Wintertime weather in our Suffolk Coastal parishes is quite often a half hearted affair. Recent years especially have disproved all the old sayings about prolific autumn hedgerows being the portent of a hard winter. Certainly the early winter temperatures barely dropped below the mid 40 degrees (f) and often hovered above 50 degrees. At this level flies remain active and creatures that normally hibernate are confused. A hard and penetrating January frost would, for most farmers and gardeners, be very welcome. Such conditions enable everything to get off to a good “clean” start come springtime.
Now is a good time to do a bit of maintenance be it on the farm or in the garden. On the farm fence and gate repairs, digging out ditches and hedge trimming, as well as having a good tidy up in and around the buildings can usefully occupy many winter days. In the garden much the same activity, albeit on a lesser scale can take place. Recently I have been cleaning out nest boxes, and pouring boiling water in them afterwards to kill off parasites. In one box situated in a honeysuckle where a robin usually nests I found the perfectly preserved skull of a small bird. I can only conclude it was that of a robin which failed to “fly the nest” for reasons unknown. Last year’s blackbird, flycatcher and wren’s nests have also been dismantled. Unlike rooks and jackdaws, who prefer to patch up old “homes”, most garden birds seem to prefer to construct a new nest each season.
New nests of a different kind now appear in the countryside about us. When you venture beyond the familiar surrounds of our own parishes, especially towards sandier soils of the coastal strip you may have noticed new “igloo” like townships springing up. Quite quickly the “welfare friendly” system of keeping sows outside has caught on. Breeding sows rear their offspring in God’s fresh air (and sometimes the mud as well). Many and varied are the hazards a baby pig faces in the first 6 weeks of its life. A farmer is pleased if losses are kept below 10%. However, one such free range enthusiast tells me the biggest cause of losing piglets is that of them vanishing in the night! This is a peril for which he did not budget!
Walking in the countryside is rather like fishing. Long periods of just looking are suddenly interspersed with brief spells of high excitement. My dog Bracken and I were at the “just looking” stage when we were suddenly pitched into the “high excitement“ bit. Just a few yards ahead from the vegetation in a hedge bottom a dog fox sat upright and just peered at us. Then he leisurely looped away across the adjoining greensward of a wheat field towards a small spinney into which he disappeared. Bracken, given the chance, would have disappeared after him, but she had to be content with the legacy of the strong scent he left behind which almost caused her tail to wag right off.