Ferreting in Airedale

by Sheila Crompton

So far this current season we've only managed to get in 2 trips and both of these have been to the fields belonging to a livery stable in Airedale in North Yorkshire. The first one was at the end of September and before we'd had any frosts consequently we spent a lot of time bashing down nettles and thistles to get to the buries. It was the first time I'd been ferreting when I had to discarding my camo jacket and sweater because it was so warm, and I'm definitely not used to having to look for a shady spot to leave the ferret boxes. The normal weather for that spot is drizzle, mist and a biting wind plus mud, standing water, and lots of it!

Our second visit was the last Sunday in October - I had arranged to pick Stuart up at 0700 but then remembered that the clocks went back so phoned him to say make it 0600, no extra hour in bed for us! I was up at 0430 as I had to check that all the ferrets had water and food before I left them, plus I had to make up my mind about which ferrets I was taking. I ended up taking 12 with me but only used 6; two of the 12 were only along for the ride anyway. They were put in their travelling cages in the back of the van. I'd already put the net bags, working boxes, spade etc in the van the night before.

I left home at 0535 to drive to Atherton to collect Stuart. I called in to get petrol - the chap at the filling station said something about me being up early, I reckon he must have thought that I'd forgotten to alter my watch.

I had to wait for Stuart to get back home as he'd taken his dog round to his parents for the day. He had his ferrets and game bag ready for loading straight into the van so we were able to set off just before 6 am. It normally takes me about an hour and a half to drive to Gargrave. On arrival at the stables we opted for a quick snack before starting work; I put the frying pan on the camping stove so that we could both have a bacon sarnie. Whilst the bacon was frying I put batteries in the locator collars and checked that they were working OK and put them on the ferrets.

Stuart with Lucy and Spock

Stuart with Spock and Lucy

As we'd had a few frosts since our first visit the vegetation was beginning to die back (last month the nettles were shoulder high) and we were able to clear three quarters of the nettles and brambles from the area of the warren that we hope to work on our next visit - still too much cover for us to work as we just wouldn't be able to see the ferrets when they exited the holes.

After spending 20 minutes or so on nettle bashing we decided to work a one holer that has been productive on every visit. After netting the hole I put Demdike down, a novice poley jill. Within a couple of minutes a rabbit hurtled in the net, Lucy, one of my lurchers, moved in to pin the rabbit. Demdike popped out of the hole to check where her rabbit had got to. She saw that Stuart had the rabbit and returned back down the hole to check for any further occupancy... she came out a few minutes later after deciding that it was clear.

Demdike with her rabbit

Demdike with her rabbit

We moved on to the next bury. We'd just finished laying the nets when I looked up to see that Lucy and Spock were doing their own bit of rabbiting. They'd flushed one and charging at full speed after it, Lucy, the younger and lighter of the pair, was in the lead she made a grab at the rabbit but it got away and made a 90-degree turn to the right. Lucy didn't make any mistakes with her second go at capturing it. Spock decided to "help" Lucy restrain the rabbit but his idea is to chomp - result one rabbit only fit for ferret food.

We drew a blank with all the rest of buries along that edge of the field, and moved on up the slope to the elderberry. Just two nets required for this one... Big 'un, the albino hob that Stuart adopted off me a month ago, was sent down. Stuart ended up having a tug of war with Big 'un when he latched onto a rabbit. I don't think it's going to be much fun working with him, we might end up having to do a bit digging if we use him.

We now moved on to the bury under the trees - impossible to net up all the holes because of the tree roots. Anyway Stuart decided to net the bury at the end of the gully to back net any bolters. We netted up what we could at the bury we were going to work I put Demdike in and she decided to have a bit of play first, kept bobbing in and out the holes and doing the weasel war dance - obviously the bury was occupied. Finally she went underground and proceeded to check out the bury. A rabbit shot out from under the tree, down the gully and was back netted. After examining her rabbit Demdike went back to look for more, one bolted and shot off across the field, then another tore off down the gully, saw the waiting net and doubled back to re-enter the bury. Demdike was getting the run around so Little Joe was sent down to help her out. We heard more thumps from underground - the dogs were watching one hole very intently and Stuart went to investigate. A rabbit was trying to make a run for it but Little Joe was hanging onto it, and when Stuart hauled the rabbit out he discovered that Demdike had hold of Little Joe. Demdike soon let go of Little Joe once the rabbit was clear of the bury but Little Joe wasn't letting go of his rabbit!

Stuart with Spock by the bury that we can't net up, the gully is to the left of the trees.

The rabbit was duly dispatched and handed to me to add to the previous one by the ferret box. I then started gathering up the nets and packing them in the bag whilst Stuart collected the others from down the gully. Demdike and Little Joe each got a kidney from their rabbit.

We then went back to the van for something to eat and a hot drink. The ferrets were returned to the cages for a well-earned rest.

I took out Kes, Tarn, Chattox and Edmund to let them have a go at rabbit hunting. They all worked well and checked out the buries - hopefully next time we take them out there might be more action for them. We are going to need them when we've cleared the big warren of nettles and brambles.

(First published in NFWS News - #65 October 2003)