Fat Hen’s Demise

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Fat hen, shredded by hares

Maybe I’ve written enough about hares in recent weeks, but I can hardly fail to record a discovery which may help to explain their surging numbers. Walking through the frosted turnip field this morning, I found the crop strewn with the wreckage of weeds. The lusty thickets of fat hen have been stripped away to stumps and stems, and the rogue oats which resurged from 2018 have all been felled and eaten. Some of this damage has been caused by linnets and redpolls which come in shoals from the woods and the moor, but most has been driven by the gnawing teeth of hares.

I keep comparing this crop with the field of oats which preceded it. Those oats buoyed a host of birds and wildlife through the winter, and I wondered how turnips could ever match them. But it seems like turnips offer a similar boost, not least because the benefits begin much earlier in the year. Ever since the shaws were tall enough to hide a hare, the field has been thick with activity, and the conservation interest of this field has only grown since midsummer. Compare this with the oats, which only came into their own when the field was cut in September.

It now remains to be seen how the turnips go into the winter. Perhaps the hares will turn their attention to the rows of swollen purple roots and I will begin to resent their predations, but for now it’s fine to see them working through the weeds and all the other plants which sprang to life alongside the crop.

I will be cutting, shawing and building a clamp for these turnips over the next few weeks. Half the crop will be brought in and stored in the yard, but the other half will remain in situ until the cattle come after Christmas. I can’t resist measuring turnips against oats and weighing the conservation benefits of one against the other, but the reality is that both are superb – it’s hard to overstate what a difference this small field has made to local wildlife in two brief years under rotation.

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