Writer, zoologist and gundog enthusiast, Pippa blogs on life in the countryside

Goodbye April, hello May


Got to love those cocker ears!

Last month, our family was very pre-occupied with a big celebration.   It was an unforgettable experience watching my husband walk our  radiant younger daughter up the aisle of our village church.

Not least because of the shock of seeing him in a suit.

In fact it was quite extraordinary for me to see my entire family and many friends, transformed by suits, ties, hats and beautiful, colourful, dresses.

And to spend a whole day with so many loved ones.  An experience that not even the wettest month of the year could mar.

Of course my priorities have for the last few weeks been elsewhere than with dog training and the shoot.  But now April is done, and as we slip back into our ‘green’ clothes,  I am looking forward to this new month with renewed focus on our outdoor pursuits.

Meg as you can see (right) is relieved to have me back again!

The wettest drought in history

We are supposedly in the middle of a drought so serious that a hosepipe ban has been introduced throughout the South East of the UK.  However, no-one has thought to inform the sky above Hampshire and Surrey of this fact.  It has rained almost continuously now for around three weeks.

The farm is extremely waterlogged at the moment and the usually stunning annual display of bluebells has been somewhat flattened and diminished by the constant rain and high winds.  Even in the landrover,  straying from the main tracks is fraught with excitement.  And not in a good way!

The Queen of the Oceans  has been confined to her berth for all but a couple of days for the last few weeks.  Overcome with cabin fever due to the atrocious weather for the last few days,  himself went down to ‘look her over’  and pump out her bilges  on Sunday afternoon.   Several gallons of rainwater had been forced under her covers by the previous night’s gales.

Catching up with writing

Fortunately there is nothing too pressing that needs doing during April, and we were able to put the shoot on the ‘back burner’  whilst preparing for our big day,  and riding out the April storms.

And in the last few days I have been able to catch up with some of my articles for The Labrador Site  where I have been focusing on stopping dogs from pulling on the lead,  and Totally Gundogs  where I have been delving further into retrieving, and retrieving problems.

I have also set up a facebook page for my gundog site which, if you are into that kind of thing,  you can find here:  Totally Gundogs on Facebook

Ready for May

May will be a month of pen  mending, dog training, stalking and filming roe deer,  and stocking the freezer with rabbits, venison, and sea fish.    Himself and I also have some plans for a new website dedicated to deer.   But more of that later.

Here’s hoping that some of the many vats of water that fell on my house last night,  will end up in our desperately low reservoirs.   I certainly do not need any more in my garden.


In which I become an activist!

It was quite a shock to discover when I awoke this morning,  that I am now an Animal Rights Activist!

Apparently an article I wrote supporting the Kennel Club in what I consider to be a brave and important step in canine welfare,  did not go down too well in some doggy circles.

The story

If you have not been following the story,  the Kennel Club introduced veterinary checks at all Championship shows beginning with this year’s  Crufts.   The checks apply to 15 breeds considered to be at risk from conformational extremes.   The six dogs that failed these checks were disqualified.  An unprecedented and extraordinary event in the history of this show   

The KC’s chairman Steve Dean said that the checks were initiated to  “prevent dogs with clinical problems associated with exaggerated conformation competing in the group ring”

Advanced warning of the checks was given and the intention of introducing them for the first time at the world’s most prestigious dog show caused little comment in advance.  

The Alliance

Once the ensuing disqualifications took place however,  an almighty outcry occurred and the show dog community joined ranks to protest.   In the aftermath of the show,  a new organisation was born.  

It was on this subject that I wrote and published an article for the Labrador Site.  You can read the article here: The Canine Alliance.

The activist

I subscribe to the Retriever, dog and wildlife blog, and it was with interest this morning that I read a post about a British Gundog Trainer that had been accused of being an animal rights activist.  It took a second or two for it to sink in that this was about me!

Those who disapprove of outsiders attempting to influence breeding practices in the UK seem to use the Animal Rights label to attempt to ‘diminish’  their critics quite regularly.  Jemima Harrison has frequently been accused of being involved with PETA and the like.   

