Pest, pet and prey: the frightened Rabbit

Wild Rabbits playing on Star Hill, Bridge. Image © copyright 2018.

One very familiar and seemingly ubiquitous creature in the landscape of the Kent Downs is the wild Rabbit. Bridge residents who venture out into our local countryside will know we have our fair share of them here. Originally from the south west of Europe, they were brought into Britain as farmed animals in the 12th century by the invading Normans who kept them in managed warrens to provide a cheap and easy source of meat and fur. Of course some escaped and, finding a landscape they could adapt to, they naturally bred like… Rabbits!

Given its countryside status as a bit of a pest, particularly one that lives gregariously out in the fields, it is odd that parents of young children frequently buy them a Rabbit as a pet to be kept in a small hutch out in the back garden. It is wilfully ignorant, cruel and quite obviously runs contrary to the animals’ natural way of life. The hutch gained popularity in Victorian times when Rabbits were captured alive and held for a short time before being killed for the pot; but even the barbaric Victorians were not so misinformed as to think they were actually being kind to a much loved pet in the way that many children are deceived into believing by trusted adults today. It is a national disgrace that Rabbits are kept confined in small hutches in primary schools all over Britain to this day.

Wild Rabbits, Bridge area. Rabbits live in structured family groups. Image © copyright 2018.

We must dismiss any spurious excuses about ‘domesticated’ Rabbits being bred for captivity: it should be clear, a Rabbit is a Rabbit, there is not some convenient division in the species between those that like being trapped in a tiny wooden box all their lives and those that don’t! Rabbits are intelligent and active creatures, they need a lot of exercise and the freedom to roam about grazing. Out in the wild each one may graze over an area as large as three football pitches in a day. Furthermore, being herbivores and non-aggressive, they are one of nature’s ‘runners’, animals that run away from a predator. If threatened in the field they escape to hide within the safety of their burrows, away from the sight, smells and sounds of the predator, but, confined within a small hutch in the garden, they have nowhere to run when a dog, cat or fox comes sniffing around them. This is a terrifying experience for them.

Burrows deep in the ground also provide good temperature insulation and protect Rabbits from the extremes of weather: in a simple wooden hutch, exposed to the elements, they often spend their lives trembling in cold and terror in the winter and cramped in horrendous dehydrating heat in the summer. Huge numbers die every year from poor living conditions, bad diet, neglect, and undiagnosed diseases. Those that survive often do so only to suffer the loneliness of isolation.

Rabbits are very social creatures: in the wild they live in large family groups structured by a social hierarchy within a warren; so they don’t like being alone, but they don’t want human friends either, they prefer Rabbit company to people company; they hate being picked up, will scratch to escape if they can, and are very prone to injury if they are dropped. Clearly these are not animals which are at all suited to becoming children’s pets, and in the UK the RSPCA say they have more problems with neglect and cruelty to Rabbits than any other creature (1). Rabbit owners generally hide details of their own negligence, but veterinary figures suggest many hutched Rabbits die within days of purchase and few live their full life expectancy of seven years or more. Perhaps that is a mercy.

On Kent’s open downs Rabbits are charming, harmless creatures trimming and fertilising the grass, as prey they provide food for other creatures of the countryside. Unfortunately, on arable farmland they are a major nuisance: wild animals living in the wrong place. Recent figures suggest £100m of produce is lost to Rabbits in the UK (2), and in consequence many farmers understandably feel the need to cull them. The Rabbit’s main natural predators are foxes and buzzards, so this begs the question: if fox hunting ever was about efficiently killing foxes, why would any arable farmer condone a sport which kills his biggest ally against the Rabbit?

As pest, pet or prey, the life of the Rabbit is full of fear: mankind is its nemesis. Where does this gentle creature really belong? Somewhere in a wild place, far away from us.


A few words from Albert Schweitzer

Dr. Albert Schweitzer working at his desk. Image courtesy of, free to use royalty free images.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer (14 January 1875 – 4 September 1965) was a philosopher, theologian, physician, cat lover and musician. In his time he was an outspoken and controversial figure who campaigned against colonialism, the falsehoods of historical Christianity, the arms race, nuclear weapons and cruelty to animals. In a tribute for his birthday, January 14th, we include some of his thoughts on animals below:

[After almost being pressured by other boys to sling rocks at birds.] From that day onward I took courage to emancipate myself from the fear of men, and whenever my inner convictions were at stake I let other people’s opinions weigh less with me than they had done previously. I tried also to unlearn my former dread of being laughed at by my school-fellows. This early influence upon me of the commandment not to kill or to torture other creatures is the great experience of my youth. By the side of that all others are insignificant.

