Meet some more Potwell Inn visitors.

The foxes have been regular visitors all along. We’re wondering if this one has found the pond for a drink?
Badger passing through very quickly – probably jinxed by the sound of the camera.
Too tall for a Muntjac – so probably a Roe Deer eating the strawberry runners!!

We’re still experimenting with the best position to set the trailcam to get the best shots of passing animal traffic. Obviously the best location is the crossroad through which all visitors have to pass, but these videos suggest that we should create a slightly longer shot by setting the camera about 3 metres further away and looking west rather than east to avoid the morning sun burning out the picture. That would allow us to set the camera a tad higher without losing the smaller creatures.

There have been rumours about deer on the site for years, but no-one’s ever come up with any proof. The circumstantial evidence is there, with sweetcorn being eaten at cob height without breaking the plant off as badgers tend to do. Rats climb up the stalks but leave half the cobs untouched – same as squirrels.

There’s a real dilemma here for us. We’ve worked hard to create a wildlife garden that’s still productive. We think we’ve succeeded in the butterfly/insect/moth/bee/fly/ amphibian department. As I’ve previously written, the competition between prey and predators seems to have reduced insect damage to the food crops; but although it’s delightful to see these larger mammals on the plot, they can wreak havoc there. It’s likely the deer was disturbed by a tremendously loud Michael Bublé concert in front of Royal Crescent on Friday and Saturday, although that’s a pure guess. Roe deer are brilliant as concealing themselves – we once photographed half a dozen of them clearing up windfall apples in our previous garden.

Roe Deer photographed in our previous garden on New Years Eve 2013

Badgers, of course, are a major predator of hedgehogs which makes it impossible to know whether the reason we’ve never seen hedgehogs on the site is down to predation or the excessive use of slug pellets and rat poison. It’s the age old problem that always occurs when we interfere in an ecosystem. There’s no doubt that hedgehogs would be a tremendous asset in controlling slugs. The blackbirds do a great job hunting the path edges; and robins also help control soil pests as well as worms. We see Buzzards overhead and it’s only a matter of time before the introduced Eastern and Welsh populations of Red Kite meet and become frequent flyers. What with Peregrines nesting on St John’s Church, we’re potentially well ahead with avian predators to hunt our rats – a truly joyful prospect. Pigeons are a major problem on the allotment and any brassicas that aren’t securely netted are likely to be eaten back to the ribs. The thing about animal predation is that animals kill to meet their immediate needs. Even foxes, when they kill a dozen or so hens – which has happened to us at least three times – would come back, drag them away and bury them; especially when they’ve got cubs.

As ever we just have to get out of the way and stop pretending that the earth exists purely for our benefit and give up shooting, poisoning and trapping these creatures. I sometimes have to pinch myself to think that all these wild beings are living in the centre of a busy city like Bath; probably because we have so many parks and gardens, along with significant wildlife corridors along the river and reaching out in other directions, north and south.

Just as an aside, I was astounded to see a BBC report this week that up in the pine forests of Scotland, the foxes eat significant quantities of dog poo. Who knows what cleaning up they do on the green outside the flat! Apparently it has the same calorific value as the usual prey species and it doesn’t run away. Who’d have thought it?

So what do we do about the deer and the badgers? It seems perfectly reasonable to fence our vulnerable crops because neither species is going to disappear as long as there are so many alternative sources of food. I daresay they’ll still come down and mooch about a bit, then hopefully wander off somewhere else having posed for the trailcam. On the other hand I remember watching a badger completely demolish a fence we’d just installed around the Head Groundsman’s garden. In this case there was nothing to eat – he just resented having his customary route blocked . A 24lb male badger repeatedly throwing himself against a fence until it broke was a memorable and chastening sight. The best laid plans of mice and men ….. etc

This is what a cold front looks like

IMG_5484Just when we thought the rain had passed us by altogether and we’d gone up to the allotment to fix the straining wires for the cordon tomatoes, the sky turned threateningly black and we had to scarper for shelter in the shed.  The signs were all there as the cold front bore down on us. The temperature dropped by 10C since yesterday and the southerly winds moved south west bringing moisture laden clouds into cold air.  There was only one way to go, and it poured down.  We took our jackets and tops off – it’s easier to dry a T shirt – and we quickly finished and packed up.

I don’t usually show such unflattering pictures, but this one, looking east from the boundary of our allotments, shows the sky more clearly.  As you can see, our neighbouring allotments are unoccupied and a bit like weed factories. When the rosebay willow herb starts sharing its seeds I’ll go over it with a strimmer, but really we’re at the mercy of whatever comes our way.  And there’s the paradox and the dilemma of so-called “rewilding”. We can all see the point of it, but when push comes to shove we’d like all our weeds downwind of the prevailing SW wind; and continually weeding out rosebay and dandelion is a pain. On the other hand I was blessed with a beautiful sighting of a fox.  We looked at each other but so far as I could see there was no cuddly mutual recognition, our worlds were so utterly different, nd so we went our separate ways.

Ironically it felt as if the ‘hungry gap’ finished today with the rain.

We came home and I cooked spaghetti puttanesca using our own new season garlic, chillies and basil along with our own passata prepared in the autumn. We’ve been eating our own green salads for ages but somehow today, chopping a fat bulb of green garlic, it seemed different.  Praise be!

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