But it is quite amusing to find this label hung on’yours truly’ as I should imagine it would be hard to find an Animal Rights activist in the UK that would be prepared to stand in the same room as me!

I have no idea how the thread panned out as I am not a member of the facebook group on which it was posted.  Let me know if you saw it.    I’m off to shave my head and get a tattoo.

Copyright and Pedigrees

Jemima Harrison's long awaited documentary to air in February

I suppose that this happens to all bloggers eventually.  But for some reason, I wasn’t expecting it yet.   I came across an article on the internet yesterday that looked remarkably familiar.  But then it would do.  Because I had written the content.

Only the website the article was sitting on was not one of my own.

It is not uncommon for people to copy a part of an article and link it back to the author’s site.  

It is perhaps more unusual for someone to copy an entire article and to alter it  slightly to make appear to have been written by the ‘copier’   (I am resisting the urge to write ‘thief’)  but this is what had happened to my article.

This morning I have written to the person who took my article and asked them politely to remove it from their website.

I will let you know what happens!

Pedigree Dogs Exposed returns!

I also want to spread the news about Jemima Harrison’s new film: Pedigree Dogs Exposed – three years on.

Jemima’s ground breaking film,  Pedigree Dogs Exposed, drew international public attention to the plight of some of our pedigree dog breeds and the problems of maintaining a healthy population of animals within a closed registry.

As some of you know I have taken a keen interest in Jemima’s campaign and am delighted to see that the BBC have announced a screening date for this long awaited documentary.

You can catch it on BBC Four on Monday 27th February at 9pm.   I suspect that the dog owning nation will be glued to their seats!

Life goes on!


Time for some training then!

It’s a strange feeling,  for the game shooting season to be done and dusted for another year.  But as one avenue of pleasure closes,  another beckons. 

People often ask me what we do with our working dogs for the rest of the year,  and  I have chatted with shooting enthusiasts in the USA who find it unusual or interesting that for us,  the end of game shooting,  is by no means the end of shooting for the year. 

During February we concentrate on some different quarry species.  

Rabbits and Roe

Roe are abundant on the farm at the moment and  so for the next few weeks we will be stocking the freezer with delicious venison.    

We will also be shooting over ferrets for a few more weeks  and I hope to put up a post about that soon.    Ferreting with working ferrets is a great way to reduce rabbit populations  during the winter months and to provide meat for our dogs.  

Shooting rabbits as they bolt from their burrows is also great sport and watching it is very good steadiness training for our young dogs.

Training the dogs

The spaniels tend to be a bit raggedy around the edges by the end of the shooting season,  too much ‘sweeping up’  interferes with a nice tidy quartering pattern,  and behaviour does tend to deteriorate a little over the course of the season simply because you are working the dogs far more than training them.

So in February and March before the undergrowth starts to go crazy, we get to work on sharpening up stop whistles and tightening up quartering patterns.  


Perhaps one of the most delicious  species on the farm is the humble, plump and prolific woodpigeon.  We work hard on keeping woodpigeon numbers under control as they do so much crop damage,  but the benefits of the meat cannot be overstated.  If you have never tasted woodpigeon I do recommend it.  It is a rich, dark,  tasty meat, almost ‘beefy’ in texture and flavour.   We will almost certainly be shooting plenty of these this year.

Some time to relax?

Whilst I am truly sad to say goodbye to another gameshooting season it has been hard work for us providing the birds, arranging the days, and making sure everything runs smoothly.   And I am looking forward to a more relaxing time,  just as soon as I have handed in this book.

Himself who has headed out to sea today to try and catch a nice big cod,  had made me promise not to start any more projects for a few months.  So  I will have to try and be good.       We’ll see how that pans out….

The end of the season

fox-red labrador with pheasant

Another one for the game cart

Our formal shoots are now all complete. 

From a numbers point of view it has been a very successful season with our total bag accounting for more than fifty percent of the birds we bought in as poults. 

