Could this be winter's last blast?
It's great to see some real winter weather, but goodness it's still so dry! I really hope we get some rain soon - there will be some big problems come summer if we don't. Usually in February/March my grass fields in the north-west corner of the Basin are a patchwork of standing water and grass, ideal for a broad range of nesting waders, but there's not a puddle in sight. The only standing water is in the Sea Crook field which has had its drains blocked up as part of a wetland creation scheme, and even that's half the usual size.
The Ranger and I led the annual Aberdeen University student group around part of the reserve last week. Two groups of 35 visited the centre and walked around Mains of Dun reserve land. This sit by ecology and zoology students helps them get a feel for the practical side of running the reserve. They had plenty of probing questions and, students being students, I was prepared for the predictable "anti-farming" stance - but this time round they were a pretty pragmatic bunch.
Farmers, including me, are somewhat reticent when it comes to talking about their operations as there always seems to be someone wanting to interfere! But I've found that being absolutely open and honest with them about how I do things helps. Being involved with environmental schemes on my own farm gives me a little more confidence to say: "Excuse me, look at my farm - I AM doing some good."
As every year passes more and more farmers are getting involved in these schemes, so providing the taxpayer with food production plus added environmental benefits. A strange if somewhat worrying thing happened though. After talking to the students about our healthy brown hare population, I was asked if we had problems with hare coursing. I explained that although there had been difficulties with this illegal "sport" before the reserve was formed, there had not been a problem since. That was the last I thought about the matter. The next day, however, a blue van was spotted picking up dogs used for chasing hares at Bridge of Dun station. Coincidence? I wonder. We'll keep our eyes peeled.
After decimating my wheat around the December full moon, the pink-footed geese seem to have gone elsewhere, thank the Lord! Although with the shooting season being over they will no doubt reappear now that the disturbance from wildfowlers is finished.
As we move towards spring there are virtually no grain stubbles left unploughed for them to graze, so once they have eaten all they can from the saltmarsh grasses and permanent pasture at the Basin's edge, arable crops close by get hammered. As they build up fat reserves before their flight to Arctic territories to breed, they graze closer to their roost sites to preserve energy. I do have some recourse, though - if they do continue to damage my crops I can apply for an out-of-season licence to shoot to scare them off. I have to prove to the Scottish Executive I have had damage.
As I'm in a nature reserve the Scottish Executive Environmental and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD) will consult Scottish Natural Heritage and may send out an inspector to look at the damage. Part of the licence forms a report on your out-of-season shooting and this must be sent to SEERAD.
As this is the hardest part of winter for wildlife, animals take greater risks when pursuing food. I had an unusual sight of a kestrel flying around my grain shed. It must have spotted something, perhaps a rat or mouse, close to the door, and been drawn in. It was a strange sight watching it perch and swing on the fluorescent lights!