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In my own garden! In broad daylight! I was sitting in the shade reading a book with the chooks around me and out he popped from a gap in the hedge — not twenty feet away — with his back to me. Didn’t look around. Hopped a few feet in a leisurely way (for a stoat), paused and stood up again (which is when I saw the black tip of his tail that marked him a stoat, not a weasel). Slinkied to the end of the hedge and popped back in again.

I couldn’t have been more astonished if a tartan plaid unicorn had popped out of the hedge and farted “God Save the Queen.”

Explains why I haven’t seen a stoat in the field, anyhow — they’ve been using the hedgerows as a highway. And probably killing runnybabbits in there, too.

Hedgerows are used as field boundaries much more often than fencing in Britain. Or were — in the mid-20th, farmers began to dig them up so they could use modern farming techniques with huge agricultural machines.

Mistake. There’s a whole ecosystem dependent on hedgerows. Lots of little birds and creatures live in them and off them and use them to travel in relative safety from one habitat to another. There are now laws in place to protect hedges and encourage new planting.

Some hedges are ancient. Ours is certainly very old. One rule of thumb is to count the number of kinds of shrub — the more the older — though a hedge around a house is planted for show as much as keeping the tups out of the garden, and so would have always more variety than a purely utilitarian hedge.

Ours is like a firework display in slow motion, with one thing flowering and fruiting after another, from Spring to Fall. Blackberry bramble, honeysuckle, some sort of thorn (hawthorn or blackthorn — you know them by the burst of white flowers in May), elder, several kinds of roses. Spectacular. And alive with bird nests.

And down below, a network of dark tunnels the little animals use to get around. And the not so little animals — I’ve seen the cat dive in the very hole the stoat disappeared into. Must be many a dark murder done in them green corridors.

And now you know why the chickens don’t ‘free range’ unless one of us is watching them. Though if old Stoaty had popped out twenty feet closer and nabbed a chook, there’s not much I could do about it.

sock it to me

July 8, 2010 — 11:27 pm
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