Thursday, 31 March 2011

Night patrol

Ecology is not all fluffy stuff. Sometimes difficult decisions need to be taken and the question of predator control falls into this category. Predation is a complex issue; killing is an action of last resort, when non-lethal options have been exhausted and there is clear evidence of a predation impact on the population of a declining species. The predation effect of foxes on the ‘honey-pot’ populations of waders on wet grassland nature reserves set in a wider degraded farmland is becoming better understood.

Last night I joined a fox patrol around a wet grassland nature reserve. The Landrover crept carefully around the reserve, lights dimmed, with the red light on top scanning left and right. When the tell-tale eye-shine of a fox is spotted, instant communication via lamp signals enable the vehicle to be quickly positioned to allow a shot to be taken. Four hours of creeping along banks and ditches, and slipping through near-invisible gateways, resulted in four brief contacts and one shot. This work takes skill, dedication and an intimate knowledge of the land, and is not at the top of the site managers list of favourite tasks. But if we are serious about having nature reserves that produce surplus birds to re-populate the wider countryside, this needs to be done where the case has been proven.

The up-side of the task is the joy of creeping near-silently around a moon-lit site. Redshank and Lapwing calling on all sides from somewhere amongst the shimmering pools. A flurry of ‘kluuting’ Avocets overhead, the regular ‘screep’ of Dunlin and the ‘puuu’ of a passing Golden Plover. Mind you, my ears were close to frozen-off when I finally stumbled off the back of the vehicle.

1 comment:

Paul Tout said...

Interesting stuff. You should spend some time with Malcolm Brockless &Co in N. Herts and the amazing things they've achieved with Grey Partridges against a backdrop of an ever-more degraded Herts countryside. Nobody wants to wipe out foxes, crows and grey squirrels ... well ok, maybe grey squirrels... but perhaps the huge numbers of breeding waders, gamebirds and farmland passerines were, in part, an artefact of two centuries of savage predator control.