It has been an odd year for drying peat. The May wind was thorough and chased away the water, but since then the damp and the rain have soaked in to parts where the skin had not formed, and many of the most promising peats are now as crisp as biscuits on top while soggy and soluble below. I have managed to lug a few bags off, but the majority could still do with some more warm days before moving. The solution would be to dry them on high in a big stack, but the cows are magnetically drawn to anything that rises more than eighteen inches off the moor, and previous stacks have been reduced to crumbly fragments by their lumbering curiosity. As it is, I have to stack them in long, low mounds which are prone to staying wetter for longer.
Last year, the tallest peats were constantly strewn with the remains of butchered voles. Kestrels and (by night) owls would carry their prey to be eviscerated on the nearest high point, and some of my peats were coated in dried gall bladders and the noses and whiskers of rodents which are so carefully removed before eating. The voles have crashed this year, and I seldom see any kestrels on the hill as a result. Notes from last year describe encounters with broods of young kestrels, sometimes combining with others to form loose gangs of nine or ten along a single mile of moorland track. This year, I would be lucky to see a single kestrel on a walk round the hill, and the owls seem to have failed as well.
These things work in cycles, but it is always surprising to see how dramatic these can be.