Ferreting in the Christmas Trees

Sheila Crompton sets out on a seasonal ferreting trip to Knaresborough to carry out rabbit control in a plantation of Christmas trees

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to do some rabbit control in a field near Knaresborough where Christmas trees were being grownd. I was told that I would be able to camp there which suited me fine. I was attending a two day Christmas Fair at York and another event the following weekend in Beverley so I reckoned that I would have a look at the rabbit problem in between.

I left York at 6pm on a Sunday and arrived at the field 45 minutes where I met a man who had the keys to the gates. I can't say that I was impressed with my first view of the field seen in the van headlights. I drove a short way in along a track and looked for a place to pitch my frame tent. Everywhere I stepped appeared to be waterlogged. I eventually chose an area that seemed to be slightly drier than the rest and started putting up my tent.

While assembling the frame I noticed some flashes and that the sky looked darker over towards Knaresborough. Just as I got the canvas laid out across the frame it started raining. Fortunately the thunderstorm didn't last long and I was able to finish putting up my tent. I had spotted a stack of wooden pallets near where I had pitched my tent and I reckoned that some of them would come in useful to keep the ferrets' cages off the ground. I managed to get four of them into the tent. Then all I had to do was get all the cages into the tent and generally sort out my camp bed and the sleeping quarters for my four lurchers, Lucy, Spock, Bryn and Striker.

Monday: I had a look round the field. I had been told that most of the rabbits were in the hedgerow alongside the road and also in the hedgerow at the top of the field. The field was in a bit of a state, some areas had been cultivated with patches of shrubs etc, none of them doing too well owing to the rabbit damage. Other areas had a good crop of thistles which were now dying back. As I and the dogs walked away from the road I saw the 'rabbit runs' - the paths made by the rabbits travelling to and from their warren and feeding areas. During the course of the first exploration Lucy and the other three lurchers flushed out a few rabbits that were lying in scrapes. Alas, the ground didn't allow for any of the lurchers to get into their stride. The place was too overgrown for them to keep the rabbits in view and using scent allowed the rabbits to get away.

The top end of the field was planted with Christmas trees that I and the dogs pushed our way through. The hedge beyond the trees looked promising but would need a bit of work to clear the lower branches to enable me to reach the rabbit holes.

Tuesday: I decided that it was time to start doing a bit of ferreting. I took my long net and purse nets up to the top right-hand corner of the field where Lucy had bolted a rabbit earlier. I trimmed some of the lower twigs from under the hawthorns and got rid of some nettles and dead thistles - it took me around an hour to clear a 20ft section under the hedge. I set half a dozen purse nets and walked back to the tent to get a couple of ferrets.

I fitted collars on two of my sandy hobs, Chattox and Edmund, put them in the working box and returned to the bury. I set up a short section of my long net as I hadn't netted up all the holes with purse nets. I checked that Chattox's collar was transmitting OK and put him near one of the holes. His tail immediately went bottle brushed and he dropped down the hole and disappeared.

Ten minutes - it seemed like a lifetime to me - and then a rabbit bolted and dashed along the hedge bottom and into the next field startling a couple of donkeys that had been watching the proceedings with great interest. The next second Spock and Lucy were holding a rabbit in the bottom of the long net. I dashed down and dispatched it just in time to see Lucy pinning another rabbit that had been caught in a purse net. I quickly dealt with that rabbit and looked around and spotted Chattox wandering towards me.

Wednesday: I decided to see if there was anything doing at the same bury. Normally rabbits will avoid returning to a bury that has been ferreted until the smell of the intruder goes. However, Lucy was marking the bury so I netted up a few holes and deployed the long net. One rabbit bolted but shot straight along the bottom of the hedge pursued by Bryn and Striker. That was the only rabbit and, as I didn't feel up to clearing another section of hedgerow, I returned Chattox to the working box and collected up my nets.

On the way back to my tent the dogs put up a number of rabbits that were lying in the long grass. The last one wasn't so lucky - Striker put it up, Spock, Lucy and Bryn were nearby and they surrounded the Christmas tree the rabbit had decided to hide under.

Nat and the long net 26kbThursday: Nat Ham from Northallerton had made arrangements to visit me for the day. He arrived at 6.40am and, as soon as it was light enough, we took a walk up to the bury. The next three hours were spent clearing out low branches, brambles, thistles, nettles and dead fir trees from the bottom of the hedge. We then returned to my tent for the nets, ferrets, air rifles and dogs. Nat opted to drive ujp the field in his 4WD.

We set purse nets on a number of holes and the full 50 yards of the long net. Chattox was put down near a hole and he trundled off underground. We heard a bit of thumping and then a rabbit bolted up the hedgerow and disappeared into a patch of undergrowth in the only length of hedge we hadn't cleared so we set to work again. It took us another hour to clear the remaining section.

Chattox going through a purse net 27kbWe netted up the holes we could see and Nat blocked up some on the other side of the hedge. It was Edmund's turn to see if he could bolt a rabbit that we knew was in the bury. We heard some thumping but no rabbit appeared. After waiting a short time I checked that Chattox's collar was still working OK and sent him down to help Edmund. One rabbit soon made a very sharp exit straight into a purse net. A few minutes later another shot out of hole on the far side of the hedge and disappeared into the distance.

Nat and I will be making a return trip to the field in December. By that time we hope that the rabbits will have forgotten Chattox and Edmund and will be back in residence.

(From Ferrets First Issue no. 21 December/January 2004/5)

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