‘Wild’ life

I had bought 4 Wyandotte bantams late last summer – one cockerel and three females, and I settled them in an ark where, I thought, they would be safe from predators. They were happy little souls, going about their business as bantams do, and rewarding my ministrations with a reasonable supply of little white eggs and a feisty morning wake-up call from the handsome cock, and all was well. Until, that is, the day I went down the garden in the late afternoon to feed the menagerie and they did not come out of their house when I put some bread in their run. Mystified – far too early for them to have gone to bed for the night – I looked in their house and they were all dead. They looked as if they had been picked up and thrown.

I couldn’t understand it – it was possible that a rat could have got into their house, as there was a small gap around the edge of the roof, but nothing larger. And it was very unlikely that a rat would have killed something that size – let alone four of them in one go. It looked more like the sort of thing that a fox would do, except that they all had their heads – and there was no possible way that a fox could have got to them.

All was made clear a couple of days later. Candy, our Golden Retriever, has always been a ratter (she kind of mumbles them to death) and she was sniffing around the bottom of the ark so I tried to move it. A long, low, dark little thing came out into the run and then darted back under the house again. I moved it again, and this time it made a run for it into the open air – whereupon Candy promptly grabbed it and killed it and I had my chicken killer. It looked like a ferret – so I asked Rob, who keeps ferrets, to take a look. It was a mink!

I then found out that someone on Plough Lane had lost 12 chickens to a mink, and someone else had seen two in a ditch in Plough Lane in the summer. So my dead mink is not the only one, and I am now very careful about the new threat to my chickens. Apparently, rather like foxes, they kill for the pleasure of it, and they drink the blood of their victims. It does put a different twist on the words ‘garden wildlife’ – sometimes it is just a bit too wild out there.


What a strange winter so far – the ice on my goats’ water trough has never been more than wafer thin in the morning, and most days the temperature has been almost in double figures. My poor chickens are wading around in mud, but have hardly stopped laying, so they can’t mind it as much as I do, and the bottom of my garden is a permanent bog. The experts said that global warming would bring warm, wet winters, and they were right. I don’t remember them threatening wild as well, but it has certainly been wild.

LEAP’s pond clearing day in December, tackling the pond by the village hall car park, was a mild and not wild day, and it was good fun if extraordinarily muddy. Hard work too! It’s surprising how tough it is dragging weed out of the water – I suppose you are doing the job at arm’s length most of the time, and the weed is very heavy because it is water logged. Two intrepid souls used the waders that we had been lent, and the borrowed cromes were also very useful, and we managed to reach our target, of clearing one third of the pond, in less than the two hours which we always allocate to a working party. I know two hours doesn’t sound long, but when you are working hard, it is quite long enough! Particularly in winter when, however mild, you still get chilly after a while.

Most of the weed taken out of the pond was put in a trailer for taking away – after it was thoroughly examined for wildlife; some, taken from further out into the pond, was stacked by the side so that any creatures that had been removed with it could find their way back. I expect we will go back and remove that in the early spring, but we won’t do any more work to the pond this year now, as the newts will start moving into it in the early spring, and will need to be left well alone all summer and autumn.

It would be good if we could make the pond a bit bigger – it looks like it was at one stage, but has gradually filled up with silt over the years. The more water area we can make, the better variety of wildlife we can attract, which would be lovely. And the trees surrounding the pond need pollarding as well, so that they are not overhanging the pond so much, and more light will be let in. Another nice thing was spotting a mouse in the pile of pipes that were, I suppose, part of the drainage system from the car park to the pond at one time. We would like to protect these pipes with some logs around and on top of them, so that anything using them as a home will feel properly protected.

And, to top it all, at least no-one fell in – this time!

[Ed: see the image gallery for Claire’s pictures]


When you think back to the days (only a year or so ago!) that we had to diligently separate all our recycling into different boxes, and woe betide you if you put something in the wrong box, or tried to recycle something that was not on the list – when you were likely to get the whole lot chucked back at you! – the one-bin policy is absolute bliss. So much more is recyclable, and you can even put out extra stuff if you have filled your bin, so no more trips to Elmbridge or to the cardboard bank with all the stuff that had mounted up at home.

But – how do Waverley do it? We investigated for a presentation to the Ewhurst Village Society last autumn and found that everything is bulked up and sent to their Southwark Materials Recovery facility. Here it’s all loaded onto a conveyor belt and sorted by means of machines, mainly. For instance, a huge magnet takes off steel cans, an eddy current makes aluminium ones jump off the belt, and jets of air blow the plastic items off. Disc screens sort things into different sizes and, then, anything that can’t be sorted mechanically is sorted by hand. Finally, the bits and pieces that can’t be recycled are left on the conveyor belt, travel to the end, and are taken away to be disposed with ordinary refuse.

Once it is all sorted, everything makes it way to a new home: paper goes to a papermill in Kent, and is made into new paper; glass is made into new glass bottles in Essex, cardboard into more cardboard. Aluminium cans are turned into more cans. Foil, food containers, steel cans and aerosols are made into more cans, paper clips and even parts for bicycles and cars.

Food waste is taken to two sites that use anaerobic digestion treatment. Disposing of food waste to landfill is no longer acceptable because of the damage it does to the environment and its contribution to climate change through methane and other gases escaping into the atmosphere. Increasingly it is prohibited by regulations and made expensive through the imposition of special landfill taxes. Food waste is a serious problem – some 18 million tonnes is produced in the UK every year, of which roughly 6 million tonnes has to be collected by local authorities.

In anaerobic digesters food waste breaks down into methane gas. All this methane gas is captured and super-efficient gas engines then use it to generate renewable electricity and heat– all that remains is a liquid fertiliser, rich in nutrients, which goes back onto the land to grow crops, substituting for fossil fuel derived fertilisers. During the process, no methane is released to the atmosphere.

Who would have guessed that rubbish could be so fascinating!