13 AUGUST 1948, Page 14


How vain it is to generalise about England with its infinite varieties! While Kent laments the paucity of birds and butterflies, Hertfordshire boasts of the exceptional number of young birds if not of butterflies. One reason for this contrast seems to me to emerge. It has been in general a good season for birds, but beyond all question the birds and beasts of prey also have flourished, chiefly because of the reduction of keepers. Where small birds are few the marauders are many, chiefly jays, magpies and carrion crows. Keepers as a class have often been roundly abused both by humanitarians and less often by naturalists ; but whatever their sins, whatever the dislike of their "larders," which are always an unlovely spectacle, there is, I think, no doubt at all that we owe the multitude of our small birds very largely to their continuous war against the birds of prey. It is astonishing how many nests one bird may destroy. In one garden, some years ago, every single known nest was ravaged by a shrike which would fly down to the garden from its proper haunt at 6 o'clock every evening and begin its hunting. Where jays (which have very large families) are in excess, virtually every nest within their compass may be destroyed, and the young run as great a risk after they have left the nest as before.