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

Collecting the last of the gunstand markers

A bit of pipe makes a handy marker

For the last few days I have been collecting up the last remaining gunstand markers from the remoter parts of the farm.  

Having fun

I can incorporate little training routines into this process,  for example,  dropping a dog off at each marker position as I walk down the line,  then calling the furthest dog down the line before walking back to collect the others. 

Sometimes I drop a dummy off as I collect each marker then when I get to the end,  send the dogs back for them.   It’s all a bit of fun.

Today,  it is a beautiful sunny day  and I am looking forward to a pleasant hour or two after dropping my son off at the station. 

Not having fun

Himself, however, is not having quite so much fun,  for it is ‘that’ time of year again.  The time we have to chivvy all the guns for their ‘subs’,  so that we can pay our annual shoot rent.   

The guns all like to keep us on our toes by leaving it until the last minute!   It is one side of running a shoot that we both loath, and are very glad when it is all wrapped up each year.

Jumping ditches adds to the fun

The next few weeks

Bluebell time is rapidly approaching,  and the woods are full of bluebell leaves,  there is usually a magnificent show on the farm which I will attempt to capture for you with my fairly basic photographic skills in the next few weeks when the woodland floor will be covered with a vivid blue carpet.  

In the meantime,  there are a few more markers to collect, and a train  to be caught,  so  I am off out into the sunshine!


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.

Rods On Rivers

Fly fishingHimself and I are rather partial to a spot of fly-fishing.   However, this aspect of our lives has been somewhat neglected since the arrival of the Queen of the Oceans.  

One of my ambitions, is to catch a salmon on a fly.  And an arrival in my email in-box recently, announcing  the launch of a  great new website,  was a reminder that this ambition is as yet unfulfilled.   

The new website is called Rods On Rivers ,  and is brought to us by father and son team James and Chris Horne. 

James and Chris are founders of the successful Guns On Pegs  site which brings together people seeking shooting and people with shooting to sell.   

Rods on Rivers will fulfil the same function for the fishing community.  You can register as a fisherman (or woman) or as a provider of fishing.   In either case it is free to join.

Anyhow, I am off to register,  and to write  ‘Catch a Salmon in 2012’ on the fridge.   That should catch his eagle eye next time he stops off for a snack!

A morning’s ferreting

two young ferretsI have been largely confined to my desk for the last few weeks.

But with my book now safely at the publishers, it has been a great relief to get out with my dogs again.  

And what better way to spend a sunny morning than out with the ferrets and a dog at my side.

Even if you have never been ferreting, you are probably aware that ferrets are used to chase rabbits from their burrows. 

The rabbits can then be either shot or netted.  And there are pros and cons to each method.


Ferret at work

Nothing in this hole!

Netting is more time consuming as each entrance to the burrow has to have a net carefully set over it. 

Even when netting is done very quietly, it may make the rabbits more likely to try and ‘hole up’ underground as they become aware of the disturbance above.

We don’t want rabbits to lie up.

This can encourage the ferrets to kill the rabbit,  which quite apart from being horrible for the rabbit, often entails digging out the ferret.  

A time-consuming process. 

In addition, some warrens are difficult to net and some holes can be inaccessible.  


Off to a good start

With shooting, there is no time wasted in netting holes, and rabbits tend to bolt quickly and are less likely to lie up.  

Shooting over ferrets is very testing as rabbits bolt with unbelievable speed.  It requires a very good shot and safety is of course paramount.

Obviously in some situations, it is simply not safe to shoot over ferrets, but on much of our shoot grounds, the warrens are ideally placed for shooting.

Himself always prefers to shoot over ferrets where appropriate, and this is excellent for me, as watching rabbits bolt and be shot, is superb steadiness training for young dogs.

Steadiness training

Labrador ferreting

Watching from behind the guns

The young lab I took with me this morning had never been ferreting before and I decided to keep her on the lead to begin with.

