The decision this morning wasn’t whether to brave the winter weather. It was what guns to take? Looking out of the windows at home I could see the light boughs of young yew and cedar bending under a Northerly blow. In the habit lately of taking both air rifle and rimfire, I glanced at the digital weather station in my kitchen. The technological claim of 30C would be challenged later. What was certain was that was going to be a ‘warm hat and shooting glove’ morning so I opted for the air rifle. I had already decided on a location where I could balance leeward shelter with hunting opportunity. The expectation of some sunshine later added to that choice.
Arriving on the estate I ploughed the recently valeted CR-V through deep puddles and thick mud with a grimace. Oh well … no gain without pain, they say! I had hell n’ all trouble getting a set of serious all-terrain boots for this motor due to the wheel sizes but I have to say it was worthwhile. It hasn’t let me down yet … touches his wooden head! I parked up at the top of the escarpment, near the woodsheds, pointing my bonnet in the direction I would be stalking. An agreed code which allows the Lady and her staff to know where my rifle and potential risk is if they take some exercise, with their dogs, in the woods. I slid out of the warm motor and stepped onto the muddy track. A bitter wind, keen enough to make the eyes bleed, slapped at my face. Under the tailgate I donned a trapper hat, a snood and a pair of shooting mitts. It would be more sheltered in the old arboretum at the base of the escarpment … but I needed to get there first, with at least my trigger finger thawed! I loaded a couple of magazines with .22 Webley Accupells, loaded the gun, checked the safety was on and locked the car. Above me, rooks and crows rolled in the Artic born draught. Black surfers on an invisible tide.
The walk down the escarpment was slippery and testing, so I kept the ‘safety’ on despite the plethora of woodpigeon in the sitty trees on the slopes. They departed tree by tree, as I progressed; squadrons to be challenged another day. At the base of the hill I was met with the sort of target that every airgun hunter hates. A grey squirrel leapt from a flint wall onto the track just eight yards from me. It stared at me as I fumbled to bring rifle from slung to ready but was gone before I could level the gun, let alone focus so closely. Fair law and fair escape.
I paused at the gate in the lane between wood and field; just to watch and hear the birds on the recently flood-drenched water meadows. The waters have receded now but the splashes still hold a diaspora of fowl. Teal, wigeon, mallard, greylags, Canadas, mute swans and a little egret all visible from the gate. Turning into the murk of the wood and it’s umbrella of ancient yew, I immediately heard the chatter and hiss of Sciurus carolensis. The grey invader. A species that was innocently introduced to Britain when these yew trees were mere saplings. Non-native, like the yew, they too have thrived. I stalked the garden wood and toppled three, which is two more than I expected in this chill. Squirrels don’t hibernate but they will sit tight in the dreys in cold or excessively wet weather.
The climb back up the slope later warmed my limbs and at the top, as my heaving lungs expired the mist of spent breath, I looked into the blue sky; drawn by the shout of the rooks and the furious mewling of a raptor. The old buzzard wheeled and jinked majestically, pursued by a throng of nagging corvids. They might feint and fuss, but the old bird had the confidence to ignore their meaningless threat. She has ruled these woods too long to take umbrage to inferiors and this year, as in the past seven, she will breed here again.
It was with a heavy heart, when I got home later, that I read of the capitulation of another old buzzard, from a tribe in which I had placed the confidence of my vote for many terms of election during my lifetime. Resilience is the backbone of a stable and sustainable genus. Caving in to perceived ‘popular opinion’ is like letting the crows (or should that read Corbyns) batter you from your righteous perch. To then insult your voters by saying you will build a ‘new forest’ just confirms that you were never concerned about the ‘old forest’ anyway. This, for me, was the ultimate insult and most landowners don’t seem to have spotted this dressed reference. An attack on private landowners by Tories? Ye Gods!
“This new Northern Forest is an exciting project that will create a vast ribbon of woodland cover in northern England, providing a rich habitat for wildlife to thrive, and a natural environment for millions of people to enjoy.”
