Buzzards soaring, a jay collecting nuts, a huge flock of geese flying over, chattering long-tailed tits in the wood and a dipper on the beck, a great-spotted woodpecker and a green woodpecker calling from the garden. That’s not a bad start for a single morning in December. And, of course, the barn owl which is still putting in an appearance most mornings.
Watching nature is good for the soul and I never get tired of it.
But not all in our natural world is rosy. Many of you will have seen the remnants of a bird which has provided lunch for a hungry sparrowhawk. Other birds are the hawk’s staple diet from the humble sparrow up to anything else pigeon size. Foxes, badgers, magpies, crows, owls and even great-spotted woodpeckers will take young birds given half a chance, particularly at breeding time. This is about survival and these otherwise loveable animals are doing just what comes natural.
But there’s another beautiful but opportunistic predator about our village, which is not good news. Last week, my neighbours texted to tell me of an American mink eating a frog in Ox Field Beck. These semi-aquatic mustelids keep making appearances on and near the beck and I’ve had them on my trailcam in the wood up Long Tongue Scrog Lane. Introduced from America in 1929 for the fur trade, they are now widespread in the UK following escapes and deliberate releases from captivity. They will eat just about anything from fish, small mammals, invertebrates and birds. Although there are other reasons why the water vole is in serious decline, American mink have certainly helped these beautiful little creatures on their way.
While other predators hardly make a dent in prey numbers, the American mink is quite capable of emptying your pond of anything living. And I’m reminded of the World War II jibe at the American GI’s, ‘Overpaid, Over-sexed and Over Here’. The American mink is well and truly ‘over here’ and it is certainly not behaving.
But that brings me to another debate because there are plenty of animals now resident in the UK which arrived fairly recently from elsewhere in the world and there has to be a time when we accept their presence and learn to live with them. If you’ve ever seen a black swan, you may or may not know that they’re from Australia. One of our favourite owls, the cute ‘little owl’ was introduced to the UK in the 19th Century, the grey squirrel was imported from America and has devastated the red squirrel population, and even the pheasant is an incomer. So, the question is when do we just ‘live and let live’ and when do we say ‘enough is enough’ It is easy if they’re pleasing to the eye and relatively harmless but not so easy if they’re a voracious predator. I’ll leave that one with you…