In the early summer of 2018 I was relaxing in the evening with a glass of red wine along with my wife, Jan, and daughter Janet. Janet asked if I had any more books planned, but I had considered myself retired from writing. As it turned out she persuaded me to write a further two books since that conversation, of which this is the second.
Janet in particular had enjoyed my book that related to wildlife encounters on my walks on a Highland Perthshire estate and thought I should write a similar one relating to another estate. We discussed possible estates but one was most definitely at the head of the list: Dupplin Estate, which lies just to the west of Peth.
Dupplin Estate was ideal for a number of reasons, not least that its boundary to the north is just over a mile from house. I had spent many years of my life on Dupplin Estate: my early years with my lifelong friends Jimmy Robb at East Lamberkin Farm and Gerry Oliphant at Cairnie Toll Cottages, plus about ten years trapping rabbits over the whole estate in the 1970s and early 1980s. I also attended a few times as a beater on pheasant shooting days with a variety of headkeepers. I knew the 13,000 acres of the estate intimately and, even though I had probably seen very little of the estate since the mid-1990s, Dupplin was ideal for the purpose of book, giving me the chance to compare the farming, forestry and wildlife of the estate over the course of nearly 60 years. Crucially, given my background of policing, I knew that the estate was run within the law and that I would certainly not be coming across poisoned raptors or illegally-set traps.
In late July 2018 I met with the factor, Alexander Dewar, who is the son of the estate owner, Lord Forteviot, and outlined my plans to him. He was immediately supportive and gave me the run of the estate for the purposes of gathering material for the proposed book. Over the course of the year I liaised on a regular basis with Stewart, the sole gamekeeper for the estate, with Bill, the retired gamekeeper and with John, the farm manager.
My series of walks over the estate began in mid-August, each visit covering approximately five miles, and normally running from about 8.00 am until midday. The estate is exceptionally varied, comprising ancient woodlands, new woodland areas of native trees, mature conifer forests, farmland with crops and livestock, a river, two lochs, several ponds, some wild boggy areas and dozens of game/wild bird crops including about ten acres of quinoa, which songbirds just love. The contrasting habitats support a magnificent variety of birds and mammals.
During my walks I like to stop regularly and sit quietly, allowing wildlife to come to me. This is unfortunately not so practical when everything is wet and I often found myself standing rather than sitting, with my back against the trunk of a tree. It is amazing how often animals accept a lone person sitting down quietly or even walking slowly. I regularly got close to wildlife that in most circumstances are very wary of humans, especially roe deer and brown hares. In return, when I saw them and they did not see me, I tried when I was finished observing them, to sneak off and leave them undisturbed.
I thoroughly enjoyed my year of walking with wildlife. I would like to think that you, if reading the book, can imagine to some degree that you are walking with me. For a welcome change this is a real good news story from an estate. Though the estate is in Scotland I am sure there will be some estates elsewhere in the British Isles that are equally good for habitat and wildlife. For the owners or managers of the many that fail to come up to Dupplin’s standards they may become enlightened by reading this book.
Walking with Wildlife: a year on a Scottish estate. (Thirsty Books, Edinburgh. £15 plus £2.35 p&p). Signed copies available from me now. Contact me on email@example.com