Friday, 4 January 2019

A stoat in ermine .....caught and released for biological rat control.

Stoat in ermine  mid-winter camouflage
Until the end of November we were plagued by rats. They are always around when you keep hens. I don't like rat poison, it gets in the food chain, the alternative was to bait some of the squirrel traps , catch the rats alive and then deal with them.

In early December there were no rats to be seen and no rats in the traps...... what was happening?

This week we found the answer, I think. There was a stoat in it's winter coat in one of the traps, the stoat in the image above. It must have a territory around the village because the day after I released it we saw it attacking a neighbour's hen. The hen has survived so far, it's in a cardboard box in the kitchen recuperating from head and neck wounds.

Meanwhile another white stoat, probably the same one was caught in another of my traps in the old byre next door, it had been eating partridges hung quite high up on a beam. This one has been released too. It looks as if the rats have been cleaned out by the stoat or stoats and now they are going for hens and anything else they can find. We can put up with them in return for  "biological rat  control".

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

UK Government rejects proposals to reintroduce lynx in England. .......It should be done properly....... in Scotland.

I can't remember ever agreeing with anything that the Michael Gove ( UK Environment Minister ) has said or done in this job or in his previous incarnations in government. But this time I have to agree with his grounds for rejecting plans to reintroduce European lynx into Kielder Forest. The application appears to have been both incompetent and shambolic, reversing roles. Normally it's the government who are shambolic, read this link.

The precautionary principle, Brexit and right swivel eyed economic illiterates

If you want to re-introduce an extinct species you have to follow a well known set of IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) guidelines.  Among other things this protects the population that the re introductions come from and ensures that they will survive and thrive in their new home.

Read the Secretary of State's letter and the Natural England report here

The project submission appears to have been cobbled together by a bunch of rank amateurs. Overall feasibility of the project is questioned. There's an apparent lack of clarity about funding, a lack of collaboration with local organisations particularly the Forestry Commission who's woodland it is. The impact of the proposals on local people and the lynx themselves have not been adequately addressed and the proposals for monitoring impact are inadequate.

Only once have I seen these beautiful big cats in the wild, I was walking up a trail on a Canadian river bank fifty years ago and came across a pair of lynx kittens sunbathing on a flat rock. I didn't have a camera with me which was good........I just watched them, then left quietly.

I am all in favour of reintroducing lynx to the British Isles but in the right place, with adequate funding, management by a competent body  and impact assessments on people, lynx and the environment. We could have a pilot project here on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula for example.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Coquetdale red squirrels again........ thank you for your votes.

Thanks to your support the Coquetdale Squirrel Group are through to the final of the Aviva Community Fund project funding. Now we have to provide additional information for the judges to supplement the project submission. they want to know more about the need for our project, how the money will be spent, how many people will be impacted both directly and indirectly and finally how long will the impact of the project be felt.

Thank you for your votes
The need is urgent, our surviving native red squirrels are in imminent danger of extinction here in the valley, we need to remove 60% of the adult eastern grey squirrels each year for at least the next five years. We have proposed much more intensive trapping to achieve this.

A  full-time skilled trapper is needed to train volunteers in order to increase their effectiveness and to do more trapping in problem areas so most of the money will be spent on wages and associated costs such as insurance and administration.

How many people will be impacted and be beneficiaries of the project...... well red squirrels are probably Britain's most iconic wildlife species you could call them " charismatic mini fauna" everyone loves them to watch them and know that they are here. The presence of our native reds has a positive effect on the quality of life of everyone in the valley, visitors to the Northumberland National Park and future generations.  How long will the impact last?  If we prevent extinction, eternally! ............. or am I over egging the pudding?

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

A curry night and whisky tasting at Peanmeanach bothy

On Monday, feeling the need for an adventure, exercise and a night out  " Kilchoan Old Guys Expedition Group", (average age 67.5 years) walked in to Peanmeanach bothy on the Ardnish Peninsula for a curry and whisky tasting (lat / long 56.9/5.8). It's not far, about 4 miles on a rugged, stalkers path that's rather wet in places, slightly wetter where you cross the river in spate below Lochan an Phearaim Dubh. First casualty!

Chris slipped and fell on the river bank put his hand out as he fell and dislocated the middle finger of his left hand. This can be painful but he's old, doesn't complain, pulls the finger straight to reset it himself and carries on. Half an hour later it was my turn. Descending the path through the birch wood above the shore I slipped and fell, my right arm landed on a fallen birch with the full weight of my pack driving it. My forearm was bruised and sore but didn't appear to have broken anything. Now it's Wednesday morning I'm typing one handed and waiting for a lift the nurse has told me to go to Ft. William for an X-ray.

