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From farm to feeder

Summer by Andrew Cooper

While we can shelter from rain and emerge to enjoy the occasional warm and dry day, nature has no such luxury. Come wet, wind or cold the countryside and creatures around us have only a few months to grow and multiply. For wildlife, it is a real race against time and the elements. Ask any farmer or gardener this month and their lists of things to do seems to get longer every day, while their grass and other crops grow taller by the minute.

Our early birds here in Devon already have their first broods and many are now on their second clutch of eggs. The kestrels fly fast back to the barn with food, closely followed by a crafty magpie or jackdaw hoping to grab a free meal. But the kestrels are spectacularly quick.

Many creatures have adapted to the quietest times when people are not about - dawn, dusk or under the cover of darkness. So we only know half of what is going on around us. We put out peanuts year round, safely in the feeder on the bird table. But also at dusk on the patio after our feathered friends have retired for the night. Having spent most of my working life trying to get to within filming distance of wild mammals, I enjoy some armchair wildlife watching. Usually within minutes the first badger arrives and then a vixen. The fox happily feeds until the odds change, as when more badgers join the feast the vixen beats a hasty retreat. Our web cameras usually catch the action.

By day the bird feeder is busy, the tight mesh restricting the size of peanut pieces that can be consumed. After a snack the birds continue collecting caterpillars and grubs gleaned from our garden plants for their offspring. Wildlife in the garden is a welcome attraction and gardeners learn the hard way if they leave tasty plants within reach of slithering slugs, nibbling rabbits or curious crows. But caterpillars are the least of the problem for rose growers. To get the best blooms they not only have to be vigilant for the first signs of marauding insects but sometimes much bigger pests. The largest is the roe deer and they love roses. But I think it is a small price to pay for such a rare close encounter. Quietly slipping in and out of the shadows of morning and evening light they quietly forage for tasty leaves. The delicate beauty of deer can seldom be appreciated for more than a few seconds before vanishing again. On a few occasions out in the fields, I have come across a young roe deer, curled up in long grass fast asleep. Because its mother will not be far away and they are acutely sensitive to human scent, it is sensible to keep my distance and just enjoy the opportunity.