At first, I assumed the rhythmic ‘scratching’ sound emanating from the eaves above my bedroom window was made by either squirrels or rodents of some flavour. Species, although perfectly fine in themselves, not generally recognised by estate agents as providing that ‘unique selling point’ to a house recently placed on the market. But, as a card-carrying eco-warrior, if I have to share my living accommodation with other creatures, so be it!
The scratching, which went on for a couple of weeks, occupied the early evening hours through to about midnight but unusually it wasn’t accompanied by the hysterical shrieks and skittering I associate with squirrels. My small Jack Russell, who is outraged by the existence of all other mammal species, was completely disinterested in the noise.
So, if it wasn’t wire-chomping, leptospirosis-spreading rodents, what was it? The ‘scratching’ sound was soon replaced by an ethereal humming. It was the sort of hum I associate with bald, middle-aged men equipped with combs wrapped in tissue paper. What eventually emerged, much to my delight, were hundreds of tree bees, bombus hypnorum, which are a newly arrived species from Europe. So far, they are thought to live alongside our vastly depleted native species, helping to pollinate and save the planet from starvation and extinction.
Beloved Mr. B and I have tried, with some success, to create a little wildlife haven in our small garden. It is delightfully easy and encourages a lazy approach, much favoured by myself, to garden management. We have placed behind the annex a huge mound of rotting wood, covered in a piece of roofing felt. Under this pile, there are newts, both common and crested, toads, frogs, mice and beetles.
I do cut the lawn but leave it high enough to grow clover, dandelions and daisy and leave the perimeter to wild flower, nettle, ‘sticky willy’ and bindweed (sigh). As a result, we have numerous species of birds but sadly no hedgehogs. I provide different qualities and size of birdseed and have learned which species like to eat from the squirrel-proofed feeder and which the ground. What I have also discovered is that squirrels are complete assholes and are just as destructive as reported. We have fourteen resident squirrels, the number having been recently boosted by five babies, which have decimated the leaves on my young horse chestnut and walnut and are currently in the process of ‘ring-barking’ the sycamore.
Since their arrival, the numbers of songbirds have decreased in rough proportion to that of our bank balance, as I make regular trips to the birdseed store (they’ve dedicated an aisle and family holiday in Marbella in recognition of my generous patronage). There is, unfortunately, only one way to deal with this invasive species and that it to allow my husband and son to cull them. This, they assure me, will necessitate me leaving the house for several hours and the two of them shooting the furry pests from our bedroom window. Am I hesitant because I have to ‘call it’, or because squirrels are cute, entertaining and have fluffy expressive tails? As Mr. B points out, would I feel the same if they were cane toads, or cushiony cotton scales?
Sadly, I suspect I would…