Au­tumn on red alert

Stirling Observer - - COUNTRY VIEW - With Keith Gra­ham

This week I have been see­ing red.

How­ever, the red I have been see­ing is not re­flect­ing any sense of anger but is clearly man­i­fested in the trees, birds and an­i­mals which are now very much in au­tum­nal mood.

As the year plunges to­wards its end the land­scape is trans­formed. This green and pleas­ant land­scape now draws a breath and the leaves sur­ren­der to the in­evitable pas­sage of time. Red has been es­pe­cially no­tice­able lately in the blaz­ing fo­liage of the horse chest­nuts and, with ad­vanc­ing au­tumn days bathing the land­scape with a golden sheen, yel­low, gold and red are rapidly tak­ing over from green.

I en­coun­tered a lone red kite pa­trolling nearby fields, danc­ing, pirou­et­ting and float­ing on the air as only kites can. It pre­scribed wide cir­cles as its in­cred­i­bly sharp eyes fo­cused on the ground be­low in its search for a meal.

Within min­utes I found my­self able to strike an al­most in­stant com­par­i­son be­tween the del­i­cate flight of the kite and that of a buz­zard which traced rather more con­tained cir­cles over a field on the other side of the track.

In com­par­i­son with the lis­som kite the buz­zard sud­denly seemed bulky and al­most clumsy. The kite is so much more slen­der, which some­how seems to ac­cen­tu­ate its size, es­pe­cially in flight when the vo­lu­mi­nous wings are at full stretch. There is un­ques­tion­ably some­thing much more grace­ful about the more buoy­ant flight of the kite.

The cir­cling kite has be­come an in­creas­ingly fa­mil­iar sight all over Bri­tain in re­cent years and I sus­pect most wel­come it as a nat­u­ral en­hance­ment to our land­scape. There are even those in the south who ac­tively feed kites in their gar­dens.

Yet there are also peo­ple who do not like them sim­ply be­cause they have hooked beaks. The claim that kites – and buz­zards for that mat­ter – are apt to take young game birds is not jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for killing these truly beau­ti­ful birds, es­pe­cially when you con­sider that ev­ery year some 50 mil­lion pheas­ants are re­leased into the Bri­tish coun­try­side. Surely the im­pact of kites and buz­zards, both mainly scav­engers, is in­fin­i­tes­i­mal. I roundly ap­plaud the de­ci­sion to re­store red kites to our land­scape. Any­one who wants to see kites at their best re­ally should take the op­por­tu­nity to visit Ar­gaty. The sight of dozens of kites com­ing in to feed is truly breath­tak­ing.

There was an­other flash of rus­set red when I de­lighted in watch­ing a male kestrel flaunt­ing his fan­tas­tic hov­er­ing skills high above a field mar­gin. It is a mat­ter of great sad­ness to me that such a sight­ing is a rar­ity com­pared with just a few years ago. In a sense I was brought up on kestrels. I could oc­ca­sion­ally watch one from my child­hood bed­room win­dow and, even bet­ter, if I went down to “my se­cret field” I could lie on my back and watch them end­lessly. What has hap­pened to our kestrels? I long to see that shade of red on a more reg­u­lar ba­sis again.

An­other flash of red ex­cited me when a red squir­rel scam­pered across the road in front of me, dis­ap­pear­ing through a hedge into a neigh­bour­hood gar­den. Twenty years ago the colour of any squir­rel sighted there would have been grey, not red.

The trans­for­ma­tion over re­cent years has been re­mark­able. The spread of pine marten has had a re­mark­able im­pact on grey squir­rel num­bers and the vac­uum is slowly be­ing filled by red squir­rels.

The de­ci­sion to in­tro­duce grey squir­rels to the Bri­tish land­scape in the late 19th and early 20th cen­turies, an act per­pe­trated by both pri­vate landown­ers and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, would have been made with­out any con­cept of the con­se­quences their ac­tions might have on our na­tive red squir­rels. In short, the ag­gres­sive na­ture of the larger grey squir­rels in com­pet­ing for food saw red squir­rel pop­u­la­tions plum­met.

As pine marten have bro­ken out from the High­lands they have tar­geted the greys which, be­cause they are heav­ier and thus far less ag­ile than reds, are much eas­ier to catch.

Red squir­rels were thought to have be­come ex­tinct dur­ing the early 19th cen­tury and were rein­tro­duced to Perthshire from Scan­di­navia. The ris­ing pop­u­la­tion was such that squir­rel clubs were formed to con­trol their num­bers be­cause of the dam­age they were caus­ing to trees in the new forests of the time.

Now ev­ery­thing is be­ing done to re­store them to ar­eas where once they were com­mon. See­ing red more of­ten is there­fore good news.

Re­cov­er­ing Red squir­rel

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.