Sunday 18 February 2018

Brazen martens and plant-grubbing hares make presence felt

IN THE CROSS HARES: Leverets may look adorable but these pesky little creatures can wreak havoc in vegetable patches — some netting should help deter them
IN THE CROSS HARES: Leverets may look adorable but these pesky little creatures can wreak havoc in vegetable patches — some netting should help deter them

Joe Kennedy

If you lived in the Mayo countryside you might find that a pine marten has been a night-time visitor. It would have left a calling card at your door.

This could have been a worse omen if you had laying fowl or were, like one reader, rearing pheasant poults for release into the wild. Your little flock could have been scattered in a flurry of feathers.

The brazen martens - Ireland's most beautiful mammal, according to the naturalist Gordon D'Arcy - will leave their scats in prominent places. Placed about your house or smallholding, they are territorial markers. 'You do not have total proprietorial rights here; this is animal territory,' is the marten message!

If you lived in an urban landscape, such as a leafy city suburb, your morning (or mostly evening) visitations would be generally more unpleasant. Domestic dog walkers will have taken their charges round corners away from their home streets so ensuring their pets' evacuations become someone else's environmental problem.

As an attempt to counter this, there used to be persons called dog wardens with threats of on-the-spot fines for such carelessness and so-called pooper-scooper plastic bag containers may be visible in some public places, especially at the seaside. But, usually, suburban streets are regarded with indifference.

One reader keeps a container of Jeyes (an old-fashioned disinfectant) in her porch along with a garden hoe for routine footpath cleansing. She complains about the hazards of walking home from a night-time bus, of watching her steps in the gloom.

But the perpetrators never seem to be caught in the act and confronted about such anti-civic behaviour. Dog owners may love their pets to distraction but some seem totally indifferent to cleaning up after them. Somebody else (the 'council') can do this appears to be a casual maxim. It is an appalling scenario really.

A wonderful photograph of leverets (baby hares, if you wish) was on-screen last week with details of their rescue from the womb of a doe which had been killed in an accident. The tiny creatures are being cared for in an animal rescue station in the North by a dedicated woman volunteer.

Back in Mayo, there are some leverets that are not so universally loved by one organic gardener who finds them grubbing away before dawn at tender shoots, nibbling and scattering all that careful vegetable bed planting. A shotgun is threatened! I suggest better netting.

There are those who would envy this reader for being so fortunate in having such attractive wild creatures in her garden. ( It's the children's book illustration of the rabbits and the carrots!) They would even welcome pine martens at their doorsteps - but perhaps not some poor, bald-tailed vixen with mange prowling about their gardens looking for food.

I have been looking at the antics of a grey heron, flapping and swinging, high in a thick-leaved old alder, trying to settle. There is no nest here except this lone bird, usually on sentry duty at a pond linked to a river which this tree overlooks. The place has been disturbed by builders constructing apartments.

Will the heron and other wildlife adapt to altered surroundings? I hope so. Perhaps some hares might migrate here to new grassy plots? I can't imagine it, but some window boxes of herbs might be the height of ambition.

Sunday Independent

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