The fruits of our labour

As September draws to a close – what a month! The driest September on record and temperatures in the mid 20’s – just wonderful! Of course this does mean Autumn is very late coming this year; hardly any change in the colour of the leaves and blackberries still hanging on in there – one of the best blackberry harvests I can remember.

LEAP held a footpath working party on Saturday, and yet another day dawned warm and sunny as we gathered in the Village Hall car park. However rain – yes finally rain – was forecast and sure enough the weather men were spot on! The plan was to work on a footpath running alongside Parliament Farm from the Old House driveway. Last year LEAP started clearing this path which was very over grown and becoming muddy during the winter months due to lack of sunlight reaching through the overgrowth to help dry out the ground. It is a very well used path therefore it was felt that it was a good use of time to try and keep the path maintained. We all got off to a great start in the sunshine clipping and trimming away the hawthorn bushes and trailing brambles, carefully avoiding the sloes. Suddenly the sky started to change to a very ominous black and within minutes the wind had whipped up followed by heavy driving rain. Not to be defeated we all carried on working and luckily being under overhanging trees, managed to stay relatively dry. The rain did ease and a significant difference was made to the path with a couple of hours. If you think you might like to join in with any of the LEAP working parties, new volunteers are always very welcome. We are a very friendly bunch and it is a rewarding way to spend a couple of hours out in the countryside.

The following day I decided instead of my usual Pitch Hill walk that I would try a new route and incorporate the footpath we worked on the previous day. It was such a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon and I came across several families also out walking this route – so good to see others enjoying the ‘fruits of our labour’!

Alien species

We are all too well aware of the damage that the arrival, by deliberate human action or not can and has done to the natural equilibrium of the British environment. Mink and grey squirrels are just two sad examples. [See Joanna’s April blog – Ed.] I thought a few lines on the disastrous impact of the introduction into Australia by European settlers, some of whom must have come from this part of Surrey, have had on the native wildlife. This was particularly so as the Australian continent had been isolated from the rest of the world for a very long time, to the extent that much animal life had evolved quite differently. I visit Australia every year or so to see my family and read about and encountered a little of their problems. As an example, to protect themselves from further problems, on arrival you are not allowed to bring in any vegetable product at all. Even a wooden ornament is barred. You have to declare that you do not live in or have visited any rural area recently. If you have you are sidelined at immigration for interrogation.

One introduction was of rabbits. Some early settlers, possibly to make it more like home released a few. They prospered and spread. They competed with native species for grazing. Worse, there were, despite the snakes and dingos, few native predators to keep them in check. Worse still, when one of Australia’s regular serious droughts came, the rabbits, unlike native grazers resorted to pulling out the roots of the grass, these are much more fleshy than normal English grass, so the when rain eventually came again the surface structure of the soil had been destroyed. No grass grew and what was grassland too easily became desert. All attempts to control them have failed. Remember the rabbit proof fence from north to south.

The immigrants also brought with them domestic dogs and cats. While these remain domestic and in towns they are not too much of a problem. But some escape and become feral. The immigrants also brought and released some foxes, so the they could have hunts, just like home. The native fauna, often trusting by nature, did not and still does not recognise these as dangerous predators and suffer accordingly. The Western Australian authorities put down a brand of poison in National park areas to control these feral interlopers to which native animals have natural immunity, and put up warning notices to any dog walkers.

A more recent deliberate introduction has been of cane toads from South America to Queensland to keep in check insects on the sugar cane, a major crop there. Unfortunately these toads did not eat the insects, but thrived on other native creatures. They too have prospered and spread across tropical northern Australia. Worse they carry a poison that will kill any potential predator. The last I read was that the authorities were relieved that they did appear to spread outside tropical areas. I hope and presume that they are trying to find a poison that will affect only these toads.

We may have our mink and our grey squirrels and many more, but they are not all in the same league as some of these.