Back to the bothy...... the curry was excellent; cooked by Steve's wife Maggie and carried in frozen. there was some dispute over the brand of Trevor's whisky..... was it Lagavullin or Laphroaig?  We'd carried in enough logs for two nights so the fire blazed and the craik was good. On going outside for a pee about 8.00 pm I became aware of thirty of so pairs of eyes watching me as I swung the head torch round. They belonged to the red deer that normally graze above the shoreline.

Postscript 9th November
It was pointed out to me yesterday that of the six vastly experienced outdoors people who set off on this short walk on Monday two became casualties. Despite the fact that I was in and out of the accident unit within an hour and nothing was broken this raises the question, " should we be allowed out on our own at our age". You might like to comment.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Coquetdale red squirrels need your help........ without it they'll be extinct in 10 years.

I am sitting at Janet's kitchen table in Holystone in the Coquet Valley, North Northumberland. We are working on a project submission to the Aviva Community Fund.  The red squirrels in the forest here need funding to prevent their  imminent extinction. You can help to save them!

We submitted this story as stage 1 of an application for funding and now we are through to the second stage where you the public have to vote for us.

Fifty years ago people in the valley saw red squirrels on a daily basis. Today red squirrels are rarely seen because of the incursion of Eastern grey squirrels which were imported from the USA in the 19th century. The greys ( an invasive alien species) out compete the reds for food resources and introduce a lethal disease; squirrel pox, the greys are immune to this. Reds have been replaced by greys throughout Britain. We now have only an estimated 140,000 native red squirrels in in the UK with only 12,000 in England, sixty percent of these are in Northumberland.

The Coquetdale Red Squirrel Group have been trapping squirrels for ten years and eliminating the greys, "with extreme prejudice" as the CIA might say.  The work required to do this successfully is now too much for a small band of volunteers. We need a full or part-time Ranger to trap squirrels, train and motivate volunteers , monitor populations etc... If we won project funding (£10,000) it would enable us to do this for 6 months and evaluate the benefits and unforeseen costs. If successful could  then seek further finance by "crowd funding".

Our aim is to reduce the adult, fertile grey squirrel population by 60% each year.  Population modelling has shown that this is necessary to prevent the replacement of native red squirrels by greys. ( Rushton 2006 )

Selection of the winning projects depends on the number of online votes that each submission receives, first you must register on line,then cast your ten votes for a selection or only one of 59 projects in the "Environment" section. You must be a UK resident in order to vote.  So... please....... vote for our project, "Saving Coquetdale Red Squirrels"

Register, log in and place your 10 votes via this link

Voting is open to UK residents until 20th November 2018

Rushton et al (2006) . Disease threats posed by alien species; the role of pox virus in the decline of native red squirrels in Britain - Epidemiology and infection. Journal of Applied  Ecology, 37, 521 - 533

Friday, 12 October 2018

A "pop up " restaurant in the old byre ....... Cafe L'Atelier...... a brief rant about Trumpism

On Thursday evenings  a small group of elderly men  meet in the bar of the, " Kilchoan Hotel" for gossip, discussion of the latest outrage from Trump ....the undoing of enlightenment values, rejection of truth, rationality and science;  beer and sometimes a meal. We also try to organise a small expedition, suitable for elderly and infirm male crumblies each summer.

Cafe L'Atelier
In 2017 we had a few days on the Knoydart Peninsula one of Scotland';s remotest places and communities. A highlight of that trip was an evening at a "pop-up restaurant" for the best fish and chips in the UK. Since then Big Al has been itching to do this  ourselves on our own peninsula in my old byre ( now  the workshop).

A couple of weeks ago he got his wish. I cooked.... Al provided the ambience with lighting, candles and French stuff. It was after all the " Cafe L'Atelier ".

 Menu  du jour..... salade verte ......Cassoulet.... Creme caramel.... Fromages regionaux. And of course a selection of malt whiskies. The Chef was awarded 3 Michelin Tyres.

Suggestions for a theme for the next pop-up dining experience are welcome. If your idea is selected you get an invitation. So far we have had, The Roadkill Cafe and  The Post Brexit Apocalypse Dinner which would comprise three courses, porridge, followed by porridge then more porridge we wont be able to afford anything else!

For the best analysis yet of Trumpism and Borisism have a look at this piece by a psychologist in today's Guardian. What Freud can teach us about Trumpism

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Our last barn owl leaves the nest's early October

Owlet's first night flight

Last week as he was driving home past the barn "Raptor" saw a young owl on the road in his car headlights it was the third owlet to be hatched.

Barn owls are usually 12 - 13 weeks old when they leave the nest so this one ( the last of the three) must have been hatched around the end of June. Incubation takes 31 - 32 days and the female sits on the eggs until three weeks after the first egg hatches, she must have spent about nine weeks in the nesting box being fed by the male. The first egg was probably laid in late May or early June.

It's not surprising that I found the male dead three weeks ago, after four months of feeding the female, the young and himself then three weeks of wind and rain he was probably starved and exhausted.