The squirrels clearly know that autumn is coming and are making a nuisance of themselves, eating the beech masts and frightening the birds away from the feeders. We invested in squirrel-proof feeders a couple of years ago and the weekly consumption of nuts and seeds immediately fell by about two thirds. The squirrels also started hibernating, as they are meant to, rather than hanging around the garden all winter getting plumper and bolder.
We only have grey squirrels in this part of Yorkshire, the descendants of American imports in the 19th Century. They are more aggressive than the native red squirrels which are also smaller and more susceptible to disease. As a result, most parts of the UK have no red squirrels left, although they survive on a few islands and in isolated areas of woodland, including some in North Yorkshire. A few months ago the Government announced its intention of repealing legislation (The Grey Squirrels (Prohibition of Importation and Keeping) Order 1937, if you’re interested) that makes it an offence to fail to notify the presence of a grey squirrel on one’s land. In the 1930s there was an expectation that the grey menace could be halted by eradication, if only everyone reported sightings. The alien species is now so ubiquitous that the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) would need every one of its employees to man the phones all day and do nothing but take down reports of grey squirrels, so it is just as well that everyone forgot about the reporting requirement decades ago. Defra has at last realised that the nationwide battle is lost and is instead putting its efforts into encouraging red squirrels in the few places where they have managed to thrive.
Our garden greys have discovered that, if they loiter under a bird feeder, they will get the occasional nut that drops from a careless avian beak. Unfortunately for them, the cat has learnt that a squirrel on the ground is relatively easy to catch and we have had a surprising number of squirrel corpses delivered to us over the summer. The one on the right was laid out neatly in the middle of the kitchen floor when I foolishly left the back door open on a hot day. But the number of squirrels in the garden has not noticeably declined. I suspect that we are sucking them in from miles around, thanks to the constant supply of bird food.
Friends came to stay for a night, en route to Whitby to look up some distant cousins. They arrived on a sunny evening and we gave them a quick tour by car before supper: Bolton Abbey, Ilkley Moor (including the cow and calf rocks) and Otley Chevin, from where we watched planes taking off from Leeds-Bradford Airport. The next morning we packed them off to Whitby, via York where they were to spend the next night. It’s ages since I’ve been to Whitby, a place with a surprising number of points of interest. For a start, there is a ruined abbey in a prime position above the town, overlooking the harbour from which Captain Cook, who later discovered Australia in a Whitby-built ship, first put to sea. And the town features in Bram stoker’s “Dracula”, a connection that is milked for all it’s worth by the local tourist industry. Finally, there is Whitby jet, fossilised wood that is made into jewellery and peaked in popularity when Prince Albert died, being jet black (obviously) and therefore suited to mourning. I have several items of jet jewellery that were my grandmother’s and I like the fact that they are very light in weight compared with gemstones or even the plastic that is used to mimic jet nowadays.
Maybe next year I will make it to the gansey exhibition, Propagansey, which is just along the coast at Robin Hood’s Bay and would fit in well with a visit to Whitby. The nearest I got to that part of the world this week was a business trip to the North East. I called in at the huge steel statue near Gateshead, the Angel of the North. It’s been there for more than 15 years and is an impressive sight viewed from the A1 when driving past, but this was the first time I’d been able to get up close and appreciate just how big it is – 54m from wingtip to wingtip. It was quite awe-inspiring to stand at the foot and gaze up, like a mouse looking up at a human.