True philosophy must start from the most immediate and comprehensive fact of consciousness, and this may be formulated as follows: I am life which wills to live, and I exist in the midst of life which wills to live.

A man is really ethical only when he obeys the constraint laid on him to aid all life which he is able to help, and when he goes out of his way to avoid injuring anything living. He does not ask how far this or that life deserves sympathy as valuable in itself, not how far it is capable of feeling. To him life as such is sacred…

The time will come when public opinion will no longer tolerate amusements based on the mistreatment and killing of animals. The time will come, but when? When will we reach the point that hunting, the pleasure of killing animals for sport, will be regarded as a mental aberration?

We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace. We need a boundless ethic which will include animals also.”

Dr Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. Yet is interesting to note that even today, a British Prime Minister, the daughter of a clergyman, publicly supports the illegal ‘sport’ of fox-hunting. However, she has abandoned plans to hold a free vote on restoring its legality because British public opinion is so against this vile hobby that any such vote could only bring further discredit to herself and her circle of cruel Tory pals. Nevertheless, the sport of shooting animals, just for the fun of it, continues perfectly legally here and in many other advanced nations.

No picture necessary

‘No hedgehog’ montage by 2017. Hedgehog image copyright ©

One evening, back in the sultry days of summer, a neighbour phoned to tell me that she had rescued a young hedgehog.

Having apparently tumbled from the verge on Mill Lane it was lying curled up in a ball in the middle of the road when she found it. She picked it up and gave it a few moments to recover, but since it appeared to be somewhat unresponsive, she called a hedgehog rescue centre for advice on what to do. My neighbour was advised to take the hedgehog to a place of safety, provide a dish of cat food and a tray of water and monitor it for 24 hours. If it seemed healthy the next day it should be released back into the wild in close proximity to where it was found.

The following day my neighbour called me again, asking if I wanted to come and see the hedgehog. Perhaps I might like to take a picture, she suggested. In the early evening I went to look, and there, enclosed for its own safety in a small cage, was a young hedgehog, apparently healthy and fully recovered from its ordeal. For a moment or two I contemplated taking a picture, but the hedgehog was shy of me, and wary of the daylight. It hid away in an upturned pot which had been thoughtfully provided to give it shade and some sense of cover. It would not have appreciated being disturbed and distressed for the sake of a photograph.

I thought for a moment. The creature had been rescued from the road, protected and fed. It was about to be released again into the wild. Was a picture really necessary? What would it be for?

Asking the question “What is a photograph of an animal for?” leads us into another important question, “Is the picture for the animal’s benefit, or for our own amusement?”. The act of protecting wildlife is conservation, and my neighbour had accomplished that task admirably. A good picture may inspire us to take an interest in wildlife, but we must always remember photography in itself is not conservation.

And so, later that evening, the hedgehog slipped unnoticed back into the countryside, healthy and anonymous… no picture necessary.

Casting light on the Bank Vole

Bank Vole, Ford Close, Bridge. April 2017. Image © Copyright 2017.

It is not often that we see a Vole enjoying the garden in broad daylight, but this week a Bank Vole (pictured above) was spotted pottering around in the mid-morning on a lawn in Ford Close, Bridge. The Bank Vole is one of the most common creatures in our countryside, yet, for the most part, it is a discreet and secretive little animal.

There are three Voles native to Britain: the Bank Vole, the Field Vole and the Water Vole. As its name implies, the Water Vole is generally found in or very near water and, being substantially larger than the other two, it has often been confused with the brown rat, which has invited persecution for generations. Although Water Voles are known to the Stour Valley, they are now very rare and we have never observed them here in the Nailbourne Valley.

The Field Vole and the Bank Vole are both somewhat similar in size to a common house mouse, but with a more rounded face, squat body shape and less prominent eyes. The most obvious difference between them is that the Field Vole tends to have greyish fur while that of the Bank Vole is more brown. The names in this case are also helpful in identification: the Field Vole tends to be found in grassy fields, while the Bank Vole can be found in hedgerows, woodland banks and domestic gardens. Both Voles can be active day and night, but they tend to remain under cover in daylight, which is why they are not more frequently observed.

