Denise: Our Ash trees, here at The Big Garden, are doing well! Here they are in full but still tender leaf in the strong May sunshine. Loathe to tempt fate, but so far no sign of die-back. If it got to Uist, it would be because some ***** imported them rather than propogated from native Uist stock.
Jonathan: I’m standing on the beach at low tide with the sea gently lapping to and fro around my legs. I’d like to say that my feet are bare and I can feel the ebbing waves sucking the sand away from beneath my heels, but the truth is I’ve got my wellies on, and for that matter my boiler suit and work-gloves on too. I’m on the beach for the purposes of work, but that doesn’t make it any the less a pleasure : in fact I think the pleasure may be all the greater for the fact that it is transitory, unplanned, and breaks upon me as suddenly as does the recollection I have to finish the job before our evening meal. After an inauspiciously cold and grey start, and a forecast for little better than sunshine and showers, it’s proved to be a truly glorious day! After the usual morning rounds of animal husbandry, we completed a ‘turnaround’ at Carrick as early as possible, and came home to get the administration done and then an early lunch – our first home-grown salad-lunch of the year. All this afternoon we were out in the garden in warm sunshine: I was digging over two growing areas, and breaking down the clumps ; Denise followed behind, raking out and treading down the soil, and then sowing peas – lots of peas (to give you an idea of how many – we’re still enjoying peas we put in the freezer late last summer), planting the last rows of potatoes (an assortment of varieties – left over from earlier planting), and planting out pot-grown flat-leaf parsley. ‘Afternoon tea’ was in the garden too, in a sunny spot sheltered from the crisp north breeze, our conversation interwoven with the back-and-forth song contest between blackbirds on their neighbouring lengths of the high garden wall, the lapping of the sea on the beach, and the call of skylarks high above and overlapping all. As the sun’s strength began to wane, we kicked the soil off our boots, cleaned the tools and returned them to the shed. But not the border fork, as there was just one last job for me whilst Denise was getting our meal ready. Down to the beach, with fork and barrow … and here I am, standing amidst the tumble and draw of the waves (very small waves, it must be said – for this has been a very tranquil day) forking a smorgasbord of seaweeds – kelps, sea-grass, sea-lettuce, bladder-wrack, all tousled and tangled together – into the barrow. Next: up the soft sandy path between the banks of marram grass, across the road and back through the south gate into the garden. First stop: greenhouse three where – yes I know this may seem strange, but I’ll explain some other time – we currently have a dozen pullets and two older Welsumer hens, and they like nothing better than picking over a pile of seaweed for all those tasty sand-hopper, fly-maggots, or wee tidbits from the weed itself. A couple of fork-fulls to them, then the rest to the Buff Orpington’s in their yard in the south-east corner of the garden ; and then the ‘spent’ seaweed to gather up and barrow to the compost heap – enriched with … well what chickens enrich everything with. And then? “Jonathan! I’m dishing up!”.
Jonathan: Here in Uist, there’s plenty for rats to eat along and close to the shore – from birds eggs in summer to spilt livestock feed in winter : and with mild winters and limited predators higher up the food chain, and innumerable nooks and crannies in which to shelter and nest, rats proliferate. Uist has a quite a problem with Rattus Norvegicus. Rats do so much more harm than just damage property and spoil feed. They have to be controlled. This has nothing to do with the commonplace abhorrence towards rats – it’s a question of practicality. Many people rely entirely on using poison, but even when used properly, the rats suffer a slow and agonizing death, and the contaminated corpses remain to poison other living creatures – birds of prey, but potentially also our own domestic cats. So Denise and I absolutely refuse to use poison ; and as to other methods, they have to despatch the rat reliably and quickly, be safe for us and other people and animals, and straightforward to set and retrieve. We’ve tried various designs of trap, both lethal and live, sophistication and cost with results as varied as the contraptions. Over the years, we’ve found that the old-fashioned simple spring trap (think Tom and Jerry and a wedge of cheese!) remains the best ; but it does need steely nerves and great care to set, and we’ll only use them under an up-turned plastic fish-box, to avoid ‘collateral damage, and that takes up a lot of space. However they don’t always kill the rat properly, and dealing with those situations is really, really not a pleasant experience. The other choice we’ve found works well, and we’re increasingly using, is a particular type of live trap – see photos – which has two compartments separated by a tilting one-way flap. Very easy to both set and empty. We bait it with dried dog food, or if we’re competing with tastier offerings in the compost heap, a slice of sausage, a wedge of cheese, or even a chunk of Mars Bar. We set the trap only at intervals, mainly in winter, near the chicken houses and the compost heaps. The trap is set at even-tide, and checked in the morning. If there’s a rat in the trap, it has usually already given up trying to escape and remains calm – until the trap is picked up : the entire trap is quickly dropped into a deep tub of water, and the rat drowns within 15-20 seconds . No, it’s not pleasant to think about – worse still to do. But if you’ve had to deal with a chicken that’s been half-eaten alive – and yet is still barely clinging onto life, and the rats have chewed through an inch-think door and the surrounding door-frame to get in, you have to accept that some control is unavoidable. Removed from the trap, the rat corpses can then be safely disposed of to the bin. (I’d prefer to leave them out as winter feed for ravens and crows – instead of them attacking our chickens and goslings and lambs! But that would require leaving the corpses far away from our croft and garden, and that would take far too much time.) This is not a ‘nice’ subject, it’s true ; but I feel it’s important to write this so as to encourage those still relying on poisons to have confidence that there are other safer (and more effective) methods, with no threat to eagles and other important wildlife. In our view, it should be forbidden to use any method of control the results of which cannot be actually seen.
This morning we found – exceptionally – two rats in the live trap. One had already killed the other with a bite to the neck. The rats are both about 8″/20cm from nose to tip of tail. Anyone wanting more information on the trap shown, you’re welcome to get in touch.