Lest they forget, we already have a multitude of habitats for ‘millions of people to enjoy’. They’re called National Parks or ‘Nature Reserves’.
Consider this too? “Paul de Zylva from Friends of Earth told BBC News: “It is a supreme irony that tree planters will have to get funding from HS2, which threatens 35 ancient woodlands north of Birmingham”
Great! Rip up ancient established woods to build a train line? Can you see the perverse ironies here, folks? Money matters, wilderness doesn’t?
And the people that know, the Woodland Trust, say “the Forest will be less of a green ribbon and more of a sparsely-threaded doily”. £5.7M doesn’t buy many trees, let alone the design and labour to implement this nonsense.
I enjoyed my little sortie into a patch of ancient mixed woodland today, with my gun and not just a little taste of freedom. I’m old enough not to fret too much about all this getting closed down eventually (not the land but the hunting, the shooting, the freedom to walk it as a hunter). It’s the young guns I fear for. And those whose income depends on the shooting and hunting tradition. A whole generation of urban, flat-living, cat-keeping keyboard warriors and plastic politicians who rarely leave suburbia (they might get muddy!) are about to destroy the countryside. We have fought to preserve the wild places against eco-hooliganism based on a real knowledge of how nature works … red in tooth and claw.
Those that seek to ‘save’ the fox seem totally oblivious to the fact that fox populations are in decline since the Hunting Act. Let’s put our heads under the pillow, shall we? Perhaps let the cat sit on it? Killer of (in RSPB terms) some 55 million songbirds every year?
But I digress. I had a good day out today in an ancient wood today. I saw muntjac, roe, hare, squirrel (not for long), long-tailed tits … the list is endless. Strangely though, I didn’t see a fox. Having got home and opened up the Mac, I wished I had stayed there.
Disappointed? Most definitely. Because a PM turned on promise. I’m just one in millions today to feel betrayed.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, January 2018
Sometimes I want nothing more than to sit back from the current round of pro & anti-hunting banter and just get on with my (hunting) life. Today the good folk at The Countryman’s Weekly, for whom I write, accidently pointed me in the direction of a seriously worrying piece of biased journalism in The Independent (02/11/17) via their Twitter account. The leading image to the article immediately set the agenda. An image of a girl wearing peace & love buttons hugging a badger under water? Weird. The author then goes on to explain how modern animal psychologists are challenging ‘Morgan’s canon’. The advice, long held, that scientists should not confuse animal behaviour with anthropomorphic association such as emotion, love, hate, etc. What could have been a reasonable article, worthy of debate, was debased today by its author and The Independent through its totally un-necessary inclusion of fox-hunting images and a strangely misplaced tilt at trail-hunting and the National Trust? Why? Because clearly the author and his editorial team want to associate the suggestion of animal emotion with the impact of being hunted. The article talks at length about animal intelligence. LLoyd Morgan, of course, held that humans shouldn’t confuse inherited, natural instinct with intelligence. Well (and this may surprise many readers) I think Morgan was right based on the knowledge at that time, but evolution has moved on. The dismantling of the ‘Morgan canon’ has been long overdue.
As a seasoned shooter and hunter (and I’ve written about this in all my books and many hundreds of magazine articles) animal and bird intelligence sometimes astounds me. Not just the acute, instinctive reaction to threat but the ability to distinguish between what is threat and what isn’t amazes me. Walk a footpath with a stout stick and when a crow passes over, lift the stick as if it was a gun. Watch the reaction. Threat recognition. The same caution that is the genetic inheritance of the woodpigeon now. That wouldn’t have been apparent in Morgan’s day. Study a carrion crow or grey squirrel working out how to access a bird feeder. You can’t question the ingenuity and calculated enterprise of what you witness. The fox prowling the outside of the chicken coop, searching for a weak point to breach. These are behaviours that surpass mere ‘instinct’. Yet, even if we accept that all wild things will resort to the Darwinist ‘adapt or die’ theory, we can’t deny that adaptation increases intelligence. That’s why apes became hominids, then became humans. To deny that the progress of cognition and intelligence, no matter how long it takes, could advance other species too would be an unacceptable arrogance on the part of Homo Sapiens. A species which, itself, should be re-classified in the 21st century. A blog for another day, perhaps?
