I’ve been lax in my blogging, which in itself is a phrase ripe with the succulence of disturbing imagery. But I digress.
One of the difficulties of writing about conservation is the very real clash between human populations and wildlife. Where I live, the landscape was carved by glaciers. They taught us that in geography lessons in the dim and distant darks of my memory. I can imagine it, the u-shape of the Wharfe Valley being gouged out of the rock by rivers of ice. Since the ice retreated the Wharfe itself, fed by hundreds of burns and becks, brooks and foss, has flattened the valley floor and made space for grazing animals. Kirkdale cave, not too far to the north, revealed the remains of hyenas, elephants, and even a hippopotamus, all long gone from this country.
A friend told me that the last wild wolf in Britain was shot near Anstey in Leicestershire in the eighteenth century. Writing about the threats to species in Kenya thousands of kilometres away has to be with the awareness that very similar species were hunted to extinction here long ago.
And the clash continues close to home. Raptors shot because they’re a threat to game birds. Arguments about the pros and cons of rewilding parts of Scotland with wolves and lynx. The beavers damming rivers in Cornwall and changing the landscape.
I was sitting with my partner-in-wine one night a little before Christmas and we heard a noise in one of the cupboards. Just the one, a distinct rustle. We both thought ‘mouse’! Though the sound did not come again.
However the following day I emptied the cupboard, and discovered an empty pasta packet with a small circle nibbled out of the corner. Our little visitor had made off with a whole packet of orzo. Little git, I’d been looking forward to that.
To be certain we cleared the whole of the bottom of the cupboard and set up a motion-sensitive camera with night vision. Sure enough, about 11pm, alerts buzzed on the phone, and we got many minutes of footage of a mouse running around the cupboard looking very confused because the many other bags of pasta she had expected to snaffle had been moved and tinned goods stood in their place.
I ordered a humane trap. Humane is a curious word. It means to be like a human. And human is a word related to burial. We define ourselves as a species because we achieved a sentience that resulted in our burying our dead. Which is possibly a little mixed up when we, as a species, wiped out the hyena and the hippopotamus and the elephant and the wolves that roamed Yorkshire these few thousand years past.
The trap arrived forthwith, and was duly deployed, baited with a little Riveta with jam on it. The camera captured the moment the mouse sneaked into the trap, stretched over the pressure point, picked up the Riveta and scuttled off with it.
But she came back for a bit of jam and this time triggered the trap.
She was tiny, about the size of my thumb. I took her still in the trap to a graveyard about half a mile away and released her into the leaves beneath a fir tree. There are little owls, barn owls, and tawny owls around the town, so I wanted to give her some cover.
Thought no more of it until two nights later when… she was back! I think it was the same mouse. We looked it up and they have been known to find their way back to the nest from up to a mile away. I caught her again, and this time released her into a hedgerow more than a mile away up the hill. There’s a pair of red kites nesting somewhere near there, but they go for carrion was my thinking.
We left the trap down another night or two, just to be sure, and on the second night caught another mouse, this one definitely different, much bigger. So I released him in the same place as I’d released her two days previously.
Since then, no mice. But I didn’t half feel conflicted. I love nature, just not when it’s living in the pasta. What if it had been a wolf in the garden? We’ve had a hawk in the garden once, finishing off a pigeon. I think it was a goshawk, but there are so few of them (542 in the UK in 2017 according to the Woodland Trust) that might be wishful thinking. And a hedgehog. And there are pipistrelles circling the eaves at dusk in the summer. But a wolf? A hippopotamus in the Wharfe? An elephant in Heber’s Ghyll? The sheep on the moors can be startling enough.