”At last there is light at the end of winters long tunnel”
February 2016 Nature and Wildlife update – Gamekeeper Andy Malcolm
At last there is light at the end of winters long tunnel. It’s been a hard one for most. The long periods of wet weather has put man and beast to the test. It can be hard enough leaving the shelter of a Land Rover but when you know you’re going to have to ford swollen rivers and crawl around on the saturated ground (stalking deer), it can take every ounce of your resolve.
But it has been a lot worse for the wildlife. The deer are in as poor condition as I’ve seen for 20 years. By mid- Jan we were seeing groups of calves falling out of the herds. This is a thing you dont normally see here until mid feb, and not to this extent. When we come across a group like this we try and shoot them. Their chances of survivng the winter on their own is slim.
I often wonder what happens to the small mammals in flood conditions. I suppose a lot of them are wiped out. certainly I’ve seen huge craters on the haughs (flats by the river) where a rabbit warren once was, now totally scoured out. Surprisingly, the rabbits that are left (the ones that live on hillsides!) are in great condition. I suppose that’s the advantage of being able to get shelter from the rain. Snow tends to hit rabbits harder as they hasve trouble getting through it to their food. Deer on the other hand fare worse with constant wet weather. In the snow, they are usually able to paw through to the heather below.
But now we’re enjoying some unseasonally kind weather. The songbirds are starting to live up to their name. The very first of the waders are appearing and the squirrels are feeding like crazy. The first of the snowdrops are just starting to stick their heads above ground and, underground, the moles are going into overdrive.
Now’s the time of year many hill keepers get their heather burning done. When it goes well, you really feel like you’re making a difference. When it goes badly, you’re making the 6 o clock news! It’s a big responsibility and getting that intricate mosaic of different heather lengths can be a real black art. It’s amazing how many visitors to the moors just don’t see it.
Now we’ve finished with the stalking, it’s time to catch up on all the other jobs that have been on hold for so long. And that includes putting right all the roads, fences and bridges that have been damaged in the floods. No rest for the wicked…..