While sitting on the lawn in spring sunlight, the Bank Vole pictured was very vulnerable to predators including weasels, birds of prey and domestic cats. As if suddenly realising that fact, this little character soon scampered off to hide in the safety of nearby shrubbery.

Some small tragedy

Common Frog, Western Avenue, Bridge. Image © Copyright 2017.

Some small tragedy on Western Avenue
Walking home one night recently, I was turning the corner on Western Avenue when I spotted a frog sitting on the pavement opposite Saxon Lodge. Having my camera with me, I took a few pictures to record the event, then wondered if I should leave the frog where it was, or try to help it to a place of safety.

On a cold winter night a Common Frog would not be venturing out onto our streets, it would be hibernating in a found burrow, or under leaves; but as spring approaches and the night-time temperature rises above five degrees or so, frogs begin to come out foraging, or wandering in search of a lake or pond in which to meet a mate for a midnight rendezvous. There are one or two ponds in the back gardens along Western Avenue, but the road was not a good place for the frog to loiter.

Having made a decision to rescue it, I went home to get a bucket in which to transport the frog to somewhere more suitable: perhaps a spot down by the Nailbourne. But on my return it was no longer visible on the pavement, so I looked around for a while with a torch, only to find, to my horror, the body of a frog, dead and grotesquely flattened onto Western Avenue.

In the daylight of the morning, some children heading for school may have studied the squashed frog in the road with ghoulish curiosity; a hungry magpie may have eyed the corpse from a perch on a garden tree. For my part I felt a certain guilt: perhaps I could have done more. Some readers may feel the same; but in truth there are few in our busy modern world who would pause to mourn the passing of a Common Frog. Every year, on warm nights in spring, thousands of such deaths occur to frogs and toads on roads all over England, yet these sad tragedies, each the extinguishing of a little striving life, are considered of no consequence in our distracted and disinterested human realm.


Continuing an ugly tradition

Young Fox, Bekesbourne. Image © Copyright 2017.

Last weekend a local hunt group continued at least some semblance of the tradition of fox-hunting with a meet in Bishopsbourne. In olden times the hunt was often regarded as an elegant, jolly affair, but from the distance of a different moral perspective, in the cold light of a grey February morning in 2017, this tradition just evokes feelings of sadness.

Hunting with hounds is an ugly relic of our barbaric past and it has no place in modern countryside management: it has little to do with controlling fox numbers in the Britain of today. Historically it was a sport of the landowning elite who, rather than actually trying to exterminate foxes, retained coverts of trees and shrubs across their land for foxes to inhabit so that they could be hunted for fun. The sport became so popular that during the 19th century foxes were imported from Europe and openly sold at London’s Leadenhall Market in order to stock the English countryside where hunting took place.

For many years, foxes were effectively protected specifically for the hunt, despite the pleas of tenant farmers, shepherds and pheasant farmers who wanted them efficiently eradicated, not preserved for the amusement of their landlords. Sometimes farmers secretly killed foxes, but bizarrely this so called ‘Vulpicide’ was regarded as immoral by the landowning gentry because it diminished the number of foxes left for hunting. Controversy raged until, eventually, a compromise was achieved and farmers were paid compensation for any birds and lambs lost to the fox. Of course the reports of damage done would have been grossly exaggerated in order to claim more compensation from the wealthy landowners.

Today foxes account for about 1% of all poultry (1) and 1-2% of lambs (2) lost in open fields. Annual (pre-slaughter) lamb mortality from all causes, including disease and hypothermia is “thought to be 15-20%” (3), a vastly higher figure, although precise data is not collected.

For our previous article on foxes search for ‘fox’ in our search box

(1) Game Conservancy Trust figure
(2) 1% Game Conservancy Trust; 2% The Burns Report. See:
(3) Sheep Health and Welfare Report 2016/17


Badgers, blame and bovine TB

Badger, secret location, East Kent. The government’s badger cull has not reached Kent… yet! Image © Copyright 2016.

Bovine TB (b:TB or cattle tuberculosis) is a menace on the farm. If cattle contract it they must be slaughtered. For farmers who have spent many years breeding a herd this is a disaster, particularly as the disease tends to spread amongst animals in close proximity, meaning that sometimes an entire herd has to be destroyed.

For decades farmers, vets and environmentalists have argued about what causes the spread of bTB. Environmentalists say modern farming methods are to blame, insisting cattle aren’t checked properly before being transported to farms across the country. Others, including many farmers and the vets who earn a living treating their cattle, say badgers, which are known carriers of the disease, pass it on to livestock.

