My friend Sue has a life-size replica of a heron beside her garden pond. The theory is that, since herons naturally space out their fishing posts, real birds will not intrude and take frogs and tadpoles from her little sanctuary. It seems to work. Other marauders are not so easily discouraged.
In my sister’s seaside garden in the Scottish Highlands she has great success with growing strawberries that she protects with a tightly fixed net. While working in her garden recently she was amused to see a weasel emerge from a pile of rocks and take a run at the netting from which it bounced backwards like a trampoliner. Undeterred, it tried twice more with the same result before finally forcing its way through. Whether it was in pursuit of strawberries or more flesh and blood prey remains a mystery as it promptly disappeared. There were no tears in the net and she felt a few strawberries were little to pay for such entertaining acrobatics. Some losses are more serious.
We were visiting a friend in North Yorkshire recently who had a different tale to tell. He has a large and beautiful garden with two fine ponds: the smaller is home to frogs and newts, but in the larger he had several Koi carp, some over two foot long, guarded by a heron statue. I say, ‘had,’ advisedly : last year three of the largest disappeared overnight. A few nights later three more vanished. The culprit was not difficult to identify – over the nearby picnic table and bench were a trail of muddy footprints and near the pond the remains of a large carp, its back stripped of flesh – obviously the work of an otter. My friend rang the Environment Agency for advice – but otters are a protected species and short of putting an electric fence round the pond, there was little he could do except lament. The spokesman did suggest that, as it was May, the otter was probably poaching to feed its young family so this year my friend decided to forestall it. In April, he was well on with his plans to net the pond, but our wily otter was ahead of him: in one night the rest of the carp were taken. His indignation was exacerbated by a recent visit to a garden centre that sold ornamental fish. Their price list, on which Koi carp were priced by the inch, confirmed his suspicion that his losses ran into several expensive fish-yards. My ill-concealed feeling that a few foreign fish were a small price to pay for an OTTER in your very own garden put a temporary strain on our friendship!
Our relationship with nature is certainly complex. We delight in the robins, tits and finches which visit our bird-feeders, feel honoured when a hedgehog takes its evening stroll round our borders and generally rejoice in the return of otters and water voles to our streams and rivers. But, like many other mammals we are territorial, and deer eating our roses, badgers digging up our lawn, or, indeed, a sparrowhawk snatching ‘our’ robin severely tests our naturalist credentials. However, heron, sparrowhawk, badger, weasel and otter are, after all, just following their natures too.ody>