So, ignoring the rather barbed and biased text put forward by Nick Turner in his article today, I am going to concede on the point of ‘Morgan’s canon’. But I do that as a man who has spent 40 years in field and wood observing and hunting wildlife. A man who has watched creatures birth and die. A man who has protected the vulnerable from the predator. A man who is often the predator himself, to feed his family. Just as the fox does. Just as the badger does. And, therein, lies the rub.
If the ‘antis’ believe (as I do) that the fox, the badger, the crow … whatever … have ‘cognisance’ then that puts a whole new perspective on the whole hunting / shooting / wildlife transaction. It puts those who oppose hunting in a difficult place, surely? Because if we accept that animals understand concepts such as (quote) “memories, emotions and experiences” then we have to accept that they know the difference between “right and wrong”, as humans do. That is a massive admission for the ‘anti’, yet much less so for the hunter. Why? Because, if it’s traumatic for a creature to be ‘hunted’, isn’t it equally as traumatic for the prey they hunt, themselves? If all animals are cognisant, then the rabbit pursued by the fox is as terrified as the fox pursued by the hound. Logically then? If the fox hunting the rabbit is acceptable, then the hound hunting the fox is acceptable too. Equipoise is the magnificence of Nature. If my culling of a rabbit is (to an ‘anti’) murder then they’d better take a good look at the mass-murderer that is the fox. Cognisance? Understanding what you are doing and why. The fox that decimates a chicken coop, slaughtering dozens of birds needlessly? Do the anti’s want to call that ‘natural instinct’; it’s just doing what foxes do? Or do they want credit that fox with emotion and feeling as in Turners article?
Be careful how you answer, guys and girls. You can’t have it both ways. I credit all creatures with an intelligence way above Morgans archaic teachings. That’s why I cull vermin with care, compassion and respect. The predators I target know exactly what they’re doing when they hunt down other species; just as I do. Which is why I never feel any guilt about being a predator too.
© Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, November 2017
I shouldn’t really have been surprised to see them this morning; yet I was. It was my wife, Cheryl, who first saw them and pointed skyward with a query. “They look like Kestrels, but they’re not?” I watched the three birds for a while as they coursed the azure sky on the first morning of July. A date of significance to both of us as it would have been my father-in-law’s 69th birthday. I say ‘would have been’ because sadly he passed away (unexpectedly yet peacefully) a week ago. The sighting of these birds was synchronicity at its best. The first time I had ever seen a Hobby was standing alongside him at the RSPB Strumpshaw Fen reserve about 15 years ago. Both countrymen, both shooting men, we would occasionally turn up at the reserve for a walk around with the ladies. We would duly pay our entrance fee and refuse to join the RSPB due to its inherent hypocrisy, its increasing animal rights agenda and its disdain of shooters as conservationists. On that particular morning we stood watching what looked like a couple of huge Swifts swooping low across the water-meadows alongside the River Yare. Then occasionally they would fly high and start dropping and tumbling like Peregrines, clearly plucking something (invisible to us) from the air. I wasn’t sure what I was watching but Derrick told me they were Hobbies. Falco Subbuteo. I bowed to Derricks experience, though there was to be an amusing incident that winter, to which I will return.
