20th April 2020
Dear Lady Amelia,
First of all, apologies for the apparently impersonal letter. I’m proficient on my PC but my hand-writing is appalling nowadays!
I hope this letter will find you fit and well in this strangest of times. I just wanted to drop you a line to let you know that I am respectfully avoiding the Estate during the Government lockdown period. While, arguably, my presence would probably be innocuous I have to consider that living down here on the edge of the City makes me a bit more likely to pick up the corona virus. It would break my heart to be the one responsible for bringing it up to Hartwell Hall. Even BASC and the Countryside Alliance are advising that in the current climate, vermin control is ‘not essential’ and can be caught up with later. I have already been stopped once while shopping for essentials due to my vehicle number plate (AR11 GUN). The officer who pulled me over on the Fakenham Road thought I was going shooting. I opened my tailgate and showed him the shopping bags! I was somewhat grateful that he chose to stop me on the way to Tesco’s and not on the way back. I’m not sure my supply of whisky and red wine would have been considered ‘essential’? There was food on-board too, honestly!
Restricted to walking locally (always with a camera around my neck) I am missing Hartwell Hall dreadfully. At this time of year the Estate is such a rich pageant of fauna, flora, colour and sound. Have the rooks tried to build above Brush Hill again? Two years ago they threw up a handful of nests, making a claim on the high trees. Last Spring they didn’t return, which puzzled me. Was the breakaway colony (from those at the Lodge) usurped by their own species or did the buzzards hassle them too much? I hope the latter, for I love to see the buzzards (I feed them on squirrel carcasses when they are nearby). Rooks are completely xenophobic where raptors are concerned. Yet I rarely shoot rooks. They too are iconic … and we all know too well the long association between the white-faced crow and it’s choice of home. There is a ‘reverse’ truth in the myth that if the rookery is abandoned, an estate will perish. The birds are dependent on tilled soil as they raise their young in the nest. Earthworms and leatherjackets are vital protein for both parent and chick. When arable agriculture stops, the rooks may abandon the rookery and move closer to a reliable food source. So the abandoned rookery often reflects hard times but doesn’t foretell them.
This time last year, almost to the day, I removed two families of foxes at the edge of Greenfinch Covert in one afternoon with the .17HMR rifle. I had been watching the area for days having spotted cubs ‘exploring’ outside a hidden den late one morning when I only had an air-rifle with me. When the cubs had returned to the earth, I walked over and checked the den. I found two dens, both surrounded by pheasant and leveret carcasses. Thankfully, no evidence of peacock kills. It was a grim afternoon (for I love to see old Charlie about now and again) and something of a surprise. I took out four cubs and a vixen and was surprised to watch two more cubs emerge from other den just ten feet away from the first. Another vixen followed them out and I culled all three animals. Two adults and six cubs in broad daylight.
The squirrels, as always, just keeping coming. Thankfully not in the numbers we used to see ten years ago, but they still quickly fill any vacuum created. Most of my squirrel work (except for close to the house and cottages) is done now with my .22LR rifle as it’s more reliable than the air rifle. Young David, the woodman, has stopped me once or twice and asked if I could cull the tree-rats at the bird feeders from your kitchen window but I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I prefer a more ‘sporting’ approach!
There are now hares in abundance on the Estate but I’m sure we must lose some leverets to the buzzards as well as the foxes. Old ‘Puss’ is fairly adept at hiding her young but a sharp eye or keen nose will often undo her intentions.
If this awful virus has brought one benefit it will be the delay of planned works on the distributor road extension. That work is going to break my heart when it starts, yet I understand the logic behind its location. Don’t forget to check out my website photo galleries now and then. Many of the photos were taken at Hartwell Hall. The site address is at the bottom of the letter.
Anyhow, I’ve rattled on a bit so I’ll let you get on. I will be back amongst the vermin as soon as lockdown is lifted. If you need my help with anything, please just ask. Stay safe and stay well.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, April 2020