In recent years two hugely important trials have occurred out in the fields in the west of Britain. In a few English counties, a highly controversial government backed cull has attempted to kill vast numbers of badgers to see if bTB in cattle is reduced. About 15,000 have been killed so far and the pro cull lobby claims success, but many leading scientists and The Wildlife Trusts, suggest there is no basis for suggesting anything of the sort. In a joint statement the Badger Trust, Born Free Foundation, the RSPCA, and The Humane Society International make their view clear:

“there is no evidence that the current culls are reducing bovine TB in cattle” (1).

One surprising figure from an earlier test is that 83% of badgers culled in government trials 2002-2005 tested TB free” (2), yet in the culls of recent years the government has refused to allow testing of culled badgers to check if they actually had bTB. Furthermore, a panel of experts appointed by the government to assess the validity of the English badger cull was disbanded when they reported that the cull was both cruel and ineffective.

Meanwhile in Wales, where a cull was ruled out, a so called IAA Vaccination Programme has been vaccinating hundreds of Badgers against Bovine TB, so that they don’t get it and therefore can’t spread it to cattle. In tandem a more stringent bTB testing programme has been carried out in Welsh cattle herds.

Between July 2015 and July 2016 new bTB incidences in Welsh cattle fell by 19% (2) although more incidences were found in herds known to have had previous bTB infections. This suggests overall the two level programme is working: less herds are being infected, and better testing is finding more of the cattle which already have bTB. Vaccination is cheaper too, at about £700 per badger (3), while the cull is costing about £5-7,000 per badger(4). Nevertheless many Welsh farmers are insisting they want an English style badger cull. Such a call would seem to conflict with the scientific evidence.

To pass the disease directly to a cow, an infected badger would need to come within 1.5 metres of it, but new research by Prof Rosie Woodroffe and experts at the Zoological Society of London (5), in which they tracked 65,000 badger and cattle movements, shows that rather than coming into close contact with cattle, badgers actually avoid them. Only once in the entire study did a badger come within 10 metres of a cow, but most preferred to stay 50 metres away or more.

These new studies suggest that environmental factors may play a much more important role in bTB infections than has been realised. “The current tests for bTB in cattle are only 20-50% effective and one fifth of all bTB infections are only discovered when the animals go to slaughter” (6). These cattle are therefore likely to have been infecting pasture land, farmyards and a variety of common animals including hedgehogs, mice, moles, rats, sheep, goats, slugs and worms long before the disease was detected. Even when a bTb infection is found early in a cattle herd, the slurry and manure from these animals is not regarded as contaminated and often gets spread all over the farm. Professor Alastair MacMillan, ex Defra vet and Veterinary Adviser to the Humane Society International has advised:

The suggestion by some that TB is spread by frequent nose-to-nose contact between badgers and cattle has now been completely dismissed. It is much more likely that contamination by cattle of fields and yards by [TB bacteria] is the cause of repeated TB herd breakdownsIt’s clear that the government must divert the substantial resources being used needlessly to cull badgers and instead improve farmer education and biosecurity on farms”(7).

So, why is there a continued insistence amongst farmers and some members of the governmental scientific community that badgers are always to blame? Badgers are an easy target: they, like many wild animals, have been persecuted by cruel country folk for centuries, not because they cause any real harm, but because it’s a traditional ‘country sport’ to kill them. Could it be the very same thugs who are getting paid to kill badgers in the cull?

Britain’s farming industry is vital, it feeds the nation, it must succeed; but whatever the definitive cause of the spread of bTB turns out to be, we need an ethical, sustainable farming industry that works in harmony with the land, local communities and wildlife. The mass slaughter of thousands of healthy, uninfected badgers surely cannot be seen as a logical, ethical and humane solution to what is essentially a modern farming problem.

(1) Badger Trust, Born Free Foundation, RSPCA, Humane Society International, joint submission to DEFRA consultation, January 2017.
(2) Badger Trust figure
(3) Figure quoted by Caroline Lucas MP, Hansard 07 September 2016, Volume 614.
(4) Initial figure: £7,000, Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, June 2007; revised figure: £5,000, Caroline Lucas MP, Hansard 07 September 2016, Volume 614.
(5) Prof. R. Woodroffe, Ecology Letters, 4 Aug 2016,: Badgers prefer cattle pasture but avoid cattle: implications for bovine tuberculosis control
(6) Dr Monaghan MP. Sponsor of Commons EDM on Badger Cull. Hansard 07 September 2016, Volume 614.
(7) Quoted in The Guardian, Friday 5 August 2016.

