Summerhill Barn Owl with fledgling
(Photo : Barry Watson)
Barry Watson Agriculture and Estate ManagementEarlier this year I wrote about rodent control, or to qualify that statement, in the agricultural landscape, we call the problem a gerbil. These little critters have a habit of making large dens, much like rabbits and their warrens. Remember what happened in Australia after the introduction of rabbits? They caused such a problem that a fence was put up right across the continent in an attempt to control their invasion, prompting a return to Europe in search of a natural antidote. Myxomatosis is the disease that keeps the rabbit population under control in the British Isles.
Unbeknown though, to the settler folk of Australia, the existence of these warrens or dens had its benefits, as they act as aerators allowing oxygen into the soil, and assisting the soil to breathe.
The problem arises in the crops, remembering that gerbils are vegetarians and have a special affinity for your well planted grass pastures. They have been known to decimate large areas in the vicinity of their dens, evoking the short-sighted but effective response of poisoning.
Our biological farming consultant, John Fair, has been integral to our solution, instigating the erection of owl houses in strategic spots in the fields. A family of owls is reputed to “deal” with something approaching 12 gerbils daily, and while gerbils also have a role in the ecological balance, uncontrolled, they’re capable of tipping the scales themselves.
The success of our owl population is a feather in the cap, as it goes straight to our philosophy of sustainability, something most urbanized humans take for granted.
Reintroduction of an endemic species of prey bird into an area where they used to be in sensible proportions, makes for a win-win situation. The natural balance is restored, as is the environment, and the grazing by large animal species (horses and cattle in this case) as old as the earth itself, is remanifested.
Worth recounting though, that it was the exploitation of the environment with the use of synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides and the decimation of the soil through the constant pulverization of tractor power, that upset the balance in the first place!
As the revered conservationist, Dr. Ian Player, once said “Nature has her ways. If we don’t respect her, she will take care of it herself. Nature has time on her side, and sooner or later, she will intervene if we don’t play the game”. Just look at the Arctic, and you’ll know what he means.