Farm engineering, Hill Farming, lifestyle, Pest-control

Squirrel Wars!

Yesterday Hefin came and fixed our roof. A squirrel had found a hole in the soffit(the timber under the eves) and had moved into the roof space above the bathroom for the winter months. It was disturbing Bill as he cleaned his teeth, by moving its furniture around in its garret, reorganizing the insulation and planning to rewire the electricity. Something had to be done —

— while squirrel was busy stealing the bird’s peanuts, Hefin sealed up the hole!

Invisible mend!

Today I was sitting in the bathroom contemplating the infinite when I was disturbed by the sound of someone dragging a concrete block across the roof. I rushed downstairs adjusting my clothes and burst out of the front door, ran around the house in time to see it. Evicted squirrel was perched on the roof above the mended soffit grasping the edge of the corner most roof-slate with both his little hands and heaving with all his might. I screamed. He paused and looked down at me enquiringly without releasing his grip on the slate. I yelled, I picked up a stick and beat the side of the house. He made a snap decision, stopped his attempted incursion and leapt the 8 feet into the nearest tree. Aha! So that is how he gets up!

Who? Me?

So here we are again in the land of imperatives. Not for us a good read or a spot of light editing with out feet up. We spent the morning up the slithery bank mindful of all the historical figures who have fallen to their death from trees. Wielding Great-granny’s Edwardian long-tom and our state-of-the-art long handled clippers and pruning saw, we have removed the treacherous elder that was allowing squirrel to leap across onto our roof.

Job done!

Transporting the brushwood to the heap we notice that the rickety sheep fence where it crosses the stream has, in our recent absence been busy turning itself into a dam by weaving sticks and leaves into itself and catching lots of silt. The whole construction now being frozen solid and ready to stand up to the force of the water when next in flood until inevitably it will collapse allowing the water to flow down the valley and the sheep to flow up into our precious re-wilding habitat.

Beaver technology

Another imperative! To stand up to my reconditioned knees in freezing water and demolish the half built dam.

It’s good to be home!

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Writing

How do you see yourself?

I have a new book coming out soon so have updated my author page on Amazon. Here is the picture I chose — an image by Spencer Means (CC BY-SA 2.0) which shows me, or someone very like me, in the 16th century.

It shows how I often feel much more accurately than would a 15 year old studio photo. Don’t be put off — whatever I write is tempered with good-humour, not jokes but amusement and affection.
As a worn out family doctor I retired with my late husband to another world and in new places one notices things — in Mid-Wales I started to write. My friends were painfully honest and sent me off to university to learn how to do it better. My first book, ‘Iolo’s Revenge’ was published in 2018 about our adventures.


My new book ‘You don’t have to be a genius…’ comes out soon and tells how an ordinary, dyslexic but buoyant girl navigates another new world, that of adolescence, adult life and medical education. In the 1950s and 60s she was hardly a trail blazer but certainly looked at things from a new angle.

One of my daughters commented, ‘You raise a lot of issues, Mum, which, surprisingly, are even more relevant today!

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Uncategorized

Happy New Year!

At last the cloud has lifted. We have said good-bye to all our covid-tested Christmas visitors — family now gone home leaving that empty anti-climax and separation sadness. But wait! — It is the beginning of the nature-watchers year!

This kestrel feels the same!

We’ve been up to Rutland Water, up before dawn and seen 46 different bird species for the first time in 2022 — including red kites and kestrel, 2 avocets —

There were 4 great white egrets, 3 curlews and lots of pintail ducks (this one with tail sadly depressed).

Several beautiful smew were enjoying the unseasonally warm weather.

There were more golden plover than you could shake a stick at and anyway I have given up my stick as my new knee is now fully commissioned!

We looked high

and low!

And we listened to the yaffle of the green woodpecker and the piping of the widgeon.

The RSPB rat, cleaning up under the bird feeders, came to say hello — I have a soft spot for rats!

We witnessed the ferocious battle between two cormorants as they wrestled for possession of a large fish which eventually got away. One bird attacked from the air, dragging the other below the surface of the now turbulent water, they were gone for a few moments then erupted again and again with more splashing and flailing of wings — what mastery of their elements — how silly… They lost the fish and sailed off in opposite directions looking embarrassed.

Great white egret — like some of the other illustrations, this was not actually taken today — spot the seasonal inconsistences!
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Pest-control

Squirrel Proof!

Our nuts are dwindling fast as the hungry birds look on, dismayed.

It might be worth getting a squirrel-proof feeder.

Oh yes?

This is a friend’s with a squirrel-proof proofed squirrel proving that it doesn’t work. Looking at the size of gaps in the wire and the monumental girth of our squirrel, maybe it would work! At least it might filter out the fattest.

