26 JANUARY 1945, Page 14


WHEN the war is over there is likely, as definite enquiry proves, to be a great excess of men who want to commence farming ; to this enormous tally has to be added an army of women with like ambitions. Besides these, dispossessed farmers, who have been turned out by the accidents of war and by the organisers of wartime agriculture, now number a good many thousand, and they appear to be organising them- selves into a rebellious group demanding reinstatement. Is there any way of satisfying this unheard of demand? Experience after the last war, as well as in the annals of husbandry, prove that small holdings, organised to respond to the demand, are no answer, though the multi- plication of small yeoman farmers is a glorious ideal. The smallholder is born, not made. The manufactured smallholder is doomed to failure and disappointment in nine cases out of ten. Perhaps the best chance, for men with engineering ability, is to associate the small farm or holding with machines with which he can do mechanical work for his neigh- bours. It has already been found in the west of England, if not in the east, that a smallholder can do such work to the double benefit of himself and his neighbours. It is, I think, a general experience, here and overseas, that the secret of success in farming is most often found in engineering skill.

Red or Grey ?

Merely to indicate how ideas may differ on the cardinal virtues I am inclined to quote a leaderette from a recent issue of the New York Times, a most excellent paper. "What is more graceful than a full- tailed grey squirrel making its swift way among the upper branches? Each movement is a ripple of sleek agility. . . The red squirrel may be equally accomplished, but he is a scoundrel and a quarrelsome neighbour to all around him. He got his name, Chicaree, from shrill scolding. He is a nest-robber and a nuisance in the woodland, a bully- ing little pirate who makes life miserable even for those of his own kintl." The roles would be exactly reversed in any naturalist's comment on our red and grey species. What struck me about the American red squirrel—which is not the same as ours—was its insatiable curiosity and therefore its tameness. It is a curious fact of natural history that our red species, identical in all other respects, is of a grey colour in many European countries, especially the northern.

A Bronx Bird

On this subject a brief reminiscence may be allowable. I was going round the lovely Bronx Zoo with one of the directors and asked him whether he did not find the grey squirrels, which abounded in the park, destructors of the birds. He said at once with conviction "Oh no. They are no trouble in that way." Almost at that instant a grey squirrel with a small bird in its mouth skipped across the path in front of us. "They must be getting too numerous," said the director ; and the matter was left there.

The Abstraction of Kestrels

In a house in Wiltshire last week, in a bedroom on the first floor, was found a kestrel which showed no inclination to move till a torch was directed on it from a few inches. The species seems to suffer from periods of abstraction, for some unknown reason. Twice in my life—once on the seashore, once in a lilac bush in my garden—I have handled a kestrel that showed no fear and no hostility, indeed small sign of recognizing the situation. In each case after a considerable interval the bird flew away as if it were its normal self. It is, of course, yet more strange that it should enter a room. There is no accounting for such eccentricities. I once left a car at the edge of the seashore. When we came back to it after a short walk we found within it a perfectly good mole, which behaved as if it were quite at home. When turned out it ran a few yards and then dug itself in.

In My Garden The greatest and most famous of our gardeners used to see red when privet was recommended for a hedge. His hatred of the bush was almost a passion. I begin to feel, like him, so disposed—not towards privet, which is a good bush, though it may be called suburban—but to that most popular of hedge shrubs, Lonicera Nidda. It has multiplied exorbitantly, chiefly because cuttings take so easily, but its beauty, which is undoubted, is skin deep. It needs almost continuous shearing, it flops at any excuse, it goes back on you, and it is easily ruined be any shade. I write as one desirous of substituting Berberis Darwinii and holly and, perhaps, Cotoneaster Simonsii. W. BEACH THOMAS.

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