A Day Out on the Railway

by Steve Burley

I received a report from Railtrack via Jarvis Rail, my employer, of a problem with rabbits on a line about 50 miles from Sheffield. On the Saturday I picked up Ian, my ferreting partner, up at 6 a.m. and reached our destination just after 7 a.m.

I had ferreted this place previously and knew that on one side of the track is a garden centre and on the other a riding school for disabled children and either one could have complained about the rabbits. This line has few trains on and I was surprised to see a light engine go down the track. As my dog was tragically knocked over at Christmas we had to ferret "blind". We would have to rely on field-craft and could be in for a long day.

The first warren we tried had about 20 holes and two ferrets were entered, after five minutes a rabbit bolted and then a second rabbit appeared at the net. I had witnessed this a lot previously and knew it would either turn and be caught by the ferret or would bolt into the net. We tried not to make a sound as the rabbit sniffed the air then whoosh out it came with Lucky, the sandy jill, closely behind.

Lucky was so called because when I bred her as a kit I sold her to a man 40 miles away in Leeds and he brought her back the next day claiming she a bad leg. Lucky has turned into a good working ferret and is now my number two ferret, her only fault being she attacks other ferrets and can only be used with my own ferrets.

Lucky went back down and after 10 minutes out came the locator box, after a quick sweep the tell tale double click indicated both ferrets had cornered a rabbit about four foot down. It wasn't too bad digging, and after breaking through, I extracted the two ferrets and a dead rabbit behind the dead rabbit was another one and this was the reason the ferrets had stopped down, they were trying to get to the second rabbit. The ferrets were re-entered but no more rabbits were present and so they were boxed up.

Because we didn't have a marking dog we concentrated on the larger warrens and the next one contained 30 plus holes. After netting the holes Ian's two ferrets were entered and this being a larger warren nothing happened for a while. Ian decided to pour two coffees and as so often happens two rabbits bolted simultaneously. I grabbed one but the other wriggled out of the net and ran down the track.

The next warren called for my "master" plan, this is a warren of about 50 holes and apart from five bolt holes at the back the rabbits always ran out the front and up the track towards a wood. The master plan was to purse net the bolt holes and as it was mostly in thick brambles put a stop net at a right angle to the track to catch them as they headed for the wood. Unfortunately the rabbits hadn't read the script and ran out one after another across the track away from the net. "Back to the drawing board", said Ian

"Breeding stock, more for next year", I replied.

After that blinder I thought of another warren where I usually bolt about six rabbits and thought I'd better not tempt fate and it, "This looks a good warren", said Ian, pointing to the warren.

"Yes", I replied thinking I hope there is the usual six in it. We put three of my ferrets in as they can get the run around in this warren as the chambers are so big the rabbits can run past the ferret and sometimes they don't like to bolt.

There were three holes in the adjacent field and the rabbits usually bolted here or were caught under the hedge bottom only about about two foot deep. After about twenty minutes a rabbit bolted and then two more. No more action and the locator showed one ferret moving and two holed-up

We dug down about two foot and a tube was located but no ferrets or rabbits found, as I had ferreted this warren before I knew what had happened, another tube ran directly below the first and after a further dig we broke through again and located a rabbit with the two ferrets Lucky and Beano.

We boxed the two ferrets and entered two fresh ferrets to aid the other ferret. This did the trick as two more rabbits bolted and after a short dig two more were added. This warren nearly always holds about half a dozen rabbits and I usually ferret it twice a year

We were ferreting well away from the track as my permit stated we had to be at least 12 feet away from the track as then no "lookouts" need to be in place.

The engine we had seen in the morning came back down the track and I was surprised when it stopped and a Railtrack official got out, "Have you a permit for being here?" he asked and as I showed him the permit and my safety certificate he said, "Sorry, I've got to ask as we have prosecuted six people this month already," and with that he got back on the engine

Railtrack always prosecute anybody on the track because if they didn't and anybody got injured then Railtrack are liable for paying compensation as by not prosecuting people it is seen that they allow people to trespass. We decided to call it a day and after making sure all the holes were properly backfilled we set off for home

(First published in NFWS News - #46 July 1998)