Henceforth, I knew a Hobby in flight straight away and it was obvious this morning, watching them closely from beneath, why my wife had first thought them to be Kestrels. The Hobby has a dun and black-striped under carriage but though it will soar, it doesn’t hover. When soaring, it spreads its primary feathers and looks like a Kestrel. However, when hunting, the wings tuck tight in a scythe-like form as it streaks through the air like a Swift. The giveaway markings are on the head. The deep black moustache and pale cheeks. I mentioned that I shouldn’t have been surprised. That day with Derrick was close to his birthday and Strumpshaw Fen was alive with dragonflies. So was Taverham Mill reserve this morning. Hobbies love hawking dragonflies and are one of the few birds who can catch, strip and eat their prey while in flight. Hence the tumbling motion. The three birds we saw today were invariably parents and a fledgling.
That amusing incident? Derrick and I were watching a flock of birds on the winter splashes. I used to watch these birds in their hundreds in my youth, in Hertfordshire. I commented to Derrick that it was great to see numbers of Lapwings again. He looked at me strangely and said “They’re not Lapwings. They’re Peewits!” I was tempted to explain that they were one and the same but refrained. Derrick was brought up as the son of a gamekeeper in the depths of North Norfolk. If that’s what they were to be called, who was I to argue?
This morning, watching the Hobbies, I had time to reflect on how much my father-in-law lived for the countryside, his sport, his guns and his rods. As a BASC and CPSA coach, he taught many people how to shoot. More importantly … how to shoot safely. That was Derrick, through and through. Dedicated. A true sporting gentleman. May he rest in peace.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, July 2017
If you are in the public eye (and in a very minor way, I am, as a country-sports writer) you need to watch what you say. If you’re happy to say it, then you need the balls to defend it too. I joined a petition tonight aimed at the BBC asking them to moderate the biased behaviour of someone who I had latterly regarded as a soul-brother. Chris Packham. We have the same dirty, hands on approach to studying wildlife. Turning over animal scat and pulling it apart to see what the prey was, picking up bird pellets to dissect them and understand what they’re eating . I pride myself on my fieldcraft skills and an ability to interpret the evidence on ‘scenes of crime’ left by predators. I use that phrase with caution, for the natural death of any creature these days seems to invite accusation that it was a ‘crime’. I study bird-song, particularly as a ‘language’, trying to understand the difference between a mating call, an alarm call or a mere celebration of voice. Yet I do that not just because I am a wildlife lover but also because I’m a hunter. Birds relay signals to the hunter about the state of the landscape far more than beasts. Not that I’m going to give away any secrets here … read my books!
Animals, birds and insects kill each other. Mother Nature actually encourages this awful slaughter. If She didn’t everything would starve to death. Birds eat bugs and worms! Foxes and badgers eat rabbits, ye Gods! Even household cats, fed twice a day by their owners, slaughter songbirds! I’m not sure where you took your Biology ‘O’ level (I breezed mine despite playing truant bird-nesting , pond dipping and scrumping apples) but the first lesson we were taught to ready our young minds before the first rat-dissection class was that the big fish eat the little fish. Incidentally, that class? Guess who the teacher asked to provide the rats? I was way ahead of the game. Death is a ‘given’ in Mother Natures master-plan. How and when is just as random as Her huge, unpredictable pogroms. Tsunamis, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, plagues, famines. Packham and his cohorts (Avery, Oddie, May etc) decry the right of man (the superior mammal) to kill other animals. How shallow, how obscene, how dysfunctional is that … as a human being? These people are living in a fantasy world where the lower order of Mammalia and the lowest bird are more important than the higher order. Mother Nature takes care of these things. Trust her.
Incidentally, I was part of a Social Media exchange tonight which questioned my perception of ‘man’ being part of the higher order. Someone joined the exchange who told us that domestic cats killed songbirds because ‘they needed to hunt to survive’. My ribs are still aching.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, Sept 2015
It was a delight today to jump the old lurcher into the tailgate of an SUV, pack a gun in the motor and head out to the shade of a summer wood for some squirreling. The old dog had been deprived of his weekend sorties due to his owner (yours truly) having a very senior moment recently resulting in the write-off of the X-Trail. With the insurance claim wrangled and settled, we now have a new Panzer in which to trawl the farm tracks and challenge the grey invader and its rodent or corvid allies.
