nature notes

They’ve brought ibex back to parts of the French and Italian Alps where they’d been hunted to extinction, they’ve reintroduced beavers to the Scottish highlands and the great bustard to Salisbury Plain. The red kite has been a great success and even the white tailed sea eagle has settled down in a couple of Scottish islands. So why just charismatic creatures?   Can’t we have a few sparrows? And anyway, isn’t the sparrow charismatic? Has it not at least acquired charisma in and through its decline? Give us a few. I promise I’ll look after them.

january 26  Yesterday along with a group of ducks and a couple of bad tempered swans, on the New River, a heron. They were all feeding on bread that someone had thrown into the water for them.  As I came closer I expected the heron to stretch its wings and jump slowly into the air, but it didn’t.  It stood in a few inches of water and with its beautiful and dangerous beak slurped up the soggy bread. When I used to walk by the river Avon in Wiltshire as a boy you’d rarely get within a hundred yards of a heron. Usually the first you saw of one would be when it lifted into the air in the distance and rose above the willows.

I was reminded of a story I wanted to write about foxes. A young garden fox, tired of living on the run and eating junk food and worms, decides to pretend to be a dog, and learns to wag its tail and look sweet. He succeeds in getting adopted by a family in Crouch End but they take him to the vet because he’s still smelly and verminous. The vet pronounces the fox unclean and unredeemable; he’ll have to be pts. (I learnt this on the internet, finding out about dogs and strokes. Geddit? put to sleep.)  Hearing this the fox, who of course has not lost his balletic athleticism, jumps out of the consulting room through a high window and is run over by a car.  The story was spoiled not only by its inescapable miserable ending but by daddy fox who can’t stop swearing:

‘fucking dogs! fucking tossers! dickheads! I hate them, the cunts’    etc

Walking down Manor Road I look up to see two dogs in nose to nose greeting with tails wagging boldly, I  look to see who’s on the end of the other dog’s lead, and this young black guy and I smile at each other, reflecting the dogs. Would make a good pair of photos.

Father fox on humans. (This might be another character since his speech is elaborate and not studded with curses. We’ll call him grandpa fox.)  “What you might not know, as an animal, or a bird, is which list you’re on. You might be on their list of creatures to fed and housed and cared for, or you might be on the list of things to shot or poisoned. If you’re a rat you could be on both lists! That’s confusing. Take a peep  inside those houses. You might see fish swimming round in a bowl, guinea pigs or rabbits in comfy cages lined with straw,  and cats and dogs of course. Thousands of dogs.   You know, the ones that race round the bloody garden barking and pretending to be savage,  then it’s back in the house – ‘feed me! feed me! I’m hungry! ‘  you know what they say about dogs – their bark is worse than their bite. I could take on any of those dogs any time. Even the big ones. Especially the big ones. they’re the first to whinge and whine.”

“So why don’t you?”

“Can you imagine what people would do if we started killing and eating their dogs? We’d be slaughtered. They’d be round these gardens with guns and poison, they’d attack our dens with flame throwers – we’ve just got to put up with them. And it’s so easy to run from them. We go up over a six foot fence like a monkey, they just stand there barking.”

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