a breed by The Kennel Club, the dogs bearing the Jack Russell name were always of a type rather than a breed.

As a founder member of The Jack Russell Club of Great Britain many years ago, I do know a bit about them and have done a huge amount of research into the parson and his life. Parson Russell’s terriers were rough coated and high on the leg and were expected to run with hounds during a day’s fox hunting. They were not heavily built but slender enough to go to ground and bolt a fox when needed which is exactly what they were bred for. The parson’s famous terrier, Trump, was just such a dog and the rriers that followed,and carried the Jack Russell name, were all of a similar standard, shape and size. Looking through the adverts for Jack Russell’s today makes it pretty clear that any form of farm terrier, bandy legged, short or rough coated, and mostly short in the leg are given the title and sold for extortionate prices. 

I would be the last to suggest that some of these delightful little tykes do not work well and become quite useful little workers in a number of areas, not least, ratting. But, Jack Russell’s they are not. When I was involved with the breed club we did not seek Kennel Club recognition and most real enthusiasts didn’t want it either. However, it proved that many of the members were as feisty as their terriers which resulted in breakaway groups and a Parson Russel Terrier club being formed. 

I have long held the view that many of those people were only interested in inflating the prices they could command for their puppies and the long term welfare of the terrier was not of much concern to them. One only has to look at the ridiculous prices now being asked for such terriers to feel vindicated in having nothing to do with such clubs and their activities any more. I was not ripped off for my little chap and clearly his breeder was not motivated by large amounts of money for his puppies. He was a genuine working dog enthusiast and his great joy was having produced a litter of superb terriers all of which were going to working homes. Long may people of that calibre remain and prosper.