PAW duties and an update on the garden wildlife

One of the red squirrels at the nut feeder

I’ve had a couple of interesting days, making me feel as if I was back working again. On Wednesday I attended the PAW Training and Awareness Group – a group I chaired until my retirement – at Police HQ in Stirling. This is one of the groups set up as a result of the joint thematic inspection (police and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service) of the arrangements in Scotland for preventing, investigating and prosecuting wildlife crime in Scotland. I remain a member of the group, representing the National Wildlife Crime Unit, and was pleased to see that arrangements are well in hand to continue the training programme of police wildlife crime officers and specialist prosecutors. A second awareness-raising seminar to reduce the incidence of wildlife crime is in the planning stage. The precursor for this event was held at SNH, Battleby, in 2009, and proved to be a great success.

The following evening I visited another of Scotland’s police headquarters buildings, this time at Glenrothes in Fife. The Fife wildlife crime officer, PC Ian Laing, had organised a seminar to discuss a number of issues: the use of firearms by those not the holder of a certificate but under the supervision of an owner or occupier of land, vicarious liability, issues in relation to improved legislation for managing deer, how to avoid committing offences under the Protection of Badgers Act, and some SNH licensing advice.  This was a fantastic event, with over 100 attendees, and with some really interesting and lively discussion. I take my hat off to Ian, who has really moved wildlife crime prevention and detection on at an incredible pace in Fife in the two and a half years or so he has been in that full-time position. Ian has put Fife Constabulary well and truly on the wildlife crime map and I hope that his senior officers are noting this.

On the home front, I was quite amazed that my red squirrels continued sourcing and burying nuts through the daily deluges that we have recently endured.  They carried their tails over their backs in the manner of an umbrella, which I am sure helps keep them dry though may allow extreme draughts in the nether region. I noted yesterday (Friday) that one was inside the squirrel feeder while the other waited its turn on the ledge outside. They really seem to be quite compatible now, and I often wonder if they share the same drey at night. They tolerate me to within about 5 yards now and almost scamper over my feet when I am washing the ducks eggs at the sink just inside the garage in the half-light of the morning.

Three mornings ago, again in the half-light, a blackbird began to chatter in the wood. The banking of the wood is mostly larch, now bare of needles, though there is a single line of 25 year-old fir trees in the centre.  The blackbird was loudly scolding a threat unseen to me in the fir trees. It was soon joined by another blackbird, then half a dozen chaffinches. The chattering meant a bird of prey rather than a ground predator, such as a cat or stoat. It was almost certainly a tawny owl and I decided to try to find it once there was more daylight.

Ten minutes later the birds were still alarming at the threat in the fir trees, though half an hour later, once there was sufficient light for me to make an examination, they had quietened down.  I went round and round the fir trees, looking up from directly underneath, from the top of the banking then from the bottom of the banking. Tawny owls generally roost tight into the trunk of the tree and are incredibly difficult to see. I certainly couldn’t see this one, though it’s perfectly possible I could have missed the owl due to the dense cover.

I had another chance yesterday morning, when the same happened just before daylight at the front of the house this time. A larch tree, a sycamore and a holly tree were growing quite close together and an army of birds were alarming at something three-quarters way up the holly tree. Blackbirds and chaffinches this time were joined by at least 20 coal tits, since this is next to their feeding station and they didn’t fancy a predator overlooking them at breakfast, even though it would pose them no harm. I was again frustrated in my attempts to see the owl, since the holly tree was at least as dense at the fir trees. Now that I’ve caught the mice in the kitchen there seem to be very few outside just now, with only one unfortunate beastie being caught in my trap in the garage in the last month. The owls seem to be doing their job and are most welcome.

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