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Winners And Losers

1st of September 2013

Twenty five years of Chipperfield News set me thinking about the changes in wildlife over that time. Who were the winners and who were the losers?

In the bird world the biggest winners must be the Red Kites and the Buzzards. Had you told me twenty five years ago that I would see a Red Kite flying over the garden four or five times a week, I would have laughed at you. They had a helping hand by way of a reintroduction program, but the buzzard’s story is more impressive as they have increased all by themselves. Less persecution and greater numbers of rabbits, not to mention safer pesticides, have helped them spread from their stronghold in the West Country. All those years ago we used to play “first one to see a Buzzard” as we drove down to Devon. Usually the first sighting would be near Stonehenge.

The increase in rabbits has not done my garden any good. Twenty five years ago there was not one in the garden, but last year there were dozens. An increase in foxes this year seems to have cut the rabbit numbers and some of my dianthus have bloomed for the first time in five years. There are definitely more badgers now, not good news if you have chaffer grubs in your lawn; badgers love them!

On the downside there are none of our native dormice in Scatterdells Woods now. When our son, John, was a lad we found hazelnut shells with a perfectly nibbled hole in them that are only made by these dear little creatures, but I have not been able to find any for ten years or more. Grey squirrels eat the hazel nuts before they are ripe, then the poor dormice don’t have anything to fatten up with in the autumn. They have a very long hibernation period, their country name is the sleepers, and without the ripe hazel nuts they don’t make it through the winter.

Roe deer have increased greatly. I think there were a few here way back, but now if I walk in the right place I can see them every day. They are beginning to do damage to the trees; before long they will need controlling.

I have not heard a Turtle Dove for years. They used to sit in our pine trees and coo, a real sound of summer. They winter in warmer climes and many get shot as they cross southern Europe; they are in serious trouble.

Summer visiting birds seem to have been in short supply in Scatterdells this summer. I have heard a few chiff chaffs, but not many willow warblers and no white throats. I so miss my late husband, he had such a good ear for bird song, but I am tone deaf and struggle to tell one from another.

A real treat this year has been the increase in the colony of silver washed fritillaries in Scatterdells Woods. Last year I saw two or three there for the first time ever (I have been going to the woods since I was a toddler), but this year there were five males and at least three females. They like wide sunny tracks and glades in broad leaf woodland and a lack of management and coppicing is putting them under threat, but work carried out in Scatterdells in the last few years seems to have done the trick.

Nothing ever stands still. We must try and be good custodians of our countryside and so I am about to embark on some woodland management projects myself. I wonder what the next twenty five years have in store? Wendy Bathurst

This page is edited by Tony

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