This was a good decision as the first rabbit to bolt changed direction unexpectedly and virtually ran across her toes.

She was unable to resist this extraordinary temptation but I stopped her with the lead, rebuked her firmly and sat her up again. 

 She was as good as gold from there on, and after an hour or so, and many more flushes, I was confident enough to take off the lead.

We  visited half a dozen warrens during the course of the morning and finished up with twelve rabbits.   

In addition to the importance of fulfilling our obligation to control the rabbits on the farm,  and some great training for the dog,  we also came away with several day’s free dog food.  

It is nearly the end of the ferreting season now,  soon the warrens will be overgrown with vegetation,  and baby rabbits will be appearing.    Then it will be time to switch to culling rabbits with the .22 rifle.    There is always something  else to look forward to as we move through the seasons.

Fallow stalking on the South Downs

fallow stalking on the South Downs

The view from the top was worth the effort of getting there

Himself has recently been asked to assist with the fallow stalking on a substantial slice of the South Downs.   

Being short of things to do, he decided to accept the invitation, and  informed me yesterday that my assistance would be appreciated in the morning.    

I enjoy stalking on the Downs as the scenery is very different than it is on our shoot ground.  I am also always glad to grab any opportunity that arises  to film wild fallow deer.

An early start

At 4am I was awoken by the sound of torrential rain.  There would be no filming today.  Apparently however,  my assistance would still be required and a while later we set off in heavy rain and made our way up onto the cloud covered hills.

There’s nothing to it

My task apparently,  was simple.    All I had to do was make my way around the perimeter of a sixty acre field.   As I moved back along the lower edge my presence would be sufficient to encourage the deer to move along the woodland strip where himself believed them to be lying up.  He of course,  would wait in position at the other end of the wood.

What he neglected to inform me was that the aforementioned field had at some point in its geological evolution,  been picked up and turned on one end.   It was in fact, as near to vertical as a field can be without becoming a cliff.

Wild Fallow

Wild fallow are very different creatures from the park deer that so many of us are familiar with.   The fallow deer on the South Downs are extremely secretive.   They lie up in woodland during the day,  and only come out into the fields when it is almost completely dark.   This makes them hard to film.

Despite the fact that they move about in herds of sometimes thirty or forty deer,   these clever creatures manage to conceal themselves entirely for much of their lives.   Just occasionally you will come across one or more in daylight,  usually this happens at last light.   I have only a few precious clips of wild fallow in broad daylight,  most of those filmed from high seats,  but I always live in hope.

A view worth working for

Climbing up the field this morning was rather like using one of those particularly unpleasant stair climbing machines in the gym, by the time I reached the brow of the hill my legs and lungs were burning and all I could hear was the pounding of my heart.  But the muddy field edge was covered in fresh fallow tracks and droppings and I was hoping that the deer might still be in the field below as I peeped over the brow.  

Sadly,  as himself had predicted, they had already departed the field,  but the view from the top was worth the effort of getting there.   And thankfully the walk back was a lot more comfortable.

Deer management

There are large areas of forest along the upper edges of parts of the downs,  and within these forests the fallow herds can reach great numbers.    During the summer they emerge each night to cause havoc amongst the crops and for this reason their numbers have to be kept down to a reasonable level.    Unfortunately we did not have any impact on numbers this trip.  I moved five deer past himself in all,  but today none were shootable. 

That’s how it is with stalking.   Especially when  managing deer over such a large area.   Himself will usually make two or three unproductive trips for every successful one.

Next time I go with him,  hopefully the sun will shine for me.  Right now,  as I write, it is just starting to snow!

For more information on deer stalking in the UK,  check out this article:  Deer Stalking

Total Recall: the cover

I am very excited to see my book cover in the publisher’s catalogue. It makes it all seem real.

The lovely photo is by splendid photographer Nick Ridley. He is providing some of the images inside too.

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!