The Countryside About Us November 1999

posted 31 Oct 2019, 06:30 by Chris Hoare
The excessively wet weather of recent times has been something of a problem for farmers trying to get their autumn cultivations and sowing done in good time. Nearly 4” inches (180cm) of rain fell in September. This represents some 17% of what East Suffolk would normally expect in a year. Some farmers have already brought their cattle in off low lying and wet pasture on to higher ground or even into yards. I suspect in other parts of our County where many sows are now kept outdoors under the “welfare friendly” system, it will not seem so “welfare friendly” to either the pigs or those looking after them! To paraphrase a well known song it is more a case of “mud glorious mud”! Wet autumns also provide ideal conditions for slugs to thrive. Whilst the black slug is larger and more obvious, it is the field slug that is the greatest threat to newly emerging wheat and oilseed rape plants. You may well have noticed ATV’s or adapted farm trucks travelling quite fast over newly sown fields distributing from a rear mounted hopper small blue pellets. These cereal pellets contain a low percentage of “metaldehyde” which, when consumed by the slugs, causes rapid dehydration. 

The slug does of course have its natural predators. The one we are most often aware of in the garden is the toad. Some folk are more aware of this useful garden ally than others. If you possess a cat or more likely, a cat possesses you, a puss flap will be its means of coming and going. What about a “toad flap?” A farmers wife in Earl Soham equally fond of cats and most living things (with the possible exception of squirrels who strip bare their walnut tree each year) has a nightly visitation into her kitchen by a toad. She tells me it arrives principally to share the food provided for her cats. Its only means of entrance into her kitchen is through the “puss flap” which is in the back door. This toad will even eat pieces of cat food offered from her hand! How quickly normally wild creatures not associated with human contact will become trusting with the incentive of food. My own “live” squirrel trap illustrates the point. Any marauding squirrel has to be very quick off the mark to beat a resident hedgehog to the bait. He (she) seems quite content to wait until morning to be released not once, but nightly! 

Dark evenings and time to read? “Hodge And His Masters” by Richard Jefferies will transport you back to C19th rural England with a unique realism. It is available at Framlingham library. 

Roger Sykes