15 MAY 1936, Page 17


Rural History Now quietly continuous are the annals of our country places in England, even now ! For example : a very local historian in Essex has been searching in the manorial rolls of such places the history of a small parish now threatened by the extension of Cobbett's. Wen. One detail in the statistics acquired by the research indicates that thirty-eight fields in the parish have the very same names that they had in the thirteenth century or earlier. Now at that early date the open fields and commons hid no great likeness to the closed fields and paddocks of today, of the days that succeeded enclosures and the planting of hedges ; in spite of such superficial changes the bits of land retain their ancient names. The continuity is not only literary, not only maintained in and by documents. The country people still call fields by their names. In many parishes every field is known by name ; and a good percentage of these names go back to Domesday. Nature helps by renew- ing her signals and signposts. A certain field known for many hundred years as " High Trees " is today decorated with a clump of high trees ; but none of them were born when the name was given to the patch of land. There is something Invincibly permanent about a bit of earth. The balks that separated. neighbouring strips were often no more than a few turfs, but unless purposely destroyed they outlived grass or stone. The names seem to partake of such physical endurance.

The New Farming Mitch is new on the land as well as old. In the neighbour- hood of this parish Mr. Ford, whO was a land-lover almost from birth, makes arrangements by which any one who will may be conducted over the intensive and semi-intensive farms near the Essex works and see for himself how profitable even the heaviest land may become. The secret of the success lies largely with machinery, directed by the skilful advice of those who farmed the land before the machine came to rival the horse. What Mr. Ford is doing in Essex Sir John Russell is doing, according to precedent at Rothamsted in Hertfordshire. All farmers are cordially invited to visit and he shows the experimental work on the farm ; and it includes the use of electricity and some rotary machines that may greatly assist intensive cultivators. Seeing is believing ; and farmers are traditionally unwilling to put any confidence in any witness less certain than their own eyes. Mr: Ford's first love, nmelt earlier than his zeal for the road motor, was for the farm tractor. Rothamsted was founded by the first great agricul- tural chemists. Visitors to the two places may learn what is newest and best in both mechanical and chemical science ; and the larger the company who take advantage of these hospitable offers the better for English farming.

Rabbits and Farmers

Local papers all over the country have one point of superiority over metropolitan : they devote more space to the farm and, on the whole, show more knowledge of what is essentially important. A great • number of them in very different quarters of England are insistent on the necessity of reducing the tale of rabbits. The need is emphasised in Cam- bridgeshire as in Devon. The rabbit does permanent as well as animal damage. Its holes destroy hedges and even fields. They foul land, leave no fertility behind them and devour crops. In the past compensating money has been made in a good many places by their use as live stock. Their skins and bodies were worth something for sale ; and in the West many a farmer paid his rent or most of it by letting the rabbiting rights to professional trappers. This form of value has vanished. We are said to import 14,000,004) rabbits a year ; and whatever the reason trapping as a form of business is more or less at an end. There is some reason to believe that the taste for rabbit as a form of food has failed, in England as long since in Germany. The multiplication is so enormous and the damage so great that public authorities must either do the work of destruction themselves or make the reduction of rabbits by landowners or tenants a legal obligation. Even clergymen are complaining of the damage done in church- yards ; and one has been recommending the planting of petu- Was as one of the few plants disliked by the rrlibit.

Corn-consuming Squirrels It is more surprising that some of these local papers have associated the grey squirrel with the rabbit as public enemy number two. Of late this squirrel, always more or less omni- vorous, has taken to the consumption of corn crops. It is very fond of grain and in every wood where such store is to be found attacks the grain meant for the feeding of game. This is a minor matter, only concerning the gamekeeper, who can look after himself. The attack on standing crops is another matter. It is worth while to remember that in America, from where he hails, the grey squirrel, according to Buffon, was unpopular even at that early date from the damage • he did to corn (that is maize) crops. If those who introduced this squirrel had read their Buffon (and he is still worth reading for his matter as well as his manner) the balance of nature here would be in safer equipoise.

A Cuckoo's Victim

Swallows—already a numerous crowd this summer in England—will, we know, return to the very same eaves year after year. The cuckoo, I fancy, has a like preference for old haunts, though the evidence is less precise. Here is one curious modern instance. In an East Anglian garden a wagtail's nest, built in the ivy on the wall of the house, was victimised three years running by a cuckoo. In the fourth year the wagtails did nut return to their old pitch ; and one day a disconsolate cuckoo was noticed circling about the spot in vain search, it was supposed, for the expected host. A visitor who was told the tale was taken to the place and as he walked away caught sight of a move- ment under the eaves ; and a cuckoo flew out. She had laid her egg (or deposited it) in a swallow's nest above the place where the wagtails used to build. It is the only example, within my knowledge at least, of a cuckoo choosing a swallow for victim ; but a very large number of species have this honour, according to the statisticians ; even the blackbird is included. The order of preference in the experience of most of our field naturalists perhaps, is wagtail, dunnock and meadow pipit ; but experiences differ a good deal in different districts. In my own experience, chiefly in the eastern midlands, the dunnock is an easy first. * * * *

The Urban Coot

A pair of coot, unkindly called baldheaded, have tired this year by a pond near London ; and have produced seven young, which make an appearance all the more welcome because the species has not bred there or even visited the garden before. The arrival is probably due to the pressure of population. The coot have multiplied beyond measure on mane of the great London reservoirs, which seem to provide them with ideal conditions. 1 have seen coot in multitudes on marshy lakes in the extreme west of Britain ; but these hosts were as nothing to the black gangs that covered one part of the Staines reservoir when I last visited it. Many sorts of birds, of course, delight in these reservoirs. You may see there towards winter as big flocks of widgeon as are haunt on any north-western loch, and the variety of duck is great ;

but the coot excel them all, and are numerous gh to be 3 nuisance to those who have concern of whatever sort with those attractive and most necessary waters.

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Strange Foster Mothers A form of incubation, probably new to our t expert poultry keepers, has been discovered by the ingenious inhabitants of the Orkney Islands. The shortness of life among poultry in those regions makes it difficult to find a sufficient number of sitting hens. On the other hand wild birds of many species flourish, as they flourish in few other places. here. obviously, are foster mothers provided by nature. A good many sea birds lay very small clutches, in some species as ',UM!, as one ; and place the eggs on precarious ledges : but the shags which abound thereabouts, offer at any rate a solid nest, and themselves lay eggs of a good size, nor arc they fastidious, as are some birds (partridges for example). So the eggs are boarded out in the shags' nest, which do the work of hatching admirably ; and the chicks are recovered before they are in danger of being forced to consume a too fishy diet.

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