With the temperature already touching 18c at 8am (a shameless lie-in after a busy week in the day job), I pulled up alongside a small four acre covert. This is one of the satellite woods on the estate and a breeder / feeder point for the grey squirrel population. Nature abhors a vacuum and these outlying encampments supply replacement insurgements to the main coverts if left unchecked. I parked in the shade and let Dylan from the tailgate. His enthusiasm as he left the air-conditioned motor waned immediately and I swear he turned and thought about jumping back in! Too late. I slammed the tailgate and looked at him. “If I’m going to sweat this, so are you, old boy!” I muttered. I armed the rifle and we set off into the wood.
On such a warm morning, I would expect greys to be active. Particularly now when the first sign of the green nut fruits appear (cob nuts, beech and acorn). Strangely, grey squirrels can tolerate the mild toxins these developing fruits contain but the red squirrel can’t. Another reason the red disappeared from here a generation ago. I set down in cover in a corner of the wood, laying the old lurcher (already panting) in the relief of shade. For the first time in a fortnight I had time to sit back and reflect on ‘the accident’. On the way here this morning I had heard on the radio that there had been a serious four vehicle incident on the A47 Norwich Bypass. Two weeks earlier I had learned how your life can pass in front of you in the blink of an eye, so wondered what had happened and had everyone survived? I had … and the other driver … without a scratch, simply due to the robust safety features built in to modern vehicles, both of which were ‘write-offs’. While I had been calm and collected in the aftermath of the incident, in which the police and recovery teams had been superb, over the last two weeks I’ve had time to reflect on what would have happened if I hadn’t accelerated, putting the driver door beyond the impact zone?
Sitting there today in the shade, with my faithful dog beside me, I melted into the ambience of the wood. I didn’t care about squirrels or crows. I stared up at the shafts of sunlight illuminating the lush, verdant woodland rides and saw the myriad bugs and insects whirling in the canopy. Then I marvelled at the subtle noise in the wood, which I often take for granted. The constant hum and drone, the soundtrack of a hundred thousand lives. A passing jay screamed our presence and the dog lifted an eyelid in acknowledgement. Then went back to sleep. I wasn’t in a mood to shoot a damn thing. I just sat and watched and listened. I was just happy to be alive. And I’ll be back there tomorrow too. Because I like the ‘buzz’.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, August 2015
My last post on here turned out to be a prophecy fulfilled, unfortunately. No-one is to blame for this. Many of us in the pro-hunting camp rely on a number of hardcore political lobbyists aligned to our various Associations and Alliances to do the campaigning for a fair deal for hunters, shooters, anglers et al. I take no real joy in having predicted that the timing was wrong for a debate on amendments to the Hunting Act. If I was to blame anyone for the faux-pas, it would be the Tory administration for not lining up their ducks in the right order (if you’ll excuse the phrase). What really got my goat, however, was that it allowed an annoying and insipid bunch of animal rights campaigners calling themselves ‘Team Fox’ to claim some sort of moral victory. The postponement of the debate had nothing to do with animal rights concerns and everything to do with a political ‘pissing contest’. It exposed the SNP as future meddlers in English law despite promises not to do so and therefore highlighted the need for EVEL (English Votes for English Law). Which is where the ducks were lined up wrongly, of course.
All of this, on top of the recent decision by SMP’s to enforce airgun licensing in Scotland, just shows how unreasonably emotional the subject of hunting and guns can be amongst my ‘Misinformed‘. One pundit calculated this week that it will take the 14 remaining Firearms Officers in Scotland about 45 years to process the 500,000 license claims from existing airgun owners. The law is an ass? You bet your ass! Airgun crime is at an all-time low in Scotland (indeed, the UK). Airgun ‘criminals’ are hardly likely to apply for a license, are they? What a waste of political, legal and police time. Time that would be better devoted to combating radicalism and protecting UK residents from ‘real and present’ danger from terrorism.
