Our croft hen-house is in Home Park – the field below Carrick. That means it’s close to the rocks, pools and seaweed of the foreshore. And that, in turn, means rats – and rats with a very convenient supply of tasty high-protein food. If the rats would content themselves with helping themselves to the hens’ rations, that would be one thing, but they … well, let’s just say that they aren’t exactly house-trained. ‘Control of vermin’ (that’s the technical terminology) is not just necessary, it’s inevitable – and in fact it’s a legal requirement.
As a matter of principle, we do not use poisons – they are an abomination. Our experience is that the most reliable, effective and safest means is the old-fashioned spring rat-trap. Once baited and set, we cover the trap with an up-turned fish crate, weighted down by a large stone. The crate has holes just big enough for a rat to get through – and the crate is of such a size that chickens can’t reach the traps through the holes. It’s a system that we’ve perfected over more than ten years, and it works well.
It was, then, a shock this morning to find both traps (two under one crate) sprung and between the two a tiny dead bird – a wren.‡ They’re a regular sight amongst the trees and shrubs of the garden around Carrick, where they nest amongst the long grasses and the thickets of rosa rugosa or the branches of escalonia and other shrubs – and it is there that they feed on the numerous insects such an environment encourages.
‡ I am no expert in these things, but I believe that this little wren belongs to a sub-species endemic to the Outer Hebrides, its plumage being similar to the St Kilda Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes hirtensis) – with a bolder pattern throughout, and in particular the barring on the breast.
That a wren would leave the safety of the garden for the relatively bare grassland of the field (which at this time of year must be nearly devoid of insects) is a mystery to me : except that it might have been caught by one of those powerful gusts of wind that come off the east shoulder of Beinn Sgiathan when the wind is from the south east (which it has been for the past few days). Such a gust would very likely carry a tiny bird like this down to near the hen-house, where it may have sought shelter wherever it could find it …
How sad – and no less so even if this was just a tragedy of chance, collatoral damage – unlikely to be repeated. It serves, though, to reinforce our commitment to the Rewilding of our croft. That our garden at Carrick is a refuge for wrens and other wildlife is due to the decision, taken in 2009 as the building of Carrick came to its conclusion, that the garden should be managed primarily for wildlife – a decision that seems to have borne much fruit. This episode serves to embolden us to a much more extensive planting of trees and bushes that will provide the shelter that the land needs to do the rewilding itself.
So little wren, you have not died in vain!