More importantly we have all had a brilliant time,  out in all weathers, admiring those memorable shots, watching the dogs work ,  and  teasing guns that can’t remember their peg numbers… 

We have walked and walked until we were ready to drop, laughed in the pouring rain, soaked up the privilege and glory of shooting in the English countryside, and relished the company of good friends. 

working cocker with hen pheasant

Not a giant pheasant, just a little dog

We have reminisced about some great shots and commiserated over poor ones.

We have watched young dogs grow in confidence and experience, and eaten too much in front of roaring fires.  I am sure we are all fitter though, perhaps no slimmer!

What more wonderful way can there be to spend a winter. 

For me personally the shooting season has brought yet more pleasures. 

It has been a wonderful few months with two very special and important events for me just before Christmas. 

working cocker spaniel

What shall we do next?

In December I signed my first publishing contract,  and I also learned that our new Gundog Welfare charity ‘The Gundog Trust’ has been accepted for registration with the Charity Commission.  

My new book will be published in July and right now I am busy putting the finishing  touches to it.   I am sure I will be blogging a bit more about that in the weeks to come.

The Gundog Trust is the culmination of a massive amount of work,  and is something of a ‘dream come true’ for me.  

There is a lot more work to be done yet,  but much of our progress has been on hold whilst we waited for our Charity Commission registration.  

pheasant shooting in England

Wending our way home

Gaining the recognition of the Charity Commission has been a rigourous and thorough process involving the extensive gathering of information and including a requirement to provide evidence that gundogs are ‘useful to man’. 

 Something that seems obvious to those of us that work them,  but in fact is not at all obvious to those that know little about eating game,  game shooting,  or gundog fieldwork.

Once we receive our Charity Number we will be able to move forward with a public launch.   We are just waiting for some changes in our articles of association to be updated with Companies House and we will be able to receive our official charity registration number.

It is all very exciting!   I’ll let you know what happens next.

Hot and cold

Well this evening was certainly interesting.  I was just about to write a post about my youngest cocker and her aversion to brambles when cries of ‘Mum, Mum,  the fire is  making a horrible noise!’  rang through the house. 

Ah well,  it’s always nice to get to know your local fire brigade a little better. 

After being mended several times last week,  our central heating boiler decided to give up the ghost again today.   Which has coincided neatly with our first seriously cold night.    Foolishly I dared to ponder that things could not get much worse.   This was clearly irresponsible of me as a few degrees of frost for a day or three never did a healthy well-fed family any harm.

My elder son decided to remedy the situation by building a really good fire.   And I am not talking about a few twigs here.  I am talking about a real ‘kick-ass’  fire.   Which as luck would have it decided to spread itself up the chimney and turn the flue  into a mega flame thrower with impressive sound effects.

Naturally Himself on arriving home to find a large blast furnace attached to the side of the house attempted to arm himself with the hosepipe and attack the offending chimney with a jet of water.  Unfortunately the water supply was frozen solid,  so it is probably just as well that the aid of Hampshire’s noble fire brigade had already been summoned.

I’m off now to dig out some very large blankets!  We’ll have to catch up with cockers another day.


Men don’t get dieting

Like most women,I know a thing or two about dieting as I have been doing it on and off for most of my adult life.

Yes, I know,  if it worked I wouldn’t still be doing it.  On the other hand, who knows how huge I would be if I stopped?!

Men on the other hand don’t ‘get’ it.   

This morning I sent Mr Multi-Track up into the village to  purchase for me the ingredients for my frugal lunch.   “Fetch me some smoked salmon” says I ,  “and some coleslaw”  to eat with my salad,  (note the emphasis on the word salad).

Mr M returns a few minutes later with smoked salmon,  coleslaw….. and a jam doughnut. 


“Whats this?”   exclaims I  angrily

“ …a jam doughnut?” offers Mr M, taking a step back

“What is it doing in my kitchen?” I demand.

“ My diet is ruined”   wails I.   

Mr M then explains that only yesterday,  I had expressed extreme disappointment at his failure to procure for me the Jam Doughnut clearly listed in capital letters on his shopping list.  He was merely making amends for yesterday’s omission,  and would I kindly keep my freaking hair on!

He also points out in a most superior sort of way,  that I don’t actually have to eat the bloody thing.

You see. 

 They just don’t get it.