But enough on politics. This is Wildscribblers blog! My off-road sorties into the Norfolk hinterland in pursuit of vermin are on hold for a week or two, which will please Mr May and friends. Not that the rabbits and magpies will be entirely safe. A fairly serious RTA yesterday, from which both I and the other driver walked away unscathed, means the X-Trail is a write-off. A testament to the strength of modern vehicles. My little courtesy car isn’t exactly built for farm tracks so I will be using Shanks Pony to access land for a while.
Has anyone noticed how prolific the wildflowers are this summer, and hence the ‘pollinators’. All around me in Norfolk, the County Council cut-backs have meant minimal cutting back of verges except where it threatens motorists visibility. As a result, highway verges are a splash of colour. Poppy, ragged robin, dandelion, foxglove, mullein, hemlock, rosebay willowherb, mallow, vetch. The list is endless and a huge source of pollen for hoverflies, honey bees and solitary bees. Brilliant to see. Of course, where there are insects, there are birds. The yellowhammers, warblers and robins have an abundance of food now. I took a picture the other day (that I will share some time soon) of a yellowhammer with a beak full of flies. I wondered where the nest of chicks were? And whether the magpies and crows were watching? So, I have a question for the reader? If the little yellowhammer is a hunter of flies, what momentary pain does the fly feel? Probably the same as the momentary pain the yellowhammers chick feels when the carrion crow snatches it? Perhaps the same momentary pain that the crow feels when I shoot it? Predation, pain, death … these are all a common theme in Mother Natures grand scheme. You can’t discriminate and exempt any creature from this inevitability. If you do, you are playing at being at ‘Mother Nature’ or ‘God’ or whatever you, personally, call the higher plane. I call it Tao … but to each, their own.
Have a good weekend, guys and girls. I will. Because I’m still alive. And for about three seconds yesterday morning, I didn’t expect to be.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, July 2015
The scent of jasmine carried by the breeze on a hot June night overwhelms the fading aroma of garlic bread and barbecued meat. The midges dance in anger outside an invisible curtain of citronella smoke released from a circle of burning tea-lights. Pipistrelle bats prey on insects hovering around the solar lamps in the hanging baskets. An illuminated display of orange, yellow and crimson dangling like chariots of fire in my own personal Jerusalem. An old lurcher lies on his bed on the decking, watching the bats through a half-raised eyelid. His old master is watching too, while scribbling notes for yet another project. A wonderful evening and the world here is good.
Can’t say the same across the world can we? Many dead after a radical attack in Tunisia. Other so called ‘terrorist’ attacks in other countries. You’re not safe abroad or at home it seems. As always, in the name of religion or creed. Madness. Why do folk dedicate their life or their death to a series of myths and fables (written or fabricated) in ancient scribblings? And why do they insist on impressing their ‘belief’ on others? What a waste of intelligence and life.
More importantly, why are we tolerating this insult to humanity? This ‘I don’t like your beliefs so I want to kill you’ mentality? The second world war was fought and won by liberal thinking nations to oppose such outrage. Yet those same nations are now inviting within their borders thousands of immigrants who bring with them a hatred of our values, our creeds, our liberalism and our tolerance. Why are we allowing this? Why is our governance constantly apologising for and legislating against our rights as natural, indigenous citizens to voice our objections to the arrogant, subversive demands of people who asked to be homed here and were allowed here? They should be reminded that they here at our behest and on our terms … not theirs!
Everyone expected World War Three to be a nuclear conflagration. It hasn’t worked out that way, has it? It is happening, now. Right in front of us. The human race eating itself alive on a menu of hatred, religious intolerance, greed, politics and charity.
Me? I’m sitting here smelling the jasmine, watching the bats and thinking that I’m glad I’m approaching the twilight years. I feel sorry for my son and the generations beyond them.
A few millennia from now, an intelligent life form will land on Earth and say that an intelligent life form once lived on this planet … but it destroyed itself while arguing about the reason it came to exist. How sad is that?
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, June 2015.