News from the Riverside: February 2020:
Working with animals brings a range of issues and problems whether it be injured swans or grazing livestock from a lame or sick cow to corralling cattle for general treatment or removal at the end of the season. Over the years, however, there have been other incidents that have required the attention of the ranger staff when people have required immediate ‘front-line’ assistance. These have been many and varied, but the following come to mind as a little out of the ordinary.
A relatively recent incident involved a cat which was in the habit of bringing its wildlife trophies indoors which, unfortunately, they are sometimes prone to do. Perhaps cats should be equipped with a bell to warn wildlife that a predator is in the vicinity and is out to try and catch them. In this case the cat was no ‘spring-chicken’ but thirteen years old. In spite of its considerable age one day it brought a stoat through the house and into the bathroom. The stoat, however, turned out to be very much alive and was in a state of panic. A trap was provided from which it escaped and by the time it was captured in a smaller ‘live-trap’ sixteen hours later, it had fairly covered the bathroom in ‘messages’ and left an extremely strong odour which is associated with the mustelid family. Happily, the stoat was returned unharmed to the wild.
On another occasion a householder asked for advice about numerous holes in the vegetable garden which had appeared over a period of about eight weeks. The vegetables suffered as the holes appeared to be dug in a completely indiscriminate manner. The culprit was easy to identify because the spring had been very dry and the ground out in the fields and woods very hard. A badger was desperate for food, and indeed, may well have been feeding young. It had resorted to night-time raids on the vegetable plot because earth-worms were very hard to come by in the drought and these normally comprise a very large part of a badger’s diet. The attraction of the vegetable plot, however, was not worms but Jerusalem artichokes which are very small and hardly filling for an animal the size of a badger. Adverse conditions, however, called for desperate measures.
There have been numerous unusual messages about snakes over the years and one regular visitor to the riverside had an unusually close encounter. Whilst whiling away a couple of hours on a riverside bench he experienced some minor irritations to the back of his neck. He then walked to his local shop and whilst queuing was informed by the person behind him that there was something moving about in his hoodie. Rather surprisingly he shook out a young grass snake.
On another occasion there was a grass snake in a guest room at the Mill Hotel and they have also turned up in houses too. Another rather extraordinary incident involved a lady who was in the process of hanging out her washing. She had hung the peg bag on the rotary line and dipped her hand in to extract some pegs. Instead, she grabbed hold of a snake and quite a surprise that would have been. The peg bag had been in a cupboard under the stairs until required and presumably the snake had entered the house and slithered in. However, even this was a bit out of the ordinary because when the bag was checked it was clear that the snake was not native to this country but an exotic. Fortunately, it was a harmless corn snake and, upon enquiry at the adjacent houses, it was soon reunited with its owner.
Adrian Walters, Clerk to the Trustees of the Sudbury Common Lands Charity, Ranger, and Honorary Freeman of Sudbury