Last week I spoke about the birds enjoying a winter feast of windfall apples. It was fascinating to watch them gathering in groups to feed throughout the day. We don’t do much to encourage birds in the garden – the last thing we want is the cats to be hunting them, particularly during the spring and summer, when there are young ones about, perhaps less streetwise than their parents. So it was a joy to feel that we could help them through the winter, when the cats are out less and the birds may struggle to feed themselves.
All this came to an end, however, when our neighbour saw a rat in their garden, carrying bread put out by their neighbours on the other side. Now I quite like domesticated rats and I firmly believe that all wild creatures need to eat, whether we consider them socially acceptable or not. However, I do understand that wild rats can’t be encouraged in an area where pets and children play.
The crunch came – quite literally for the poor rat – when our neighbour caught one in a trap, clearly on its way under the fence from our garden to theirs. Reluctantly, I accepted that windfall apples will feed rats just as well as birds, and collected them all up for the compost. The blackbirds started to gather on the fences as I worked, watching with interest, not realising that I was clearing away their food source. Once I had finished, they hopped down to inspect the orchard, even before I had moved away, and I had to leave, unable to bear to watch them hunting hopelessly for their meal. By the time I reached the house, there were several on the ground but sadly, they didn’t stay long. I can only hope that the decaying fruit was also feeding insects and the birds can at least eat those for a while.
So this leaves me wondering where we go from here. How to strike the balance between supporting the bird population through the winter, without encouraging them to nest in the garden for the cats to enjoy through the spring, and at the same time avoiding the rat problem? As a new gardener and an animal-lover, it is a real quandary, and a distressing one at that.
And what of the poor rat that met its end so suddenly whilst going under the fence? This is the biggest mystery of all. My neighbour left the body in the trap during the day and, when her husband came to dispose of it on his return from work, it was gone, trap and all. Calamity and the Princess were soon cleared of suspicion – they had alibis for most of the day, as they had barely set foot outside the door – and even a cat as bright as the Princess may have struggled to carry a large rat in a metal trap over the fence to bring home. Other suspects include the neighbour’s dog (but how would he dispose of the trap?) or a passing bird of prey, although they usually respond to movement on the ground and there was no doubt that the rat was dead. We may never know …
We have picked up the apples. We have blocked up the access under the fence. We plan to move the compost bin out of the orchard to somewhere less accessible. Have we done enough to prevent a return visit? I hope so – for the rats’ sakes as much as for ours.