Basin Notes - May 2004

I hate getting up early. As a farmer it comes with the deal, but doing wading bird surveys requires further alarm clock alteration and even less sleep!

Okay, so it's not so bad; on nine mornings between April and July I get up with the dawn, usually 5.30am, and walk round the three main wading bird nesting areas on Mains of Dun, Drum of Dun and Old Montrose. Before moving into the area to be surveyed, I use my binoculars for a while to quietly observe bird activity, entering anything relevant on to a map in the form of letters and symbols.

Moving into that area I note the location of any relevant bird activity, perhaps the piercing warning call of an oystercatcher, a lapwing's ludicrously acrobatic display or a skylark's musical duel with its neighbour. Over my three visits to each area the courtships, nesting and hatchling periods of the birds can be observed. I then convert my rough notes into maps for each species, and at the end of the season experts can see a picture emerge showing the breedings population for each species. It will be interesting to see if efforts to encourage more waders to nest have worked. You'll be the first to know!

When doing my surveys at Old Montrose I have to be especially vigilant as there are cows with calves at foot in the Lurgies. In common with all animals, including humans, cows are unpredictable and really dangerous if they feel their offspring are threatened.

As a farmer I know how dangerous they are; I can still remember my dad rolled up in a ball on the ground being head-butted around by a cow whose calf my dad had tried to get a closer look at. Good job it didn't have horns or he'd have been seriously injured or worse.

The farmer at Old Montrose tells me he has had several close calls with irresponsible walkers, some with dogs, who by straying off the river walk and into the field unwittingly attract the attentions of protective bovine mothers. "Do folks not read signs?" he asks exasperated. Well, no, it seems some folks don't. What more can a farmer do? Both ends of the path clearly state the dangers of cattle. It is to be expected that more folks will in time be encouraged into our beautiful countryside by the new countryside access legislation. That is in my view a good thing, but I await the equally important access code spelling out the responsibilities of both land managers and walkers. After all, freedom of any kind comes with the price tag of responsibility and farmers can only do so much to protect those who choose to walk in a working landscape.

Much hard work can be undone in an instant by a careless walker or uncontrolled dog and for many farmers this will be a difficult time; after all, it equates to allowing strangers to walk through your garden! As much as farmers will be forced to make any access to their "gardens" as safe as can reasonably be expected, so walkers will be require to act responsibly and afford these "gardens" the same respect as they do their own. That having been said, and given today's preference for litigation over personal responsibility, I'd better go and check my public liability cover!