Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Rat in My Plum Tree

Now, about the rat in my plum tree... No, first, let me tell you of an incident when I was visiting a farm in the vicinity recently to repair a barn owl box. The farmer and his wife were present, and she began to say how wicked it was that farmers killed magpies, which, for her, was a beautiful bird. The farmer, wiser than I, remained silent, while I tried to explain about "pest" species which are listed in the Wildlife Act. To no avail, of course. This incident set me thinking about our inconsistent attitude to wildlife. We like ladybirds and butterflies, but we detest "creepy crawlies" (personally, I think that woodlice - did you know they are crustaceans? - are cute, and earwigs have a lot going for them, too, as long as they are not in your salad). Ask any dog or cat lover if their pets have souls and they will say yes; ask them if worms or spiders have souls and watch their facial expression. So, it seems we do divide the animal kingdom into the ones we like and the ones we detest, and there doesn't seem to be much logic in our attitude.
Which brings me back to the rat in my plum tree. The plum tree, old and crumbling, stands outside my back door and is a wonderful place to hang bird feeders. I have seen wood mice scurrying between its roots, and for a while, a splendid russet-backed bank vole was in residence there too (I am not clever enough to say if any of the woodmice were yellow-necked mice; apparently the latter are larger, but you can't see the yellow neck. Yep). I love the wood mice and I loved the bank vole. But last week a rat appeared, feeding from the tray of one of the feeders. The only missile to hand was an empty wine bottle, which I hurled at the creature, causing the rat to scamper and the bottle to smash on a paving stone, thereby giving me a nasty clearing-up job to do. It's a big rat. It's a nasty rat. Ah, but why is it a nasty rat? Why of the rodents that visit my garden do I love them all except for the rat? Is it something in the folk memory about rats being the bearers of plague? But it's a brown rat, for goodness' sake, not a black rat. Illogical or what? I need to have another chat with that farmer's wife.

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