An extract from ‘Hunting and Fieldcraft …’


Crop, Shrub, Tree, Flower and Fruit

“Growing crops are often why the landowner gives you, the hunter, the mandate to shoot vermin species on their fields. Spend some time studying crops. Know how to identify them during the various stages of growth. Understand when the seed is likely to be drilled, which creatures will attack them as they ripen and when they will be gathered … for harvest time is a bumper time for vermin control. As the crop develops, its raiders will have burrows, lairs, roosts, dreys and nests close by. Seek them out. You don’t have to learn each variety of crop, just their types. Grain crops like wheat, barley, rye or oats will be plundered both at seed stage and when the ears are ripe … by woodpigeons and rooks. Broadleaved crops such as oilseed rape, pea, cabbage, bean, sugar beet and potato will come under attack from above and below. Pigeons will raid rape, pea and bean fruits as they ripen. Rabbits will be gnawing at the tubers of beet, carrot, swede and potato. Give a warren of rabbits a crop of cabbage or lettuce nearby and they will be in ‘nirvana’. Note though that unlike rats, who will up-sticks and re-home to the hedgerows or pits to follow the grain crops, rabbits never move the warren. They are at the mercy of the farmers choice.

Do you know what shrubs make up the hedgerow? The hedgerows we see now are generally the remnants of the man-made boundaries laid during the land enclosures of the eighteenth century. Hawthorn and blackthorn were a wide choice due to their ability to spread and their natural barbs, which barricaded the fields from incursion. Both are favourite haunts of magpies and jays, for exactly the same reason. Their density protects both nest and bird. Elderberry, holly and mistletoe (which have seeded and established among the thorny shrubs and trees) will attract woodpigeon, particularly when their fruits are ripe. Mistletoe is particularly fascinating as it has no root in the earth. It’s a parasitic shrub, its seed often dropped into the split bark of a tree in the faeces of a passing bird, so it often springs up relatively high in a host tree. Consider this … it can only germinate when both a male and female gamete have been deposited together. Look around the wood next time you see mistletoe and marvel at how Mother Nature put those two necessary seeds together. Probably in the pre-packed fertiliser package of a lump of bird squit which slid conveniently into the open crevice of bark cover on the tree it now covers. The birds that gave it birth now nest in it, roost in it and feed on its fruit. So they will spread the seed again, elsewhere. A cycle that confirms the symbiosis that surrounds Mother Nature. Learn how to recognise these bushes and their berries. The hedgerow also harbours songbird nests (blackbird, chaffinch, linnet, dunnock, greenfinch etc) while its base will hide ground-nesting species such as pheasant, partridge and yellowhammer.

Is a tree merely that to you? Just a tree? To the wild creature, the tree can be a complete eco-system. It will hide it, home it, water it and feed it. The oak tree is a perfect example of this. The grey squirrel will build its drey in the oaks cleft, it will scamper easily up its deep bark when pursued and disappear into a hollow. In summer it will cavort in its lush canopy and in autumn will harvest the crop of ripening acorns, eating some, burying others around the forest floor.

What have flowers got to do with hunting, I hear the reader ask? In the main, for me, they are indicators of both the season and the health of the environment. The first snowdrops and aconites should tell you that the crow and magpie are now mated and prospecting for territories and nests. The winter squirrels mating’s have borne fruit and the offspring are being nurtured. By the time the daffodil and wild garlic appear, the corvid nests have eggs under brood. The vixen will have blind cubs to tend and the rooks are repairing their nests. The blessing of virgin-white blackthorn blossom portends the emergence of the squirrel kits and the buzzards are engaged in majestic courtship flight. Throughout the year, each appearing flower signals vibrance and health … for flowers are the harbourers of pollen and the harbingers of fruit. Fruit such as apple, blackberry, elderberry, cherry, ivy berry, acorn, sweet chestnut, hazel nut, beech mast. All of which feed our mainstay quarry.”

To read more, the book is available via www.wildscribbler.com/books

Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, June 2019

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