Thursday, 16 December 2010

Chance's pet cemetery...

The wood is very quiet, temperatures have finally moved above freezing but have been as low as -9˚C for a week or more. Last month’s bird activity is reduced to tits foraging in the trees and amongst the leaf litter while nuthatches tap away at the hornbeam trunks.

On the east bank of the dry valley the fire from yesterday’s work party gently smokes until the unburnt rhododendron leaves are raked in, smoke then fills this part of the wood. We had a good session yesterday and during the month we have carried out a variety of tasks. A couple of years ago we cleared a patch of rhododendron on the bank but it had regenerated, so this year we’ve been a little more physical and uprooted the stumps. We’ve cleaned out the nest-boxes, finding traces of about a 50% occupancy, but many boxes have had to be taken for repair; metal rings around the entrance don’t stop the woodpeckers going through the sides! We seem to have lost some boxes completely so Avril is recording GPS co-ordinates this year. We’ve begun the process of clearing the overgrown pathways and this will have to be the focus of our work for most of the rest of the season. It is good to finish the session with fruit cake and a drink round the fire as we loose the light so early at this time of year.

Last month’s blog finished with what was supposed to be an enticing cliffhanger for those who do not know the wood. It did, however, draw comment from a family member (who I had hoped would be more supportive) “Well it’s ok but what’s that gibberish at the end? Did you forget to delete something?” So to put the record straight this month I’ve included some photographs.
Your first experience of these grave and headstones can be a little unnerving until you realise that they are not human remains. At the highest point in the wood this is a reminder that this was once the garden of a Victorian family. Queen Victoria apparently started a trend for pet cemeteries by having one at Osbourne house - a quick Google shows many large 19th century houses and estates had these memorials to family pets. One of the most enigmatic inscriptions is: “SHOT” [We think he was]. Was the dog shot, why wasn’t it obvious? Was the dog’s name ‘Shot’, if so, why weren’t they sure?

I said there would be stirrings under the leaf litter by now and sure enough if you move some leaves you can see that the wood is preparing for a great show in 6 weeks or so!

Roger, Chance Wood

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