Pheasant unpleasantness in the valleys


I’m still getting emails from readers about the unusual number of coal tits in their gardens, but starting to replace these messages are ones reporting the sightings of waxwings. Right across our region from Duns, through Kelso, Earlston, Clovenfords and Galashiels to Peebles, they seem to be prolific. As usual, I’ve not yet had the pleasure of these Scandinavian beauties, but hopefully my time will come.

One highlight for me in recent weeks was capturing the accompanying shot of two pheasants fighting, while walking in Yarrow. I noticed them eyeing one another up and doing much posturing, so I thought something more serious was brewing. I had time to set the camera at maximum zoom and steady it on a convenient fence post in anticipation of the coming unpleasantness. It only lasted a couple of seconds – just long enough for one quick shot, before the vanquished bird flew off with everything but its pride still intact. It’s great when a plan bears fruit.

During the past couple of weeks it has been hard to miss reports in all the media about the potentially disastrous disease affecting ash trees, which has turned up in various nationwide locations – as close as Berwickshire.

Ash is one of my favourite trees, evoking many happy memories of the Borders countryside. Its forking trunk always provided the best location for childhood tree houses and my unforgettable first night’s badger watching was from a platform fixed in the fork of an ancient ash tree.

Ash is one of the last trees to come into leaf – well into June and in the autumn it casts its leaves while still green, quite often all at once. On the ground the leaves only last a few days before shrivelling up, leaving only the stalks behind.

Two things puzzle me about this whole debacle. Firstly, it is supposed to be caused by importing infected seedlings from other continents, where the disease is prevalent but the local trees have immunity. I have spent most of the summer pulling ash seedlings out of the garden, in their hundreds, so why do we need to import them if they grow so prolifically in this country?

Secondly, the best way to spot the disease is by the withering of the leaves, so why has the government gone public about it when the leaves are falling from the trees naturally, despite having known about the disease for quite some time?

Let’s hope our native ash can be saved from the same fate as our elms. If not, it looks as if Scots Pine could be next on the list.