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nature

Hippo’s guide to the beach

Like the hippopotamus our usual habitat is mud — glorious mud. Only occasionally do we venture from the soggy highlands of these British Isles to the sand around the edges and then what we see is unfamiliar.

Like this red banded sand wasp (Ammophila sabulosa).

This is a solitary (actually quite antisocial) wasp that stings its prey, often caterpillars, into submission then drags them to a burrow, sealing them in together with an egg of its own that will hatch into a hungry lava. If she finds another burrow that already contains prey and another female sand wasp’s egg she will eat the egg and replace it with one of her own — not very sisterly. They lose a third of their offspring this way which perhaps explains the frenetic way they were dashing about the sand on the day we visited Dunwich Heath.

We met this woolly bear on the sand dunes at Ynes Las, it is the caterpillar of the garden tiger moth (Arctia caja)– not rare in our childhood and not limited to sandy habitats, it becomes a colourful moth that evades our attention by flying at night. It is increasingly uncommon despite its disgusting taste which it enhances with a horrible sauce exuded from the back of its neck when attacked by a bird — its bright colours advertise this fact.

The garden tiger moth — Arctia caja by Vlad Prokiov (CC BY- NC 2.0)

Not everything on the sand is unfamiliar, not even to this mallard!

Rats on the beach at Titchfield Haven
Compass jelly fish stranded on the beach at Ynes Las — the tentacles give a nasty sting.

Strangest of all — what left this foot print

Seen on the bank of Kinewell lake.
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seasons, Sheep farming

Morning Gold

The sun creeps over the hill and sends its rays under the clouds to emblazon the trees on the far side of the valley.

In the last few days the sky has been clear and the air crisp and clear.

We’ve walked through the woods of oak and beech, silent now except for the occasional call of a golfer over the crest of the hill and the hollow single knock of iron on ball.

The sheep are back on our land, difficult to count after dawn, camouflaged against the heavy frost.

For sheep farmers in Wales this is the New Year — the start of the farming year when the tup goes out with the ewes and the whole process starts again — I don’t know this one and certainly won’t be turning my back on him, even without his horns!

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Cornwall, Travel

Timing is everything!

Yesterday was not the right time of the year for birdwatchers to visit the Scillies — too late for migrants and not enough wind for blown-in vagrants.

But yesterday was exactly the right day to travel to the Scilly Isles — not a breath of wind, brilliant winter sunshine and water like a millpond.

So catching the train to Penzance before dawn,

we piled onto the Scillonian III with lots of other followers of the weather forecast. The islands are about 30 miles from the tip of Cornwall.

Scillonian III has been the setting for more vomiting anecdotes than any other — in any family. Frances’ last word to me was “Travel sickness pills!” William, Bill’s eldest, had undermined confidence in his turn on the school trip to the Scillies by asking about what had happened to Scillonian I and II. Indeed one had hit the rocks in 1951 but it had not sunk!

Unlike many other ships. On our outward journey Bill regaled me with tales of Sir Cloudesley Shovell, a mate of Marlborough (his hero) who lost four ships on the rocks around the Scillies in 1707, with the loss of nearly 2000 sailors. This may have been due to the problems at the time in plotting longitude, though 80 years later it was rumoured to have been due to the Navy’s failure to listen to a seaman, native to the Islands, who told them they were heading for the rocks! He was hanged for trying to incite mutiny. This may or may not have been true or may be an early example of how we edit history according to our own prejudices!

Still lots of dodgy rocks around, some of which you can see — lots you can’t.

Yesterday the islands looked tropical.

The beech was patrolled by a little platoon of ducks and one or two people were swimming without wet suits. We did see some birds:

Comical turnstones jostling to get to the seaweed as the tide goes out, but they don’t like getting their feet wet so run up and down the beech with each little wave.
Back to the mainland and we see the familiar outline of the Longships lighthouse on the Carn Bras off Land’s End.
Then passing the Minack Theatre at dusk, perched on the cliffs with its muffled hardy audience — it is October!

As we head back along the south coast of Cornwall, the passengers all gather on the aft decks and despite an increasing chill, gaze as one at the mesmerising sunset. No one looking at their phone or scanning the sea for more dolphins — as man has done for ever, we watched the sun go down.

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Birds, Butterflies, Ecology, Moths, nature

The Trouble with Nature —

The trouble with Nature is that it runs away with you!

You give her, Nature that is, a small area of hillside to play with and, before you know it, she has barricaded herself in with thorny thickets and hidden earthworks, molehills under layers of slippery bracken and ankle breaking, knee jarring pitfalls made by rabbits and badgers. (Did I tell you I’ve just had a new knee.) The whole area is now dense undergrowth, criss-crossed by looping, flailing brambles and willow whips.