Breaking the ice

Frozen puddles trap vital drinking water, Whitehill Wood, Bridge Parish. Image © Copyright 2016.

Deep in bleak mid-winter the crystalline patterns formed by ice in frozen puddles can be intriguing, and it’s not just children who like to pause and stoop to examine these strange frozen worlds at our feet. But the attention span of children is short, and often, when curiosity gets the better of them they will try to break the ice, either for the sheer naughty pleasure of doing so, or perhaps to discover what further mysteries lie in the murky water beneath the glassy surface. To considerate, responsible adults who have been brought up to respect our countryside, this deliberate vandalism can seem like sacrilege, the callous fracturing of Nature’s works of art, the spoiling of a virgin frozen world; but, if ever you find yourself in that frame of mind, think again, the breaking of the ice can be a godsend to wildlife yearning for a drink.

Just like us, birds, mammals, reptiles and insects of all kinds need water to drink and moisture to help them keep themselves clean, even in the winter. Out in the countryside, puddles are a precious source of water. Pot-hole puddles on country lanes provide a drink or a bath. Baths are important for drowning parasites in a bird’s feathers: blackbirds and starlings love a delousing bath. In the woods and fields the water-filled ruts left by tractors and 4X4s offer refreshment, nutrients and sometimes food like snails, nymphs and worms.

In the frozen world of winter, all such sources of water are vital for our wildlife. It really is a matter of life and death: thousands of our native birds will not survive through winter, either because of cold or starvation. In the famously cold winter of 1962-3 it was estimated that half of all British birds died (1), but in any of our colder winters up to 80% of some species, particularly smaller birds like wrens and long-tailed tits may die. Even in a normal year only 25% of Kingfishers are thought to make it through the winter (2).

The modern world has taken so much from Nature, so why not give our wildlife some help? Feeding birds in our gardens is important, providing our wild creatures with drinking water out in the countryside is absolutely vital, and this is often easily achieved as we saunter out on country walks admiring the beauty of the frost. Next time you see a puddle which has frozen across the top, go on, break the icy surface to expose the water underneath: you might just save a life.

If you have a bird bath which freezes over, please refresh the water each day. In a small pond, leave a ping pong ball or two on the surface to stop it freezing over.

(1) The Independent, Thursday 28 January 2010. Experts fear count will reveal a deadly winter for birds.
(2) RSPB Figure

The myth of ‘The Balance of Nature’

Nature does not stand balanced like some perfectly poised dancer pirouetting on a bar. Little Egret, Bridge. 2016. Image © copyright 2016

“The idea of a balance of nature has been a dominant part of Western philosophy since before Aristotle, and it persists in the public imagination and even among some ecologists today. In fact Nature is not in balance, nor has it ever been at any stage in Earth’s history.”
John Kricher. ‘The Balance of Nature; ecology’s enduring myth.’

On 7 February 2017 we finally had to concede that the Nailbourne had dried up. Not a trickle ran in constant flow through Bridge. Since it is a bourne, an occasional stream, which leaks from fissures in the chalk beneath East Kent, this is not to be unexpected; but it spells disaster for our local wildlife and the precious ecosystem of a rare chalk stream. A rich and varied biodiversity nurtured by the cool springwater will be lost: a delicate, heirarchical food chain which was gradually establishing itself in the heart of our valley will break and fail. Many species will either die or move elsewhere.

It is a populist notion that such events are all part of what some people call the ‘Balance of Nature’. They are not. Balance implies a system of self-correction, a sustained position of equilibrium. This is not what happens in Nature. The natural world does not stand balanced like some perfectly poised dancer pirouetting on a bar; it reels and lurches from one disaster to another, like a confused boxer losing badly in a fight.

