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 hedgerows in the autumn being the portent of a hard winter. Certainly the early winter temperatures barely dropped below the mid F40 degrees and often hovered around F50. 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 gate and fence repairs, digging out old ditches and hedge trimming, as well as 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 the debris from the nest boxes in our garden, and pouring boiling water into them afterwards to kill the parasites. In one box situated in a honeysuckle, where a robin usually nests, I found a 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, or in the case of wrens, several new nests 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, and especially towards the sandier soils of the coastal strip, you may have noticed new “igloo” like townships springing up. Quite quickly this welfare friendly system of keeping sows outside has caught on. Breeding sows rear their offspring in “God’s fresh air” (and sometimes mud as well). Many and varied are the hazards a piglet faces to survive its first six weeks of life. A farmer is well 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! Theft is a peril for which he did not bargain or budget.
Walking in the countryside is rather like fishing - long periods of just looking and suddenly brief spells of excitement. My dog Bracken and I were at the “just looking” stage when we were suddenly pitched into “high excitement”. Just a few yards ahead from the vegetation of a hedge, a dog fox was sitting upright and peered at us as we approached! Almost leisurely he turned away and loped 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!