A week of warm days and spurts of Spring growth, the next week frost, high wind and hail. No wonder flora and fauna are confused and often discombobulated. The daffodils were flattened and other plants left punch drunk. Luckily there’s no blossom out yet so fruit setting will not be affected.
Sitting out in the open sided porch in the good weather phase we were startled by the sudden appearance of a bat – a common pipistrelle as it turned out – awake from hibernation in a thumb width gap between porch roof beam and stonewall.
A fair weather walk on open access fellside a drive away yielded fine views over the valley and beyond, with a pall of static smoke hugging the northern horizon. Almost certainly heather moorland being burnt to stop it getting leggy and to encourage new growth which in turn favours the game birds kept upon it by the landed estates and shooting syndicates. Swaling, as it’s called, is a practice attracting increasing opposition from environmental and anti-field sports bodies. Carbon capture and storage is a major concern in combating climate change and this once widely accepted process on upland peat soils – especially in National Parks – is a controversial issue in the debate on land management in the 21st century.
A little later we came across another reminder of rural practice that’s far more disturbing to most people. Our attention was caught by what looked like a chicken coop, made of battens and wire, but with an inverted V shaped top. Following off road tyre tracks we approached for a closer look. The coop was populated not by poultry but by a dozen or so corvids – crows mainly I think – flapping their wings, calling, rising & falling. It dawned on me what I was looking at – a Larsen trap, named after the Danish gamekeeper who developed it in the 1950’s. Banned in that country today but perfectly legal here apparently, if done under licence, with water and food placed into the cage in order to make it legal. A live decoy bird – often with clipped wings – is set as bait and the other birds are lured by its calls. Landing on the inverted top they fall through its trap. At some point the keepers will come back in their vehicle, enter the trap and screw the necks of the inmates and dispose of the bodies. Further research reveals that these traps are normally placed near private woodlands, off the beaten track, in use during the game breeding season to control predators like these corvids, so it was unusual to see one here on open moorland off a bridle path, albeit on private land owned by somebody with gaming interests.
Away from the darker side of country life we were bemused another day when out on a local stroll from home by the sight of a flock of sheep abandoning their rough grazing, with hopes of being fed, trailing behind that rarest of sights these days – a long distance walker on the national trail – after he had stopped to take bearings before trudging on. Unusually he looked rather ill equipped as beside the obligatory rucksack on his back he was also bearing carrier bags in either hand. Later, we spied him back on track and about to cross the lane near home. Intrigued I engaged him in conversation at a style. Turns out our young hiker, a South African based in Derbyshire, was turning his furlough from work into a walking holiday of a lifetime having set off from the north end of the Pennine Way at Kirk Yetholm to get back home at the south end. (A 268 mile trek). He said that the worst aspect was his terrible guidebook, and that so many places en route were closed, due to the pandemic. He was a cheerful soul though and must be tough enough to have done the 45 miles already covered. The bags got lighter as he progressed he assured me. Kim appeared with another shopping bag to replace one that was badly ripped but otherwise our young friend refused our offers of assistance by way of water or nourishment. He was looking forward to finding a good place to bed down by the forest’s edge and enjoy his first cup of tea for days, due to a mix up over camping gas fittings and cartridges which he’d only just that day manage to sort. Our hearts went out to him as his weary figure disappeared from view, but felt enriched by his words. ‘ I didn’t want to spend my spare time moping about, watching Netflix all day and being bored’ he joked. Now, that’s the spirit!