When we moved to the hill in Somerset 15 years ago, we discovered in our excitement on arrival 2 sitting tenants. Not totally unwelcome, I’d always wanted a horse or pony of my own and here were a chestnut cob mare with flaxen mane and tail + a thoroughbred bay mare. I didn’t know whether to clap or cry! My husband marched off to call the solicitor and I followed, but was quickly distracted by the removals men wanting to know where to off load which boxes where. The largest sofa had to come through the French windows and just as the removals men positioned it a young blonde woman [v slim, long legged, clad in jodhpurs and black knee length riding boots] appeared through them. Well the removals men and my husband were all struck dumb, eyes on stalks “Hello I’m Christina I’ve come to apologise about the horses and introduce myself I’m your neighbour”. Turns out Christina lived with her parents and her sister next door and their move to Exeter had been delayed hence the ponies in the stables. The lovely Christina and her equally lovely sister Catherine got us hooked on horses in the 3 months they were here, even giving my older two (7 & 11) lessons. This is where the rot set in according to my husband, who himself became a passionate equine enthusiast, and would often be off somewhere on the levels when I woke up of a weekend morning, on my bay roan gelding Oz. I’ll leave further details of our horsey sagas to another time, you couldn’t make it up!!
Aside from horsey squatters there are a vast number of welcome and not so welcome to downright unwelcome critters who decide your abode is decidedly dezrez…
The Welcome Visitors:
Swallows, swifts and house martins ~ the bats of the day, herald warmer weather appearing in April/May, huge aeriel exhibitionists, they also like to congregate on telephone lines and chat to each other! They do occasionally make nests where you might prefer they didn’t – the house martin will nest under balconies, eaves and cornices, and swallows prefer outbuildings, swifts nest in holes in buildings rarely visible. It is illegal to destroy their nests, the little bit of mess is worth it for their company and antics, as well as watching their young fledge.
Bats ~ there’s nothing more pleasurable of a warm summers evening where there’s just enough natural light at dusk , to watch them emerge from under roof tiles and trees and flit & fly. Night scented shrubs and plants like the honeysuckle attracts the moths, which in turn attracts the bats. They do not suck blood, are not vermin and not a health hazard and it is illegal to disturb their roosts.
Snakes & slow worms ~ non venomous grass snake and slow worms love the heat and great care must be taken when turning the compost heap as I discovered. I’d re-sited several slow worms to the next heap, thought was safe to fork the compost into the barrow and the worst happened, out came the fork with the grass snake impaled on the spikes! Initially I yelped a girly scream of surprise followed by profuse and concerned apologies as I tried to extract the poor thing without it biting me. I tried easing it off with my gloved hands but it kept writhing, I finally prised it off and it wriggled slowly and ungracefully, like a cartoon snake, concetinaring off into the undergrowth. I was mortified, but relieved a few weeks later, when I found the shed skin of a similar sized snake with two holes in it! Slow worms are slow (till you pick them up!) and tend to get run over or teased by dogs and cats, so keep an eye out for them and transfer to denser planting where they’ll be safe, be warned they really wriggle when you pick them up. They usually appear from small holes round the garden and crevices amongst stones. Both are a gardener’s friend eating slugs and snails, so try to avoid slug pellets and weed killing sprays. Adders prefer heath land, moors, marshes and grassland rather than domesticated land and are very shy, so unlikely to be found in your garden.
The Not So Welcome Visitors:
Squirrels ~ usually build drays in trees, but occasionally decide four walls and a roof is preferable. They can make a lot of noise in the roof and chew through cables. We have 2 pairs that have taken over our party barn ( just the one pair previous years), one in each corner at the top of the wall, a pile of moss, leaves, grass and my dried flowers gathered and made into drays. I wouldn’t mind so terribly but they trashed the rest of the bundles of flowers I had had hanging to dry and appear to have deep seated hatred of bunting! Along each beam and down the sides of the barn we had hung several sets of bunting and a few strands of fairy lights. All but one of the bunting have been thoroughly vandalised beyond any aesthetic repair and one of the fairy lights has fallen foul, chewed at both ends. Evicting squirrels isn’t easy, you need a humane trap and something they want to eat in it to trap them. Our party barn is surrounded by walnut trees and there are walnut shells littered everywhere, so safe to say they like walnuts, but they will quickly depart back to the trees as soon as the BBQ season kicks in and we start playing 80’s music.
Rooks & crows ~ will try to nest on chimney pots, making a terrible din chatting and calling to each other. During the nest building process plenty of material will drop down the chimney, occasionally a young bird covered in soot will be found confused in your fireplace, best to find before they come to and try make their escape out of a closed window, with all the ensuing chaos that creates whilst covered in soot – messy! To avoid this nuisance have a cowl fitted to your chimney pot and they won’t even bother to congregate on your roof.
The Unwelcome Visitors:
Rats and mice ~ you will have encountered them before in suburbia, but in the countryside mid autumn all the rodents in your garden want to move into your home. Older properties with natural stone walls (like mine) where missing pointing and cavities between stones act as a path upstairs, are more susceptible. It’s best not to encourage them in the first place, as their droppings and urine are a health hazard. Don’t keep hens or compost bins near the house and don’t put citrus peelings into the compost it attracts rats and smells awful . We all want to help feed the birds and watch them in the process, but mice and rats love the bird food too, better to site the feeders further away and watch with binoculars. If you keep chickens don’t feed them cooked kitchen leftovers, rats will arrive in a flash. If you can, move your hen run often, you will hopefully avoid them, but you will know when they have visited as they create rat runs, holes or grooves into/under your hen run. They are most active at dusk and dawn and can be most nonchalant. As soon as you see signs of droppings either contact your local pest control or visit your local agricultural/hardware shop for bait and bait trays or tubes. The bait is toxic so always use the tube where pets and children are concerned. You can set traps but then they need to be emptied and who wants to do that? Plus once in a while it catches a tail and you are then kept awake at night by a mouse dragging a trap round your loft and clattering through the cavities in your walls – been there!