“Nature is not a balance, it is just one catastrophe after another!”
Professor Richard Dawkins

When a natural catastrophe occurs on a large scale in a meteor strike, a flood, a volcanic eruption, or, on a smaller scale, perhaps the drying up of a village pond or a local spring, there is destruction and there is death. This creates a vacuum in the natural world and Nature abhors a vacuum. Something, in a quest for survival, will fill it; this invariably will be some species of plant or creature which is more suited to the new environment. An opportunity arises, something seizes it, but this opportunism must not be confused with ‘balance’, for the state of things will now be different, the equilibrium has not somehow been restored. Things have changed and in consequence there may now be a new order in the food chain, a new king ruling the jungle. He will rule as long as the new conditions remain or until the next catastrophe arrives to topple him from his place. It’s a continuing struggle for survival in which each individual in each species fights for itself in the face of ever looming death. In the 3.5 billion year history of life on Earth, over 99% of all the species that ever lived here are thought to have become extinct, either because they just couldn’t live in the environment in which they found themselves, or because a new, more advanced or adapted species was able to out compete them. This is a process called ‘speciation’ and we modern humans may face it one day as did Neanderthal man who failed to compete with us.

Mother Nature is not of gentle mind, she is a violent and ruthless ruler in her empire of the sun. Her flowers bloom sublime, but don’t be confused by her apparent charm and her fondness for the young: she has no compassion. Her disasters appear random, but they are all a consequence of her brutal rule. There is an order in the chaos, but it is heartless, inequitable and cruel. Life on Earth staggers on, trying to navigate through constant adversity and change: ‘carpe diem’, seize the day and do your best to survive, but be assured your death will come and you won’t be calling it a balance when the reaper swings his scythe.

Sometimes we think we see Mother Nature as a beauty, dancing elegantly to illuminate our lives in the darkness of her universe. Her beauty, her dancing and even the colours of her dress are mere mirage; but the miracle, the sublime, spectacular miracle, is that she ever manages to stand at all. We must hope we never live long enough to know when she finally collapses and her empire turns to dust.



Footprints in the mud

The shape, size and sharp edges of this print suggest it is from a deer. (Ruler measures in centimeters). Image © copyright 2016.

This week received reports of unusual animal footprints on land within the Bridge and Bishopsbourne area, so a field visit was made to try to discover the identity of the animal which made the prints.

The field in question is unfenced, holds no livestock and has been ploughed, so the surface is very rough, but a path across it has been made smooth by the regular passing of walkers and it appears that ramblers of another kind have also used the path leaving their footprints as evidence.

The prints themselves present as a weathered and worn jumble of old and more recent indentations of different sizes and shapes, but essentially two shapes appear prevalent. The first shape is the smaller in size and features what we believe is the print of a cloven hoof, curving in a tight horseshoe shape with a gap at the front. This print has sharp, pointed edges. These features make it typical of a deer. The most obvious candidates to make such prints in this area would be the fallow deer which inhabit Kings Wood near Challock and are known to range across the woodland and open countryside at least as far as the A2 at Barham. Fallow deer are observed regularly in the summer on farmland near the Duck at Pett Bottom and we have received a confirmed report of a small deer of unidentified species in fields between Pett Bottom and Bishopsbourne. Other possible candidates for making the prints may be roe deer which live in the west of Kent and are known to be gradually moving east; but, as yet we have no confirmed sightings of them in this area.

Possible wild boar print? Image © copyright 2016.

The second type of prints appear bigger suggesting a larger animal of some kind. The foot imprint does not resemble the split horseshoe shape of the others, and the prints are less sharply defined. Are these the prints of large adult fallow deer, a different deer, or something else altogether?

One suggestion which has been put forward to us is that these may be the prints of wild boar. It is a possibility: wild boar do live in Kent and have been sighted in this district (actually in Bekesbourne) within the last six years or so. Wild boar have pig-like trotters which do not leave the sharp horseshoe shaped prints of deer: the impression left by boar is more like two slightly diverging toe shapes with curved edges and a rounded foot shape behind. This could fit with some of the prints in our field, although in soft mud we would expect to see evidence of dew claw prints behind the foot and there is little evidence of them. However, perhaps supporting the possibility of wild boar, two sets of tracks of these heavier footprints lead away from the relatively smooth path and set off over the ploughed field leaving deep, wide indentations in the earth suggestive of heavy creatures with feet covered in thick mud. This does not seem characteristic of deer.

What made these large prints? Image © copyright 2016.

Our mystery remains at least partially unsolved and we retain an open mind as to what creatures may have made all the footprints. In order to provide a possible answer in the future, we would very much welcome news of readers’ sightings of deer or wild boar in our area if and when they occur.

Detail of the prints above. This print from a heavier animal is much larger yet retains a split curve at the front. Image © copyright 2016.