Last two winters tough on the wildlife - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Last two winters tough on the wildlife

VETERINARY PRACTICE’s
conservation correspondent is pleased to
welcome back the birds from their
summer sojourn

THE summer was lousy and has disappeared into history. The summer visitors have gone and there always seems to be a brief window when there are fewer birds around before the skies and garden echo to the sound of birds that we have not seen for six months. Now is the epoch of the winter visitor: Britain offers sanctuary to many millions of them after their summer spent further north or further east in mainland Europe and beyond. Driving to work this last few days I have marvelled at the skeins of geese ribboning across the lightening sky, noting also the thousands grazing in some of the fields down below the road as I pass.

Fieldfare flock

Then yesterday, as I went outside to feed the poultry, a flock of a hundred or so fieldfares flew into the elder trees in our front garden. The branches will soon have been stripped clean and the fieldfares will then turn their attention to the hawthorn berries before later in the winter making their living from foraging for worms and grubs on the pastureland. Worth noting too is the number of dead badgers I’ve seen on the road in the last few weeks. On a 20-mile stretch of road I’ve counted five, from first season well-grown cubs to a large old boar that had obviously seen a few years come and go and crossed the road many times before. It is the same every year, a spate of badger deaths in the autumn and another spate in the early spring, both I guess tied in with the relative increase in badger activity at these times of the year. It also speaks volumes about the number of live badgers there must be in the area if this number are being killed on the road. No wonder bovine TB is such a difficult problem to tackle. The last couple of winters have been very hard for wildlife with long periods of snow cover and sub-zero temperatures in many parts of the country. Such conditions make it particularly tough for our small birds who must find food on an almost hourly basis to maintain their body temperature. Birds like robins and blue tits are familiar to us all and I’m pleased to say that we have seen many young robins around of late, suggesting that they’ve had a successful breeding season, replacing the losses sustained last winter. The same goes for blackbirds with large numbers of youngsters visiting the garden throughout the summer. We see them now helping themselves to the windfall apples on the lawn, along with the occasional red admiral butterfly when we have one of the rare sunny days we’ve experienced this autumn.

Swooping bats

One advantage of the lack of sun through overcast skies is that so far the frost has largely kept away. No frost means that there are still plenty of insects around and I see the bats most nights swooping around the pond as I
go round shutting in the poultry. Keeping the hens safe at night is a major challenge in the winter months. Foxes abound round here and as the winter progresses they become emboldened by the long dark nights and I guess by an empty stomach too. We lost several hens to fox attack at the height of the cold spell last year, perhaps a touch of complacency on our part in shutting them in too late. And once a fox has a taste for poultry, breaking the habit can be very difficult, even with a houseful of dogs to call on. The fox seems to know when the dogs are not around and can do much damage in a very short space of time. We are feeding the birds in the garden heavily now and as usual the great spotted woodpecker has returned. There is something very exotic about seeing this magnificent bird through the lounge window and great pleasure to be gained from knowing that we are helping it and many other birds to survive.

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