Ferreting in Coverdale

by Sheila Crompton

A year ago I went ferreting in Coverdale, North Yorkshire, with Wolfgang Dedecek and Sean Fitzgerald. I had arranged to meet up with the pair of them in Ripon where I was going to leave my van - the rest of the journey to Coverdale being undertaken in Wolfgang's SWB Land Rover. Arwen and Flower, my two albino jills along with Spock and Lucy were transferred to the back of the Land Rover and I wedged myself on one of the side seats.

I had been a really cold night, a hard frost, perfect ferreting conditions. Wolfgang demonstrated the usefulness of using a Land Rover as he headed off road to where we would be working. He parked the motor and we all got out. Lucy and Spock had a good run. I put the batteries in the collars and checked that they were working before taping them up to secure the end caps and putting them on Arwen and Flower.

We walked over to one bury just a few minutes from where the motor was parked. Sean opted to use his long-net, and Wolfgang helped him to set it up. It was the first time I'd ever seen a long-net used - needless to say Lucy and Spock ended up running into the net until the penny dropped and they started jumping over it. Wolfgang used one of his jills and ended up having to dig to the ferret and the rabbit.

Wolfgang and Sean set the longnet - 25kb

We moved on to the next bury that was among some rocks. Sean had been back to the Land Rover to get his albino hob, Stanley, and drop off the long-net as we wouldn't be using it again. Stanley trundled off underground, we were able to track him for while and then he disappeared. The next half-hour was an anxious time as the three of us were scouring among the rocks trying to pick up a bleep from Stanley's collar. Eventually Wolfgang called down to say that Stanley had surfaced. We made a mental note to leave that bury well alone in future.

The three of us picked up our equipment and moved on through the bracken to see what else we could find. We found several likely buries that we netted up and ferreted. With the buries being on a steep ground Wolfgang and Sean generally beat me to the rabbits caught in the purse nets. This is where I find Lucy extremely useful as she will pin a rabbit with her paws until I get to her, some ferreters will discourage a lurcher from holding a rabbit in the nets but if you're not able to dash around or are dealing with another rabbit it is certainly useful to have a four legged helper.

Half-a-dozen rabbits later we were ready for a break, we returned to the Land Rover for a bite to eat and a drink and that included the ferrets as well. The dogs had been drinking from streams so they were OK.

After our break we loaded up again and headed for more buries that Sean was familiar with. Sean found a rabbit hiding in the bracken and got me to call Lucy over as he wanted to see her run. Lucy saw the rabbit and gave chase but wasn't up to her usual speed - I don't think she liked the bracken, she was more used to running across an open field.

We eventually reached the buries that Sean had in mind, we got 5 rabbits from these. 3 in the nets and 2 dug to. When Wolfgang gets busy with the spade it's like having a JCB with you, it doesn't take him long to get down to where the action is.

Sean and Wolfgang finished digging and reaching for rabbit - 36kb

It was just beginning to drizzle and we had maybe just over an hour of daylight left when Sean reckoned that we should call it a day. However, on the way back Lucy was marking a bury just off the track over by a dry stone wall. Sean remarked that she seemed really keen and that perhaps we should give it a go. We netted up and I put Flower in at one end and Wolfgang put Arwen in at the other end. Sean had climbed over wall and was in the field just to make sure that none of the ferrets came out on that side, he'd also netted up a couple of holes that he'd found.

Wolfgang and Lucy in the bracken - 55kb

I got two bolts more or less one after the other, I dispatched the rabbits in the nets which I then passed to Wolfgang and quickly set a spare net over the holes. Flower came out and she was returned to the working box. We then started looking for Arwen; not a sound… we searched up and down the ditch but no bleeps! After what seemed like hours of fruitless searching Sean suggested that I got Stanley, checked that his collars was working OK, and then put him down the hole that Wolfgang had put Arwen in. A few minutes later she appeared looking slightly miffed. With a sigh of relief I picked her and gave her a cuddle - I checked her collar, the damn thing wasn't working! Meanwhile Wolfgang had located Stanley, he was on Arwen's rabbit. A quick dig from Wolfgang and rabbit number three from this bury was added to the catch. Wolfgang picked up Stanley and I returned him to his box, and we all loaded up and headed back to the Land Rover.

Sean and Wolfgang got on with gutting the rabbits, fourteen of them, while I loaded up the gear into the back of the Land Rover I was surprised to see that they were leaving the guts on the ground and not burying them. Sean pointed to a couple of buzzards circling overhead - as soon as we'd gone they would be in for good meal.

Lucy had come 'in season' at the beginning of December, I'd taken her to the vet for the canine equivalent of the jill jab, however, a few days after she'd been given the jab Spock managed to catch her. I was hoping that the jab she'd been given had prevented her being in pup. On the journey back to Ripon Lucy had insisted on sitting in the front of Land Rover more or less on Sean's lap. I mentioned to him about Spock having mated with Lucy and did he think that she was carrying pups. He carefully felt her abdomen and said he couldn't feel anything and said he didn't think she was pregnant.

Four days later Lucy looked as if she'd overeaten and was as fat as a pig. I phoned a friend of mine who knows about lurchers and told her. Kaye, muttered something about Lucy being a little devil. Apparently lurchers and other running dogs can carry their pups high until a week or so before they are due to be born, Lucy had carried her pups right up in her rib cage. Ten days after her hunting trip to Coverdale Lucy gave birth to five strapping pups, she had a really easy whelping time. The first pup appeared at five minutes past two on the 6th February and the last one fifty-five minutes later.

Lucy with her 5 pups - 41kb

Anyway, no more problems with Lucy being caught by Spock again - she was spayed in July. I must admit I was scared about having her done, I can remember my old cocker spaniel bitch after she came back from being spayed she was groggy for nearly 24 hours… I just hadn't taken into account how much anaesthetics had improved over the years. When I collected Lucy from the vet I had trouble trying to get her to slow down. She jumped into the van before I could stop her. Anyway, she was absolutely fine and is back on top form and no more worries about seasons or puppies.

(First published in the February 2005 issue of the NFWS News)

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