Ah, you say, that’s nice — good for diversity!

But is it — it’s not as simple as that!

So concerned were we that we called in an expert — Super-eco-man, a conservation hero —

Bionomic Man — Rob Mileto from Naturetrek

He’ll know what to do.

And he did — we slithered and scrambled up and down our precipitous banks as he introduced us to species of which we had been oblivious. Pleased to meet you! He showed us how to distinguish between our six common ferns, and to start to make sense of some of our mosses, not easy as they mainly have Latin names, now recorded in my roughly dried notebook — it will be fun giving them proper English names — shaggy christmas tree moss and less shaggy christmas tree moss.

Most importantly he showed us what we might lose. In our emerging woodland, already we are losing the avenues of open ground for butterflies and moths, insects and bats. The paths that remain are steep sided — like canyons through the trees without the gently sloping edges needed by butterflies and pollinating insects — there is a lot to do.

The overgrowth of bracken is alternately shading and insulating the great anthills on the sunny bank so that our ancient neighbours, the huge colonies of yellow meadow ants cannot so efficiently control their temperature as they have done for thousands of years.

Our carefully placed owl box overlooks dwindling areas of decent hunting ground for barn owls as the vole habitat is being eroded by blackthorn — probably the reason they haven’t used it of late.

These little beauties settled elsewhere.

Our mature oaks, it turns out, are only 100 years old, adolescent almost, not nearly gnarled and hollow enough to provide adequate nesting for all the bats, like the ones currently breeding in the bathroom ceiling and the pied and spotted flycatchers that come looking for nest sites every spring. Our new barn will need a large well insulated roof space to deal with the housing shortage! A new owl box is planned for the old barn and a safety rail for the swallows and martins as the roof purlins are too steep — the nests tend to fall off.

Seems I’ll have to start production again. Did you know that spotted flycatchers like to nest near buildings.

Open fronted bird boxes for flycatchers and bat boxes — earlier prototypes.

Now I’ve got to go and plan the new pond, we know exactly where to put it and its adjacent compost heap and en-suite woodpile. Our lizards need somewhere to bask with an air raid shelter, we’ve got just the rocks we need.

Seriously we found the exercise very helpful, now we realize that managing an area for wildlife is not a passive exercise. Those who think that any form of re-wilding threatens the rural lifestyle had better think again — even though we might only be cutting some of our hedges every other year (to get more berries) we will be generating lots of other activity.

Watch this space!

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Birds, Ecology

Not Stealing!

We’ve been asking ourselves increasingly what we can do for wildlife.

Yesterday a neighbour caught me interfering with the bank of withering meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense) outside the Presbyterian Chapel. Public spirited, he came to investigate — my sins had found me out. No, no, he reassured me… Helping ones self to seed is acceptable foraging — recycling and green.

Meadow Cranesbill by Rob Bendall

Armed with this intelligence later in the day I foraged a few red berries of Cotoneaster horizontalis from Ynes hir — all in a good cause. As I passed I remembered the deafening buzz of honey bees that emanated from the Cotoneaster that climbed over our shed in London and where my elder daughter, then about 5, opened her first Bumble Bee Hospital. It was she who made me read the books of Dave Goulson, evangelical champion of bees and the planet generally.

We have been thinking about pollinators, insects, food chains, berries and burrs and, of course, birds.

As far as providing for the birds is concerned, we seem to be doing quite well in the berry department, especially this year.

A very good year for Rowan, and plenty of blackberry and elderberry, though the birds have already made great inroads into the latter.

We have copious sloes on the blackthorn, haws on the whitethorn, hips on the dog rose that rambles in the hedges and sticky honeysuckle fruits on the woodbine and the birds are already harvesting the large crop of tiny apples — they are welcome. Not so to the few damsons — I need those for my gin.

The ivy is coming into bloom to produce lots of berries for the winter.

According to Mr Goulson we could do with a firethorn (Pyracantha — not strictly native) which I have always thought more appropriate for a suburban garden though Bill tells me one once saved his life when it enveloped him in its bouncy, interiorly-sprung prickles when he fell from a ladder!

Less alien might be a wayfarer tree and I know where there is one with lots of berries — at Rutland water — must go and find my balaclava!

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Climate, Wales

Last Sunny Day of Summer

Suddenly it’s the autumn equinox so we can’t waste a moment of late summer sunshine!

The beach between Borth and Ynys Las.
Crowds of people!
Looking towards Snowdonia.

It seems the Welsh weather has quite forgotten itself.

Bill sitting on the sea wall over which I climbed with my new knee (and got back!)
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